Should a Youth Pastor Get Paid More If Their Ministry Is Bigger?

What’s a good size youth group for a church that’s your size? If you’re ministry is bigger than average, should you get paid more? If our ministry is smaller than average, does that mean you’re not doing a good job?

There are 500 different reasons why your ministry may be smaller or larger than other churches that are your size, and we’re not here to judge. BUT, we thought it may be helpful for all you YP’s out there to see our YP Heat Sheet of our churches sorted by Sunday sizes, with the number of respondents in each youth group size all in one place. Here it is!

The numbers in the colored boxes represent the number of respondents that are in that category. So for me (Dan), I’m at a church of 501-750, and I’ve got a high school group I lead of between 71-80 on average. There are 19 others like me. Though, some of them are undoubtedly running both Junior High and High School. If that’s the case, our JHYP and I, when we combine our programs, are in the 150-175 range, which I’d say means we are in rare air together, and our church has a very healthy ministry to students for the size church we have! You’ll notice the vast majority of YP’s shepherd a group of 40 or less. And then you’ll also notice there are a few YP’s with small churches running HUGE ministries. What’s in their Wheaties, cuz I want some? There’s also some huge churches with some humble student ministries. There is no rules here.

Why would we post this? We think, if you’re going to talk to your boss about a raise, it’s helpful for you to show data that supports that you’re doing an adequate job. Being able to show data on other churches of similar size, and compare your youth group size to theirs could be a way to display your competency. This can then lead to what we call a merit raise, or a raise you get because you’re crushing it.

I’ve heard it said (and I think it’s a reasonable idea) to have a student ministry that is at least a 10% cut of your church’s Sunday attendance. So a church of 200 should around two dozen teens coming. A church of 1,000 should have at least 100 students. You get the idea. Our data seems to support this idea. If you go to any size church, and then go look at the 10% of that church’s attendance, the youth group respondent number is always on the larger side of the data sample. It makes sense. It’s not a fact. But it makes sense.

But let’s get one thing straight: if you’re out there loving teenagers around the clock, teaching the Word, and pointing people to Jesus…you’re crushing it, regardless of how many sheep you’ve got in your pen every week. We’re for you! Keep on keeping on!

The 2018 Trends in Giving Report and What It Means For Youth Pastors

The times, they are a changin. But you already knew that.

The 2018 Trends in Giving report reveals some clear numbers around what many in church finances have been feeling for some time.

Check out the full report here, for free.

A few things we think are important:

Around 60% of North Americans prefer to give to charitable causes via online credit or debit options. This is a HUGE shift for churches, who traditionally have received gifts only via check and cash up until about ten years ago. Within this, it’s important to know that the user experience on a web page is vitally important to what’s known as conversion rate. Meaning, someone wants to give, but either can’t find your giving page, or its too complex, or too long, or to frustrating, or __________.

Good news for us YP’s! Youth and Children is the number one category across the world that folks are most likely to give to. This means if you’re trying to find money for camps, mission trips, interns, or to remodel your youth room…you could be some solid story telling away from people begging you to take their money! How churches alert their congregations to the needs of their youth and children programs are directly corresponding to those needs being met.

I like to think of it like this: whenever we can pair a person’s passions with their resources, we’ve got a winning combination of them feeling like their gift truly matters. Trends reveal this increases likelihood of repeat giving, and increased giving over time. Essentially, buy in. How can you as a YP help create buy in for your congregation with the Youth Ministry you’re the pastor for? Answer this question, and watch the floodgates open!

Dealing With The Absent Boss

Sunday is always coming for your boss. And they probably didn’t go to school to run a business. Chances are they have theological training and not their MBA. Managing personnel is the last thing on their mind. And it shows.

64% of Youth Pastors didn’t have an annual review in 2018. That means more than half of the bosses out there didn’t take the time to sit down with their Youth Pastor to talk about how their year was, and how their upcoming year is looking. More than half of YP’s are victim to The Absent Boss. We can help.

So many YP’s complain about bosses being up in their business, micromanaging their day to day care of the ministry. This can be frustrating too. Like a helicopter parent who won’t stop texting you on your day off about the carwash fundraiser, and whether or not their kid needs to bring their own soap. And yet, every YP would probably agree it’s better to have an over-zealous and overly-present parent, than to have no parent at all. The same is true with bosses. Those YP’s with a suffocating boss may complain, but at least there is somebody who is caring for you (even if it doesn’t always feel like a bowl of chicken soup).

And here’s what I know: every YP who feels alone, isolated, on an island, or even unwanted by their boss would memorize half of Isaiah if it meant they could have a decent boss…even an over-present boss.

If you’re in a spot where you can’t seem to connect with your boss and you feel undermanaged, it can be dreadfully frustrating. You may find yourself putting major deposits into the bucket of bitterness if you don’t have a space to talk about your role on the team or your compensation and benefits. I get that. I’ve been there.

The concept of leading up will benefit you tremendously. As a YP, you lead down all the time. Every student under your care is following you (we hope!). If you have a team of volunteers, some of that is leading down, but the veteran youth worker in me says most of that is leading across; meaning you’re partnering with people so everyone wins. But then there’s the person who is supposed to be leading you that you’re not getting strong guidance from. That’s when every YP must take charge of their own development and lead up.

Set your own goals. On paper. Give yourself deadlines to achieve things you know are beneficial for you or your ministry. And then hold yourself to them like a good boss would. Develop an AIP, an Action Initiative Plan. AIPs have strong deliverables with dates attached that allow you to chart progress and movement. Learning how to be self motivated will serve you well, always.

But that only solves the “how do I do my job better” question. It still doesn’t give you a clear route to conversation around compensation, benefits, roles and responsibilities. Take advantage of the YP Comp Pro’s FREE Annual Performance Review Template, and simply ask your boss if they’d be willing to fill out their portion of the document and get together to talk about it. Maybe even suggest inviting an Elder/Deacon/Board Member to join the conversation. And just frame it as that: a conversation that you’d like to have that will help enhance your performance in the coming year at your church. Your power is in the ask.

Slowly, as you develop rapport with your boss, you’ll find yourself with more access and a greater sense of being heard. These are critical components to increasing your compensation, but perhaps more importantly, feeling valued on your team.

How To Ask For (And GET!) A Raise

My dad used to always joke that if you want a raise, take a ladder to work. The reality is, that probably would be easier than trying to get a church to actually give a raise.

Our 2018 Compensation Survey data revealed that less than 1 in 5 Youth Pastor’s received any sort of merit raise in 2018. Over 30% of YP’s received a cost of living raise; which means churches essentially understand that they needed to pay their Youth Pastor more because of the rising cost of life in their area. 3% of YP’s received a “compliance” raise, meaning they are getting paid more so that their churches don’t pay them illegally (even though many YP’s are still being paid illegally). And that leaves about 45% of YP’s that received no increase in salary at all, with about 4% of all YP’s actually taking a pay cut in 2018.

Part of the discouraging numbers here must be attributed to the fact that 64% of Youth Pastors didn’t have an annual review in the past twelve months…where else can you ask for a raise?

via YP Comp Pros 2019 Compensation Survey Results of over 2,000 Youth Pastors

Part of the discouraging numbers here must be attributed to the fact that 64% of Youth Pastors didn’t have an annual review in the past twelve months…where else can you ask for a raise? This is supported by over 80% of Youth Pastors not asking for a raise in 2018. There’s some churches that are giving out small COLA or compliance raises, but the vast majority of these raises are 3% or less. For perspective, If the average YP Salary in 2018 is $46,581 as we reported in the 2019 Youth Pastor Compensation Survey Results, then a 3% raise comes to about $116 a month increase in salary.

One of the first pieces of information a YP needs if they want a raise is actually knowing what the market for a YP with their education and experience would be worth at a similarly sized church with a similarly sized budget on the open market. has a tool that utilizes YP Comp Pro compensation data to get these results. But that’s only a first step.

One of the most impactful chess moves a YP has at their disposal in the hunt for a raise is keeping compensation in the conversation. With over 6 out 10 YP’s not receiving an annual review in 2018, we know its hard to find space to even ask if you have the courage. Jesus mentions in Revelation 3 that he stands at the door and knocks, waiting to be let in. My small group leader in high school used to always say, “you’ve got to be in the room where the door is first!” The same principle is true with raises. If you want to ask for a raise, you need to be in the meeting where that conversation is normal. The safest and most consistent meeting like this is the annual review. Some churches do it more often than others. But make sure you have one.

If you’re in a situation where you’re being undermanaged, and your boss either has no interest or never seems to have the time for your review, you may need to lead up. YP Comp Pros has a annual review template that we give away to YP’s and churches for FREE that is seven pages long, requires two meetings with your superior, and gives fill-in-the-blank type space for you to talk about compensation, benefits, responsibility load, and all sorts of other things tied to your review. In humility, perhaps bring a copy to your boss and ask if they’d be willing to “help you improve” in the coming year by asking for an annual review.


What we’ve found is that when the conversation gets put on the stove–even if its on the backburner–there’s a sense of honoring the YP in that the conversation is not off limits. This empties the YP of some bitterness that’s accumulated over time due to their compensation, and allows for a YP to basically hang in there until the church can do something about the compensation. And then, when budget time rolls around, your boss has a chance to recall “hey, Lisa the YP needs a pay bump.” If Lisa hasn’t talked to her boss about her situation, you can bet the boss isn’t just going to walk into Lisa’s office and say, “You’re crushing it. How about a 10% raise?” When pigs fly…

The Big Idea: know what you’re worth on the open market, and have the compensation conversation consistently.

State COLA Based on Youth Pastor Average Salaries

No, not Coca Cola. COLA, as in Cost Of Living Adjustment. It’s a way of understanding how expensive it is to live where you are, and what that means relative to the national average salary of a Youth Pastor. As a refresher, the 2018 national average number is $46,581 for a full-time Youth Pastor across all levels of education and experience.

By multiplying that average salary by a state’s COLA percentage, you can get a rough idea of the type of adjustment a state’s living costs have indicated the market value is of a Youth Pastor with average compensation.

Your State’s Salary Adjustment = (1 + COLA%) x $46,581

In the survey, we used California’s lofty 19.76% COLA adjustment in the formula. So, (1+.1976)*$46,581 = $55,785 as the weighted adjusted salary for a Youth Pastor with average compensation in California. This actually aligns quite a bit with California law, as the salary exempt minimum for a YP in 2018 is $43,680, calculated from an $10.50/hr minimum wage for companies of 25 or less employees needing to then be doubled over a forty-hour work week, annually. So for California Youth Pastors specifically, the actual law-dictated minimum base salary for entry level in 2018 was $43,680 and the average salary is calculated based on COLA as $55,785. Now, in 2019 with a $12 minimum wage for companies with 25 or more employees, the salary exempt minimum is $49,920 ($12 x 2 x 40hrs x 52wks).

Find your state in the graphic below, organized by alphabetical order to see your state’s average Youth Pastor Salary with the percentage COLA calculated. We included the number of respondents so you could get an idea of the sample size. This chart only includes states with at least 15 respondents who reported having a housing allowance.

Now, see where your state ranks, and how it compares to others when the data is organized by COLA adjustment.

Also, you can check out the Cost of Living Calculator by city over at Nerdwallet if you want to compare cities to each other.