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.

How Legal Is The Amount You’re Getting Paid?

Let’s start at the beginning to make sure we all know the key terms. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers classify jobs as either ‘exempt’ or ‘nonexempt’. Nonexempt employees are covered by FLSA rules and regulations, and exempt employees are not.

What is an exempt employee?

Exempt positions are excluded from minimum wage, overtime regulations. Employers must pay a salary (fixes consistent number) rather than an hourly wage for a position for it to be exempt.

Every state his different overtime exempt qualifications, where a Youth Pastor will not qualify for overtime compensation because they are paid a certain amount. This status is called ‘Exempt Status’. Federally, an exempt employee must make no less than $455 per week, or $23,660. This is the minimum for all 50 states in the union, but many states have chosen to raise that bar as of 2018. You owe it to yourself to learn what you are entitled to because of the state you live in. And if you’re in California, the bar is quite high.

There are exactly 100 Youth Pastors in California that indicated they are full-time exempt employees who are paid on a 40 hour (plus) work schedule according to the 2018 Youth Pastor Compensation Survey.  During the time the survey was conducted, the state minimum wage was $10.50 for organizations of 25 employees or less, and $11 for organizations of more than 25 employees. In 2019 those numbers are now $11 and $12, respectively.  For our purposes, we’ll assume the lower $10.50 number in creating the threshold for overtime exemption. According to CA Labor Code 515, a salaried employee in California who is exempt from earning overtime must earn double minimum wage over a 40 hour work week.  For 2018, the formula to calculate the salary exempt minimum in California is ($10.50 x 2 x 40 hrs x 52 weeks) = $43,680.  This, to me represents the minimum salary for a Youth Pastor who is full-time and not paid overtime. If your church has more than 25 employees, counting all preschool employees, janitorial staff, interns, etc, that number rises to $45,760 due to the $11 minimum wage for organizations of more than 25.

According to our data, of the 100 California Youth Pastors who said they are considered exempt from overtime pay and are expected to work 40+ hours, nineteen (19!) individuals reported a salary number less than $43,680.  While its a reasonable claim to say this is a small sample size, this represents about 1 in 5 Youth Pastors in California report having earned an unlawful wage in 2018. 7 out of 19 (37%) of these employees are minorities, compared to an overall 20% being minorities among these 100.  There is no apparent denominational bias or church size bias. In fact seven of these nineteen come from churches of at least 750 people. Their youth group sizes vary as well, from small to large without rhyme or reason. It’s pretty difficult to detect a “why” these people are being paid an illegal wage; and yet here we are.

1 in 5 Youth Pastors in California report having earned an unlawful wage in 2018

60% of these 100 are getting a housing allowance. 40% are renters (plus a small handful who get church-assisted housing), leaving about 55% of CA full-time Youth Pastors who own a home.  Only 8 out 80 married CA YP’s have no side hustle and a spouse who does not work; meaning their church salary is their household’s only source of income. Four of those eight single-income YP’s work at churches of more than 5,000 people, and all of them are at congregations of at least 400 with a budget of at least 500k.

One final note.  When you remove illegally paid YP’s from California’s salary average for FT YP’s, it goes all the way up to $61,139 with a $55,000 median income.  The top 25 compensated YP’s in California all have at least a college degree. Perhaps California is entering a climate where there is no room for an entry level YP to find work, as churches will begin to balk at paying $50k+ for a Youth Pastor with no experience or no completed education.

My own opinion (and warning to my fellow CA YP’s) is that we’re heading towards a time in California where many YP’s are going to be moved to an hourly wage. Churches will do this so they aren’t required to pay the nearly $30/hour salary exempt minimum in 2021/2022, and instead will try and deal with managing hours for their staff. This is going to impact camps, mission trips, lock ins, and also the ability of Youth Pastors to do weekend activities with students because of the possibility of them working too may days in a row, etc, and thus qualifying for overtime compensation that churches will not want to pay. My advice is to pay attention to your church’s salary structure, and ask yourself (or your boss) how the church is prepared to deal with the escalating wage increases in our state.

The Scandalous Truth About Youth Pastor Annual Reviews

I ask for a raise every year. The 2018 Youth Pastor Compensation Survey revealed that over 80% of Youth Pastors didn’t ask for a raise in the past year. And I get that, honestly. There is so much pressure in church work to not appear greedy. And every dollar you don’t get in a paycheck goes towards some other Kingdom initiative. Not taking a raise is like being a 21st century martyr. Plus, Jesus was a humble dude, and didn’t have much in the way of compensation going for him either. Paul was a nomad without a home who lived off the generosity of each village he evangelized in. Two of our New Testament heroes weren’t exactly talking about their compensation a whole lot. And so, in our best effort to be like Jesus, our data says the vast majority of Youth Pastors don’t bring up compensation either.

But, one of the things we’ve learned in our years of studying compensation is that many Youth Pastors aren’t comfortable talking about compensation because they don’t even have the proper time and place to bring it up in a safe space. And we know why. 64% of YP’s didn’t even get an annual review in 2018. It’s so convenient that it feels scandalous.

64% of Youth Pastors reported not having an annual review with their supervisor in 2018.

And honestly, at some level this makes sense. Pastors are trained in how to teach the Bible. Most of our bosses have seminary degrees. Very few are trained in business, human resources, or as accountants who have a robust understanding of compensation and how to help employees thrive as employees. So we get that a good many boss-pastor-types are a bit unequipped to perform a performance review. We’re here to encourage change in this.

Youth Pastor: you must insist on getting an annual review every single year. USE OUR FREE 7 PAGE ANNUAL REVIEW TEMPLATE if your church doesn’t have a system in place. Get an Elder or Board Member to hear that you haven’t had a review, and begin a humble conversation where you can ask for honest feedback–and also offer your own analysis of your performance. You should do this whether you absolutely #nailedit and your performance is off the charts, or whether or not you absolutely bombed all year long and blew up the budget on summer camp. Because part of evaluation is clarifying expectations. The more you know about what your boss or board wants out of you, the more you can know how to excel in your role.

And every time you have an annual review, you need to ask for a raise. Every time. At a minimum a cost of living adjustment (COLA in the real world) should be considered; which is normally anywhere from 1-3%. Just think, if you make $40,000, and you get a 2% raise every year because you ask for a raise, that’s only $800 a year; but over five years, that’s a nice $4,000 raise. And that 10% overall increase in five years would better reflect the average salary of an employee with more tenure than you. It may not be quite as high, but you’ll be significantly closer than you would have been if you never ask. Because the sad reality is most churches don’t hand out raises like you hand out flyers for your latest camp fundraiser.

And I’ve also been through plenty of reviews where the boss says there is no money for a raise. It can get a bit discouraging, but I also know that being heard by your boss is a big deal for us. To have them look at us explaining why we feel like we deserve or need a raise, even if their answer isn’t awesome still creates some good will between the YP and their boss. It may not put a raise on the front of the stove; but a backburner is better than off the stove.