Churches Should Close the Pay Gap for Women on Staff

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I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my (almost) 20 years of ministry. At first, I didn’t do much to solve the problem. I should have done more. Now, I voice concern, and I hope I’m a helpful voice.

Women on church staff tend to make less than men for similar roles. Depending on how researchers do the math, the current pay gap for women on church staff is between twenty-four cents and seven cents on the dollar, meaning women make anywhere between seven percent and twenty-four percent less than men. The national pay gap is around eighteen cents on the dollar. The national figure applies to all jobs, from unskilled labor to executive leadership.

The church can do better. We should lead the culture in solving the pay gap with women.

There are many reasons for the current pay gap between men and women on church staff.

  • It’s a historic trend. The pay gap for women on church staff was forty cents in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The trend is improving nationally, but it’s still a serious problem in many individual churches.
  • Many churches have theological convictions about the roles of men and women, especially the primary preaching position. The purpose of this post is not to break down the nuances of complementarianism and egalitarianism. I simply want to address the obvious. Ministers on church staff with similar responsibilities should be paid similarly, regardless of gender. If your church gives a particular set of responsibilities to a woman, you should pay her fairly for them.
  • Children’s ministries tend to employ more women. One way churches justify paying women less—whether intentionally or not—is by paying children’s ministers significantly less than other similar positions. For example, the pay package gap between children’s ministers and student ministers is between $10,000 and $15,000.
  • Women are five times more likely to work part-time at a church than men. For those of us in ministry, we know part-time applies only to the pay, not the actual hours worked.
  • Married women with children fare the worst in churches. They make twenty-eight percent less than men.

Most churches with women on staff likely have some pay gap problems. Inevitably, a few churches will have huge leaps to make. What can you do? Consider a few points as you take action and remedy the disparities.

  • Be proactive. Start researching the issue if you serve on an elder board, personnel committee, or executive staff. Understand where you are today. Then, make a plan to do something about it.
  • Be thoughtful. Someone’s salary is typically a sensitive subject. Approach this topic with care.
  • Be honest. If the pay gap exists in your church, then be open about the issue with female employees. They likely already know. Most will be glad you are recognizing the problem.
  • Be protective. When corrective measures are made, don’t let the women on staff take the heat from the church. Redirecting questions—or even anger—back to the women on staff is cowardly. Own the problem and defend them if the church has an issue with the move.

Churches have made progress in this area over the past three decades. As with national trends, the pay gap is closing in churches. Wouldn’t it be great if the church was the first organization to solve the problem completely? It might just get the attention of our culture.

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