NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors increased at a rate slightly faster than inflation nationally over the past two years, yet many churches continue to struggle in providing their pastors with adequate medical insurance.

These findings are part of the SBC Church Compensation Study, an in-depth survey of 12,168 staff members in Southern Baptist churches. Baptist state conventions along with LifeWay Research and GuideStone Financial Resources conduct this survey every two years. All the data acquired by the study has been compiled into an online tool LifeWay.com/CompensationSurvey

Compensation

Adjusting for church size (see Methodology below), the average full-time Southern Baptist senior pastor's compensation (salary and housing) rose 5.5 percent between 2010 and 2012. That rate of change was only slightly higher than the 5.1 percent inflation rate for the same two-year period, according to figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index.

According to Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, "Other surveys by our team have shown that a majority of churches have not experienced growth in giving that would keep pace with these same inflation measures. In these churches, providing cost of living pay increases and covering the rising cost of benefits has required cuts in other budget areas."

Overall, the value of the entire pay package (salary, housing and other benefits such as insurance) for the average full-time senior pastor rose by 6.4 percent.

For other full-time staff ministers, basic salary and housing compensation decreased 0.7 percent between 2010 and 2012, while salary compensation for full-time office personnel increased 2.8 percent.

When it came to determining pastors' compensation rates, education level, tenure at current church and higher weekly attendance resulted in more compensation.

In fact, each additional educational degree level adds, on average, $2,878 in compensation. Seminary graduates receive, on average, $7,012 more in total compensation than non-seminary graduates and receive more vacation time.

Benefits

The survey also revealed that slightly more full-time senior pastors receive medical insurance from their churches today than in 2010, matching results from the 2008 study. Sixty-four percent of churches partially or fully pay medical insurance for their full-time senior pastors, compared to 61 percent in 2010. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates the cost of medical care rose 7 percent between June 2010 and 2012.

Twelve percent of SBC churches provide at least partial medical insurance funding for the full-time pastor alone while 19 percent fund coverage for the pastor and his wife and 34 percent supply coverage for the pastor and his family.

For full-time senior pastors, churches fully or partially pay for the following benefits:

-- Life and/or accident insurance -- 37 percent

-- Disability insurance -- 30 percent

-- Dental insurance -- 28 percent

-- Vision insurance -- 12 percent

"When it comes to benefits for senior pastors," McConnell said, "it appears churches are doing the best they can. On average, the more people a church has attending worship, the more insurance benefits they provide for the pastor."

More than half of churches with weekly attendances above 250 people provide insurance for the pastor and his family. Nearly half (47 percent) of churches that average 50-99 people in weekly attendance do not provide any medical coverage.

"Southern Baptist churches have defied recent trends among American workers in which Gallup polls have shown declining percentages of non-government workers receiving employer-based health insurance," McConnell said.

Tim Head, GuideStone's executive officer for denominational and public relations services, said the online compensation tool is a starting place for churches to see how they compare to other Southern Baptist congregations.

"This tool was designed to provide a snapshot of how Southern Baptist churches provide compensation packages for their workers," Head said. "Compensation varies depending on church size, region and a host of other factors."

The survey also obtained compensation data for bivocational pastors and part-time custodial and office personnel. In 2012 for the first time, this data is standardized by the median number of hours worked to allow churches to more easily compare their part-time employees with these averages.

"In this troubled economy," Head stated, "it is encouraging to note that pay and benefits are generally headed in the right direction for those who choose to serve the body of Christ as a full-time profession."

Methodology: Southern Baptist state conventions invited each church's staff to respond to the survey; 12,168 completed surveys were analyzed. For the purpose of this article, senior pastor responses were weighted to account for lower response rate among smaller churches and to match the distribution of the size of Southern Baptist churches. When using the online tool, national totals may be somewhat higher than these weighted totals. Viewing the results by church size categories within the online tool minimizes this impact. When running customized reports online, error can be minimized by selecting criteria that allow for larger numbers of participants.

Jon D. Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net