A national advocacy organization for evangelical churches has launched a national campaign for churches to better support pastors who face financial struggles.
The "Bless Your Pastor" campaign from the National Association of Evangelicals includes free resources for church leaders, staff and members who want to help pastors who are financially strained beyond what often-limited church budgets can provide.
Despite the prominence of some TV or megachurch leaders, most pastors in America work in congregations of less than 100 people, said Brian Kluth, national director of NAE Financial Health. They work more than five days and 40 hours a week, he said.
A July 2015 survey supported by NAE found that out of more than 4,000 predominantly white rural and suburban pastors, half made less than $50,000 a year and around one-third have student loan debt of $36,000 on average. The survey also found that many church leaders are not familiar with financial resources and planning.
Bless Your Pastor, which kicked of Wednesday, aims to raise awareness about the financial decisions pastors must make and empower churches with strategies to help beyond the pastor salary. Strategies promoted in the campaign include sharing skills such as auto repair and child care with the pastor, taking special offerings to help and giving gifts such as prepared meals or gift cards.
The campaign is open to all churches. The NAE is connected to more than 40 denominations, including the Church of God and Church of the Nazarene.
Dwight Henderson, pastor at Brainerd Hills Church of God on Friar Road, said the pastor salary is often decided by the local church based on church membership and available funds. His church, which he has led for around 20 years, has around 50 members. Budgeting and financial planning is always a headache, he said.
Henderson is on a reduced salary, which means finances can be tight, but he said he would never ask for a raise. The church would likely give him one, he said, but that would mean money would not go to fixing the building or maintaining the parking lot.
"I know the church struggles with budget," Henderson said. "The men of our church that I would deal with want to be more than generous. They want to be more than kind. And I think that is the same way at a lot of churches. I would never let them pay me to the neglect of other things. I would not let them pay me."
Pastoring a larger church is not a guarantee for financial safety, Henderson said. The bigger the church, the bigger the building and the bigger the staff salary to maintain.
Other local pastors agreed finances are always a point of stress in the church. Like Henderson, they said increasing the pastor salary is overshadowed by immediate church needs, such as repairs or programming.
Eric Johnson, senior pastor at Chattanooga First Church of the Nazarene on North Terrace Road, said he was encouraged by the mission of the campaign.
"Churches are key to the health of a community and it's good to see the larger community is appreciating the contributions the churches are making in the community, even the smaller churches," Johnson said.
The Bless Your Pastor campaign is funded by a $1 million, three-year grant from Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based community development and religion philanthropy. Previously, Lilly Endowment partnered with the Church of God in 2017 to train 300 pastors in financial management and provide each with a $3,000 gift.