How to Get Paid What You’re Worth in Youth Ministry

By Doug Franklin February 2, 2016

“Show me the money!” is a popular way of saying, “Pay me what I am worth.” I’ve never heard a youth worker say this. Have you?

Why would they? It sounds too much like greed, ego, and putting themselves before the needs of the church. Most youth workers do what they do because they want to have impact, not because they want to make money. Unfortunately this mentality often backfires. Too many youth workers stay in underpaying jobs because they think it’s a necessary sacrifice to impact students. But the cost of this can be high for their families, their future, and their ability to do ministry.

Some churches know youth workers are willing to sacrifice pay for impact, so they take advantage of them by paying them less then they are worth. When I wrote my book, The Disconnect, I was surprised to find several youth workers who worked full-time but needed food stamps to make it each month. Even more shocking, they had not shared their financial hardships with their church leadership. I have shared this story many times while giving seminars, and every time I do, a youth worker or their spouse gets up to tell a similar story.

Youth workers think their churches have their best interests at heart. But, while this might sound cynical, when it comes to pay, they don’t. They want to see how much value they can get for as little as possible. I’ve heard all sorts of excuses from churches: “The youth worker is just starting out and needs to earn his or her way.” “If they want to be a senior pastor, they need to pay their dues.”

“Too many youth workers stay in underpaying jobs because they think it’s a necessary sacrifice to impact students.”

But this isn’t just bad business practice; it’s unbiblical. Luke 10:7 says, “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages,” and again in 1 Timothy 5:18, “The laborer deserves his wages.” This is as true of youth workers as it is of anyone.

Youth workers are valuable. Students are making some of the most important decisions of their lives while in youth group. In a student’s formative years, they connect with adults other then their parents who will make a significant mark on their lives.

Churches also need youth programs in order to grow. The biggest donors in many churches are parents in their 40s and 50s—in other words, families with students in youth ministry. If a church doesn’t invest in the programs these families need, they will disengage or leave. The church needs a first-rate student ministry program or its growth will suffer.

Many youth workers live in fear of being fired. They don’t ask for a raise or a cost of living increase because they think they will be let go. Keep in mind that if a church fires its youth pastor, it will take over a year to find a new one. Add to that the two to four years it will take for a new youth worker to build solid relationships with students, and you can see how costly it is for a church to fire its youth worker.

Don’t get me wrong; some churches pay their youth workers well. If you work at one of those churches, count your blessings and remember to be grateful. If you don’t, remember you’re not powerless. You have some options.

1) Do a good job.

Start by making sure you are doing your job really well. No one gets paid well just for showing up. You’re asking to be paid what you’re worth, so make sure you are doing a worthwhile job.

2) Ask for additional compensation.

Be bold. If you are in the hiring process, don’t take their first offer. Every time I see a young youth worker in the hiring process, they take the first offer because no one has taught them to make a counter offer. Most often, the people who handle the church hiring process are experienced business people who are trying to get the best people for the lowest cost. They are going to do what comes naturally to them by starting with a low offer. You only get one shot at an opening salary. Remember that most raises are cost of living increases from your current salary, so getting your starting salary up is important.

“Listen: it is not a sin to make the money you’re worth.”

If you’re already employed and underpaid, you need to ask as well. If you’re in hardship, explain your situation. If you think your church is taking advantage of your hard work, you need to go to them.

Note: Many churches like to pay youth workers based on their bills. Your bills have little to do with your worth. The church is the only place I have ever seen that pays people based on their bills. What other employer does that? (Okay, maybe private Christian schools.) 

3) Do your research.

Don’t go in blind. Research what other youth workers at similar-sized churches in your area are being paid. A well-informed, confident youth worker will surprise the compensation committee.

Ask an older leader in the church to mentor you through this process. Use them as a sounding board: Is what you’re asking for reasonable? What information would be helpful to offer church leadership as you ask for more money? Who should you build a relationship with before you ask for higher pay? Most churches have formal or informal gatekeepers who can make your request go through or stop it cold.

Listen: it is not a sin to make the money you’re worth. Sadly your church is not responsible to make sure you get paid a fair amount. The truth is, you need to own this. It is up to you.

CC Image courtesy photographybanzai on Flickr.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More