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The salaries and responsibilities of church organists vary widely, depending on the size of the church and the style of worship. The number of services the church has each week and the number of other music staff and volunteers involved will have some bearing on the workload and hours required. Some churches have one organist who works only a few hours a week; others have an organist, a full choir and a worship team, and if the organist oversees the other musicians, the job can require anywhere from 20 to 40 hours per week.
Full-Time or Part-Time
For many churches, the organist position is part-time. The main responsibility is playing the organ during Sunday services. The organist is often also required to attend practice sessions with other musicians and choir members. These are usually weekly and typically in the evening. The salary of an organist who works 10 hours per week can range from $10,592 to $23,413; a full-time organist can earn anywhere from $37,599 to $81,177, according to the American Guild of Organists' recommendations.
Training and Education
Organists with more training and education generally earn a higher salary. The American Guild of Organists lists several levels of degrees or certificates. The highest level is a Doctorate in Organ or Sacred Music, or a Fellow Certification from the American Guild of Organists (AGO). A full-time organist with this type of degree may earn a yearly base salary of $60,000 to $80,000. The next level is a Master's Degree in Organ or Sacred Music, a ChM degree or an Associate Certification from the AGO. With one of these degrees, a full-time organist can expect to make $54,000 to $72,000. The next lower level is a Bachelor's Degree in Organ or Sacred Music, or a Colleague Certification from the AGO, with which a full-time organist might make $47,500 to $62,500 annually. The lowest level of training is someone who has an associate's degree, has pursued a course of private organ lessons or has earned a Service Playing Certificate from the AGO. Someone with these qualifications might earn a full-time annual salary of $37,600 to $50,500.
Level of Experience
Experience matters in determining the salaries of church organists. Those with less than five years experience will earn the least. Those with exceptional talents who are recognized by others in the field may even exceed the maximum recommended salaries.
Advancement and Other Responsibilities
Church organists have several paths to career advancement. An organist working part-time may be promoted to full-time or may move to a church that requires him to work more hours. Or, an organist may receive a pay raise at his current position or move to a position that pays more per hour. Part-time organists may have only the responsibility of playing on Sunday, while a full-time organist may also be the choir director, be in charge of training and overseeing other musicians, and may be required to play for weddings and funerals and other special services. Most part-time organists are paid extra for weddings, funerals and other special services.
Melissa Worcester is a mom, freelance writer and graphic designer. She has been writing professionally for over 18 years and earning a part-time income writing for various websites since 2007. She writes about technology issues, business and marketing, home improvement, education and family topics and assists in her husband's home remodeling business. Worcester has a Bachelor of Arts in communications and psychology from Syracuse University.