The United Methodist Church organizes itself into local churches, districts and then larger "Conferences," which cover either entire states or parts of states. Sixty-three UMC Conferences exist throughout the U.S. This organizational makeup is important when figuring United Methodist pastors' salaries as the Conferences have substantial leeway in determining how much a pastor is compensated. For example, each Conference sets minimum salaries for pastors in the region. Other factors also exist, such as more pay for pastors with experience.
The size and make-up of the UMC congregation you serve is perhaps the largest factor in figuring salary ranges. The congregation's budget -- from which your salary is figured -- takes into consideration a dollar amount per member of the congregation. Serving a larger congregation with wealthier members means you can expect salary ranges at the high end of the spectrum while serving smaller congregations with less resources means you'll earn lower salaries. In general, you can expect to be assigned to a smaller congregation that pays less in salary at the beginning of your career.
Pastor salaries range from around $43,000 to $70,000 and up, depending on the specific UMC Conference, according to 2011 data from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. In some cases, being appointed to the next Conference over can make a moderate difference in your salary. For example, 2008 data shows you can earn around $55,000 serving in the North Carolina UMC Conference, which covers the eastern half of the state. By contrast, you can earn about $4,000 more per year if you're serving in the Western North Carolina Conference.
Top-earning UMC pastors can be found in Conferences that serve congregations in Georgia, Texas and South Carolina, where average salaries range from $68,000 to $74,000 for 2011. The lowest-earning pastors serve congregations in Montana, Wyoming and West Virginia where average salaries range from $43,000 to $46,000.
From the beginning to end of your career as a UMC pastor, you can expect your salary to increase approximately $9,000, assuming you stay in the same type of congregation and in the same Conference. Senior pastors with around 30 years experience earned around $58,000 for 2008 while those with no seniority earned around $49,000 on average. You'll find that your salary peaks at about age 45 and then generally declines until about age 70.
In general, your earnings as a UMC pastor include a base cash salary, and a number of other benefits are provided as "allowances." In addition to the cash salary, you'll receive a housing allowance unless you live in a church-appointed parsonage. As of 2011, UMC pastors earn around $61,700 on average, which includes the cash salary and housing allowance or an amount for the parsonage. Other benefits you'll typically receive include a travel allowance, continuing education allowance, health insurance and book or literature allowance.