February 3, 2020
A common question that missionaries and non-missionaries alike will ask is “How do missionaries make money?” And even more importantly, how much do they make? This is such a common question because the answer is very obscure, unknown, and varies from person to person. Nonetheless, we have actually found answers for this post. It turns out that there are statistics for missionary salary and there is a variety of ways concerning how missionaries make their income.
How much money do missionaries make on average? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, religious workers can make anywhere of $19,400 annually to $58,320 annually. However, for a missionary, the average is roughly $30,000 per year with the BLS and Indeed.com’s statistics taken into account.
Below, we will get into the logistics and nitty-gritty details of missionary income. These details will help you to further understand why missionary salaries vary, how missionaries make money, and what to expect if you or your loved one is a missionary.
Why Does the Income Vary So Greatly?
As we can see from the BLS, a missionary worker’s income can vary by close to $40,000. That is quite drastic. So what makes the income of a missionary vary so greatly? This can be answered by the principle of where missionaries choose to receive their salary from. The statistics do not even account for missionaries running a business for missions, therefore the results do not represent the entire population. It is a difficult task to measure missionary salary and to put precise amounts due to the variations of how missionaries receive their incomes.
Another factor that is rarely taken into account, but is very important, is the benefits that missionaries have. While the BSL does not consider these as income, benefits such as education, health insurance, and paid furloughs are all financial benefits of missionaries. Education can often be paid for by missionary sending organizations or churches for language learning courses or courses for TEFL (Teach English to a Foreign Language). Often times, health insurance will be covered by the nation that the missionary lives in or by their missions agency or church. Lastly, we mentioned furloughs. These are paid retreats for the missionary to return home. This could be considered “paid time off” because the missionary is technically not working for their career while taking a furlough.
Here is an example of the variety of expectations that a missionary can make based on income from work.chron.com.
“The amount you can expect to earn really depends on the organization funding the mission. For example, Campus Crusade for Christ offered an annual salary of $2,549 for a single missionary and $6,502 for a missionary family in 2009. The Evangelical Free Church of America, on the other hand, provided $1,150 a month, or $13,800 a year, for a single missionary, and this amount was doubled for couples going into missionary service. With Change Volunteers, the pay is anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 for a mission in Africa.”
The “Average Missionary Salary” by PayScale.com, showed their study that they conducted of missionary income from 15 different missionaries. Here were their findings;
An early career Missionary with 1-4 years of experience earns an average total compensation (includes tips, bonus, and overtime pay) of $40,976 based on 15 salaries. A mid-career Missionary with 5-9 years of experience earns an average total compensation of $42,500 based on 6 salaries. An experienced Missionary with 10-19 years of experience earns an average total compensation of $45,781 based on 11 salaries. In their late career (20 years and higher), employees earn an average total compensation of $45,615.
Where Do Missionaries Receive Their Salary From?
To answer this question shortly, missionaries receive their income from a variety of sources such as mission sending agencies, partnership/sponsorship, churches, and businesses. Let’s look into these categories further.
Mission Sending Agencies
Typically, missionaries are sent out by a “sending agency”. These sending agencies are Christian organizations that help missionaries effectively get on the field. They will offer support for the missionary and the rest of the family. Some of the support offered will include travel knowledge, housing help, medical insurance, visas, etc. These are hurdles that the travel agency will have expertise in, and will help the missionary to maneuver in order to get on the field. The agency does not receive much money from the missionary and are typically non-profits or privately funded.
Once the missionary is working with the sending agency, the missionary may receive a check every month from them. This counts as the missionary’s income or salary. Typically, this money will come through the missionary’s donors or churches.
We touched briefly on this above, but let’s explore this section a little further. This could be considered the most important topic that we touch on because almost all missionaries receive their income from partnership, in some form or another.
But what does partnership mean? From the blog, Partnership Development: An End to Traditional Fundraising, we learn;
“Partnership Development is a cycle of nurturing relationships while communicating who you are and intentionally inviting others to partner with you in a long-term vision through financial support”
So many missionaries receive their income from the financial support of others who are partnering with them in their missions work. The sending agency will typically handle the money for the missionary in an account and help the missionary with taxes at the end of the year.
Today, many missionaries are straying from the traditional route of partnership and fundraising. Business as Missions is a new trend for missionaries to receive income. This is an idea with many layers, but financially speaking, it is a great source of income for a missionary. When a missionary chooses to have an income from their business, they are paid through their own revenue, while also being a missionary. Many people equate this to Paul’s tentmaking business, in which he used to support himself while on missionary journeys.
There are many denominations of churches that will fully fund a missionary and even their entire family. This usually comes with the limitation of the missionary having to be a member of that denomination and typically the missionary must follow that denominations “rules” while on the field. However, this is a great way to be funded for missionaries and their families. It is powerful to see an entire congregation support a whole family while on the mission field.
What to Expect as a Missionary
As we can see above, there are many variables when it comes to missionary income. As a missionary, you can expect to receive the income that you have worked towards. If you have a business or are starting a business overseas as missions, then your income will depend greatly upon your business. While if you have partnered with an entire church or denomination, then you can expect to have the income in which both parties agreed upon. The option that is likely to be less predictable is partnership and sending agencies.
With partnership, your income with be greatly influenced by the contribution and loyalty of your partners. If a large donor of yours decides to stop giving, your income will be dramatically affected. Likewise, your mission sending agency is also affected by the amount that others give, so your income will be less stable if you have less finically stable partners.