Is a youthworker really just paid peanuts?
No one goes into youthwork for the money, like many ministries, and vocations, pay is secondary in job satisfaction to the desire to change and make the world better for others in whatever that means, education, health or support. Where Nurses have campaigned rightly for pay increases and teachers too, the individual church based youthworker is rarely able to negotiate such an increase, neither are there national bodies that assimilate pay. I have realised also that one thing I have rarely talked about within these pages is money, the bottom line, the pay of the youthworker. Its not something to talk about in church culture, often as ‘our work is for Gods glory’ is often said. But families of the youthworker also need to live, and feel as though Gods work is fairly valued financially. But ‘how much should we pay the youthworker’ is one key question I am often asked, when helping churches write up a role and advert for employment, and usually their starting point is lower than what I would thought is appropriate, especially as it doesnt usually include housing, utilities, moving costs etc.
But maybe the lid needs to be lifted and there needs to be a conversation about it. But, not for the first time in the last 10 years I find myself trawling through the job pages of the various employment pages and sites for all the main youthwork employers, and there’s a few things in terms of pay that have stood out. In my posts on this site on youth ministry and management (see the categories) I talk about many things, strangely not pay, salary and the costs involved in employing a youth worker in the current day and age. Often its not money that causes a youth worker to leave a post, more the internal politics, but I am hearing stories of how low pay is a large cause of stress for youth worker, especially in church settings. So maybe it is time to have that conversation.
The first thing I was thinking about was whether anything had particularly changed in regard to Church youthworker pay, especially since the professionalisation of youthwork. Like a good hoarder of resources I have copies of ‘YouthWork’ Magazine from a variety of dates, spanning 1997 to 2017, strangely the time when i was most likely to be in receipt of free copies, and when i was most directly involved in youth ministry, working for a church or a youth ministry organisation.
So, here is a quiz for you.
Below are job adverts for roles advertised in Youthwork Magazine over a span of 20 years. You have to try and guess which year they were advertised, based on the role advertised and the pay being offered, good luck ! ( write your answers in the comments section)
Please write your answers in the comments below 1-10. And i just want the year you think the role was advertised, and it could be anytime in the last 20 years. Studious readers or editors of youth work magazine might recognise changes in type, but otherwise please just give them a go.
I have tried to find church based posts that are all relatively similar in terms of full time, and their nature. All of them are based in England. Most suggest qualifications, experience and working with young people on a regular basis.
Without giving any of the game away, in terms of which decade some of these were, there does need to be a conversation about the worth of a youthworker in a church, and how this worth is linked to their salary. If there are nurses in the UK who are in need of food banks, then i wouldn’t be surprised if there are youthworkers. What is clear from the examples above is that pay for what seem similar roles has fluctuated from 10,000 to ‘a package up to 25K’ in that time period, and this may have a number of other factors, the pay of the senior pastor, the pay that the church can afford, any other local or national pay scale within a denomination.
In the last few years there have been national changes to minimum an living wages that may have had a knock on effect on the amount being paid to youthworkers, hoping that they might be paid above this for the roles that they do, though with the expectation that some roles may be up to 45 hours per week, this is unlikely. Some roles on the Job Search site for YCW magazine currently are above £20K, but others only advertised on denomination websites are only £16-£18K. And i do mean only.
Because, given the price of rent, food, bills, internet, gas elec and the rest, this kind of salary is only for the single person renting somewhere small, or where this wage is not meant to be the main one in a family, therefore making family life very difficult (one person working for that wage and long hours, with partner also working full time) . Or a student. It is a statement that youthwork is only a first step career, not something for the experienced. A stepping stone to ‘real’ ministry. And that might not be the intention, but its what is possibly implied by low salary rates.
Maybe I protest too much. Maybe churches shouldnt keep up with the rising costs of living in many areas of the UK (even in the north east house prices and thus mortgages have gone up 3x at least since 1997) , but very few youthwork salaries have done so. Some are less than they were in 2005.
When it comes to paying a youthworker appropriately, there are many factors to consider, and these arent going to be repeated here, such as experience, qualifications and the role expected, and how it might involve managing, coordinating or training. As i said, there is more to employing a youthworker than just pay, and this post describes the minimum requirements for doing so , but pay, when this is linked to the well being of the worker in a situation, and says something (not everything) about the value of the work being done, and the recipients of that work ( ie young people) is important. Even if its something that at times we might find difficult to cope with.
And if a church doesnt want to keep increasing pay to reflect life in modern Britain, then there have got to be other innovative ways of making things work, such as paying utilities, or housing, or something else.
But what is a reasonable amount to pay a youth worker – does anyone know? If you have struggled with money as a result of being in a youth worker role, then privately do get in touch, and if you want to share your story you can do so as a guest post, i am sure others will want to hear. I am not sure Ill be able to help in any way in your situation, but if sharing it helps then you can do so here.
Whilst ive raised this subject – and if young adults and children really are important, what might be some of the solutions to the inconsistencies or low pay for jobs even currently being offered. There is a premium on youthworkers, there arent too many around, but it doesnt work like supply/demand to keep wages high like the issue is in housing. There are national agreed pay scales for some, though these are guidelines. I am not aware of any national denomination which directly contributes funding to local youth work posts, but there might be, because it would be politically awkward. Theres not going to be any quick solutions to this issue, a problem in some areas.
Maybe a youthworker in a job in the current day and age just needs to be grateful and shut up about their pay. hmmm…
One question might also be, what might a church be more likely to invest in, instead of using this to pay for salaries?
Anyway – your answers to the adverts above – what was the year?
Did you write your answers down – no cheating now… Here they are: