Church Parsonage

To Parsonage or Not to Parsonage

In the USA there is a growing debate about the church parsonage. Some say it is the best way to care for your pastor's housing needs. Others say that church-owned homes prevent pastors from building equity and financial security.

As a pastor I did both. That doesn't make my thoughts the final word. But my experience might help you as you consider what is best for your church and pastor.

Having lived in both a church parsonage and my own home, I can say that there are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

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Church Parsonage

Advantages

  • Easier Transitions. It's an unfortunate fact that the average tenure of a pastor in the USA is less than five years. Churches and pastors will make these transitions easier if your pastor doesn't have to buy or sell a house.
  • No Property Taxes. In the USA most homeowners are required to pay taxes on their land and houses. But church property is usually considered tax exempt. If a pastor owns his own home he or she will have to pay property taxes.
  • Maintenance Costs Covered by Congregation. While the cost of a new furnace or roof is expensive, the church congregation can bear the expense easier than your pastor. "Many wallets make for light financial burden."

Disadvantages

  • Maintenance Expense. While it is easier for the congregation to care for a house than your pastor, it still is expensive to maintain a church parsonage.
  • Limits Your Ability to Hire Pastors with Equity. Some pastors insist on purchasing their own home. Others have equity from a house they sold before moving to your town. It is almost impossible for a church to cover maintenance costs on a parsonage while at the same time paying your pastor more so that he can purchase his own home.
  • Conflict. Church parsonages are notorious for being sources of conflict. Should the carpet be blue or tan? Should the washer be repaired or replaced? There's always someone who thinks the pastor spends too much or too little time on his yard. And someone else worries about the damage being caused by the pastor's kids or dog.

There are also advantages and disadvantages to the pastor-owned home.

Pastor-Owned Home

Advantages

  • Equity. Buying a house and keeping it for an extended period of time generally leads to equity.
  • Autonomy. When a pastor owns his own home he is free to paint, remodel, and change anything and everything. People might wonder why he or she did what he did, but no one will complain that he doesn't have the right to do whatever he wants with his own home. This is very liberating for the pastor who is used to worrying about what the Deacons think of his lawn.
  • Privacy. Whether the church-provided house sits on the same property as the church building or is two miles away, people in the church feel like they can stop in any time for nearly any reason. While most pastors want people to feel free to visit them at home, they do want to have a sense of privacy. They don't want their home to be thought of as community property... even if it is owned by the church community. When a pastor owns his own house people typically give him and his family more privacy.

Disadvantages

  • Down payment. If a pastor doesn't have equity to transfer from the sale of a previous house, he may not have sufficient cash for a down payment.
  • Reduced Income. Even if your church is able to increase your pastor's salary to help with the purchase of a home, owning a house is expensive. His usable income will shrink if he purchases a house.
  • Maintenance Costs. Every homeowner hopes that he won't have to replace his furnace or roof. But sooner or later these expenses will need to be addressed.
  • Distraction. Owning a home can be a distraction from ministry. Leaky faucets, clogged rain gutters, cracked concrete, and peeling paint all need to be addressed. These take time... what won't get done as a result?
  • The equity myth. Though purchasing a home generally leads to equity, that doesn't necessarily mean that you've invested wisely. When you add up maintenance expenses, taxes, and interest you may have been better off living in a tax free church parsonage and investing your money in a retirement account.

Church Housing Do's & Don'ts

  • Do pay your pastor more if he is purchasing his own home.
  • Don't be offended if your pastor prefers to buy his own home.
  • Do keep a checklist of maintenance items for the parsonage so that your pastor doesn't have to ask for something to be done. Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to parsonage maintenance issues. We lived in one parsonage where the carpet hadn't been changed for 35 years.
  • Don't put your pastor in a home you wouldn't live in. A pastor friend of mine has lived in a mold infested church parsonage for several years. I've also heard about church parsonages with leaky roofs, flooding basements, dangerous electrical conditions, inadequate heating, non-functional appliances, and excessive mice and roach populations.
  • Do help your pastor with maintenance issues even if he owns his own house.
  • Don't sell your church parsonage just because it's expensive to maintain. A parsonage that is mortgage and tax free will almost always be cheaper than paying your pastor more so he can buy a home.

Church Parsonage Conclusion

After reading and critiquing this page for me, my wife asked me a question. She said, "If you today became the new pastor of a church, would you want a church parsonage or would you prefer to buy your own home?"

_________________________
Download the entire pastor salary section of My-Pastor.com in an ebook format. You can print as many copies as you want. And it will look better than printing each of the 11 pages directly from the web site.
See this page for more information.
_________________________

I responded with my typical deep sense of conviction, "It depends," I said. "If the church can afford to pay me enough so that we could buy an adequate house, I'd prefer to own my own home. But if they couldn't afford the necessary salary, I'd rather live in a church parsonage."

For me, that's the bottom line. If owning my own home is going to be a source of financial stress and distraction, I'd rather live in a church parsonage.

The late Christian financial adviser, Larry Burkett, was fond of saying that the cheapest car you'll ever own is probably the one you have right now. By that he meant that it's usually cheaper to pay maintenance costs on the car you currently own than to pay for a new car.

I think his advice can apply to our discussion of church parsonages as well. In most cases it will cost you less to maintain the parsonage you have than to sell your parsonage and increase your pastor's salary sufficiently enough so that he can purchase, maintain, and pay taxes on a house of his own.

So for what it's worth, here's my advice...

  1. If you own a church parsonage that is both debt and tax free, keep it. In the long run it will be cheaper and easier than having your pastors buy their own homes. But please do two things: first, maintain the parsonage well; second, give your pastor the freedom to decorate as he desires.
  2. If number one above is not true of your church AND you can afford to pay your pastor a salary high enough that he can purchase adequate housing, help your pastor purchase his own home.

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