AUSTRALIAN christian ministry workers

Studying the 2016 census reveals the following about Australians working in Christian ministry ...

  • there are 29,652 Christian ministry workers - 15,968 which work in a full-time capacity

  • this includes 16,242 'Ministers of Religion' - 10,894 of these full-time

  • Pentecostals have the biggest workforce of all denominations and have one FTE ministry worker per 167 'census' Christians

  • 52.6% of ministry workers are male (80.9% of full-time ministers)

  • the ministry workforce is heavily aged in their 40s and 50s

  • Pentecostals have the youngest workforce, Uniting the oldest

  • ministry workers are dis-proportionally of NW European origin and poorly represented among indigenous peoples

  • Christian ministries are strongly inclusive of disabled workers

  • Christian workers dis-proportionally live in wealthier neighbourhoods

  • ministers are very hard working - 44% work over 49 hours per week

  • pay rates are low for ministers with an average salary of $55k, well below the national average (especially Salvation Army and Catholics) 

  • there is significant gender pay inequality across most denominations (Salvation Army are the most equal)

To many the Christian ministry workforce is the front line of the faith. They are responsible for the sustaining, evolving and growth of Christianity in Australia. This is an unreasonable burden, this is mandate for anyone who claims to be Christian. Nonetheless those who are employed in the faith are ambassadors of special importance. For the most part they are our leadership. They are also the people who get the things done that others have no time or desire to do. And of course, they are the stewards of the financial contributions we make to churches, largely which are investments in them. For these reasons it is important to understand this group, which count to almost 30k. As a combined entity they should have the diversity and breadth to touch all areas of society and to be a workforce that sets an example to the rest of society. The 2016 census gives us an opportunity to conduct such a study and this paper will detail the findings.

"those who are employed in the faith are ambassadors of special importance ...  it is important to understand this group"


All data in this analysis is collected from the 2016 ABS Census (supported by the National Church Life Survey). There is no direct method of identifying Christian workers. Such workers are thus found based on either their occupation being 'Minister of Religion' or their industry being 'Religious Services'. There is significant overlap between the two as can be seen to the right. We will consequently pick up ministers working outside of the church along with along with those working in the church who are not ministers. We cannot identify non-ministers working outside of the church but these are likely to be small numbers in terms of this analysis. We also cannot identify those part-timers for whom ministry is their second job. All workers must identify their religion as being Christian (any denomination).

We come to a total of 29,652 Christian workers (this group will be known through this report as 'ministry workers'). Of these 15,968 work in a full-time capacity (classed by ABS as working 35 or more hours per week). A subset of this are those described as being a 'Minister of Religion' (16,242 of which 10,894 are full-time). These are likely to be ordained (or equivalent) and will be referred to as 'ministers'.

Christian Ministry Workers by Identification

Given there are 12.2 million who ticked Christian in census there is one full-time worker per 764 Christians (or if part-timers are included, one full-time equivalent [FTE] worker per 534 Christians). If we assume 2.5 million active Christians those numbers change to one full-time worker per 157 Christians (110 for FTE).


Below we can see how the 29,652 Christian ministry workers are split between their occupations (what they do) and industries (the context in which they do it). The majority are Minsters of Religion with the rest ranging from roles such as administration, service workers, managers, education and the arts. Some of these could be classed as clear ministry roles (such as worship leaders among the Arts and Media category) while others less explicitly (such as accountants). For the purpose of this work, all are considered to be in ministry to some capacity, at the very least enabling ministers to be focused on their set functions.

The majority work is in the industry classed as Religious Services, generally being churches or explicitly Christian organisations. But ministers reach further into other workplaces such as social services, education, aged care, health and defence.


Occupation and Industry of Ministry Workers

We will now profile more in depth who these ministry workers are.


Needless to say, the majority Christian ministry workers are male. Over 80% of full time ministers are male. This drops back to 71.2% if part-timers are included. Just under 70% of all full-time ministry workers are males - but including part-timers this drops to 52.6%. The majority of part-time workers are thus female (67.5%). In essence, leadership and frontline positions are dominated by males and support roles by females.  We will see later this varies by denomination and is often the result of various doctrines of gender roles. The majority of the church is female - 60% of church goers according the 2016 National Church Life Survey (NCLS). 53% of Christians in the census are female. 

Profile of Ministry Workers by Gender

"leadership and frontline positions are dominated by males and support roles by females"


Christian workers in general are more 'middle-aged' than each of church goers, census Christians and the overall Australian population (even when just considering those aged 20 to 80 as per below). Over 53% of full-time ministers are aged in their 40s and 50s - compared to 39% of church goers and 37% of the population. Given the church is struggling to reach and retain those under 40, any effort to equip and employ a younger ministry force should be encouraged.  

Profile of Ministry Workers by Age  (aged between 20 and 80 only)

"over 53% of full-time ministers are aged in their 40s and 50s"


The geographical split of ministry workers is split similarly to the overall Christian population. There is one notable exception - an over-representation of ministry workers (especially full-time) in NSW. This is at the expense of Victoria where there is an under-representation. This means NSW has significantly more ministry workers per Christian (and person) than Victoria. NSW has a higher Christian rate in the population as it is - but this phenomenon may well be only exasperating the problem? 

Profile of Ministry Workers by Geography

"there is an over-representation of ministry workers in NSW"


The ancestry of ministry workers is again not dissimilar to the population. Most notably there are relatively more who are of North West European origin as opposed to Oceanian. This can be tricky to unpack as these are self-defined by respondents and most Oceanian are of Australian origin (which in turn may well be of North West European origin). Nonetheless, what this suggests is that ministry workers tend to be closer to their European roots than the population as a whole. This creates an imbalance. This may correct itself over coming generations, but it is important that the church (and denominations) keep track of and have an ancestral mix which matches their catchment.

Profile of Ministry Workers by Ancestry

It should be noted that although 2.8% of Christians (and also the population) are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island origin, just 0.9% of ministry workers are of the same origin. This falls to 0.7% of full-time ministers. This imbalance could potentially restrict reaching into these communities, although at the same time it is important to work within the leadership and community hierarchies in these communities. See the excellent NCLS report on Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Relations in Churches.


The church does well in employing those with a disability (which census defines as "has need for assistance with core activities"). Although 6.6% of Christians (5.1% of the population) have such a disability, this group makes up just 0.7% of all part-time or full-time workers. Within ministry 1.1% of all workers (part-time or full-time) have a disability. This means there is over-representation of those with disabilities among ministry workers which set a great example.


The socioeconomic status (SEIFA) effectively ranks each street in Australia into a decile from 1 (the most deprived) to 10 (the most wealthy) based on a number of measures. What can be seen below is that ministry workers are much more likely to be living in wealthy areas than Christians and the population at large. For instance, 24.0% of full-time minsters live in the top 2 deciles (compared to 20.2% of the population). This does not necessarily mean that least wealthy areas are being neglected but such workers are at a minimum living on the wealthier streets of such areas.

This is potentially a challenge for the church. Part of incarnational ministry would stress the need to engage and be among those in society who are most disadvantaged. Obviously, it is a bit more complex than that, but it is certainly an area churches need to be mindful of. Jesus certainly was not afraid to live among the most unfortunate.

Profile of Ministry Workers by Socioeconomic Status (SEIFA) of Residence

"just 0.9% of ministry workers are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island origin"

"there is over-representation of those with disabilities among ministry workers ... a great example"

"24.0% of full-time minsters live in the top 2 socioeconomic deciles  ... compared to 20.2% of the population"


Given the nature of the trade, Christian ministers are very well educated. 72% of full-timers have a bachelor's degree or higher (56% of all ministry workers). This compares to 25% of the adult population as a whole.


Christian ministers are a very hard-working bunch! 44.5% of full-timers work over 49 hours per week - compared to just 24.3% of all full-time workers in Australia. This of course is self-reported and does not factor work efficiency, but all jobs are subject to this same bias. This result must be commended although the greater concern may well be that Christian workers are working too hard. Nonetheless, great work and thank you very much!

Profile of Ministry Workers by Hours Worked per Week

"44.5% full-timers work over 49 hours per week"


Despite all their hard-work, ministry workers are not particularly well rewarded. We should note census income includes all income (interest, rent, etc. in addition to salary) and it is also self-reported, so it does have limitations. Further to that many ministry workers (especially ministers) benefit from inclusive housing and other non-financial benefits. Nonetheless, these figures are very useful indicators.

Full-time ministers earn on average $54,531 per year. This is lower than the overall ministry average ($58,912) but given the wide range of non-minister roles (from highly to lowly skilled) and differing fringe benefits the comparison is not valid. However, given the overall population average is $78,466 ministry workers are clearly paid significantly less.

Profile of Ministry Workers by Total Annual Income


A problem for the church is inequality of incomes between males and females. This varies by age, peaking in the 40s where full-time male ministers earn on average almost 25% more than their female counterparts. Of course, there are complications within this. For starters we cannot factor in levels of work experience and specific responsibilities. Males also claim to work 1 to 2 hours more per week than females. But no matter how much we try and compare like-for-like, we consistently see males paid more. The levels of pay inequality are similar, and in some cases worse, than all Australian jobs in general. See my work on pay equality which enables comparison of ministers pay by age, education and industry. What is clear is that the church is a not a leader in this field. It is an area in which it must be leader.

Gender Pay Inequality for Christian Ministers of Religion

"male full-time ministers in their 40s earn almost 25% more than their female counterparts"


We can now profile some of these key figures by denomination. Below we see some key counts. What is striking is that Pentecostals have the highest numbers of full-time workers despite being only the seventh largest denomination (in terms of census figures - they will rank much higher in church attendance). They have 2,648 full-time ministry workers - 17% of all full-time ministry workers. That is one ministry worker (full time equivalent) per 167 Pentecostal Christians. Or one minister (full time equivalent) per 200 Pentecostal Christians. The only denomination with a stronger rate is the Salvation Army with one ministry worker (full time equivalent) per 61 Salvation Army Christians. The Salvation Army of course has a major charity arm. Anglicans and Catholics have much lighter rates per Christian, but we must note that these denominations will have higher proportions of nominal Christians amongst their census totals. Their rates per church goer will be much heavier.

Profile of Ministry Worker Counts by Denomination

The Salvation Army have the most gender balanced ministry workforce and the only denomination in which females outnumber males (just 46.8% are male). They are followed by Catholics with 59.3% being male (although 92.5% of their ministers are male). At the other extreme 87.1% of Eastern Orthodox ministry workers are male.

Pentecostals have the youngest ministry workforce with an average age of 43.9 (46.1 for their ministers). Discounting other and not further defined (nfd), the Baptists are the next youngest. At the other extreme, the Uniting Church has the oldest workforce at 51.3 years old on average (53.1 for their ministers). This is followed by the Catholics. These older workforces are big challenges for their ministries which will be impacted by less ability to connect with younger communities. See my previous analysis where we can see the age of the workforce is well aligned to the age of the denomination members.

Profile of Ministry Worker Demographics by Denomination

"Pentecostals have the youngest ministry workforce ... the Uniting Church has the oldest"

The longest working full-time minsters belong to the Catholic church who labour for 47.1 hours per week, closely followed by the Lutherans. Across all denominations the average hours per week is over 43 - in fact the 'nfd' group could be congratulated for keeping it to just 43.4.

Looking at salaries, the Salvation Army has the lowest paid full-time ministers earning little over $30k. Catholic ministers earn a little more at $32.3k. At the other end of the spectrum Anglican ministers are the highest paid on an average salary of $67.1k. Female Catholic ministers earn substantially more than their male counterparts, although given their roles are different this is not comparable. The Salvation Army however can again be commended for being closest to parity as far as income goes between males and females. Presbyterian and the Churches of Christ have the highest levels of inequality.


Profile of Ministry Worker Demographics by Hours and Salary


It can be seen overall the Christian ministry workforce are a very hard-working group who are not overly rewarded financially. For this they must be commended and hopefully encouraged even to work less! They are inclusive in the areas of ethnicity and those with disabilities. They perform a wide range of roles both inside and outside of the church.


There are challenges however, particularly given the older profiles of the base and a male centric-ness across all roles. This is worsened by clear gender pay inequality which fails to set a good example to the rest of society.

More than anything we must encourage these ministry staff. They give and sacrifice a lot. At the same time, let's encourage others to get involved, particularly those who are younger and can keep the flame alive for the next generation.

see also:  What Jobs do Christians typically do?

                Pay Equality and Job Diversity in the Australian Workforce

                Explaining Declining Christianity