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How to compensate guest speakers or musicians on a church budget

By Tricia Brown

Being a gracious host extends far beyond the doors of your home. Have you ever considered how well your church hosts the guests that you ask to help lead worship or other programs?

Here are a few things to remember when you host pastors, speakers or other platform guests.  

Be clear about expectations

A lot of misunderstandings can be avoided simply by being clear upfront. When you extend an invitation to a pastor or musician, put it in writing, either via letter or an effective email. Make sure that you outline your expectations in as much detail as you can.

Your invitation should answer the following:

  • When do you want them to speak/perform? Include days, dates, times and how many times per day.
  • How long will they be expected to speak/perform each time they take the stage?
  • Will there be any other requirements made of them during their time with your church? For example, will the speaker be involved in a meet-and-greet before the service or a group question-and-answer session after the service?
  • What are the dress requirements?
  • Do you want handouts or slides included with the presentations?
  • Are there any equipment considerations that need to be disclosed? This is particularly important for musicians. Does your church have a projector for PowerPoint?

Remember, the more clear you can be about your expectations, the more empowered your guests will be to make informed decisions.

After extending a written invitation, make sure to follow-up with a personal phone call where you ask, “Are there any questions you may have before making a decision about this engagement?”

Once you have outlined your expectations, make every effort not to add to or change the duties you expect — especially at the last minute.

Be charitable about compensation

In addition to outlining what you expect, you should be clear and considerate about compensation. Think carefully about how much you should pay guest speakers and musicians. Don’t be shy or coy. One pastor traveled out of state to preach to a congregation on Sunday. Because of the distance and the time of the morning service, he had to travel on Saturday and spend the night in a hotel. A week after the event, he received a check for $75.

“I wasn’t looking to make money on this,” he said, “but the $75 didn’t cover my room, my gas, or my meals.”

If your church can only afford to pay a small stipend or take up a “love offering,” then be honest about it upfront. Like this pastor, many other speakers and worship leaders are not in their professions to make a lot of money. However, some of them do rely on these types of engagements to help support themselves and their families.

At the very least, your church should try to compensate for any expenses incurred — travel, boarding, food, tolls, etc. And by no means should your guest be responsible for registering for your event or paying registration fees.

In addition to covering expenses, your church should consider compensation for the time guests spend in preparation as well as the time they spend at your services. Occasionally, a guest will actually have an hourly rate, but most of the time, they rely on the generosity of the church hosts.

When deciding what to pay musicians, speakers or pastors, you consider:

  • Is this what they do for a living?
  • How much time will they spend preparing as well as traveling and serving?
  • What would you expect if you were in their position?

Be as generous as you are able, but if your church simply cannot afford to pay a guest, then you need to consider other ways that you can compensate or honor them.

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Be creative with a tight budget

There are many ways to serve guest speakers and musicians, but if your church is small or your budget is extremely tight, you simply may not be able to financially compensate them. However, you can still show honor to your guests by thinking creatively.

Partner for platform guests
You may want to partner with one or two other churches in your community or district to host special guests. If you take this route, you will need to make sure that each participating church is clear on the details of the arrangement.

  • Will each church contribute a certain amount upfront, or will you split the expenses evenly?
  • Which church will house the services where the guests will participate?
  • How will the hosting responsibilities be divided between the churches?

While more hands may make less work, they also can create confusion and more opportunities for details to fall through the cracks. So, if you partner with other churches, be even more diligent about making certain that you all do a good job of hosting and honoring your guests.

Welcome guests via Wi-Fi
Take advantage of technology. Explain your financial situation and ask potential guests if they would be willing to Skype with your congregation or livestream or video a service where they preach, speak or perform.

In this way, your congregation may be able to experience the joy of having a guest without as much cost. Some sites, such as sermoncentral.com, have sermon audio or videos that can be shared with your congregation. Many churches already livestream or offer videos of sermons on their websites and would be happy to allow you to share a message with your congregation.  

Trade guest times
Consider asking another pastor or worship leader if he or she would be willing to trade services. On a particular date, you and your worship team could be guests at a church, while their pastor and worship team would be guests at yours.

Ask for assistance to host guests
Talk to your congregation about the desire to have guest speakers or worship teams. Identify volunteers or contributors who are willing to provide for specific services. For example, some people might be willing to house guests. Others might be willing to invite guests for a meal in their homes, while others might be able to donate funds to help compensate them.

Some members of your congregation might be business owners who can donate services or provide discount rates, coupons or gift cards. Frequent travelers might be willing to check their travel reward plans. Often, companies will allow them to pay a small fee to donate their travel miles in exchange for free airplane trips for guests.

You also could collect a special offering in advance so that you know how much money you have to work with when inviting guests. Sometimes, you can meet the need and create a more joyful giving experience when the congregation is presented with the opportunity to give toward a specific goal.

Be considerate with accommodations

Hosting goes well beyond compensation. In fact, the type of accommodations you provide for your guests says a lot about your church.

First of all, make sure to provide a clear point of contact for your guest. In addition to the name and contact information, you may want to send a picture of the contact to help first meetings in public go a little more smoothly.

As soon as possible, provide a clear and complete itinerary. Sites such as Travefy and ProTravelBlog may be helpful, but make sure that you include:

  • What day and time the guest is expected to arrive in town.
  • When the guest is expected at the church.
  • Where the guest will be staying overnight (or in between services).
  • What the meal arrangements will be.
  • What the parking arrangements will be.
  • Directions to the church (if the guest is providing his/her own transportation).

It also is very important to make sure to introduce your guest appropriately, both personally and on the platform.

“Kind, brief introductions are important, no flattery” says one Tennessee pastor. “When I was a younger man, I preached at a church in Mississippi. As was customary, the host pastor took me to someone’s home on Saturday night after I arrived. Several were with the revival team. He didn’t introduce any of us. We just walked in. The woman of the home told us where to sit. Most everyone sat in the dining room, and she put me with the children in the kitchen. The next morning after the service, when she realized I was the preacher, she was so embarrassed.”

Most importantly, ask questions beforehand to ascertain the needs and preferences of each guest.  For example, you might think that every guest would prefer eating out and staying in a hotel. However, one missionary couple said that the best host churches for them were those that “invited us in their homes and fixed meals and actually interacted with us. Going out to eat is nice, but a home-cooked meal and fellowship is special.”

So, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Would you prefer to eat before or after the service?
  • Do you have any special needs?
  • Will anyone be traveling with you? Remember, pastors, speakers and musicians often want to bring spouses with them. Accommodate as you are able.
  • What can we do to make your accommodations comfortable?

Provide the best accommodations that you can, but, whenever possible, ensure that your guests at least have a private bedroom and bathroom.

Be consciously grateful

It’s important to show appreciation to pastors and worship leaders who are taking time away from their family, friends and church to be with you. Show your gratitude.

Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to simply pray for them. Ask them how you can pray for them before they come to your church. Then, make it a conscious effort to lift them up as they prepare for the engagement. When they are at your church, ask them how you and your congregation can pray for them, and publicly pray for them during their time with your church.

In addition, write your guests a follow-up note telling them how their presence made a difference to your congregation. If possible, consider sending the spouses or families a gift card or flowers to show your appreciation for the sacrifices they make. You also can encourage your church to demonstrate gratitude by passing around a card to sign, asking volunteers to write thank-you notes or enlisting the children’s class to color thank-you pictures.  

How you welcome guest pastors and worship leaders in your church says a lot about your church. Scripture makes it clear that church leaders — especially those who speak and teach — should be honored. Don’t let money, or the lack thereof, interfere. Make sure your church is a proper host to platform guests and gives them the honor that they deserve.

Tricia Brown

Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.