How Much Should Churches Pay Guest Speakers?

By Raul Rivera

Churches regularly use the services and spiritual gifts of guest speakers. In fact, chances are that your church has recently hosted a guest speaker, or it plans to do so in the near future. 

In return for their time and service, guest speakers are generally compensated with what is referred to as “honorariums” or “love offerings.”

While we can all agree that honorariums, or love offerings, are taxable income to the guest speaker, that is not what this blog is about. 

Rather, I want to use this blog post to address a question commonly asked by pastors that pertain to paying guest speakers and that is, “How much should we pay guest speakers?”

You may already have an answer to this question, but I challenge you to keep reading this article because you may find yourself learning something new.

How much can you pay guest speakers?

The answer to how much you can pay guest speakers comes down to how much your church can afford to pay a guest speaker

Common practice among churches is to pay guest speakers with cash from the offering. The intent behind this practice is good and pure; however, if your church chooses to use this practice, proceed with caution.

Here is why.

Churches that compensate guest speakers with cash from the offering are often violating several sections of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) because usually there is no paper trail to make the cash payment(s) reportable. 

So while the specific amount paid to a guest speaker is up to what your church can afford, perhaps a better question is, “What expenses can your church cover for a guest speaker?”

This is a popular question we receive from pastors and ministry leaders all the time at our conferences and we will cover that next.

What expenses can a church cover for a guest speaker?

There are instances when your church can cover the guest speaker’s meal, lodging, and travel expenses, and it not be taxable to him/her.

However, there are requirements to meet in order for this to be so. 

IRS Publication 463 says that if you temporarily travel away from your “tax home”, (which is your regular place of employment or work), you can generally deduct the associated travel expenses. 

For guest speakers, travel expenses can be covered in full by the host church. (See IRS Publication 463 for more info.)

For tax purposes, travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from your home for your business, profession, or job. IRS Publication 463 continues by stating that you are considered to be traveling away from your home if:

  • your duties require you to be away from the general area of your tax home substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work, and
  • you need sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away from home. 

So, what do you need to know about being able to cover travel related expenses for guest speakers who come to your church? 

In short, for your church to cover the travel expenses of a guest speaker, there are two things to know: 

  1. The travel of the guest speaker must require an overnight stay because it is not plausible for him/her to complete the trip in one day (IRS Publication 463 notes that the rest requirement cannot be satisfied by merely napping in your car), and
  2. The destination (your church) is located more than 50 miles away from his/her home. (See Internal Revenue Manual 1.32.1) 

So, if your church has the financial means, how should you pay for the travel expenses of a guest speaker?

Let us take a look at that next.

How to cover travel expenses for guest speakers

The best practice and most honorable way for your church to bless a guest speaker in this capacity is to directly pay all travel expenses.

What do I mean by this?

Well, rather than reimbursing the guest speaker’s travel expenses, such as airfare and lodging, your church should pay the necessary amounts directly to the airline, hotel, and any other businesses for the travel expenses incurred. 

This takes much of the administrative burden off of the guest speaker. Let me explain.

  • If you give an honorarium of $400.00 to a guest speaker and reimburse his/her travel expenses, you will most likely end up having to supply him/her with a Form 1099-MISC at the end of the year.
  • The honorarium of $400.00 plus travel expenses will most likely push the total amount given to the guest speaker over the $600.00 threshold, which is the amount paid to a non-employee that requires a Form 1099-MISC.
  • In this instance, the guest speaker will need to substantiate the amount that can be deducted as a legitimate travel expense and differentiate it from the amount that is subject to income taxes. As you can tell, this can be rather burdensome for the guest speaker.
  • Rather, if your church pays for the guest speaker’s travel expenses directly, then all you will need to do is keep and maintain all related receipts for your church’s records.

I realize every church is not in a financial position to cover the travel costs for a guest speaker.

However, for those churches that can, this is a great way to bless and honor those individuals for their service, especially those guest speakers who are conducting a multiple-night revival at your church.

Wait . . . there’s more to know about paying guest speakers

While knowing how much your church can pay guest speakers along with the types of expenses it can cover is important, there is more you need to know about paying guest speakers.

For instance, how should your church handle paying guest speakers that come to your church? (You can actually click here to read about that.)

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