Many successful speakers started their speaking career in Christian ministry. (Our very own founder Grant Baldwin was a youth pastor!) Other speakers start out in other fields and later turn their talents toward church audiences once they have built their platform. Beyond that, many speakers want to speak in the faith-based space, but worry that doing so jeopardizes their ability to make a living. If you’re not called to full-time ministry, speaking on faith-based topics might seem like a futile endeavor. We believe you shouldn’t have to bury your passion for spiritual or faith-based speaking for the sake of making money. So today, we’re giving you some foundational principles for how to make money as a faith-based speaker.
It’s true that corporate clients have bigger budgets than church congregations and religious nonprofits. But you can build a business speaking to them all the same. In today’s piece we’ll walk you through how to approach that process. We’ll start with the faith-based speaking world at a glance, and then move onto strategies for making money as a speaker in this space and adding other streams of income in addition to speaking. You can find additional resources on this topic from our podcast linked at the end.
1. The Faith-based Speaking World at a Glance.
If you are interested in Faith-based speaking, you probably fall into one of three “buckets.” These buckets are not mutually exclusive. You can always pivot your business if something isn’t working out. But they provide a helpful paradigm for setting goals and visualizing your journey as a faith-based speaker.
- A full-time minister who also speaks. Many famous pastors, ministers, and preachers are also widely acclaimed inspirational speakers. Secular audiences listen to their talks, read their books, and attend their events. Tourists come to their churches from far and wide just to hear them speak. If you feel you have a vocation to attend seminary or work for your church full time but also want to have a speaking business, this might be the dream. But if you have your sights set on being the next John Maxwell or Joel Osteen, you might want to make a 50-year plan instead of a 5-year plan. While it’s true many ministers can gain exposure by offering guest sermons, you probably won’t make very much money at those engagements. You will have to develop your speaking strategy on top of your ministry work–not a job for the faint-hearted!
- A layperson who speaks to faith-based audiences full-time. If you worry there’s no space for you and your gifts in the faith-based speaking world because you’re not called to full-time ministry, put your fears to rest. John 14:2 reads: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Likewise are there many niches for lay speakers to choose from–no theology degree or pastoral experience required! The only necessary qualifications to speak to an audience united by creed are empathy, passion, and faith. Youth ministers. Nonprofit leaders. Authors. Missionaries. Athletes who credit their success to God. Celebrities who converted late in life. Need I provide you with any more ideas? The list goes on and on!
Gigs for these speakers are waiting at larger churches that hire outside guest speakers, events hosted by ministries within a particular Church (e.g. women’s groups), conferences (both local and national), and faith-based organizations and nonprofits. From dating to marriage; from finding your vocation to leveling up your spirituality; believers long for guidance from speakers relating to every aspect of the human condition. Christian media personalities like Sadie Robertson fall into this bucket. And our very own TSL coach Michelle Onuorah recently came on the podcast to discuss her ministry.
- Someone who speaks to christian audiences about a non-exclusively faith-related topic. One of the most successful Christian speakers in the world speaks about one of the most boring but universal topics imaginable. We’re talking about Dave Ramsey of course–who has managed to build a brand and business on the two pillars of faith and finances. Frankly, you can run a successful business in this bucket without sharing the beliefs of your audience. Churches often bring in guest speakers on topics like personal finance, creating wills, life insurance, and other practical matters. And if none of your local churches do this, maybe it’s time to suggest it! Furthermore, many key issues in the corporate business world like marketing, leadership, and HR are applicable to Churches. With a little repackaging, you can easily deliver the same talk to a room full of pastors as you do to a room full of CEOs. If you like speaking to both secular and religious audiences, this is the bucket for you.
While you contemplate which of those buckets you fit into, take a good look at your intentions. Being a good speaker requires a real passion for your message no matter what field you are in. But alongside that passion, especially in the realm of faith, you need integrity and authenticity. You might be able to fake it till you make it every now and then as a corporate speaker. But religious audiences can spot a hypocrite a mile away. If you’re not committed to the values and beliefs of your audience, don’t pretend for the sake of getting another gig. Be honest about who you are, what you do, and how you can help your clients. In the long run, this will propel you to success more than any marketing hack can.
2. Tips and Strategies for Successful Faith-based Speaking.
Still wondering how to make money as a faith-based speaker? Well, the rules of successful speaking are the same as for any speaking business. You’ve got to put in the hours to establish a digital footprint, build your network, and reach out to potential clients. Defining and establishing your personal brand early on is essential to running a successful faith-based speaking business. Once you establish your expertise and your professionalism, clients are more likely to take you seriously and pay you according to your qualifications.
Yes–you deserve to be paid what you’re worth (check out our speaker fee calculator if you need help there). In fact, when a potential client asks your fee, it’s OK to charge more than you think you’re worth. If they can afford it, then you’re in luck! It’s true–there is far less money for speaker fees floating around in faith-based organizations than in other industries. There is no way around it. And that can be discouraging. So much so that you might be tempted to let potential clients talk you down from your fees. But if you let every client talk down your fees, it will be very difficult to shake that reputation.
But if they really can’t afford you? You might just have to walk away. Or you can get creative (we offer more ideas for this in the next section). Many nonprofits and Churches have a limited honorarium from which they can pay speakers. This is where some clever negotiating comes in handy. Can your hotel room, transportation, and meals be covered from the food or logistics budgetary allotment? Full-time faith-based speakers often travel quite a lot. With meals, lodging, and flights covered, taking a low-paying gig for exposure can be quite reasonable.
Once your faith-based speaking business earns you significant income, you will have the freedom to generously take on free gigs. But when you provide value and make a difference, you deserve to get paid. Those speaker fees help you create an impact on even more people by growing your business. Speaking for free from the start will only hurt your ability to grow your business. And if anybody gives you a hard time for charging what you’re worth–claiming you care much about money, or owe your talents to the Lord–remind them that you too deserve to live indoors.
All of this means the client outreach part of building your business might be quite arduous. Word of mouth marketing is your friend. And you’re in luck, because it is incredibly effective in this world! Pastors know other pastors. Youth ministers know other youth ministers. Worship leaders know other worship leaders. Other Christian speakers know event planners, mentors, role models…get to know the community. Take them out to lunch. Ask how you can help them reach their goals. Ask for recommendations–not just referrals, but personal testimonies. Especially in a network where people share values like honesty and goodwill, these recommendations will go a long way toward getting you more gigs.
Before we move onto adding streams of income in your faith-based speaking business, here are some practical tips for guest speaking at churches. Of course, the same principles of quality preparation, content, and delivery apply here as to any speaking engagement. We’d light to highlight a few things to keep in mind regarding your dress and demeanor. Making that great first impression starts with dressing appropriately and speaking reverently. These guidelines can vary hugely between denominations so it’s important to do your research! For example, casual button down jeans will probably fit right in at an evangelical megachurch, even if you’re speaking during service. On the other hand, Catholic, Orthodox, and many Anglican and Lutheran Churches will expect a posture of extreme reverence inside the Church. In fact, these churches might relegate guest speakers to the parish hall.
If you’re speaking at a conference or other event outside of church, ask your event planner about the dress code or look up photos from years past. Find out if there is a service or prayer worked into the conference schedule that you shouldn’t miss. Religious audiences tend to care a lot about these things–sometimes inordinately so. The last thing you want is being the topic du jour at the church grandmas’ gossip fest!
3. Other Streams of Income as a Speaker in the Ministry Space.
Now that you’ve soaked in everything from section 2, it’s time for some hard truths (and some helpful ideas to go along with them). It is very difficult to make a living as a faith-based speaker. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible–in fact, if you have a well-established brand and you’re willing to travel, your long-term prospects for material success are very good. But for the first several years, it is highly unlikely you will be able to make a living purely off of faith-based speaking. And that goes for all the categories we covered in section 1.
But here’s the thing. You can establish other streams of income while making faith-based speaking a core part of your mission. And as you invest in yourself and your business and those other projects turn into passive income, you can focus more and more on speaking. So what are those other strategies for how to make money as a faith-based speaker? Let’s cover two paths you can take here–pick one, or try them both!
The first path is to speak to an entirely separate audience as well as your faith-based audience. This is probably easiest if you fall into bucket #3 above, but even as a full-time pastor or Christian inspirational speaker, you can make this work. The caveat here is that unfortunately secular clients might be turned off if your entire brand is centered around your faith. If your audiences are very disparate, consider running two parallel speaking businesses. You can even have two websites, one directed at each clientele. The same message or story can be at the core of each business, but the language, marketing, and fees will be very different. Since the people who hire speakers look for specificity to their situation, this extra effort will help you get more gigs in the long run.
The other path is offering additional products and services alongside your speaking to both your clients and your audience. This is an incredible way to offset the discouragingly low honoraria offered by some otherwise excellent clients. Will the church at which you’re guest preaching buy a few hundred copies of your book to distribute to the congregation? Can you set up a table selling signed copies during a conference? Is your talk actually just a taste of the amazing inspiration you offer in your 1:1 coaching sessions? Do you offer a consulting programme to clients at a discount to help them continue implementing the substance of your talk?
If you’re any good at speaking, your amazing talk acts as a sales pitch for yourself. That means that when your audience finds out you have more to offer, they will jump at the opportunity. Develop these parallel resources and products such that you barely have to make a sales pitch–they just flow naturally from the content of your talk.
This is how most faith-based speakers make a living. Some speakers who follow the first path even pivot entirely to corporate gigs for their stream of income while doing faith-based speaking pro bono. As for the second…Books, courses, webinars, even podcasts that earn income from sponsorships as you gain more listeners…let your talks act as marketing campaigns for these income streams and they will keep you afloat even when speaking engagements are few and far between.
There’s no real roadmap for this path, because it’s not easy. You might have to adapt your expectations and your game plan. Perhaps even delay some of your intentions. And no, you probably won’t make as much money as corporate marketing or executive leadership speakers do. But it’s entirely possible to make a living this way, with a little bit of hustle, a lot of cold-emailing…and perhaps a few prayers.
Want to dive deeper into how to make money as a faith-based speaker and grow your business? Here are some of our podcasts that touch on speaking to faith-based, non-profit, and other financially unlucrative audiences.
- This episode with Paul Evans covers the faith-based speaking world with some great examples of how Paul runs a separate business speaking to Life Insurance companies.
- On Episode 211, Faith-based speaker Kendra Dahlstrom shares how she has pivoted her business and added streams of income like coaching and consulting.
- Alli Worthington came on the podcast to share how she makes money as a women’s ministry speaker and event organizer.
- We have an episode with Kris Reece about how to leverage free gigs in the faith-based space.
- We talk about how much to charge nonprofits and Churches for your talks here.
- …and finally, one on finding the right contacts as a faith-based speaker.