Many prospective religious leaders achieve their goals by earning an online ministry degree. Flexible and convenient, distance education makes it easy to build a career helping others and sharing your faith in a church leadership position.
In this guide, we look at everything you need to know about finding an online ministry degree that fits your learning style, personal goals, and career aspirations. Read on to learn more about program admission requirements, along with common topics, theories, and principles discussed in Christian ministry courses and the conceptual knowledge and practical skills they impart. We also break down some popular career paths for graduates with an online ministry degree, their daily duties, and potential salaries.
Overview of Ministry Degrees
Ministry degrees provide the conceptual teaching and practical training necessary to become a religious professional. Learners study the Bible, Christian history, and contemporary Christian thought. They also learn to perform the daily duties of a religious leader, including counseling congregation members, developing sermons, interpreting the Bible, and educating young churchgoers. In addition, ministry students receive leadership training that readies them to manage employees, oversee budgets, and direct organizational operations. Some programs culminate in an internship, which provides practical experience in a church environment.
Ministry programs attract students looking to dedicate their lives to Christian service. While most religious leaders work in religious organizations, ministry graduates can find work in many environments, including elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and social advocacy organizations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for ministry graduates are growing steadily. The BLS projects that employment for clergy will increase by 8% from 2016 to 2026, leading to around 20,000 new jobs. Directors of religious activities and education will experience a 7% increase in opportunities over the same period, resulting in over 10,000 new jobs.
While every school features slightly different admission requirements, most colleges request similar materials. Like most other undergraduate programs, Christian ministry programs evaluate students based on their academic achievement, drive, and extracurricular interests.
Prospective students must usually submit an application fee and a form that contains their basic personal information. Most schools also require candidates to submit their official high school transcripts.
Typically, applicants must hold a minimum GPA between 2.5 and 3.5 to receive full admission. However, some colleges admit students with lower GPAs on provisional status, allowing them to earn full admission by maintaining high marks during their first year. Students should also be prepared to report their SAT or ACT scores, and some colleges and universities hold minimum score requirements. Many institutions waive the GPA requirement for students who demonstrate exceptional test scores.
Other common application materials include a personal essay, letters of reference, and an interview. Prospective students might need to write their essay on a faith-related topic, and some ministry programs require a letter of reference from the applicant's minister. Online students can often complete their interview through videoconferencing.
What Will I Learn?
Ministry degrees emphasize different concepts depending on their specific focus. For example, bachelor's programs in youth ministry, pastoral ministry, and ministry leadership all feature slightly different focus areas. However, most curricula present certain broad concepts and theories.
Ministry programs typically include a survey of Christian history from Jesus’ lifetime through the Middle Ages and up to the present day. Learners also dedicate a large portion of their time to studying the Bible and theology, becoming familiar with major Old and New Testament interpretations. Programs like youth ministry may also incorporate educational theory into their curricula.
Online Christian ministry degrees typically require 120-130 credits and take around four years to complete. Most require that students earn 50-60 credits in general education areas, 50-60 credits in ministry, and 20-30 credits from electives. While curricula vary between schools, you can explore some common course options below.
This course introduces the basic concepts and skills involved in youth ministry development. Coursework examines youth-focused church activities, presenting activity planning methods and teaching strategies. Some online youth ministry courses also examine role-related administrative duties.
In this course, candidates study major Western ethical theories and apply them to real-world situations. Students also explore common moral dilemmas that ministers face, along with the unique moral obligations and responsibilities involved in church leadership. Candidates learn to make healthy decisions by applying biblical teachings to ethical problems.
Ministry students learn to manage day-to-day church operations, including organizational finance, budget development and implementation, and fundraising. They also learn to hire, manage, and organize church staff and volunteers while building leadership and conflict resolution skills.
Coursework introduces the major methods and techniques used in biblical interpretation. Candidates examine the Old and New Testaments in their original context to better comprehend modern scriptural relevance.
History of the Christian Tradition
Providing a survey of Christianity from its origins to the present, this course explores the major personalities, movements, and theories that have influenced Christian thought through the ages. Students gain a holistic understanding of current Christian tradition.
Theology courses introduce Christianity’s core teachings and principles. Students explore historical changes in theological interpretation and organization, along with the relationships between theology, culture, politics, and economics. Course focus and content may vary according to a school's denominational affiliation.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Ministry?
While bachelor's in ministry candidates explore many field-specific concepts, they also build a versatile skill set. In the next section, we look at some of the main skills and competencies that ministry students hone during their studies, and how these abilities translate to ministry-related professions. Read on to learn about several common occupations that graduates pursue after finishing their ministry degrees and the salary potential for each profession.
By completing conceptual coursework, ministry students explore biblical theories, theology, and Christian history. Ministry programs also serve a vocational purpose, equipping students with the practical competencies and leadership techniques required of future church leaders and religious workers.
Candidates build analytical skills and critical thinking abilities as they interpret the Bible, historical documents, and church texts, developing original conclusions regarding meaning and interpretation. Ministry students also hone valuable written and oral communication skills as they learn to write sermons and clearly convey their ideas to a congregation. In addition, students become adept at strengthening congregational faith and providing spiritual guidance with empathy, kindness, and compassion.
Religious leaders must master certain financial and administrative skills related to organizational leadership, and many ministry programs include managerial and business classes in their core curricula. Candidates learn to hire and supervise employees, develop budgets, and manage finances. Courses may also address team building, project development, and accounting.
Potential Careers and Salaries
The best online ministry programs provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in a diverse array of faith-based occupations. Students interested in working with children often become youth ministers, running Sunday schools and youth outreach programs. Other candidates find work as pastors, leading ceremonies and providing their congregations with spiritual guidance. Some graduates take on chaplaincy positions and offer religious counseling in hospitals, senior living facilities, and the military.
Ministry students also build the strong leadership and management skills required to fill administrative roles. Graduates may choose to become church administrators or ministry directors who oversee church operations, manage funds, and establish overarching organizational goals. Below, are some common career paths and salary expectations for ministry graduates.
Annual Median Salary: $48,784
Chaplains work mainly in hospitals and healthcare facilities like nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, offering spiritual guidance and counseling to patients and their families. They often work alongside therapists and counselors, and some organizations prefer to hire chaplains with formal psychology education.
Annual Median Salary: $39,145
Church administrators oversee their church’s daily operations. They manage the organization's finances and allot contributions for various projects. They also maintain communication with the congregation, publish bulletins and newsletters, and supervise volunteers and church employees.
Annual Median Salary: $40,440
These church leaders perform a variety of important tasks. They hire, train, and supervise Sunday school teachers and childcare workers; manage community outreach initiatives; and propose programs that align with their church's mission and goals.
Annual Median Salary: $45,890
Pastors serve as the religious leaders of a congregation, leading church services and ceremonies. They write sermons and present Bible teachings during services. Pastors also manage Bible study groups, special events, and retreats. They provide counseling in individual and group sessions.
Annual Median Salary: $35,472
Youth ministers foster children’s and teen's spiritual development. Working primarily in churches, they create age-appropriate lesson plans, supervise volunteers, and develop youth activities. They may manage Sunday schools, after-school programs, and other classes.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Ministry?
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in ministry take on a variety of entry-level roles, working as educators, ministers, and administrators at religious and nonprofit organizations. Students seeking high-level positions may be interested in earning an advanced degree. A master's in theology, ministry, or ministry leadership can lead to pastoral careers at large churches and management or administrative roles in faith-based organizations. Students who wish to teach theology, bible studies, or ministry at the postsecondary level must hold a doctoral degree.
Ministry graduates can still advance in their field with a bachelor’s degree. Significant work experience often leads to increased responsibilities in churches or other religious organizations. Industry certifications can also propel your career forward, for instance, they can help chaplains impress potential employers and boost their job opportunities by earning a credential from the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc.
Accreditation for Ministry Bachelor’s Programs
Choosing an accredited ministry program is crucial to academic success. Accreditation is a process used to ensure that an institution maintains high academic standards. Most public, nonprofit colleges and universities receive regional accreditation, while vocational schools are usually nationally accredited. Students must attend an accredited school to receive federal financial aid. Credits earned at regionally accredited institutions transfer easily, and most graduate schools will only accept applicants with degrees from accredited colleges. Students who are considering an advanced degree must attend an accredited undergraduate program.
In addition, many ministry programs hold accreditation from subject-specific bodies like the Association for Biblical Higher Education, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, and the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. While some programs do not receive specialized accreditation, any school you consider should hold accreditation from a reputable agency like the Higher Learning Commission or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Ministry Professional Organizations
Professional organizations offer valuable services and resources for ministry students and graduates alike. Many of these organizations provide online or in-person leadership training and other continuing education opportunities like seminars. Members can also stay up-to-date on new advances in the field through journals, newsletters, and exclusive publications. Associations often host conferences, which allow recent graduates to meet and learn from established religious leaders. Read on to learn about a few professional organizations that serve ministry candidates and graduates.
Association of Professional Chaplains
APC supports chaplains from all denominations and faiths by promoting professional standards and best practices. Members gain access to journals, newsletters, educational programs, and conferences. The association also offers professional certification.
American Association of Pastoral Counselors
Boasting eight regional chapters, AAPC serves pastoral counselors and mental health professionals with extensive spiritual and theological education. Members can take advantage of professional development programs, publications, a membership directory, and the AAPC National Conference.
National Association of Christian Ministers
This organization unites more than 12,000 Christian ministers across the United States, providing resources on denominations, ordination, and various ceremonies. Members can also access a job board, a mentorship program, and leadership training opportunities.