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81% of all incoming seminary students do not expect to have a parish ministry position.

Less than half of all incoming students plan to be ordained.

School websites account for more incoming students than all traditional advertising combined.

Below is the second of three infographcis based on the 2011-2012 ATS ESQ. During the most recently completed academic year, 6,900 incoming students at 161 different ATS schools completed a survey. All three infogrphics are based on that data. In the first infographic we looked at “who” the incoming students were. Today, we look at why they came.

After reviewing this inforgraphic a few things jumped out at me. First, seminaries do much more than train pastors for the church. Only 19% of incoming students expect to have a full-time position in parish ministry upon graduation, which means 81% do not expect to have a full-time position as the pastor of a local church. I see the need to consider what that means for curriculum design and implementation. In addition, students come to seminary seeking fulfillment and guidance. The “opportunity for study and growth” is equally as important to incoming seminarians as “experiencing a call from God.” What does that mean for the formation programs at schools? How should that impact the services we offer students? How do we define and measure outcomes if a student isn’t coming to seminary in order to get a job (as was the case many years ago)? I think it requires us to consider the Great Commission as our measurement tool. Are we equipping disciples to “go and make [more] disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” Finally, financial aid is a huge factor for students. What can we do to make theological education more accessible and affordable? According to ATS data, the average tuition rate for the MDiv in ATS schools has increased by 350% since 1988. It’s no wonder financial aid is significant.

What stands out to you? What am I missing? Any questions? Where should I dig deeper? On Friday, we will look at what students “bring” to seminary with them (Spoiler Alert: they bring a lot of debt!).

  1. Good work, Greg. I guess I would just comment that I think it is great that most seminarians do not envision being a full-time traditional parish pastor/preacher immediately upon graduation because there are not many jobs out there like that. As someone recently told me, the “entry level positions” in the church are in youth and children’s ministry. Now that oversimplifies it but the mix of parachurch positions, missions, church planting, and chaplaincy envisioned by the incoming seminarians accurately corresponds to the “market.” The exception to this are denominations which place all seminary graduates as pastors of local churches–the United Methodist Church basically does this. I think other Episcopal church structures also do the same: Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, Lutheran, etc. place their MDiv graduates (I think). The United Methodists call this “guaranteed appointment.” However, the rest (Presbyterian and Congregational forms of government) force MDiv graduates to “win a job search” (to state it crudely).

    I see on the PCUSA website that there are currently 128 positions available for those just starting out for their “First Ordained Call.” 79 are solo pastors at small churches: 59 are “pastor (solo),” 6 “pastor (head of staff)” or 14 “designated pastor.” 29 are “Associate Pastor” positions at larger churches–7 which are youth pastor positions. 9 are part-time “Pastor (Tent Maker/Part-time).” Princeton Theological Seminary (PCUSA) has 130 MDiv grads a year, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary 50 MDiv grads a year, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary 30 MDiv grads a year, plus 7 more PCUSA seminaries; so it is a good thing a number of the graduates are not PCUSA and a number are planning to do things besides take a “First Ordained Call.”

    I also like your emphasizing the importance of the website.

    I also think it is interesting how important the “the academic reputation of the school” and “quality of the faculty” is to incoming students. They want to make sure they are getting their money’s worth. It seem most do not just want the “degree” or “credential.” They sense the need for something beyond “self-study / reading independently” or “Sunday school” or “conferences”–they want a strong dose of rigorous theological education. They don’t want to hear later on that their seminary degree matters little to employers because it is an inferior school; nor do they want to hear that they could have learned much more if they had chosen a better school.

    1. Great comments, Andy. I think the variety is good, as well. However, I believe the MDiv has not (historically) taken into account such a level of variety. Some of that has changed with the growing number of emphases schools offer as part of the MDiv. I just want us to make sure we are developing programs which are not built on the assumption that we are exclusively training senior pastors for the church – we are doing much more!

      The 81% also speaks to MDiv enrollment is flat to declining. More and more students choose professional MA degrees.

  2. Greg,

    Thank you for your work. In addition to the limited number of pastoral positions available for those “fresh out of seminary”, I believe another factor is many of these students don’t see the local church (as it is presently) making an impact in society. According to reports I have read, many students are preparing for church planting and/or missionary work.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Randy. I agree that many students entering seminary are looking to participate in different types of ministry. Seminary’s need to embrace this reality and then develop students for their unique callings! In my experience as a seminary administrator, the number of open positions for traditional pastoral ministry tends to depend on the denomination to which someone is connected.

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