Best Online Bachelor's in Ministry Programs

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Ministry is a vocational field dedicated to the training and skill-development of leaders in the Christian faith. According to church doctrine, a minister is any person who has been ordained to teach Christian principles and, in many cases, preside over sacramental ceremonies such as marriages or baptisms. Specific titles vary by denomination; Catholic ministers are priests, while Protestant ministers may be known as pastors, presbyters, elders, chaplains, or bishops.

A bachelor's degree is considered a standard educational requirement for most ministerial career paths. Undergraduate ministry programs emphasize biblical study, theology, community involvement, and religious leadership. Ministerial programs are offered at religious colleges across the country, and today, many students are choosing to earn their bachelor's in ministry online. Web-based programs follow the same curricula as brick-and-mortar modules, and distance learners find that the asynchronous format used by most online programs is ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties, or other commitments that may interfere with campus-based learning.

Read on to learn more about ministerial programs, and what you can do with an online bachelor's degree in the field.


An online bachelor's in ministry program will introduce students to the fundamentals of biblical study and religious leadership. Programs also emphasize community outreach and project management, along with financial accounting, marketing, human resources, and other relevant business-related dimensions of study. Many online ministry programs culminate with a capstone course, which allows students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they have learned with a comprehensive research project.


Online bachelor's in ministry programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional classroom-based education. Students will be able to access course lectures and readings, participate in class discussions with fellow students, submit written assignments, take exams, and communicate with their professors on their own schedule. Current technology also enables them to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or any other Wi-Fi-compatible device. The best online bachelor's in ministry programs also help students coordinate projects, fundraisers, and events in their local community.


Students who earn bachelor's degrees in ministry typically pursue careers in church leadership. Alternatively, graduates may also seek supportive positions in churches and other religious establishments; these include roles in youth leadership, religious education, and music. Outside of the church, many bachelor's recipients may follow an entrepreneurial path by launching a faith-based business or nonprofit organization.


Choosing a program is a very personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online ministry programs in the United States. If you feel called to become a religious leader, and you want to prepare for your career with an online degree, read on to learn more about the top online ministry programs in the country.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Location Description
1 John Wesley University RANKING SCORE 71.45 COST LOCATION High Point, NC

John Wesley offers an online BA in Christian Ministry. The school was founded by reverends in 1903 in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the main campus is now located in High Point. Throughout its history, the school has remained committed to a biblical worldview, and it is known as a regional spiritual leader. John Wesley’s BA in Christian ministry includes six concentrations: pastoral ministry, worship arts, counseling, education, missions, and family ministry. Graduates who earn an online ministry degree often find work in businesses, academic institutions, and the ministry.

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2 Grace College of Divinity RANKING SCORE 68.48 COST LOCATION Fayetteville, NC

Grace College of Divinity, located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, offers an online bachelor’s degree in divinity. The school was founded in 2000 and is on the main campus of Manna Church, one of the fastest growing churches in America. The divinity program has three concentrations: biblical studies, theology, and practical ministry, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their church communities. Students gain practical ministry experience, an enhanced understanding of the world, strong communication skills, and a deeper appreciation for the Bible and the role of the church throughout the world.

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3 Moody Bible Institute RANKING SCORE 66.30 COST LOCATION Chicago, IL

Moody Bible Institute offers an online BS in ministry leadership, which is one of the best online ministry programs in the country. Moody Bible Institute is guided by the belief that the Bible is the word of God. The school was founded in 1886 by preacher and educator D.L. Moody. Moody’s online courses are each eight weeks long. The program includes courses in ministry leadership, ministry practice, and congregational dynamics, and is designed for students who are actively involved in their local churches. The program has concentrations in leadership, preaching, and women’s ministry.

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4 Piedmont International University RANKING SCORE 62.57 COST LOCATION Winston Salem, NC

Piedmont International University, a Bible-centered leader in higher education, offers an online BA degree in Christian ministry. The program has 19 minors for students to choose from, including general ministry, North American church planting, music, sign language, counseling, student ministries, and more. The program includes 44 hours of Biblical studies and 50 hours of professional/ministry hours. Graduates often find work in churches and nonprofit groups around the world.

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5 Lincoln Christian University RANKING SCORE 59.43 COST LOCATION Lincoln, IL

Lincoln Christian offers a BA in Christian ministry degree online. Founded in 1944 as a Bible institute, Lincoln Christian features a Christ-centered curriculum that strives to provide students with a deep understanding of the Bible as they prepare for leadership roles in the world and their church. The program provides students a general overview of life in the ministry, teaching distance learners how to preach sermons, teach Sunday school classes, and develop a personal philosophy of ministry. LCU’s faculty-members come from a variety of ministerial backgrounds. This degree is recommended for anyone interested in pastoral ministry, mission work, or Christian education.

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6 Toccoa Falls College RANKING SCORE 55.18 COST LOCATION Toccoa Falls, GA

Toccoa Falls College offers an online BS in ministry leadership. The program has a strong biblical foundation that leads to a broad understanding of the Bible and theology. Toccoa’s mission is to cultivate Christian leaders and to glorify God. Founded in 1907, the college is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and is located at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Toccoa Falls, Georgia. Every degree-seeking student at Toccoa receives an institutional scholarship based on academic performance. Toccoa’s ministry degree online is designed to create leaders who will fill ministry positions in churches and other faith-based organizations.

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7 Nazarene Bible College RANKING SCORE 54.36 COST LOCATION Colorado Springs, CO

Nazarene Bible College offers a BA in ministry degree online. The program consists of three parts: the general education core, the Bible and theology core, and a major selected by the student. Online students can choose from eight areas of study for their major, including Bible and theology, Christian educational ministries, Christian school education, counseling for Christian ministries, Hispanic pastoral ministries, leadership and ethics, pastoral leadership, or pastoral ministries. Students can also choose to minor in Biblical languages, Christian educational ministries, leadership and ethics, or pastoral ministries. The degree requires distance learners to complete between 120 and 128 semester hours, depending on their major.

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8 Northwest Nazarene University RANKING SCORE 50.36 COST LOCATION Nampa, ID

Located in Nampa, Idaho, Northwest Nazarene University offers a BA in Christian ministry degree online. The nonprofit Christian university, founded in 1913, prepares graduates to become global Christians. The fully online Christian ministry program allows students to earn a degree in only 36 months. The program meets all the requirements for ordination in the Church of Nazarene. Each online course is either five, seven, or eight weeks long. The program is designed not only for those currently serving in the ministry or who wish to join the ministry, but also for distance learners studying for their own spiritual benefit.

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9 Southwestern College RANKING SCORE 49.25 COST LOCATION Winfield, KS

Southwestern College offers an online BA in Christian ministries. The program teaches students how to interpret scripture and about Christian traditions and current church practices. The program emphasizes a broad understanding of the Bible with an emphasis on pastoral studies and youth ministry. Graduates leave school prepared for further education and to work in a variety of ministerial positions. Core requirements include understanding the New and Old Testaments and completing a practicum in ministry. Southwestern College was founded by the Southwest Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1885, and is located in Winfield, Kansas.

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10 Southwestern Assemblies of God University RANKING SCORE 48.36 COST LOCATION Waxahachie, TX

SAGU offers an online bachelor’s degree in youth and student ministries. Students pursuing the degree take classes in general biblical studies, youth and student ministries, and an internship, for a total of 126 semester hours. The program prepares graduates to effectively communicate Christ’s message to adolescents both in and outside of the church. Students also have the option of entering an accelerated graduate program, which shortens the time it takes to complete an MA in practical theology. SAGU’s roots date back to 1927, with the founding of Southwestern Bible School; three Bible schools came together to form what eventually became SAGU. The campus is located south of Dallas-Fort Worth in Waxahachie, Texas, and the university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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11 Lee University RANKING SCORE 48.00 COST LOCATION Cleveland, TN

Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Cleveland, Tennessee, Lee University offers an online bachelor’s degree in ministry leadership. Lee is one of the largest Christ-centered private institutions of higher learning in Tennessee. The school is nearly 100 years old, and is affiliated with the Church of God in Cleveland. Lee offers more than 100 clubs on campus, many of which are open to online students as well. Graduates are prepared to become involved in church ministry. The program develops leadership potential, and emphasizes eight core themes throughout the program: business in the church, church administration, children's ministry, counseling, discipleship, music and worship, pastoral ministry, and youth ministry.

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12 Ohio Christian University RANKING SCORE 47.82 COST LOCATION Circleville, OH

Founded in 1948 as Circleville Bible College, Ohio Christian offers an online BA in leadership and ministry. The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Association for Biblical Higher Education. The main campus is located in Circleville, Ohio. OCU’s leadership and ministry program employs instructors with significant real-world ministerial experience. The program helps students develop their leadership skills in preparation for a career in ministry. Distance learners must complete 120 credit hours, and pursue a concentration in either Biblical studies, church planting, organizational leadership, or pastoral ministry.

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13 Bethel College RANKING SCORE 43.39 COST LOCATION Hampton, VA

With a motto to "Cultivate the Call," Bethel prepares every student to become a Christian leader. The school offers an online BS in church ministries program with four concentrations: ministerial leadership, biblical studies, missions, and Christian counseling. Each concentration prepares students for a career in ministry, not only academically but also spiritually. The program includes Christian service requirements and there are also opportunities for students to pursue spiritual mentorship. Bethel is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the The Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).

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4 to 5 years
Program Costs
$10,000 to $25,000 in annual tuition
Theology, Biblical Studies, Leadership, Religious Education, Christian Counseling, Youth Counseling, Accounting, Finance, Marketing and Advertising, Public Relations, Music, Theater
There is no programmatic accreditation for this major field of study at the undergraduate level. Students should defer to the regional/national accreditation of their four-year college or university.

Job Placement

According to a 2014 survey by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), experienced college graduates with a degree in theology and religious vocation have a 4.5% unemployment rate. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for all occupations is currently 4.9%. Using data from the CEW survey, the following table examines the unemployment rate for ministers and other professionals who have earned degrees in the humanities and liberal arts after they have worked for at least a few years.

Bachelor's Degree Field of Study Unemployment Rate for Experienced College Graduates
Theology and Religious Vocations 4.5%
Area Ethnic and Civilization Studies 6.0%
Linguistics/Comparative Language and Literature 10.5%
Philosophy and Religious Studies 6.5%
Art History and Criticism 6.7%
History 5.4%

Source: From 'Hard Times to Better Times' by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW)

As the table indicates, theology degree-holders face much lower unemployment rates than most liberal arts graduates. The average unemployment rate for all humanities and liberal arts degree-holders was 5.8%.

Earning a Living

The earning potential for ministerial professionals will partially depend on their specific field of undergraduate study. According to the 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report, students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry earn a median annual salary of $32,800 during their first five years on the job and $50,500 after 10 years. Comparatively, youth ministry graduates earn $32,900 during the first five years and $48,400 after 10 years.

The table below features a salary breakdown of seven ministry-oriented bachelor's degree fields of study.

Bachelor's Degree Field Median Early Career Salary (0-5 years) Median Mid-Career Salary (10+ years)
Theology $37,600 %51,200
Pastoral Ministry $32,800 $50,500
Bible Studies and Theology $34,900 $50,400
Biblical Studies $36,200 $49,400
Youth Ministry $32,900 $48,400
Human Development and Family Studies $34,300 $47,800
Human Resources $41,900 $66,300
Child and Family Studies $31,400 $40,700

Source: The 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As the table reveals, all seven degree recipients have similar salary growth trajectories. Pastoral ministry majors saw the highest growth, with a 54.0% salary increase between their first job and mid-career. Youth ministry degree holders ranked second with 47.1% salary growth, and the remaining five saw their salaries climb between 29% and 45% after 10 years of work.

Ultimately though, as a ministry professional, your earnings will also depend on where you work and what role you play in the church. The following table highlights career salary growth projections for five of the most common ministry career pathways.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Pastor $39,295 $45,466 $49,640 $50,894
Youth Minister $33,532 $37,684 $38,832 $37,500
Employee Relations Specialist $49,000 $60,000 $62,000 $78,000
Church Administrator $32,290 $34,967 $35,626 $40,072
Religious Education Director $35,000 $35,000 $38,000 $42,000
Music Ministry Director $32,000 $35,000 $35,000 $32,000

Source: PayScale

Of the five careers considered above, pastors have the highest rate of career salary growth, with a 29.5% increase in earnings between their first job and late-career. Church administrators saw 24.1% salary growth after 20 years on the job, while religious education directors grew by 20.0% across the same timeframe. Youth ministers and music ministry directors should expect a much lower growth rate.

Career and Further Education Opportunities

Students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in ministry will be qualified for a range of church leadership positions. Below, we've reviewed four common career pathways for graduates from ministerial programs.

Clergy: 'Clergy' is a catchall term for any individual who leads worship services at Christian churches and religious centers. Additionally, members of the clergy teach Sunday school classes for adults and children, oversee youth activities at their church, and lead community outreach initiatives. Depending on the size of their church, they may also handle financial accounting, marketing, and other business affairs.

Philosophy and Religious Teachers: Philosophy and religious teachers work at colleges and universities across the country, and at faith-based elementary and secondary schools. Depending on which college they work for, professors may also have to conduct academic research and publish their findings as part of their job.

Religious Activities and Education Directors: These professionals oversee educational programs at churches, religious schools, and faith-based organizations. They are also often responsible for selecting and approving curricula. Additionally, they may offer counseling services for individuals, couples, families, and other groups.

Religious Workers: This broad category includes church music directors and staff musicians, accounting and finance personnel, public relations specialists, and other positions in church leadership. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), top employers include nonprofit organizations, private schools, and home-based healthcare services.

Occupation Median Annual Salary
Clergy $48,150
Philosophy and Religious Teachers $75,140
Religious Activities and Education Directors $45,160
Religious Workers $35,160

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Making connections and learning as much as you can about the ministry is crucial to your professional success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for ministerial professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • American Association of Christian Counselors: Currently representing more than 50,000 members, the AACC is divided into nine specific networks, including addiction and recovery, grief, crisis and disaster, and military counseling. The association offers a range of online professional development courses, along with an online bookstore.
  • Christian Educators International Association: Originally founded in 1953, this global organization became the modern CEIA in 1984. Registered members receive liability insurance coverage, a complimentary magazine subscription, online mentoring, and discounts on various services and events.
  • Christian Business Network: The CBN was created to connect entrepreneurs and managers involved with faith-based business administration. According to the mission statement, the network strives to "provide God's people with valuable resources, networking opportunities, and world-class services to help them fulfill their calling and maximize their impact in the marketplace".

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