Best Online Master’s in Ministry Programs

If you want to live your faith at home and at work, consider taking the first step with an online master's in ministry degree from a top-ranked college. Use this resource to learn more about your potential path forward.
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Updated on July 21, 2023
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According to the BLS, U.S. clergy members have a median income of $49,450 a year. They are commonly employed by religious organizations and hospitals. If ministry work is something that you've considered, we've collected information on the best online master's in ministry programs in the country. Graduates can find employment throughout the country. Common job responsibilities include performing at religious ceremonies and providing guidance and assistance to followers.

Faith and religion are constantly evolving, much like the societies in which they exist. By earning an online master's in ministry studies, you can develop the skills to contribute your own unique voice to this larger conversation while continuing the work you're already doing.

What are the Best Master's of Ministry Programs? Here are our top programs:

Rank School Location
1 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
2 Harding University Searcy, AR
3 Mercer University Macon, GA
4 Northwest Nazarene University Nampa, ID
5 Multnomah University Portland, OR
6 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
7 Clarks Summit University Clarks Summit, PA
8 North Park University Chicago, IL
9 Lancaster Bible College Lancaster, PA

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Ministry Programs

Best Online Master's in Ministry Programs

  1. Columbia International University

    Columbia, SC



    CIU uses the Canvas platform to deliver over 45 remote certificates and degrees. Graduate students can enroll in an online master of arts in ministry studies program, earning their credentials in 18 months by taking one class at a time. Candidates gain the communication and leadership competencies needed to develop innovative strategies for missional renewal in church, parachurch, and lay ministry settings.

    CIU offers two master's in ministry tracks, welcoming students with and without relevant academic or professional experience. The 36-credit curriculum contains classes like foundations of spiritual formation, theology and ethics, and transformational Bible teaching. Candidates gain hands-on skills by completing mentored field experiences.

    Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also submit an 800-1,000-word essay and a reference from a church leader who has known them for at least two years.

  2. Harding University

    Searcy, AR



    Based in Searcy, Arkansas, Harding serves more than 5,000 students every year. The institution offers three graduate degrees through its SchoolofTheology, including an online master of arts in Christian ministry. After completing this 48-credit program, graduates are prepared to lead missions, campus ministries, and worship ministries.

    Coursework covers topics like sermon development and delivery, multicultural ministry, and systematic theology. Master's in ministry candidates individualize their degree plans with three electives. They gain practical knowledge by completing two residencies and round out the program with a practicum.

    Harding prefers applicants with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Candidates who do not meet this requirement may be able to enroll on a probationary basis. Distance learners typically earn their credentials in under two years.

  3. Mercer University

    Macon, GA



    Mercer offers over 30 remote undergraduate and graduate degrees through anvas. Its catalog contains an online master of arts in Christian ministry that prepares candidates to occupy leadership roles with specialized ministries in their communities.

    Candidates learn collaboratively in a 10-person cohort, earning their credentials in three years. Coursework covers topics like multicultural communication, biblical foundations of leadership, and pastoral counseling. For students who want to expand their graduate education, Mercer provides a dual-degree track that allows participants to earn an online master's degree in ministry and a master of science in nonprofit organizational leadership concurrently.

    Application materials include a resume, three recommendations, an academic writing sample, and a letter of church support. Applicants also need to send in a 1,250-1,500-word autobiographical essay.

  4. Northwest Nazarene University

    Nampa, ID



    NNU maintains its flagship campus in Nampa, Idaho, enrolling about 2,200 students annually. Distance learners pick fom over 25 degree options,including an online master of arts in pastoral ministry. Through a 40-credit curriculum, candidates gain the communication and counseling skills needed to pursue careers in church planting, marketplace chaplaincy, nonprofit leadership, and district church administration.

    Master's in ministry students take one class at a time and graduate in 28 months. Courses include congregational education and formation, missiology and contextualization, and philosophical foundations of ministry. The program requires candidates to complete supervised practicum experiences.

    Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree earned with a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also possess professional ministry experience. NNU's School of Theology maintains specialized accreditation from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.

  5. Multnomah University

    Portland, OR



    Located in Portland, Oregon, Multnomah powers distance education with Canvas. Te school's graduate catalog includes an online master of arts in Christian leadership that totals 48 credits. This two-year professional program helps students gain the advanced theological knowledge necessary to lead local churches and parachurch organizations.

    Required courses cover topics like biblical interpretation and theology of cultural engagement. This program offers three emphasis areas in pastoral leadership, spiritual formation, and global development and justice. Candidates apply learned skills to solve practical challenges during a mentored ministry experience.

    Multnomah offers fall and spring entry dates. Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also submit an essay and three references. However, the program does not require standardized test scores.

  6. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA



    Liberty is a longtime leader in distance education, offering more than 500 remote certificates and degrees. Program options include an online master of arts in Christian ministry. Students take eight-week courses and can earn their credentials in 18 months. Participants may also fulfill up to half of their degree requirements with transfer credits.

    The 36-credit curriculum contains classes like discipleship ministries, intercultural communication, and contemporary evangelism. Students also delve into the foundations of expository teaching and preaching. They personalize their degree plan by choosing two electives.

    Liberty requires prospective learners to hold a minimum 2.0 GPA. Applicants must complete a questionnaire and provide contact information for a pastoral recommender. This online master's in ministry program is fully accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.

  7. Clarks Summit University

    Clarks Summit, PA



    CSU enrolls about 1,000 students in over 40 academic programs each year. The school offers a variety of online degrees through the Moodle platform,including an online master's degree in ministry. Distance learners can complete a fully remote curriculum or create a hybrid experience by taking some classes on campus in northeast Pennsylvania.

    Totaling 30 credits, this online master's in ministry program is designed for candidates with relevant career or volunteer experience. Courses include pastoral ministry skills, theology and practice of worship, and church counseling. Through accelerated, eight-week classes, full-time students can graduate in just one year.

    CSU prefers candidates with a bachelor's degree from a Bible college and at least one year of ministry experience. Application materials include a personal statement and three references. The university offers tuition discounts to active military personnel, international students, and individuals affiliated with the Word of Life Fellowship.

  8. North Park University

    Chicago, IL



    NPU delivers over 120 academic programs across its seven schools and colleges. Offerings include n online master of arts in Christian ministry that helps students strengthen their theological and biblical knowledge, while also developing a personal model for community engagement. Distance learners can enroll in the three-year track.

    The 36-credit curriculum covers topics like Christian history, intercultural spirituality, and leading and teaching in ministry. Students use 15 elective credits to pursue advanced topics relevant to their research interests and professional goals. This online master's in ministry program requires candidates to complete field experiences.

    In addition to two essays, applicants must provide recommendations from a pastor, a church committee member, and a faculty member or colleague. Distance learners may access a variety of merit scholarships and need-based grants.

  9. Lancaster Bible College

    Lancaster, PA



    Founded in 1933, LBC currently supports approximately 2,000 students annually. Graduate candidates can enroll in an online master of arts in ministry program, gaining the communication and management skills needed to act as ethical servant leaders in their communities. Through accelerated six-week courses, full-time students can earn their degrees in 12 months.

    This 48-credit master's in ministry program operates a blended course format that requires distance learners to attend campus residencies. The curriculum differs based on which of the five concentrations a student chooses; options include church planting, leadership studies, pastoral studies, formational children and family ministry, and youth and young adult ministry.

    Application materials include a 1,000-word autobiographical statement and two references. LBC also requires prospective students to complete an interview.

    Hope International University
  • Hope International University

    Fullerton, CA



    Based in Fullerton, California, HIU powers distance education with Canvas. Degree options include an online master of arts in ministry that prepares candidates for leadership positions within their local church or para-church organization. Students can complete a fully remote curriculum or a hybrid learning experience that integrates campus residencies and networking events.

    The curriculum totals 36 credits and contains required classes like dynamics of servant leadership and personal evangelism. Master's in ministry candidates take advanced coursework in one of seven concentrations. Options include church planting; pastoral care; intercultural studies (missions); and children, youth, and family ministry.

    HIU prefers candidates with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants who do not meet this requirement are still eligible for enrollment but must submit an explanation letter.

  • Should I Get a Master's in Ministry?

    A master of ministry combines theological and pastoral studies with counseling and administrative concepts. Ministry degrees provide candidates with a sound foundation in Christian philosophy and theology, as well as the team development, mentoring, conflict resolution, and pastoral caregiving skills that serve as the basis for many church leadership roles. Graduates go on to take religious and lay leadership positions in administration, counseling, and education.

    Master of ministry programs are widely available in both distance education and traditional, campus-based formats. Online ministry programs offer a convenient and flexible option for students whose work or family commitments prevent them from enrolling in an on-campus graduate program. These students often find it easier to select a part-time program or an accelerated degree format. An on-campus master's degree may appeal to learners coming directly from an undergraduate program. Students in on-campus ministry programs benefit from faculty supervision, mentorship arrangements, and interaction with classmates.

    Whether attending classes online or on campus, students nearing graduation may take advantage of their school's career planning and placement services, as well as and internship and independent research opportunities. Many programs in ministry offer volunteer or practicum experiences in youth, urban or international ministries, and field placements with community nonprofit organizations. Regardless of delivery format, a master of ministry equips graduates for a wide variety of fulfilling and faith-based leadership positions.

    What Can I Do With a Master's in Ministry?

    Earning a master of ministry enables graduates to pursue meaningful careers that embody Christian principles. Program concentrations instill the knowledge and skills needed to take on specialized roles in church planting, establishing and developing new congregations, or church revitalization. Other specializations focus on youth ministries or pastoral care for families, women, or the elderly. Many of these positions require a graduate education. A master of ministry also serves as a stepping stone to doctoral studies.

    Hospital Chaplain

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    Large hospitals often employ chaplains from different religions. These ministers provide patients, families, and caregivers with spiritual support, guidance, and counseling. Many positions require ordination, and most chaplains hold at least a bachelor's degree in theology or divinity studies, as well as some pastoral or counseling experience.

    Median Annual Salary: $47,760*


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    The BLS uses this classification for anyone who conducts worship services and performs spiritual functions related to religious beliefs and practices. Clergy, including ordained ministers and pastors, lead congregations, hold regular services, plan educational and community activities, and provide spiritual guidance. Many religious organizations require clergy members to hold a master's degree in ministry or a theology-related field.

    Median Annual Salary: $47,100*

    Pastoral Counselor

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    Pastoral counselors are mental health professionals who integrate religious beliefs and practices into therapeutic and clinical settings. These specialists assist individuals struggling with a broad range of issues, including substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental illness. They also assist families and couples in crisis. Most pastoral counselors hold a master's degree in addition to state licensure and specialized certification.

    Median Annual Salary: $44,300*

    Director of Religious Activity and Education

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    This category encompasses several career paths, such as campus ministry, religious education, and ministries directed toward specific groups like seniors citizens and women. Education and activity directors implement religious-based programming for many constituencies, and may sometimes offer counseling or related services. Some organizations prefer to employ directors with an advanced degree in ministry and experience working with diverse groups.

    Median Annual Salary: $39,980*

    Youth Pastor

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    These pastors develop and administer youth ministries, conducting programs for young people from preschool through college. Their duties may include holding regular meetings and religious study groups, recruiting and training for mission and volunteer work, and forming community outreach initiatives. Many youth pastors pursue a master of ministry, and some hold counseling degrees or licensure.

    Median Annual Salary: $36,532*

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale

    How to Choose a Master's Program in Ministry

    Ministry degrees differ from school to school. As you explore your available options, pay close attention to each school's accreditation status and program rankings, both of which serve as overall quality indicators. In addition, many programs offer concentrations and specialized academic tracks. Be sure that your chosen program reflects your personal interests and career goals. While master's programs in theology and divinity share similar features, a ministry degree places a greater emphasis on administrative processes and community leadership.

    Most campus-based ministry degrees require around two years of full-time study, while some online degrees offer accelerated programs that may be completed in 12-18 months. Work and family commitments may influence your enrollment status, and subsequently affect program length. Part-time students can expect to spend three or more years on their degree. Some curricula require a practicum, capstone course, or thesis, which may also extend a program's duration.

    School location, local cost of living, and related expenses can also impact your budget. Most institutions charge higher tuition rates for out-of-state students, although some online programs offer a flat tuition rate for all distance learners. Online programs may charge technology fees that do not apply to on-campus learners, and some require students to travel to campus a few times a year for workshops or residencies. Individuals enrolled in out-of-state, campus-based programs must budget for lodging, transportation, food, tuition, books, and fees.

    Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Ministry

    Accreditation is a quality control process in which external agencies evaluate an institution to ensure that it meets the highest standards. Only accredited schools are eligible to receive federal financial aid. Schools may be nationally or regionally accredited. Vocational and for-profit schools usually hold national accreditation. These schools often offer less rigorous admissions requirements and inexpensive tuition. Regional accreditation requires higher professional and academic standards, and some employers prefer to hire applicants with degrees from regionally accredited institutions.
    In addition to institutional accreditation, some master of ministry programs hold specialized accreditation which recognizes field-specific quality and faculty excellence. The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) provides programmatic accreditation to more than 250 graduate-level ministry and theology degrees. Students interested in a ministry degree should consider the advantages of selecting an ATS-accredited program. ATS accreditation ensures that a program offers the theological knowledge and applied skills needed to take on pastoral roles.

    Master's in Ministry Program Admissions

    While many schools maintain rolling admissions throughout the year, you should begin applying to programs at least six months to a year before your intended start date. All graduate programs evaluate your academic record, as well as other materials that demonstrate your abilities. While many institutions request GRE scores, others -- particularly online programs -- place less weight on standardized test scores. Some do not consider them at all. Most schools also require applicants to submit a personal statement, which serves as an important tool for showcasing your accomplishments.

    After compiling a list of programs that meet your interests, decide where you want to apply. Keep in mind that every school charges an application fee. As a rule of thumb, you should apply to several target schools that appeal to you and where you have the requisite test scores and GPA. You should also include a few safe schools where your acceptance seems likely. Some students also apply to one or two reach schools: colleges with competitive entrance requirements where they have a lower chance of admission.


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      Bachelor's degree=

      Most master of ministry programs require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree. While a few schools expect a bachelor's degree to be in theology or a related field, most students enter ministry studies after exploring other majors and career paths.
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      Professional Experience:

      Online programs often consider an applicant's professional experience, especially those returning to school after holding ministry jobs or related positions. Campus-based programs that tend to admit recent undergraduate students may give more weight to academic performance, but often consider employment or community service history.
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      Minimum GPA:

      Most graduate schools require a minimum GPA of at least 3.0 out of 4.0. Schools may consider applicants with lower GPAs if they provide strong standardized test scores, references, or personal statements.

    Admission Materials

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      A graduate school application asks for basic biographical and academic information, and takes around 30-40 minutes to complete. Some institutions may request that candidates provide a personal essay concurrently with an application.
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      Most programs require applicants to submit official transcripts from every college and university they have attended. Many institutions can send copies directly to your intended graduate program. Make sure to request transcripts well before the application deadline, and expect to pay a modest fee to cover preparation and mailing costs.
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      Letters of Recommendation:

      Some schools require three or more recommendations from academic or professional contacts. Ask faculty members who know you well enough to describe your accomplishments in detail, and be sure to provide your recommenders with ample time to complete their letters.
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      Test Scores:

      While many graduate schools require GRE scores, most programs consider other factors in addition to exam performance. Some schools give more weight to letters of recommendation, personal statements, and work experience documentation.
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      Application Fee:

      Graduate application fees differ by school. You should expect to pay around $50 for each application, although some programs charge $75 or more. Some programs may waive fees for students who demonstrate financial hardship.

    What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Ministry?

    Many ministry programs allow students to customize their master's degree by selecting a concentration. These specialized academic tracks focus on a particular type of ministry or pastoral subfield. While concentration offerings vary by school, denominational focus, and faculty research interests, the following table describes some commonly offered concentrations and the careers they may lead to.

    Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Ministry
    Concentration Description Careers
    Church Ministry and Leadership By connecting theology and religious studies to applied practice and leadership training, this concentration offers a toolkit for effective ministry. Future administrative and spiritual leaders explore a variety of ways to nurture, lead, and guide congregations. Students learn to develop personal leadership strategies, manage priorities, and foster collaboration. Coursework emphasizes organizational behavior and business management skills as applied to churches, nonprofits and community organizations. Pastor, associate pastor, administrative church director, nonprofit director
    Pastoral Counseling This specialization combines spiritual models with psychotherapy and clinical practice. Although most programs do not grant licensure, a pastoral counseling concentration provides a strong foundation for students who intend to pursue further training and ultimately seek specialized credentials and state licensure. Pastoral counselor, caregiver, marriage and family counselor, grief counselor
    Youth Ministry Candidates interested in working with children and teenagers learn to guide and support young people through every stage of spiritual, emotional, and physical development. Youth ministry students learn to develop and implement educational and social programs that reinforce religious values. Applying biopsychological approaches to Christian pastoral care models, this track offers a unique perspective on conflict resolution and crisis management. Youth and family minister, church youth director, community services program coordinator
    Urban Ministry This concentration presents pastoral counseling strategies for improving lives in struggling urban communities. Students acquire the spiritual and professional tools needed to develop effective community outreach programs and serve urban populations. Courses address multiculturalism, social inequality, and racial justice, as well as the challenges facing religious-sponsored nonprofit groups. Urban minister, social services director, community outreach/nonprofit leader, conflict mediator
    Campus Ministry Often referred to as college or university ministry, this concentration trains candidates to meet college students' unique spiritual needs. Coursework explores campus ministers' duties and functions, which includes providing spiritual guidance, counseling, conducting worship services and opportunities for community prayer, and organizing and implementing educational and vocational programs. Learners survey pastoral counseling models, multicultural ministry in diverse settings, and ecumenism. Campus ministry director, assistant campus minister, college/university religious services director, pastoral counselor

    Courses in a Master's in Ministry Program

    Programs in ministry vary considerably between schools and denominations, and each features a slightly different curriculum and approach. Leadership and youth ministry programs, for example, often include a supervised practicum component, while other curricula include a thesis or capstone requirement. The majority of programs offer one or more of the following core courses.

    Theological Foundations of Ministry

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    This course explores the ways in which Christianity's biblical and theological roots have shaped and impacted Christian ministry and church leadership. Students draw critical connections between biblical teachings and contemporary scenarios, examining ancient principles in current contexts. Major course themes include biblically-rooted ministry, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, and biblical leadership strategies.

    Multicultural Ministry

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    Lectures build cultural competencies needed to serve multicultural populations in diverse environments. Prospective church leaders acquire community building and holistic ministry strategies as they examine the challenges involved in incorporating faith-based perspectives with advocacy. Emphasizing social justice principles, coursework surveys church outreach methods and programs used in economically-challenged communities.

    Methods of Pastoral Counseling

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    Introducing major pastoral counseling and caregiving methodologies in a variety of settings, this class addresses the challenges raised by the gap between theology and practice. Students analyze a spectrum of counseling ethical codes and landmark court cases serves to better understand the importance of ethical practices in counseling.

    Conflict Resolution in Ministry

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    Ministers, pastors and lay facilitators must learn to analyze and manage conflict through intervention strategies, conflict resolution, mediation, and anger management. This course teaches candidates to identify sources of interpersonal and intergroup conflict within church ministries and other community settings, understand the dynamics of conflict, and apply counseling techniques to foster resolution.

    Women in Ministry

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    Using case studies and first-person narratives, students survey historical and contemporary examples of women's experiences in religious life and examine the challenges women in ministry often face. Readings explore the topic from multiple perspectives, including traditional, historical, and feminist viewpoints.

    How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Ministry?

    The time it takes to complete a ministry degree depends on several factors, including curriculum requirements and enrollment status. An average 36-credit master of ministry demands around two years of full-time study to complete. In general, divinity and theology programs require more coursework than other majors, and curricula with thesis or fieldwork components may be slightly longer than those without. Many students earn their degree in two years by maintaining continuous full-time enrollment and taking 12 or more credits each semester. Enrolling part time typically extends a program timeline by a year or more.

    Delivery method also influences degree length. Some self-paced and accelerated online programs may be completed in as little as a year, while cohort-based programs feature less flexible timelines and generally take longer to finish. Although asynchronously-delivered courses offer flexibility and convenience, many learners prefer the additional support and structure associated with being part of a cohort.

    How Much Is a Master's in Ministry?

    According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, average graduate tuition rates at public colleges and universities have risen to $11,303, with private, not-for-profit schools charging around $23,919. Pursuing a master's degree in ministry represents a major financial investment.

    Total degree costs depend on the school's type, location, and program length. With some exceptions, public schools tend to cost less than private institutions. While most colleges and universities charge higher tuition rates for out-of-state students, many online programs charge distance learners a flat, per-credit rate, regardless of students' residency status. Although online students save on transportation, housing, and campus facility fees, some schools charge a technology fee with every distance education course.

    Students should thoroughly investigate financial aid opportunities and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine their eligibility for federal loans and grants. To ensure that you qualify for financial aid, it is important to select an accredited school. Accreditation not only affects federal aid eligibility, but may also impact your access to private sources of funding. Finally, many schools offer institutional scholarships, graduate fellowships, and work-study awards to help learners finance their studies.

    Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Ministry Prepares For

    Certified Pastoral Counselor

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    The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) offers pastoral counseling certification training at regional centers throughout the country. Qualifying candidates must hold a master's or doctoral degree, provide evidence of ordination or their religion's equivalent, and demonstrate at least three years of active experience in a church community. All applicants are required to complete 375 hours of pastoral counseling, including 125 hours under the supervision of an AAPC-approved trainer.

    Board Certified Chaplain

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    The Association of Professional Chaplains is home to the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, which grants certification on several different levels. Candidates may pursue two general designations: board certified chaplain or associate certified chaplain. In addition, the Board offers an advanced pastoral counseling certification for those employed in palliative care and hospice settings and a military specialty certification. Eligibility requirements vary by credential, but all applicants must have competed graduate work in theology or pastoral care.

    National Association of Catholic Chaplains Certification

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    The National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) offers both a clinical pastoral education certificate and an advanced certification in hospice and palliative care. To apply, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree, a master's degree in theology from an accredited college or university, maintain NACC membership, and complete at least four pastoral education units. Applicants must also receive ecclesiastical endorsement from their bishop and submit several written documents for review.

    Resources for Graduate Ministry Students

    Hartford Institute for Religion Research

    The Hartford Institute's comprehensive online archive compiles research on American religious life, including congregational demographic changes, female religious leaders, and church growth reports.

    Association of Religion Data Archives

    This site serves as a repository for religious statistics compiled in the U.S. and abroad. The archives include denominational histories, church membership reports, and interactive resources.

    Faith Communities Today

    FACT is an online dissemination tool for religious scholars, researchers, teachers, and students. The site offers access to monographs, national surveys, webinars, and online educational courses and applications. FACT also maintains a congregational resource center.

    U.S. Congregational Life Survey

    Unlike many previous surveys, which compiled data reported by clergy or church leaders, this ongoing study collects data from more than 500,000 worshipers around the country. Site visitors can explore statistical abstracts and monographs, or participate in the survey themselves.

    Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

    The Calvin Institute provides church leaders, educators, and students with practical resources and scholarly research pertaining to the history of worship. The institute also sponsors several grants.

    Professional Organizations in Ministry

    Professional associations like the groups below hold numerous benefits for both ministry students and recent graduates. Student members receive valuable opportunities to interact with peers, pastors, and other professionals through networking events, conferences, and discussion boards. Many organizations offer educational services, including continuing education courses and certification programs. Some host exclusive job boards and provide members with career assistance or internship opportunities. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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