Theology examines the foundations, beliefs, and practices of religion. The field explores how individuals experience faith, and how different groups and cultures express and practice their faith traditions. Students may study theology for many reasons. Some seek vocational preparation for careers as pastors or plan to work in educational or counseling positions in religious institutions. Others study theology to better understand and explore the historical and contemporary impact of religion on society.
For many, the field provides a way to examine, challenge, or strengthen students' personal faiths, or to help them understand the religious beliefs of others. Studying theology requires learners to face challenging questions about the nature of divine existence and spiritual belief.
An online associate degree in theology expands students' knowledge about religious traditions, experiences, and influences. An associate degree can prepare learners for careers in religious organizations and social services, and serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree in theology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth rate for the employment of clergy between 2016 and 2026, with many positions requiring a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor's can open up career opportunities as pastors and ministers, chaplains, counselors, and religion teachers, as well as better rates of compensation.
Associate in Theology Degree Online Ranking Guidelines
We selected the following degree programs based on their quality and the range of courses they provide, plus school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The Best Online Associate in Theology Degree Programs
1. Grace College of Divinity
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Located in Fayetteville, NC on the main campus of Manna Church, Grace College of Divinity offers an affordable online Associate in Divinity degree. GCD's curriculum is tailored for those looking to serve their local church, and explores relevant material in biblical studies, theology, and practical ministry. Classes are delivered asynchronously, allowing students to complete assignments when it is most convenient for them. Experienced faculty lead ministry courses, and pastors or church administrators lead classes on day-to-day activities in church operation.
The 60 credit associate degree can be completed within two years, and coursework explores world missions, systematic theology, counseling, and church history. Students complete 54 credits of required courses, six elective credits, and finish their degree with a leadership in action requirement. Material is delivered using Populi, and some courses are available in an accelerated, eight-week format. Online students also enjoy access to the library and an online writing center that offers tutoring for math, formatting, paper writing, and theology.
Admission requirements include a GED or high school diploma, a pastoral letter of reference, a complete application, and a personal essay. GCD offers a 30% tuition discount (Life Long Learner scholarship) for students who are not eligible for Federal Financial Aid or V.A. Educational Benefits.
GCD holds accreditation from the Association for Biblical Higher Education, one of four national faith-related accrediting organizations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
2. Johnson University
Founded in 1893 in Knoxville, TN, Johnson University offers more than 50 degree programs across three different campuses and online, each aimed at equipping students for ministry. The online associate of arts and associate of science in biblical studies is a 60-credit program that emphasizes worldview issues, spiritual formation, ministry preparation, and builds a foundation for an eventual bachelor's degree.
Students complete required coursework in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, history, and social and natural sciences. They also take two semesters of New Testament Greek to aid with biblical translation. Course content is delivered asynchronously via Sakai, where students submit typed assignments, participate in class forums, and view video lectures. Transfer students may test out of specific courses with a CLEP exam.
Johnson University strongly encourages service learning, and transfer students must complete the same number of service learning hours as the amount of credits they need to graduate. This school makes various various scholarships available based on need and merit, including scholarships for international students. Other admission requirements include an admission essay, a high school transcript, ACT or SAT scores, and two letters of reference.
The university also holds accreditation through Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals.
3. Piedmont International University
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Founded in 1945 in Winston-Salem, NC, Piedmont International University trains students to be effective ministers in the world. Featuring affordable tuition and small class sizes, PIU offers an associate of arts in Bible that prepares graduates to serve area churches and mission fields abroad. The 64 credit curriculum coursework in old and new testament surveys, Christian ethics, Baptist history, along with two semesters of major Bible doctrine. With a nine:one student-to-faculty ratio, the online associate degree in theology can be completed in two years if taken full time, or four years if taken part time.
Admission requirements include a personal testimony, a GPA of 2.0 or higher, and an ACT score greater than 17 or a SAT score greater than 1230. Piedmont offers a variety of financial aid including need and merit based scholarships, as well as aid for talent, ministry, or military experience. For high school students looking to jumpstart their higher education, Piedmont boasts a dual enrollment program to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. Previously homeschooled students can receive a 33% tuition reduction.
Online coursework is delivered via Blackboard through a combination of asynchronous learning and integrated classroom experiences. Piedmont also offers accommodation for students with accessibility needs such as tutoring, extended test time, or closed captioning. Other online services available include a library, an online bookstore, academic advising, technology support, and the Piedmont alumni community.
Piedmont holds a national accreditation and membership to the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
4. God's Bible School and College
Located in Cincinnati, OH and featuring 27 different programs of study, God's Bible School and College offers an affordable and convenient education. The associate of arts in Bible and theology prepares students with a biblical foundation for life, and for bachelor's studies. The 60-credit degree takes approximately two years to complete, and includes 24 general education credits, 15-20 credits in Bible and theology, three credits of church history, and two credits of ministerial education. Required courses include the doctrine of holiness, old and new testament, and systematic theology.
Online associate degree in theology students enjoy small class sizes, as well as access to the student success center, academic advising, and online library services. GBS also provides a variety of counseling, most of it free or at low cost, including professional counseling, crisis counseling, and pastoral counseling.
High school students can enroll in a dual credit program, which allows them to enroll in GBS courses and simultaneously earn high school credit. GBS provides both merit- and need-based scholarships, as well as a discount for the students whose parents work full time in Christian ministry.
GBS hold accreditation from the Association of Biblical Higher Education and regional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission.
5. Ohio Christian University
Founded in 1948 by Churches of Christ, Ohio Christian University offers an associate of arts in a Christian ministry with a biblical studies concentration. Faculty members are leaders in their fields and create an excellent academic atmosphere for students. Using asynchronous learning, students can complete this 60 credit online degree in as two years. The Christian ministry component requires courses in Old and New Testament, Earth sciences, and introduction to psychology, while the biblical studies concentration requires courses in the Acts of the Apostles, Pauline Epistles, and Pentateuch.
Course content is delivered asynchronously via Edvance360, and online students benefit from additional services such as the library, technology support, and academic advising. OCU also offers OCUOnline Plus, which allows online students to gain credits through enrichment experiences such as internships with local companies and study abroad opportunities.
To gain admission, students must submit an application, application fee, and a high school transcript or GED. OCU provides several scholarships to students who show commitment to academic achievement, leadership, or creativity. The financial aid office also provides tuition discounts for homeschoolers, children of veterans or active military service members, siblings enrolled simultaneously, and transfer students. Some students may also qualify for grants, such as the church matching grant, in which the university matches any aid a student receives from their local church.
Ohio Christian University holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and the Association for Biblical Higher Education.
6. Warner University
Lake Wales, Florida
Five miles south of Lake Wales, FL lies the main campus for Warner University, home to 1200 students representing a myriad of ethnicities and nationalities. Founded in 1968 by Church of God pastors, Warners offers an associate of science in Christian ministry designed for those working in full-time ministry. The 60-credit degree can be earned completely online while taking two courses every eight weeks, with some accelerated options available. Coursework includes the Bible, Christian faith, personal development, and general education.
To gain admission, prospective students must be at least 23 years old, have a high school GPA of 2.0 or higher, two recommendations, an application, and application fee. Students are expected to regularly participate in church, chapel, and Christian service throughout their degree, as the program is designed to prepare graduates for faithful ministry in a local church, non-profit missions outreach, or community-based ministry.
Online students at Warner University have access to student mental health services, disability accommodations, the library, academic advising, and an academic skills center. Nearly 98% of students receive some form of financial aid such as work study programs, grants, loans, and institutional scholarships. Annually, WU gives over $5.8 million dollars in institutional scholarships for students in need.
Warner University holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
7. The Baptist College of Florida
Based in the small town of Graceville, FL and founded in 1942, The Baptist College of Florida is rooted in the Florida Baptist Convention. BCF's offers over 20 degree programs to educate and train Christian leaders for spiritual and professional growth, including an associate of divinity degree. The 66-credit curriculum prepares learners for Christian leadership in pastoral ministry by building a foundation biblical, theological, and pastoral knowledge.
BCF boast a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1 and all full-time faculty members identify as Southern Baptists. Online coursework includes Old and New Testament surveys, leading a church in evangelism, pastoral leadership, Christian history, and business math. The program culminates with a three-credit preaching practicum.
To gain admission, prospective students must submit a GED or high school diploma, ACT/SAT scores, and proof of active participation in a local church. For students still in high school, BCF offers a dual enrollment program that allows high school juniors and seniors to take BCF courses and simultaneously earn college and high school credit. BCF makes available grants, scholarships and loans. The school bases eligibility for financial assistance on academic achievement, need, or community service.
BCF maintains its regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
8. The King's University
Based in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX and founded in 1997, The King's University provides spiritual enrichment, a basic understanding of scripture, and training in church doctrine from a Wesleyan-holiness perspective. TKU's offers 17 degree programs from the associate to doctoral level, including a flexible and fully online associate of Christian ministries degree. This asynchronous online associate degree in theology features courses in pentecostal charismatic movements, public speaking, behavior science, biblical counseling, and psychology. The 65 credit includes 20 credits of general education requirements, 15 credits of Christian foundations, 24 credits in the major, and six electives.
TKU boasts an “integrated learning” curriculum in which students serve weekly in a local church. Based on a student's preferences, they can work in youth ministries, worship services, pastoral counseling, or evangelism outreach. During each 15-week semester, online students enjoy access to services such as the library, campus bookstore, and tutoring available at the student success center. Students may also access counseling and disability services. TKU maintains an articulation agreement with the seven other ministry institutions for the purposes of transferring credits.
Prospective students must submit high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and an application. Transfer students must demonstrate a GPA of 2.1 or higher from all previous coursework. Financial is available based on merit, leadership, or financial need.
TKY holds accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools and Association for Biblical Higher Education, both are members of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
9. Northwest University
Founded in 1934 and located just outside Seattle, WA, Northwest University features over 70 degree programs from the associate to doctoral level. Rooted in the Assemblies of God tradition, Northwest's online associate degree in ministry leadership develops a foundation for graduates to grow and foster their ministry. The 60-credit curriculum explores biblical and theological studies, written and verbal communication, the humanities, social sciences, and includes optional preaching courses for those interested in ministerial credentials through the Assemblies of God church.
Students at Northwest University enjoy institutional support such as mentorship, one-on-one advising, study abroad opportunities, and internships. The university also provides disability accommodations for curricular and co-curricular programs.
To gain admission, students submit their ACT or SAT scores, an application and fee, and their high school transcripts. International students also need to meet English language proficiency standards, offer bank statements, and carry health insurance. NU expects all prospective students to articulate their own personal salvation experience to be considered for application. Financial assistance is available and Northwest maintains federal eligibility for grants, loans, scholarships and veteran benefits.
Northwest University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and endorsed by the Commission on Christian Higher Education of the Assemblies of God and the Association of Christian Schools International.
10. Nazarene Bible College
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Located in Colorado Springs, CO, Nazarene Bible College offers an associate of arts in ministry with available concentrations in Christian educational ministries, church ministries, early education, or Hispanic pastoral studies. Founded in 1967, NBC prepares men and women for ministry, evangelism, and discipleship throughout the world. It is also one of two Nazarene universities, and the only school with specific funding to deliver multicultural contextual education. All full-time faculty members hold pastoral experience or staff roles in their own church, and adjunct faculty members also work in church ministry.
The 64-credit ministry degree requires 28 credits of general education courses, nine credits on the Bible, and 23 credits within a concentration. The Christian educational ministries concentration prepares graduates for lay ministry in Christian education; the church ministry concentration includes courses in pastoral counseling and global evangelism; the early education concentration explores childhood development and teaching techniques; and the Hispanic pastoral studies concentration studies systematic theology and church planting.
Online students benefit from tutoring services, counseling, and financial assistance, such as grants, loans and institutional scholarships.
Nazarene Bible College holds accreditation in both The Higher Learning Commission and the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education.
The Advantages of a Theology Education
An online associate degree in theology can prepare you for a variety of ministry and pastoral-related occupations in areas such as youth ministry, religious education, and church administration. Earning an associate degree in theology online, or in a traditional on-campus program, appeals to students who want to enter the job market quickly. For others, an associate degree provides opportunities to explore college-level courses in a particular field without committing to a four-year program of study.
An associate degree fulfills most of the general education requirements needed to complete a bachelor's degree. Students who plan on earning a bachelor's may reduce the overall cost of their undergraduate degree if they complete an associate program at a two-year community college before transferring to a four-year school.
Associate degree graduates find rewarding employment possibilities, but many positions in church leadership require a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's results in a significant salary increase. According to the BLS, the weekly median wage increases from$862 for an associate degree to $1,198 for bachelor degree holders.
Theology Degree Salary Information
With an associate in theology, graduates develop an understanding of scripture in its full context, and are prepared to share practical and educational insight with others through missionary work or church expansion, or as pastors. The annual salary for ministers and clergy members working in religious organizations ranges from $26,160 to $85,040, according to the BLS.
Youth ministers conduct programs for young people from preschool age through college in a variety of church-sponsored settings. Youth ministers may enter the field after receiving their associate degree in theology, but many religious organizations hire bachelor's degree holders and may require some training in counseling.
Usually working directly under the pastor, these administrators run day-to-day operations, oversee budgets, direct the maintenance of facilities, and schedule services and other church activities. This position requires an undergraduate education in business administration, finance, accounting, and theology.
Typically employed in larger churches, the worship pastor prepares and conducts each week's worship services and other special events including weddings, baptisms, and funerals. In most cases, worship pastors hold a bachelor's degree in theology or pastoral counseling.
A minister's actual duties depend on the size and needs of their specific religious organization. They usually conduct worship services, direct programs, and provide guidance to congregation members. Many churches require ministers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in ministry or a theology-related field.
Nonprofit Program Director:
Program directors in church-sponsored agencies arrange events, administer budgets, and seek funding to maintain their organization's goals and projects. The educational requirements for this position depend on the agency type and the complexity of the tasks, but most program directors hold a bachelor's degree.
|Job Title||Entry Level
|Nonprofit Program Director||$43,000||$47,000||$55,000||$62,000|
Choosing an Online Theology Degree Program
Online associate degrees in theology vary considerably in tuition pricing, course delivery formats, and graduation requirements. As you begin your search for the right program for your needs, make sure to ask the right questions: Will you save money by enrolling in a state school? Are the online courses self-paced, or do you have to log in at a set time and day? How flexible are degree requirements, and can you attend full- or part-time?
Because church-sponsored institutions, Christian schools, and Bible colleges administer the majority of theology programs, pay attention to the curriculum. Also ask: Do the course offerings align with your particular theological interests or faith-based perspective, and will you be comfortable in the program?
- Program Cost: Earning an associate degree in theology online may not cost less than a campus-based program; however, attending a two-year community college in your home state tends to cost significantly less than what a four-year school would charge for the same credits. Distance learners may also save on transportation costs and room and board. In addition to tuition, most schools charge technology fees for online courses.
- Transfer Policies: More state and private institutions are entering into transfer articulation agreements with community colleges and other associate degree-granting institutions. These agreements ensure the seamless transfer of credits earned in the associate degree to a baccalaureate-granting college. Keep in mind that regionally accredited four-year schools do not accept transfer credits from associate degrees earned from schools without this accreditation.
- School Size and Type: Earning an associate degree through your local community college may lower tuition costs and provide you with easily transferable general education credits required by four-year schools. Online programs at private colleges may offer fewer course options but more personalized service, while public institutions typically feature more courses and affordable tuition. Theology degree curricula always reflect the mission and denominational values of their sponsoring institutions.
- Program Length: An online associate degree in theology generally requires two years of full-time enrollment, though some programs offer accelerated formats that take 18 months or less. Students enrolled in programs following a semester calendar typically need 60-65 credits to graduate. Some schools use a quarter-based schedule, requiring 90 credits for degree completion.
- On-Campus Requirements: Most online theology programs do not require on-campus attendance, though a few may offer an on-campus orientation for new students. Before enrolling in any program with a residency requirement or a hybrid course format, you should decide if the benefits of face-to-face meetings outweigh the time, travel, and financial expense of fully online programs.
Accreditation for Online Theology Degrees
Accrediting agencies provide an extensive evaluation of schools' academic standards and financial practices. These independent agencies hold recognition by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Most degree-granting institutions seek out either national or regional accreditation. Technical, vocational, and for-profit schools usually acquire national accreditation. These institutions often offer less rigorous admissions requirements and inexpensive tuition.
Regional accreditation, the most popular and prestigious designation, requires higher professional and academic standards.
A school’s accreditation status determines credit transferability and eligibility for federal financial aid. If you plan to earn a bachelor's after completing your associate degree, keep in mind that most four-year schools only accept credits from regionally accredited colleges. Employers often prefer applicants with degrees from accredited institutions.
Many colleges offering theology degrees hold regional accreditation, but some seek out specialized accreditation recognizing program-specific excellence, as well. For example, Bible schools may acquire programmatic accreditation from theAssociation of Biblical Higher Education. TheAssociation of Theological Schools grants accreditation to seminary schools offering graduate degrees.
Two major organizations oversee the accreditation review process for U.S. colleges and universities. The ED administers federal financial aid programs and establishes national educational policy. TheCHEA coordinates postsecondary accreditation and advocates on behalf of its 3,000-member academic institutions. Both regional and national accreditation associations, and some programmatic accreditors, receive approval from the ED or CHEA to ensure they meet regulatory standards.
The accreditation review considers several variables, including curriculum quality, faculty reputation, student services, and financial integrity.Students considering any online theology degree should confirm each prospective school’s accreditation status by checking the ED and CHEA websites.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Theology?
Requirements for earning an associate degree in theology online vary widely across institutions, but most programs require 60-65 credits taken over two years of full-time attendance. Students who must manage work or family responsibilities often choose online programs offering part-time study.
Programs following asynchronous course delivery formats allow students to progress at their own pace. They finish in as little as 18 months or as long as four years, depending on the number of credits they complete each term. Some online programs use a cohort model, in which students progress together in lock-step through synchronously delivered courses that meet weekly at the same time.
Cohort programs encourage faculty and peer interaction, because they require all students to take the same classes in a fixed sequence each semester. Degree completion may take longer to complete than self-paced course formats. Depending on the program's theological focus, students may have to participate in ministry leadership or preaching practicums.
Courses in an Online Associate in Theology Program
Coursework for an online associate in theology varies between departments and programs, depending on whether a school affiliates with a specific denomination or religious tradition. In general, theology programs provide an overview of the scriptures, church leadership, and basic questions of theology and doctrine. Some common courses are listed below.
Biblical Studies in the Old and New Testament:
This gateway class for students entering the theology field presents an overview of the canonical books of the Old Testament through the New Testament. Students acquire skills in biblical hermeneutics, analyzing biblical language and text, synthesizing biblical knowledge, and integrating principles to contemporary applications.
The knowledge and understanding of church history represents a central focus of theological training for future church leaders, ministers, and educators. This course explores the history of Christianity and the church both in the United States and globally, with a special emphasis on non-Western traditions. Students examine various theological developments and major social movements that have shaped the church over time.
Introduction to Ministry:
This course prepares future church leaders for the responsibilities and challenges of contemporary church ministry. Students learn about leadership principles, organizational and managerial procedures and practices, counseling, and ethics. The course also addresses practical considerations, such as the management of staff, volunteers, and finances; physical plant upkeep; and congregants' worship and pastoral needs.
Students learn to apply theological foundations to the psychological practices used in pastoral counseling and care. Course content focuses on case studies illustrating marriage and family counseling, bereavement support, and ministries designed for youth and other special populations. This course appeals to students seeking positions in pastoral ministry and provides the academic foundation for more advanced undergraduate and graduate studies or licensure.
This survey course compares the history and growth of Western and non-Western religious theories, viewpoints, and practices. Students will explore the foundations, key concepts, and historical and contemporary influences of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The course also includes research on ancient religions and religious practices among non-literate societies.
Theology Membership Associations
National Association of Christian Ministers:
This nondenominational fellowship of ordained Christian ministers, serves members through mentorship programs, professional development for church leaders, and ministry training. NACM accepts members from Baptist, Methodist, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, and nondenominational backgrounds. The organization provides assistance with ordination, minister licensure, and church charter development.
American Association of Pastoral Counselors:
Established in 1967, this association assists pastoral counselors and spiritual caregivers with professional development programs, networking opportunities, and educational resources. AAPC administers accreditation programs in clinical pastoral education, publishes an online journal, and hosts an annual conference. Students may apply for discounted membership.
Association of Youth Ministry Educators:
AYME membership is open to all teachers, researchers, and students engaged in youth ministry in academic and non-traditional educational settings. The association publishes the Journal of Youth Ministry and sponsors an annual conference, networking and professional development opportunities, and award programs.