The 6 Best Online Master’s in Ministry Programs

| TBS Staff

Are you ready to discover your college program?

An online ministry degree helps graduates to lead others in spiritual observance and matters of spiritual and physical wellbeing. Members of the clergy often serve as educators and counselors on many practical issues, such as maintaining healthy families. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of new clergy jobs in the U.S. will increase 8% by 2026. If you enjoy studying the Bible from a religious and academic perspective and want to work with people in your community to improve their daily lives, an online ministry program may be perfect for you.

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Choosing a Program

No two online ministry degrees are exactly alike. Choosing the right program for you depends on the topics you are most interested in studying. Some programs have a heavier focus on theology while others place a greater emphasis on biblical interpretation or ministry components. Students pursuing a ministry degree online may take supplemental coursework such as the history and present condition of the church. A number of programs also feature electives to foster the exploration of topics outside of the main program of study. Degrees in theology and divinity often cover similar topics, but the ministry degree is more geared toward hands-on community leadership.

You should choose a program that includes coursework most aligned with your personal interests and career goals. As a ministry student, you will likely take at least one class that instructs you on methods in counseling, since many spiritual leaders counsel members of their community. Courses in ministry leadership prepare students to lead church services and holiday observances.

For career information, skip down:

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Online Master's in Ministry Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

The Best Online Master's in Ministry Degree Programs

Indiana Wesleyan University View School Profile $$$$ Marion, IN 59% Indiana Wesleyan University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Indiana Wesleyan University, located in the city of Marion, is a comprehensive liberal arts university of the Wesleyan Church. Lauded for its graduate education, the school's 90 degree programs -- most of which are available to study in a flexible format -- feature master's degrees in nine disciplines that include theology and ministry. Wesleyan Seminary offers two children, youth, and family ministry degrees online: a master of divinity and a master of arts.

The 75 credit master of divinity is one of the most innovative degrees of its kind, integrating theory and practice of Bible, theology, and church history. The online curriculum includes a few in-person components: several hours per week of research at a local church, a spiritual formation course, and an annual convocation. The master of arts, by contrast, is a cohort-based, 36 credit program that develops students' ministry skills in only two years. It includes 18 credits each of core and elective courses.

Whether students pursue the M.Div. or MA, the children, youth, and family ministry specialization is suitable for learners serving or volunteering in the ministry. Most of the specialization is online, requiring only two, two-day visits at the beginning and midway through the program. The curriculum consists of four distinctive courses: family ministry for 21st-century families, effective communication with children and youth, child and adolescent development, and programming and management in family ministry. To apply to either master's degree, students must submit a short autobiography, a statement of ministry purpose, and their transcripts. The master of divinity also accepts up to 27 transfer credits. Pastors qualify for discounted tuition, and Wesleyan pastors for even lower tuition rates.

Southwestern Assemblies of God University View School Profile $$$$ Waxahachie, TX 42% Southwestern Assemblies of God University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).

A Texas-based Bible university of theological and professional study, SAGU prides itself on its high standards of spiritual conduct. Students applying to SAGU must demonstrate exemplary evidence of living a born-again Christian lifestyle. The school's success has led to exponential growth since the 90s, when it opened its Harrison Graduate School to offer master of arts and master of divinity programs.

The master of arts in practical theology - children and family ministry caters to the needs of children and families through topics such as advanced leadership, marriage and family counseling, ministering to children with challenging issues, and ministry within cultural diversity. SAGU also offers a master of divinity with eight specializations -- including family ministry -- and both thesis or non-thesis options. Both degrees prepare graduates for a variety of ministry jobs, from author to youth pastor to ministry director.

SAGU distance learners benefit from small class sizes, 20% less debt than other private Christian universities, and ample opportunities to reduce overall costs. They pay the same tuition as on-campus students and have access the same on-campus learning center. Services available to online students include career services, one-to-one tutoring, non-credit skills development courses, Blackboard workshops, and a library of over 60 databases. SAGU also offers a portfolio development course where students can earn up to 45 hours of experiential learning credit, save $25,000 in tuition costs, and graduate up to a year earlier.

Dallas Baptist University View School Profile $$$$ Dallas, TX 41% Dallas Baptist University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).

DBU offers a pioneering online Christian education to more than 1,800 students across the world, while maintaining a completion rate of 92%. The online campus supports various learning formats, including mobile platforms, media on demand, and web conferencing. All classes are asynchronous, though most instructors require some weekly participation.

Among several online programs in ministry, DBU's graduate school offers master of arts programs in children's ministry (MACH), family ministry (MAFM), and student ministry (MAST). Each program requires 36 credits of coursework that emphasizes qualitative research, which students can publish in a renowned bi-annual journal. Each program is described as follows:

  • The MACH includes a nine-hour concentration in special needs children's ministry. Core courses cover topics such as Christian history and applied hermeneutics, while the concentration focuses on advanced childhood ministry, disability and suffering, and classroom and behavioral management.
  • The MAFM trains students in family formation and navigating life stages and family crises. Students choose from four concentrations: leadership, Christian counseling, special needs family ministry (similar to its youth-focused counterpart) and a general concentration. This latter focus lets students select any three courses from the Graduate School of Ministry.
  • In the MAST, students learn to impact teenagers through discipleship. Program-specific courses include student cultural issues, student ministry in a global context, adolescent development, and collegiate ministry strategies.

Also available in an accelerated format, these degrees encourage students to take advantage of additional opportunities to graduate faster. For example, a partnership with Pine Cove's Forge program allows Forge alumni to apply up to 18 credits to their degree; the Baptist General Convention of Texas partnership helps MACH students earn three credits; and Sky Ranch pays for its Legacy Program participants to study at DBU.

Huntington University View School Profile $$$ Huntington, IN 4% Huntington University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Huntington University is a military-friendly Christian college of the liberal arts located in Huntington, IN. The school boasts impressive rates of student achievement across its 70-plus programs of study: 97% of graduates are employed within six months, and 90% of students receive financial aid. HU is also renowned for its distinguished faculty and the quality and affordability of its online education. Its online programs are available to students in all states approved by the National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement.

HU offers two ministry graduate programs in online and hybrid formats, including the master's in global youth ministry. The two-year online ministry degree offers a unique international perspective by focusing on cross-cultural populations as well as specialized populations in the U.S. HU runs online classes in seven-week increments and offers each course every other year. Coursework includes pastoral counseling, intergenerational ministry, and multicultural partnerships. The program culminates in a field-based research project that combines qualitative and ethnographic research.

Applicants must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in undergraduate coursework, and include at least six credits in biblical studies and three credits in theology. They must also submit recommendations and writing samples. HU prices its tuition by program, and the global youth ministry program is the most affordable.

Judson University View School Profile $$$ Elgin, IL 9% Judson University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Judson is an evangelical Christian university located in Elgin, IL, a city roughly 40 miles from Chicago. The school educates over 1,250 students in the liberal arts, sciences, and professions. Classes feature a low student/faculty ratio of 9:1.

The master of leadership in ministry prepares graduates for careers in ministry leadership in church, parachurch, and nonprofit settings. Distance learners complete the accelerated, cohort-based program mostly online and usually within 18 months. Some face-to-face and experiential learning is required, including a weekend residency and two weeks of study in Israel, both covered by tuition. The curriculum integrates leadership principles, everyday ministry practices, and foundational knowledge of the Bible, human development, theology, and culture. Coursework includes developmental perspectives on ministry, spiritual formation through the eyes of pilgrimage, cultivating healthy and effective ministry teams, and strategic planning for ministry effectiveness. Students must complete a capstone, which involves an applied research project. In addition to its on-campus requirements, Judson's Department of Christian Ministries invites students to attend a Leadership in Ministry Forum, where distance learners have the chance to engage with leaders in the field.

Judson prefers (but doesn't require) applicants with an undergraduate degree in Christian Ministries or similar. Admission requirements also include a completed "Am I Ready?" survey, two references, and two short essays on beliefs and goals. As part of the Illinois Articulation Initiative, Judson welcomes transfer credits in general education courses from other participating schools.

Faulkner University View School Profile $$$$ Montgomery, AL 37% Faulkner University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).

Located in Montgomery, AL, Faulkner is a private Christian university with a student body of 3,200 that represents 35 countries. The school offers nine graduate degrees completely online at affordable, military-friendly tuition rates, with some fast-track options and two online ministry programs.

Faulkner's master of arts in Christian counseling and family ministry is developed for current church workers looking to provide ministerial counsel without licensure. The 26 credit, interdisciplinary curriculum features asynchronous classes and includes some face-to-face learning. Fifteen credits of family ministry courses include topics such as family dynamics, family strengths, and marriage and family theory; 18 credits of counseling courses cover suicide intervention, substance abuse, group counseling, and others; finally, students complete three credits of supervised ministry practice. Meanwhile, Faulkner provides distance learners the same resources as on-campus students with an online bookstore, career services, free writing labs, and tutoring.

Faulkner accepts students who hold bachelor's degrees from regionally accredited colleges or universities, and accepts up to six transfer credits. They must also submit three letters of recommendation and a 1,000-word statement of purpose. Faulkner does not charge an application fee.

What Will I Learn in an Online Ministry Master's Program?

Although specific curricula vary by school, most ministry master's programs have certain elements in common. While the classes below will not be part of every ministry degree, students can expect to take at least one or more during their course of study.

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Online Master's in Ministry Careers

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Graduates with a master's in ministry serve as clergy members, counselors, and educators. They lead services and maintain the community's spiritual well-being. Some spiritual leaders go on to teach religion in private schools or universities. Below are three possible careers for students in a master of ministry online program.

  1. Pastor: Pastors serve as leaders of their religious communities. They lead worship and administer other spiritual duties such as private prayer. In addition to advising on matters of the spirit, pastors often serve as counselors in topics such as marriage, family, and youth ministry.
    • Median Annual Salary: $45,740
    • Projected Growth Rate: 8%
  2. Director of Religious Education: Religious education directors design and implement educational programming centered on Christianity and religion. They may work on their own or in conjunction with others. As educators, they sometimes provide guidance on matters related to spiritual education, health, and personal life.
    • Median Annual Salary: $38,610
    • Projected Growth Rate: 7%
  3. Director of Religious Activities: These directors create community or individual activities that are designed to promote religious observance, education, or spirituality. These activities may include seasonal events and holiday celebrations. Like religious education directors, they may provide some counseling when called upon.
    • Median Annual Salary: $38,610
    • Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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