The previous post discussed seminary enrollment trends among students belonging to some Black Protestant denominations. In this post, we discuss seminary enrollment trends among students from Evangelical Protestant traditions. The enrollment data come from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) for Master of Divinity and Professional M.A. degrees from the years 2000 through 2020 for students from requested denominations enrolled in ATS-member seminaries. The student cohorts requested were Roman Catholic and selected clusters of denominations from Black Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, and Mainline Protestant denominations.
Overall, there was an 8 percent decline in enrollment from these denominations in A.T.S. theological schools in 2020 compared to 2000. The decline in the Master of Divinity degree program (10 percent, from 7,161 in 2000 to 6,437 in 2020) was greater than the decline in the Professional M.A. (2 percent, from 2,626 in 2000 to 2,576 in 2020).
Master of Divinity. Of the reviewed denominations, the Wesleyan Church is the only one that showed more M.Div. enrolled students in 2020 than in 2000, a gain of 78 percent. The membership of Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University in ATS beginning in 2012 marked a pivotal point in the increase of Wesleyan Church students enrolled at ATS seminaries. The denominations with the greatest percentage declines in 2020 compared with 2000 were the Church of God, Cleveland, TN (61 percent), Church of God, Anderson, IN (56 percent), Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (53 percent), and Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (44 percent).
Professional M.A. Four of the denominations showed more Professional M.A. enrollees in 2020 than in 2000: Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (408 percent increase), Wesleyan Church (285 percent increase), Presbyterian Church in America (83 percent) and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (17 percent). Declines were greatest for the Church of God, Anderson, IN (74 percent decline).
Table 1: Evangelical Protestant MDiv and ProfMA ATS Enrollment, 2000-2020
|Total Evangelical Protestant||9,787||9,013||-774||-8%|
Chart 1: Evangelical Protestant MDiv and ProfMA ATS Enrollment, 2000-2020
Table 2: Evangelical Protestant Denominational MDiv and ProfMA ATS Enrollment, 2000-2020
|Assemblies of God||MDiv||365||324||-41||-11%|
|Assemblies of God||ProfMA||316||272||-44||-14%|
|Cooperative Baptist Fellowship*||MDiv||162||76||-86||-53%|
|Cooperative Baptist Fellowship**||ProfMA||6||7||1||17%|
|Church of the Nazarene||MDiv||289||222||-67||-23%|
|Church of the Nazarene||ProfMA||105||72||-33||-31%|
|Church of God (Anderson, Ind.)||MDiv||87||38||-49||-56%|
|Church of God (Anderson, Ind.)||ProfMA||46||12||-34||-74%|
|Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.)||MDiv||131||51||-80||-61%|
|Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.)||ProfMA||133||125||-8||-6%|
|Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod||MDiv||674||376||-298||-44%|
|Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod||ProfMA||12||61||49||408%|
|Presbyterian Church in America||MDiv||739||661||-78||-11%|
|Presbyterian Church in America||ProfMA||144||263||119||83%|
*M.Div. begins 2008 instead of 2000. **ProfMA begins 2009 instead of 2000.
Since the Southern Baptist Convention numbers constitute almost 70 percent of the Evangelical Protestant enrollment from these selected denominations in both 2000 and 2020, their changes though modest could skew what is happening across the other denominations. To examine changes among this pool of denominations without the Southern Baptist figures, the table below removes the Southern Baptist figures from consideration.
Table 3: Evangelical Protestant (excluding Southern Baptist) MDiv and ProfMA ATS Enrollment, 2000-2020
|With Southern Baptist excluded||2000||2020||Change||% Change|
|Total Evangelical Protestant||3,141||2,794||-347||-11%|
The primary change comes in the M.Div. enrollment. The Southern Baptist M.Div. enrollment decline from 2000 to 2020 was only 5 percent compared to the overall decline among these Evangelical Protestant denominations (with Southern Baptists included) of 10 percent. Therefore, when the Southern Baptist numbers come out of the calculations, the other denominations reviewed show a decline of 20 percent in M.Div. enrollment.
An innovation among the Wesleyan Church that fits the times
Innovation often comes about when someone meets a need, serves an unserved or underserved constituency, or offers something in a more accessible or affordable way. One can see all these characteristics of innovation in recent times with the establishment by the Wesleyan Church of a seminary, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. The Wesleyan Church brings together several religious streams including a fervent abolitionist movement led by Orange Scott and others in the 1840s. Despite having institutions of higher education such as Indiana Wesleyan, there was not an official Wesleyan Church seminary until 2009. The components for successful innovation were present: Indiana Wesleyan had a track record in delivering graduate education, was trusted by the denomination, and already had a successful Master of Arts in Ministry degree program. In addition, approximately 85 percent of Wesleyan Church pastors did not have seminary degrees. Finally, a delivery system was developed to be inexpensive, accessible, and directly applicable for working pastors.
Theological schools and denominations have both assets and challenges. New partnerships and paradigms will be needed that go beyond those currently in place that increasingly appear designed for circumstances that are changing.
Photo credit: The Rev. Daniel Hayes gives the sermon during worship at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
 Chart 1: Evangelical Protestant MDiv and ProfMA ATS Enrollment, 2000-2020
 As a new denominational group, the first year M.Div. students appear as ATS students is 2008, from which the change by 2020 is calculated.
 Having a Wesleyan seminary join ATS beginning in 2012 helped enrollment in ProfMA just as it did for the M.Div.
 The first year ProfMA students appear as ATS students is 2009, from which the change by 2020 is calculated.
 “About Wesley Seminary,” https://seminary.indwes.edu/about/.