U.S. sees dramatic growth in clergywomen over two decades

Research shows positive gains in how women are faring in America’s churches

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A new study reports dramatic gains in women clergy leading Mainline churches over the most recent study, completed 25 years ago, with some denominations reaching numerical equity between men and women. The report’s author Dr. Eileen Campbell-Reed compiled “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” in an effort to track how women are faring in ministry in American churches.

“Such a big question deserves sustained attention. The numbers are one important way to consider the status of women in ministry,” says Campbell-Reed, professor, author and academic entrepreneur, who has been writing about clergywomen for more than a decade.

The report highlights dramatic growth in some areas. For example, women leading Mainline churches are fully 32 percent of clergy and 27 percent of pastors, a sharp increase from 15.5 percent of clergy in 1994 when the data was last compiled across denominations.

“In other areas, such as seminary enrollment, the findings are mixed. Over the last decade, women of color are going to seminary in greater numbers, while the enrollment of white-identifying women is dropping,” says Campbell-Reed.

The 20-page document, released the first week in October, includes attention not only to women’s seminary enrollment and ministry leadership across numerous denominations, traditions, and ethnic groups, but also, where possible, it attends to clergy who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and/or queer (LGBTIQ).

Other insights from the report include:
- In 1960 women were 2.3 percent of U.S. clergy. In 2016 women are 20.7 percent of U.S. clergy.
- Since 2015 Roman Catholic lay ministers outnumber priests in the U.S., and 80 percent are women.
- In 2017 women remain fewer than 25 percent of seminary faculty and deans, and only 11 percent of the presidents.
- In most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.
- Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ clergywomen have reached numerical equity with clergymen.

The “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.” brings together data, analysis, and questions to fill an information gap more than two-decades old. Now ministers, journalists, and researchers can look to one publication for current statistics about female clergy, pastors, and seminarians.

“I knew waiting for another big study might take 20 more years, and I wanted to understand the landscape of women’s progress in leading the church now,” says Campbell-Reed.

With the help of three graduate research assistants, Campbell-Reed contacted denominational offices, combed the web, and compiled updates. With additional data from the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada, she put together a snapshot to answer her own question.

Campbell-Reed believes she is not alone in asking how women are faring as they lead the church. “Gathering this data into one report raises more questions for further analysis and research. All I have learned and shared in the report will also be incorporated in my next book.”

She also hopes this data will inspire others to dig deeper into the trends and significance of women’s pastoral leadership. “Women’s ordination remains among the more dramatic changes in the history of the church,” says Campbell-Reed. “I hope more people will ask: how are women and LGBTIQ clergy faring? And what do the changes mean for the church?”

The full report is available at StateOfClergyWomen.org.

About Eileen Campbell-Reed
Rev. Dr. Eileen R. Campbell-Reed is an academic entrepreneur, seminary professor, author, consultant and mentor/coach. She has published numerous articles on the practice of ministry, women’s leadership, and research methods. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen’s Narratives Reinterpret the Fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention (UT Press, 2016).



Eileen Campbell-Reed
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