There is a small, yet clear increase of younger students choosing the ministry as a vocation, a trend that is largely generated by church-related colleges encouraging students in this direction.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (July 4) reports that in the last few years, seminaries have begun to see an increase of students in their 20s. Since the 1980s, there has been a well-documented “talent drain” of younger students away from seminaries to more prestigious fields, particularly in mainline Protestant churches where the clergy position has lost its social status. Only a third of seminary students are younger than 30 today.
The recent increase is seen as mainly a result of church-related colleges making a more concerted effort to encourage interested students to pursue the ministry. A spate of new programs have made their way into in colleges, some involving courses connecting vocation and faith, thanks to special grants from the Lilly Foundation and the Fund for Theological Education. Aside from such courses, colleges have “beefed up internship programs, and offered students extracurricular support groups where those interested in becoming pastors could share their plans and concerns with each other,” writes Beckie Supiano.
Most of those colleges taking advantage of these grants and programs have seen an increase of their students going straight into seminaries. For instance, Hastings College, in Nebraska, had only one undergraduate majoring in religion among its 1,100 student body in 2001. By 2007, that number had climbed to 42. In the same time period, the college saw 12 of its students go on to seminaries.
Seminary education specialists cite both a new interest among young people in the helping vocations—with many having participated in volunteerism in college—as well as the new college programs that channel such interests into vocational choices for the increase in young people moving into the ministry.
(The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1255 23rd St. NW, Washington, DC 20037)