ELCA Research and Evaluation shows pastors are retiring in record numbers, and there has been a sharp decrease in seminary enrollment. The result is a shortage of ministers—a growing problem.
To help stem that tide, the seven ELCA seminaries are now working together through a new website designed to enlarge the pool of qualified candidates prepared to answer a call to ministry. Through grants from the Richard Hay Barkalow Charitable Fund at InFaith Community Foundation, elcaseminaries.org launched this past summer.
“We want to see the pool of candidates for ministry increase to meet the needs of the church and God’s mission in the world,” said Matthew O’Rear, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. O’Rear is also the executive director of the ELCA seminaries’ InFaith grant.
“Before [the new website] there was no central place to allow the seminaries to showcase campuses, scholarships and other resources,” O’Rear said. “The seven seminaries reflect the larger church, and as the church is facing a decline in attendance, so are the ministries. We have a common mission together and this is a unified spot.”
The website’s homepage shows the two main ways seminaries are hoping to attract candidates, with buttons that allow visitors to “request information” or “refer a student.” O’Rear said this is a good way to “start a conversation” and “provide candidates an outlet” to learn more about the church as a whole and each individual seminary.
Before the new website launched, each seminary worked on its own to recruit and attract interested candidates.
“The website provides one place where a person can find general and contact information about all our seminaries,” said Francisco Javier Goitía-Padilla, ELCA program director for lay schools for ministry. “This way a person is assured that what our church wants is a good theological journey and [a] place to do so, and that seminaries are working together to provide that place and time for [them]. We are one church.”
While the website provides an opportunity for prospective students to find a potential fit, the church still faces the challenge of getting people in the door. O’Rear said answering the call is, for some, a daunting task. But he said it doesn’t have to be that way, and these new resources could help light a spark for students who are the future of the church.
“We aren’t all as fortunate to receive an angel like Mark or have a burning bush like Moses,” O’Rear said. “Our job is to help folks realize that even the low-grade fever they may have could be something more. We hope they accept what they’re hearing and [the website] allows people to have a mirror to see their uniqueness, to see their call to public ministry.”
The website will continue to grow with sections for blogs, videos and the ability to share stories. There will also be a place for conversations about answering the call with those who have already done so.
“Our main hope is to provide candidates an outlet and engage in conversation,” O’Rear said. “This is an important time and opportunity to impact the future of the church.”