Theology is a complex subject that demands a broad knowledge base. It is not limited to church services. It is also presented in academic papers, journals, conferences, and workshops. If you’re looking to advance your theological knowledge but have commitments that bar you from going to a campus, an online degree program is an option. With the best online bachelor’s degree in theology, you can study effectively off-campus.
A bachelor’s degree in theology is an undergraduate degree that usually has 120-course credits that can be completed in four years. Courses are designed to ingrain in students a deep understanding of religious history and theology as well as practical skills like leadership and interpersonal relations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for this degree reached 376,930 jobs while the median annual wage was pegged at $40,000 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Theology graduates can find work as chaplains, pastors, ministers, and more.
In this article, you can find out whether you should pursue a theology degree online and what differences you can expect compared to a face-to-face setting. You can also know what to expect in terms of costs and curriculum. In this way, you will be able to narrow down the many choices for the best online degrees and select one that is right for you.
Many schools nowadays offer online bachelor’s degrees in theology. This is mainly due to the pandemic, which has affected 1,200 colleges and schools in the U.S. Data shows that 44% of institutions switched to fully online learning, 21% used a hybrid model while 27% continued with face-to-face learning (Guru99, 2021).
Source: Guru99, 2021
Employers have shifted their attitude towards online degrees in line with the shift to online instruction. Today, nearly 100% of new graduates entering the job market earned their degree at least partially online (World Economic Forum, 2021). Moreover, the online learning experience can better equip graduates with the new work arrangements, such as hybrid and remote work setups that will be implemented in the new normal.
Online bachelor’s degrees in theology that a graduate obtains from an accredited and reputable institution will likely be accepted in most parts of the world. The rising popularity of distance learning around the world provides the opportunity to learn without borders. According to UNESCO, 90% of high-income countries reported using existing online platforms while 53% from low and lower-middle income countries did the same (UNESCO, 2020).
Source: UNESCO, 2020Designed by
Online bachelor’s degree programs in theology deal with the different facets of religion. Theology students closely study spiritual text and ancient languages to sharpen their theological thinking skills. The course may also delve into the history, ethics, and rituals of one religion or different ones from all around the world.
Theology programs are usually taught on-campus. But with pandemic shutting down schools, online degree programs have gained traction. If you are wondering which mode of instruction to take, below are some differences to take note of:
Traditional degree programs usually take in students during the spring, summer, or fall. Online programs may also follow the same format or have year-round admissions. When it comes to class schedules, on-campus programs usually have set times within the week for face-to-face classes. In contrast, online programs that follow asynchronous learning do not have set class times. Instead, students study the course content on their own time, making it more advantageous to students with work or family responsibilities. For synchronous sessions, professors may set a schedule for when they will meet their students.
One method that provides a middle ground for purely online and purely face-to-face instruction is blended learning. Adams et al (2018) conducted a study titled “Transforming higher education with blended learning: experiences from a BA program in theology targeting part-time students” at the University of Graz. The findings, which were published in The Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference 2018 – Proceedings, stated that “Part-time students need more support in their learning processes, particularly during online phases, as student motivation is higher when faculty members engage in different forms of e-teaching. As the program continues, the focus should remain on student satisfaction and engagement, particularly to address the issue of retention, but also take into consideration instructors’ needs for ongoing support when it comes to (re-)designing their courses and setting up their virtual learning environment (VLEs).”
In traditional programs, students learn by interacting with their professors and fellow students in a structured environment. They can then put into practice what they learned through a guided internship or by joining a peer ministry. Meanwhile, online programs break down course content into modules that students can access from a learning platform. Thus, the learning experience for students happens in the cloud. They can complete course content at their own pace but must still submit assignments and other requirements on time.
Both online and traditional degree programs in theology usually require at least 120 credit hours to complete the degree. This means that students can earn their degrees in four years. Both modes also offer students full-time or part-time options in completing the course. However, some online programs offer an accelerated bachelor’s to master’s option so you can earn both degrees with less time and money.
Teachers in traditional programs usually employ the lecture method for course delivery. However, they may also use other methods, such as storytelling and demonstration. Occasionally, teachers may employ student-centered methods like reporting and recitation (Bible.org, 2005). On the other hand, online programs typically have interactive online classes that aim to mimic the classroom experience. Students can participate in the video lecture, as well as interact with other classmates through podcasts, instant messaging, discussion threads, and other methods.
Students can expect that online bachelor’s degrees in theology will be less expensive than their on-campus counterparts. This is because schools have lesser overhead costs to operate such programs. Meanwhile, students do not have to spend on transportation and course materials.
An accredited degree program from a reputable school helps ensure that the quality one gets from an online education will be on par with its campus-based offering. In addition, some online programs integrate the use of technology along with theology theory and practice. The view that college is still worth the cost even if classes are online is shared by 66% of parents according to a survey. On the other hand, 48% of students agree that college is still worth the cost even with online classes while 49% disagree (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020).
Source: Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020
On average, the most affordable schools that offer an online bachelor’s degree in theology have per credit rates of $467 per credit hour. The average tuition for this degree is $26,315. Annual tuition can be as low as $7,860 or as high as $17,980.
Sources: MBI, PBA, ORU, JU, Franciscan University of Steubenville; 2021
On the other hand, affordable campus-based bachelor’s programs in Christian ministry, Biblical studies, and theology cost $28,304. However, bear in mind that this cost covers tuition only and does not take into account housing, on-campus meals, transportation, and other expenses.
Various factors come into play that affects the pricing of college fees as well as online programs for this degree. These include:
Accredited online bachelor’s degree programs in theology can help students develop the same skills as their on-campus counterparts. Just like its on-campus counterpart, an online degree in Theology can lead to a master’s degree. Graduates may pursue related post-graduate programs like a Master’s Degree in Psychology or a Master’s Degree in History.
Aside from the course content, taking classes online can give them the technical know-how for creating a structure for a digital church. According to a survey, 71% of Boomers prefer in-person attendance for church services post-pandemic, while only 41% of Gen Z prefer this mode of worship (Carey Nieuwhof, 2021). Hence, getting an online theology degree is worth it as it prepares graduates for delivering ministry services in a post-pandemic world.
To apply for admission, applicants have to submit official transcripts, copies of standardized test scores, church endorsement, or pastor’s recommendation. As for technological requirements, students should have a laptop, desktop, and mobile device to access course content from a learning management system. After obtaining their degree, they will have the necessary skills to serve in their ministry or community, such as leadership skills, oral and written communication skills, reading comprehension, and listening skills.
Online degree programs in theology usually require students to access a learning management system (LMS) for course content, activities, and requirements. Thus, they would need a laptop or desktop that is compatible with the LMS chosen by the school. Such systems also usually have a mobile component so they would need a mobile phone or tablet to access it. It is advisable for applicants to check the degree program’s page or inquire with an admissions officer about the specific technical specifications for gadgets as required by the program.
Different schools offering online theology degrees will have different curricula. However, students can expect the following core online degree courses in theology to be taught:
Source: Gallup, 2020
Many types of institutions offer online bachelor’s programs in theology, from Christian schools, bible colleges, and church-sponsored schools. In looking for the right school, one can consider the following factors:
Schools offering theology-related degrees can have national or regional accreditation. National accreditation is usually awarded to specialized, vocational, or trade schools. Examples of nationally accredited bodies are the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
The Commission of Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools also accredits schools with theological disciplines not only in the U.S. but also in Canada (ATS, n.d.). In 2020, there were a total of 224 ATS-accredited schools in the U.S. and 34 in Canada for a total of 258 accredited schools (ATS, 2021).
On the other hand, regional accreditation indicates a high degree of professional and academic standards. Enrolling in institutions that are regionally accredited also means that it is easier to transfer credits to other colleges and universities. Examples of regional accrediting bodies include the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
With earned credits, students do not have to take up the full number of required credits under the program. This lessens their academic workload and results in lower tuition fees. There are institutions that recognize early college credit earned by qualified high school students. Others may also give credit for life experience up to a maximum number of credit hours. Other schools may also limit the number of credit hours they recognize and require that a certain percentage of credits be earned at their institution.
A good online program should give students the same resources as on-campus students enjoy. They should have access to an online library, advising and financial aid, and help desk services. Aside from these, the school should also provide chapel services as well as coaching on academics and careers.
The widespread use of online platforms for education has made degrees accessible to students as long as they have an internet connection. This applies to various degrees, even bachelor’s degrees in theology. Aside from the convenience, learning remotely generally translates to lower costs. By enrolling in an accredited program from a reputable institution, one can be assured that it is on par with on-campus offerings and will be acceptable to employers.
Today, as the world grapples with the uncertainties of the pandemic, people might have lost touch with their spirituality. In fact, church membership in the U.S. is now at an all-time low. In the 1940s, 73% of adults in the U.S. said that they are a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque. In 2020, that percentage has declined to 47% (Gallup, 2021). With a theology degree, graduates can bring religious teachings, interpret them in a way that is relevant to modern times, and bring the light of hope in a dark world.