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Female Clergy in U.S. Increased Significantly Over Last 40 Years

Most Christian denominations in the U.S., save for Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, have seen significant growth in female clergy over the last 40 years.

In 2016, females represented 20.7 percent of all clergy in the U.S., up from 2.3 percent in 1960.

The number of clergywomen in seven U.S. mainline denominations – American Baptist Churches-USA, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church – increased from 2.8 percent in 1977 to 32 percent in 2017.

These were key findings in “State of Clergywomen in the U.S. 2018, A Statistical Update,” a report released in early October by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed, coordinator for coaching, mentoring and internship as well as associate professor of practical theology at the Nashville, Tennessee, campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

Significant growth has occurred since 1994, when the last detailed analysis of U.S. clergywomen was conducted.

The mainline traditions noted above nearly doubled the total number of combined female clergy, moving from 15.5 percent of their clergy in 1994 to 32 percent in 2017.

Other traditions saw similar increases over this same time: Unitarian Universalists (30 percent to 57 percent), United Church of Christ (25 to 50), Free Methodist (1 to 20), Church of God in Christ (10 to 25), Church of the Brethren (12 to 26) and Assemblies of God (8 to 23).

The presence of female clergy in the two main Baptist denominations that split from the Southern Baptist Convention is quite different.

As of July 2016, the Alliance of Baptists has females pastoring 40 percent of affiliated congregations, while the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has females leading fewer than 7 percent of its affiliated churches.

The report also provides information about trends among female divinity school students and LGBTQI clergy.

The data was compiled and presented by Campbell-Reed and three graduate research assistants – Sarah Reddish, Colleen Maki and Klem-Mari Cajigas Chimelis – over the past six years.

“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,” Campbell-Reed said in an Oct. 9 press release announcing the report. “Women’s ordination remains among the more dramatic changes in the history of the church. I hope more people will ask: How are women and LGBTQI clergy faring? And what do the changes mean for the church?”

The full report is available here.