This post is authored by Michal Kramarek, Ph.D., CARA Research Associate. It is the third and final post in a series that explore trends in the enrollment, in Catholic formation programs, in the United States. The first post focused on the priestly formation (it can be found here). And, the second post looked at the permanent deacon formation (it can be found here). This post provides a brief preview of lay ecclesial ministry formation. It is based on a larger new study about Catholic lay ecclesial ministry formation in the United States. The full overview of the findings is available for free here. This research was commissioned and funded by the Catholic Communications Committee.
The role of the laity and their participation in the ministry of the Church has evolved considerably in the decades since the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, the number of formation programs to train lay people for professional church ministry has decreased. Specifically, the number of confirmed programs decreased from 265 in the academic year 1985-1986 to 234 programs in 2008-2009 (a decline of 1% a year). And, from 233 in 2009-2010 to 130 programs in 2020-2021 (a decline of 4% a year).
In 2020-2021 academic year, there were 13,631 lay ecclesial ministry candidates enrolled in degree and certificate programs. This was an increase of 2,264 candidates (20%) from the previous year. The number of candidates increased by 30% between 1985-1986 and 2020-2021 and decreased by 24% between 2009-2010 and 2020-2021. The largest number reported in formation was in 2002-2003, when a record 36,048 total candidates were identified. If the trend since 1994-1995 continues, there will be projected 10,576 candidates ±14,856 (CI=95%) in 2025-2026.
In terms of gender distribution, three in five lay ecclesial ministry candidates (61%) are women. This included women religious (2%) and lay women (59%). The remaining two in five lay ecclesial ministry candidates (39%) were men. This included religious brothers (1%) and lay men (38%). Based on the trend since 2003-2004, the share of women is projected to comprise 59% ±5% (CI=95%) of candidates to lay ecclesial ministry, in the 2025-2026 academic year.
In terms of age, one in five candidates in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs (18%) are 60or older, 28% are in their 50s, 30% in their 40s, 14% in their 30s and 10% are under 30 years old. Based on the trend since the 2002-2003, the share of youngest candidates is projected to increase to 13% ±5% (CI=95%) in the 2025-2026 academic year.
In terms of racial and ethnic background, Hispanics/Latinos and White/Anglo/ Caucasians make up two in five candidates in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs (44% each). Blacks/African Americans constitute another 3%, while Asian/Pacific Islanders make up 5%. Others (including Native Americans) make up 4% of enrollees in these programs. Based on the trend since the 2002-2003, the share of Hispanics/Latinos is projected to increase to 68% ±12% (CI=95%) in the 2025-2026 academic year.
If you would like to see more detailed break downs, how these break downs changed over the past decades, and how they are projected to change in the next five years, you can access the full overview of the findings for free here. If you are interested to see a listing of all the Catholic formation programs in the United States, in the academic year 2020-2021 (including priestly formation, permanent diaconate formation and lay ecclesial ministry formation), you can purchase the Catholic Ministry Formation Directory here.