The stained-glass ceiling is a sociological phenomenon in religious communities similar to the concept of the "glass ceiling". This concept revolves around the apparent difficulty for women who seek to gain a role within church leadership. The use of the term "stained-glass ceiling" is metaphorical, indicating a certain level of power or authority within church structures that women tend not to rise above within church hierarchies. This could range from a group's de jure barring of women from positions like priest, bishop, pastor, rabbi, or similar clerical figures, to gender discrimination at the level of local congregations that prevent women from rising to any role of particular status or power.
The stained-glass ceiling is a particular aspect of a broader trend of gender segregation and discrimination in religious communities, by use defined social roles and barriers typically justified by either tradition, dogma, or doctrine of the church group.
The phrase "stained-glass" refers to the frequent placement of stained-glass artwork in places of Christian worship.
Among the most significant examples of resistance to female clergy has been in the position of senior pastor in large church settings. For example, in the United Methodist Church only two female ministers have ever led churches with membership numbers within the top 100 of United Methodist churches in the U.S. The most recent national data (2005) indicates that there are no female ministers currently leading top 100 membership UMCs. Resistance has eased more rapidly for the position of bishop in the United Methodist Church. For 2004–2008, 15 of the 50 (30%) United Methodist bishops serving the U.S. are women.
- Marjorie Matthews, elected bishop in the United Methodist Church in 1980. She was the first woman elected as a bishop by a U.S. mainline Christian denomination.
- Julie Pennington-Russell, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church (Decatur, Georgia)(8/2007-present). The largest church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention with a woman as senior pastor (weekly worship attendance of 483/ 2,696 members "1,804 resident and 892 non-resident").
- Barbara Harris – the first woman ordained as a bishop in the Anglican Communion (1989)
- Katharine Jefferts Schori – the first woman elected as a primate of the worldwide Anglican Communion (2006)
- Elizabeth Eaton – the first woman elected as presiding bishop in the Evangelical Church in America (2013)
- "Few Clergywomen Lead Largest UMCs". United Methodist Nexus. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
- "United Methodist Clergywomen Research". Glorybe.com. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
- "Get to Know Our New Women Bishops" (PDF). The Flyer. General Commission of the Status and Role of Women in the United Methodist Church. Retrieved 2007-09-08.[dead link]
- "United Methodist Clergywoman History". United Methodist Clergywoman. United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- "First Baptist Church Decatur". First Baptist Church Decatur. First Baptist Church Decatur. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
-  Presiding Bishop - About The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
- Growing Churches Led by Clergywomen
- Women clergy bring a new sensibility to an old calling, The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2006
- Nazarene Clergy Women: A Statistical Analysis from 1908 to 2003, Richard Houseal, USA/Canada Mission/Evangelism Department- Church of the Nazarene Headquarters, See table 4, p. 20
- ELCA Gathers 'Power-Filled Women for a Power-Filled Church, March 1, 2004
- Presbyterian Church (USA) -2003 Clergywomen's Experiences in Ministry: Realities and Challenges , 2003