Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

Leading a “Youth Movement”

Senior Consultant

Senior Consultant

“Wow! Time has flown by….” That’s the thought that kept running though my mind last week, having dropped off my youngest to start her college career. The “nest” is now empty. What a weird concept. As I’ve reflected on the last 25 years of child-rearing, I realized that’s just about how long I’ve been involved in church leadership. In fact, I was in my early 30s, a father of 2 small children, when I was first asked to serve on the Board of Elders. I can still remember how pleased I was to be asked. Along with a whole cohort of young-leaders-with-kids, we all worked hard to live up to Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV). Unfortunately, we’re not that young any more; we’ve moved on into our 50s and 60s (as has the bulk of our congregation), still very much involved in leadership.

Thus, our challenge: if we don’t start intentionally raising up the next generation of leaders, our church will slowly whither on the vine. I doubt this would be God’s preference. Nevertheless, the pool of prospective young leaders seems much smaller than it once was; it’s almost as if we’ve lost much of an entire generation. As I’ve spoken with leaders from other (predominantly denominational) churches, I’m realizing that this phenomenon is not unique: there seems to be a growing demographic “gap” between the numbers of 25 to 35 year olds who are active in our congregations when compared to the population at-large. This may, in part, be due to the fact that the “Survivor” and “Millennial” generations are numerically smaller than the “Boomer” generation that precedes them. But, could there be more? Perhaps, younger families just don’t feel as comfortable in churches primarily filled and lead by Baby Boomers and beyond. Perhaps, a “youth movement” is in order as we begin to pass the mantle of leadership to the next generations. Here are a few thoughts of how to launch such a “movement”:

Begin with a little self-inspection: simply “eye-ball” the age distribution of those currently serving in leadership. Do you see a distribution that reflects a nice cross-section of ages, or are you “top-heavy” in the older generations? If the latter, then develop the ideal “profile” of the emerging leaders you seek. (Cf. my prior blogs re: Recruiting the Right Lay Leaders). Now, you’re ready to start searching; pray first, then just follow the Spirit’s leading: peruse the church directory, consult staff members, ask around, listen to conversations, be creative: who are the leaders-in-the-making already present? Then, interview each prospective leader. Find out who they are in terms of passions, gifts, talents, and strengths and begin to plug them in to appropriate leadership opportunities, always remembering to provide sound mentorship along the way.

Finally, you can begin to “speak” your desired reality to the congregation; that is, of a vibrant, growing church being lead by gifted young leaders. How do you do that? As one of our client churches is doing, whenever leadership addresses the congregation, the chosen presenter is, whenever possible, a member of this “missing” generation. On a typical Sunday morning, you will see a pastor with 2 school-aged children at home, a worship director with a toddler by his side, and the congregational president who is raising school-aged children of his own; all the while receiving support and guidance from a host of seasoned leaders standing in the background. The result? I’m told there is a palpable increase in the energy level of the congregation among all age groups. This church seems to rediscovering its “DNA” as a great place for young families. Their prayer is that this difference will not only “re-infect” the congregation, but will begin again to spill out into their community of other young families who are far from God.

 I’m sure that many of you are also tackling this issue in your church. Please feel free to share what’s working for you so we can all be better equipped to propel this “youth movement” forward…. Blessings, Scott

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