Are We Losing the Next Generation of Church Leaders?

I’m a bit reluctant to write this because it is going to come off sounding like a rant against the church. I don’t intend it to be criticism, but hopefully motivation. I spent a recent morning in a room with about 10 young leaders, mostly in their twenties. These are young people who, for the most part, have grown up in churches. They are servants who are working with our association this summer as interns or volunteers in a variety of capacities. Mostly, they will be putting on sports camps in our churches to help those churches reach out into their communities.

I was really excited to have a few hours to help them learn about how God has wired them as servant leaders. At one point in the conversation I asked them if any of their churches have ever done anything to intentionally develop them as leaders. Silence… crickets… blank stares…nothing.

Church! What is wrong with us? Why are we not intentionally developing the next generation of leaders? What are we so busy about that we don’t have time for this? And why do we act surprised when they get bored and leave our church to find significance elsewhere?

(O.K. that was the part that sounded like a rant.)

But seriously folks! We call ourselves followers of Jesus. We used to where bracelets with the letters WWJD (What would Jesus do) on them. Well, here is what he did. He took a group of young people with varying capacities for leadership and invited them to follow him around. They would watch him work, and then he would debrief them. He would let them do things, and then he would debrief them. Finally, when he was finished with his work he commissioned them to continue that work. You don’t have to be Jesus to do that – anyone can do it!

Those great young people I got to spend time with are hungry to learn. They snatched up every little bit of leadership training I put in front of them. I even had a couple of them help lead some exercises. They want more. I will be looking for ways to engage with them throughout this summer. And we are going to end the summer with another one of these “mini-retreats”. I can’t think of any more important use of my time for the next few months.

People! Look around your church. Is there a young person who could benefit from your experience/knowledge/wisdom? You don’t have to be an expert; you just have to be willing. Andy Stanley did a great talk on this subject at last year’s Catalyst Conference  He made the point that it isn’t our responsibility to fill their cup, only to empty ours. That statement stuck with me. I need to find every opportunity I can to empty my cup into someone else’s life – especially young leaders.


Where Did the Young People Go?

I hear it all the time, “We wish we had more young people in our church.” In my last post, I spoke about signs that point to a future of decline in a church. One of these is the lack of young people being developed into leaders. Actually, it isn’t just small, older congregations that have this problem. Actually some fast growing young congregations suffer from the same symptom. They aren’t developing leaders.

Developing leader means more than throwing some poor kid behind the sound board and saying “How about mixing the sound today?” Or, “You are good with computers, make us a new webpage.” What I am talking about is an intentional process of developing leaders. Churches more often use people rather than developing them. They get in this desperation spiral of trying to throw everything together every week and never develop a process.

Churches that have an ample amount of young leaders tend to have a few things in common:

1. They have a process. They take people from Point A to Point B and then to Point C. This process is repeatable and reproducible. It is written down and clear.

2. They have people who are dedicated to developing leaders. There are people whose calling is to coach or mentor – and they focus on that calling. These people aren’t overloaded with a bunch of other responsibilities.

3. They have a clearly defined outcome. They know what they are trying to achieve in a young leader’s life, and they know what it looks like when they get there. Expectations from the church to the young leader and from the young leader to the church are spelled out.

4. They develop more than skills. They are interested first in developing character and a servant’s heart, and only then in developing skills. Most churches only teach skills (Let me show you how to run the sound board).

5. They allow young leaders to try. They are willing to take appropriate risks with young leaders, knowing that sometimes they are going to fail. These churches will sacrifice Sunday morning “excellence” in order to allow “air time” for developing musicians, teachers, etc.

So the next time you ask yourself “Where did all the young people go?” many of them are at that church down the street that practices these five things. They are being stretched and challenged. They are being allowed to grow and develop. They will become bored with a church that offers them anything less. Wouldn’t you?