Where Are The Younger Leaders? – James Lawrence #dmingml

Several weeks ago Bill Hybels said one of his biggest concerns for the western church is the lack of 20-30s leaders. I’ve been thinking about this comment ever since. Is it true? If so, why might it be so? And what can we do about it?

I need to declare my position. For the last fifteen years I have spent a considerable part of my working life thinking about how to develop leaders. When I started I was a leader in my thirties, but now I am in my late fourties. I can no longer think of myself as a ‘younger’ leader. I may well be part of the problem, but I also could well be part of the solution. So over the next few posts I want to engage with Hybels’ statement and offer a few reflections.

Is it true?

Well, yes and no. The latest Church of England (2009) statistics are revealing. There are only 82 stipendiary full time parochial clergy under 30, and only 520 under 40. The average age of ordination is now 48. Other denominations reflect similar trends of an ageing clergy. When I trained at my vicar factory 24 years ago it was unusual to be over 30! But it is also the case that some denominations seem to attract younger leaders. My brother is an elder in a New Frontiers church. Attending one of their leadership gatherings a few years ago I was stunned at the average age of the leaders. Twenty-something was the norm.

So why have some denominations suffered more than others, and what are some of the more general factors that influence the decline in younger leadership in churches?

  1. Less opportunity. Some theorists suggest that back in the 1940-1960s there were a number of paths that developed leadership (and some of the disciplines that are foundational to healthy leadership) in younger people, national service being one. With the gradual erosion of these paths in the 1970-1980s people began to identify a global emerging leadership vacuum. Combined with the rise in the discipline of ‘management’ post 1950, leadership development became increasingly sidelined.
  2. Church on the edge. As the church has moved from the centre of a Christendom culture to the periphery of a post-modern, post Christian culture it holds less attraction to those who want to be at the centre of a cutting edge movement. Perhaps the mainline traditional denominations have suffered this more than others.
  3. Suspicion of leadership. The last ten years have seen an increasing suspicion of those in leadership, especially any associated with ancient institutions (the Church being one).
  4. Impact of relativism. I have a hunch that the undermining of gospel confidence through relativism not only impacting general social attitudes but also permeating the lifeblood of the Church means that fewer people believe in the importance of gospel ministry (interesting to note those parts of the Church which are attracting younger leaders better than others).
  5. The shift from a culture of commitment to a culture of choice. Increasingly younger people are less likely to enter a ‘career for life’. Some research suggests that by the time someone is 38 they will have had 14 jobs. So even those who are thinking about taking on a full time leadership role within the church may not be thinking of it as life commitment, but a choice at this time.
  6. Role models. One of the most sobering factors is what I hear younger people say about existing church leaders. At best they think they have an impossible job as they observe the way they are treated by either the denominations of which they are a part or those they attempt to lead. At worst they seem them as exhausted, cynical and lacking in vision.

I wonder what you would add to my list? And what can we do about it? More on this next time.

Related Resources

Arrow Leadership Programme (CPAS) 
Come As You Are But Don’t Stay That Way MP3s  
Defining Moments – Creating a Leadership Development Programme  
Defining Moments – Leadership Development: A Working Model
Developing Courageous Leaders 
Growing Leaders (CPAS) 
The Global Leadership Summit

About Guest Blogger James Lawrence – Director, Development Team, CPAS


James is not your run-of-the-mill kind of guy. For a start, he confesses to a love of ironing and early mornings. Ask any graduate of the Arrow Leadership Programme about the latter and they’d probably agree – the ‘late breakfast’ on residentials begins at 7:45am.

As the director of the CPAS development team and Arrow, James lives and breathes what he teaches. More than just the raison d’etre for Arrow and Growing Leaders, James really does exist to help church leaders to be led more by Jesus, lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus.

It’s worth noting that phrase, which concludes with his greatest passion – people coming to know Jesus. A former associate minister and adviser in evangelism, since joining CPAS he has fulfilled a number of roles, written several books and courses, as well as having a four-year secondment to the Springboard evangelism initiative.

Energy, enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence give you a good handle on James.

On top of his work promoting leadership development throughout the Church, James has a busy life full of his wife and three children and a fitness regime driven by a love of sport. Perhaps that’s why he loves early mornings – so there’s enough waking hours to fit it all in.

T 01926 458419
E jlawrence@cpas.org.uk


Great post from James Lawrence about the decline of young leaders in churches. Do you agree, what do you see happening?