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Reversing the Decline

Pastors decry a decline in young leaders who desire to step into ministry, yet 69% say they focus on developing young leaders. Something's not right here.


Why we struggle to hire from within

Aaron Earls recently shared a piece at Lifeway's Facts and Trends about the average age of pastors in American churches (54) and how much it has increased since 1992 (44). It is a fascinating article that unpacks some of the causes for this graying effect (increase of life expectancy, financial realities, and a rise in second career pastors), but there was one section of the piece that stopped me in my tracks:

Current pastors also say they are having a hard time finding young Christians who want to become pastors, but they aren’t blaming their own churches.
Seven in 10 Protestant pastors (70 percent) say young leaders seem to think other kinds of work are more important than vocational ministry. And almost that many (69 percent) say it’s becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to become pastors.
Yet 69 percent say their church puts a significant priority on training and developing the next generation of church leaders.

The math doesn't seem to be adding up here. If 69% of pastors are placing a significant priority on training and development, and the same amount are struggling to find mature Christians who are interested in becoming pastors... we are doing something wrong.

There is a near universal recognition that the best hires for a church's staff come from within the church. Internal hires understand the culture, buy into the vision, and have the relationships needed to hit the ground running. In my conversations with pastors, I am finding it rare to encounter a church that has a track record of making regular hires from within. Based on the conversations that I am having, I am convinced that the reason for this is that our leadership pipelines are flawed.

A while back, Lifeway offered a free download called Pipeline: Succession at Every Level. This helpful guide maps out the four stages of developing ministry leaders within the church:

  • Intentional Ministry: I do, you watch, we talk.
  • Guided Ministry: I do, you help, we talk.
  • Collaborative Ministry: You do, I help, we talk.
  • Equipped Ministry: You do, I watch, we talk.

Doing this well requires us to slow down, scale back on the number of things that we are currently doing, and spend time developing the relationship needed to fully mentor and grow someone's leadership ability. This is tough work and can seem to get in the way of the "important work" that ministry leaders need to do... but if we are going to reverse the decline of young leaders in the church, it is where we need to start.



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Matt Steen

Matt Steen

Matt has served the local church for over two decades as a youth pastor, church planter, and executive pastor. Originally from Baltimore, Matt currently lives in Orlando, with his wife Theresa, and has a B.S. in Youth Ministry from Nyack College and an M.Div. and MBA from Baylor University. Certified as an Urban Church Planter Coach by Redeemer City to City and as a StratOp facilitator by the Paterson Center, Matt has made a career of helping churches thrive through intentionality, clarity, and creating healthy cultures. He is convinced that a healthy church is led by a healthy team with great chemistry, and loves partnering with Chemistry’s churches to do great things for the Kingdom.

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