By Bill Easum
Over the years the average age of the people who serve in leadership on the churches Boards I’ve worked with (over six hundred) is fifty-two years of age, whereas the average age of our country is 36.9. In addition, the average board member has been a member of the church for eighteen years.
However, when I separate the growing churches from this list of some six hundred churches, I find that the average age of those church Boards is around forty and they have been a member less than ten years.
If we can all agree the world has substantively changed over the last thirty years, it should be obvious that having younger leaders on the board might result in having a more accurate view of how to do ministry today. So why don’t our churches have more young leaders on their boards?
One reason could be older adults don’t trust young adults to lead the way they want them to lead. Notice I didn’t say they don’t trust them to lead. What they don’t trust is whether they will do it their way. Part of the problem is a lack of trust; part of it is selfishness; and part of it is they don’t want anything to change. None of these kind of responses is worthy of a mature Christian leader so there must be other reasons.
Could the main reason be that many Christian leaders fail to understand one of their major roles?
Throughout scripture the words “apprentice” or “mentor” or “disciples” is used over and over denoting the role of a mature Christian to be one of sharing their wisdom with Christians not as far along as they are. Jesus mentored the twelve; Paul mentored Onesimus and Timothy and told both them to do the same. Isn’t that part of the meaning of the word “Elder”?
The role of wisdom in mature Christians is to be shared with younger Christians. One way to do this is to put younger leaders on your church board. Doing so will cause three things to happen.
One, the younger Christians will grow. Part of the problem in dying churches is leadership has been handed down from generation to generation without proper mentoring. One has to wait till older age to be in leadership; or the leadership hasn’t changed since the church began; or the present leadership has been in power for decades without any new blood. It shouldn’t be this way in a church that follows the Old and New Testaments. Every church needs to mentor younger leaders so they will grow into major leadership roles and the only way for that to happen is for the older, and hopefully more mature leaders, to mentor them.
Two, the church will be more indigenous in its approach to the world. In almost every case where I’ve worked with a dying church nothing much has changed the last thirty years except the declining number of people in worship. What the church is doing now worked thirty years ago; today it doesn’t work, and to make matters worse, the leadership thinks the problem lies with the unchurched and not with their outdated ministry. Where we see this the most is the worship service. Rip Van Winkle could walk into these churches and feel comfortable. If the church had younger leaders on its board, pastors would be able to change the worship without losing their jobs.
Three, when the time comes for young adults to take major leadership roles they would have the maturity. Making people wait to lead until all the old folks die off insures an immature leadership because they have not been mentored in how to lead.
Folks, this is a passionate plea to release your young leaders to lead. You can’t expect to reach young families if everything in your church is designed for older adults. You can’t expect to have a great children and youth ministry if your worship is more akin to Lawrence Welk than Rolling Stones.
So, release your young leaders. Make sure the average age of your board is under forty years of age. If you don’t have enough young adults to lower the age of your board, go out and bring them in and disciple them. Otherwise the decline will continue.