Keeping Your Church Young

By Dan Rieland

My kids remind me that I’m no longer young. I feel young, I try to think young, but apparently there are limits! Hey, I even have an iPhone! Of course, my college student daughter laughs when I hand it to her to add the latest app or make something else on it work.

The future is always young. But it’s the wisdom of those who are not young that help navigate the future successfully. The new ideas of young leaders combined with the wisdom of veteran leaders is a powerful combination. My daughter will ask me for advice on dealing with new territory she’s never traveled before. I offer the counsel, provide guidance if needed, but let her take her own steps. I love watching her invent her future and take part in the new culture around her.

I love watching the church find its way too. It’s changing faster than ever. Don’t misunderstand, some elements of the local church should never change. The Gospel of salvation, The Great Commission, and actually caring about people are just a few of the many things that must never change. Methodology, philosophy and practice will always change.

When a church is healthy there is young life in abundance. This doesn’t mean an aging church isn’t good, it does mean however, it is aging and without new life it will stall and eventually die. That’s the circle of life itself and church doesn’t escape that reality.

So my desire is to encourage you by sharing just a few ideas about how to help keep your church young and thereby keep its future bright. You may be able to add several more thoughts, but this will get you started.

Stop protecting

This is hard if you’ve be leading for a long time. This is especially true if you’ve been leading at one place for an extended period because you are so deeply invested. A good Shepherd does protect his flock, but a good leader doesn’t protect his turf. There is quite a difference.

It’s important to give way to new ideas. Many of our staff do things differently than I would do them. That’s not only OK, it’s good. For example, I don’t tell our student ministry how to minister to Middle School and High School students. They are better at that than I am. My role is guidance and big picture leadership.

When we reshaped our purpose statement for the whole church, a staff member who was barely past twenty years old came up with the dominate theme and idea for the whole thing! That’s wonderful! Everyone over forty could resist it or even block it, but we thank the Lord for it!

If you are in a church that has no young leadership to tap into, get out and talk to some young people. Ask questions. Seek their thoughts about a young and relevant church. It could be the best cup of coffee you’ve had in a long time. Don’t be afraid to take a risk on new things. Your risk is much greater if you don’t. It’s alright to make mistakes, its not alright to remain the same.

Hire young staff

The HR specialists who read this will likely twitch and consider sending me mail. Save your time, I know the laws on this stuff. This is not about discrimination. We hire all ages. My point is to hire young every time you can.

Some churches don’t like to hire young. It’s messy. Young staff are energetic but lack experience. I know. But that keeps things alive and fun. You never know what they might blow up next. OK, I’m kidding, well, a little kidding. Young staff bring a wonderful sense of perspective and great ideas. They also attract young people!

I’m going to follow up soon with an article focusing on leading young staff, so I’ll be brief here, but let me offer a few thoughts. Ask your younger staff for their ideas, input and perspective. Really listen. You are not obligated to implement everything, but listen and learn. I love asking our young staff about their ideas. It’s always productive, and I gain insight to how they think which is also helpful.

It’s critical that you invest in young staff as a coach and mentor. Do this with the big picture in mind of empowering them to lead people as effectively as they can. Team ball and alignment is important, but a little messiness is a small price to pay for all the value that comes to leaders who help keep the church young.

Design your Sunday morning service with a young feel

This is perhaps the most subjective of all. It’s like looking at a painting and asking someone’s opinion. Art is art. So with the church, everyone has a different idea of what a young look and feel really is. Yet, with all the subjectivity, we all know what young isn’t, and if we are honest, making that distinction isn’t so difficult.

The big issues are clear. First, choose your music wisely. If you are in your forties or fifties and you know the tunes and words to everything played on Sunday morning you are in trouble. And if you are in your forties or fifties and you don’t think the music is too loud, it’s not loud enough! OK, this last one is a little tongue in check, but if you are still reading I suspect you are at least open to what I’m saying and are smiling with me. Bottom line, try new stuff!

Second, involve young leaders on the platform. This is probably the key to the whole thing. The young musicians will lead you to younger music and a younger vibe overall. Again, this attracts young people! You might be thinking, “What about the older people, don’t they matter?” Of course they do. But they should be more mature. They should know that this is not about them. They understand the need to reach the next generation. And, remember, we had the Beatles, let this generation have theirs!

Last, make sure all the components reflect a young culture. I don’t recommend attempting to capture all age groups. You can’t. It takes enough energy to capture all the different spiritual and cultural demographics in your church. Trying to do that and hit every age group ends up in a schizophrenic church service. So, as you think about humor, film, tech, drama etc, think young.

Place a premium on children’s ministry

Don’t pass over this one too quickly. When I say premium I mean top dollars, top staff and top energy to the kids. Without this you are absolutely capping your ability to reach your community.

You don’t have to be experts on children’s ministry. There are dozens of outstanding resources available to you today. You need not be paralyzed because you don’t know what to do or how to do it. There are people who have paved the way for you and are more than happy to help you resource your ministry. Your job is to find people in your church who love kids and offer them a compelling vision so they will help you create an environment that kids love and can’t wait to be part of.

Please don’t confuse relevant ministry to children with childcare. They aren’t the same. In order to reach kids you need to keep up with the world they live in. That world is fast-paced and built around technology. When you add to that mix loving adult leaders who truly care about the kids, you create a winning program that the kids will love.

Invest in the next generation

This last thought picks up where the previous point on Children’s ministry leaves off. The full line of investment in the next generation starts with children’s ministry and continues through Middle School, High School and College ministries.

The vision of the church must capture the young people, and at the same time be compelling enough that older generations get excited about it in such a way that they will invest both time and money. Let’s face it, middle-aged and older generations have no trouble loving and believing in kids. Just watch a grand-parent with a grandchild. I’ve seen some of the wisest, most sophisticated and successful adults act entirely goofy around their grandkids! It’s great! Love and hope for the next gen is not in shortage. Its all about leadership and vision and that’s up to you.

Take some time to dream about what you can do for the next generation in your church. You’ll feel younger just doing that! And by the way, if you are in your twenties, hang on, there is a generation that thinks you are old! Save this article.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”



  1. January 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Hi! I recently visited a church where the pastor had “led” for more than 10 yrs. I counted 25 in the morning worship service – I was the youngest, and I’m 74 yrs. old! No way they can attract young families – would you take your young family there? They’re resigned to the prospect of letting the church die. Their facility is quite nice though the auditorium is unfinished due to lack of money (actually, lack of ideas!) But if they used their strength and actually aimed ministries to meet the needs of older adults, the church would grow and eventually, might attract younger folks as well. At least that’s my take on things. Otherwise, want to buy a nice church?!
    David, author ABCs Of Ministry.

  2. Mike Crowl said,

    March 31, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    I agree with both of you; young people certainly enliven the place, even though they still have a lot to learn. And people in an aging church have a prime opportunity to reach out to other older people. (There’s always someone older than you in the world! ) They understand them and their needs; they understand that they’re tired and don’t have much energy; they understand that their needs are often simpler. And they understand that love doesn’t change, however old you are. (I’m ‘only’ 65, by the way.)

  3. azdustdevil said,

    April 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    We have the same problem. We are located in the middle of a retirement center and the current membership does not want young people. After all, as they die off, other elderly people will move in and take their places.

    I’ve tried everything. I give up. You can’t fight city hall.

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