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Is your church leadership graying?

SUMMARYPeople often equate gray hair with wisdom. However, in a church leader, it can be a reminder that shepherding younger pastoral leadership is critical to the church.

Most leaders need only look around their own congregations to see the statistics compiled by The United Methodist Church play out. Too few young adults are taking on ministry roles. Only about 5 percent of UMC leadership is younger than age 35.

That is a slight increase over three years ago when just 4.69 percent were younger than 35.

Yet, a little more than 20 years ago, the young adult numbers were significantly greater. In 1985, 15 percent of deacons and elders were younger than 35. The challenge is clear and one The United Methodist Church has recognized. Churches need to involve younger leaders. It can be a chicken-and-egg thing. Which comes first—more young adult leaders or more young adult congregation members? No single answer will work, but attacking the challenge from many facets may help.

Take the initiative. 
Recognize that future clergy are sitting in pews today. Give teens the opportunity to take on leadership roles in their Sunday school, worship services or other activities. By getting more involved in church in these formative years, teens may consider a calling to be an ordained minister. They also will find the satisfaction, rewards and challenges of guiding people.

In Southfield, Mich., United Methodist Union offers a Young Leaders Initiative program that transforms intercultural Christian experiences for young people through Metro Youth Encounter and Transforming Leaders. Encounter involves high school students in hands-on monthly meetings that explore faith, service, mission, justice and community. Transforming is a grassroots, faith-based summer internship program that provides leadership training and ministry exploration through local church programs.

Involve Pastor-Parish Relations Committee. 
Don’t go it alone. Involve everyone, especially the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, to evaluate where your church stands in regard to young clergy and staff. If the committee decides the congregation needs more young adult involvement, strategize about how a new hire could best help the youth mission. A young clergy as a youth minister or Sunday school coordinator gives your congregation’s youth a real-life role model. The mere presence of young clergy in a church symbolizes young people are valued as leaders and participants.

Appeal to young people with nontraditional efforts. 
In the 900-church region of eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and northern Georgia, the church appeals to young people with annual weekend music and praise rallies attended by 12,000 to 15,000 junior and senior high school students, and an appeal to college students called Divine Rhythm. In the Baltimore-Washington Conference, leaders worked on creating a mindset of cultivating a culture of call. They started a pre-ministry club and led mission trips that focused on vocational discernment.

Pray together. 
Benjamin Simpson, a young adult involved in The United Methodist Church, wrote in his blog, Performing the Faith, an open letter to young United Methodist leaders. Among his ideas was to gather (online, most likely) 40 young clergy who agreed to pray for the denomination and the need for other young clergy over 40 days. Each participant agreed to write a prayer to publish online. Some participants involved their entire annual conference in the 40-day prayer commitment. Read more about the effort at 1.