Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where Have All the Young Leaders Gone?

In an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, religion writer Peter Smith writes that when the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Louisville next week, most convention leaders expect one particular trend to continue—fewer young leaders (under 40) will be present. The attendance of this younger group of leaders has been declining since 1980. This is verified by a report from Lifeway Research that indicates 34 percent of church representatives were younger than 40 at its 1980 annual meeting but only 13 percent in 2007.

In the article, pastor Jonathan Merritt of Georgia is reported to have said, "It seems to a number of younger leaders that Southern Baptists have been moving the theological goalposts. It seems every year Southern Baptists are drawing a line in the sand about various secondary and tertiary theological issues that younger pastors don't feel the need to fight over, whether it is the role of women in ministry or the wisdom in alcohol consumption." He further says this makes the convention "a brand that many churches and younger pastors don't want to be associated with.”

So where have all the young leaders gone? Although I do not have research figures, I can attest from personal experience that they are not at the annual general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Although the number of young leaders attending these meetings has increased for the last several years and CBF leaders (especially on the state and regional level) have made significant efforts to get more young adults to the meetings, they are not there!

OK. Let's be realistic. We are not talking about the same people. Although they are all young adults, they are discrete groups asking different questions. The choice for young SBC leaders is not “Will I go to the SBC or the CBF?” The question is, “Will I go to the SBC or stay home and deal with things that I think are more important?” In CBF life, the question for young leaders seems to be, “What will I miss if I don’t go to the CBF General Assembly? Will I be welcome and heard when I go there?”

CBF has two great things going for it when it comes to its annual meeting. One is the development of various interest groups (Baptist Women in Ministry, Baptist Center for Ethics, and Baptist Joint Committee, for example) who have identified the General Assembly as their meeting for promotion and networking. The other thing is the development of formal and informal networks (state and regional leaders and current, for example) who come to the meeting for fellowship and encouragement.

If CBF wants to reach young adults, the organization needs to continue to practice this “campground” approach to meeting that allows groups with different interests to come together around a few central events. The old frontier campground usually had one or more places for preaching and some big worship (evangelistic) events, but there was a lot more going on around the campground as people from many different churches came to know and support one another. The model can work today. Just throw a party and see who shows up!


Ircel said...

Here is a response from Connie McNeill at National CBF to this blog:

"I wanted to respond to your comment about young leadership at general assembly. Statistically, our attendance among this group has grown and is growing. We are being very intentional about engaging this group in meaningful ways. Much of that engagement happens through the number of social networks we are utilizing. Some is face to face. General Assembly is intentionally having growing numbers of young (we have defined that as <40) leaders on platform.
We aren't were we want to be but just wanted you to know it is a strategic priority that we are giving serious energy and attention to."

Thanks, Connie, for this update!

Preacher Ryder said...

i would like to offer a personal insight to your post.I am a pastor of a Cowboy Church here in North Carolina. During our church planting process we had become a member of a cowboy church organization. One day we noticed that we were no longer listed on the web site for the organization when I called the head of the organization to find out why. The founder of the organization responded to me with rude accusations and name calling. I told him that I wanted to resole this issue and get to the bottom of his slanderous remarks and restore fellowship between us. So far he has refused.

I went to our local association as well as those involved with our church plant to try and resolve the issue. The founder of the cowboy church organization refused to meet with me and I gave him numerous opportunities to settle our matter biblically. My wife and even called him on the phone to try and relsove the matter and he said "We have no common ground to resolve our issues." Then he hung up on me.

With people like this in leadership I can understand why young ministers like myself are reluctant to get involved. I have tried every way possible to resolve an issue with this organization and even the local and state associations will not help.

If we are to be an example to the world and yet can't even resolve our own differences in a biblical mattter, why whould anyone want to go through such a time.

Ircel said...

Brother, it is always difficult to hear stories like this. Not only does this provide an ongoing burden to you and your wife(and your minstry), but it reflected negatively on Kingdom work.

Thanks for sharing and please knwo of my prayers for you.