10 Things to Know about Leading Young Adults

Sam Rainer

September 3, 2009

I recently did a breakout session at the Connect Conference in Charleston, SC (you can register here for the Shreveport, LA venue on September 24th and 25th). In preparing for the event, I looked over previous research, added a few anecdotal observations, and developed ten critical issues in leading young adults.

1. They desire integrity among leaders. Our research has shown that young adults don’t drop out of the church because of large-scale moral failures of leadership. But they’ve seen enough duplicity – they are attracted to leaders that stand firm and are people of principle.

2. They look for transparency in leaders. A lack of transparency at the top is frustrating to anyone who follows. The younger generation tends to follow transparent leaders over distant, detached leaders. And they want to know that they are not alone in their struggles. They want to hear the leader’s story, valuing personal impact over steps-to-success in a message.

3. They want leaders to be mentors. Mentoring to the younger generation comes in a more informal relationship. It’s not about the program or process; it’s more about the relationship.

4. They crave opportunities from leaders. Most young adults do not want to sit on the sidelines. In fact, a growing front door to the church is missions. A church without opportunity to serve is boring at best, disobedient at worst. Give young adults an opportunity to serve and watch them succeed with the mission.

5. They need leaders to shoot straight. With life. With biblical depth. Young adults do not come to church to wade in the shallows. They do not follow leaders that soft peddle. They desire leaders to shepherd them through the depths of Scripture and the valleys of life.

6. They are attracted to team leadership. The younger generation deplores autocratic leaders. Leaders that attract the younger generation show everyone how their ministry link is a critical one. These leaders reveal the big picture to everyone rather than keeping the vision black box locked. They equip the saints and empower the laity to join God on His mission.

7. They want to be corrected by leaders. One way to confuse the younger generation is to set expectations and then hold no one accountable. Much of the younger generation has a desire for strong spiritual guidance and the corresponding discipline when they stray.

8. They seek examples in leadership. Missional churches have missional pastors. Evangelistic churches have evangelistic church leaders. Churches that meet the needs of the community have leaders that champion the cause.

9. They need to hear a message of forgiveness from leaders. Many younger adults carry a burden of guilt. Many of them have no concept of true forgiveness. They need to hear leaders tell them plainly what the atonement of Christ means. They need to hear how the debt of sin has been cancelled.

10. They look for joyful leaders. Young adults gravitate towards a worship experience that represents the joy of Christ. They want to hear from leaders that live Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! They quickly recognize manufactured joy, but they value leaders with true joy.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive (and much of it applies to other generations) – what other issues do you see as critical in leading the next generation?

7 comments on “10 Things to Know about Leading Young Adults”

  1. As usual, you are right on, Sam. This is a thorough and thought- provoking list. There’s only one item I’d add, and you kind of touched on it in #2 and #3. I’d elaborate by saying young adults (as do all of us) need leaders who value them, and show it by giving freely of their time. They may be facing struggles such as single parenthood, transitioning into adult life, frustrations in the job force, etc. It can be hard to develop spiritually to the point of being prepared to serve, while being overwhelmed with such issues. Time invested says to the young adult, “You are important; I care about you.” Dr. Russell Moore (www.russellmoore.com) recently blogged on this very thing. He credited a busy pastor, Dr. Argile Smith, with being a great influence on his life in his young adult years. This time invested has created an incredible leader.

  2. Ronnie says:

    We have just launched the Young Adult Ministry in our church. Your article is just what I needed to hear and for all leaders! Thank you!

  3. Sam Rainer says:

    Thanks Ann and Ronnie for the kind words. Ann, I read Dr. Moore’s post, and you’re spot on – it’s a great word of encouragement to invest the time in others.

  4. Phins says:

    I lead Young Adults @ my church. Thank you for this, i believe it’ll surely go a long way as i develop my leadership and also build strong Young Adults.
    Please send more such info/notes to my email whenever possible!!

  5. Awesome piece! I’m a young adult leader and I’ve been doing some research on where they are and what are their true needs. This really helps. We’re in the process of restructuring…so thanks for taking the time to write this. God bless you. Keep writing!

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