10 Reasons Young Leaders Shy Away from Established Churches

I’ve written elsewhere about the current rage for church planting, and I noted there that many young leaders have little interest in leading an established church. Without affirming them, I list here several reasons I’ve heard often from a generation shying away from established, older churches.

  1. They’ve seen too many leaders fall. It’s true that even young leaders fall (and the Internet is broadcasting those falls these days), but too many other young leaders have seen failures in the established church in the past. It’s difficult for them to separate those churches from the fallen leaders who previously guided them.
  2. They remember church splits. The rudeness of church business meetings still rings in their head. They haven’t forgotten the anguish of their parents sometimes caught in the middle of a church fight. Yesterday’s scars affect today’s commitments.
  3. They don’t like church bureaucracy. Taking several months to move a request through multiple church committees makes little sense to a generation raised with instantaneous access to the world.
  4. They’re not fans of music done poorly. I hesitated including this reason, but I can’t ignore it. The value of good hymns notwithstanding, young leaders with continual media access know when music is done poorly. They dread a steady diet of that in a church. 
  5. They lean toward a plurality of elders church polity. Not everyone agrees with this approach, but those who do agree wrestle with seeking a church led through a single elder leadership model – as found in many established churches.
  6. They’re often undiscipled products of those churches. They know experientially what it’s like to come from a church with a poor discipleship strategy. That “bad taste” makes it hard for them to imagine ever shepherding such a church themselves.
  7. They have little interest in big buildings. They prefer the intimacy of a small group. They question the legitimacy of a congregation that doesn’t know each other. And, they don’t like church debt (though they may themselves carry much college debt).
  8. They think theologically, and they too often remember churches that did not. Some young leaders, of course, become such theological zealots that they fail to remember their church fairly; however, many rightly recognize the weak theological foundation of some established churches.
  9. They fear legalism. They occasionally err themselves by flaunting their Christian freedom, but they have a tendency to view established churches through a “thou shalt not” lens.
  10. They’ve been introduced to many strong congregations. The Internet has made it possible to compare any church with what appear to be healthier, better-known churches. Some of these churches are also established congregations, but they just “feel different” to a young generation of leaders.

What do you think, younger leaders? How do you respond, older leaders? 


  • Chuck – I hear this repeatedly from men coming out of Seminary. They want nothing to do with a stodgy old assembly. I just returned from SC. The church I worked with there was established in 1860. When the current pastor came they typically had 70 or so on Sunday morning. A history of splits, wars, and you name it.

    This past Sunday they had 250+. He is teaching a course on Wednesday nights titled 52 Doctrines; propitiation, redemption, atonement, etc. The people are devouring this opportunity.

    It is all about LEADERSHIP. Our IgniteUS Ministry is focused on churches like this. If you encounter such a church tell the pastor to contact us 803 413 3509 or info@igntieus.net. We provide a process that measures transformation for both the individual believer and the church as a body. We measure ministry by TRANSFORMATION not numbers. The SBC NEEDS to make this transition – they have the wrong metric by which they measure effectiveness.

    THANKS for your labors. Appreciated!!

    In Grace,
    Tom Fillinger

  • Jim Duggan says:

    Many of those apply to the onus not so young anymore who have served in established churches for years. May a God help us be an encouragement to younger leaders as they begin their life of service.

    Thank you, Chuck, for investing in the next generation of leaders.

  • Dan says:

    I am almost a young leader….I think they are missing out by avoiding established churches. That said, number four is definitely a struggle for me, and I can appreciate the other 9 obstacles you mentioned as well. Theologically and practically however you see in the NT an effort to make churches healthy because they were not. See Revelation’s 7 churches for a prime example. That said, I feel like younger leaders will be far more effective at reaching younger people who would never set foot in a church like mine, so I am grateful for their ministry. And I suspect that, should they stay at a new church for long enough, the same old problems that have affected the church will affect their church as well. I suspect that the tendency to resist commitment on the part of young people will eventually result in number four, poorly done music, also propping up in their congregations. But I won’t say I told a so, I would say, yeah, I’ve been there, and hopefully I can say “here is how we fixed it.”

  • Thanks, Chuck! Nothing could be more timely. These younger leaders who are passionate about making disciples give me great hope. Few would argue that in many established churches, form has become more important than function and holding a position of power is more to be desired than being held by the power of the Spirit. It should not be surprising that 90% of our churches are plateaued or declining.

    Churches that resist relevancy have forgotten their mission. Their determination to preserve bureaucracy in order to maintain order ultimately threatens the health of the church they are trying to “protect.” Bridges’ warning to businesses in his book, Managing Transitions, applies to churches, “Numerical growth may continue for a time, but the conditions for further development will have been aborted by your avoidance of the transition and in the end the retardation will threaten the very existence of the organization.” I am one of the many “older” leaders who join our younger friends in praying for the revival and revitalization of our churches.

  • pastormike40 says:

    Hi Chuck! I want to first thank you for your blog and leadership on my issues that affect the church. This article is very poignant for me because I have been a pastor for 8 years and all of my experience is with older, more established churches. I am 42 and as member of Generation X I struggle with many of the issues outlined in your article. I also realize that I need to remember that the Lord has called me to minister in the churches I find myself planted in and he will equip me to have compassion and to minister within them.

    That being said, established churches need to be aware of the valid criticisms form younger generations and respond to them kindly and passionately. It is every churches responsibility before the Lord to reach the community they are in regardless of what is most comfortable for the members. The Gospel never changes but our approach needs to be fluid with the times.

  • Adam Smith says:

    As a young Pastor, who is a part of an established Church only on the platform of it being a revitalization, I would agree with these strongly. I just left a megachurch (of which I was begged to stay at) that was program driven in order to pursue this smaller church looking to change course. The only thing I would probably be more specific in my experience on this would be #10. I think young guys are have seen other strong Pastors more than other strong Congregations thanks to the blog and podcast worlds. Which will be interesting to see played out as so many whom these young guys have sought to model themselves after have fallen due to public sins. As always thank you for your timely an thoughtful words for us young guys!

  • Drew says:

    I am a “younger leader” who feels called to lead an older church, but the reasons you give explain why it’s so hard. As to #3- it has taken me six months to get approval for signs at our church, and it still hasn’t gotten done! #10 applies to laypeople as well. Christians in the area will not bother with an older church when there are so many healthy ones 20-30 minutes away. I understand why, but it’s hard.

  • I would like to provide a different angle from my personal experience: I ended up outside the “established church” because breaking into some of the “larger” ones was basically not an option for someone coming from the outside. In well established, large and/or growing churches the current model is to “grow” talent from within, which means external candidates for positions are either A) Not considered at all, or B) At the very bottom of the consideration list. So honestly, my issue was not so much that they were “old” or anything like that, but that recruitment from outside the walls was simply not happening and I see this more and more, even in smaller churches.

    That said, there is a lot of nuance to this discussion (Large vs small, revitalization vs replant, and so on), but I know during some of my searching for ministry I often hit this wall when seeking positions at established churches.

  • 32 y.o. Associate Pastor says:

    This is, of course, an incredibly accurate list. Many will read this post and and think that, in all likelihood,the young Brother Pastors in our SBC churches will identify with some mixture of the above when–brace yourself here–those same young Brother Pastors are actually able to identify with ALL of these indicators at once. I would offer a subtle variation to #3. It seems to me that, rather than simply disliking or disapproving of bureaucracy, young pastors are simply confused by the structures they find in place. Further, I would submit that this is the case in spite of their willingness–rather than in light of their unwillingness– to become informed on decision processes and agenda prioritization. For, in my experience, the heartier a young pastor is about getting to the bottom of the “how’s and why’s” of a specific verdict, the more secrecy and subterfuge he will encounter from the “powers that be.”

  • Robby says:

    I felt the same way coming out of seminary, but (not to sound overly mystical) God called me to serve on staff of an established church that experienced revitalization. Then called me as lead pastor at my home church which has also experienced revitalization. Both take hard work, lots of love, and complete dependence on the Word of God and Spirit of God to do what man can’t.

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