7 Reasons Some Young Pastors are Returning to Established Churches

Some years ago, I posted onReasons Young Leaders Shy Away from Established Churches.” Since publishing that post, though, I’ve seen more and more young leaders actually seek out established churches to lead. Here’s what they tell me when I ask about their renewed interest:

  1. Church revitalization is more acceptable now. At one time, church planting was the rage. It’s still a growing trend, but we’ve also learned that revitalization is a valid and necessary ministry. Young leaders no longer look down on that option.
  2. They see the Bible belt (where many established churches are located) as a mission field. They recognize cultural Christianity for what it is, and they know many people are still to be reached. Plateaued established churches need gospel-centered preachers, too.
  3. They want to be part of multi-generational churches. In fact, they long to have older people in their church. They want older heroes to look up to, and those heroes are tough to find in many newer churches.
  4. They’ve seen some church planting failures. When you see some of your friends really struggle with the hard work of church planting, the established church can look more inviting. At least you’re not starting from scratch in the latter case.
  5. Some have a desire to return to more traditional worship.   They don’t want to go back to bad worship (of any style), but some young pastors appreciate a more liturgical style with Bible readings and God-centered hymns. They’re not interested in anything that’s superficial.
  6. Their heroes often encourage them to be open to an established church. Young leaders have their preferences, but many are also quite willing to listen to their mentors and pastors who push them toward the established church. At a minimum, they’ll at least pray about the possibility.
  7. Established churches often offer the jobs. This reason’s a pragmatic one, but it’s nevertheless a real one. You’ll broaden your job search when you’re paying bills and supporting a family.

Young pastors, what would add?


  • Ryan Martin says:

    I would also add that established churches provide a strong and experienced team structure in ministry to grow and learn from, as well as provide a place to even experience some failure in those early years of ministry.

  • jtd3421 says:

    I’m 34, in full-time ministry, and this is absolutely right-on. All 7.

  • Chris Russell says:

    Our passion for church planting through the established church.

    Although I’m not called to plant churches personally, I see the great need for churches to be planted. The lifeblood of these plants comes through the established churches. I think pastors in established churches see the opportunity for impact in the established churches AND in church planting.

  • Brian Smith says:

    This is a VERY encouraging trend. As a ‘failed’ church planter that felt called to leave a smaller, traditional church to attempt that work, I hope that my experience may encourage other young pastors to be open to what God wants to do in and through churches they may not have previously considered. This is a wonderful post. Thank you, Dr. Lawless, for sharing.

  • Casey says:

    After serving in EST churches for 17 years, in 2017 at 34 y/o I took my first Senior Pastorate in a 110 year old church. To serve in a church that has a footprint in a community already, had a legacy of influence even though it had waned over the years, had ample facilities, and was strategically located in the heart of a growing community their potential was palpable. Over the last 12 years serving at churches of 1k, 2k, and 10k, there is something refreshing and rewarding about the opportunity to serve a church of 300 and potentially lead them out of a season of steep decline. By Gods Grace we’ve seen more people baptized in the last 2 years than the previous 10, we’ve had countless new members joining, and have seen 23% growth in worship over 20 months. It’s been extremely difficult and we (myself & the leadership at the church) anticipated it would be, but the opportunity to see a church revitalizing (present tense) has been one of my greatest joys in ministry.

  • Jeff Keaton says:

    I was privileged to lead two established churches to renewal. It was a tremendous joy and blessing. It was so beautiful to see founding members catch fire once again. They would tell me, “This was what we saw in the early days or this is what we have always dreamed of.” The last church I pastored had been a planting church in the 40’s – 50’s. We were able to resurrect that vision and plant 7 new churches in the USA and many more overseas. Go for it young pastors but lead with humility, respect and love. Change when it’s neccesary but don’t make changes for the sake of change. They will follow you when they trust you.

  • Rusty says:

    I would only question what the qualifications are for revitalization being a “valid and necessary ministry.”

    According to Thom Rainer, less than 2% of revitalization efforts work and in the mean time amazing amounts of resources including time, money, energy, facilities and God’s people are being spent in causes that do not seem to be building the Kingdom. So we end up with deferred maintenance on buildings, worn out and discouraged people and money that could have been put into ministry rather than preservation.

  • Anthony Keve says:

    #5 infers traditional churchs and/or worship style is superior to contemporary. Will the Worship war EVER end?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.