What to do when you can’t attract young leaders


I arrived at our church last year, excited and eager to relaunch a ministry for young adults in the Kansas City area. I had just completed planting a community of hundreds for a multi-site church, and thought launching a ministry for young adults would be similar. Here was my plan:

  1. Meet as many people as possible and invite them onto a “launch team.”

  2. Create a leadership team from the most dedicated and excited team members.

  3. Launch a young adult ministry.

Except it didn’t work. Not initially.

There was interest, sure. But I couldn’t get anyone to stick. And the people I asked to form a leadership team all said the same thing. “I want to help, but I don’t think I have the time to be on a leadership team.”

And I thought planting a church was hard.

For the first six months I got almost no-where. I was depressed and frustrated. I had been successful at other ministry—why was I failing at this?

When I realized my gifts weren’t enough, I finally did what I should have been doing all along:

I started praying for my young adults.

This is such a no-brainer, but surprisingly I meet a lot of pastors in the mainline church who don’t pray as if it’ll do something. I came across an amazing John Wesley quote (I have a soft spot for the guy), and it said this.

“God will do nothing, but in answer to prayer.”

Now, to be honest, I don’t really like this theological perspective. But let’s pretend for a moment that this is true.

It means that God will only be involved in your church if you invite Him in. It means God will only bless the work you’re doing if you ask Him. It means you have some part to play in inviting God into the work.

And this is hard to believe, but I swear it’s true: The number of young adults attending our program doubled that week. And it’s continued to grow.

So what does this have to do with young adult leaders? Well, when I started praying for them, I stopped trying to fit them into a system that served my purposes and I started investing in them as people I loved. Instead of asking them to join a “leadership team,” I asked them to:

Contribute. Brainstorm. Pray. Help make new people feel welcome.

There is something about the word “leader” or “leadership” that also feels a little inauthentic. In fact, in my own past as a college student, the people who were attracted to becoming leaders were people I personally wouldn’t trust or wouldn’t want to be my friends.

So if you are having trouble finding young leaders… good. Because the best leaders aren’t going to want the title. They’re not going to want the spotlight or label.

They will want to serve and contribute.

The energy difference in this ministry is night and day now that I’ve discovered how to ask the right people to be leaders. They just don’t know that’s how I think of them.


Have you had success recruiting or raising up young leaders? What’s been your experience? We’d love to hear! Share in the comments below.