Why My Generation Probably Won’t Reach The Next Generation

next generation

I am passionate about reaching and equipping the next generation.

But here’s a chilling thought that’s been growing in me over the last few years: what if my generation won’t be the one to do it?

At least not fully. At least not nearly as badly as we want to.

There are a number of reasons for this that I’ll share in this post, but here’s the sobering reminder that I think too many of us who are over 40 miss.

It’s time for my generation to stop talking about how to reach the next generation without including the next generation. ⠀

It’s time for older generations to stop talking about how to reach the next generation without including the next generation. Click To Tweet

Way too often, I see Gen Xers (my generation) and Boomers talking about how to reach the next generation. That’s a wonderful thing. And it’s far better than older leaders not caring about the future.

The problem is this: Often when they talk about reaching the next generation, there’s not a single person under 30 with them on the platform or a single 20-something on their senior team shaping the conversation, strategies or solutions.

This is a problem in the church and it’s a problem in most organizations. Older leadership excludes younger leaders and then wonders where all the younger people went or why they can’t seem to reach them. Founders or long-term senior leaders often age along with their teams, and then wonder why there’s no obvious successor waiting to take over or why everyone they’re reaching is older.

None of this helps organizations reach or influence the next generation.

The older I get, the more I realize it’s going to take the leadership of the next generation to reach the next generation.

So what dynamics are at play?

Here are 3 reasons why my generation probably won’t reach the next generation, and 4 things you and I can do about it.

It's going to take the leadership of the next generation to reach the next generation. Click To Tweet

First, three reasons why my generation (and most of us over 40) probably won’t reach the next generation:

1. Innovation for the Next Generation Naturally Comes From The Next Generation

Here’s the pattern. When you’re in your twenties and early thirties, it’s easy to innovate and bring about change.

You know what bothers you about how the previous generation led. You have an almost innate sense of what needs to change. So innovation is easy.

But the innovation you introduce quickly becomes the status quo, and as the next generation comes on the scene, they view you as the establishment.

It’s harder to keep innovating as you get older as a leader, in part because you’ve used a lot of your creative energy to craft what you’ve created (your creative energy has a shelf-life and cycle to it), and in part, because most of us fall prey to sunk cost bias (I’ve built this whole thing…we simply have to keep it going). As a result, the older you get, the less likely you are to innovate.

Not so with the next generation.

For all these reasons and more, innovation for the next generation naturally comes from the next generation.

Innovation for the next generation naturally comes from the next generation. Click To Tweet

2. You Don’t Understand the Current Culture Nearly As Well As Young Leaders Do

One of the key reasons older leaders struggle to reach the next generation is because culture keeps changing.

And a built-in advantage every young leader has is this: they’re cultural natives. You don’t think about culture or how it works when you’re in your teens or twenties because you’re so immersed in it.

A leader in his forties or fifties might know every movie reference from the 90s, but knowing all the key lines from Braveheart and the lyric to every Talking Heads song doesn’t exactly help you connect with 25-year-olds.

So why does this matter?

Simple, it’s hard to reach a culture you don’t understand.

Relevance matters only because relevance gives you permission to speak into the culture. The culture simply doesn’t listen to people it deems irrelevant.

It's hard to reach a culture you don't understand. Click To Tweet

3. Young Isn’t What You Think It Is

Age is relative. When I was in third grade, the kids in fourth or fifth grade seemed so much older to me.

Now, a year or two (or sometimes a decade or two) doesn’t seem like a big deal at all.

I was talking to a 26-year-old comedian recently who was venturing into stand-up.

As he told me his story, he said “there’s almost no one my age doing stand up.”

To which I said, well what about comedian X? (naming someone else we both knew).

“Oh”  my friend replied, “he’s not young, he’s 35.”

I thought to myself, “Well that’s young.” Glad I didn’t say it out loud, because it suddenly dawned on me that when you’re 26, 35 seems ancient.

The challenge with most of us as we age is that we think of everyone younger than us as young (45 is young, right?), and we dismiss the very young.

I’ve seen far too many older leaders dismiss 23 or 27 year old leaders as ‘way too young’ to entrust with significant power or responsibility. That’s such a mistake.

People entrusted me with stupid amounts of power and responsibility when I was in my twenties. Did I always get it right? No. Emphatically no. But that’s how you learn and grow.

There is a growing sense in Gen Xers and Boomers that no one under 30 is really capable of leading. That’s just patently false.

From Mozart (who wrote his first symphony at age 8) to Alexander the Great (who was winning battles as a teenager), and Thomas Edison (who invented the first phonograph at age 30 after years of tinkering), young leaders accomplish incredible things.

There is a growing sense in Gen Xers and Boomers that no one under 30 is really capable of leading. That's just patently false. Click To Tweet

So…what should you do to make room for younger leaders?  Here are four things you can do now to equip your organization to reach the next generation.

1. Stop Criticizing Young Leaders

Your attitude leaks.

I’ve sat with a lot of 40-year-old + leaders who complain incessantly about what young leaders lack.

I recently surveyed over 900 CEOs, entrepreneurs, church leaders, administrators and other leaders to find out what they thought about younger and older leaders in the workplace.

One older leader wrote: They have a hard time being a team player and doing things they are not “passionate” about.

Another wrote: They listen to one podcast and they’re an expert.

The number one complaint young leaders have about older leaders in the workplace? They’re inflexible, won’t listen and won’t change.

Older leaders, this is on us to lead the way.

The best way to ensure you have no young leaders in your organization is to keep criticizing young leaders.

Instead of criticizing them, embrace and learn from them.

The best way to ensure you have no young leaders in your organization is to keep criticizing young leaders. Click To Tweet

I have a new course out on how to navigate the tension between older and younger leaders at work, called the Lead A Better Team. It’s all about how to attract and keep high capacity leaders in a rapidly changing world.

It’s especially useful for leaders who want to attract young leaders to their team who honestly and navigate the tension and frustration that often erupts at work between Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Z.

2. Find, Fuel and Fund the Next Generation

So what should older leaders (like me) do?

Rather than fighting the next generation, find, fuel and fund them instead.

Older leaders are in a remarkable position, often with wisdom, connections, influence and resources younger leaders don’t have.

That puts older leaders in the incredible position of being able to find young leaders, fuel their leadership by investing in them, and even providing the funds to explore and innovative new ways of implementing the mission.

Too many older leaders fight young leaders. Wiser leaders find them, fuel them and fund them instead.

Rather than fighting the next generation, find, fuel and fund them instead. Click To Tweet

3. Flip the keys

Oh, this one’s hard. I know. Hear me out though.

For reasons I outline here, far too many leaders stay two seasons too long.

The best thing those of us in leadership today can do is flip the keys to the next-gen. Sometimes that’s some of the keys. In other cases that’s all of the keys.

At a minimum, it includes inviting them around the table not just to talk but to act. To influence, shape and lead.⠀ ⠀

Don’t just let younger leaders observe. Let them lead.

So many people think that because they have some young people in the organization, they’ve cracked the code. No, you haven’t.

The key is to get actual young leaders at the actual senior leadership table.

Worried about your future role? Two thoughts.

First, there may not be anything to hand over if you hang on for too long.

Second, giving the next generation the room to lead doesn’t threaten your job security, it gives you job security.

Why? Anyone who can help an organization renew itself is highly valuable to the organization.

So…hand over the keys. I don’t know your particular situation, but I promise you, you need to hand over some of them, and in some cases, all of them.

Here’s what’s at stake. Older leaders, your desire to hang onto power is disempowering the next generation.

Older leaders, your desire to hang onto power is disempowering the next generation. Click To Tweet

4. Mentor, Equip and Convene

Surprisingly, the next generation needs older generations. (They just don’t need them clinging to power.)

One of the most encouraging things about the next generation is their deep desire to learn from older leaders.

Surprisingly, the next generation needs older generations. They just don't need them clinging to power. Click To Tweet

As Gordon MacDonald has said, young people are a generation looking for a father (and perhaps a mother).

Whether you’re still in the senior leadership seat or not, an ongoing role for older leaders to play is to mentor, equip and convene the next generation of leaders.

For sure you should be doing this for your younger staff, but it could be larger than that. I’ve connected with tens of thousands of young leaders through this blog and through my leadership podcast.

You’ve probably also got convening power as an older leader, and by that I mean the ability to get people in a room. Whether that’s inviting young leaders to join you, or pulling together a variety of leaders to build into the young leaders in your orbit, your ability to give to the next generation is something they both need and crave.

Here’s a wonderful paradoxic. Your desire to do something for the next generation directly impacts your likelihood of getting something from the next generation in return.

So invest. If you’re like me, you’ll love the return you see.

Here's a wonderful paradoxic. Your desire to do something for the next generation directly impacts your likelihood of getting something from the next generation in return. Click To Tweet

What do you think?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Why My Generation Probably Won’t Reach The Next Generation


  1. Rev. Mac Danark Arkoh, Ghana on February 23, 2021 at 8:07 am

    Rev. Mac Danark Arkoh, Ghana. This is relevant, instructive, timely and practical enough to be adapted anywhere. Thanks.

  2. Mindy Ross on February 22, 2021 at 7:28 am

    I don’t have the right words to convey what this post means to me. So many past emotions came flooding back of times when I was SO frustrated because senior leaders kept talking about reaching the next gen but wouldn’t allow younger leaders to speak or have any responsibility.
    I now pastor a growing church, and it is our goal to fill the stage with every age group. We have teens, young adults, middle aged and gray hairs 🙂
    There is so much more I could say in response to this, but I’ll stop here with a simple “thank you”.
    Thank you for releasing the next generation to do what God has anointed them for. God bless your ministry.

  3. Alvin Lau on February 21, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    I think the title is a bit misleading. Those 40+ will not be able to reach the next generation IF they hold onto those 3 rationale mentioned at the beginning. I agree with the action steps because that gives room the next generation to differentiate and come into their own (as the succeeding generation will after that). However, this doesn’t dismiss our responsibility to still reach and make room for the next generation. There are numerous examples I see of retired people who can reach teens well. Those in the 40+ generation will only miss reaching the next generation if we fail to the those lessons noted here. But we still can reach if we try.

  4. Andrew on February 21, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this Carey. I’m 26 and I’m feeling so much of what you said. We don’t want to “take over” and we know better than anyone we don’t know everything. But we know a lot, and “experience” isn’t as reliable an indicator of character and competence as we like to believe. The Apostles were “unschooled, ordinary” teenagers (or twenty-somethings) and Jesus entrusted the Church to them. The Spirit of God in you is no older, younger, or more experienced than the Spirit of God in me.

    We don’t want to run everything, but we’re tired of churches having values of “raising up a new generation of leaders” that exclude us from the conversation. So please let us in and invest in us. BUT, we want your influence and help, not to become you. My 58 y/o boss came to Christ later in life and has less ministry experience and training than me, but consistently makes everything a “teachable moment” to try and coach me in ministry. I appreciate his heart, but he’s never once considered that perhaps he could learn from me. I’m excluded from the leadership team even though my role ought to be there. I’m at most leadership meetings, but on every agenda I’m marked as a “guest.”

    Sorry to complain, but this hit close to home. My generation has great dreams and passions because someone came before us and inspired us. Help us live into our calling, not as a condescending coach, but as a friend. Teach us longevity, but also how to let go and pass things on. Otherwise, we will go elsewhere and we’ll miss the opportunity to learn from each other. You’ll miss out on what we have to offer and we’ll be forced to repeat some of your mistakes.

    • philip.yan on February 21, 2021 at 10:20 pm

      I love this statement of cause and effect!!
      “Teach us longevity, but also how to let go and pass things on. Otherwise,
      • we will go elsewhere and we’ll miss the opportunity to learn from each other.
      • You’ll miss out on what we have to offer and
      • we’ll be forced to repeat some of your mistakes.”

      Thanks, Andrew

    • Carol on February 21, 2021 at 10:20 pm

      “great dreams and passions” wow! Your post is what I needed to read. I just began a mentor relationship. I have a 40-year nursing career and my mentee just passed her state board exams NCLEX’s. She reached out to Nurses Christian Fellowship for a mentor. This young single mom is teaching me to listen; I hope to be an encouragement to her. Great dreams and passions are what our profession needs.
      We are becoming friends – it’s a love thing- that’s the basis of our relationship: love for Jesus, love for the Word, love of family, love of nursing. That’s where we connect. The differences in our life paths, our ethnicity, our age, and our current circumstances don’t seem to matter so much. I feel so privileged to be involved with her life.
      I encourage others to make themselves available to be mentors. Pray that God will make a connection!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 25, 2021 at 5:02 pm

      Hey Andrew,

      Thanks so much for sharing. I’m so sorry you went through this.

      I’ll continue to share the same message. Hopefully, it can reach your leaders somehow!

  5. Dave on February 21, 2021 at 11:27 am

    Such a challenging post Carey! Being 63 years old with 40 years of leadership/ministry experience, I do want to find, fuel and fund the next generation. And the next generation of leaders does need us Boomers, but more as fathers than as leaders (who wants a hands-on Boomer leader shaping digital platforms- especially when he still has a flip-phone in his closet?).
    But for many us older leaders, we grew up in industry/ministry unfathered and unmentored, so the greatest challenge for us is learning to father young leaders without telling them how to lead.
    Keep up the posts!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 25, 2021 at 5:04 pm

      I love your heart Dave.

      If you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to my podcasts with Gordon Macdonald. His insights on being a father to leaders are outstanding, and taught me A LOT.

  6. Ron Auvil on February 21, 2021 at 6:24 am

    Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old when he authored the Declaration of Independence.

  7. The Peppermnt Bayonnet on February 15, 2020 at 9:59 am

    I would add that being closed out is not an exclusive problem of the young leaders. The “old guard” has a way of doing that to everyone who is “not up to par” in their opinion. At one church, all were invited to come “hang the greens” for Christmas in the sanctuary. Lots of families came: everyone participated in putting up the bows, green swags, candles, and chrismons on the tree. It was fun. Followed by a giant hoagie and hot chocolate. Only, a member who owned the florist shop next door didn’t think the bows were fluffy enough. She had came back later and took them down, shaped them to her standards, and put them back up. They DID look better, but what a total waste of time that was for us, and a constant reminder when we looked at the “improved” decorations that this stranger to a lot of us thought NONE of us could do a decent job. She had totally missed the point, which was fun and fellowship and contribution, NOT to have the best-looking display. Another time, my daughter and I were scheduled to come early and prepare the communion bread and the grape juice cups, only to find that the elders and the choir had come in and done it themselves. It was supposed to be a special time for my daughter and I, a holy moment, and it was stolen by people who could not let go of even this simple task.
    Another time an elementary school girl in the children’s choir who had been an active participant (whom some thought didn’t sing well) found out that someone had actually turned the microphone in front of her off before the service. She was DEVASTATED. And for what? Just because some people think a show-stopping performance is more important than others’ feelings. That family was eventually able to forgive this behavior, but they also left that church for good. Who needs the church working against them like that? These incidents all show how the power-hungry can do real damage to a church.

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  9. geometry dash on November 9, 2019 at 4:37 am

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    • Tim on February 28, 2020 at 6:16 am

      Thanks for sharing this. So important to hear.

  10. Noreen Schulte on October 30, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    The church I attended for 25+ years before we moved were excellent about involving youth in the ministry of the body. Every summer we hired a godly high school student to be the children’s ministry assistant, and the pastor has always aptly mentored younger men and women for youth ministry. There was always space on worship teams for youth, and once or twice a year the youth and children run the entire service – greeting, taking offering, leading singing, making announcements, and even the preaching. My favorite “sermon” from one of those Sundays was by a 12-year old boy who had some wonderful insights and testimony of how God was working in his life. Yes, they make mistakes, and they aren’t polished, but they are exercising and growing the gifts God has given them

  11. Lisa on October 29, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Spot on!!!

  12. Jerry Weinzierl on October 22, 2019 at 7:54 am

    Helpful insight. Thanks Carey. I’m 62 and the founding pastor of the church of 2500+ that I’ve pastored for 35 years. My wife (on staff) and I are transitioning out as we raise up a young team to take it over. We are tracking for this to occur step by step, but conclude in three years by our stepping out and them fully stepping in. As usual, thank you for the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2019 at 12:19 pm


      This is great to hear, I hope everything with the handoff goes smooth.

      My guess for you and your wife is that your best years are still ahead of you! Keep going!


  13. Mark on October 21, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    When Gen X was growing up our grandparents’ generation would not let us lead anything either. Our parents did not stand up for us but told us not to rock the boat and not upset the old people. We did not get into the room, much less have a seat at any table. Everything was the 1950s back in 1980s. We still don’t have much say in anything as our parents’ generation is running most organisations and the millennials are the only concern. It is no wonder so many of my generation are missing from both Christianity and Judaism.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2019 at 12:25 pm

      Hey Mark,

      I hear you! I often call Gen X the “forgotten” generation. We’ve been overlooked a lot in life.

      Cheering for you!


  14. Steve on October 21, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I belong to denomination that insists that you put teens and twenty-somethings on a governing council. Often (not in every case) they seem to be uninformed and disconnected – which I believe in and of itself is not an issue, because if we ourselves are Godly leaders and care for those in the next generations, and if they have the heart and passion to lead, they will quickly learn and start to thrive with regard to their own leadership.

    The problem as I see it, is that our church has been guilty of running out to fill the requirement – and in the process, pick someone who does not possess the heart or the passion. We then see the church governing body start to make decisions based on the recommendations of people whose cares are sometimes misguided (often altruism based in social causes – which I admit can sometimes be a good thing), and end up causing a diversion off the course – focused on a “good” thing, but not always the God-Inspired thing.

    I agree that the church needs to be multi-generational in its approach to ministry, but I believe also that is important to have the Leaders (Overseers, Elders, etc…) approve those next generational leaders first, by the relative standards for Elders outlined in 1, 2 Timothy & Titus. When I was younger, I didn’t have the option to lead like an Elder would lead, but I always believed I had the heart of an Elder, and I believe that there are those kinds of people still today in those younger generations that you are speaking of…

    In full disclosure, I am now 47 and the Worship Pastor for our church. As a church we have seen young leaders grow apostate in our own church, and for those of us in the worship community, we are far too familiar with the results of giving away leadership for the cause of relevance (i.e. Hillsong/Marty Sampson).

    All this to say that while I agree with your article, I also am compelled to raise my concerns – which undoubtedly you may have yourself as well… Perhaps you have further wisdom to add to our dilemma.

    Thank you for continuing to raise the issue, because it is well worth the discussion!

  15. Stacey on October 21, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    I love the thoughts and have felt the “consequences” of being dismissed as a millennial leader…I had a church leader where I’m on staff say to me that she and her similarly aged peers wanted to “fix” the church so they were proud of what they passed along the next generation to lead…However, very little influence was awarded to the younger generation to be a part of shaping what that looked like. What if we don’t want to lead what you pass along…or what if we simply leave (which has happened a lot) because of lack of voice or influence?

    My only correction is that it seems like everyone who is a boomer or gen x-er talks about millennials being under 30 something…we aren’t anymore. Most of the Millennial generation are 30-38 by now…our general age range is 25-38/40. Your article talked a lot about young 20’s who are all gen z’s.

  16. Kenneth Wills on October 21, 2019 at 10:48 am

    How does the concept of “eldership” play into all of this? By definition, an elder is an older man who is looked to for his wisdom and godliness. And I think we also have to be wary of appointing a “novice”–as Paul told Timothy–to a position of leadership. With that being said, it does make sense, especially in our day when the culture is changing so fast, to have younger people giving input into how the church should reach their generation.

    • Tommy on October 21, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      I’m not sure that “novice” and “young” are the same thing. In fact, they aren’t.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 21, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      I think Tommy has a point. And elder and ‘older’ are not synonyms. The term we often use for elder, simply means ‘overseer’ and has more to do with wisdom than with age. Hope this helps!.

  17. Les Fish on October 21, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Do you mean relevant or not relevant at the end of your second statement?

  18. George Newman on October 21, 2019 at 10:07 am

    We have to push our fear of the younger generation aside and allow them to get involved in the process. As much as I hate to admit it….I’m considered old now. The next generation is faster, adapts quicker and doesn’t have the attachments to tradition I have.

    The Message Can Never Change,
    but Method(s) Must Change!

    Thanks for the challenge!

  19. Mark McCulley on October 21, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Under your point “Young Isn’t What You Think it Is” my mind went back to being a young person in church and reading the stories in the Bible about all the young people the Lord called — Samuel, Jeremiah, Timothy, just to name a few — and entrusted them with, as you said, “stupid amounts” of responsibility. I’ve even heard leaders question whether people that young could possibly be led by the Holy Spirit. Get a grip…! Your points are well made. “He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much” is also a pattern for learning leadership and responsibility. We need to get after it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 21, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Ha ha. So true!

  20. Steve on October 21, 2019 at 9:00 am

    I like what your talking about. One additional area to think about- those of us going into ministry as a second career. For example, I completed a 35 year career in the corporate world. There is a need to have older new pastors come in to be a bridge to a multi generational church. The result is giving went up and all members felt heard.
    Our pastoral team is 25, 35, and 60.
    We are all equal in authority reporting to a board of elders. I have found I am the dad to the entire young staff.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 21, 2019 at 1:47 pm

      I think that’s a great model…and, to be honest, new in a field is almost the same as being ‘new’. You tackle it with fresher energy than someone who has done the same thing for 35 years. 🙂

  21. john wimberly on October 21, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Based on my experience as a congregational consultant, this post is spot on. I am constantly arguing with boomers (my generation) who simply will not share power with millennials. In fact, some of them sound downright hostile toward millennials. And then they say, “Why can’t we reach the millennials?” It is insane. The boomers were agents of change for most of our lives. In the last decade or so, too many of us have become agents of resistance to change. I don’t think these change-resistors will kill the church. No one can kill what God wants to thrive. But they are causing younger generations either to leave the church or not join. It is time for my generation to step aside GRACEFULLY and allow younger generations and God to shape the future of the church. Our age appropriate role is to support the church’s mission generously with prayers and money. Let the younger generations decide how to use those resources.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 21, 2019 at 1:47 pm

      John I love this. Thanks!

  22. Rev. Dan Ficklin on October 21, 2019 at 7:58 am

    You nailed it Carey. I’ve seen young people ready and willing and eager to step up, and the “old guard” says, “Great, here’s how you do it”. Then if the young people don’t do it the “way it’s always been done”, they get their hands slapped. It’s so discouraging to watch the young people be systematically disenfranchised in the name of preserving tradition. If we don’t give the young people the keys earlier, the locks will rust and the keys won’t work later.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 21, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      Thanks Dan!

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