Why Younger Leaders Lead More Growing Churches Than Older Leaders Do


This is a guest post by Sean Morgan. He’s Vice President of CDF Leadership Capitol and a good friend. You can check out his podcast “Leaders In Living Rooms” here.

By Sean Morgan

Have your trusted advisors and friends told you this year you’re less likely to have an impact on your town?

Yup. You’re a year older than you were last year but in that year 100’s or 1000’s of U-Hauls arrived in your town so the average age there stayed the same or even trended younger.

If you’re like me, I’m sure you’re restless to see an increased impact from your ministry.

Cheer up!! There is good news–you’re in complete control of the changes you need to make to reach the lost in your community. And if you’re reading this, I suspect you’ll also be willing to pray through some things that God will reveal to you about it.

Carey recently posted 6 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2020, and I was led to think through why his point #2 was true – “Growing Churches Will Be Led By Younger Leaders.” (By the way, if you haven’t read that post, go check it out here)

Since you can’t ever solve a problem you’re not willing to name, the first thing we must do is name it, and in our case, Carey’s already done that…whew!

You can’t ever solve a problem you’re not willing to name. Click To Tweet

Simply put, movements and ministries led by younger leaders often growing and those led by older leaders often do not. This isn’t so much a statement about age, but rather what happens as we age.

Is it true all of the time? No, but it is overwhelmingly true. Should we give up and become victims to a ticking clock?

Of course not, in fact, I’d say “Be Encouraged!!—there are fantastic older leaders who are fighting the drift toward IRRELEVANCE and slaying it! Read on to figure out how to join them.

Let’s start with unpacking this list of 6 characteristics that are natural tendencies of younger leaders and contrast them with those of older leaders. Before we dive in, I do want to point out that this list is for everyone…we are all getting older and 40 is not a magic number per se; so realize the older you get the more you need to be intentional about resisting natural tendencies that make you irrelevant.


Younger/Under 40:

  • New
  • Risk
  • Open
  • Adventure
  • Change
  • Transition

These lead to: INNOVATION

Older/Over 40:

  • Known
  • Stability
  • Closed
  • Routine
  • Comfort
  • Complacency

These lead to: IRRELEVANCE

“Safe is a dangerous place to be, get out of your comfort zone” –unknown

As you can clearly see, this isn’t about age so much as it is about human tendencies that happen as we age.

I LOVE that Louie Giglio recently gathered 60,000+ young people in Atlanta and the fastest growing church in America is led by Ray Johnston, because both leaders are in their 60’s. These leaders work hard to create culture that embraces appropriate risk and innovation in order to reach the lost.

Staying relevant isn’t about age so much as it is about human tendencies that happen as we age. Click To Tweet

So, what am I saying here?

What I’m saying is that to stay innovative, you need to intentionally fight the natural drift to the right side of the list above which always leads to irrelevance.

The truth is that God doesn’t need your church.

The truth is that God doesn’t need your church. Click To Tweet

Sound harsh? It might be, but I can assure you that if you lead your church toward irrelevancy, God will raise up a leader to plant a new church that will reach the lost in your community. I see it happen all the time where paid for church buildings are being gifted as multisite campuses to churches that are indeed taking risks and growing.

We are stewards of time and influence and we must stay on mission. Like a church planter with a 3 year commitment of outside sponsorships, that leader has a budget and timeline for survival and survival is defined as reaching the lost and leading them to become disciples.

When’s the last time you put yourself on that kind of trajectory to impact?

Take action.

As a leader, it’s up to you to fight the drift toward comfort. When we let our churches get comfortable (like a cluster of innertubes drifting down the lazy river—which is usually because we drifted there with them!), we have slowly replaced the Great Commission with a more subtle mission of keeping the establishment happy. It happens to the best of us, believe me. There are very few churches or multi sites that are experiencing measurable growth past their 5th year.

Harvard Business Review recently published similar findings in their Nov 2019 issue entitle “The CEO Lifecycle”, astonishingly the results are very similar. In fact, they label CEO leadership years 6-10 as “the complacency trap”. The CEO’s who see growth in their later years are categorized as those who take risks, reinvent and innovate.

We have slowly replaced the Great Commission with a more subtle mission of keeping the establishment happy. Click To Tweet

Heard enough?

Okay great, let’s talk about how you can get back on mission.

Here are 4 practical questions to help you on your journey toward innovation and growth.

Get some alone time and wrestle with these questions. Really dig deep and instead of feeling exposed or guilty, just embrace that God is giving you clarity AND you can do something about it.

Question 1: Am I protecting my job…because of my income, authority or identity?

2 clues you might be protecting your job:

  • You’ve seen talented “A level” leaders leave your church because they couldn’t spread their wings
  • Your church has stopped growing, but you’re sleeping soundly because you’re meeting budget and/or have money in savings

Question 2: Am I protecting the jobs of my staff and therefore placing their employment stability over launching new ministries to reach lost people?

Question 3: Do you have an underlying fear of making deep changes because the establishment of the church might revolt?

  • This could mean fear of letting tenured staff go
  • This could mean upsetting key lay influencers/givers

Question 4: Compared to when I was 20, am I more or less like the rich young ruler who couldn’t fully pursue Jesus because of what made him comfortable in life?

Let’s all release some things we are holding tightly to in order to say YES to God.

Break Through The Growth Barriers Holding You Back


So you would love to see your church grow in 2020, but the question is how? 

Naturally, I can’t make a church grow and you can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.

But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people.

That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.  

The Church Growth Masterclass is designed to help you jumpstart a stuck church, or help your growing church reach even more people. 

It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

In the Church Growth Masterclass you’ll learn:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
  • 5 essentials for church growth
  • 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
  • How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

Really hoping 2020 is a year of growth and impact for you and your church!

What about you? 

What are you doing to stay relevant?

Why Younger Leaders Lead More Growing Churches Than Older Leaders Do


  1. Bob Thomas on February 29, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Just a few thoughts came to mind.

    Reverence/Reverent is in the Word about twenty times, while Relevance
    is found Zero times. SIN is timeless. Hebrews 13:8 states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

    Sanctity ( John 17:17) is to be valued over the spectacular (The Show).
    The All powerful valued over being large and powerful … (The pride of life).

    Sin tolerance is Satan’s gospel … it has become the gospel of the some governments and has infiltrated the liberal church in North America.

    “ALL IN” with a church building is mutually exclusive with being “ALL IN” with God. ( Mark in DC)

    We humans just need to make sure that our vision does not mask the Holy Spirit’s direction to those HE has put in our care. That is as Relevant to the younger teachers as it is to the older ones … we will be judged.
    As Dave Wilkerson used to say ” Judge yourself so HE won’t have to.” ( 1 COR 11:31)

  2. Mark on February 25, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Sometimes the younger leaders understand the problems of the real world more so than older leaders do. They likely have a grasp on current issues and talk about them and working with/in light of them instead of lashing out at the modern world. When I was growing up, old church leaders had no concern for the then-younger people who were in the church or their struggles with the then-current world. You can see from the missing just how well this helped the cause of Christianity.

  3. Scott on February 22, 2020 at 9:25 am

    Age is mental. In that regard, over 40 tendencies can happen at any physical age. Generally speaking I could see how the premise of the article could be factual. Measuring growth by numbers is ok. The early church mentions people being added daily however it is difficult to measure spiritual growth, which directly impacts the the physical growth. The other thing to consider is the church as a whole and not the individual parts. The church that is 100 years old that seems to be lost in time but ministers greatly to the community may be exactly the right size and could very well be serving the purpose God has for the church as a whole.

    I do agree though that at every age we have to fight irrelevance. And young pastors can’t use this article to justify going rogue, not seeking counsel from others and trying to partner with God alone in the endeavor

    • Sean Morgan on March 18, 2020 at 10:01 am

      Great additions to the convo Scott!

  4. Ralph juthman on February 21, 2020 at 11:59 am

    Carey I love your writing as it is full of insight. I somewhat agree with the intent of the article. I too have noticed this trend. But as I got to think, the largest and growing churches that I see in my denomination, are being led by young leaders who inherited already growing churches that were set in place by older leaders who chose to stay long term and pay the price of revitalization and change.

  5. Justin Klatt on February 21, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Hello Carey, for the most part I loved this article. I do think it could have gone one step further… but I also realize that you were just writing on the facts of what slowly happens as we age.

    I am writing this as a 40 year old. 40, meaning right in the middle of these 2 paradigms you wrote about in this article.

    To the negative comments… The article is true. Many Many pastors as we age fall more into the qualities of the irrelevant category than what Carey listed in the Innovation category.

    This is what I felt as I read… I think there has to be a balance. Stability and Experience do go a long way even with young people. The culture is full of young people who want stable community and leaders who are willing to slow down and have the experience to talk about their life’s problems. Many young leaders do not do this (offer this).

    But on the other hand being open to change and innovation is so important. Technology and culture is changing all the time and we can not do the same things we did 20 years or even 5 years ago today.

    I look at older leaders, even when I started pastoring at 20 years old, 20 years ago… Wayne Cordeiro, Erwin McManus, Brian Houston, Matthew Barnet, etc. and see both sides in them, even as a young leader. They were/are innovative, change things when they need to, give away leadership to younger leaders, get out of the way when they need to, flex with the times and add technology, but they also have/had a stability, steadfastness, experience level and an excellence level that young leaders do not always have.

    Most young leaders do not have as much of a fathers/mothers heart for their people as seasoned leaders, and young people want to be seen and loved with that parents heart.

    The church I planted this last year is crazy out of the box and innovative. In fact we can not even find any churches in the whole world that are doing church the way we are doing church. It is crazy fun and awesome and led all by what the Holy Spirit led us to do, but even though we do things so different then a traditional church, does not mean stability, excellence and true community has to go out the window. Change for Change sake is not good and trying to do everything just to reach more is not either. There is a reason IN N OUT or White Castle do not offer Chili Cheese dogs or a lot of other things that other fast food places offer. The want to do what they do best and do it with stability and excellence. They want Quality.

    We as churches and pastors need a balance of both of these categories that Carey mentioned…. however in the irrelevant category, we DO NOT want complacency or comfort or to be closed minded to what God wants us to do. And on the other side we can not be so changing that we are trying to shoot fish in the barrel.


    ok I am done, sorry that was so long, Carey was not trying to take over you comments. just some thoughts from this 40 year old.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 21, 2020 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks for sharing Justin!

    • Sean Morgan on March 18, 2020 at 10:04 am

      Great insight Justin. 1. THANK YOU for planting! Huge risk, and as you mention it is 100% about the mission. How’s it going after the craziness this last week?

      • Justin Klatt on March 18, 2020 at 1:19 pm

        Sean morgan, because of the way we do church is small virtual communities all over the world. Zero has had to change the last week and even if America goes on full quarantine for a month or something crazy. ZERO of our services or community had to change. All week last week and this week we have only grown with people who can not make it to their shut down churches and everything has stayed the same.

        It has been a fun realization to see that the Holy Spirit gave us this unique vision for such a tune as this.

        As i type this to you, there is an imagine church service happening right now with people from all over the country having church Communuty with each other.

        On the other hand the individuals of our church have been affected and will continue to be, so i am calling all of the people in Imagine one by one to ask them how they are and what we can be praying for them about.

        It is an adventure!

  6. Harry Court on February 20, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    There are some good points made here. Yet the statement – “God doesn’t need your church” – fits the context but is simply unbiblical.

    • Bekali Johnson Bekali on February 22, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      Hello Carrey. Your art icle on manifestations of irrelevance tendencies as we age especially above 40 is to me both yes and no. To those who have been properly mentored, their unprecedented growth is so conspicuous both spiritually and numerically . On the other hand those who age less than 40 without a mentor at times lacks all that it takes for a fruitful and stable ministry. In the de o. I Arion that I adhere to, I have seen many young ministers of the gospel blunder whereas I have seen continuous growth and spiritual stability archestrated by aged ministers of the gospel. However I have learned a lot from this insightful article not to fall prey to become irrelevance as I yield to the subtility of replacing the great commission with keeping establishment happy. Thanks

  7. Harry Court on February 20, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    “God doesn’t need your church” – it fits the context of the article but is simply very very wrong

  8. Gary Whitlatch on February 20, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Good information, thank you, I’d like to read/learn more

    • Sean Morgan on March 18, 2020 at 10:06 am

      Hey Gary, shoot me a text…happy to talk more and learn from you too: 707-580-5526

  9. Mark Bordeaux on February 20, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Another relevant article, Carey! Understandably, no article or book can contain all the “fine print” and answer every question. I am one of many leaders who have gone against the tide of complacency, hypocrisy, irrelevance, and mission-creep in churches. To no one’s surprise, this invites the ire of those bound by their tradition and position. Like many others, I’ve seen plenty of fratricide over the years in our churches that resemble the church at Corinth more than they realize. Whether it be a “worship war” or something as simple as small groups, many of us have the “scars” of trying to transition a program-heavy church to a simple church that makes and multiplies disciples. 

    Unfortunately, regardless of the patience and love shown during these transitions, pastors seeking to be true to the Lord’s great command and great commission often become casualties. However faithful he may have been, this leader is not popular among churches determined to “hold the fort.” But here is the rub; neither is he quickly accepted among his younger brothers. 

    Irony of ironies, as surely as older pastors have been unfairly critical of our younger brothers, younger brothers may easily categorize the seasoned servants as irrelevant. 

    As Sean pointed out, the past is not the master of every greying leader. What matters to me and many other vintage servants is passing the baton so that the church multiplies disciples into future generations. Trying to be a change-agent for the complacent church and welcomed by our younger brothers can be a lonely place.

  10. Kitty on February 20, 2020 at 10:19 am

    This is the first negative comment I have EVER left on any website but this article is discouraging and insulting rather than helpful. It is riddled with ageism and effectively shuts down communication between the generations. Personally, I am much more confident and willing to take risks than I was when I began ministry. I have many more skills and I am more competent. I also have a larger network and more resources. I think part of the problem is negative perception – which this article perpetuates. The struggle to overcome these perceptions is difficult enough for us. We need younger people supporting us as well as we need to support them. In short, there’s no way I’d sign up for one of your classes now knowing how I would be received.

  11. Maria Sikal on February 20, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Years ago I could see that a trend of revitalization needed to occur in churches People are busier they have access to technology and so are more informed and less amused …I recently took on the senior pastoral role to a church of 40 people 20 or so members The building is falling apart and funds are short. I even took the role on with no pay …I’m 53 almost 54…Why did I do this? Well for one God orchestrated it all …secondly because I believe a small country church can impact my nation. Canada doesn’t need another revival it needs a Holy Spirit reset and finally because although a couple of my giftings are pastoring and evangelism …I’m an entrepreneur at heart…I truly believe there needs to be a change in how we train pastors and what qualifies them I’m not saying we throw out Bible College but I do think that pastoral candidate should wrestle in the real world of commerce …Can’t even count on one hand how many pastors that have told me that Bible College did not prepare them at all…especially when they transitioned into a senior role ….Keep me in pray …gonna rock this town for Jesus as I go about our Father’s business!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 21, 2020 at 2:53 pm

      Cheering you on!!

    • Sean Morgan on March 18, 2020 at 10:08 am

      I believe a small country church can impact your nation too Maria! THANK YOU for taking this role and pursuing the mission with an entrepreneurial spirit!

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