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Next Generation Leaders in U.S. Christian Ministries

A recent MinistryWatch survey of 1,000 executives of the top Christian ministries in the United States found that 91% were age 50 and older while nearly 55% were age 60 and older. The title of the article, “Over Half of Christian Ministry Leaders are Over Age 60,” caught my eye. The article, written by Kim Roberts, notes that the same numbers ring true for Protestant church pastors in America as well. Only 16% of Protestant senior pastors are age 40 and younger.


Some obvious questions jumped out to me:

  • Will the next generation of leaders be able to replace retiring ministry leaders in the coming years?

  • What implications do these trends have for ministries and churches?

  • Are young people answering a call to vocational ministry at a rate high enough to succeed current leaders today?

  • Are institutions of higher education, including seminaries, prepared to receive and equip students for ministry leadership?

  • Do ministries have plans for future leadership in place today?

  • Are educational programs in ministry leadership focusing on cross-cultural dimensions of leading others, teams, and organizations?

  • How will the shift in U.S. demographics impact the need for future leaders?

In September 2022, Hispanics became the majority population in Texas. Steven Klineberg's book, "Prophetic City: Houston at the Cusp of a Changing America," suggests two things from more than 20 years of studying Texas demographics:

  • First, we are experiencing an "epic demographic transformation" no previous generation has ever seen in Texas.

  • Second, “there is nothing humanly possible that can be done to reverse this trajectory.”

The intersection of global migration, irreversible demographic shifts, and a leadership vacuum will present major challenges for Christian ministries, Christian higher education, and congregations in the next decade.


According to the MarketWatch article by Ms. Roberts, it does not appear our country is prepared for the coming changes and realities for ministry leadership. Ms. Roberts suggests that organizations should focus on talent development and leadership succession. She noted that only 14% of Christian ministries handle succession planning well. She suggests an emphasis on talent development and leader succession plans are needed for ministries to be ready for the next decade of service.


I agree. Almost three years ago, I invited Kelly Cockrell to join Buckner International as Director of Talent Development. She has done an amazing job. Over the past few years, Kelly has developed and implemented a strategic plan for talent development and leader succession. Buckner's goal is to identify and develop the talent we have internally by creating individual development plans for leaders managing direct reports. We are well underway in our efforts to identify the talent we already have in the organization, conducting career conversations with these leaders beyond annual performance evaluations, and developing plans to equip them with learning experiences, cross-cultural exposure, opportunities to broaden job knowledge, and training opportunities to develop new skills to prepare them for future assignments.

I have expanded Buckner's executive leadership team (ELT) with four leaders through a one-year assignment to serve with full input in strategic conversations and decision-making. Jan Cothran, Dr. Abraham Mathew, Candace Gray, and Ashley Patel joined the ELT in January. After a year, they will rotate off the ELT and another four leaders will be appointed. My goal was to give these leaders exposure at the enterprise level, to gain input from their perspectives, and to diversify the ELT including gender, race, and ethnicity. We are also leaning into leadership succession plans across all our service lines and support services. This is an exciting journey. I am blessed to lead a highly talented executive leadership team. My goal is for Buckner to invest in the next generation and prepare them to step into executive leadership in a cross-cultural future when the time comes for transition.

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