Younger Church, Aging Leadership (Part One)

I sat almost in the nosebleed section of the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, the morning of July 4. There for the 60th General Conference Session, I listened to the newly-elected treasurer of the General Conference, Juan Prestol-Puesán, make a very passionate appeal to the more than 50,000 attendees and delegates there for that first Sabbath. His tone was full of emotion, his voice spurred with conviction, and the room was filled with applause when he was through making his speech. As I sat there and listened while the congregation broke out in applause, my heart felt broken and the tears welled up in my eyes.

Under the theme, “Give them the Keys,”1 Prestol-Puesán appealed for the attendees to dig deep into their pockets and give of their financial resources so that the church could put the young people to work. He shared the story about his daughters learning to drive and told how the day finally came when they got their driver’s licenses and no longer needed driving lessons. “They came and took the keys to the car and drove,” he reminisced. To him this was a great achievement for his daughters. “It was a vote of confidence indeed,” he said, “an empowering action.” Then, to the resounding sound of applause he announced, “The time has already arrived for the young people to take the keys and drive the car of evangelism.”

Somehow, as a youth leader I should have been encouraged by the speech, but I wasn’t. It was a great speech indeed, but why did I feel so sad? The answer was evident as I looked around the stadium, considered the activities taking place, and observed the program participants of the day. On stage were seated several church leaders and none of them were under the age of 50. Except for three little girls, who stood in the corner prepped to read the scripture during the Sabbath School lesson review, they never participated in the discussion.

Someone speculated that young people under the age of 35 made up just about two percent of the delegates. That would be about 51 of the 2,571 official delegates. It has even been estimated that 77 percent2 of the membership of our church is under the age of 50. Yet, over the course of the GC Session, it was evident that a large percentage of the church leadership are older than the majority of the church. For example, six vice presidents were voted, with three newcomers; 13 division presidents were voted, with six newcomers; and 11 departmental leaders were voted, with two newcomers. I cannot report that one young adult was voted among them. A stranger might easily assume that we are an aging church because of its aging leadership.

It may appear as though the young people are disinterested in the business of their church and many have contended this to be the case. Some would argue that the majority of young people chose not to attend the session because they didn’t see the relevance.

Others may say that for those who did attend, it seemed more worthwhile to participate in the activities that the planners of the event seemed to believe would be of greater benefit to them, such as giving concerts in the Lila Cockrell Theatre or to be out on the streets painting murals, handing out water bottles, and eating haystacks at the Impact San Antonio event. In my view, I would venture to argue that perhaps the youth and young adults were not involved because of lack of opportunity, or they may have also been overlooked in the planning as well as the execution stages of the various programs.

I do not doubt that the church wants to give young adults the keys. I just feel that it does not have an intentional plan for how to make the transition; and even further, perhaps the church doesn’t feel that they are ready to drive the car. However, the question is, Will they ever be ready?

Ryan Simpson is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union.

1    See the entire speech by Juan Prestol-Puesán at

2    Seventh-day Adventist Church Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research,