Today’s article will be the first of two discussing the future of church leadership. In order to understand the future of church leadership, one must know its current state. The picture that is often painted is not one of great beauty. However, there is always hope, and I have seen signs of movement in many congregations that are working to move things in a positive direction.

I’d like to share a few statistics, many of which you are probably familiar with. In the United States, there are approximately 12,000 congregations of the churches of Christ. The Christian Chronicle identified 12,300 in 2015.1 According to 21st Century Christian, the number was 11,905 in 2021.2 Both resources indicate that churches of Christ are declining across the country.

Travis Arrant (author and minister in Louisiana) worked with Flavil Yeakely (Harding Center for Church Growth) to determine how many congregations had elders. Based on the information they collected, approximately 65% do not have elders. This means approximately 7,800 congregations are functioning with no elders. I visited with Roy Johnson, director of Lads to Leaders, in the summer of 2019 about the situation. He stated that of the remaining 35%, half only have two elders.

I also had the privilege of visiting with Phil Sanders, voice of In Search of The Lord’s Way television program, regarding the current situation of the church. He mentioned that since 2017 an average of 111 congregations have closed their doors each year. While the causes vary, we cannot sustain these numbers. The pandemic did not help.

I understand the subjectivity of statistics. Even if the numbers above are inaccurate, the fact that any exist is frightening. However, in the midst of all these negative statistics, I want to share a few reasons there is hope for the future, followed by a plan for churches to prepare the next generation of men to serve as elders in the Lord’s church. I am honored to work with the Sunset International Bible Institute out of Lubbock, Texas. I direct a program called the Sunset Academy of Leadership Training (SALT). Over the past five years, I have worked with nearly a hundred congregations of all sizes, some with elders and some without.

We should all be encouraged by the ministry efforts of works like Lads to Leaders. The impact on young men and women across the country is amazing. The collective result on congregations is immeasurable. The approach to developing the mindset of leadership within these young people is foundational for the future. Every time I visit with Roy Johnson or hear him speak about the growth of this dynamic ministry, I am encouraged about the future.

Additionally, I see more congregations implementing plans to develop men to serve as elders and actively reach their communities. There is an awakening among congregations to step up and address the need. While we face a long road ahead, let us be encouraged that there is an awareness of the urgency and good brethren are taking action to ensure the future of the church is built on solid leadership. They are working to prepare men in the next generation to lead God’s people.

Biblically, we find an approach taken by Jesus that has proven to be successful in congregations working with the next generation of men to serve as elders. The approach consists of three major steps. We will consider the first one today. The first step by Jesus began very simply: An Invitation. Jesus started by inviting a variety of men (not the “who’s who” of Judaism) to follow Him as disciples. This invitation was an opportunity to share life with Jesus and to learn from Him. They left everything and committed to walking the narrow road Jesus would lay out before them. I should note that before Jesus invited these men into a greater leadership role, He spent the entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12). He saw their commitment and dedication to follow. Still, He prayed before giving them greater roles. Even though they had much to learn, Jesus would walk alongside them and guide them to becoming the leaders He needed for His church. Through highs and lows, good and bad, moments of great faith and moments of little faith, sinking in the depths of a storm and being raised to walk on water, in every situation, Jesus shared life with them. He prepared them in their faith and compassion for others and strengthened them with abilities to face the challenges ahead.

A simple invitation is also a great starting point for the church today. As Christians, it makes sense that we need to spend more time in prayer asking God about those we want to invite into a relationship where we share life as followers of Jesus. While I want to honor the context of James 4:2, think about his point, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Is it possible that the crisis we face today is caused by our not being fervent in asking God to guide us in finding men to serve in leadership? If the church is going to have more men to serve as shepherds, we need to be fervent in prayer (publicly and privately) about the situation.

To prepare the next generation, churches must focus on building relationships. To grow men in their faith and compassion for others and strengthen them with the abilities needed to face challenges requires relationships. Living life together allows you to go through the highs and lows, good and bad, moments when faith soars, and moments when it crashes to the ground. You will share times when you sink in the depths of a storm and times when you walk on water. Build the kind of relationships where you are there for each other, constantly communicating, and construct the kind of intimate friendship that relies on God first and then one another. In his book, The Multiplication Effect,3, Mac Lake points out that leadership development is not a course you take or a program you develop but a relationship you build.

Next time, we will focus on the remaining two steps in the pattern Jesus established for preparing the next generation to lead.


1) Ross, Bobby Jr. 2015. “Churches of Christ in Decline: U.S. Culture to Blame?”

2) “Churches of Christ in the United States.” 2021

3) Lake, Mac. 2019. The Multiplication Effect: Building a Leadership Pipeline. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publisher.

4) The Connected Generation. 2019. “Key Findings.” Barna Research Group.

Bob Turner
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Bob Turner is the current Director of SALT (Sunset Academy for Leadership Training). He teaches courses and conducts workshops in Leadership Development, Emotional Intelligence, Creating Vision, Strategic Planning, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Character, and Managing Change. He also serves as an instructor in the Sunset International Bible Institute’s master’s and doctoral degree programs. He and his wife, Sheryl, have been married for 42 years with more than 30 years of ministry experience. They have three grown children and ten grandchildren.