Discovering potential within a young person has to be one of the greatest privileges on any leader’s journey. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has not only disrupted church routines for many months, but also the progression of the young adults who will steward the future of our church and our wider society.

Those in Generation Covid’ have experienced the worst of labour market outcomes in terms of job loss, long-term unemployment, and income losses during and after lockdown. Adults aged 16 – 25 were over twice as likely as older employees to have suffered job loss, with over one in ten losing their job, and just under six in ten seeing their earnings fall. Labour market losses are more pronounced for women, the self-employed, and those who grew up in poorer families.

Not only are this emerging generation – in particular women, entrepreneurs, and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds – missing out on professional development in the workplace, studies suggest that they’re also not rushing back to church. 

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According to a Barna/​Stadia survey, only 41% of Gen Z say that when the pandemic is over, they want to return to primarily in-person worship. Similarly, only 42% of Millennials say they prefer primarily in-person worship. This suggests that the majority of this emerging generation aren’t sure what in-person church gatherings can offer to them.

As we emerge into our new normal – still in crisis management mode – it could be easy to postpone progression for emerging leaders as we focus on rebuilding and regathering. Part of the process of rebuilding post-Covid-19, however, must be intentional leadership development for the next generation, so they can play their part in long-term kingdom growth. As we re-emerge into a new cultural landscape, investing in leadership pipelines needs to be as important as re-structuring Sunday services. 

Generation Covid, along with processing everything we’ve been through, are feeling the impact of life being on hold for a year, especially when it comes to their progression as individuals, employees, and leaders. In response, let’s be the ones who step in and fill that gap, making the church the go-to provider for young leadership development. If we can’t recognise, call out, and develop the God-given potential in the next generation, then who can?

We have an untapped opportunity to not only invest in hope-filled and future-focused leaders, but also Christ-like leaders who will carry that DNA into every workplace.

Let’s be the ones who step in and fill the gap, making the church the go-to provider for young leadership development.

So how can local churches get started?

It doesn’t have to start big with things like creating internships programmes or delivering weekly events – although if you’re able do that then great! Starting small may look like asking some of your established leaders to mentor emerging leaders. Create space for them to serve and learn alongside others, enable them to attend conferences or seminars with content that will boost and expand their skills and confidence. The input is valuable, but the invitation also makes them feel valued.

Communicate to your leadership team and your church as a whole that, going forward, this is a priority. Intentionally promote that your church is a place where people can not only belong, but where their gifts and skills can be nurtured and thrive.

Tell the 59% of Gen Z-ers and the 58% of Millennials who are unsure about the role of churches gathering in-person, that they have a vital part to play in leading the church forward. Reassure them that you want them to not just come to a service, but to contribute to it.

Start small, yes, but don’t let your investment in emerging leaders end there. From those first small steps and by listening to the young leaders in your community, you’ll start to learn more about what they value, where they see opportunities to grow and lead, and what you could offer to support them further. These next steps can grow organically without needing to do everything all at once. As you invest in the young leaders already in your church, you’ll find more and more people are drawn to a community that intentionally makes space for them to thrive in a way our society so often fails to.

Covid-19 has certainly devastated many aspects of our lives, but it has also gifted us with an opportunity to reset. Let your reset include uncovering and cultivating the young leaders in your congregation.

To find out more about investing in the next generation of emerging leaders, please see our work with 20s and 30s and our Public Leadership course.