Engaging Young Leaders for Service - Huffington Post 5.12.2014

A challenge for today's congregational leaders is to find ways to encourage younger constituents to assume meaningful service roles within their organizations. Many factors contribute to the challenge, including the fact that potential lay leaders maintain busy lifestyles, juggling a full (if not extended) workday, together with familial and other responsibilities.

When considering how to engage today's younger generation, it is important to know that its members largely operate by a different set of rules than do their elders. Millennials, or members of "Gen-Y," are known for unique qualities that separate them from their parents (Generation-X) and grandparents (Baby Boomers).

While the sweeping generalizations that have been attributed to the 70 million-plus Millennials may not fully capture the characteristics of our 20-somethings, there are some attributes that we would be best served knowing and appreciating when reaching out.

According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, Millennials are very interested in leadership. They want it and they want to own it, by being given the autonomy and authority to act and implement. Interestingly, they approach leadership in such a defined manner despite knowing that they are not really ready for it. Business organizations recognize this, and have flattened their operations to ensure more leadership opportunities for young people (companies like GE which used to have double-digit layers of management now have half that).

How can one balance the need to offer real leadership opportunities while recognizing that the people being tasked may not be fully ready?

One way is to be prepared to delegate. Hand over small, manageable projects and be clear in what you want and what a successful project will look like. Know when and how to get involved to ensure success. (For more on how to foster successful delegation, click here). By getting our younger leaders to be more involved, they are likelier to develop a deeper connection and remain committed.

Transparency is crucial to operating in today's marketplace. Nowhere is this truer than with Millennials, who are known to value open, transparent processes (when asked what they look for in their leaders, they look for openness as a primary quality).

Be prepared to share information, financial and otherwise, that give potential leaders a sense of what they're signing up for. Remember that by keeping things close to the vest, you raise suspicions that there is something to hide.

Millennials thrive on innovation and change. They enjoy working in congregations that are innovative, changing, and dynamic. Organizations that are content to fully rest on yesterday's laurels will be hard pressed to engender the continued support of younger people who operate in a very different reality elsewhere.

There is no question that our organizations need all of the help that they can get.

Tight budgets and growing expectations mean that professional staff is overstretched, particularly during busy times such as fundraiser season. Knowing how to engage and retain talented lay leaders, particularly younger ones who offer a new set of contemporary skills may be a huge factor in the success that our organizations enjoy.