Demographics and Leadership

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Lovett Weems offers the example of the Girl Scouts USA who understood that continued viability depends on adapting to changes in national demographics.


A community recently celebrated a citywide religious observance that sought to bring together all the churches of that community. It was an impressive gathering in many ways. However, I was struck that the only persons of color present were those participating as part of a Girl Scout troop that shared in a presentation of flags. I could not help but think of Frances Hesselbein that day.

Frances Hesselbein was for many years the leader of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Today she heads the Leader to Leader Foundation that focuses on excellence in nonprofit management. During her tenure with the Girl Scouts, the organization prospered in traditional ways. They grew, did well financially, and received recognition for effectiveness in fulfilling their mission.

A major part of their renewed direction came from a commitment that the Girl Scouts would more accurately represent the increasingly diverse population of America than it had in the past.

It was a matter of principle for Hesselbein, but it was also a matter of good leadership. She realized that the future of the Girl Scouts would not be strong if the organization did not broaden its base. It was Hesselbein who came up with one of the great leadership questions of all time. She asked of everyone associated with the Girl Scouts this question — “When the girls of a community look at the Girl Scouts, do they see themselves?”

She sees three key marks of effective organizations:

  • Mission-focused 
  • Values-based 
  • Demographics-driven

It was her linking of all three that led to the turnaround for the Girl Scouts. For Hesselbein, facing the issue of demographics represented the future relevance and viability of the organization.

The growing racial diversity of the United States population will continue to be one of the most pronounced demographic realities in the coming decades. Understanding this growing diversity, as well as understanding other changing demographic indicators, is essential for churches in planning their ministries.


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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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