Some events in history have humble beginnings, but monumental impacts on people! Not much has had more impact on the Church of Christ than Lads to Leaders. In the fall of 1968, the elders of Warner Robins Church of Christ in Georgia went to their preacher, Jack Zorn and asked him to help their young men to develop speeches. Jack was young with a wife and three little girls. He prayed fervently for wisdom in this task and came up with a system of acrostics to help them develop their speeches. The young men, with his help developed their speeches and began studying their Bibles seriously as well. Soon, they began to give their speeches in Bible classes. Members were impressed! They started asking the young men to give those speeches at civic clubs and community events.
Soon, Governor Jimmy Carter learned about the skills of these eight young men, and he invited them to visit the Georgia Legislature. One young man, Randy Rowen, quoted the sermon on the mount to the Georgia Legislature. Thus, began Lads to Leaders.
L2L began to grow as other churches heard about the great things happening at Warner Robins Church. Jack was invited to do gospel meetings and bring his young men with him so the church could see what they were doing.
In 1976, the first Lads to Leaders Convention was held at then Alabama Christian College in Montgomery, Alabama with 60 in attendance.
Jack went on to earn his doctorate and moved around the country continuing to grow L2L. In the late eighties, while teaching at Alabama Christian College, Dr. Zorn decided to leave his paid employment and walk out on an act of faith to work full-time growing L2L. In the early convention years, he, and Frances (his wife) would mortgage their home to have the money to buy awards and supplies for convention and would use the registration fees to pay the mortgage each year. Frances worked three jobs during this time: Bell South, Kmart and L2L. She would personally handle registering every participant (along with Jane Skelton, Olivia Burt, and Dianne Reid Thompson). This was before computers when everything was done by hand, and it would take weeks.
There were wonderful and heartbreaking times for those who love L2L, wonderful as more and more churches began to train their people but then in 1986, there was a major split in L2L when a group tried to take over L2L and take it in a different spiritual direction. When their plan did not work, they splintered off and started their own organization. This broke Dr. Zorn’s heart and he never got over it. Dr. John Simmons sent letters of encouragement, spent many hours on the phone with Dr. Zorn, and helped encourage him to move on from the heartbreak. Had it not been for Dr. Simmons, L2L might have ended there. God’s word doesn’t change depending on location, so L2L doesn’t change either. L2L has strict standards. No matter which site you attend, L2L is consistent.
L2L grew pretty rapidly in the late nineties and in 2003, there was two convention sites. Dr. Zorn had health issues and retired. There was an interim director for a short period and in January 2003, Roy Johnson took the position as Executive Director for L2L.
The convention events were going strong, and membership was growing, but Roy saw a need for year-round events to be done at the local church. He began incorporating events that further strengthend participants and now three-fourths of the L2L events are year-round and non-competitive.
In 2004, L2L decided to add curriculum for churches, and homeschool. The Pearls book was created which is a yearly curriculum published so students can learn the meat of the Bible bowl book for the convention. There have been yearly Pearls books published from 2004 to date. In 2008, the Junior Leader series begin. Currently, there are three available: JL 1, 2, and 3 for grades K-5. The Field Book of Leadership was added in 2010. Speech and Debate was added in 2019. Sower: Evangelism Training for Everyone was added in 2020, by Phil Sanders. Courage 2 Lead by Dr. Justin Rogers was added in 2021, our first adult leadership curriculum. Our focus with curriculum is to provide sound, engaging material to help train students and adults to be leaders in the church, home, and community. We add two-three publications per year, so check often!!
The last 20 years has seen unprecedented growth in L2L! From two convention sites in 2003, and a little more than 8,000 participants, we now have ten US convention sites and many sites in other countries, such as: Bahamas, Guyana, India, Philippines, Romania, South Korea, also coming soon, Peru and Columbia.
Over 20,000 were registered for the US locations prior to the Covid outbreak in 2020. While convention was canceled, our participants continued to carry out their year-round events at home, and we have quickly rebounded. In 2023, we had a 19% growth in attendance at nine sites. The tenth site, Oklahoma, will begin in 2024.
The “L” symbol of L2L is the most recognized in the churches of Christ. The future is bright for L2L! The staff and Board of Directors of L2L are continually looking for ways to provide meaningful events and curriculum for participants. Stay tuned!