Balancing Youth and Adult Leadership

How to balance the amount of youth leadership and amount of adult leadership is a constant question youth advisors and others in youth ministry ask.

A key element in UU Youth Ministry has been honoring the wisdom and capacity of teenagers by sharing leadership with them. Why?

  • Youth are talented and have much insight and vision

  • Our principles call us to remember that every person should have a voice in matters that concern them

  • Having the chance to learn to be leaders is an important ministry to offer teenagers

  • Becoming a leader in one’s faith community provides a powerful deepening of faith and Unitarian Universalist identity for our young people

  • People learn by trying things out, including failing. Many youth have few places in their lives where they’re allowed to try out their ideas and see if they work


Adult leadership is critical to youth ministry. Adults provide so much--including:

  • Authentic relationships across generations

  • Knowledge and experience as shared resource

  • Attention and responsibility for safety

So, how what is a good balance of amount of youth leadership and adult leadership. It depends. This graphic helps illustrate this dynamic balance.

Youth Adult Shared Leadership

Youth and adults always share leadership, but the amount of adult vs youth leadership is dynamic and responsive to context. For instance: Coming of Age youth leading their first congregational worship service need more adult leadership than seniors who have been leading a worship service every year. Highly competent youth leaders still don’t have the expertise to guide their group on an international service trip.

Key Ideas

  • Neither youth nor adults usually have experience doing this! Adults are socialized to be in charge; and youth are used to adults being bossy

  • Adults can both overpower and step back too much

  • Adults must hold the safe container within which youth can experiment and grow

  • Therefore there are times adults must step in, set limits, and provide clear guidance.

  • Adult needs matter too! Adults are part of the covenantal community and adults’ needs for sleep, appropriate food, and basic respect matter

  • Even when adults aren’t needing to be setting limits, they’re still at the table: listening, supporting, mentoring, playing

  • One of the best ways to support youth leadership is by mentoring quietly for instance pulling a youth leader aside to point something out, make a suggestion, etc