Infectious Youth Leadership

By Adrian Greenwood

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Ever had a conversation with a young person passionately telling you about the activity they just took part in? The excitement of leading, participating and playing their part to make a difference is truly infectious.

Empowered young people not only feeling that they can create change but knowing the community welcomes their efforts? So infectious is this hope that I am smiling now as I write this.

I presented at the Centre for Theology & Ministry’s recent Thriving: Resilience and 40 Developmental Assets Training workshop alongside Rod Dungan (Thriving Youth) and Drew Hanna (youth ministry coordinator at the Centre for Theology & Ministry). The workshop’s keynote speaker, Andrew Fuller, director of Resilient Youth Australia, presented Australian youth data collected through developmental assets surveys.

Andrew is a renowned author and clinical psychologist specialising in brain functioning and development, and learning and resilience.

The 40 Developmental Assets are building blocks of development that help young people grow as healthy, caring, principled, and productive people. These 40 assets are grounded in extensive research in youth development, resiliency, and prevention.

They represent the relationships, opportunities, and personal qualities that young people need not only to avoid risks but to thrive. They are grouped into external assets (support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time) and internal assets (commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, positive identity).

Resilient Youth Australia has now completed 37,000 surveys of Australian youth in relation to the 40 assets. The results of these surveys can be focused into various demographic mixes such as cultural background and gender to enable better understandings of the various groups that make up our communities.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian research shows that kids thrive when they are safe, happy, empowered, and belong. Belonging is seen as vital for youth finding resilience and transforming their communities. Happily, providing belonging is also something we are well equipped to do as a church.

The research revealed a key issue and opportunity for those working with young people, which is extremely relevant to the church. It revealed that when 7 per cent of a population could be exercising leadership, but are not leading, then real problems are likely on the rise. Conversely, when that 7 per cent are encouraged to take up leadership, then real positive change occurs. The research shows that as this previously non-activated group takes up leadership they uncover and create more opportunities for others to participate and build healthy communities. It is infectious.

I am reminded of Luke 13:21, where the yeast spreads through the dough; we see the effect of the little through the whole loaf rising.

I wonder: What if we activate the young leaders in our churches, schools or wider community who feel there is no place for them to lead? As adults, we are the ones who can create the space for new infectious, creative, and empowered young people to breathe life into our communities.

As a youth minster I have seen the power of one person’s interest in the life of a young person: the crossing guard or small group leader intentionally developing a supportive, challenging relationship with a young person makes all the difference to that young person’s resilience and belonging.

What young person in your community could be exercising leadership but is not?

How will you change this?

How will you encourage infectious youth leadership?

Adrian Greenwood is the discipleship educator – Young Adults at The Centre for Theology & Ministry. For more information: P- 03 9340 8800 or E-


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