Why you need to hand over your keys—to someone younger

Youth Specialties
September 20th, 2016

We’re excited to have Brad Griffin as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating in his seminars. Check out more information HERE.

This Sunday at church I did something bold. I took my church key off my keyring and handed it to a volunteer. She was going to run point on our Sunday night ministry for the first time, and I realized that she would need a key to open up and lock up.

I know what you’re thinking. This doesn’t really seem all that bold. But it was a big step for me. I’m kind of a control freak.

Later I thought of a handful of things I’d forgotten to say, or forgotten to show her. Where the first aid kit is located, for example (I made sure to circle back on that!) But on a bigger level, I was excited for this 25-year-old leader to have a chance to shine.

Without me.

I find in ministry that I’m good at talking about sharing leadership with others, but famously bad at walking away and letting them lead. While support and training are important, my support often turns into micromanaging or flat-out taking over. So this time, I handed over the key and walked away.


This decision was motivated in part by our brand new research from the Fuller Youth Institute, Growing Young, releasing today!

As my colleague Kara Powell mentioned in a previous post, there is good news to celebrate when it comes to churches thriving with young people. Despite all the gloom and doom about churches shrinking and aging across the country, we discovered over 250 congregations leading the way in ministry with 15-29-year-olds. What we learned was surprising.

One of those surprises relates to how critical leadership is when it comes to effectiveness with young people. Saying leadership is important probably sounds like a no-brainer, and actually we were hoping we might somehow de-elevate the emphasis on leadership in ministry because of ways it’s been used to edge people out of service and fuel burnout in ministry leaders. Yet, leadership is important after all.

But here’s the twist. One of the core commitments held in common across the churches in our study was a commitment to shared leadership, or what we call keychain leadership. Keychain leaders work to equip, empower, and release others to lead—especially teenagers and emerging adults. More than just a role one pastor or youth pastor plays, we discovered an ethos of keychain leadership pervasive across churches growing young.

“Keychain leaders work to equip, empower, and release others to lead- especially teenagers and emerging adults.” (tweet that)


Keys represent access, authority, and responsibility—all carrying the potential to empower young people. But keys can be held or shared. They can be hoarded or given away.

In our research, keychain leaders were:

  • Acutely aware of the keys on their keychain.
  • Intentional about entrusting and empowering all generations, including teenagers and emerging adults, with their own set of keys.
  • Consistently giving away keys over time. Often many people in a congregation could point to the same leaders who modeled this well and mentored others across the years.
  • Not lazy. The leaders we’ve studied don’t share keys because they are less talented, visionary, or responsible. In contrast, they tend to be capable leaders who have a keen sense for where God is leading, but leverage their strengths for the good of the overall church.
  • Willing to take the long view. Keychain leaders recognize that investment in others takes time and consistency, which ultimately help build trust both ways in relationships. We don’t recommend turning over your entire youth ministry to new leaders tomorrow, but we do encourage you to consider how you’re actively empowering emerging leaders today for future seasons of ministry.


So if you’re a compulsive key-hoarder like me, where can you start?

In order to share the keys of leadership, your first step is to make sure you’re aware of the keys you actually hold. Whether you serve in a paid or volunteer role, begin by looking at your job description—if it’s actually been updated in the last five years! (If not, that might be step one.)

Working with or without a job description, grab a piece of paper or start a blank electronic document. List your major responsibilities in a single column. Then in a second column, note whether you hold the keys to that area, have shared the keys to that area, or have given away the keys to that area.

Next, for those responsibilities in which you hold or share the keys, consider whether it’s possible for you to train someone and hand over the keys, or if it’s an area you absolutely must hold on to (at least for now).

Finally, circle your first few key-sharing goals. You might even take a step further by seeking feedback from one or two trusted leaders about how well you share the keys of leadership. You might find that like me, you need to pull a key or two off your keychain and hand it over to someone who’s ready—with or without the first aid kit.

Want more strategies for effective ministry with young people?


Brad M. Griffin is the Associate Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger (fulleryouthinstitute.org), and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Growing Young (fall 2016), STICKY FAITH, and CAN I ASK THAT?. Twitter: @bgriffinfyi

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.