Seen and Heard: Learning from Young People's Experiences Sharing Power in Faith Communities




youth leadership, youth engagement, sharing power, faith communities, qualitative


Faith communities have been shown to provide a sense of belonging and community while also providing a rich environment for youth to engage and grow as leaders. Yet, few current studies have explored faith communities as spaces for sharing power and sustained youth leadership development. Using a thematic analysis approach, this qualitative study of 222 participants across Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities aimed to explore the role of developmental relationships in young people's lives and their faith and spiritual development. Through the analyses, multiple and varied examples of sharing power emerged, leading us to investigate more fully the roles of leadership, engagement, and participation in young people's experiences in their faith communities. Findings demonstrated that faith communities can provide welcoming, engaging spaces for youth to have voice and develop as leaders. Youth across faith communities experienced authentic opportunities to build and apply leadership skills. These experiences led to positive youth outcomes, including increased confidence, building relational skills, feelings of belonging, and greater engagement. Findings from this study can inform youth development programs more broadly by illuminating concrete ways adults and youth can share power, leading to young people’s sense of engagement and belonging.

Author Biography

Jenna Sethi, Search Institute

Jenna Sethi, Ph.D. Qualitative Research ScientistIndependent Research & Evaluation ConsultantAdjunct Faculty, Youth Studies, U of MN


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