Don't Gamble on Youth Ministry

Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It
by Mark DeVries

Book Review by David Brown, Pinnacle Associate

You know the story. You’ve probably experienced it in your congregation.

A newly-hired youth minister comes in with energy and passion, attracts unheard-of numbers of teenager to creative programs only to burn out in a year or two and move on, leaving behind a deflated youth ministry. The church, anxious about the present and recalling the glory days of the past, forms a committee and begins a search for the next young, superstar youth minister. And the cycle continues.

Mark DeVries, in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry, labels this behavior for what it truly is: gambling. Churches roll the dice on the next great personality. We put down all our chips on a new program or gimmick. We take uncalculated risks, cross our fingers, and hope against hope that this time the cards will fall in our favor.

“Gambling,” writes DeVries, “is a far cry from investing.”

Sustainable youth ministry comes not from gambling, but “predictably from a strategic, sacrificial and annoyingly inconvenient investment of time and resources.” In this critical and practical book, DeVries talks honestly about common mistakes that lead to ineffective, inconsistent ministry. Then, he offers a clear, sane advice for churches who want to invest in a youth ministry that is built to last.

DeVries guides his readers through four crucial movements toward sustainable youth ministry:

1. Diagnose the problem. He articulates the most common ways that churches get stuck in destructive (or at least unhelpful) cycles: chronic underinvestment, lack of measurable goals, reliance on a superstar minister.

2. Develop the structure. DeVries maps out youth ministry norms, distilled from his own experience as a youth minister and his work with churches. He helps readers to understand the systems that lead to health and the process that can be developed to sustain those systems. Commitment is measured in staff, volunteers, dollars, and time.

3. Find the right people. Once the structure is in place, searching for the next youth minister or recruiting the next round of youth leaders can be done with clear expectations. DeVries offers specific advice for youth minister search committees as well as for developing leadership teams.

4. Cultivate healthy practices. The final chapters of the book focus on practices of healthy youth ministers and healthy youth ministries. These include: fostering a friendship culture, negotiating church politics, and managing time well.

A litany of other wonderful books explore the spiritual, contemplative, relational, and programmatic aspects of youth ministry. But I have found Sustainable Youth Ministry to be, without question, the best “nuts and bolts” book in print for developing long-term solutions for healthy and vibrant youth ministry.
If you are a youth ministry rookie or a seasoned veteran, this book is for you. If you are on a youth minister search committee or a youth advisory team, this book is for you. If you are a parent or church member concerned about shaping the lives of teenagers in your congregation, this book is for you. In other words, if you even remotely care about the spiritual health of teenagers (and your congregation as a whole), you will find something useful in this book!

So, pick up a copy. Then, cash in your chips and start investing a youth ministry that will last.

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