Sustainable Youth Ministry

I’m reading a book called Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries.



Here are some things I found fascinating.

More than even a great youth pastor, teens need a senior pastor that understands and loves teenagers.

The difference between an effective and an ineffective youth ministry is often directly tied to the level of investment a church makes.


…but gymnasiums, air-hockey tables, plasma tvs and leather couches don’t build thriving youth ministries; appropriate staffing, clear vision and structure do.


Norms” of a thriving youth ministry:

  1. One thousand to fifteen hundred dollars a kid.
  2. One full-time staff person for every fifty youth.
  3. One adult for every five youth. A church seeking to build a youth ministry will need approximately five volunteers working weekly in the ministry.  Staff coordinate, inspire and equip volunteers, otherwise they become stuck in competing priorities and programs.
  4. Ten percent of the worshiping congregation.

Superstar syndrome is assuming that a bright young face fresh out of seminary can handle the responsibilities and expectations of all the parents, and parishioners, and staff. More often than not, they burn out.

A young, fresh face. Full of passion. *look at his little pulpit!!!*

The biggest problem with superstar syndrome is functionally removing the family, elders, deacons and other concerned adults from the lives of teenagers and replacing them with a new “youth ghetto” in which the rest of the church simply lets the youth minister take care of the kids.

Rather than trying to find a superstar youth pastor, take a systems approach:

Content issues involves a specific topic, for example, a problem with cliques or the seventh-grade curriculum.

System issues, are those processes that take place beneath, around and within the particular topics of concern, things like trust among the leadership, clarity of expectations for staff and volunteers, or ownership of the ministry beyond the staff.

The hired youth staff person often becomes the content issue of choice when it’s time for launching criticism at a youth ministry. “Simple” solutions to a youth ministry’s problems almost always start with a focus on the youth director: he just needs to get organized; she just needs to get out of the office and spend more time with kids; he just needs more training; or she just needs to go.

We don’t need more great ideas (content) we need the kind of systemic change that must be built deliberately over a course of years.

Documents the provide the structure for change:

  1. Directories. Who the youth are, parents, allergies. Keep track of visitors, too. And all volunteers.
  2. Annual Events Calendar.
  3. Job descriptions. A document that outlines the scope of their responsibilities. Results-oriented over responsibility-oriented (which gives latitude to each worker to determine the “how” behind the desired results).
  4. The master recruiting list. This is the clear process for recruiting volunteers. It starts with determining how many volunteers you perceive you’ll need for the coming year. (More of this in ch. 10 and
  5. Curriculum template. This is broad and theme based. Allows for different curriculum.
  6. Visioning documents. Developed through a visioning retreat. “Instead of cobbling togeter a patchwork of good ideas with no strategic thread, a systems approach to creating visioning documents widens the base of support for a youth ministry and galvanizes a team to move together in a single direction.” (You can read more about this on page 65ff)
    1. A mission statement
    2. Measurable three-year goals
    3. A statement of values
    4. An organizational chart
Look at this pretty org chart. It’s on a MacBook Pro so you know it’s good.

A clearly articulated vision protects churches from becoming, in the words of Robert Lewis, “a sort of Christian ‘club’ that [exhausts] itself trying to keep its members happy.”

Also check out

A Primer on Creating an Environment that Cultivates Growth

  • Celebrate small victories. Get new volunteers? Commission them in front of the church.
  • Trust the process. It will take time. Don’t try to short-circuit it.
  • Import joy into the chaos. Be emotionally intelligent, and a non-anxious presence.
  • Instill stories and metaphors. Share testimonies, and stories of what God’s doing. Language is powerful.
  • Embrace rituals and traditions, signs and symbols. Candles, logos, even greetings. These help establish a climate, a community identity.

The last big chunk of fascinating text I’ll share is this: 

Three Essential Roles – not often present in one single person (the larger the ministry, the more important it is to separate these roles between different people)

  1. The Craftsperson. Typically an inexperienced, enthusiastic young adult who has the ability to build relationships, creatively develop programming, and sleep on gym floors. They follow direction well.
  2. The General Contractor. Supervisor of the work, and makes sure all the steps are completed. Administratively gifted, doing a good deal of work behind the scenes, coordinates everyone’s work so that laborers don’t work against each other, and makes sure the appropriate workers are in the right position at the right time. Doesn’t create the plans, but “works the plan”. Spends a good bit of time in conversation with the “architect” for troubleshooting and coordination.
  3. The Architect. This is someone trained and experienced in designing the plans for building a ministry, laying out the scope and sequence. The person who makes sure money and energy are spent building something that won’t fall apart, and knows how to build something from scratch.

A strategic church looks for an architect for its youth ministry first. The architect helps the stakeholders come to a consensus on their vision for the youth ministry and then draws up the plans for building it. Throughout the building process (typically 12 – 18 months), the architect ensures that all the right players are in place and keeps a finger on the pulse of the progress being made.


Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. Hope you found that interesting or helpful. If you’d like to learn more about Children, Youth and Family ministry, you can join me in class at Wycliffe this spring May 1-5th for an intense course. This book is on the syllabus, and you get to focus in on the ministry you’re involved in/aiming to specialize in.


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