EFAC Australia

According to Mark DeVries, to build a lively youth ministry you first have to get the boring stuff right.

Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It
Mark DeVries
InterVarsity Press 2008
ISBN 9780830833610

If a strong, healthy, sustainable youth ministry was a product you could buy at a Christian bookshop it would be in the ‘most popular’ section. Most churches would love to have one but the sad reality is that there are many youth ministries that are unsustainable in the long term.
While this may be attributed to the person in charge of the youth ministry, Mark DeVries points out that the longevity of a youth ministry has a lot more to do with the church as a whole. A common misconception is that if you want young people in your church then the first step is to employ a good youth minister. Unfortunately this quick fix solution can be just that, a quick fix without lasting impact or results.
DeVries’ accurate diagnosis is that the strength of a youth ministry has a lot more to do with overall leadership and structures within the church rather than just the youth minister. He points out that growing a sustainable youth ministry and discipling the next generation of young people is the responsibility of the entire church.
DeVries does not offer any quick ‘fix it’ solutions but his years of church consulting experience says that ‘building a sustainable, thriving youth ministry is not only possible, it’s actually predictable’ (page 11). He highlights key structures and patterns for success in youth ministry; noting two key components of systems thinking:

Architecture: the structure of sustainability; and

Atmosphere: the culture, climate and ethos that sustain the health of an organisation or ministry.

Most youth ministers will not be too excited to hear that creating a strong foundation for a sustainable youth ministry comes through establishing sustainable systems: i.e. by doing a lot of administration! This book is an encouragement to work ‘on’ the youth ministry to make sure the foundation is healthy, rather than putting out fires ‘in’ the youth ministry. A great tip for producing a strong foundation is to ensure that clear vision documents have been developed for the youth ministry; a mission statement, measurable goals, statement of values. This will produce a purposeful structure and clear direction to start building upon.
DeVries likens the foundation of the ministry to a dance floor. If it is repaired and maintained then the talented, trained dancer will be able to succeed. Often churches blame the lack of success in youth ministry on the ‘dancer’ or youth minister rather than looking at the dance floor which is often in disrepair. DeVries points out the reasons why many dance floors in are in disrepair and gives practical steps to help the foundation become strong. A great place to start is by making sure that the youth minister has a clear job description and by ensuring that there is a documented process for recruiting volunteer leaders.
An excellent read for anyone who is interested in seeing their church’s youth ministry flourish over the long haul.

Lisa Brown is a faculty member of Ridley Melbourne, where she trains youth ministers. Lisa is married to Phil, lives in Maribyrnong and has recently discovered the joy of growing things in her garden.