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Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn't Last and What Your Church Can Do About It

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You're looking for a youth pastor. Again. What goes wrong? Why do youth ministries crumble? And what is the cost to students, parents, volunteers and church staff? Is a sustainable youth ministry possible, even after a youth pastor leaves? Youth ministry expert Mark DeVries knows the answer is yes, because he helps build sustainable youth ministries through his coaching service called Youth Ministry Architects. So take heart: No matter what state the youth ministry at your church is in--in need of a leader and volunteers, full of battles and stress, large or small in number--it can be built to survive and to last for the long haul. Based on his own experience and on his many conversations and interviews with churches in crisis, DeVries pinpoints problems that cause division and burnout and dispels strongly held myths. He then provides the practical tools and structures pastors and church leaders need to lay a strong foundation for your ministry so that it isn't built on a person or the latest, greatest student ministry trend. His accessible guidance Building a sustainable youth ministry is not easy, and it's not quick. But with commitment to the process, hard work and DeVries's guidance, you can put together a healthy youth ministry--one that fits your church and lasts for the long haul. Youth ministry can last. Here's how.

225 pages, Paperback

First published December 30, 2008

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About the author

Mark DeVries

35 books11 followers
Mark DeVries (MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary) is the founder of Ministry Architects, a consulting team that helps churches and ministry organizations build sustainable ministries for children, youth, young adults, and entire congregations. He served for twenty-eight years as associate pastor for youth and their families at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He has trained youth workers on five continents and has taught courses or been a guest lecturer at a number of colleges and seminaries. DeVries is the author of Sustainable Youth Ministry and Family-Based Youth Ministry, coauthor of The Most Important Year in a Woman's Life/The Most Important Year in a Man's Life, and he has been a contributing writer for Josh McDowell's Youth Ministry Handbook, Starting Right, and Reaching a Generation for Christ. In addition, his articles and reviews have been published in a variety of journals and magazines. He and his wife, Susan, have four grown children.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 96 reviews
Profile Image for Sean.
55 reviews
August 8, 2011
If you are a youth worker, you won't like reading Sustainable Youth Ministry. But you will benefit from it. That's because Mark DeVries addresses several things youth pastors are notorious for complaining about or avoiding (and he does it with 30 years experience, not posture). This book is a straightforward, tested look at the need for "systems" in youth ministry that last, and DeVries explains these with the same patience it takes to develop them. One of the features I particularly admire is the numbers DeVries presents about having a sustainable budget, a sustainable staff, a sustainable volunteer team, and a sustainable size (all of which were very helpful in evaluating our current situation and planning for future growth). DeVries also attacks the notion that the "next great idea" will propel youth ministries or that some youth pastors can be "the one" to take a youth ministry to "the next level." His challenge is for us to reconsider what we're accomplishing and if the youth ministries we serve belong to us or the church. it's a challenging read because DeVries asks you to do something with what you've read. He also brings up and answers the arguments you will have when reading some of these ideas. After finishing "Sustainable Youth Ministry," I've understood better why I was anxious in my internship, why I was burnt out in my first position, and why things are going well where I am currently. I even put the book down a few times to type out some of the documents he suggested. This is a very systematic book that will help the young youth pastor and the yearning youth pastor get a grip and take a breath. The trick is, you have to do some of these things. But DeVries provides for that, too, including clear checklists and descriptions of the next step in the appendices. "Sustainable Youth Ministry" has helped me re-evaluate some what we're currently doing and has solidified other things we're already doing. And I feel better equipped with hard data (rather than emotional reaction) to present the reasons why we do what we do in youth ministry, and feel more confident that youth ministry is turning a corner towards rightly perceived greatness.
Profile Image for Desire' Wuertemberger.
4 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2020
I appreciate the research, the facts, the stories presented in an interesting and insights.
I found it challenging to get through the sheer amount of information but enjoyed Mark’s down to earth and humorous style.
I think this is one of those books that you read and have to have it on your shelf as you return to it again and again.
I already have picked if up many times and although I am certainly challenged by the sheer scale of the instructions entailed I am glad to have this on my shelf as a resource and guide.
Profile Image for Jdshankles.
34 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2018
This book is a really good read, not just for youth ministry, but ministry in general.
Profile Image for Kyle Chambers.
16 reviews
April 19, 2020
while this book is focused on Youth Ministry, The truth, and the application steps can mbe used for any type of ministry
Profile Image for Mitzi.
24 reviews2 followers
December 28, 2011
Can you answer this question? ... What is the appropriate ratio for FULL-TIME youth worker to youth in a sustainable, healthy youth program? (See bottom of this review for the answer.) If your youth minister looks more like the last match on the cover than that third match, or if you are searching for a new youth pstor AGAIN, then you, your pastor, and the parents of youth at your church, as well as your search committee, need to read this book. (Answer: 1:50. Yep. It's true.)
Profile Image for Clint Nelson.
4 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2015
A must read for any youth pastor or youth pastor search committee. Following the wisdom of this book can save a decade of failure.

The last quarter, save the last chapter, are a bit random, but still filled with great advice.
Profile Image for Bogdan Javgurean.
45 reviews4 followers
July 24, 2020
Good starting point brining to think about structures and the long-term plan for any ministry really, but still very introductory, needs more reading or coaching to actually get something done.
Profile Image for John Lim.
17 reviews
December 28, 2019
A friend of mine recommended this book to me as one of two top favorite books on Youth Ministry. Within the first few pages, I understood why it ranked so highly. The first was Mark Yaconelli's Contemplative Youth Ministry, which asks the question "What do you do when your young people come together?" As a complement, DeVries's book asks the question "How do you prime a culture to prepare for those meeting times?"

DeVries perceptively notes the (defective) assumptions, narratives and realities that surround youth ministry. The first few chapters discuss these, such as the excessive expectations of the youth minister; the misguided search for a "superstar" that will fix all their problems; miscommunication between the staff, elders and parents and the youth minister; mistreatment or underappreciation of the youth minister when he comes up short; and the irrelevance of numbers.

The central thesis of the book is that youth ministry has no easy solution, and that no single youth worker is the golden bullet. Rather, successful and sustainable youth ministries depend on the collaboration of the paid youth worker, senior minister, elders, parents, volunteers and youth apprentices in a "constellation" of relationships. Together, they must forge a culture that works within the larger context and vision of the local church. When the culture or climate is one of collaboration instead of criticism and obstruction, the youth worker intentionally leads the creation of an organic structure. These include the creation of a vision document, rhythms of meetings, work and rest, volunteer equipping and others. The book includes a neat checklist as an appendix which is very helpful.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of this book is its admission that youth ministry is hard and messy. Too often churches look for an easy fix and compromise the long-term health of one of its most crucial ministries. Rather, churches must be ready to dig deep and entrench themselves for the long haul as they fight for the souls of their children. Not against them, but with them and for them.
Profile Image for Hillary Leslie.
39 reviews3 followers
January 14, 2021
Densely packed with a lot of good insight into the church systems that create a sustainable youth ministry, covering many issues I experience in my own context which sorely need addressed. At times challenging to read because of how much it highlights the failures, brick walls and feelings of burn out I’ve been encountering over the last three years, and nods to the mistakes made in my rushed approach to my own ministry. Interesting to read during the pandemic and in a vacancy as a lot seems so impossible to resolve at the moment, and making plans seems fruitless. Some of it was difficult to apply to my ministry since it’s much smaller than a typical thriving church in America and some of the systems probably won’t work as well in a smaller church (or one with a limited number of families/youth) but helpful nonetheless. Also comforting to be reminded that in our culture which craves instant results, building a sustainable youth ministry takes a lot of time depending on the context and church climate that you’ve stepped into. Would recommend a senior minister/others involved in programming read this, too. Just wish I would’ve read this in my first year on the job...ha!
188 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2019
"Sustainable youth ministries seek to steward the true Treasure in faithful jars of clay, knowing full well that these vessels of structure and strategy, of leadership and leverage, are only temporary, though necessary, means of bearing the gospel to the next generation."

With the average tenure of a Youth Pastor being 4.5 years & the truth that most ministries take nearly 7 years to see change and growth - it is important that we start to analyze ministry and make the proper changes. Sustainable Youth Ministry helps ministers whether Senior Pastors, Youth Pastors, Elders, Deacons, or others see that Youth Ministries needs to be more than a Youth Pastor. While this book is extremely helpful - at times it feels a bit overwhelming...with the details, the process, the explanation. Over all this book has some great ideas, concepts, and strategy and if "Sustainable Youth Ministries" primary objective was to create awareness in our flawed youth programs, it was very successful.
56 reviews
November 20, 2020
It is a well written book. I listened to half of it but decided it wasn't really helpful to me. I have a very tiny youth group, 3 kids. Which means I get 100% attendance ;) This book talks about Youth Ministry as a business, which is probably helpful in large churches but I am looking for something that gets to the heart of it. Why are we doing this? How man kids stay in church after they age out of youth group? That is a question I had and didn't hear an answer to. ( But again I didn't finish it). There were wise points in organizing a good team etc for youth ministry and I would recommend it for anyone with a youth ministry of maybe 20-30 kids or more. He did recommend some books that might talk more about the heart of youth ministry so I am going to check those out. This book recommended: "Contemplative Youth Ministry" "The God bearing Light" "Present Centered Youth Ministry" "Jesus centered Youth Ministry"
Profile Image for Brad Hough.
235 reviews2 followers
May 26, 2022
4.5 // It was hard rating this book because after each chapter, I was equal parts energized and discouraged. This book is practical and filled with wisdom, and I plan on reading through it again to take more notes and walk through some of the steps it provides. But I was also struck over and over with the feeling of “How will we ever get there?” I want to be clear: that’s an issue of my own heart, not a problem with this book. I’m new to the full-time youth ministry role, and so I’m still pretty deeply overwhelmed. The long-term outlook that Mark DeVries offers is essential, but it is hard. I long for immediate development, but will need to pursue incremental development instead. I did wish the book would offer some examples for (or at least acknowledge the existence of) small youth ministries. Everything seemed to be aimed at large ones. Which I get. But still.
Profile Image for Jake Payne.
9 reviews
August 13, 2020
This book revolves around the concept its own title brings: constructing youth ministry in a sustainable, long-term manner. There are really just a handful of issues DeVries says to avoid when working on youth ministry, but he does a fantastic job of reiterating the many ways a church fails at keeping their youth ministries afloat while also explaining what can be done about it. This book is written specifically for youth pastors, but so many of the concepts in it apply to almost every other ministry a church has to offer. It’s a great read for a pastor of any kind, a church employee, or a volunteer ready to serve God through church ministry.
151 reviews
September 30, 2022
Although this book had a Christian focus, I feel that these lessons can be applied to other religious organizations (e.g., Unitarian Universalism). What I liked about the author's viewpoint is that the church should invest in having a full-time salary for staff. This manifests the church's perceived importance of youth ministry. I also liked how the author shared his experiences, and profiled other youth ministers. I agree with the author that a church should not get hyper-focused on numbers, but instead have a regular youth service to show the church's dedication to children.
Profile Image for Connor Anderson .
61 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2018
Written with the intent to create sustainable youth ministries, DeVries gives helpful information and useful strategies. His book has caused me to evaluate the ministry I serve and how we can improve. Where the book lacks is the idea of the youth leader as a pastor. DeVries seems to picture the youth leader as a project manager who creates programs. Other than that, I recommend it - solely for the value of reshaping youth ministry.
Profile Image for Alex Howard.
32 reviews3 followers
September 8, 2017
Fantastic book. It's not a theological book, it is purely practical. It assumes a working knowledge of youth ministry, the gospel, and the importance of working with students. The main focus is to help equip a youth leader to create a ministry that is healthy and outlives him or her.

It was pretty crucial for me, and helped me change a lot of things about our student ministry.
4 reviews
August 20, 2019
New to youth ministry or thinking of going into it, paid or voluntary, if you are going to read just one youth work book, I suggest this be the one you read. It is honest, easy to understand with no buzzwords or acronyms, and straight to the point. I finished reading months ago but I still flick back to areas to re-read and reflect.
Profile Image for Mike Beets.
14 reviews
October 4, 2020

Read it as part of a Seminary subject on youth ministry. Out of the five books I had to read this one had the most practical information in it. No-nonsense advice that Mark DeVries shoots straight. If your community has youth ministry issues, this is the book for you, but not for the reason you think. It does what the title suggests, very good read.
Profile Image for Samuel Sexton.
19 reviews
March 9, 2021
Must-read for youth ministry. It can be considered the "Youth Ministry for Dummies", or even, "How to be a grown-up Youth Pastor" for youth workers. I am grateful that I am in a church where a lot of these principles and practices are in place, but even still it was refreshing to see new changes and adjustments that I could continue to make to thrive as a youth pastor.
Profile Image for Nick Rodgers.
3 reviews
May 17, 2023
This is a book (it seems to me) for the past, larger church, way of doing youth ministry.

Mark does a good job of showing the pitfalls of this hiring culture that was prevalent in most churches over the past 20 years. It focuses mainly on church leadership and hiring committees.

But I did find the chapter on Friendship Culture to be very helpful and informative.
Profile Image for David.
114 reviews5 followers
May 24, 2019
Super helpful resource for youth ministry that overlaps with all ministry - structure, healthy expectation, planning, volunteers, etc. As we're looking to hire for youth and family ministry and sustain and grow what is currently happening, this book came at a great time.
February 25, 2021
This was a really good book and it changed the way that I looked at youth ministry in a lot of ways. I think this is a great resource and something I will return to if I ever end up in youth ministry.
Profile Image for Sarah Speed.
42 reviews28 followers
September 13, 2017
Very helpful book for my role as a youth minister! I would certainly recommend this read to other church workers- particularly those in youth ministry!
Profile Image for Kyle Leadingham.
18 reviews1 follower
December 13, 2017
A book about youth ministry that actually works! Every youth minister should absolutely read this. It will pay immediate dividends.
Profile Image for Justine Olawsky.
262 reviews42 followers
December 24, 2018
Read for "Family Equipping and Discipleship" class. Lots of good tips for lasting in ministry, even if you're not directly involved with youth ministry.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 96 reviews

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