Many youth groups go through a boom-and-bust cycle: you have a few good years of youth ministry, and then things seem to fall apart and the kids all stop participating in any youth ministries. After a few years with a struggling youth ministry, things seem to miraculously get better, and you have a few more good years of youth ministry. That’s what we’re going through right now, here in our church. We’ve had a strong high school youth ministry for a while, but this year the program has gotten small. Meanwhile, our middle school youth ministries have been slowly growing for the past three years. Boom and bust.
So how do you create a sustainable youth ministry? According to the book Sustainable Youth Ministries by Mark DeVries, most congregations try the wrong approach to building up their youth ministry. They may look for that superstar youth director (or other paid staffer, e.g., DRE, MRE, etc.), or the young charismatic youth advisors. Or maybe they try to build or renovate dedicated space for youth ministries (a youth room, a basketball court, etc.). DeVreis says all these approaches are bound to be unsuccessful.
Instead, DeVries advocates taking a systemic approach to building a sustainable youth ministry. This is not as exciting or sexy or razzle-dazzle as hiring a superstar staff person, or building a new building. But it’s more likely to work in the long run, providing year after year of stable, sustainable youth ministry. There are no magical solutions; instead, you have to work steadily at building up board-based systems which will support your youth ministry.
I’ve been studying DeVries’s approach, and what he says makes sense to me. And I’ve slowly been working on applying his approach to our youth ministry here in Palo Alto. Here’s what I’ve been working on most recently, as I try to apply his concepts…. Continue reading “Creating a sustainable youth ministry”