Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries
Synopsis by Jonathan Lobmeyer DCE
Introduction – A Roll of the Dice
Mr. DeVries highlights that most churches approach ministry with an attitude of gambling; without taking specific concrete steps toward healthy ministry the church hopes it will just happen and happen fast. DeVries points out healthy sustainable ministries are not quickly made and definitely not easy. He urges churches to move from the gambling mentality towards one of investment. Churches do this by investing in structure/procedures, resources for ministry, staff, and volunteers. Encouraging words are given for Senior Pastors, search committees, and youth workers.
Chapter 1 – Cracking the Code
DeVries spells out that churches that are struggling with ministry almost universally struggle because of lack of understanding of what it takes to be successful. DeVries labels these ministries as stuck. The author gives 5 questions that unhealthy declining ministries ask on a regular basis and notes why they are poor questions. More importantly DeVries points out what questions we should be asking in order to crack the code of being stuck.
Chapter 2 – The Easy Button
Mark DeVries continues to illuminate the problem of unhealthy ministries. He shares that all ministries that are unhealthy and declining share a common denominator, easy answers to complex problems. Many of these “answers” are unhealthy comparisons, statements of “facts”, and glib solutions to challenges they face. Congregations fall into several problem areas, underinvesting, mis-investing, and the crisis of capacity. He gives five guidelines that guide churches on what is a realistic expectation for their ministries to children and youth.
Chapter 3 – Hoping, Wishing and Praying
The author takes this chapter to point out the flaw in the logic of churches looking (usually frantically) for a superstar youth director. DeVries gives five myths that typically accompany these searches and their inevitable disastrous outcomes if the myths are believed. The encouragement is given that with the right climate and infrastructure an average person called by God can produce amazing results.
Chapter 4 – The Dance Floor
Mr. Devries spends this chapter outlining that unhealthy ministries focus on content rather than the system. He highlights how we spend a lot of time looking at individual components as a problem rather than the whole. DeVries urges churches to focus on the process of ministry rather than the events that make up the timeline of ministry.
Chapter 5 – Building Right
DeVries spends this chapter outlining five important structural documents (Directory, Calendar, Job Description, Recruiting List, Curriculum) healthy ministries have in place to set a good foundation. DeVries then moves on to the four visionary documents (Mission, Goals, Values, Structure) that need to be in place for sustainable growth to happen.
Chapter 6 – Changing Culture
The author takes this chapter to explain that all things can be in place correctly, but without a beneficial environment (climate), little lasting change can be expected. He shows how climate, vision, and tasks are interrelated and interdependent. Through this chapter DeVries offers five important climate control tactics to help ministries on the path of success.
Chapter 7 – Searching Right
Mark DeVries devotes this section to the importance of being clear about knowing what you are looking for when you search for staff. He clarifies several points including: that everyone is interim (it’s a matter of when you leave Earth, not if), three essential roles in youth work (laborer, general contractor and architect), and realistic search committee parameters.
Chapter 8 – Aligning the Heart
DeVries delineates the importance of youth workers taking care of themselves, so they in turn have something to offer. If workers aren’t emotionally/mentally healthy with good boundaries then not only will they suffer, but the ministries they are associated with suffer as well. He asks nine questions meant to draw out the healthiness of a worker.
Chapter 9 – Monkeys, Frogs and Balconies
This chapter is dedicated to providing long term sustainable advice on habits of effective youth workers. Time management, prioritizing, visioning, problem management, and meeting administration are all key components for successful longevity in ministry.
Chapter 10 – Architecting the Constellation
The author outlines the importance of creating multiple relationships of God bearing adults within children’s lives and moving the focus from the youth leader to the people in the congregation. DeVries breaks down the importance of recruiting, developing, and sustaining volunteers for ministry that lasts.
Chapter 11 – The Magnet Effect
DeVries reviews recent studies and actual ministries that are thriving because of a friendship climate present in those successful ministries. He walks the reader through the process that a friendship climate is built and sustained by participants and their leaders.
Chapter 12 – Dancing with Alligators
DeVries main idea of the chapter is church politics exist and always will, so instead of fighting something you can’t hope to change, learn and be healthy in the midst of it. He highlights three main misconceptions that lead to problems and outlines several common mistakes people make in their churches.
Chapter 13 – Rabbit Trails and Brick Walls
Mr. DeVries finishes the chapters with advice that he opened it with, not to get distracted by quick good ideas or bad directions. He then gives examples of how ministries that are effective still encounter brick walls, but deal with them differently than ministries that are stuck. He closes reminding us it isn’t simply paying attention to details, it’s paying attention to the right details (the ones he has shared throughout the book).
Epilogue – Seizing the Unfair Advantage
The author closes the book with several stories that illustrate doing the right things over time ends in success. Nothing is beyond the reach of a church, if they will take the time, effort, and resources needed to achieve their goal of sustainable ministry, found only in the person of Jesus Christ.