Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mark DeVries' new book, Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn't Last and What Your Church Can Do About It, (IVP Books, 2008).  

You've got a passion to help young people grow spiritually, lots of creative ministry ideas, fun programs and events, and cutting-edge technology. Yet your church's youth ministry is still failing to attract many students, and your latest in a string of youth pastors has resigned.

Sound familiar? If so, don't despair. It is possible to build a lasting youth ministry that has a powerful impact on the lives of many students – if you lay down the right foundation first.

Here's how you can build a youth ministry that's strong enough to last:

Don't push the "easy button." There are no easy answers or quick fixes that will lead to a strong youth ministry. Be willing to put in lots of effort over a sustained period of time to invest in your church’s youth ministry for the long haul.

Think clearly about what your ministry needs. Too often, youth ministry job postings are either too vague or filled with unrealistic expectations. Ask God to help you understand and communicate the ministry’s real needs well.

Help make a superstar instead of looking for one to come to you. Rather than spending time trying to recruit a youth pastor with superstar qualities (like charisma, compassion, and creativity), build the kind of ministry infrastructure that will help any moderately gifted youth pastor thrive in his or her role.

Look at your system before your content. While the content of your youth ministry is important, it can’t be delivered properly if your ministry’s system is flawed. Focus on the system first: whether staff members trust each other, whether staff and volunteers are working with clear expectations, whether the ways people typically get things done in the ministry are productive, etc. Keep in mind that systemic changes must be built deliberately over a course of years for even the best content to reach students well.

Develop key documents. Create a directory of students, another directory of staff and volunteers, and a final directory of people who have visited your youth ministry during the past two to three years. Be sure to update these directories annually. Map out the ministry’s annual events on a calendar. Write job descriptions that clearly outline the scope of staff and volunteer position responsibilities. Then give people annual reviews and be willing to revise their job descriptions if necessary. Build a master recruiting list by deciding how many volunteers the ministry needs for the coming year and who the most likely prospects are to call. Create a curriculum template – a game plan of how the ministry’s teachings will be structured for the next six or seven years. Craft a mission statement for the ministry. List measurable goals to aim to achieve over three years. Write a statement of values. Develop an organizational chart for the ministry.

Change the vision. The best time to consider a new initiative or trajectory in youth ministry is just before the momentum of the current focus has peaked. Every five years or so, bring key stakeholders together to cast a fresh vision for the ministry. Dream boldly and ask God to breathe new life into the ministry.

Change the culture. If the culture of your youth ministry isn’t healthy, change it before it changes the people working within it. First work to give stakeholders visible evidence that something good is actually happening in the ministry. Make one small change after another and trust that, slowly but surely, bigger changes will result. Ask God to help you avoid anxiety and be joyful despite the problems around you. Your attitudes will help other people remain positive. Use stories and metaphors to affirm the progress you see and to encourage others to notice God at work in the ministry. Use rituals, traditions, signs, and symbols to cultivate a positive sense of community identity within the ministry.