Shift the focus from programs to friendships. If your youth ministry doesn’t give students the chance to be with the kind of friends they want, the students won’t stick around to participate in the ministry’s programs – no matter how fun or creative they are. Studies have shown that what matters most to students is finding a welcoming environment where they can be themselves and build quality friendships. Do all you can to help them feel wanted, accepted, and connected in your youth group.

Learn the unspoken rules of church politics. Market your youth ministry internally by constantly getting the word out about what you’re accomplishing there so church leaders and parents will understand the ministry’s importance. Keep your supervisor fully informed about what’s going on in the ministry. Before making any significant change, listen to people’s concerns and adjust your plans as necessary. When you’re criticized, don’t react defensively. Instead, learn from the criticism and work with your critics to find creative solutions to problems.

Don’t wander down rabbit trails. Avoid pursuing activities that distract you from focusing properly on the ministry’s core vision. Don’t worry about trying to design your youth group like a successful group at another church, buying more technology, adding more events to your calendar, etc. if it won’t directly help your ministry fulfill its unique vision.

Scale brick walls. Work to overcome challenges when you encounter them. Focus on one issue at a time. Have your team members share responsibility. Hold regular meetings. Set aside time regularly for strategic thinking. Set expectations for problems to be solved gradually over the course of years instead of pursuing futile quick fixes. Avoid anxiety and remain focused on working on strategic plans.

Adapted from Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It, copyright 2008 by Mark DeVries. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com. 
Mark DeVries (M.Div., Princeton Theological Seminary) is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects, a consulting team that assists churches in building sustainable youth ministries (www.ymarchitects.com). DeVries has served since 1986 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 Family-Based Youth Ministry and 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.