Friday, May 1, 2009

Sustainable Youth Ministry vs. Youth Ministry 3.0

I recently finished Mark DeVries' newest book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, which we're reading as a student ministries leadership team. DeVries' premise is that most churches have an approach to youth ministry similar to gambling; a roll of the dice, find the right youth worker or program or convention, and every past problem will work itself out. Instead of gambling, DeVries argues that there are a very consistent set of factors that need to be in place for a youth ministry to thrive. Each chapter unpacks very practical and digestible ideas about creating a sustainable youth ministry. There are consistent markers for understanding whether a youth ministry is investing rightly, including specific numbers and factors that must be present to foster sustainability.

I appreciated the book quite a bit, as it is filled with practical tools for building a healthy ministry. But it's probably the youth ministry antithesis of Marko's Youth Ministry 3.0. Here are some of the contrasts I observed:

Sustainable Youth Ministry (SYM) is predictable, consistent, and systematic; Youth Ministry 3.0 (YM3) is experimental, organic, and uncertain.

SYM sees numbers as useful and healthy for setting goals; YM3 sees numbers as programmatic and detached from relationship.

SYM has a universal premise (this is for every church, every youth ministry); YM3 has a contextual premise (this is for shaping and molding to your individual church culture)

SYM is about the finding healthy answers; YM3 is about asking healthy questions.

SYM has templates, documents, goals, and outlines; YM3 has metaphors, theories, and values.

SYM is down-to-earth; YM3 is up-in-the-clouds.

A SYM youth pastor is a methodical detail-oriented planner; A YM3 youth pastor is a communal missional anthropologist.

One thing both books agree upon: youth ministry is a messy uphill struggle, but it is a cause worth our commitment. Both also assume that current trends in youth ministry are unhealthy and need to change; they simply differ on what that change looks like. I would highly recommend reading both books with a few other folks passionate about youth ministry, then dialoguing about what resonates and what doesn't. Both books contain valuable insights into the next step of youth ministry.

If you've read both books, what do you think of the above synthesis? Agree, disagree, any insights to add?


  1. Perhaps a better title for DeVries book would have been Sustainable Youth Ministry 2.0. I thought the same things.

    There was some glimmers of usable information in SYM, but I had a lot of the assumptions underlying the book.

    Good comparison.

  2. interesting, joel. might be good to think of them as complimentary books.

  3. Exactly, Marko! A junior high pastor friend in the area went through both books with his team and talked about similarities, differences, and how both could/should affect their own ministry. My fear is that youth ministry folks will embrace one and reject the other instead of seeking the truths and wisdom expressed in both.

  4. gah. sustainable is the next up... as soon as i finish the five other books i am reading. :)
    however, knowing what little i do know, i think that ym 3.0 gives you permission to use frameworks, but that they need to be predicated by discernment of context and Christ.

  5. Thanks for this, Matt. Not going to lie, I'm still lumbering and thinking on the implications of both texts.

    Curious, do you think there is an emerging demarcation in practice?

  6. I loved this review and a very interesting illustration. I never thought about comparing and contrasting these two books.

    It is interesting to see how both author's personalities and tradition help shape their perspective on YM.

  7. I agree with all your observations about Sustainable Youth Ministry. I have Youth Ministry 3.0 coming in the mail right now. Thanks for the suggestions!