Sustainable Children’s Ministry

The Story Behind the Book

We were finishing up our last visit to historic Midtown Church. It had been an incredible 18-month journey. The youth ministry had gone through an undeniable transformation—the youth pastor now felt empowered, a full volunteer team was working together with a well-defined vision and goals, and the culture had shifted from chronic negativity to unbridled enthusiasm.

We were sad this would be our last visit.

Then Pastor Janet asked an odd question, “Can you do this same thing for our children’s ministry?”

I paused, uncertain. I knew next to nothing about children’s ministry, and I was pretty sure the rest of our Youth Ministry Architects team was in the very same boat.

She saw my uncertainty and spoke before I could:
“Listen, it’s not really the children’s-ministry-specific work that we need help with. We don’t need help with crafts or VBS or getting toys for the nursery. Those are things we have down. What our children’s ministry needs help with—and desperately—is with things like

● building volunteers,
● developing a check-in and follow-up process,
● creating a parent ministry,
● designing a great communication plan,
● finding ways to invite more young families into our church,
● establishing a clear vision, direction, goals, and structure—that kind of thing.

Isn’t that what you do?”

I was still pausing.

At that point, Youth Ministry Architects, was still a young ministry. We had worked with fewer than 100 churches, helping them build sustainable youth ministries. Youth ministry was the world I knew and understood.

For my entire adult life, 36 years of it anyway, youth ministry had been my focus. Some would even argue—I would be one of them—that my first church hired me to do youth ministry way before I was an adult myself (Some of you who have had the privilege of working alongside a youth minister like me may know exactly what I’m talking about!.)

Finally, I answered, “You know we know next to nothing about children’s ministry?”


“And you still want us to work with your children’s ministry?”

“Right.” She was smiling.

And so, on the unassailable strength of Pastor Janet’s smile, Children’s Ministry Architects was born.

Our staff understood how to build sustainable ministry systems. But we also knew that we had to have someone with children’s ministry expertise to join our team, and quickly. Little did we know of an entirely separate story going on in Texas.

Enter Annette
Annette Safstrom was two years into building a children’s ministry at a new campus of a multi-site church in Texas. Unbeknownst to her, the leadership of her church had brought in a group of consultants to secretly observe and evaluate the church’s ministries on a Sunday morning.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that Annette was devastated by the report she received. Despite having well-trained teachers in place ready to welcome children right on time, despite having a game plan in each classroom that created a warm and exciting experience for children, despite the fact that children were having the time of their lives, the report identified a few unexpected “issues.”

There was a first-time visitor child who used foul language in one of the classrooms, the interim check-in station was in an awkward location, and the new building just lacked the kind of “flash” and “pop” that more innovative churches might have for indoor play. They just didn’t have the same exciting toys or slides, or décor that families in our suburban area had come to expect from newer churches. So in addition to getting to work addressing some of the challenges raised by the evaluation, Annette got curious.

So she did what curious people do. She turned to Google.

She googled “church consultants,” not even knowing a week before that such a thing existed. She said, “I ran across all kinds of websites—almost all of them featuring well-educated, stuffy looking, old, white men,…until I found Youth Ministry Architects.”

On the Youth Ministry Architects site, she found a copy of my book, Sustainable Youth Ministry (IVP, 2008). Being a stuffy looking, old man myself, what a relief that she saw the book before my picture! Annette downloaded Sustainable Youth Ministry that night and read the whole thing in two days.

Later she told me, somewhat embarrassed, that she cried through much of the book. Having felt the pressure in previous churches to focus on flash over substance, she felt like the book had put words to the longing she had to build a ministry that didn’t depend on expensive gimmicks to do faithful children’s ministry.

Within a few years, we had more churches asking for help with their children’s ministries than we could have ever imagined. And Annette was leading the charge.

Then one day, when Annette and I were working on a project together, she got the mischievous look on her face and said, somewhat unflatteringly, “You know, Sustainable Youth Ministry is good and all, but…”

She made it clear that some of the principles in Sustainable Youth Ministry don’t transfer naturally to children’s ministry.

For example, she said, children’s ministry does not tend to attract the stereotypical “superstar” or pied piper like youth ministry does. In chapter 2, we’ll introduce you to a much more accurate metaphor for the unfortunate role that many children’s ministry leaders fall into.

Before that single conversation was over, we agreed that Sustainable Children’s Ministry needed to be written and that we should write it together.

Mark DeVries
President, Ministry Architects

From Sustainable Children’s Ministry
By Mark DeVries and Annette Safstrom
Intervarsity Press
Copyright 2018 (used with permission)

Are you a children's ministry leader on the edge of burnout?

Do you find yourself working harder and harder to tame the chaos?

Mark DeVries and Annette Safstrom know how you feel.

Flash and fizz can be effective at attracting young families, but without sustainable systems beneath the unforgettable moments, the impact is almost always short-lived. In this practical resource, you’ll learn how to recruit volunteers, partner with parents, navigate politics, and care for your own soul instead of frantically scrambling to do it all yourself.

Sustainable Children’s Ministry will help you build a ministry foundation that will still be standing long after you are gone.