The Top 5 Books on Youth Ministry Your Youth Worker Needs to Know

While we review some of the most current and newsworthy books related to youth ministry today at the Next Institute, one of the most common questions we receive isn’t about new books at all. Rather, it is common for new youth workers and churches about to hire youth workers or interns to ask what our top, entry-level resources are. This Christmas season, reach out to a youth worker you care about and find out if they have our top 5 books about youth ministry!

1. Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries: written in 2004 as a manual for search committees attempting to hire youth pastors as much as for your workers themselves, there are a few things (like financial information) that could use updating in DeVries’ classic. But only a few. Sustainable Youth Ministry includes discussions about the 10-20% principle (that churches commonly can support a youth group the size of 10-20% of their church membership), explores the reality that churches that resource their youth ministry (including with finances) reap results (in the same way a funded church planter is able to function), and predicts current trends in youth ministry where many youth pastors evolve to become youth worker trainers/facilitators of team-based ministries.


2. 4 Views of Youth Ministry and the Church edited by Mark Senter III: a discussion-based book where each perspective is given followed by the other three authors responding to the essay itself. While there are similar volumes that have been published more recently, this book best captures major tensions in youth ministry today between preparatory models (seeing youth ministry primarily as a ministry to the children of the church, preparing them for a future adult expression of their faith) and missional models (viewing youth ministry as a platform to reach non-Christian teens for Christ, and to equip existing teens within the church to reach their friends). Also explored are intergenerational models and strategic models (common in some Asian-American churches, this model sees youth ministry as an eventual church plant).


3. Growing Young by Kara Powell and Brad Metzer: Powell is the head of the Fuller Youth Institute, and this book continues her research into best practices for keeping youth engaged in the church for life (see the Sticky Faith series of books for earlier insights into this topic). This does a great job of discussing many current larger issues facing youth ministry today, including the extension of adolescence, ways to incorporate students into the wider life of the church, and new insights into relational evangelism.


4. Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean: Dean is Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, and was a key researcher for the National Study for Youth and Religion headed by Christian Smith (see his data in Soul Searching, Souls in Transition). Almost Christian summarizes her reflections on the NSYR’s results, as well as providing a great primer into her ongoing insights into liturgical/contemplative youth ministry practices. Her chapter analyzing the practices of the Mormon church is worth the book.


5. Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry by Cameron Cole and Jon Neilson: This back-to-basics text approaches common aspects of youth ministry (sermons, small groups, mission trips, worship teams, etc.) and reevaluates them through a gospel-centered lens which argues that nothing in your youth ministry should exist if it does not serve the purpose of communicating the gospel to students. New youth workers would do well to emulate many of the practices discussed here, and veterans will grow even in the ways in which their ministries deviate from these basic patterns.

Honorable Mentions: Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture by Walt Mueller, Hurt 2.0 by Chap Clark, Getting Fired for the Glory of God by Mike Yaconelli

ArticlesStephen Yates