YouthWorks takes over YS

As many of you already knew, there had been a strange brew mixing over the past month or so with Youth Specialties.  I recently wrote about the “letting go” of long-time YS president Mark Oestreicher and I, like many of you, assumed more changes would be shortly arriving.    The release of YS Marko

A few days ago, I was attending NYWC 2009 (The National Youth Workers Convention) in Atlanta.  The president of Zondervan Moe Girkins, who made the decision to fire Marko, was brought up on stage to clear up the air,,, so to speak.  Silence pervaded the gathering.  Pins could even hear themselves drop.

Moe really didn’t answer why that particular decision was made, but she did share about Zondervan’s relationship with YS and its vision for the future.  I appreciated the boldness and courage that it took for her to stand in a room of 3,000 youth workers (many of them still pissed off) and explain herself.  I give her much credit.

Then the ball dropped that YS would in fact be purchased by a non-profit organization called YouthWorks. They invited their president Paul Bertelson to come on stage and share briefly their history and vision for this new partnership.

The audience again was stunned, partly due the fact that the convention had just begun and also that very few people have heard of Paul Bertelson.  Here is a brief overview of YouthWorks:


When YouthWorks was founded in 1994 as a youth missions organization, our dream was to be a broader resource for the church—to “Help the Church Be the Church.”

Over the past 16 years, the YouthWorks ministry has become a family of ministries serving children, youth, college students and mult-generational groups.

The addition of Youth Specialties to the YouthWorks family of ministries is a wonderful complement to our long-term ministry vision and mission. We are excited about this new stage in the ministry life of YouthWorks and Youth Specialties! —Paul Bertelson           President & Founder, YouthWorks

Now, within a few hours, I had contacted a few friends who are well connected in youth ministry and they assured me that this is probably a good thing….Certainly finanicially and very possibly for spiritual/ministry/growth implications as well.

I have also included 2 brief tweets on the subject.

Andrew Root (@rootandrew) wrote:

“The YouthWorks thing is good news to me. That cheer you hear is from Luther Sem as MN becomes more the center of the future of the church.”

Tony Jones (@jonestony) wrote:  (I will also link his blog article about the news at the end of the post…very good insights)

“Having helped found YouthWorks, I think they’ll do a great job with Youth Specialties.”

For what its worth, here is my $.02 (that would be two cents in case you didn’t follow)

I love YS.  I started reading YS material over 10 years ago and have been attending the NYWC conventions since 2003.  They have revolutionized the way I think and do youth ministry.  From its beginning, YS tried to do 3 things:

Ideas. Publishing. Events.

It’s hard to do all those things well and maintain enough financial stability to keep yourself afloat.

If YS tanks it, then we all loose out, right?

A few years back (maybe 4-5) Zondervan came in to buy/parter with YS for its publishing.   This has certainly helped YS to market its authors, resources,  books and curriculums to a far greater audience.

Now, YouthWorks comes in and takes over the Events.   I assume this will include the NYWC and One-day training.  Perhaps they will expand events or go in the opposite direction.

Either way, this leaves YS to do what it first did and does well.  Create and Innovate Ideas for youth workers.

It also now gives a youth ministry/mission organization a chance to step in and help rethink the purpose of events.

Personally, I have been thinking about these events for a few years and wondering if some changes and updates were needed.  Not sure what, but I sensed that something needed changing.

I have heard over the years that the cost was too much and distance too far, too much emphasis placed on youth min “celebs”, too much “for profit” marketing, too taxing for YS staff and trainers, etc…

I hope YouthWorks will consider these factors in its decisions and really actively listen to the needs and concerns of everyday youth workers and volunteers.

Already, a major shift has happened.  It looks like rather than holding 3 conventions a year (which has to cost a great deal of money), they will hold one next fall in Nashville.  So, there will truly be A National Youth Workers Convention.

Here are a few other suggestions I would like to propose (hey, you never know who may be reading)

Either do the once a year large Convention or hold smaller regional ones that youth pastors could bring their teams to.

I would love to see a similar but smaller version come up to the Northeast.  Maybe you don’t rent out the massive convention center in the biggest city, but you book all rooms and halls at a decent size hotel.  Keep the cost low and no flying necessary.  Youth for Christ holds its annual Excel conference in upstate NY by Albany and does a great job (although we don’t go anymore), but it would be great to have mid-sized 500+ conference for youth leaders.  YS used to get big name bands to come in for worship and shows and have already made the switch to local bands.  Rather then bringing in 6 nationally known speakers, you could bring in 1 “celebrity” and supplement them with local speakers/pastors/trainers/authors who actually understand the dynamics and complexities of your particular culture and context.

Secondly, and maybe what will happen, would be to offer affinity gatherings.

For instance, one year you want to connect, network, and learn about spiritual formation in youth ministry.  Everyone interested in that area (affinity) heads down to Kansas City and YS partners with Mike King and Chris Folmsbee (Youthfront and Barefoot) and the local youth ministries down there for a few days.

Andrew Root is already doing something similar at Luther Seminary this March.  The First Third conference is basically an academic affinity gathering looking into the theology of youth ministry.  People like Andrew Root, Tony Jones, and Kendra Dean will be there to help lead the dialog.

Perhaps an innovation/creativity gathering with the fine folks of North Point Community Church down in the Atlanta area.

Postmodern Youth Ministry connected with colleges or seminaries and youth groups either in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest.

Some could appeal to mega church youth ministries, while others may be perfect for average to small size groups.

As I often say, youth ministry here in the Northeast is vastly different from other places and it might be the same for you.

Therefore some form of regional and/or affinity gatherings may be the future of youth ministry, especially if you could do them in cost-effective ways (churches,hotels, colleges, local bands, speakers, etc…)

2 things are happening that are both necessitating and facilitating these changes:

1) Our economic situation is causing us to rethink and question if spending $1,000 for one person to attend a conference is a good thing and if paying $5,000 for a speaker or band is good stewardship.

2) We are part of a beautiful move of God and things are changing.  Change can be difficult but is often necessary to give birth to something new and wonderful.

After this major announcement I overheard someone at the conference say “Well, this is end of Youth Specialties.  Yaconelli is rolling in his grave right now.”

I’m not so sure.  I think this might be the beginning of something great, especially if YouthWorks makes efforts to to keep the innovation and prophetic voice of YS going.

From the press release  “Overall, Youth Specialties is a wonderful complement to the YouthWorks ministry. But, just as important, we hold dear the stewardship of the Youth Specialties legacy that is being passed on to us.”

Tony Jones\’ thoughts on acquisition

YS press release


Changes for NYWC in 09?

Regarding YS conventions, I continue to meet youth workers by the dozens who are struggling to do ministry in the “chosen frozen” of the Northeast. Metro NYC and New England to be exact. As you can notice from the recent Presidential election, there North East is very similar in its ideologies, philosophies, worldviews, and perception of religion..especially “Born Again Christians”

Often, they fellow youth workers share similar frustrations with these type of conventions in that there is no voice from from the Northeast. The ministry and societal realities in the rest of the country are MUCH different than the Northeast (even southern NJ and Philly are different).

The concept of Christian clubs at public high schools is foreign, See you at the Pole is not a highly favored, attended, or welcomed event, and the idea of a “youth pastor” hanging around the locals schools and parks seems kind of creepy and scandalous to many.

So I propose that YS offer a forum for discussion or a seminar about the difficulties, struggles, and hopes of youth ministry in the North East and what it could mean for the future of youth ministry across the board.

What works in other parts of the country simply does not work here.
Also, for the vast majority of youth workers in the North East, they will never have a big budget, big youth room, and hundreds of students and volunteers. We do not have a culture of Christianity or youth ministry and I do not see that changing anytime in the near future.
That is just the way it is..and it does not have to be frowned upon or looked at with discouragement anymore. Perhaps God is doing something new in the North East that will help transition youth ministry into the coming postmodern culture.

Usually the trend in the past (if they have previously attempted something like this) is to find someone from the biggest youth program in the are and label them the “expert”.

Speakers like that (even if from the Northeast) still leave me thinking “But that is not like my church at all”, or thinking that the bigger the program and church the better. (which i happen to disagree with at some levels) Often, the end result once again is that we end up leaving more frustrated and discouraged with our own context and situation than before.

My other though about possible additions/changes to the National Youth Workers Convention for 2009 is to somehow putting flesh on the bones of “emerging” theology and thinking in the realm of youth ministry in a traditional church.

For most of us who find solidarity with much of the this emergent type of thinking and ministry, going out to start a new church is not an option or desire. Yet, many of the speakers have done that or are simply authors, and no longer in the “trenches” of denominational church youth programs.

Over my six years attending, I have seldom met a seminar speak who is also engaged (as I am in) in the thick of youth ministry.  Many times, they oversee large number of volunteers who actually do the youth ministry, or again they might be youth ministry authors or professors.

When was the last time you saw a convention speaker also sit in with his or her staff for the rest of the seminars or browse through the resources in the exhibit hall looking for new ideas.

Personally, an elitism seems to permeate many of these conventions, and therefore it makes it hard for me to really find commonality with many of the speakers. A lack of commonality often can lead away from inspiration and hope and towards isolation, envy, and discouragement. I know that is not Youth Specialities intentions.

I do appreciate the number of speakers who have take time to meet with me, dialog about ministry and family, and offer their friendship to me (and not just their business card and discount on their book!)

So..I propose YS finds your everyday normal youth pastor to lead some seminars for the vast majority of these attendees who are and always will be serving at some small local church.

Additionally, some seminar entitled “finding ways to transition from traditional youth ministry to emerging ministry without having to leave your church!” could be attractive and inspiring, especially if delivered from somone who is still in the process of trying to figure out what that looks like in his or her context (not an “expert”).