A North American history of global youth ministry (repost)

I had the privilege of co-coordinating a brand new book, GLOBAL YOUTH MINISTRY (Zondervan/YS, 2011), that serves one of the faster-growing areas of youth ministry.   International youth ministry, once relegated to a one-hour session at a youth ministry conferences (and only 15 people showed up) has now become a vocational focus for thousands of youth workers.  Some colleges and seminaries have developed new courses on global youth ministry while others have modified their courses to include units related to this area.  We begin the book by stating:

“The growth of Christian youth ministry around the world has been nothing short of phenomenal. In regions where strategic ministry to youth barely existed 15 years ago, you’ll now discover well-organized ministries with established histories of effectiveness. Where none existed five years ago, a fledgling group of adults works to establish a regular presence among the young people in a community.”

When I’ve asked North American leaders how their interest in global youth ministry developed, I’ve heard a consistent history of how these youth leaders first developed their passion for cross-cultural youth ministry.  I thought this might be a good topic to ‘kick off’ our global youth ministry focus on the website here: How interest in international youth ministry has grown in North America.

[This is a work-in-progress post, so I invite you to send me some material via Email and I'll  keep editing the post as appropriate.]

In recent history, one of the most influential people in championing international youth ministry has been Randy Smith.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Randy wrote and spoke (he still does) about the need for formally-trained youth workers to work beyond the comfortable walls of North America and into the rest of the world.  He started Youth Ministry International to help develop leaders to do just that. His famous quote, that  “97% of the world’s formally trained youth workers minister to 3% of the world’s youth population” is still repeated today.  That challenge resonated with many youth workers and served as a prompt for many current global youth workers who point to Randy’s as the author who first challenged them to consider global youth ministry.

Youth with A Mission has been a consistent champion for international youth ministry.  In fact, it remains the most influential global youth ministry organization as it involves youth workers from countries all over the world, not just North America.  YWAM has provided an effective way to get overseas and be trained to work with youth in another culture, and it is influential in over 180 countries, with over 18,000 staff members serving at over 1000 locations. And they’re not done growing.

SonLife started to develop an international heartbeat as leaders began to implement its ministry model overseas.  These leaders had cross-cultural success, but also learned that North American youth ministry required some ‘translation’ into new cultures.  As these leaders worked with SonLife founder Dann Spader for training and coordination, they formed Global Youth Initiative, an umbrella organization that resources prominent ministries (like Josiah Venture (Eastern Europe), Wavemakers (The Philippines), and J-Life Africa) who employ the SonLife ministry model.

SonLife’s work has intersected at times with another large organization, International Teams. Though not exclusively about youth ministry, iTeams has helped facilitate quite a few youth leaders to establish international youth ministry in different cultures/countries.

Within North America, Youth Specialties and GROUP magazine began to help champion the cause for international youth ministry.  Russ Cline, formerly of Youthworld in Quito, Ecuador and now head of Leader Mundial, used to lead sessions on international youth ministry at the annual National Youth Workers Conventions.  He has been writing a column on global youth topics for GROUP magazine.

Youth Specialties then got more intentional regarding international youth ministry, with a particular focus on Latin and South America, and hired Lucas Leys to become International Director of the Hispanic Division.  As he and the YS President, Mark Oestreicher sought to champion global youth ministry, Lucas started  Especialidades Juveniles throughout Latin and South America while Marko traveled to various countries around the world (e.g. United Kingdom, South Africa, and Korea) to try and establish partnerships and networks.

Other organizations champion international youth ministry. Roger Glidewell set up a nice camp facility in Georgia where his organization, Global Youth Ministry, runs camps, short-term mission trips, and coordinate conferences to help develop future leaders.  In tandem with GYM, Roger established The Institute for Global Youth Studies.  GYM’s work isn’t explicitly about “global” youth work, focusing mostly on youth ministry foundations, but the heartbeat is there for participants to consider the youth of the world.

For the last ten years, Chris Davis has worked to develop Global Youth Ministry Network and their growth has been remarkable. One of the more recent organizations to emerge, and one with a specific focus on global youth and overseas training, is YouthHope.  Developed by former Especialidades Juveniles leader, Aaron Arnold, YouthHope looks poised to be a significant organization that helps people follow their passion to minister in cross-cultural youth ministry. There has been a renewed effort to develop a Canadian youth workers’ network. A national research project to determine what’s happening in Canadian youth ministry and the youth specialties convention continue to serve as focal points for Canadian youth ministry.

In academic circles, the interest in international youth ministry was fueled by IASYM, the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry.  Originally started at Oxford by Pete Ward, Chris Cook, Dean Borgman, and a few others, IASYM was an informed discussion on the theological issues facing global youth ministry.  As Malan Nel (from South Africa, where the most recent IASYM conference was held) and others got involved, its international growth signals that youth ministry as an academic focus is growing around the world.  I’ll discuss the academic growth of youth ministry in a future post.

The recent news headlines have given global attention to youth and their concerns about economics and government.  Globalization and its mechanisms of technology, immigration, accessible education, and affordable travel have helped to flatten the world.  We have moved beyond the borders that once isolated us and we have truly entered an era of global youth ministry.  From the early challenge by Randy Smith to the growth of training centers (and centres), colleges, seminaries, and institutes around the world, the church is responding to the needs of global youth.   It is our hope that GLOBAL YOUTH MINISTRY will be helpful  to the many who minister to and with youth in another country or in their own local community.