The end of 2010 brought to close an end of a chapter for youth ministry, and I’m not sure how many noticed. Youth Specialties’ story continues, but a chapter of that story has come to an end. The next chapter may be just as exciting and dynamic, but we are turning a page here in the world of youth ministry.
For nearly four decades, Youth Specialties produced some of the most helpful books for youth ministry leaders, dramatically shaping (and championing) the practice youth ministry around the world. From Ideas books (that helped local youth workers be creative), to nurturing and provocative titles (that helped heal and prod youth workers), to academic titles that provided a solid foundation for the next generation of youth ministry leaders, YS publishing walked closely with youth workers, listened, and responded. And risked. They lived on the ‘frontlines’ with youth workers.
After Mike Yaconelli’s tragic death (and I still can’t hear “Blessed Be the Name” and not think of him and how Chris Tomlin opened that YS Conference in St. Louis with “He gives and takes away“…. so poignant), YS entered into uncharted waters and Karla Yaconelli eventually sold YS to Zondervan Publishing, a subsidiary of Harper Collins. Zondervan had been publishing the YS material since the mid 1970s, but the control, editing, and marketing were done by the YS folks. A few years later, in 2009, Zondervan sold Youth Specialties to Youth Works (a great move to a great organization) and yet retained the Youth Specialties label for its youth ministry titles.
This past week, Jay Howver and Roni Meek walked out of the virtual office for YS publishing – YS publishing as we have known it for 40 years – and turned off the lights. Each resigned to pursue new family-friendly ventures since the publishing operations had moved from San Diego to Grand Rapids. (I’m hopeful that Jay will still be involved at some level in some YS titles going forward.)
Though the future is bright for YS/Zondervan publishing, there is an empty space where once there was radical vibrancy. The West Coast grassroots philosophy has been absorbed into corporate efficiency (and that’s not all bad), and a hollow breeze blows (but it’s warm, since it’s from San Diego) where once loud music blared and revolutionary ideas like “Get Fired for the Glory of God” percolated.
It feels a bit surreal.
As I said, and to be very clear, the YS brand is still around – it will continue and be strong. I have two books coming out this year with them. So (and please hear me on this), I am confident that the future for Youth Specialties/Zondervan youth ministry publishing is bright. However, we seen the end of an era for a group of people who were a consistent youth ministry publishing force, a radical entity that championed youth ministry with an abandoned passion.
Thank you to all who worked with Youth Specialties publishing over the past 40 years. Your efforts still bear fruit. And, more personally, thank you Jay Howver and Roni Meek – and Mindi Godfrey, Dave Palmer, Dave Urbanksi, and David Welch – for the investment you made in me as an author during these past five years.
The transition elicits three questions:
1) What will the focus of YS books be going forward? I assume we’ll hear some announcement on this direction soon.
2) Will youth ministry lose its pioneering spirit as we it becomes more and more professional? This has long been a debate in academic circles – what is the role of professionalism (and book marketing) in a profession that is missional and tied to Christ’s call to follow him in self-abandonment?
3) What, if any, publisher will be the one that facilitates the missional (and often experimental) nature of youth ministry? I have an idea, but let’s wait and see.