What Happened to National Youth Ministries and Conferences?

The movers and shakers of national youth ministry in America look a little different than they did 10 years ago.

While legacy organizations that have traditionally been relied on for providing curricula, resources and training to churches and youth ministers (such as Youth Specialties or Group Publishing) are still around today, they exist in somewhat diminished forms as challenges and new organizations have emerged on the scene.

Likewise, some national organizations like Dare 2 Share or Teen Mania that have been known for hosting national conferences and revival-like events attended by thousands of teens and pre-teens nationwide have either had to “reinvent” themselves or shut down entirely.

What is happening is what one expert in the field is calling the “tectonic plate shifting” in the world of youth ministry development and training.

“We saw just a plunge in national events in every industry with the recession that took place in 2008, 2009, 2010,” Mark Oestreicher, a partner with Youth Cartel, a San Diego-based organization that has trained hundreds of youth ministers since its founding in 2010, told The Christian Post. “In the church world, whether that was a national youth ministry [training] event for youth workers or a national youth event, they really struggled and many of those organizations either went out of business or had to reinvent their way of doing things.”

Oestreicher formerly served as president of Youth Specialties, an organization co-founded by theologian Mike Yaconelli over four decades ago that has grown to provide over 100,000 youth workers across the globe with training and resources to reach the younger generation each year. YS, which has been referred to by some as “the brand in youth ministry,” also hosts the National Youth Workers Convention every November.

(PHOTO: YOUTH SPECIALTIES)A Youth Specialties poster is seen at a 2009 National Youth Workers Convention.

But like its peers in the industry, Youth Specialties has faced its fair share of struggles over the past decade as ownership has changed hands three times in the last 15 years.

“The truth is that training is done differently today than has ever been done before,” Justin Herman, YS’ director of social media engagement, said. “The majority of youth workers who are trained are done digitally. They don’t need to show up to a location to get high-quality training. They can hop on Download Youth Ministry University and they can watch archives of videos that are going to be watched at [the National Youth Workers Convention] this year in St. Louis.”

According to Herman, it’s groups like Download Youth Ministry, which provides youth pastors with all the user-friendly tools and resources they need to better their ministries online, and Orange, which provides youth ministers customizable online curricula, that have essentially stolen the thunder from the legacy groups like YS.

As a matter of fact, DYM and Orange announced in April that they partnered to acquire YS from Real Resources/YouthWorks in hopes of bringing YS “back to life.” Real Resources acquired YS in 2009 from Zondervan about three years after Zondervan purchased the organization.

Oestreicher, who was let go from YS in 2009, said that what has partially been responsible for plaguing YS and more established curriculum houses with their own warehouses has been the same thing plaguing most churches.

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Source: Christian Post