NYWC #10: The Sale of YS! or (Everybody else is blogging about this!)

(Author's Note: It became clear to me only after I had read Adam's comment that the previous title of this post could be construed to mean I was suggesting that YS itself had died. I was actually trying to poke fun at the people who were freaking out about it. I failed. Miserably. This could be blamed on a great many things, the first of which being my lack of sleep, or my inability to actually be funny. Sorry if I offended. I do not in any way, shape or form believe YS is dead or even dying. I'm just concerned. And now, on to the show!)

Hello friends.
What an exciting weekend we've had here at NYWC! I hope you've enjoyed these kind of reflective blog posts as much as I've enjoyed writing them. It's been fun to think about how a lot of things don't really change over time, and how even though we've learned a lot in our life-times, there's a lot left to learn.

My over all experience at the convention was wonderful! I really felt like God was speaking to me specifically (I know he was speaking to more than that, but I really needed to hear his voice this weekend!) I learned a lot, I discovered a lot about myself, and I think and I hope that I've grown a lot.

However, there was kind of an elephant in the room the whole way through the convention. At the first big room, an announcement was made that YS had been sold to YouthWorks camps. The arrangement as we were told (in what might have been the worst and most awkward announcement I've ever seen, which is staggering when matched next to all those "minute" for missions...) that Zondervan would be handling the publishing side of things, and that Youthworks would be handling the events.

PR skill aside, I knew this announcement was coming, and it still left kind of a sinking feeling in my stomach. Look back over those blogs I've written this weekend. I have 6 years of experiences just like those. 6 years of learning about youth ministry, learning how to do it better, making friends, experiencing healing and forgiveness when I needed it most, and becoming part of a family. Obviously when all of that gets threatened, a lot of people (myself included) get nervous. We all seem a little nervous.

I want to have hope in times of uncertainty (thank you Andy Stanley, and a mighty boo hiss to the dvd company that somehow forgot to push record for his talk!), and so I'm not saying I'm giving up on YS. It has literally been there for me my entire youth ministry career, which is getting longer than I had thought! (I was looking at Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry in the book shop, and thinking about how that was four years ago! Yikes!) But as is always the case, my friends and I were talking last night, and some great points were raised. And then I read some blogs by some smart people today, and some more great points were raised. And so I thought I would share my thoughts, not to be a jerk who throws stones at people in the hopes of making them feel bad, but in the hopes that some folks from YS/Zondervan/Youthworks will read this (pass it along if you can) and take these thoughts and suggestions to heart. Consider this my comment/suggestion card for next years convention!

1. Business?
One of the things I have heard most through this weekend is that Zondervan and Youth Works will most likely treat this whole thing as a business, where profit is the bottom line. This is tricky. Of course, you want to make money to be able to do more and bigger things. It's a part of the game, when you're in the business of blank, you are in business! Even those of us who find themselves in the business of youth ministry are actually in business. You would not just give away all of your trips for free, you try to cover your costs and offer something amazing to kids. That's all well and good.
But what concerns me is the potential (very critical word here: potential. I'm not saying it's happened already) for business to trump ministry. At Tony Jones' blog, he says that "I think that Yac wanted to make enough money each year to pay everyone and throw a kick-ass Christmas party." The bottom line wasn't dollars, the bottom line was lives changed through Christ.

Please, people in charge now, listen to that. I'm fine with you being a Christian business. I think it's great that we have Christian businesses. But if you plan on using that adjective in front of your name, if you claim to be different than the businesses around you, then you must actually be different than the businesses around you. This of course will mean different priorities and probably even sacrifices. Failure to do so doesn't make you a Christian business, it just makes you a business, at which point I want nothing to do with you. Again, this isn't to say this is happening yet. It's just not hard to imagine a situation in which it could.

2. One Convention?
Last night, Mark Matlock announced that there would be a true National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville. The claim was that YS was not capable of pulling off three conventions and pulling them off well. First of all, that's incorrect. They've been doing it just fine for years, and I was more than a little offended at the idea that none of them were any longer considered "good conventions".
On the surface, the idea of one convention sounds great. All of us, in one room together, for a whole extended weekend? We cause enough trouble when divided into three groups, all together is going to be a blast! Who wouldn't want to sit down front for Crowder with upwards of 10,000 youth pastor voices screaming behind you? It's going to be phenomenal!


There are logistical concerns that may not be on the tip of everybody's mind yet. Were you in the food court at CNN this year? Did you see how hard it was to find a table? Our group spent a lot of time every day trying to find something to eat. Combine this with the fact that everything in Nashville closes at 4 in the afternoon (them musicians gotta get to their gigs!), and I wonder where we're all going to eat? I wonder if you will have to intentionally allow more time for meals, or just hope that we all find food and make it back in time? Either way, chances are there's going to be less time for sessions or big rooms, which sucks big time. That's what we come from.

Or what about hotels? Our church is lucky to have the budget we have, so we were able to have hotel rooms within a reasonable walking distance of the convention center. These were not cheap by any stretch. So we have to assume then that the less expensive hotels (which tend to be farther and father away from the downtown of any city) will be where most youth workers go, and they will sell out quickly. What does this mean for smaller churches with smaller budgets? Are they out in the cold? Will a single convention actually be bigger, or will condensing it like that actually drain a cities resources to the point where it's the same size as any of the conventions we have now? People will miss out...and that's not good.

Maybe one convention is a good business decision (you only have to set it up once, pay the bands once, rent the convention center once, etc...), but I don't know that it was made with youth workers in mind. With that said...

3. Where are our guys?
For as long as I have been coming to this convention, I have been certain of one thing: Tic and Marko were one of us. They didn't just understand our world from a philosophical standpoint, they were citizens in our world. As I watched that announcement on Friday night, I got the sinking feeling that nobody at the top is a part of our world any more. And at the risk of sounding melodramatic, our world is not the easiest to understand.
Who will represent us? Who will be our voice when decisions are made? Who will separate the actual, honest to goodness good youth ministry ideas from the absolutely terrible books that are going to come across Zondervan's desk? My heart breaks for Mark Matlock. I was hoping to get to see him sometime this weekend and talk to him, but unfortunately our paths never crossed. He looks like someone in stress to say the least. If suddenly we're asking him to be our go to guy and our voice, that's a lot to put on his shoulders. And I think he'd do a phenomenal job at that, I trust him fully. But he's not in charge, YW and Zondervan are. So like I said, I'm nervous.

Please, don't take any of this in the wrong light. I'm not mad. I'm not enraged. I'm not trying to stir up a fight (read my previous fights and see how quickly I shy away from them!). I'm simply trying to raise some concerns that are in my head. All in all this convention was one of the best I've been to, and I'm super thankful to the YS family for putting it on once again. But let's be honest, this is the last one like it. Next year's convention will be completely different, and unless some of these concerns are addressed, I feel like we're going to experience some birth pains in the not too distant future.

Thanks again to everyone who started reading the blog through the convention. It's been a blast to write for you! I'm headed to the airport now, and will be back in Pittsburgh before you know it! And then (I can't believe I'm saying this) I'm back to work tomorrow! (Gasp!)
Stay tuned for more stunning adventures at J-Blog!




Adam McLane said...

Thanks for this post. To be perfectly honest it reflect the job that I have to do this December to dispel so much of the assumptions you've made in this post.

If you haven't already, I'd suggest reading the stuff over at:

Also, there have been some blog posts discussing your concerns about "business" by Wayne Rice, Karla Yaconelli, and a few others who have been around a long time.

I know I'm an insider and in a way it doesn't matter what I say because you can always write it off as "he's an insider." But I want to challenge you to give this thing some time. The only thing I can do is show you by our actions that we are not, indeed, dead.

Freyer said...

First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to read this. Aren't you all pretty tired after this weekend? Anyway, I'm honored.
Secondly, that's a big job for you to do to dispel our fears! I hope this didn't come across as jerky, which would be the last thing I want. I think we're just scared, or at least I am. We in youth ministry probably know best that change is scary, but saying that sentence over and over in my head the last couple of days hasn't made it any less scary. In that regard (and maybe this suggestion should have made the original post), I think it's actually CRITICAL that we hear from you "insiders". I wouldn't be able to jump to such conclusions if we were provided more information, which I'm sure will come in time. So I encourage you to get out to blogs big and small to spread the word, and if I can, I'd love to help in any way you could use a little 70 person a week blog. Pass along any information you guys want to get out there, and I'll try to do my small part to help. I still love YS, and still support you, so of course I'm going to give you guys all the time an patience I can muster (ask my wife, it's a lot!). Please, let me know how we can best be praying for you guys at YS in this season.
And again, thanks for taking the time!


Anonymous said...

Jason, I left my thoughts and comments on my blog. www.jayhigham.com

- jay

Rusty said...

I echo many of your thoughts. The one thing I would say is that Nashville has been the best convention town. Atlanta has the worst food options. There are literally 70 eating places in walking distance of the Nashville convention center where as Atlanta had the food court and maybe 10 places.

Josh Cook said...

I've noticed a lot of people talking about moving to one convention in 2010 as if it were a product of Marko leaving. Am I the only one who saw the video of Marko announcing this a while back?

I'm super-excited about a monolithic convention...I hate missing speakers in other cities, and I get especially bummed when I don't get to see my youth worker friends for the mid-west or west coast because they're at a different convention.

Freyer said...

Yeah, but Josh, I think you're missing the greater point here:
Where are we going to go golfing in Nashville in November?