The Big Bang of Youth Specialties

It was the summer of 1968 when Mike Yaconelli and I resigned from our jobs with San Diego Youth For Christ and became youth directors at two local churches. I won’t go into the reasons we left YFC, but we both needed a little more normalcy in our lives at that time. Earlier in the year, Mike and I traveled to Wheaton, Illinois, home of YFC’s international headquarters, to help write a manual for their new high-school club ministry called Campus Life, which had been developed in San Diego. The new manual (called “Impact”) was published in August of 1968, in time for the upcoming school year. It contained hundreds of great ideas for Campus Life clubs–games, skits, crowd breakers, publicity ideas, special events, discussion starters, you name it. It was a gold mine of youth ministry ideas that made it possible for any YFC leader anywhere in the country to duplicate the Campus Life club model with success.

After the manual came out, Mike and I soon came to realize that such a manual or “idea book” would be very useful for church youth workers (which we now were). But church youth workers did not have access to the YFC manual or anything else like it. So … we began digging through our files once again and wrote a new book simply called Ideas. Like the YFC Impact manual, it contained crowd breakers, games, skits–the kind of stuff that we used to attract kids and make our meetings a lot more fun. We typed it up on Mike’s IBM Selectric Typewriter and had the 50 or so pages duplicated at a local “quick print” shop down the street. I silk-screened “Ideas” on a stack of yellow binders that I had purchased at the San Diego State bookstore and our two youth groups did the collating and assembly of the books.

Before we got the books printed, Mike and I named our new enterprise Youth Specialties. Took about five minutes to come up with that name. There was a business located near us called Corvette Specialties (specializing in parts for souped-up Chevy Corvettes) and even though neither of us owned Corvettes (yet), we thought it was a pretty cool place and a pretty cool name. So Youth Specialties it was. I designed a little YS logo to put on the cover and voila! we were in business.

We put “Youth Specialties” on the title page as the publisher and copyrighted the book (dated October 30, 1968, see above) and started selling them out the trunks of our cars to youth workers we knew around southern California. We took some to a youth ministry retreat at Forest Home and we also had a booth at the GLASS (Greater Los Angeles Sunday School) Convention. We ran an ad in Christianity Today magazine. Lo and behold, we sold all our supply of books and had to print more. Things took off from there. More editions of the Ideas books were written, the first National Youth Workers Convention was organized, and Youth Specialties grew like crazy through the seventies, eighties and beyond. And it’s still having an impact today–under new leadership from Doug Fields and Reggie Joiner. From what I hear, the 2018 National Youth Workers Convention coming up this year is going to be one of the biggest ever.

When we started, we had no idea that our little idea book business would amount to anything but I’m grateful that God was able to use Youth Specialties to accomplish some incredible things in youth ministry over the past half century and helped launch the ministries of many others. I’m sure that if there had been no Youth Specialties, God would have used someone else (and he certainly has done that) but I’m honored and blessed that I got to play a small role in the ongoing history of youth ministry. It’s just hard to believe that it all started a half century ago!

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10 Responses to The Big Bang of Youth Specialties

  1. John Penrose says:

    WOW — 50 years — I remember those days well — Has had an amazing IMPACT on youth ministry over the years — moving from YFC Clubs to Campus Life Clubs and then the transition in Church youth connection/Ministry — truly was a Devine Appointment — Youth Specialities was on the leading edge – HMMM — sometimes maybe even a bit “over the edge” But God has honored those efforts — think I still have some of those old books around somewhere — Blessings
    John Penrose

  2. Marv Penner says:

    Wayne – your faithfulness has been an inspiration to all of us. Thank you for the investment you have made in next generations – and in those of us who have given our lives to youth ministry. I can’t imagine where I would be without Youth Specialties as an ally and resources over the years. And of course – it’s been so much more than ideas, and curriculum, and training events. It’s been a network of friends that has become the very fabric of my life. Thank you for being one of those dear friends. I look forward to every opportunity we have to reconnect. Celebrate well tomorrow!

  3. Michael Shipman says:

    As a youth pastor for over 25 years, and now as a lead pastor, I point to Wayne and Mike, and Youth Specialties as the overwhelming influence and inspiration (besides the Holy Spirit, of course, of my ministry! Youth ministry around the world has been influenced and equipped by the work of these two wonderful pioneers! I am blessed to call the both mentors and friends!

  4. Doug Clark says:

    I wasn’t a youth worker nor a believer in 1968. But by the mid-70s I was using them. And a few years later, met you in Mexicali. I’m so grateful for your faithfulness, vision, model of accessibility as a leader, and your humility. Thanks on behalf of all of us!

  5. Rick Bundschuh says:

    I was working under the pioneering Youth Pastor E.G. Von when he was contacted by Wayne or Mike to see if he had any ideas for this new thing called the Ideas Book. We would be rewarded with $10 an idea if published. We couldn’t believe anyone would give us money for the nutty things we were doing with kids! (Thanks Wayne, those were my first royalty checks)
    What Wayne and Mike did was to round up the wild stallions who were being roped into pretty traditional churches and give them place where these innovators could spark off each other and breathe new life into the church.

  6. Gene French says:

    Hi Wayne

    Yes you and Mike stirred the pot and made a positive impression not only in the San Diego ministry but the nation. Ken Overstreet and I were blessed with both of you guys in your leadership in youth ministry and Youth for Christ.
    The name CAMPUS LIFE for YFC clubs were coined by myself, and we published a four color cover monthly magazine for the “Campus Life” that were sold on the news stands and in the rallies. It carrie local news in each high school along with the gospe.
    I praise the Lord for all He did in making San Diego YFC a national leader and I praise Him for how he used you and Mike for all you did through Youth Specialties” And who could for get the “Wittenburg Door?”
    Thanks Mike for bringing back so many great memories of God’s work in those exciting days.

  7. Larry Thomas says:

    Thanks Wayne! I’m so grateful to God for you and Mike and all the wonderful things y’all did in and through Youth Specialties. Congratulations on the occasion of this milestone!

  8. Ken Rawson says:

    Can’t begin to express my appreciation for YS. While I was a freshman in college I drove from Joplin, MO to Springfield to attend this little thing called a National Resource Seminar and some veteran youth pastor named Doug Fields was the presenter. That was in 1995. YS has been a guiding force in my 20+ years of ministry. And I still have the Ideas library on CD!!!

  9. Karen Gillum says:

    Hello Wayne. In 1980 my husband left, and I was alone with two small children. I was heartbroken, depressed, and frightened. Yet, I knew I had to earn some money. I answered an ad in the paper posted by Youth Specialties-you needed a part time proofreader. I applied, and was hired. The Wittenberg Door was new to me, and as it turned out, I was a lousy proofreader. Everyone was so kind to me though. Judy was a doll, and Caroline took me under her wing and taught me how to process subscriptions. I couldn’t have been surround by more caring folks. I left YS in 1982 with self-confidence and fond memories. I saw your name & wanted to say hello & thanks.

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