Youth Specialties in Transition

I’ve been getting phone calls from people wanting to know how I feel about the recent changes at Youth Specialties. Earlier this year, Tic Long was let go, and last week, Mark Oestreicher (Marko) was also released of his duties. I’m not sure why all of this happened, although I do know that YS was under a lot of pressure over the last year or so to get things back “in the black.” Unfortunately, the general state of the economy more than likely created something of a perfect storm to keep that from happening.

How do I feel? Actually I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t have any involvement at all in YS anymore, nor do I have much of a relationship with its parent company Zondervan. It’s all in the past to me. I still get a few royalty checks (tiny) for books I have written but that’s about it. I don’t get invited to YS conventions and my most recent books have been published by other publishers.

I’m saddened by what I’ve been hearing, and I’m also concerned that things are getting out of control on the internet. People who blog (I guess I’m one of them now) often say hurtful things which are quite often uninformed as well as unkind. From what I’ve been reading, Zondervan is being painted as an evil empire that mistreats its employees, is only interested in making money and just doesn’t “get” youth ministry. While it’s true that Zondervan is a large corporation with shareholders who expect all their divisions to perform profitably, this should not have been a problem for YS. Youth Specialties has never been a non-profit company. It was a profit-making company when Mike and I owned it and making money was just as important to us as it is to Zondervan’s shareholders. Neither Mike nor I had deep pockets to keep YS operating at a loss. It had to make money. Fortunately for us, it always did. We almost lost Youth Specialties in 1989 because of the San Francisco earthquake (and we had to let a lot of good people go that year) but we managed to pull through and survive thanks to some friends and banks who went out on a limb to loan us a lot of money. When you are a business, turning a profit is what it’s all about. That’s how you keep things going. Therein also lies your inherent accountability, keeping you competitive and on the cutting edge of things.

More on Zondervan: When Mike Yaconelli and I started YS in 1968, we self-published all of our books because no Christian publishers would touch them. The market was way too small and the stuff in our Ideas books was controversial at the time, not to mention in very bad taste. We bootlegged them. But an very nice man named Bob DeVries, who was an editor at Zondervan, came to our second National Youth Workers Convention to hear Francis Schaeffer speak. While he was there, he approached us about possibly publishing our Ideas books in a format that would reach more people. We couldn’t believe it. The first Zondervan/YS collaboration was called “Way Out Ideas for Youth Groups” which came out in 1972. That was the beginning of long relationship with the company that resulted in quite a few books and it really helped put YS on the map. Zondervan was distributing our books all over the world. In addition, they encouraged me to write my first “real” book in 1978 called Junior High Ministry which has been revised and republished several times.

All that to say: Zondervan has always been a big supporter of Youth Specialties and its vision. To my knowledge, that hasn’t changed. I don’t think they purchased YS from Karla Yaconelli to watch it disintegrate.

I got a call from a reporter from the Christian Post (an online newspaper) last week and her subsequent article about YS included a few quotes from me (most of them I were accurate). She asked if I thought YS would survive now that the two most recognizable and visible names (Marko and Tic) were gone. I assured her that yes, I think YS can probably keep right on going. There was a time, after all, when Wayne Rice and Mike Yaconelli were the two most recognizable and visible names. After I left and Mike died, names changed but the vision and mission of YS continued. It can still continue.

I feel bad for Marko because it’s never easy to be terminated from your job. It’s humiliating, feels a lot like rejection and can stir up all kinds of negative emotions like anger and anxiety about the future. Maybe Marko is feeling more relief than rejection, I don’t know. I do know that he’s a very talented and capable guy and will likely land on his feet, just as Tic will also. We all of us do in the end.

Like I said, it saddens me to hear all the trash talk about Youth Specialties’ demise. I gave 25 years of my life to it and watched it grow far beyond anything that Mike and I ever imagined when we printed those first idea books way back when. God has powerfully used YS to bring about some remarkable changes in youth ministry and the church and I don’t think he’s finished with it. No obits just yet. My prayer is that YS will emerge even better and stronger under new leadership. But only time will tell.

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23 Responses to Youth Specialties in Transition

  1. Mike Atkinson says:

    So well said, Wayne. Thanks for you perspective…

  2. adam mclane says:

    I agree with Mikey. Zooming the lens of perspective out a bit is very helpful. I appreciate your commentary on what’s going on.

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  4. jeff kinley says:

    good word. life goes on. nothing stays the same. change can be the best thing that ever happened to someone. look to a bright future! thanks, wayne.

  5. Jon Batch says:

    Your insite and kowledge is spot on. I would encourage all of use Youth Workers to pray for Marko and Tic and do our part to stop rumors (which i do believe still is against God’s teaching) and focus on helping both groups (YS and the boys) go where God has called them each to go…

    God Bless and thanks for being a spirit filled leader

  6. Phil Sallee says:

    YS and Zondervan have both served youth ministry and the Kingdom of God well over the years.

    Alas, all print media is facing the grim future of digital technology. All Christians, especially leaders must post reactions on the internet with wisdom and kindness.

    It not easy but it reflects our Master’s heart.

  7. Tash says:

    Thanks so much Wayne.

  8. Greg Wilson says:

    Your wise comments really put this issue into perspective. Thanks.

  9. Wayne, Thanks for the condor and summary from your perspective. Just was thinking back to the days when this all started, hearing the reports at Forest Home Retreats with Youth Workers Fellowship. I still have copies of the original self printed manuals with silk screen looking covers. We all were using the ideas, and they worked. Youth Ministry was where it was at in 60’s and early 70’s, we were all riding the waves, thanks to you guys. Barney

  10. K Lamb says:

    Thanks for your perspective…and extending the grace that, as Chritians, should be extended. It seems the fact that God is at work, he is in control, and it is for His fame and His glory things should be done…not men’s desire and positions, has been forgotten in ministry ay too often…..Praying for truth to prevail and and the Lord’s protection over YS and Zondervan. KL

  11. Paul Fleischmann says:

    There’s nothing like a little history to give perspective. Thanks for speaking up. I too am going through transition at the Network, but I have nothing but high hopes about the way forward…and plan to stay in there swinging until my swinger don’t work! I hope we all will swing away together for the betterment of all of youth ministry.

  12. Thom Turner says:

    As a user of some original YS material in the 70’s as a San Diego Youth Pastor I appreciate all that YS did from beginning through my tenure as a Youth Pastor. Maybe a reinvention is necessary. I too appreciate your words Wayne and hope all works out well for the organization and the guys.

  13. Matt Markins says:

    Thanks for your wisdom and perspective.

  14. Ryan Nielsen says:


    Thanks for the great insight and perspective. This was a fresh look that has been so needed during this time of turbulence. I appreciate what you have shared, appreciate who you are, and greatly appreciate what you have helped to build over the last 30+ years. God Bless.

  15. Wayne,
    Your perspective, as usual, is wise.
    All living organisms need to morph and grow or face death. I’ve been on the cutoff side of an organizational “Pruning” otherwise known as RIF. Which actually feels more like RIP. It’s a loss. It’s full of pain. It’s uncertain. But from the death comes the possibility of new life.
    We of all people, who celebrate Resurrection, should know this.

    YS may need to “die” in some ways to discover the new shape for the future. It seems like a lot of us are doing this in middle of this recession. I hurt for Marko, but I understand the financial realities that Zondervan (and all publishers) are in.

  16. Doug Tegner says:


    Now, that is what I call “fair and balanced”.
    Thanks for a wise, tolerant perspective.

  17. Walt Mueller says:

    Wayne. . . thanks for these words. This is why I have always loved and respected you so much.

  18. Becky says:

    First of all, I want to say that YS has been such a big part of the nearly 10 years I have spent in full time ministry at my church. I have used countless YS resources, have attended 3 conventions (and leave today for the NYWC in Cincy), and have used the website over and over. In fact, the job bank on the website brought me to my job! I’m sad about all the changes, mostly for up and coming youth ministers who may not have the same support system that I did just starting out. Praying, for sure.

    Second, I found a copy of “Way Out Ideas for Youth Ministry” on the shelves of the church library a couple of months ago. It is WAY groovy.

  19. Doug Clark says:

    Wayne, the word out there was your perspective on this was a “must-read.” Now I see why, and I agree. Good thoughts, brother.

  20. Mike Work says:

    Thank you Wayne. YS is such a part of so many of us – it’s hard for to not be emotional and your words bring calm and healing to a difficult situation. Appreciate you.

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