Leading Christian publisher Zondervan acquires Youth Specialties


EL CAJON, Calif. — Youth Specialties, the nearly 40-year-old home-grown youth publication company that evolved into one of the world's leading niche training and resources ministries, has been acquired by Christian publisher Zondervan.

The agreement, the terms of which were not disclosed, does not, however, mark the start of a new relationship. For 30 years, Zondervan and Youth Specialties have teamed up for a co-publishing and distribution partnership that has produced more than 500 resources to help youth workers connect with kids and experience the adventure and excitement of faith.

"Youth Specialties has consistently proven itself as an innovator and trusted resource committed to meeting the unique needs of youth ministries," Doug Lockhart, Zondervan president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "Our three-decade relationship has been extremely positive and complementary and our respective missions are closely aligned. This acquisition is a natural fit as Zondervan continues to look for ways to expand our impact. We look forward to embracing the entire YS team into our family and to supporting their efforts to reach the next generation."

Youth Specialties will remain based in San Diego and retain its current staff of about 35, including president Mark Oestreicher, who will remain in his current role providing leadership and overseeing daily operations of the company.

Youth Specialties serves more than 100,000 volunteer and career youth workers through conventions, training seminars and youth worker retreats annually. The company also serves youth ministries with books, CD-ROMS, videos, the magazine Journal of Student Ministries and online resources. It also operates a Spanish division, Especialidades Juveniles.  

"Our team is excited to work even more closely with everyone at Zondervan as we strive to continue Youth Specialties' tradition of service to youth workers" Oestreicher said in a news release. "I'm confident this will be a smooth transition all the way around as we've already felt like part of the Zondervan family for many years."

The acquisition comes more than two years after Youth Specialties co-founder Mike Yaconelli was killed in a car accident in October 2003.

Yaconelli was described by company officials as a visionary who was passionate about creating a company that could inspire youth leaders to change the world, "one kid at a time."

His widow, Karla Yaconelli, although no longer an owner of the ministry, will continue to maintain an active role within the company.

"I am confident that Mike would be 100 percent supportive of this decision," his widow said. "This partnership will enhance who Youth Specialties is and what we do. Our focus will remain the same—equipping youth workers—yet teaming with Zondervan provides us with both long-term stability and additional resources to increase our reach and offerings and continue to try new and innovative things. That is what my husband always hoped and prayed for."