At the Youth Specialties Convention, it has been very interesting to see both the differences in me as a participant in the convention and in the nature of this convention and youth ministry itself.
Changes in me
I experience this convention much differently as a 33 year old man with around 10 years of youth ministry experience than I did earlier in my youth ministry career. For instance, when I first came to the convention about 7 years ago, I was about the average aged person at these convention. These days, I look around and wonder if many of the folks that are here should still be in high school.
Also, I find myself coming to these events with a more skeptical attitude than when I was younger. I ask, which one of these folks are just pitching their products? I am definitely more aware of when I am being pitched by someone. Which of these folks have I heard everything they have had to say before? There are some people who do a few things well, but dont do a lot of things different.
Sadly, it is also hard to get as much out of what I am doing than in years past. I used to be able to get a lot out of everything. Now, many times, I feel like I am as knowlegable of those who are presenting on a lot of issues, and if not, I at least can quickly predict where they are going with things.
On a more positive bent, the contemplative stream within the convention has grown tremendously in both quantity and quality, which is from my perspective a very good thing. And as you can see, I have taken advantage of this. This may have ruined a lot of other parts of the convention for me.
Changes in the Convention
It seems to me like with 3 conventions things have been scaled back a little bit. This is just something I have been thinking about...a vibe I have been getting. At the exhibit hall, the giveaways are not as plentyful. The talent is not necessarily of lesser quality, but they there are less prominent acts than in years past. And, maybe because I am getting older, I have connected less with some of them (i.e. Family Force 5) The general session giveaways are also a little less exciting so far (of course this will change if I have a new Bible and WOW CD by the time I leave).
(We just got the WOW DVD Saturday night--one per church group)
Changes in the ethos of the Convention
When I was starting out, there were a bunch of things that seemed somewhat new that were happening. Mark Driscoll and Chris Seay were leading the Postmodern Youth Ministry workshops before "Emergent" started or the Emergent lines of books. At the same convention, the Godbearing Life had just been released by Kenda Creasy Dean, and the YMSP with Mark Yaconelli was just getting started.
Now it seems like youth ministry seems to be searching for the next big thing. I am anxious to hear about "Presence Centered Youth Ministry" and how that relates to this concern.
It is also easy to sense much like in the rest of the country, different factions within the Convention family are more clearly drawing lines. This was especially evident in Tony Jones' workshop, where he clearly and at several times defined "camps". This was helpful in Tony's case because he was very clear from the start about where he came from. But it was also just one example to point to the bigger picture that the ethos of the Youth Specialties convention seems to me to be very splintered. And, I think this is in part because of the loss of Mike Yaconelli, who was able to bring everything together and unify things.
Changes in the Youth Ministry World
The youth ministry world is becoming more flooded with resources and diversified in their presentation. Doug Fields seems to have moved much of what he does with Group Publishing (maybe in part because YS seems to have moved to the left a little theologically??). This is a good thing because I think Group resources with youth have really been struggling of late, and I think this will give them a good infusion of good resources and energy, as well as making Simply Youth Ministry more accessible.
In the publication world, Youthworker Journal has moved from under the YS umbrella. Which has diverified the offerings for publication media in the youth ministry world. And, with the cover article of the new YS journal being a contemplation by Bart Campolo of universalism, it seems that the new publication of YS has also moved closer to the mainline and emergent, and in a more theologically progressive (or less conservative--although I am trying to avoid the traditional labels because there are times I fall in either camp) direction.
All in all, the convention is very helpful, but seems to have lost a little bit of momentum. But I could be wrong about all of this.