Youth Ministry 3.0 | Notes & Review

Mark Oestreicher (Marko). Youth Ministry 3.0: A Manifesto of Where We’ve  Been, Where We Are, and Where We Need To Go. Zondervan/YS, 2009. (150 pages). There are dozens (if not hundreds) of reviews online.


CHAPTER 1: The Need for Change exhorts us to adjust our thinking.

To be fair, we youth workers are doing what we’ve always done — trying to love teenagers to the best of our abilities and help them experience the love of God. Our hearts are right (for the most part), but — I believe — there are flaws in many of our assumptions and methods. A disconnect.

Some of these flaws exist because we wrongly adopted cultural priorities into our youth ministry thinking. But more often our flaws exist because while our thinking was correct — for its time — the world of teenagers has changed, and we’ve been slow in our response. (25)

CHAPTER 2: Framing Change in Youth Culture offers a very brief overview [1] of the development and evolution of “adolescence” since Granville Stanley Hall published Adolescence in 1904. Here, there are two major pieces. One, “the low-end age marker has changed due to physiology, and the upper-end age marker has changed due to cultural issues.” (31) Two, there are three “tasks” of adolescence, Identity, Autonomy, and Affinity.

My proposal is this: While these three adolescent tasks … have continued to be the defining mud-wrestling pit of the adolescent experience, the prioritization of the three has shifted through various eras of modern youth culture. … And now in this post-millennial era in which we find ourselves, the dominance of youth culture (a shift in which youth culture became the dominant culture of our world) has moved affinity to the top. … This is where youth ministry is failing. We adjusted to the first change in priorities (from identity to autonomy), but we’ve been slow in our response to the second change (from autonomy to affinity). Youth ministries are built on assumptions and values and methods that are outdated for the teenagers we passionately want to serve today. (43)

CHAPTER 3: Youth Ministry 1.0–Post-World War II Through The 1960s
CHAPTER 4: Youth Ministry 2.0–1970s Through The End of the Century
CHAPTER 5: Youth Ministry 3.0–Naming Our Preferred Future

The summation of the thesis for YM3.0 is in these three words: “Contextualization,” (72) “Communional,” (105) and “Present” (77) Below is Marko’s graph with an additional row that I’ve added which I’ll explain below in my critique.


CHAPTER 6: So…How Do We Get There? Perhaps the most cogent and potent chapter.

Contextualized youth ministry doesn’t come from a book or a conference — two things Youth Specialties offers! It comes from discernment. And discernment always involves inquiry, always involves reading and thinking, always involves careful listening, always involves wrestling with questions that might not be answerable, and always involves the Holy Spirit. …

Youth Ministry 3.0 is a shared journey, utilizing a shared discernment process and involving both adults and teenagers. (86)

Do less (95) because “communion necessitates small.” (99) Help Students Experience God (emphasis mine, 100) This requires us to be “slow,” “simple,” “fluid,” and “Jesus-y.” (106-7) Finally, “don’t be driven.” (113f.)


The strength of this book is its accessibility and inspirationality (hey, if Marko can make up words, so can I! 🙂 ). I do commend this to anyone working in youth work, or as even some have suggested, to anyone working in the church as it will quickly help to bring understanding, language & articulation, and community to the feelings and “sensings” that happen to all who are passionate yet frustrated, visionary yet stuck in a rut, and truly desirous of influence and revolution yet feel trapped and ineffective.

[In an information age, it is easy to get overwhelmed on research and data, and ultimately how much we can truly understand. So, for that, I’m thankful for the “Mavens” (as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, those who are information collectors) who are willing to assimilate the information into reachable and usable forms].

I would suggest, however, that some caution must also be taken when reading a book like this. As it is brief and to the point, and powerfully motivating and inspiring, it can (ironically) compromise some bigger contextual realities that are critical to the driving points. I offer the following as a loving critique (perhaps “supplemental” to the others that already exist), not necessarily a direct “criticism” of his ideas.


Whenever there are shifts and changes, there is always a human tendency to think “replacement” rather than “redemption.” We’ve done this theologically with Judaism (which is a whole other discussion), and we do this on pragmatic and philosophical levels in ministry as well. When it comes to YM3.0, many may tout this paradigm to be “better” than YM1.0/2.0 (many already have). Marko actually does a good job tempering this from becoming, what I call, an overt “generational chauvinism.” Yet there are still hints of it in the book, especially when talking about programming.

Subtly, while “proclamation-” and “program-driven” ideologies are categories of older eras, I don’t believe it’s fair/honest to say we ought to abandon these “ways” (i.e. “models”), as is inferenced in this book. I think what Marko is critiquing (and rightfully so) is not the “vehicles” of the ministry, but the “values” of it. In other words, we can still “proclaim” and “program” today and for the future of YM3.0 (and we do, as exemplified by the examples he gives in the book; if we’re honest, they really are “programs.”) But, what we must do is ask the ever so potent questions of “why” and “how” we are proclaiming and producing our programs. They may take new forms, and they may be imbued with new meanings, but the essence of what proclaiming and programming is remains essentially the same, a fundamental thread in the fabric of our existence.

Quickly, books and blogs are essentially a “proclamation” vehicle. Multiple-youth-groups is a new way of programming. And, it’s ironic to write in a book that “contextualized youth ministry doesn’t come from a book or a conference.” (86) Perhaps. But the idea, the ethic, the concept is coming through the vehicle of books and conferences, blogs, etc.

To sum, I believe many have come to want to abandon “programs,” not because “programming” is bad, but because “program” had unconsciously become the value, rather than simply understanding it as the vehicle. We still need to get from point A to point B in life and in ministry. We just also ought to think carefully that we are not abandoning certain forms (e.g. “proclamation” and “programming”) mistakenly for new values (e.g. “presence”). That is, in my opinion, a false dichotomization that could be more damaging than helpful. [2] And as I mentioned “redemption” above, perhaps a better way to view what we do is to think that we are in the business of redeeming old vehicles (e.g., the “program”) for their original purpose, infusing them with fresh values (e.g. “presence”).

Why is this point so important? Because the YM1.0/2.0/3.0 shift is a cultural “context” that is deeply informative and foundational to what we do (again, Marko does a good job recognizing the values of the past). And our acceptance of this “redemption” reality is critical to the principles of humility and harmony that are essential to YM3.0, and 4.0, and … etc., as we move into the future. (Some of this idea comes from The Leadership Challenge, specifically Part 4 “Challenging The Process”).


I’ve added the bottom row (audaciously and humbly) to Marko’s graph for the simple reason that if a shift in “thinking” is what is needed, then we must also understand the epistemological shifts as well. Now, this opens up a whole new area for discussion that is too lengthy for a blog post like this. However, I believe it’s helpful to have at least some epistemological introspection. As I have critiqued Marko’s summation of adolescence as being very brief, so shall I follow suit with epistemology.

I would suggest that in YM1.0, our epistemological ethic was “We know what you don’t know.” And for the most part, a lot of that was true. Older generations had what younger generations didn’t. However, as information shifted, technology advanced, and the balance of power and authority began to erode with those developments, we began to understand that kids actually know more than we do (YM2.0). Hence we came understand that “You know what we don’t know.” (Leonard Sweet uses the story of his 10 year old telling him how to program the VCR). For the first time in history, younger generations had what older generations didn’t. And worse than that, what older generations needed. That is the dawning of the information and technological age. However, as information becomes ubiquitous, and anyone anywhere can access virtually any information for any reason from any device, and they can do it faster and more remotely than ever before, information becomes less valued. (Enter YM3.0 and Marko’s writings on “experience.”) I suggest the new epistemology is, “Who cares what anybody knows?” Because you can access “known” material anywhere, at any time, information is less of a valued/precious commodity. Information is no longer power, at least in the same way it was.

What I don’t know, is what I haven’t experienced. I do wish Marko had spent more time on this in his book, as this may be one of the most critical pieces for all the issues of identity, autonomy, and affinity; that these three come through what one experiences, rather than what one understands/knows.


In academic terms, epistemology is giving way to phenomenology. This needs to be understood in two ways. What can be known and understood is less important than what is experienced. AND, what is known and understood comes through what is experienced. That’s why the shifting in YM3.0 must take place, but also why proclamation and programming can’t be thrown away. We have to retool the program, and we have to re-translate our proclamations to become “cultural anthropologists” (as mentioned in the book, cf. Tim Keel’s Intuitive Leadership), because if a proclamation (through various kinds of rhetoric) and the environment (through various kinds of programing) can provide the appropriate experiences (the phenomenological result inside a person’s soul), then we will have appropriately and synergistically brought our ideas and pragmatism together, and we can charge into the new era and YM3.0 with confidence. To reiterate, these pieces are critical, and as I suggest, the very vehicles through which this experience comes.

I truly sense that if we don’t hold to this reality, to this tension appropriately, we will simply “react” to what “doesn’t work,” and fall back into “replacement” thinking. We need to think “redemptively,” which is in many ways, simply a realignment of what we do with what we believe.


The only last comment I’ll make is to suggest that while Marko’s book is fantastically adequate for the youth workers who need this kind of exhortation, I lament that often times church workers only get this kind of insight through ministry-minded and “Christian” books, (like Shaping of Things to Come). While there is nothing wrong with this, if we’re not intentional at reading and experiencing the world outside the context of the church, we’ll never fully appreciate and understand what it means to be The Church. The flip side to the “context” coin is “contrast,” seeing ideas and concepts through various lenses, not just our predisposed set. Much of the big cultural ideas can be found in business and marketing books (e.g., Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Patrick Lencioni), publications by journalists (Malcolm Gladwell, Paul Tough), scientists (biologists, cosmologists, etc.) (, Charles Darwin…yup), and a host of other “secular” sources. I hope that we’ll open our scope a bit bigger, and value discovery, no matter where it comes from.

[NOTE: This last point is not a critique of Marko’s book. Simply a general observation and exhortation.]

Thanks Marko, for giving us an opportunity to think, and to think well about what we do.

[1] Because of the concision of the book, an “overview” or “summary” is really generous. What is written is more of a select extraction out of the tome of adolescence for the purposes of this chapter.
[2] This could also simply be a game of semantics.

About VIA


  1. wow! what an amazing critique. i am so humbled that you took the time to be thoughtful (maybe even more so than i was in writing the book!). i would have benefited from having you read the ms in its raw form, that’s for sure.

  2. VIA

    Thanks Marko. Any additional critique or observations are welcome.

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  5. VIA

    The Following are Comments from Marko’s Facebook Discussion Board “thinking about thinking.”

    Mary-Jane Konings (New Zealand) wroteon February 25, 2009 at 8:19pm

    I don’t know if this helps at all, but we’re using the Believe-Belong-Behave paradigm to explain things at the moment. It is a generalisation, but Boomers tend to worry about what you believe. So, youth ministry run by or influenced Boomers tend to be heavy on the evangelism and thinking. (YM1.0) Gen X (that’s me!) tend to worry about belonging (I know what I believe coz I was taught by Boomers, and actually, I just don’t care that much) but discipleship and belonging to a peer group, that’s really important, so hence YM 2.0. My experience with young adults in NZ at the moment tells me that a discussion on epistemology, although important, is less significant than how the insights thus gained are going to affect how we behave!

    I think the additional row is a helpful one as long as people understand that questions of epistemology are not necessarily currently a concern for young people.
    I am deeply disturbed by the last paragraph, which highlights the danger of functional thinking in church ministry i.e. we do ‘this’ to get ‘that.’ I love the metaphors of YM 3.0 as a shared journey, and the implications of ‘discernment.’ Programming at its worst is de-humanising for both leaders and participants.

    Jared Avery May wroteon February 26, 2009 at 6:26am

    I would have to say that i don’t agree with any of the three. Information is important!! Its not about what we know or what they know, its what you can bring to the table that is NEW!! Youth today want new insight, new ideas of ministry, new ideas if how to have fun.

    EXAMPLE: I recently attended a retreat and there is a time for all the small groups to come together with a prepared skit that is one minute long. it made me sad that everyone was presented with skits that I have seen hundreds of times and the same way, not even changed to suit the situation. Youth want innovation. My group did a rendition of a bible story but were proud that I helped them come up with something new and that was theirs and no one elses. We read the text that the base of our skit but we read it and then thought about it and came up with a new idea. We thought about the thinking of the verses and then about how we can do something different.

    They want someone who will say no, its not okay to that becuase thats not what the Bible says. They want someone to speak with authority than one who speaks as a teacher of the law-Matthew 7:29

    They want real, meaningful, and geuine thoughts to come from adults about scripture. We as youth workers should do as best to provide them with every opportunity to think about the text and examine what the Word just ast the disciples did when Jesus was with them.

    Sam Halverson wroteon February 26, 2009 at 8:27am

    It’s not so much just the theory of who knows what, but moreso what we do with what we know. Youth have always thought they “know it all” by the age of 16 or 17 (and some even younger than that). True, all information is available now, but with that information must come some discernment (you can post anything on the web – present information included).

    Marko, I’d agree about YM2.0 still being “I know what you don’t”. True, kids have often “known” how to do some things (and will continue to do that), but again, the discernment and the applications of such knowledge belong to those given such gifts. In the church we try to place those who have such gifts with those who are searching. In the case of youth ministry, that means things like mentoring and youth leaders.

    James Barr (Central Coast, CA) wroteon February 26, 2009 at 8:56am

    Would it be accurate to say that where we need to go (perhaps timelessly, always should have been and always ought to be) is to remove ourselves from the equation and say:

    Christ knows what you hope to know
    Christ knows what you need to know even if you haven’t realized it yet

    Imagine ministry – not just youth ministry – and life defined by that:
    Trying to figure out what I’m going to teach…make sure it communicates it’s now what I know, but Christ knows what you hope/need to know

    Trying to build relationships…it’s not me you need to know, you need to know Christ who knows what you hope/need to know

    Trying to add/eliminate programs…evaluate if they connect you to Christ who knows what you hope/need to know


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