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Even organizations known for pushing the envelope can push only so far.

Youth Specialties, a for-profit company owned by Zondervan, plans what its president Mark Oestreicher described as "dramatic shifts" at its three National Youth Workers conventions this fall.

The shifts occur as the El Cajon, California-based company deals with an internal reorganization that included laying off nearly half its 30 full-time staff members in January.

The biggest change: The 3,000-plus youth workers expected to attend the conventions—held in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Atlanta—can expect keynote speakers to address fewer hot-button issues from the main stage than in years past.

Organizers promise more unifying "big room" gatherings that celebrate what the diverse crowds—ranging from conservative evangelicals to mainline Protestants and Catholics—have in common: the gospel of Jesus Christ, a belief in God's power to transform lives, and a passion for developing young people of faith.

"Whether you're a liberal [Methodist] or Presbyterian or some other denomination like that, or whether you come from a Southern Baptist church or an independent Bible church, those are things we can stack hands on," Oestreicher said.

Typically, Youth Specialties' national conventions have featured speakers expected to challenge audiences and offer fresh, even controversial, theological perspectives, said Chap Clark, professor of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

"Youth Specialties has been the forum for thoughtful youth ministry conversations for 30 years," said Clark, a regular speaker at the conventions. "Youth Specialties' niche has never been to proclaim a certain slant. ...

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July 2009

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