A History of the Association of Youth Ministry Educators

The genesis of a new organization is often difficult to pinpoint, yet the Association of Youth Ministry Educators marks its origins in the mid 1990’s as a significant aspect of the broader history of youth ministry education.  While academic programs in youth ministries at Christian colleges and seminaries can be traced back to at least the middle of the 1970’s it was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that a proliferation of academic programs began to emerge and the need for a gathering of youth ministry educators became apparent.

Throughout the 1980’s it was the practice of the North American Professors of Christian Education (now Society of Professors of Christian Education) to host networking groups at its annual conferences.  These affinity groups were organized by specialized areas of interest such as children’s ministries, youth ministries, young adult ministries, singles ministries, senior’s ministries, etc.  By the fall of 1993 the youth ministry networking group was the largest affinity meeting at the NAPCE conference and some talk of a special forum for youth ministry professors was in the air.

In the fall of 1993, Youthworker Journal published an article by Dennis “Tiger” McLuen, Bethel and Luther Seminaries, that featured profiles of colleges and graduate schools which offered youth ministries majors.  Intrigued by the article and the growth of the youth ministry professors networking group at the NAPCE conferences, Ken Garland, teaching at the time at Talbot School of Theology, took it upon himself to call for a gathering of youth ministry educators which quickly became the Association of Youth Ministry Educators (AYME).  Since the 1994 NAPCE Conference was to be held in Southern California, Ken wrote all of the people that he knew from NAPCE and the Youthworker Journal article who were teaching youth ministry and personally invited them to participate in a youth ministry education symposium held at the Talbot School of Theology on October 1994, two days prior to the NAPCE Conference.

Twenty-four individuals attended this first gathering in 1994 and concluded that an annual forum of this nature would be a valuable event.  Rick Dunn agreed to host a similar meeting the following year in Chicago and a volunteer steering committee was appointed by Ken to assist Rick in the development of the second meeting which became known as the Youth Ministry Educators Forum.  The phrase “youth ministry educators” (YME) was consciously chosen over “youth ministry professors” in order to include all men and women committed the development of emerging youth ministers and others interested in the theory and practice of the discipline whether they teach in a formal academic setting or a non-formal educational setting.

At the 1995 YME Forum, which was attended by thirty-five educators, the five person steering committee, chaired by Rick Dunn, appointed four more people creating a nine member committee.  The only officer of the steering committee was the chair who was charged with the primary responsibility of leadership for the organization and administration of the annual forum.  It was agreed that the steering committee should attempt to maintain equitable representation, including the challenge of balancing gender, types of educational institutions, and geographic representation.  Members were divided into three classes and the steering committee began appointing a new class of three members at each annual forum as the oldest class rotated off the steering committee.

By the late 1990’s YME had begun promoting scholarship, research, and academic excellence among educators and students in three significant ways.  In 1998 YME honored Wesley Black, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as the first recipient of the Distinguished Youth Ministry Educator Award.  This award is granted by the organization on occasion to honor educators who have distinguished themselves in scholarship, research, and/or teaching to such an extent that their impact has advanced the academic field of youth ministry in a significant way.  In addition, the association began to annually honor select students, majoring in youth ministries at colleges and seminaries who had demonstrated superior academic and ministry leadership achievements.  In 2000 Dean Borgman, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Mark Senter, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, were awarded the first AYME research grants to assist them in their scholarly endeavors.  For many years research grants were awarded to individuals who are engaged in a program of scholarship that aimed to advance the academic field of youth ministry.

As the YME Forum continued to grow each year the steering committees worked diligently not only to create a yearly gathering of youth ministry educators, but also to develop an academic organization that would strive to challenge and support those teaching youth ministry in colleges and seminaries across North America.  In 1999 Len Kageler was hired by the steering committee as an administrator.  Len’s first task was to file for incorporation of the association.  In 2000 the Youth Ministry Educators was formally incorporated in the state of Colorado and in 2001 YME was granted tax-exempt status from the federal government.  Upon incorporation the 2000 steering committee became the first Board of Directors with a full slate of officers including a Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer.  From 2000-2002 the responsibilities of the Chair and Vice-Chair went through a time of transition so that by 2002 the Chair was responsible for the leadership of the association and the Vice-Chair was responsible for the leadership of the annual conference.

In the fall of 2000, the YME launched an electronic academic journal under the leadership of Darwin Glassford, Montreat College, along with the assistance of Youth Specialties who agreed to host the journal’s website.  This online version of the journal experienced limited success as the YME discovered that professors, deans, and provosts required a print journal to satisfy the cultural standards of rigorous scholarship as defined by the academy.  In the fall of 2002 the online journal was converted to a print journal through the financial support and partnership of Gordon College.  The journal continues to hold the same purpose that was originally envisioned in 2000; “to be a peer-reviewed medium through which professional youth ministry educators may share with, encourage, and challenge each other through our various specific academic and practical disciplines related to youth ministry education.”  Along with the introduction of the print journal came a name change for the organization.  In 2002 the word “association” was added to the name to more clearly define the nature of the organization as a formal Association of Youth Ministry Educators (AYME).
                                                                                                                                —Mark W. Cannister*


1994                Ken Garland, Talbot School of Theology
1994-1995      Rick Dunn, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
1995-1996      Jana Sundene, Trinity International University
1996-1997      Mark Cannister, Gordon College
1997-1998      Mark Lamport, Huntington College
1998-1999      Leonard Kageler, Nyack College
1999-2000      Pam Erwin, Tyndale College and Seminary and
.                        Allen Jackson, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
2000-2001      Steve Gerali, Judson College
2001-2002      Karen Jones, Huntington College
2002-2004      Wesley Black, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2004-2005      Ed Robinson, Mid America Nazarene University
2005-2007      Pamela Erwin, Bethel University
2007-2009      Mark Senter, Trinity International University
2009-2012      James Hampton, Asbury Theological Seminary
2012-2013      Cheryl Crawford, Asuza Pacific University
2013-2015      Sharon Ketcham, Gordon College
2015-2017      Brenda Snailum, Denver Seminary
2017-2019      Steve Bonner, Lipscomb University
2019-2021      Dave Rahn, Youth for Christ/USA
2021-2023      Brian Hull, Asbury University
2023-               Dave Keehn, Biola University


* Mark Cannister, EdD, is a founding member of the organization, has served as Senior Editor of the Journal of Youth Ministry, and currently serves as executive administrator of the organization.