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How in the world do you select a host city? 

Announcing the city of the ELCA Youth Gathering, Multicultural Youth Leadership Event and the tAble is a fun and somewhat interesting task. In this blog post, we’ll give you a behind the scenes look at the process of selecting a city to host this life changing faith formation event in.  

First, cities bid on the event years in advance. We’ve already selected a city to host the 2027 Gathering and we are close for 2030. If that doesn’t instill terror in your planning hearts, think about it.  

  • What might this church look like in 2030? 
  • What will our youth groups look like in 8 years?  
  • How many hotel rooms and ballrooms will we need to contract?
  • What type of venues would best suit our participants?

It’s one of the things that makes us lose sleep over. Why do we need to plan so far in advance, you might be wondering? Really, this isn’t so far in advance to cities. They are consistently planning 10 years out on what groups will come to their city. Gathering leadership selected New Orleans to be the 2024 host city all the way back in 2017. So, in a nutshell, the city isn’t chosen based on need, political leaning or any of the reasons consistently rumored about. It’s impossible to predict what will be happening in our world 5-10 years in advance.  

Next, let’s narrow down the cities that can host the Gathering— sadly, it’s not just any big city. In the most recent cycles, we’ve searched for a city that has a closed stadium or large venue arena in close walking distance to a large convention center. Additionally, places for all of you to sleep (yes, even if it’s just for a few hours a night). It’s a lot of rooms we need—all within a certain distance from our venues. New Orleans is an amazing city to host our event because it’s a walkable city with all our hotel properties close to the convention center or the stadium. Transportation is simplified (and cheaper)—which means we can spend those dollars on exciting programming for you and your young people.  

Some cycles, the number of cities that bid is high and the CVBs (Convention and Visitors Bureau) can offer the moon to get you to sign with them. Sometimes, the hotel rates we are requesting are too low when they could get better rates from business travelers, and cities choose not to bid. It just depends.  

Every cycle we hear something along the lines of “Oh, (insert host city here) needs us. I’m so glad we are going there.” We get the sentiment, however, let’s be clear on one thing— we are not going into the city to fix it. In our five short days in the city, we might inspire others, learn from locals doing great work, give new eyes to a problem, or even pitch in for a short-term win but we go into a city knowing God is already working, already on the ground and we are invited in to watch, learn, listen, pray and maybe get our hands dirty—or not.  

Every Gathering cycle, leadership spends a good chunk of time listening to those in the city before we arrive so that we do more good than harm and hopefully, our young people leave loving a city and its culture, the locals and thinking differently about issues of justice and peace.  

Another thing we often hear is, “Why would we spend our money in that state, etc.?” With contracts and a commitment that our church will show up in these cities 5-10 years in advance, it’s impossible to know what the city or state might be like when the event happens. It’s hard. However, we see it as a chance for us to join with those on the ground in a state that might be hard to serve in and where God might be calling us to advocate on behalf of the least of these.  

Well, that’s a snapshot of what happens 5-10 years leading up to the Gathering. It’s a daunting, yet thrilling task. New Orleans is an amazing place. We look forward to welcoming you in 2024. 


Behind the curtain…

A message from Deacon Tammy Jones West, 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering Program Director—

First, there is no curtain but for a peek into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the ELCA Youth Gathering, let me start with my first few months on staff.

Let me introduce you to the people who are called to serve this ministry at the Churchwide office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am Deacon Tammy Jones West and I serve as the Program Director for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering. Alongside me is Justin Wilson who was originally hired as communications/social media person but has wowed us all with his ability to step up into so much more. That’s it friends. Justin and I aren’t singing – just the two of us but it’s true – sort of. (Plus, Justin is way too young to even know the line to that song.)

That’s just those of us at the Churchwide office. We plan to hire another staff member to help with registration/housing in the coming months, and soon the Churchwide organization will be searching for the person God is calling to be the next program director to begin planning for 2027 and beyond.

Now, there’s another group of people who you need to know, and we’ll be announcing these individuals shortly, but the group formerly known as Team Leaders, now Directors, are the backbone of this event. Nine people who will build teams, supervise managers, and make the magic happen. What are those roles?

Directors of…

  • Accompaniment
  • Community Life
  • Interactive Learning
  • Logistics
  • Mass Gathering
  • Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE)
  • Gathering Synod Champions
  • the tAble
  • Volunteers

Serving alongside the directors and forming what we call their core team will be managers of…

Safety and Security, Medical, Transportation, Operations, IT, Justice/Advocacy, Service Learning, Cultural Immersion, Bible studies, Tech and Talent, Champion’s Square, Partners, Administration, and more.

That’s not all friends. Once the Gathering lands in New Orleans, implementation teams join the family. That’s 99 additional people, who will help make these teams work and thrive.

One more important group to remember— our volunteers. 415 volunteers give up a week of vacation to serve this ministry and be with our young people as they explore God’s grace and love.

And finally, adult leaders. Those who really make this ministry happen. The planning, praying, fundraising, details, love, and care that adults who bring our young people provide is invaluable. So, it’s just the two of us and thousands more.

Let’s do this friends— we’ll see you in New Orleans!


I’m just, It’s just…

A message from Tammy Jones West, 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering Program Director—

I’m just, It’s just… 

Hello world. My name is Tammy Jones West. I am a Deacon in this church, from North Carolina, and I am serving as the Program Director for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering. I am honored to have been asked to serve in this way and a little terrified at the responsibility and scope of the work. I also know the impact and importance of this ministry and I will do my best to encourage, support and clear a path for the thousands of volunteers who make this event a reality. 

I’m just overwhelmed by the welcome and support. I want the adults who accompany our young people to this event to be just as overwhelmed – in a good way. Overwhelmed at the privilege it is to walk alongside them as they experience the magnitude of God’s grace, abundance, and love. That is holy ground and adults, you are walking it. As people of faith, you matter in their faith journey. You are there in their laughter, joy, tears, and pain. I am in awe of each of you. That’s why I will stop you if you ever say in my presence – “I’m just a volunteer.” You are so much more.

I hope Betty Lohr never uttered those words because she was so much more than “I’m just”. She took me to my first Gathering at Purdue University under the theme of “Power in the Cross”. She loved me even as a bratty teenager and she is literally why I was involved in youth ministry. She cared and kept taking me to all the events that shaped my friend circle, my world view, and my faith.  

This event happens because of you. Adult leaders, volunteers, and partners make the Gathering more than just an event.  

It’s just a time to widen our perspective on what a Lutheran looks like.  

It’s just a time to be a part of something bigger than ourselves as we learn about partners such as ELCA World Hunger, and so many more. 

It’s just a time to get to know our congregational group and share our lives with one another.  

It’s just a time to worship in new ways and understand that worship might look differently in other places yet it’s still worship. 

It’s just a time to experience scripture differently, shared by different voices, and heard in a new way. 

It’s just a time to go somewhere new, experience a different city, learn about the history and the stories of their people.  

It’s just a Gathering led mostly by volunteers. Full stop – it’s so much more and you are too. Thank you for your ministry and I hope to see you in 2024.  


We’ve hit 10K!


A message from the Director of the ELCA Youth Gathering, Molly Beck Dean– 

I am thrilled to share with you that at the close of our early-bird registration we crossed over the 10,000-person mark for the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering. It’s exciting and hopeful to know that even during an unusual and tough couple of years, thousands of you are preparing for the Gathering next summer. I know that thousands more of you are finalizing your plans and will register in the weeks to come.

Our planning teams are hard at work creating a meaningful, memorable, and safe experience at the tAble, MYLE and the Gathering. While we know that some things may look or feel a little different because of the pandemic, our boundless God will continue to show up in amazing ways. The Gospel will be proclaimed through word and deed, our neighbor will be served, young people will explore what God is calling them to be in this world and life-long memories will be made.

It will be so good to be together in Minneapolis next summer worshipping our boundless God. It’s not too late to join us with a group from your congregation (or a neighboring congregation!) or as a Servant Companion or Local Volunteer if you fit those demographics. We continue to hold our congregations in prayer as they prepare for this life-changing experience next summer.

See you next summer in Minneapolis!



boundless: God beyond measure

by: Molly Beck Dean, Gathering Director

In April, a group of creative youth, young adults and adults gathered in Minneapolis to discern the theme for the 2021 Gathering. After reading through 2018 evaluations, listening to locals share about their city and much discussion about the spiritual lives of young people, the theme “boundless: God beyond measure” was chosen.

As I have pondered our theme over the last few months, it speaks to me more and more. It challenges me to think about how big God really is – from creation of the universe to crucifixion for sins, from death defying resurrection to the Spirit that continues to guide us today. It reminds me of the wonders of creation – certainly the beautiful Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, but also rolling plains, dusty deserts, crashing waves of lakes and oceans, lush forests and majestic mountains. God knows no bounds. God is all powerful and all knowing.

Our theme makes the almost incomprehensible hugeness of God personal. In our scripture verse, Paul writes “I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is.” Christ’s love for us is so abundant it can’t be calculated, quantified or even estimated. A love that couldn’t be contained in heaven so God came down and became human. A love so huge it was willing to suffer a gruesome death amongst taunts and jeers. A love so magnificent and glorious that death could not contain it and so Love was resurrected and changed everything humans knew about life, love and forgiveness.

To be honest, I don’t know all about Christ’s love or what it’s like to live a life filled with all that God is. I am bound daily by my sins and weighed down by the struggles of our world. But I have caught glimpses of it. I have stood on the beach and been brought to tears by the beauty and vastness of the ocean God created. I have held each of my new babies and cried because I have been entrusted with two of God’s miracles and in that moment knew a love greater than I could imagine. I have been in worship with a heart so full of the Spirit that my whole body danced in praise and my eyes glistened. I have been brought to my knees and cried the ugly cry over mistakes I’ve made and the wickedness that exists in the world, only to feel a calming in my heart and mind that could only be the forgiveness of God.

These brief moments of being filled with all that God is not only point me to the tissue box evidently, but give me hope for my life and our life together. God doesn’t hoard God’s boundless goodness, but rather shares it with God’s beloved – us – in real ways.

Paul’s words are my prayer for the young people of this Church.  As they prepare for this ministry and as they attend MYLE, the tAble and the Gathering, I hope they get closer to knowing all about Christ’s love and what it can look like and feel like to live a life filled with all that God is.

Molly first attended the Gathering in 1997 and has served at the Gathering in various capacities ever since. She’s worked at the congregational and synodical levels in youth ministry before transitioning to the Gathering Director in 2015. Molly enjoys beaches, spending time with her family and finding the best ice-cream shop in town.