Skip to content

ELCA Blogs

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!


The History of the Gathering


Lutheran youth have been gathering for more than 100 years. Yep, more than one hundred years. The predecessor church bodies that made up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (American Lutheran Church – ALC and the Lutheran Church in America – LCA) had a rich tradition of gathering young people and their adult leaders every three years to experience the love of Christ and an opportunity to grow within their faith. Congregational youth groups would spend several days focused on worship, workshops, music, and fellowship.

Before 1988, ALC and LCA Youth Gatherings occurred in cities such as Denver, CO; Calgary, Alberta, Canada; New York City, NY; Seattle, WA; and Miami, FL with various themes such as We Are a Peculiar People and Christ is Lord. Probably one of the most notable keynote speakers was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who preached in front of 20,000 youth at the 1961 ALC Luther League convention in Miami, FL. You could say that Youth Gatherings have always been on the cutting edge, challenging young people to do God’s most righteous work.


After the birth of the ELCA, Gatherings have been held in cities that could accommodate thousands of participants, while providing facilities for experiential learning along with a venue that could hold everybody at the same time for worship and other programming. Here is a list of the ELCA Youth Gatherings, with their themes:

  • 1988: San Antonio, Rejoice in the Lord Always
  • 1991: Dallas, Called to Freedom
  • 1994: Atlanta, 2 Be Alive
  • 1997: New Orleans, Rive of Hope
  • 2000: St. Louis, Dancing at the Crossroads (40,000 participants)
  • 2003: Atlanta, Ubuntu: I am because we are. We are because Christ is. (38,000 participants)
  • 2006: San Antonio, Cruzando: Journey with Jesus (37,000 participants)
  • 2009: New Orleans, Jesus, Justice, Jazz (36,000 participants)
  • 2012: New Orleans, Citizens with the Saints (33,000 participants)
  • 2015: Detroit, Rise up Together (30,000 participants)
  • 2018: Houston, This Changes Everything (32,000 participants)

In 2000, 2003, and 2006 the Gathering was a two-week, back to back, identical event. This way, the Gathering would be less crowded and more intimate. However, it ended up being not financially sustainable, so in 2009 there was a switch back to a one-week, one event model.

Our demographics have changed, and the overall shrinking of mainline denominations may play a role in decreasing numbers of participants, but the ELCA Youth Gathering continues to capture the hearts and ignite faith in tens of thousands of people every three years. The Gathering has also helped young people discern calls into the Church or in fields of service, where they can carry out God’s work with their hands.

We hope that you will join us in being a part of the Gathering history in 2021!