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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!