Beyoncé and Jay-Z brought their show to Chicago’s Soldier Field recently. Friends who went said it was fabulous. Most of the tickets were in the $250 range. Teenaged “sneakerheads” think nothing about spending the same amount―or more―on a pair of Lebron James signature shoes. And for the first time since 2003, teen spending on food, Starbucks being their favorite, has eclipsed spending on clothing.

Taking Stock.When I hear numbers like these, I’m convinced that the life-defining experience of the ELCA Youth Gathering is a bargain.While we can’t compete with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the evening main stage events at the Gathering are, for many teens, the first time they will experience a Christian rock band – live, or hear a world-renowned speaker – in person, or celebrate Holy Communion with thousands of their peers – in the flesh. That experience alone is priceless. But wait, there’s more.

Young people who attend the Gathering will also spend a day offering their service in and around Detroit, an act of love in Christ’s name. Some will board up blighted homes to create safer environments in which families can live, work and play. Other ELCA youth will be planting and/or weeding urban gardens and meeting the people who depend on the gardens for their very existence. Some young people will work with Detroiters who are recycling abandoned tires from city streets, repurposing them into welcome mats and flip-flops. Some youth will work side-by-side with Detroit school students as part of a summer reading program. Still others will be helping to transform neighborhoods from urban bleak to urban chic by working with local artists to enliven neighborhoods through art.

On another day at the Gathering, congregations will gather as synods. Call this day a fan club meeting, or a block party, or a synod meetup. On that day young people will tell stories – God’s story (as told in the Gospel of Mark), their story, our story. They might even hear their bishop’s story, as she or he will be with them the whole time. Who wouldn’t like to hear about their bishop’s confirmation experience or see his or her photo? By the time the Synod Day ends, youth will be able to tell a story that transcends personality to reflect God’s profound truth about who they are and who others are in Christ.

The third program day is like a day at a carnival with a purpose. Sound strange? Just ask the young people who have sat at the edge of the high=ropes platform, 25 feet off the floor, pondering the risks God is asking them to take for the sake of their faith. Or talk to the kids
who chatted with Lutheran Men in Mission as they waited for the bumper boats about the “bumper” that God promises us, always protecting us from fear and death. Or the great faith conversations the foursomes had on the ninth hole of the mini golf course about being claimed by God no matter how many times we miss the mark. Rather than politicians trying to get your attention as you walk the 500,000-square-foot grounds, at our carnival youth get the attention of representatives from ELCA colleges and universities, or find out what ELCA Advocacy staff are doing in Washington, D.C. The opportunities are endless.

Before I end this blog post, I want to highlight the Community Life opportunities at this Gathering, a bargain at any price. While Detroit spans over

142.9 square miles,
the downtown area is rather compact. Whether youth are at the Cobo Convention Center or Ford Field, or walking along the Riverwalk, there will be music and activities they can enjoy together with existing and new friends.

Five stadium shows, a day of service, a carnival with a purpose, and a host of other activities. If you are a savvy shopper who knows the value of a dollar and the value of a life-defining experience, you definitely will want to register a group for the Gathering in Detroit next summer. Take it from one who has been privileged to witness the Holy Spirit change and direct the lives of thousands of teenagers through five previous Gatherings. What your young people will take away is priceless. I encourage your congregation to do whatever it can to give them the experience of a lifetime.