At the end of my first LCMS Youth Gathering, I remember the growing excitement that came with the announcement of the next Gathering location. Through the years, I had often wondered how they decided upon the Gathering site.
Now as a part of the planning team, that mystery is solved. After getting involved in the planning process, I have come to a deeper understanding of the process. I want to share with you a little bit of the process, if only to satisfy a curiosity.
Years before a Gathering takes place, plans start evolving for potential location sites. There are selected cities in the United States that have the logistical needs to serve as a Gathering host.
LCMS Youth Ministry begins the process by sending a “request for event proposal” to 5-10 cities. The document is a bit like a rÃ©sumÃ© which details the needs for safety, housing, and facilities. Some of those needs include the ability to house 25,000-30,000 people; a convention center to host sectionals, informational booths, and activities; and a dome or arena that provides enough seating for mass events. Ideally, all of these venues would be located in close proximity to one another so that travel to and from events is easily accessible.
New Orleans happens to be one of those cities.
It is true that the city of New Orleans has hosted a number of Gatherings. There are many reasons why the city of New Orleans is ideal for a Gathering. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have ample space and seating to provide for Gathering participants.
The large majority of hotels are within walking distance of these two key Gathering locations, which lessens the need for shuttling. Due to the fact that the city of New Orleans has hosted previous Gatherings, they are familiar with Gathering practices. The city works hard to provide safety and security through the use of local officials and group organizations.
Also, you probably notice that the Gathering is often in a southern (i.e., warm weather) location. LCMS Youth Gatherings tend to take place in cities which are in their “off-peak” months in terms of tourism or convention business. This allows the Gathering to contract for lower hotel rates than if utilizing cities in their “peak” months. Some hotel properties contract at the same rate for the 2016 Gathering as the 2001 Gathering. (This is how much they value our return to New Orleans!)
Other factors that contribute to the appeal of a Gathering presence in New Orleans go beyond Gathering logistics. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans struggled to get back on its feet. Gathering participants have helped ease the damage through servant events.
There is no doubt of the economic impact of thousands of youth descending on a city, especially in an “off-peak” time. This is another way that the Gathering has helped New Orleans re-establish itself.
For me, one of the largest reasons why New Orleans benefits from a Gathering presence is the witness that it gives to the citizens that reside there.
Gathering congregations come proclaiming Christ. How awesome to know that we have the means to communicate the saving work of our Lord, not just to New Orleans but any city where the Gathering takes place.
In the summer of 2016, the city of New Orleans is going to learn again what it means for a group of people to stand, In Christ Alone. Until the next blog!