Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Youth Gathering


Captivating a Young Audience

When 35,000 young people ranging from high-school age to early 20s gathered at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, earlier this summer, we knew we were about to blow their minds. And we did.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) 2018 Youth Gathering  had a unique set of objectives. Chief among them was consistently and continuously engaging an audience of tens of thousands of easily-distracted young people. Also a priority was the ability to accommodate a multitude of moving parts, including efficiently and effectively moving dozens of bands, musicians, choirs, presenters and other performers on and off stage without disrupting the program.  And while it was a raucous affair at times, the theological components of the program were equally important to a successful outcome for the event.

It all started with the design of the stage backdrop. It had to be both attractive and functional. The essential element of the set, understandably, was an over-sized cross. Roughly 90-feet high and made of 12-foot truss and LED tube lighting strips. Complementing the cross was a mosaic of custom-made projection surfaces of various sizes and shapes, some with sharp angles, bringing to mind a giant stained-glass window.

In addition to three projection screens, the projection surfaces were made of fabric stretched over frames. We were looking for a fabric that was easy to work with while also allowing our moving animations, video and other visuals to look stunning via front projection. The good people at Sew What came through for us with great solutions. Here’s what they had to say about the experience.


For everyone involved, ELCA’s 2018 Youth Gathering was a unique, next-level experience.

The initial plan was to paint the set with lighting. As the creative process with ELCA evolved, the ideas became bigger and more activity was planned. Ultimately, two dramatic moving animations – including a magnificent sequence of a space shuttle blasting off to open the gathering – and a dozen static looks that were produced by our Creative Services team and used throughout the sessions, ranging from blue sky and puffy white clouds to an urban scene with graffiti accents.

Another feature of the set was a Baptismal fountain, complete with running water. It was about 4-inches deep and looked deeper from a distance. While no Baptisms were performed, the water was used by speakers to form the sign of the cross and one speaker presented while standing in the fountain.

Further, the set had to be designed and fabricated in a way that efficiently and effectively accommodated a near-constant rotation of bands, choirs, DJs and other performers, which also required management of backline equipment and other technical needs. Our designers and fabricators forged the perfect solution. The praise band was positioned stage left for the duration. Stage right was more active. A sliding wall, designed and lit to mimic the stage left performance area, was used to hide set up and then reveal performers on cue. The transitions were efficient, seamless and dramatic.

An audience of this age needs to be engaged, active and involved. With bands, DJs, performers and non-stop dancing in the audience, the 90-minute walk-ins felt more like EDC than ECLA. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in the event via ELCA’s “Mass Cast” program. With a new cast every day, hundreds of attendees were taught simple routines with simple props such as flags or glow sticks to be performed each day. Speakers were equally engaging and a mirror image of those in the audience. All presentations were 8 – 12 minutes and delivered from memory. No teleprompters were used. An audience of peers – especially this age group — appreciates presentations delivered to them and for them, not at them. In addition to the Houston audience, all of the sessions were streamed around the globe via our webcasting and content delivery network.

For everyone involved, ELCA’s 2018 Youth Gathering was a next-level experience. One of the main reasons it was able to happen is a shared commitment to a thorough, collaborative process that allowed everyone to contribute their best ideas and take calculated risks with their work. We met face-to-face with the ELCA team on four occasions to discuss current plans and next steps, in addition to site visits at the venue.

We were impressed with the efforts ELCA made to connect with its audience. We are grateful for the opportunity to support those efforts with the type of Texas-sized visual and technical sizzle we were able to bring to the event. We hope to work with them again in Minneapolis in 2021.

We welcome the opportunity to bring our collaborative approach and proven expertise to your next event, big or small.

NRG Stadium
Houston, TX