Watermarked 2020 Higher Things Conferences

Why Higher Things conferences?

The mission of Higher Things is to assist parents, pastors, and congregations in cultivating a distinctively Lutheran identity among their youth and young adults. The most direct way we do this is through our annual youth Conferences. Since the year 2000, Higher Things has held a total of 46 Lutheran youth Conferences! In 2020, we will add four more to that list. We hold multiple Conferences each year, in different areas of the country. While the HT Conferences are essentially the same in schedule, programming, and worship services, each has its own unique “personality” and dynamics.

We do all this because we are convinced that youth need solid teaching and experiences that will nurture lasting Christian faith. Rather than treating youth as an adolescent subculture and confusing them with once-in-a-lifetime “mountaintop” experiences that cannot be replicated outside the conference events, Higher Things believes in challenging youth to learn the pure doctrine of the Christian faith. By teaching them the same message that they are already hearing at home and at church, youth grow in the fullness of the Christian faith as they come to appreciate historic liturgical practice and its unique focus on God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation for us delivered in Word and Sacrament.


What does the 2020 conference theme, “Watermarked,” mean?

“Baptism now saves you.” (1 Peter 1:21)

You were born to die. You’re a sinner, and sinners are marked for death. You not only inherited it, but the sins you commit daily earn you death. You won’t just die and be buried. Since you’re born dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), you’re marked and sentenced to die forever in hell—a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).

Yet your sins aren’t yours anymore, neither is your death. Jesus took them as His own. “He became sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), your sin, and “He died to sin once for all” (Romans 6:10), for you, too. He gives what is His to you—”righteousness and purity forever.” You are no longer marked and sentenced and left to die. You are marked for life in Jesus.

Jesus marked you with the Water of Life in Holy Baptism. His water and Word splashed over your forehead, washing you with the rosy-red water from His spear-pierced side and clothing you with His own resurrection. In Holy Baptism Jesus re-created you to be what He has forever wanted you to be: His disciple and friend, a child of His Father and His own brother or sister, that is, “an heir, having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

At the 2020 Watermarked Conferences we rejoice in and cherish all the promises and blessings Jesus makes and delivers to each of us in Holy Baptism. You really are what He says you are: marked forever as His own.


What should I expect at a Higher Things conference?

You should expect to spend four days immersed in the Gospel. You’ll hear about Jesus, and what He’s done for you. A lot. You’ll do this by participating in the many worship services in which we join our voices with those of the historic Christian church through liturgy and hymns, and hear the Gospel preached in its purity.

You’ll learn, in much greater depth, about our faith, not just what we believe, but why we believe it and why it’s important. All this will equip you to talk about your faith to others. And you’ll do plenty of that as you get to know hundreds of other Lutheran youth just like you throughout the worship and catechesis sessions, especially during the free time activities each evening. Higher Things Conferences are held every summer, so you’ll really have an opportunity to build life-long friendships, as you worship, learn, and have fun together, especially if you’re able to attend year after year!


What age restrictions are there?

Higher Things is very flexible on who may attend the Conferences. Our Conferences are generally planned for high-school-aged youth, but we recommend that Registrants be confirmed before the date of the Conference. The recommendation that youth be confirmed before attending the Conference is not to set strict age limits, but because the catechesis at HT Conferences presumes that the audience has a basic familiarity with Lutheran doctrine and practice, which most people receive in confirmation instruction.

We recognize that ages for confirmation may vary from congregation to congregation. So we simply ask that, if a group is bringing youth who are not yet in high school, the group’s chaperones be prepared to provide the additional supervision that younger youth require. College-age young adults and other adults are also welcome to attend on their own or with a group.

Please see the Registration Policies for details regarding costs and requirements of specific age groups.


May I bring a non-Lutheran friend?

Of course! Non-LCMS youth and adults may register for a Conference with the approval of your group’s Pastor and Group Leader. Spouses, personal assistants, care providers, interpreters, and other adults cannot be accommodated as unregistered Conference participants. Talk to your pastor and Group Leader about how your friend can get registered and join in with your group!


What if I have special needs?

Higher Things will make our best efforts to make our 2020 Conferences inclusive events, developing support for those with disabilities as needed. Additional fees may need to be assessed for equipment rental, interpretive staff, on-campus transportation assistance and parking, etc.

This year the HT Conference in Missouri will be deaf-friendly. American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters will be provided for the worship and catechesis portions of the conference. We also provide a sensory-friendly room at all of the conferences for registrants who may suffer from sensory overload, anxiety, or just need a quiet place to rest and regroup.

Watermarked 2020

When does registration open?

Registration opens on November 1, 2019 and closes as conference locations reach capacity. As long as there is room at a conference site, registration will remain open! However, the cost of registering increases as the conference dates get closer.


Can I register online?

Actually, that’s the only way you can register for a Higher Things conference! Visit the link on our website at watermarked2020.org.


What does registration cost?

We work very diligently to keep costs as low as possible while providing the best Conferences we can, each and every summer.
Watermarked 2020 Registration Cost
We require a deposit of 25% of your group’s balance to ensure your admission to a conference should it reach capacity. However, the per-person rates above are based on the date your group’s registration fees are PAID IN FULL. Checks received by mail will be processed according to the postmark date, not the date it is received. Please do not send checks via express mail as this actually slows down the process to get your Group approved! Remember to take into account weekends and holidays when the Post Office is closed  before mailing any checks.

Partial payments (including non-refundable deposits) do not “lock-in” your registration rates. You must pay in full to receive any given registration rate. An additional Change Fee of $25/change will apply for substitutions made after May 1, 2020 (See REGISTRATION POLICIES). Unpaid balances and new registrations on or after May 1, 2020 will be charged a Late Fee of $25/person ($435/person total). All payments must be made in U.S. funds.


What does the Registration Fee include?

Your Registration Fee covers:

  • Conference Programming
    • Planning and preparations
    • Catechesis (4 plenary sessions, 6 breakout sessions, 2 panel discussions)
    • Worship (2 Divine Services, 11 prayer offices)
    • Entertainment activities
  • Three (3) nights of on-campus housing, including linens
  • Nine (9) meals (Day 1 dinner through Day 4 lunch)
  • Printed Conference Handbook
  • Printed Daily Services Booklet
  • Conference T-Shirt


Are scholarships available?

Yes, we do have a limited amount of funding available for full or partial individual or group scholarships. Please contact Patrick Sturdivant, Marketing and Development Executive (development@higherthings.org) for more information on applying for conference scholarships. You can also find the application on the righthand side of the conference website, watermarked2020.org.


How many chaperones are allowed per youth?

Higher Things requires that each Group must provide at least one (1) male adult for every seven (7) male youth (12-17 years of age at the time of the conference) and/or at least one (1) female adult for every seven (7) female youth (12-17 years of age at the time of the conference) in the group. Chaperones must be at least 21 years old at the time of the Conference and approved by the Group’s pastor for their role. All chaperones and any other adults attending the Conference must also complete the Registration and any required background check process. See REGISTRATION POLICIES for additional information about chaperones and other adult registrants.


What if I can’t find enough chaperones from my church?

If you are unable to recruit the necessary number of chaperones for your Group to attend a Conference, Higher Things will be happy to help you contact Groups from your area who might be willing to share their Chaperones with you. Please contact the Conference Registrar (registrar@higherthings.org) for assistance.


My church doesn’t sponsor youth to go to HT conferences. Can we still attend?

Of course! Because you will be coming from one congregation, that’ll be your group, even if your group is only a single youth with a parent.


When should we plan to arrive and depart?

The opening Divine Service starts at 2:00 pm on Day 1 of the Conference week (Registration check-in will run from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm) and the closing Divine Service will end at about 3:00 pm on day 4. Please schedule your travel so your Group doesn’t miss the opening or closing Divine Services!

Groups may also stay on campus for one extra night before and/or after the Conference for an additional fee of $50 per person, per night (additional meals not included). Check-in on the day before the Conference will be between 5:00 and 10:00 pm, and those staying an extra day after the Conference should plan to check out by 11:00 am the day after the conference closes. Additional fees will be incurred by groups arriving/departing outside of those hours.


What is the capacity of each conference?

The 2020 conferences in Missouri, Tennessee, and Michigan all have a capacity of 900. The conference in Colorado has a capacity of 1000.

Higher Things has the following policy regarding background checks for adult registrants: 

Background Checks

All adults and chaperones (registrants age 21+) registered to attend a Higher Things Conference must pass a national criminal and sexual predator background check BY MAY 1 OF THE CONFERENCE CALENDAR YEAR. Sites may require additional measures to protect the safety of youth at events on their campuses (online child safety training seminars, background checks for registrants 18 and over, etc.). Background checks must be conducted after the completion of the previous year’s conference cycle (i.e., since last August).

Beginning in January 2020, Higher Things will notify the Group Leaders attending each Conference via email regarding instructions for completing and turning in background checks and any additional site requirements and how to provide confirmation that these have been completed. Higher Things will accept national criminal and sexual predator background checks completed through Protect My Ministry, Sentry Link, Trusted Employees, or another company that provides comparable national checks. Communicate with the Conference Coordinator (csanchez@higherthings.org) for more information. Higher Things staff retrains the right not to accept a previously completed background check.

Before you stress about this, please know that the typical turnaround time for these background checks is 24-48 hours. You still have plenty of time to complete the requirements! 

We will accept background checks from three places:

  • Protect My Ministry – Higher Things has an account with this organization in order to provide an easy way for you to complete the requirement. Click the link, fill out the form, and pay approximately $20.00 per background check. The checks will then be sent directly to Higher Things, and you will only be contacted if there is a problem or concern with your report. If your church has an account with Protect My Ministry, you may give us a background check already completed through them as long as it is a National Criminal and Sexual Predator check.
  • Sentry Link – This website will give you what we need for $19.95. Select “Volunteer Screening” at check out. Turn in the completed background check to me once finished.
  • Trusted Employees – This website will give you what we need for $29.95. Turn in the completed background check to me once finished.

You may present a background check that you have from another source. If it meets the requirements, Higher Things will accept it in place of the other three accepted routes. Higher Things does not guarantee that it will be accepted. Please note that FBI background checks will not be accepted because federal background checks are not the same as national background checks. 

For our Canadian registrants, you will present a Royal Police Vulnerable Sector check, which can be obtained through your local station. Submit a PDF of that to me to complete the requirements. 

If you are on the waitlist, feel free to hold off on running your background checks until you know you have been accepted into the conference. 

Once the background check has been received and approved, it will be uploaded to your registration and you will have completed the requirement. 

We suggest that you have your church council or board meet to determine the best process for your congregation. This will be sensitive information that should be handled confidentially. There will also be a small cost associated with it, which your congregation will have to determine how to handle. 

I will need a PDF copy of the background check to file sent to me by May 1st, 2019. Electronically is preferred. 

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help regarding this matter! 


Cyndy Bishop
Higher Things Conference Registrar
888-482-6630, ext. 1

Watermarked 2020

How do we get to the conference?

Groups are responsible for obtaining their own transportation to and from the conference sites. If traveling by airplane, bus, or train, groups will also need to make arrangements for ground transportation to and from the campus, as well as for your group’s private use during the week if you want to go sight-seeing on your own.


How much walking is involved?

A lot. Seriously. A LOT. We try our best to keep all conference activities as close together on the sites as possible. But, because of the nature of college campuses, you will get your exercise! If someone attending with your group is unable to walk long distances or will need assistance getting around at the Conference, please note this as a special need with their Registration and contact the Conference Registrar (registrar@higherthings.org). We are happy to accommodate anyone with special needs to the best of our ability, but need your help to plan in advance. Additional fees may be assessed.


How do I get to area attractions during the Conference?

Any off-site transportation for scheduled conference activities will be provided by Higher Things and is included in your registration fee. If groups choose to take their own vehicles to scheduled off-site activities, they will be responsible for any additional charges to do so (parking, tolls, etc.). Groups are responsible for arranging their own transportation for any sight-seeing not included as part of the conference.


Is parking available on campus?

Detailed information regarding parking (including fees and obtaining parking passes, if applicable) will be provided to group leaders prior to the conference.

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What kind of housing can we expect?

Since Higher Things Conferences are held at college campuses, all registrants will be staying in residence halls. Sometimes this means a suite of two (2) double-capacity rooms with a shared bathroom between the rooms. Or some residence halls will have standard double rooms with common (single-sex) lavatories with private toilet and shower stalls. Not all residence halls on campuses have air conditioning. If you are assigned to buildings without air conditioning, we will do our best to notify you in advance so you may bring small fans. You are free to follow up with us close to the conference date to check on your group’s  dorm’s air conditioning status.


How many people will be assigned per room?

Groups should plan for two (2) occupants per room. You may request roommates from within your own group. Private rooms are available by request for an additional fee of $40 per room, per night ($120 total for 3 nights). If your group does not fully occupy the available rooms or suites, roommates and/or suite-mates (of the same sex and age category) may be assigned from another group. Please see the Housing Policy for details about roommate assignments.


Will Groups be housed together?

Sort of. Wherever possible, male and female rooms will be separated by floor, wing, or building. We will do our best to assign group members’ rooms near one another. Adults will not be housed in the same room as a youth unless there is a direct familial relationship AND both adult and youth are of the same sex. Please see the Housing Policy for details.


Can spouses be housed together?

Unfortunately, no. We assign rooms with male and female rooms appropriately separated by floor, wing, or building. Chaperones must be housed with the youth of their groups.


Are linens provided?

Yes, pillows, bed linens (including blankets), and towels are usually provided for each registrant. However, most campuses do not provide mattress pads or fitted sheets. If any of the above linens are not provided by the campus, group leaders will be notified well in advance to bring them. Registrants may bring additional linens on their own.


Do we have to stay on campus?

No, but Higher Things cannot reimburse or discount your registration fee if you choose to stay off-campus. Besides, staying in dorms allows youth to get a glimpse of college life and allows youth to get to know other youth at the conference and form lasting friendships.


Can we stay on campus for an extra night before and/or after the conference?

Yes! You may spend an additional night on campus — in the same room(s) you’ll use for the rest of the week — for just $50/person/night. Since many groups use this option to do area sightseeing, meals are not provided. Groups must notify the registrar that they will need an extra night no later than May 1. Those arriving early may check in on campus between 5:00-10:00 pm the evening before the conference begins and must check out by 11:00 am the day following the conference.

Watermarked 2020

How many services can we attend each day?

At least three, often four. It sounds daunting, but each year most youth report that worship is the best part of the conference week and that they miss it once they return home. Every day, youth and adults start their day with the service of Matins or Morning Prayer, followed by Vespers in the mid-afternoon, and end the day together with Evening Prayer. Time for Individual Confession and Absolution is also offered following Evening Prayer nights, and small groups are encouraged to gather for Compline before lights-out.


Thirteen services in four days? Why so many?

At Higher Things, our mission is to cultivate, encourage, and promote a Lutheran identity among youth. At HT Conferences, this happens intensively, through catechesis and frequent (though brief) worship services. Most services only last about 30 minutes, but they form a rhythm to each day that reinforces and puts into practice what is being learned in plenary and breakout sessions. We will open and close with the Divine Service and the Lord’s Supper.


I’ve never heard of most of those services! Are they even Lutheran?

Yes! And they’re all taken from the Lutheran Service Book, which most of you use in your own churches. It is a long-standing tradition in the Christian Church to conduct brief prayer services throughout the day. These services provide a great way to keep our days focused on Christ and His gifts for us.

At Higher Things Conferences, we want to teach youth about the richness of our confession and introduce them to some of the ways Lutherans have historically practiced their faith. Information will be provided following the close of registration to help youth leaders teach their Groups about these services and the traditions that are often practiced (chanting, kneeling, crossing oneself, incense, etc.) so that youth are prepared to encounter them at the Conference.


Is there a Conference hymn again this year?

The Conference hymn for the 2020 Watermarked conferences is “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” (LSB #597). Please make use of this hymn in your congregations in the weeks and months leading up to the Conference. It’s a wonderful hymn that we’re sure everyone will enjoy singing together!


How are the preachers chosen for the Conference worship services?

There are very limited spots available for preaching, but more available for assisting in the services. Priority is given to the pastors attending the Conference who volunteer in Higher Things’ leadership. Other preachers and assistants are selected from LCMS pastors registered to attend the Conferences. If you would like to be considered to preach or assist, please contact the Conference Executive (conferences@higherthings.org).

Watermarked 2020

Can I sing in the choir?

YES! Participating in the Conference choir is one of the best ways for youth (and adults) from all over the country to get to know each other. Everyone is welcome to sing in the choir, regardless of experience! Choir usually rehearses Days 2-4 of the Conference week at 8:00 am, before the morning service and possibly at other times during the week as well. Rehearsal times will be included in the week’s schedule.

However, due to copyright restrictions, those interested in singing the choir will need to register in advance to do so by June 1. Photocopies of music will not be available for the choir, but members may purchase their own music for a small fee per person, which may be taken home following the Conference. If you do not choose to purchase music, you may look on and share with someone else.


May I play my instrument at the conference?

Because it is so difficult to accommodate and select music pieces for the wide variety of instruments people volunteer to play at the conference, instrumentalists will be selected by the Worship and Music staff from those registered for each site. Depending on the number of volunteers and the space available for an orchestra, this process may include an audition. If you’d like to volunteer to play during the Conference, notify your Group Leader to indicate so on your Registration and/or contact the Conference Registrar (registrar@higherthings.org).

Watermarked 2020

Who will be the Plenary Teachers?

We are very excited about our plenary speakers this year! Visit the Plenary Speakers page for more information.

When can we get a list of breakaways?

Not until June 2020. Breakaways are taught by pastors and other adults attending the Conference with their youth groups so we won’t even begin to plan those until around April 2020.


Do we need to sign up for sectionals in advance?

No. Breakaways seating is on a first-come, first-seated basis. While we try to make sure everyone will have chairs, it’s impossible to predict how many people will attend any one sectional.


Are we expected to attend a certain number of sessions?

Yes. You may attend at least one sectional during each breakaway session! Sectional topics are chosen with youth in mind, and they cover a wide variety of topics to help you learn more about your faith. You should have no problem finding at least one breakout in each session that interests you. Most of the time, attendees have trouble choosing between multiple breakouts!


How are breakout teachers chosen?

First, they must be registered to attend the Conference. We believe that the best people to teach youth are the very pastors, parents, and other adults the Lord has put in their lives to do just that. Breakout teachers are chosen from the pastors and lay members of LCMS congregations in good standing who are already registered for that Conference. All teachers must also be comfortable communicating with youth, and they should try to prepare their sessions in such a way that will help teenagers faithfully live out the vocations unique to their stations in life.

Watermarked 2020
Free Time/Entertainment

How much free time will there be?

We always plan for a few hours of scheduled entertainment events and/or free time each evening of the Conference week. However, if your Group wants to do some more extensive sight-seeing around the Conference cities, you should probably plan for an extra day in town to do that. For your convenience, Groups can reserve an extra night (Monday and/or Friday) in their rooms on campus at the time of registration for $50/person/night.


What will we be doing for fun?

We’re working on planning some really great activities that we’ll be able to tell you about very soon! In the meantime, Google the Conference cities to see if you can guess what some of the options might be! You can also check out photos of past Conferences to see what’s been done before.

Watermarked 2020
College Conference Volunteers

What are College Conference Volunteers (CCVs)?

College Conference Volunteers play an integral role on the Conference staff. They are college-aged young adults who volunteer to help manage the Conferences on the ground. They work hard and play even harder. They are often seasoned Higher Things Conference-goers, but some newbies get their first HT experience as a CCV. Application to be a CCV is a very competitive process, we often receive 2-3 times more applicants than needed.


What kinds of things do CCVs do at the conferences?

  • Registration: Directing groups through the registration check-in, helping to prepare and distribute materials, directing people to dorms and parking areas, break-down of the information table after the end of the conference, etc.
  • Speaker Care: CCVs are assigned to a sectional speaker to hand out materials in the sectionals, make sure speakers have any needed food and/or beverages, run AV, remind attendees to text in evaluations, etc.
  • Worship: Help setup and breakdown the conference Chapel, crowd control, assist with altar guild duties.
  • Merchandise: Help set-up and break-down as needed.
  • General: Help supervise activities, give directions, run errands, answer questions, put up signs, etc.
  • Photography: Take pictures of everyone having a great time.
  • AV: Assist our Media staff with audio/video recording.


How much is my registration if I am selected as a CCV?

CCV registration is FREE! The offerings collected during the opening and closing Divine Services go directly to offset the expenses for the CCV program. You’ll just need to get yourself to the Conference and back home again.


Would I have to arrive early and/or stay late at the conference?

Yes, CCVs must arrive by noon the day before the conference begins for orientation/set-up, and should not plan to leave before 5:00 pm on the last day so they can help pack up after the conference.


Will I have special privileges as a volunteer?

Yes, CCVs will have staff (i.e., “backstage”) access to all areas of the Conference and a special staff T-shirt. In fact, you will receive multiple T-shirts, because CCVs need to be easily identifiable throughout the week!


How old do I have to be to be a CCV?

You must be at least 18 years old and have completed your high school studies at the time of the Conference.


How do I apply to be a CCV?

You will be able to apply online at Watermarked2020.org between November 1, 2019 and February 29, 2020. Look for the link on the righthand side of the page. Applicants will be notified by March 15, 2020 if they have been selected to serve as a CCV.


Should I still register with my church’s Group?

If your church is sending a Group to the Conference, you should register with your Group as well as complete the CCV application so that you are certain to get into the Conference, should it fill. If you are selected as a CCV, your Registration will then be processed separately from your Group. You will also be assigned housing in a separate staff area.

Those who are accepted as CCVs who are not registered with a Group for a Conference should register as an individual and pay any corresponding Registration fees. If selected, Higher Things will reimburse the balance paid as of March 15, 2020.


How many CCVs will be accepted at each of the Conferences?

The number of CCVs is determined by the number of registrants attending each Conference. The Conference Executive reserves the right to adjust these numbers if we determine that fewer or more CCVs are actually needed to help with the Conference.

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Other Conference Support

How else can I support the conferences?

We have a number of specific Conference expenses that may be supported by one or multiple donors:

  • CCV Scholarships
    • CCV registrations are paid as a Conference expense so that these volunteers don’t have to pay registration fees. These young adults work very hard at the Conferences and provide invaluable help for the staff and participants. All contributions received in the offerings during the opening and closing Divine Services will go toward this expense.
  • Registrant Scholarships
    • Full and partial Conference registration scholarships are now available to registrants and groups with financial needs.
  • Conference T-shirts
    • These shirts are a great way for participants to take home a souvenir of their week, and provide unique opportunities for them to confess their faith and what they learned when they wear them at home! Contact exhibitors@higherthings.org for more information about sponsorship opportunities. We will be happy to include your company or organization’s logo on the shirts for a donation of $5,000 or more.
  • Special Needs Funding
    • In 2020, we will be having our fifth annual deaf friendly conference in Missouri. HT Conferences also make accommodations for attendees with other special needs. If you would like to make a donation toward funding these efforts, please contact Erica Jacoby at development@higherthings.org.
  • Regular Gifts to Higher Things
    • All of the yearly operations of the larger organization are supported by Conference Donations to Higher Things will reduce the need to rely on Conference income and will eventually result in a reduction to registration fees