I was in the middle of a book deal and wanted to discuss marketing with someone local. Dean Ross’ bio in Gathering Magazine caught my attention. He is the executive director of Abandon Productions; the largest faith-based concert and event ministry in the region. His website documented his success marketing Christian events, so I made an appointment. Before I left, I recorded his spiritual journey.
Dean grew up attending a Baptist church. He understood the gospel at a young age, but standing before a thousand people with the pastor’s hand on his shoulder as the congregation voted him into membership deterred Dean from making a public profession of faith. He was too shy for that much attention.
At twelve years of age, Dean volunteered to work at a “Heaven’s Gate Hell’s Flame” event. The touring evangelistic drama incorporated congregation members in a series of skits to bring the audience to a decision regarding their eternal destination. At the conclusion of the skits, the pastor’s challenge to choose heaven or hell tugged at Dean’s heart. Knowing he would not be singled out to be accepted into the congregation, he slipped into the mass of people walking to the altar. Within the refuge of those choosing heaven, Dean prayed for salvation.
God’s plan for his life formed when he attended a Centrifuge camp. The week-long event was designed to bring the campers to an encounter with God and to develop spiritual maturity. The camp achieved its goals. During the camp’s activities, Dean heard God say, “Son, you will be a leader in ministry.”
Dean wondered how he would become a ministry leader. There was a legacy of faith in his family, but his shyness would make it difficult to be in a public office. “I am shy,” Dean replied. “How can this be?”
God’s promise to make Dean a leader in ministry quickly bore fruit. Dean knew most of his high school friends had little interest in attending a traditional church service. He decided to expose them to the gospel through a non-traditional venue. A girl in his youth group had tried to organize a student led evangelistic event at his high school, but found little support. Dean contacted the girl and several friends to discuss reviving the ambitious plan.
With the help of their youth pastor, the small group of student evangelist organized IMPACT: Faith Over Fear. Dean’s church sponsored the event in cooperation with other churches. A taboo against drums on the platform was set aside, and a Christian band invited to perform. Christian break dancers and pizza also were incentives to draw a young crowd as news of the event traveled via word of mouth. “Six of my friends accepted Christ,” said Dean. “I would do it again for fewer results.” Dean planted a seed that continued to grow. The student led IMPACT event continued for years after Dean graduated from high school.
Dean wanted to attend college in another state hoping to escape from Louisiana’s depressed job market. Baylor University in Texas and a few colleges in Florida were options. He credits God’s guidance for his decision to attend Southeastern Louisiana University where he made his first foray into concert ministry. Dean invited Jason Morant and his band Adam’s Lament to perform at the college. The event required a crash course in contract negotiations and handling large sums of money.
Dean leaned back in his chair as he reflected on that period of his life. “I loved organizing events, but my goal was to finish my degree in accounting. I later changed that to a degree in marketing and management. I planned to be an accountant or marketer or own a profitable business that could support ministries. A hurricane named Katrina changed everything.”
August 2005, news reports of a massive hurricane headed for New Orleans sent multitudes fleeing for safety. Laura, Dean’s girlfriend and a Physical Therapy Assistant, was on call. She qualified to stay at the hospital until the hurricane passed. Hospital policy prohibited anyone except family from taking refuge with her in the hospital. When Dean realized Hurricane Katrina might become the worst case scenario storm everyone talked about, but no one thought would happen, he refused to leave the city. Laura might need him. Dean doubted the tin roof on his apartment would survive the storm. Laura’s apartment wasn’t a good option either. When a friend of a friend offered refuge in the Biology department of the college, Dean accepted.
Dean and his friends settled on the top floor of the Biology building. They spent the evening communicating with friends in other states until the electricity failed. When the eye of the storm passed over the city, Dean stepped onto the balcony. Trees were snapped like twigs. Debris flew past him. He knew the building had survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and felt safe. Dean retired for the night thinking everything would be fine in the morning.
The battery operated radio spewed wild reports when Dean awoke. “The Superdome roof had blown off. The levee had breached and inundated New Orleans. Chaos reigned.” Fear was evident in the radio announcer’s voice. Dean saw the first images of Katrina’s destruction two weeks later. Weary of eating the army’s MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) he drove to Ruby Tuesday’s in Baton Rouge. A television in the restaurant flashed nonstop images of devastation.
“People who are from New Orleans have an overwhelming love for the city that can’t be explained,” said Dean. “As I viewed the extent of the damage, love for New Orleans was reborn in me. I knew that I would return.”
Dean planned to make Laura his wife, but Katrina had destroyed the pier in Mandeville where he wanted to propose. He drove Laura to a similar spot that faced the lake and left his car head lights on. Laura followed him to the shore thinking they were going to look at the damage caused by Katrina. Instead, Dean asked her sit on the floodwall. He dropped to one knee and said, “I live my life by Proverbs 21:21 ‘He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.’ I believe God has called us to do this together.” He opened the ring box. “Laura, will you marry me?”
Dean and Laura were rebuilding their lives in Hammond when the president of Next Generation, a campus outreach, asked Dean to organize a festival at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans. Dean loved organizing and promoting the event. He knew that he had found his calling and committed to one year of missionary work with Next Generation in the St. Charles Parish schools. For most of that year, Dean commuted from Hammond. Then God opened the door for Dean and Laura to move to New Orleans.
In preparation for the next phase of his ministry Dean started Abandon Productions. “It didn’t make financial sense for me to do concerts and events in New Orleans. We brought Newsboys to the Tad Gormley Stadium and had a thousand in attendance. I could do the same thing north of the lake and easily have 5,000 in attendance. It just didn’t make sense, but I knew God called us to New Orleans.”
Dean incorporated Abandon Productions Ministry in 2007 with a threefold mission: assist the local church, proclaim Jesus Christ and mobilize God’s people for missions. God blessed Dean’s obedience. A concert with Toby Mac and Skillet drew 5,000 to the Lakefront arena, the largest Christian event in decades. A Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio event drew 2,000.
Dean’s success launched him beyond New Orleans to organize events throughout the Gulf South. Giving him opportunity to work with a variety of bands and speakers: Michael English, David Platt, Aaron Gillespie, David Nasser, Fireflight, Daniel Bashta, Disciple, Flame, Wavorly, December Radio, Trip Lee, Seventh Day Slumber, Rush of Fools, Jake Smith, Corey Hicks, Tedashii, Avalon, Spoken, R-Swift, Jeff Deyo, Parachute Band, LeCrae and many more. But Dean’s call to New Orleans grew louder than his success. He redesigned his ministry to train event leaders in other cities while he focused his efforts on New Orleans.
The New Orleans Hornets requested Dean to organize their Faith and Family night. In collaboration with The Youth Ministers Network, Abandon Productions established “U-Nite @ the Hive”. The annual event offers discounted tickets for churches. Christian bands perform either pre or post-game. Zephyr’s stadium also offers an annual “U-Nite at Zephyr’s Field” with a post-game Christian concert. “U-Nite at the Dome” offered a similar event during the New Orleans Bowl, a NCAA-sanctioned post-season college football game that is played annually at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The need for office space produced a new facet to Dean’s ministry. He was content to work from home until God blessed him with another son. His office was remodeled to accommodate the newest addition to his family. The pastor of Lakeside Church in Metairie had offered him office space. Dean met the pastor for lunch to inquire if the space was still available. Before Dean made his inquiry, the pastor said he was resigning to accept a pastorate in Texas. Dean promised to pray for the congregation as they searched for a new pastor. He left the lunch wondering what he would do for office space.
Dean had organized an event for Lakeside and knew several of the congregation members. They asked him to submit a resume to the pastor search committee. He wasn’t interested. Having extensive connections in the Christian community, he offered to refer speakers until the church elected a pastor. For the next two weeks, Dean and Laura prayed for Lakeside’s congregation. As they prayed God spoke to Dean and Laura simultaneously to submit a resume. Dean obeyed but wasn’t convinced the older congregation would accept a young man as their pastor. He was wrong. In October 2011, Lakeside Church elected Dean to be their pastor.
Love for God has been the driving force in Dean’s ministry. He has embraced his pastoral duties without forsaking Abandon Productions, which he prays will give birth to a movement. “Events are great,” said Dean, “movements are better. Movements continue long after the event ends.”