About a month ago, I flew to Austin.
In my life, a trip to Austin isn't all that extraordinary - my parents live there and we travel to the Lone Star State at least twice a year if we can manage it. But, this trip was different.
I was asked to fly to Austin to take part in an event. A gathering. About sixty women were converging to discuss what it meant to identify, step into, and live out our callings. We were going to discuss what it would look like to empower women in the Church to do the same. We were asked to imagine what unity - true, God-honest unity - would look like, and what steps we need to take to achieve it in our lifetime.
The sixty women weren't just random women. They were women of influence. BIG influence. Ministry leaders, pastors, speakers, authors, musicians, business owners and corporate professionals. On the outside looking in, it was an intimidating, powerful group - together, the influence and reach of these women numbered in the millions.
This gathering was a piece of a greater vision - the IF: Gathering. Jennie Allen had a dream, a vision, to gather, equip and unleash a generation of women to live out their callings for the sake of the Kingdom. No small feat, to say the least. Jennie has this incredible heartbeat for women in the church, and her desire was to engage them all, no matter the boundary. She wanted a way to gather, unleash and equip a generation, regardless of race, socio-economic status, doctrinal differences, spiritual maturity, or geographical location. Her heart was always to blow open the doors, allowing women access to gather. The vision was grassroots, organic, led by the Spirit. The vision was Unity.
The event that I attended in Austin had elements of it all. Women from all over the world, all over the theological & political spectrum, from all different backgrounds. We talked, we ate, we laughed, we drank wine, we sat around tables long and short, we ate some more, we prayed, we took communion, we worshiped, we washed each others hands and we looked into each others eyes. I'm not sure why any of us doubted it, but it happened - Unity. It was a microcosm of what could happen on a grander scale.
Now, lets back to the greater vision.
What took shape initially was a women's conference in Austin in February. It had a ticket price, a location, and it wasn't going to be broadcast live in its first year. When mention of this model first hit the wire & the word spread, like many of you, I didn't think I wanted to be a part of it. It was the same old thing, but packaged a little differently. It was exclusive, rather than inclusive. It was a new house with new paint and windows and a remodeled kitchen, but it still had the same foundation and frame. It was just another conference, one that I probably couldn't attend because I couldn't afford it.
After talking with Jennie prior to my trip to Austin, it was clear in my mind that the model wasn't lining up with her vision. Now, it's not to say that the current Christian conference model is altogether bad, surely not. It has its value. But "just another women's conference" didn't seem like it was Jennie's gig, nor did it seem to be lining up with the overall goal of IF:Gathering. So, because of the implementation of the old model, I decided to hold off on being a part of the bigger vision for February. It just didn't feel right.
So, one afternoon during this small event in Austin, I walked up to Jennie and gave her a hug. She said "Let's talk. I want to hear what you think." So, we sat down next to the pool, both of us in swimsuits, sunglasses on, bathing in the Texas heat.
"You said you wanted to wait to jump on board with IF. What's the check in your spirit? Why are you waiting?" She asked me, point blank. I love a woman who can just get to the point.
So, I told her what I thought.
I told her that I believed the IF: Gathering could be so much more. I reminded her of what she already told me, that she desired to partner with the local church, that she wanted to blow the doors open for all women, not just upper-middle class white girls. She nodded enthusiastically and agreed. I squinted at her through my sunglasses, and I asked her, "So, why don't you partner with the local church? Why not gather, equip & unleash women to live out their callings, in their neighborhoods, within the context and support of their church communities? Let's make this thing sustainable long-term. Let's get local church leaders on board to equip women with good content, so they can be unleashed to address the ministry needs of their unique community?" I explained that the ministry needs that face our church in SLC is different than what you find in Atlanta. That the church in Portland has different needs and mission than the church in Austin. By blowing the doors open and REALLY going local - by providing a live-stream or simulcast, available to anyone, anywhere - we're providing access to IF:Gathering to ALL women, and we're equipping them with the tools and support they need to minister in their neighborhoods.
"YES," she replied. This was the heartbeat of what Jennie was trying to do.
"You've gotta just go for it," I told her. "You've gotta go local."
I came home from Austin prepared to sit out this first year of the IF:Gathering. If it wasn't going to be made available to all women, if it didn't have a sustainable local model, I didn't think it was best for me to jump on board. No harm done, I wished them well and was prepared to go on my merry separate way.
But then, Jennie called me. We talked. We dreamed a bit more. We emailed, we prayed & fasted, we talked some more. Then I get a message from her that's so short and simple, I had to repeat it multiple times to make sure I got it: "We're doing it. We're going accessible and we're going local."
A live stream made available to all women, no matter where they lived, no matter how much money they made. Tickets to the event in Austin were being given away, rather than branded with a set price. Everything was going to be donation-driven. Pay what you can, when you can.
It was an incredible leap of faith to change course less than a week before tickets were set to go on sale. I'd never seen such a large ship change course so drastically and quickly before in my life. When Jennie told me all of this over the phone and she asked me if I would play a part, I didn't hesitate. "Yes. I'm in. Whatever you need from me, just ask. I'm in."
Today, tickets for the large February event in Austin were made available to the public. Over 1,000 seats sold out in under 45 minutes. I'd say that's unbelievable, but who am I kidding? Of course it sold out. There is a profound shift happening among women in the church. We're stepping up and stepping into our callings, we're linking arms and committing to bringing forth the Kingdom of God a little bit more tomorrow than we did today. The desire to gather and come alongside each other is so great, it's no wonder the seats for the Austin gathering went so quickly.
And thank God for Jennie's faithfulness to pursue her vision for IF: Local. Because, while the event in Austin will be incredible, without a doubt, I believe the local gatherings of women around the world can bring about sustainable, long-term impact in the Church and its mission.
I may be a bit biased as a local-church fangirl. I know the event in Austin will be great.
But, the local gatherings is where its at, y'all. Didn't snag a ticket to the Austin event? Don't think twice about it. Start making plans to get women together for a local gathering instead.
On February 7th & 8th, make plans to gather the women in your community. Meet in your churches, meet in your living rooms, meet in a conference room, meet at a dining room table. Turn on your computers, log in, and hear from game-changers and world-movers.
Gather, hear and be together. Break bread together. Bust out the good china and make an extra pot of coffee.
Be equipped. Take what you've learned alongside those women in your communities, in your neighborhoods, apply it to the ministry that you're called to do at a local level. Discuss it. Debate it. Ask the church & ministry leaders in your city how you can best serve, using the gifts and callings you've been given.
Unleash. Live it out. You're called to influence, serve and minister. Take what you've learned, and unleash that love, wisdom and gifting on the city around you.
As women in the body of Christ, we have influence. We are each given a calling to be ministers of the Gospel, whether to our children, our coworkers, a congregation, a blog reader, a spouse or family member. Let's come together in our churches, homes, communities and yes, in Austin, too. Let's put aside our differences, let's start tearing down the brick walls that divide us. Let's gather and figure out how to impact a generation. Let's shine a light on the Kingdom.
Let's take the road less traveled. Together.
*IF:Gathering is set up as a nonprofit. All tickets and resources are being offered free of charge, and participants are encouraged to "pay what you can." If you believe in the vision of IF:Gathering, please consider making a donation.*