Note: This post was originally written in 2014. The lessons below still hold true. However, if you are considering hosting the IF: Gathering at your church, I highly recommend that you purchase the digital recordings so you can preview every speaker’s session and select those that will be most beneficial to your group so you can have plenty of time for discussion and interaction (no one wants to sit and stare at a screen all day). Previewing each session will also allow you to make certain that the speakers you show align closely with your church’s doctrine.
Have you heard of the IF:Gathering?
If not, don’t feel bad. I really hadn’t either.
I vaguely remember hearing something about some women’s ministry-related conference in Austin, Texas last fall, but it really wasn’t on my radar screen. We were living in Kentucky at the time and since it wasn’t in my neck of the woods it wasn’t in my budget.
Fast forward several months and an article in The Charlotte Observer about the IF:Gathering peaked my curiosity. They reported 1,200 women in attendance in Austin, TX with another 44,000 participating via satellite. THAT got my attention.
Billed as a new women’s ministry movement of sorts I started digging and discovered this was different.
This was no ordinary conference.
There is a LOT we can learn from the IF:Gathering.
So what is this IF: and why does it matter? According to their website this is the mission for IF: We exist to gather, equip and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose.
I’ve read several articles and blogs to uncover just what made this different and why women unexpectedly responded by the thousands.
This is what I’ve gleaned from the IF:Gathering:
1. Women love simplicity – the décor was minimal and existed to set the tone – farm tables, mason jars with candles, cabbage, lavender, and strings of lights. Very Pinteresty.
2. Women want depth and honesty – their theme was nothing fancy, but merely a question – If God is real, then what? Speakers were real, open, and honest. You can watch this 15 minute segment with Kristin Armstrong on their blog.
3. Despite what we may hear, women are willing to open their homes – 40,000 satellite locations streamed the event in the US and 22 other countries.
4. The event did not end after those 2 days. They have put in place Table Events (you invite 5 women over for a simple meal and the IF team supplies questions for you to discuss). The connections continue. They are also hosting a daily online Bible devotional/study.
5. Big names don’t matter – they did not even know who the speakers would be when registration began and then they kept the plans a secret – women were drawn to the overall event, not a speaker’s name. (The type-A in me is struggling with this one!)
6. There is no substitute for seeking God’s will and covering events in prayer. I’ll post some blog links at the bottom that will give you insight to see that this was a total God thing and far surpassed anything the planning team could have imagined. 44,000. 23 countries.
7. Great reach can be accomplished thru the internet. A network of Christian bloggers helped spread the word and shared the heart of the team prior to registration so that it sold out in 42 minutes.
8. A simple, complete website is critical. If you haven’ t already, go take a peek at their site. Don’t neglect the power of the internet.
9. In spite of our busy, crazy schedules, women want to make a difference – they want to pursue their God-given passions and they want to impact others. Over 600 children were sponsored through Food for the Hungry
10. We must rely on God and the Holy Spirit. Never did the planners expect to sell out 1,200 seats in Austin, TX in 42 minutes. They scrambled to set up a satellite event to include more women.
11. Our role is to gather, equip, and unleash. Can I tell you how much I love this? How many of us (myself included) are guilty of planning events that end with the event? There’s no next thing. No unleashing of our women to do great things for God.
12. We need to re-think the cost – there was no set cost to attend the IF: Austin. Seriously. I know. You paid what you could and came if you could. They trusted God to provide the finances and asked those who could help to help.
13. We need to open our arms and our events to all women. We are missing great numbers of women who feel like they don’t fit in – whether it be by the way they look, their background, what they wear, profession, choice of Bible translation, the music they listen to, or their lack of church attendance. It’s time to change things so that women outside of the group that always attends want to be a part of what we are doing.
14. It’s okay to throw our plans in the trash to obey the Holy Spirit. When the planning team gathered and met they realized their initial vision had gotten lost in the plans. They needed to do this conference differently. No ticket prices, no worksheets to fill out.
Sarah Bessey, blogger and member of the planning team, says it best, “Women are hungry for Jesus! for a place of belonging, for freedom, for healing, for purpose, and for community.”
We have the task of providing such a place.
Are you getting a sense and awareness that there is a new movement in Women’s Ministry?
I have no doubt it is here.
You have a choice, you can listen to the voices of a generation that longs to know and be Jesus or you can keep doing women’s ministry the same way it was done 10 years ago.
God has so impressed upon my heart the need for women’s ministry leaders to renovate their ministries that I am starting a series later this week on just that.
Many churches are seeing an aging and a shrinking group of women attending their events. Some do a great job of reaching young mothers through “mommy groups” but can’t get those same women to attend a conference, retreat, or fellowship.
I don’t have all the answers, but God has opened my eyes to several starting points.
Let’s throw the doors wide open and reach as many women as we can!
If you’re ready to make some changes in your ministry, please read:
Reno Project #1 Excessive Decorations
Reno Project #2 – Your Mission Statement
Reno Project #3 – Offerings
Reno Project #4 – Updating Your Publicity
Reno Project #5 -Technology
Reno Project #6 – Providing Better Training