Jennie Allen of Austin, Texas had a vision: to gather, equip and unleash this generation of Christian women.
Her friends had a question, not unrelated: If God is real, then what?
Allen put the two together and watched a small idea snowball, thanks to social media, into the largest interdenominational Christian women’s conference in years. And while previous generations flocked to charismatic female speakers on topics like marriage and parenthood, these evangelical women had a broader vision, one that spread to vocation, theology and social justice.
“We gather in a new way because we’re not driven by women’s issues,” Allen says.
#IF: Gathering was just a concept, a weekend in February, but something about it resonated with women, quite literally, everywhere. Even before the speaker line-up was announced, the event sold out online in 42 minutes.
Organizers quickly decided to set up local simulcasts across the U.S., Canada and 20 other countries so that people could participate virtually. The emphasis was still on being in community; women were encouraged not to watch alone but to gather in groups locally. For two days, Christian women in over 40,000 locations around the world streamed the event live, while 1,200 people participated in person at the Austin location, including Christian Courier columnist Emily Wierenga of Neerlandia, Alberta.
Allen’s dream is for unity among Christians. To that end, she invited more than 60 influential Christian bloggers and speakers to join her in leading #IF. The conference focused on spiritual gifts and featured Christine Caine of Hillsong Church; Canadian Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts; and Jen Hatmaker, author of 7, and many other women. Hatmaker, her pastor husband and five children are the stars of an upcoming reality TV show, Family Under Construction, set to air in July on HGTV.
Discussions at the #IF Gathering touched on finding your calling, as well as obstacles such as fear and comparison.
Women can hurt each other, Wierenga says. Each of us has been hurt by someone from a different denomination or blog handle or FB status, from a different profession or worldview or passion.
But “none of it mattered in the dusk of a room filled with the glory of Jesus,” as Wierenga describes #IF, “in a room filled with women bent low on repentant knee, Ann Voskamp leading us in confession. None of it mattered in the room filled with arms raised so high we were pounding on heaven’s doors.
“None of it mattered when we were convicted by Christine Caine to recognize sin and to learn our Scriptures and to declare our freedom versus wallowing in deliverance. None of it mattered when a woman from Rwanda told a story of herself as a little girl, and the only thing she longed for was education and clean feet. And when she got both, she committed the rest of her life to giving to others because ‘life is too short to spend in a nice house,’ she said.
“None of it mattered when another woman with a defibrillator in her chest told us to seize the day because she’d tasted death. None of it mattered when Jen Hatmaker stood and told us the reason God loves us is so we can pass that love on to others.”
#IF creator Jennie Allen believes there is something unique happening in our time. She envisages a manifesto, a call to link arms and to live beautifully and well for the glory of God. To that end, #IF has produced a devotional called Equip, and hopes to continue facilitating local gatherings that connect women with the needs of their communities.
“As Jen Hatmaker said,” Wierenga recalls, “it wasn’t about each of us singing our own tunes. It was about us finding the same pitch and singing in harmony.
And it sounded a lot like love.”
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