Diving in head first is an understatement for the entrance that If: Gathering made with its inaugural event in February. With 1,200 women in attendance at the live event at Austin Music Hall in Austin, Texas, and an estimated 100,000 people watching via livestream, it made quite an impact. Amy Brown, communications director, also jumped in with both feet, leaving her career in politics to join the If: Gathering staff full-time last year. The event was born out of the vision of author and speaker Jennie Allen in partnership with event strategist Lindsey Nobles. The duo, along with a few staff members and an advisory team made up of prominent women in the faith-based community, created a memorable event for women from across the United States with the mission of “gathering, equipping and unleashing a generation of women to live out God’s plan for their lives.”
“Accessibility was a big part of our culture,” says Brown. “We wanted a large and diverse audience. We didn’t want just one type of woman to show up to Austin because of potential financial or time barriers, so it was a part of our model since last September to offer a livestream option as well,” says Brown. They branded the livestream If: Local, and encouraged women across the country to create local versions of the primary gathering and then stream the event for everyone there. “We created a Tumblr page with resources for leaders who wanted to host women in their homes, churches or community centers, and we asked them to register and help us pay for this, because we didn’t have a set ticket price,” says Brown. The tickets were sold using a “suggested donation” model.
The desire to livestream the event was successful (Brown says “it way exceeded our expectations”), but that component was also what made programming a challenge. “We wanted a two-day event that not only translated the culture and vision and heartbeat of our organization in that one room, but also that was really mindful of all of the women who were watching in homes and churches across the country,” says Brown. “We put a big emphasis on production, making sure we had the best people helping us so the livestream experience could be as good as possible,” she continues.
Creating the Space
Allen, Brown and their team worked with Orchestrate Experience (whose clients include Chick-Fil-A Leadercast, Hope International, the Atlanta Falcons and Catalyst) to create an environment at If: Gathering that would translate its “simple and pure” vision to the aesthetics in Austin Music Hall. Guests were seated at farm tables to “create a place where women were face to face and could really connect with one another,” says Brown. Speakers presented in a living room environment, where the communication style was conversational and focused on storytelling in different forms.
Amassing a (Massive) Following
It was no easy feat to garner 100,000 virtual attendees to a first-time event, and Brown attributes much of that success to social media. The advisors and leadership of If: Gathering are well-connected and respected across many networks, Brown explains, and “they weren’t afraid to use their own social profiles to talk about If: Gathering and the vision for it. Those women, in their powerful communication styles, were able to captivate and inspire a large audience for our first gathering,” she says.
Recruiting Local Teams
With the goal of attracting a diverse group of women to the event, both live and virtually, If: Gathering staff had to enlist local teams, called If: Local Leaders, to make the small events happen from afar. Through Facebook groups and chain emails, the staff emphasized to these leaders that perfection and high attendance were not their main goals. “We tried to give them as many tools and resources as possible prior to the gathering, but it was important to us that those women caught the vision and didn’t do it just because of a list of speakers,” says Brown. (Christine Caine, Shelley Giglio, Rebekah Lyons, Bianca Olthoff and Ann Voskamp were guest speakers, while Christy Nockels led worship for the group.) “We kept all that information tight-lipped and didn’t give out the speaker lineup ahead of time. We didn’t want to be the next conference; we wanted it to be this simple and pure gathering. Sometimes that meant telling people, ‘This is organic,’ which is a really pretty word for really messy.”
Advice for Others
“Vision is so important,” says Brown. “Any time we would run into problems, or if we were having a difficult time executing something, it was usually because we were not clearly communicating with each other about the vision.”
Listen to If: Gathering founders Jennie Allen and Lindsay Nobles share the full story behind the inspiration and creation of the event here.
Photo credit: Moxie Collective