When Jennie Allen first felt God prompting her to empower a generation of women, she never envisioned a conference that tens of thousands of women would tune in to. When she and friends announced in late 2013 that they were planning the first IF: Gathering, women around the world caught the vision and forced the team's vision to become bigger than they ever anticipated.
But it wasn't just bigger—it was also faster. Within 42 minutes, the conference set for February 2014 was sold out, and the team decided to make it available for online streaming so that women around the country—and around the world—could tune in. That model stuck, and this year the IF: Gathering hosted 2,000 women in Austin and was simulcast to 110,000 locations worldwide, with some locations representing hundreds of women.
But the vision for IF was always more than a conference to Allen. She wants to gather, equip, and unleash a generation of women to live fully for God, and Allen realizes that living out our faith takes more than a once-a-year conference. It requires relationships that challenge, support, and encourage us. So Allen and her team dreamed up IF: Table—the simple idea to invite six women to dinner once a month to talk about God and life. To help facilitate these gatherings, the IF team creates four discussion starters each month for Table leaders to use.
"We try to keep them very simple so that anyone can relate, no matter where they're coming from," Allen explained. Each month features a theme that the team has prayed about. They've recently covered busyness, gratitude, weakness, and prayer.
If it sounds overly simple, know that Allen agrees. "We have not been a terribly intentional bunch. I say that not to be condescending to our team or to this vision, but to give great glory to God. Because honestly, we can't believe what he's done." Their best "guesstimate" for the number of people involved in IF: Table is 20,000.
Part of the beauty of IF: Table is that women can take this simple tool and run with it in ways that make sense for their community, coming alongside local churches, and that was always Allen's dream. As a result, the stories from IF: Table have been incredible.
Kim Wideman from Lubbock, Texas, wasn't sure about IF: Table at first. She admits that she "felt a prompting, but didn't obey out of fear." She had recently been wounded by some women, and she was nervous about opening up again. But IF: Table was different. For the first time, Wideman felt safe to open up because there was an understanding around the table: everyone was there for the same thing.
"It's not like it's rocket science," she laughed. "People have dinner all the time. But when it's intentional, it becomes a ministry opportunity." As the women in the group place value on the monthly gathering, the women themselves begin to feel valued, and that feeling of being valued is what led to Wideman's healing.
Wideman credits the monthly questions with helping the group share authentically. She appreciates that they "are designed to get past the fluff." Though "it takes time to get deep and messy," the questions have helped the women at her table dive in and get to know one another well in a short amount of time.
Now Wideman is preparing to use the IF: Table model for some small groups at her church. She hopes that this simple tool will help women in her church come together in healthy, healing ways.