By Elizabeth Prata
The introduction will be a bit long. This is for two reasons. In case the reader is not familiar with the movement of IF:Gathering, and also for the reason I’ll state in the conclusion.
Jennie Allen, founder of IF:Gathering, and Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, recently sat together in Jennie’s living room and recorded their conversation about Jesus, trials, and living out their passion for God. Jennie assured viewers at the opening of the video the in-person sit-down occurred prior to the mandated stay-at-home quarantine. The one-hour discussion was posted at the IF:Gathering’s niche inside the RightNow media host of streaming Bible studies.
IF:Gathering is a digital para-church ‘discipling’ movement founded by Jennie Allen in 2014 after she heard, in her words, “a voice from the sky” that instructed her to “gather and equip this generation.” The first conference was held in 2014.
That initial conference was touted mainly on digital media with a vague motto, “If God is real, then what?” with no speakers announced. Interest was sparked on Christian blogs, other social media, and word of mouth. This digital approach worked- the initial conference sold out in 42 minutes, surprising organizers, so digital-savvy founders quickly set up local watch parties across the U.S. and 22 other countries to allow for participation via simulcast.
Reportedly, over 40,000 people watched and 1200 attended in person, and the hashtag #IFGathering trended to the top on Twitter. Initial speakers of this below-the-radar movement busy gathering and equipping your women were Allen, of course, Ann Voskamp, Christine Caine, Shelley Giglio and Jen Hatmaker. Original advisers to Allen and other leaders in the of the corporation were Christine Caine, Shelley Giglio, and Debbie Eaton- all women.
Six years later, the corporation is a 501(c)3 non-profit with recent revenues standing at 3.6 million dollars (but net assets of half a million). Their stated goal for the annual conference held in Austin at that time, was, “If Austin: a two-day gathering that brought thousands of women together in Austin and at local gatherings across the globe. The gathering is a fresh, deep, honest space for a new generation of women to wrestle with the essential question: if God is real… Then what?” and for the rest of the year, “If Equip: a holistic, strategic, deep way to connect online with a like-hearted community and relevant resources. We hope to prepare women around the world to know God more deeply and to live out their purposes by sharing comments and feelings about daily passages posted online”.
Thus, If Equip is centered around local gatherings studying IF-written devotionals and discussing their feelings about the verses outside of the church and apart from pastoral oversight.
The movement is ecumenical, not mentioning any particular denominations specifically but stressing that women “from different traditions” or “different camps” are welcome “for the sake of unity.”
Jennie opened the Webinar conversation by relating a story of her earliest memory of meeting Beth Moore. It was early days, Jennie said, she was in college and Beth had just started. She said she wept hard during Moore’s talk to about 300 women, because she connected with the passion and love for Jesus that Moore displayed. Allen said it was a relief to meet someone who felt the same way about Jesus that she did. As that long-ago event concluded, Allen approached Moore and stated that she felt about ministry like Moore does. Moore put her hands on both Jennie’s shoulders and proclaimed, “I affirm that calling of God in your life. Now go and learn your Bible.”
The webinar conversation published this week began with Moore talking of the importance of fulfilling one’s gifting to communicate, if that is the gifting, but on a larger scale for women to find traction in their walk of faith. “Fulfilling that place that God has for them. I believe with all my heart Jennie that we really get into the momentary that seasonal place God wants us to be,” Moore said.
Jennie shared that she worries that the generation coming up has made an idol out of their phones and digital life. (?! A startling admission from the founder of a movement whose promotion and existence is almost entirely digital.)
Jennie asked Moore how do we do ministry well. Moore answered that “it’s much more compelling that it’s harder than ever. That we have taken out everything so seeker friendly, fun, and comfortable, that we have taken out everything that is compelling. Are we ready to come forward and die? What is worth it to them to give everything?”
Jennie affirmed that the enemy is ‘getting us’ through distraction, numbness, and comfort. That said, how does Moore choose to follow Jesus in a better way and not get distracted? (and not too comfortable was tacitly hanging in the air). Moore said that it’s Jesus Himself that is the reason she is ‘still in it.’ She is still extremely interested in Him and is still extremely compelled by him, and mesmerized by him, and that is the reason she is still ‘willing to take the risk.’ In this numb, drunken sloppy culture that’s lulling us into self fulfillment Moore said, she is still willing to lose herself to find herself, to do the opposite of what the culture and even the Christian culture is asking us to do.
Moore stated the obvious, that women in other cultures might not have what we have, noting that they were sitting on a couch and many other women don’t even have that. “We’re not suggesting we don’t have those things, but…” and continued.
I’d like to insert here, in the discussion about ministry v. comfort, that Moore owns 4 homes, one is a ranch in Menard TX, and another more than a three-quarters of a million dollar home on a rare double waterfront lot on Galveston Bay, complete with private dock and a boat. She flies private jet to venues, a perk for which Lifeway pays half and her own ministry pays the other half. Moore’s salary is a quarter of a million dollars. She is more than comfortable. Allen herself is a successful multi-book author and is at this moment on a book tour for her latest book. Also, please don’t forget that last year Moore was asked a very simple question, whether she believes homosexuality is a sin, and Moore refused to answer. This in my opinion contradicts her statement that Moore is willing to be counter-cultural and take a risk in ministry.
Jennie asked Moore about finishing well after “so many years” in the ministry. Moore said, and I’m quoting,
“I’ve told Him, I said if you give me presence of mind in my last moments, I want to see my, in this order, my grandkids, then I want to be with my daughters, then I’d like to be with my husband, then let me have 30 seconds where I’m aware before I go home, and let me be able to say to Him, ‘I’ve had the biggest blast with you. In the midst of so much crap, yeah, I’ve had this insane adventure with him.”
Jennie asked about retiring. Moore’s reply was that she wanted to do what Jesus asks her to do, whether public or private, and if it’s private she is ready for that. But she also said she does not want to succumb to a failure due to spiritual warfare.
Their conversation ranged from there to the dark night of the soul, in which Jennie shared that she is deathly afraid of the dark and shared that she had an 18-months season of doubt so severe she thought she would lose her faith completely. They spoke of persevering, fame, impact in ministry, promoted each of their new books, fruitfulness, and generally continued in this manner with Allen asking and Moore answering, for the rest of the hour.
The conversation was genteel and wide-ranging. Allen asked Moore questions of ministry and Christian life, and remained quiet, allowing Moore to answer expansively. For this reason, I noticed that Moore’s answers were more disorganized than usual. She answered in circular fashion, interrupting herself, inserting parenthetical comments, and occasionally even losing her train of thought. I also noticed that Moore’s answers were vague than ever. It seemed like she was being extraordinary careful with her answers. As casual as the conversation was, Moore was picking and choosing the most high-emotion but most drained of meaning words she could. Here is one example. It does not make sense,
“I believe with all my heart Jennie that we really get into the momentary that seasonal place God wants us to be.”
By contrast, Jennie Allen seemed sincere and eager. She was like a puppy looking up to her idol, and bounding from one topic to another with joy and a delight that was endearing. I was affected when she shared the depth to which she dislikes the dark and really felt empathy when she described her season of doubt.
Nevertheless, it saddens me to see the pairing of the two women, who talk of handing the reins to new generations, because both do not teach rightly. Yet both combined have a digital footprint and a resulting following of millions. I am talking millions. As an aside, Joyce Meyer is 76, Beth Moore is 61, Christine Caine, who claims Meyer as her ‘spiritual mother’ is 53, and Allen, who idolizes Moore, is 41. They have sparked generations of women all the way down the line, as influencers but went more and more unorthodox, as this insightful article unintentionally makes the point of, the rise of the female influencers. Who will be the next influencer coming up the ranks? Who is Allen influencing?
I am against Allen’s IF movement specifically because it draws women away from their home churches and creates a ‘community’ based on feelings about the Bible and not the theology of the Bible. I am against its main premise, “IF God is real”. I am against it because it seems not to have any male oversight. (Though Allen’s husband Zac is on the corporate board now). I am also against it because IF’s self-stated emphasis on social justice and spiritual formation.
I am against their secretiveness. They aren’t secretive as in dastardly, but secretive as savvy protectors of their digital content. Being mainly digital, they’re fiercely protective of their content behind their paywalls. They also don’t post a list of scheduled speakers before the annual gathering. You must buy the ticket based on the concept, not the speakers. To me this is backward, you want to know whose content you will be absorbing, and not blindly ingest. This is likely the reason many pastors are unaware of the influence from this movement on their women.
The Big Announcement
Jennie Allen’s organization sent out a follow up to the webinar announcing that since the quarantine time has hit, they wanted to help. So they developed IF:TV. Allen said in her announcement video,
We have a new dream. It’s called IF:TV. Because, what we’re good at is coming to you with content, with experiences around God, bringing together your people, while you’re in your pajamas! It’s our expertise.
The first IF:TV program is called MADE FOR THIS- Live with Jennie Allen. Beginning Wednesday, April 1st at 7pm CT I’m going to share the stories we need right now and have some fun! We’ll have a free resource each week to work through with your people from afar!
The second IF:TV show will be THE BEST OF IF:GATHERING -Your Favorite Messages, Beginning Friday, April 3rd at 12pm CT, Features some of your favorite moments from IF:Gathering over the years. We’ll give you conversation cards to start convos with your people.
Allen’s sincerity is evident and her joy seems boundless and undiminished after several years of nurturing her movement and corporation along. I give her that. It is true that given their shrewdness in managing content through digital media they are more prepared than most to share what they have to offer on their various platforms via a screen during this coronavirus time. But that, as we know, is not the church. Yet IF:Gathering now has another digital platform on which to send out their poorly constructed Bible studies and false conclusions.
Because their main thrust is digital, they capitalize on a well-known phenomenon called Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Wikipedia describes it as
a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social anxiety is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.
Their promotions usually include tantalizing phrases such as ‘don’t miss out’ or ‘be the first to sign up’ or ‘get early access’, ‘be the first to know’, or ‘want to learn more? sign up below!’ In my opinion they trade, probably unwittingly, on the FOMO many younger people deal with these days.
I agree with Carol Coppens’ assessment of Jennie Allen here expressed in her review of Allen’s 2018 book Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul at Michelle Lesley’s website-
This is not a book that will help you to dive deep into the character of God and to know Him better but instead, Jennie’s book is a tedious, self absorbed, experience driven, hermeneutically unsound, over-stepper of scriptural boundaries, mish-mash of emotionalism and repetitive “wrecked-ness”.
In the research I’ve done in listening to Jennie Allen’s speeches and interviews, such as the above webinar, my opinion is the same as Ms Coppens’. Bad hermeneutics, drawing away from the local church, emotionalism, and not to mention Allen’s “voice from the sky” that directed her to found the corporation and audibly delivered the motto. The entire movement is founded on doubt, which they elevate to an exalted position, as many post-modernists do. As Phil Johnson said, emergents often “doubt seeking justification”. Please avoid IF:Gathering, IF:Equip, IF:TV and all the other IF’s, which have grown tremendously since 2014, as you see below from their website.
Info on IF:Gathering
Info on FOMO: