“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22).
When I met with my Exponential co-founder Dave Ferguson two years ago to discuss Exponential’s 2020 annual focus, we never anticipated that the Together: Pursuing the Great Collaboration theme would be so needed in our world and in the Church today.
When we began planning this theme on unity and collaboration two years ago, we had no idea the depth of division that would exist in our nation today. It sure looks now like God walked ahead of us and led us down this theme programming path ‘for such a time as this’!
We also did not anticipate the opportunity to put in place something in the coming months that we were initially thinking would take several years to implement. As Dave Ferguson recently said to me, “Unprecedented crises— including COVID-19 and the recent spotlights on disunity and racial divides—have actually been catalysts for us to expedite two major shifts for Exponential and the church multiplication community in the fall of 2020.”
These shifts include:
- A shift from 6 regional events with 4,000 leaders to 100+ roundtable events across the U.S. with 10,000+ leaders
- A shift in the emphasis of the collaboration conversation to focus on healthy discussions of unity and race
To help shape and facilitate these shifts, Exponential formed a planning and advisory team made up of well-known people of color like Efrem Smith, Albert Tate, Léonce Crump and Myron Pierce. They are speaking into the program design and speaker invitations. Our intent is to have over 75% of the speakers be people of color.
Click here to watch the video of Dave and I sharing our hearts behind Exponential’s shifts this fall.
From 6 Regional Events to 100+ Roundtable Events in 100 Cities
The new roundtable format advances Exponential’s mission to see multiplication become normative reaching a tipping point of 16 percent of all U.S. churches as reproducing churches.
We’re making progress, but we’ve known for a couple of years now that our big conferences alone are not going to get us to that tipping point. Exponential has been moving toward 100 roundtable events that would eventually infuse the multiplication message into 3,100 counties across America by adding decentralized local events into its mix of live national and regional gatherings. Last year, Exponential started piloting these smaller, decentralized gatherings.
This year, Exponential is starting with Roundtable conversations in 100 metro areas in the U.S. Each gathering will be four to six hours and will include:
- 12 Roundtables with eight participants each
- three main sessions (60 to 90 minutes each)
- optional music and two pre-recorded high-quality TED-style talks from Exponential’s library
- focused conversations on the content
- a leader/facilitator at each table
What we want to do locally is get people into conversation. The subtle but significant distinction between regional and roundtable events is “who’s cooking the meal.”
At our national and regional events, we take the ingredients— the speakers, the music, the creative moments—and we deliver an amazing meal for attendees to consume. We want to inspire them to say, ‘Wow! I want to [action appropriate to their context].’
At roundtable events, host ministries still deliver the ingredients—high quality pre-recorded TED-style talks, music and some creative elements—but the meal is cooked by the people at the round tables. The conversations are designed to be the transformative special sauce that helps attendees personalize the content and take ownership for action.
The COVID-19 crisis accelerated that plan. While online gatherings have served a critical purpose during social quarantines, digital meetings have reached a saturation point. Leaders are hungry for face-to-face conversation. The smaller roundtable format of only 100 participants offers that in-person opportunity while also minimizing health and safety risks that a larger event might present.
Critical Conversations Around Unity and Closing the Racial Divide
In addition to COVID-19, we also saw a need to respond to the increasing disunity and polarization, and the racial divides in America.
“We’ve been on an intentional path for several years to become a more diverse organization,” Dave said. “People of color are routinely acknowledging our positive progress, but we recognize that the majority of leaders we’re reaching are still white leaders.”
The roundtable format and conversational focus on unity give Exponential an opportunity to be a connector in healthy conversations on race. One thing that has surfaced in our discussions is that an increasing number of white pastors want to move beyond continually saying ‘I’m sorry’; they want to engage this conversation with a learning posture. But they’re increasingly cautious, and even paralyzed, out of fear of unintentionally saying the wrong things.
The roundtables are designed to help leaders engage these difficult conversations in a safe yet challenging environment.
All three sessions of the roundtable event will include two speakers and will be built around unity and healthy race conversations. For each session, host churches can select from a collection of 24 high-quality, pre-recorded TED-style talks from a diverse lineup of speakers (the initial invite list includes 12 African Americans, four Latinos, four Asian-Americans and four white pastors). In addition, host churches can also identify and schedule local live speakers to truly craft their own unique gathering.
We asked leaders of color to speak into and help shape the Roundtable events.
“We knew that we’re not qualified to do the programming for this,” Dave said. “So, our first priority was asking these leaders, ‘Are we on the right track? If so, what do we need to be doing?’ Everyone has affirmed that yes, this is a good path, and Exponential is well-positioned to use its the platform for these important conversations.”
These Kingdom-building shifts offer multiple takeaways for both host churches and participants:
Transformative discovery and aha moments: Exponential wants each roundtable participant to walk away from the event having identified at least one thing they want to pursue: an initiative at their church, planting a church, hosting a roundtable event at their church.
We want leaders to actually grab on to something they commit to doing when they leave. We definitely want to see action from each participant. At the end of the day, there’ll be a commissioning moment, similar to the last session at an Exponential conference, in which leaders will be anointed and commissioned for whatever they’ve identified as their next step.
Healthy and catalytic places for conversation: Roundtable events will lead the way in bringing together leaders from different ethnicities and creating a platform for conversations in a framework that doesn’t avoid the critical topic but also doesn’t instantly create barriers.
“We want people of color to come away from these events saying, ‘This gives me more hope for the future,’” Dave said. “We also want them to feel like they’re able to make the application for their own context. And for white leaders, we want them to do some real transformative thinking and come away feeling equipped to have these conversations and be part of the solution instead of silently standing on the sidelines.”
Training table facilitators will be key to ensuring healthy conversations and boundaries. This is big-time on our list. What happens at the table is the ‘make-or-break’ factor. Exponential is working to create a “rules of engagement” of sorts that participants must agree to in order to participate in the event.
A unique “sticky” language: Over the last 10 years, Exponential has recognized the importance of creating a sticky language to help leaders engage a conversation that results in action. The roundtables afford that opportunity to bring forth unifying language that can provide an onramp to these potentially transformative discussions. Language really matters. We’ve got to be able to move from language being a barrier in this conversation to it being a bridge.
A ripple effect in churches and cities: Imagine 100 or more roundtables taking place throughout your city, bringing 10,000+ people together to listen to these TED-style talks and then come together to have eye-opening and catalytic conversations. Exponential is creating a turn-key resource kit that any leader can use to go back and run roundtables for 100 people at their churches. We’re building the reproducing element that will give leaders access to eventually 60 high-quality TED-style talks they can choose from to bring to their church and other churches in their area.
Because of its size, a roundtable event doesn’t need a large venue like Exponential’s regional events. Bible colleges, seminaries, non-profit organizations can all facilitate this type of gathering that takes place on any day of the week.
Team collaboration: The affordable pricing ($39 per person) gives churches an excellent way to work through these important conversations with their teams.
Expanded involvement: Roundtables can be hosted by a church, an affiliation of churches, a network, and/or related ministries. We encourage as much collaboration as possible, even with churches pairing up to do this together.
The Bigger Picture
The roundtable events are one element of a bigger strategy Exponential has for helping church leaders engage and influence the racial reconciliation conversation. In addition to a new resource kit 60+ high-quality TED-style, Exponential will offer other race-related resources to continue the conversation, including ongoing live online conversations with national leaders throughout the fall. These live interactive conversations will happen several days per week via Exponential’s FREE online community.
The new Candid Conversations show is co-hosted by Efrem Smith, Grant Skeldon, and myself. Each week, we focus on a different topic and have a special guest. Dr. John Perkins is the special guest on the pilot episode with a focus on Unity. Other guests include Albert Tate, Miles McPherson, Bryan Loritts, Matt Chandler, Léonce Crump, and many others.
We’re pursuing collaboration and unity—Jesus’ prayer in John 17—so this kind of heart change has to be an ongoing conversation and continual effort. We know we won’t close the gap on the racial divide with one roundtable event, but we’re starting with these conversations.
We have long understood and put effort toward the Great Commission (Matthew 28), which is the challenge to “Go.” More recently we have acknowledged we must also obey the Great Commandment (Mark 12) to “Love.” But the missing part that makes up the mission of Jesus is the third great, the Great Collaboration (John 17) – that we must do this “Together.”
We have attempted to carry out the first two parts of the Jesus’ mission on our own and/or through our individual churches. In so doing we have grown comfortable with our largely homogeneous churches and we live with an implicit bias toward people like ourselves.
As a result, we’ve not been pursuing collaboration with the intentionality, urgency, and conviction needed to position the church as a key catalyst in modeling leadership to our culture on racial reconciliation and unity. Further, Satan uses our complacency to drive a wedge of divisiveness between us and keep us from experiencing and modeling the unity he prayed for and called us to in John 17.
We now understand that to accomplish the Jesus mission and see movements of healthy, reproducing churches, all believers and churches must obey the call of Jesus to GO…LOVE…and do it TOGETHER.
We are called to pursue unity and model healthy conversations for such a time as this!
Our fall 2020 theme programming seeks to help church leaders engage this missing piece starting in the heart and mind of the leader. This three-session conversational experience is built around the simple framework: “How big is my circle (wide and deep)?” followed by “what’s limiting the size of my circle?”, and concluding with “What’s needed NOW to increase the size of my circle?”
The in-person Roundtable experience is available to purchase for $39, and you will receive the Resource Kit for free. Click here to learn more and register for a Roundtable.
Click here to watch the video of Dave and I sharing our hearts behind Exponential’s shifts this fall.