What Is It about Christianity21?

Paul Soupiset sketches at Christianity21. (Courtney Perry)

Before last week, Doug and I hadn’t run a Christianity21 conference since 2009. We’d run some others — both our own and in partnership with others — and some had gone quite well. We’d also run dozens of Social Phonics Boot Camps during that time. But people kept asking us to run another C21. Those requests came both from people who were at the first C21, and from those who’d heard about it over the years.

We knew that we didn’t have the bandwidth to resurrect C21 alone, so Sarah Cunningham came on board as the event’s producer. Christianity21 is more high-maintenance than other conferences because there are 21 speakers in just over 48 hours, and there are another 40+ 7-21 Talks (those talks are 7 minutes long). We could not — nay, would not — have run C21 without Sarah.

Sarah Cunningham giving some announcements. (Courtney Perry)

As Doug noted in the closing talk of the event, between Thursday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, attendees heard nearly 9 hours of content. Add to that the myriad conversations, new books purchased, and Heatherlyn songs sung, and the treasure of input was unparalleled.

Enjoying the “underground” 7-21 Talks at Christianity21. (Courtney Perry)

Never have Doug and I produced an event that was so unequivocally appreciated by all in attendance. Something magic happened over the weekend in Denver — something that we couldn’t plan for or make happen. Surely something that we could not manufacture. But something about the way that the various talks — both long (21 minutes) and short (7 minutes) — wove together a tapestry of beauty.

Charles Lee talked about innovation at Christianity21. (Courtney Perry)
Amy Jacober and child listen to a talk at Christianity21. (Courtney Perry)

So, the question remains as to whether we’ll run C21 again next year. If you’d like us to, I’d appreciate a comment in that regard. Also, let us know who you’d like to hear present. Doug, Sarah, and I all have full lives, and we run events on the side. So it’s never easy to decide how to go forward. Let me know what you think.

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  • Chris Estus

    YES. This event was perfect. More! Also, you all are much nicer in person than you are on the Internet. Thanks for doing this and letting so many of us participate.

  • For me, the “something-special” was C21’s wiki-fication of the conference dynamic. Attendees are content-producers, and speakers are attendees. The 7-21 talks, the rolling panel discussions, the make-your-breakout-session bar (OK, I just made that name up) — That experimentation turned “I heard some interesting speakers” into “I’m part of something.” That’s the power of emergence. {cue Huey Lewis…}. Build it again and I will come again and help build more.

  • JeanM

    Yes, please! I am so bummed that I couldn’t attend! I’ll even help!

  • Trig

    C21 provided unity, as Sarah said, we need more unity among conservatives, progressives, liberals, evangelicals, etc. More!

  • Jon Eric Smith

    Build it and They will come .

  • I’d echo John Stonecypher. Plus note that you three are bright, inventive, talented, and funny friends – and that was reflected in the quality of the presenters you curated. (I’ve been to conferences with lots of content – most of it pretty average – and that is not much fun.) And as an older person, it was great being in a room that was NOT dominated by Baby Boomers. And as Trig pointed out, you also were great models for how to attend to the health of the body politic as much as the health of the body of Christ – a la Paul. This was my best conference ever.

  • Melinda Cadwallader

    Christianity 21 provided the space for love to grow through acceptance, community and the challenging of our faith. I was stretched, inspired and impacted by every person at this event, whether they were a mainstage speaker or a fresh face giving a 7 minute talk. Diversity truly made this event a rich community experience. I recommend this event to the many out there who, like myself, have chosen to step out of mainstream Christianity in search of community that is authentic, real, raw and fresh.

  • Chris Erdman

    A great gathering…the take away for me was the strength I received by being around so many people who are trying to faithfully bring Christianity into the 21st century…that there are at least that many good folk who are up to similar stuff in their own contexts. Gives me great hope for the church and our faith. It needs a jumpstart, a rebirthing…and the Spirit is doing that. Good too to have Sarah and Ani from other religious traditions. Thanks for that wisdom. The path forward will require us to discern how to connect with the religious and ideological pluralism around us. As to next year? I suggest every other year. Create a longing for us to be together. Use it as a modest Big Bang for us when we gather, creating momentum for the work we do between gatherings.

  • Cory Glover

    C21 was a fantastic experience, and I think it should become an annual event. Many in my circle who did not attend would like to attend next time.

    Since you asked, here’s my input:

    – Diversity. More than I’ve ever seen at an event.
    – Creative format for speaking. 21-21s and 7-21s is creative and different. I would even love it if EVERY speaker had to use the 7-21 format.Then, maybe we could hear everyone without having to choose.
    – Accessible. There was a place for just about anyone to find moments of comfort and challenge.

    – More art! It was very prose heavy. I think we could have used more time for processing and much more time for art. Incorporate more music, poetry, art, or even silence in between the speakers.
    – Slightly more direction. I don’t think some of the mainstage speakers really understood the event. They just talked about their personal issue or theme without really offering us much for the church in the 21st century. I know you don’t want to control the content…and allow themes to emerge on their own. But maybe a little more direction would help?
    – Panels/Small Groups. They felt forced. I think these will happen organically and don’t need to be in the schedule.

    Overall, it was great! The only person I wished was there was Eugene Cho. Oh, and MORE KENT DOBSON!

  • Chris Enstad

    The answer is yes and I’d be happy to plan, host, speak, sing or cook…

  • I’m in the boat of I couldn’t make this years, but would LOVE to be part of a future one. So maybe a bi-annual kind of format might help not having to constantly be putting in the effort but still make it available?

  • Sounds like a great time; wish I could have gone!

  • Lisa Domke

    It was fantastic. As I told you, this was one of the best conferences I have attended. I do thing that blurring the lines between presenter/attender creates something special. Everyone brought something to the table and that made some magic.

    I would love to attend another C-21. I like the idea of every other year, although I would come annually. Short talks and diversity of speakers/topics was a plus. Heatherlyn was amazing. Bring her back for sure. It would be interesting to explore some hands-on creative time with art, music, poetry. I would love it if the 21 minute talks also had visual interest (like 7-21 talks). I would like to hear Julie Clawson on the MainStage talking about fantasy/sci-fi stuff. Kathy Escobar is doing amazing work and is a fabulous teacher. Since so many of us are experimenting with new forms of community, it would be nice to hear more of those voices. Maybe a panel that talks about what is working, what isn’t and why. More on cultivating creativity and innovation would be great.

    Mostly I am just grateful for your curation and for everyone who attended.

  • Carl Holmes

    For me, I think every two years is good. Many of us have feet in both worlds (conservative/progressive) and are working to reconcile the two world views. However, my conference budget is only so big. I think that would give time and space for our more conservative brothers, and time and space to more progressive vision. Also, with Wild Goose and others throughout the year, it would not be two years necessarily before we were apart of a good progressive conversation.

  • karlkroger

    I loved it! The format, the rich and varied content, and the kickass organizers all rocked! But what probably appealed to me most, was the diversity of stellar people, genuinely seeking to follow Jesus.

    Let’s take Christianity back from crazy fundamentalists, shallow movements, and boring Mainlines. #Christianity21

    (I’d echo Lisa’s suggestion of going every other year)

  • Irene Flynn

    Yes, please do this again! Christianity21 was the very best continuing ed. event I’ve been to in years! The diversity of speakers, the variety of topics, the varied ways of presenting and the talented and passionate speakers always presented new ways of looking at doing ministry in the 21st Century. I know this was a lot of hard work, but oh, so worth it!

  • Mark Lee

    I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. I came in not knowing at all what to expect, so just committed myself to be open eyes and ears. I particularly liked the 7-21 format, and was amazed at the way some of the speakers coordinated text and visuals. By the end, as an introvert I was quite exhausted from the nonstop input (maybe some also commuting 2 hours each way). I found people open and accessible; while I knew nobody coming in, it was easy to meet people for discussion and tag-along for lunch.

    One thing that did surprise me was that there was no worship time. I’ve always identified ’emergent’ churches as experimenting with innovative, ancient-modern, contemplative worship style. It would have been nice to give people a chance to showcase the liturgical diversity as well as the theological diversity.

    Having been once, I would certainly do it again. And knowing a bit more what to expect, I’ll be better able to talk it up among my fellow congregants.

  • Kelly Pigott

    I know it had to have been a monumental job to herd all the cats, but the conference went like clockwork. I enjoyed the intimate and casual atmosphere, the superb speaker lineup, and the opportunity to hear a variety of voices. I’d love to see another C21. Doug did a great job making everyone feel welcomed. I especially enjoyed the way he organized dinners. And during the panel discussion you inspired me to get more consistent with my blog. And to not give up. Overall, thumbs up and many thanks for the hard work. And I should mention that the cost of the conference was very reasonable. I’d go again in a heartbeat.

  • duhsciple

    I’d love to come in future! Sad that I have not made it so far. Are there any recordings?

    • The recordings of the talks will be available soon.

  • Stan Theman

    Church is boring; you’re trying to come up with yet another gimmick to get people to think you have anything to say of any relevance: you don’t.
    And more and more people are figuring this out for themselves all the time.

  • Will Clapp

    Unfortunately, I was not able to attend. Therefore, I am wholeheartedly in the camp that would ask for another C21!!!

  • Jim

    Since more than two-thirds of people in the world are not Christians, how about fostering an understanding of other beliefs and having some Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist speakers to explain their point of view? Or is this strictly a Christian cheerleaders convention?

    • There actually were two 21-minute talks by Muslim and Jewish leaders, and I (also Jewish) organized & led a discussion group.

  • Steve Bailey

    The Vancouver, Canada contingent, myself and David Ewart would heartily endorse a Christianity 21 session in Vancouver, Canada. We both had an inspiring, intense time of learning in Denver. Vancouver would be a great venue in a year, or even two from now. We had a good laugh too; when you or Doug (con’t recall which) introduced Sarah Bessey as being from the “tundra” of Canada “miles from the airport” I had visions of Northern Canada. Sarah’s actually from Abbotsford, a short distance from Vancouver. What a hoot! At any rate, we’d love you to bring Christianity 21 to Canada!

  • Brent

    I appreciate you guys hosting this kind of event and I do hope it will be sustained in the years to come.

  • Austin Britton

    For me it is a resounding yes! I would love to see another C21 conference next year, and I would bring my entire staff this time. You created an amazing sense of community at a conference (no mean feat) where every voice was valued and could be heard. As far as speakers I would love to hear from Mary Doria Russell, Jay Bakker, and if we’re shooting for the moon N.T. Wright.

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