On a rare, warm October evening in downtown Chicago, over 100 participants decided to meet for a new kind of social experiment. Convening at Workshop, a co-working loft space with a historic character of its own, attendees were treated to a breathtaking skyline view while the aroma of coffee and change were in the air. In this old, newly restored meeting space, creative professionals, entrepreneurs, pastors, teachers, students and more gathered for a unique conversation.
But they weren’t alone.
On October 9th, thousands of Christians and their curious friends gathered in 52 cities around the world to mark the inaugural Q Commons, a unique movement facilitating education, relationships and dialogue to advance the common good.
Q Commons, a new initiative from Q Ideas, creates an opportunity for communities to learn, discuss and collaborate on how to address cultural issues most relevant to them. The evening event combines carefully curated local expert talks with featured talks from forward-thinking global leaders in faith and culture.
On this October evening in Chicago—and 51 other locations—participants were inspired by the shared vision emanating from Q’s evening webcast with featured Q Talks by Tim Keller, a respected New York area pastor, bestselling author, Ann Voskamp, and a panel on how people of faith can engage a public landscape where anti-religious sentiment is at an all-time high. This uncommon, shared moment assembled the Church to be implored to engage their communities in a fresh, yet distinct way.
But the conversation wasn’t just theoretical on Chicago’s west side.
Blaine Hogan’s talk on creativity entitled, “To Make Better Art You Must Become a Better Human” inspired, while Keith Woodley’s charge to mentor local teenagers in order to curb the local gun violence epidemic challenged even the most skeptical in attendance. A diverse room full of women and men holding a variety of leadership positions listened as Christianity Today Managing Editor, Katelyn Beaty, shared her take on female roles in vocation and a call to shift perspective in our male-dominated work force.
While these ideas are not only relevant to Chicagoans, hearing them in a boutique style setting alongside neighbors and trusted friends offered an exceptional dynamic. In a city divided geographically, racially, socially and economically, Q Commons provided a unique third space emphasizing how we can affect culture together across sectors and neighborhood borders.
If the response from the other Q Commons cities mirrors Chicago, this experiment confirmed one thing: people are hungry to not only talk about, but also to experience the new way forward for faith in a changing public square.
Q’s credibility to convene this kind of global gathering comes from its established voice that has gathered thousands of influential leaders in major American cities for over a decade. Founded by Gabe Lyons (author of The Next Christians and co-author of UnChristian), the Q national gathering has consistently invited faith and cultural leaders throughout the American Church into a deeper conversation about the importance of advancing the common good in cities and industries alike.
The structure of Q Commons embodied the special dynamic that has given Q rise over the past many years. Careful, intentionality to balance a global conversation with local application is evidence of the Q philosophy at work. As Q founder, Gabe Lyons explains, “We value both personal and cultural renewal, not one over the other. Both play an important part in God’s plan for redemption in our world, in individual lives and collectively in seeing our cities and communities flourish.”
For many of the 6,500+ first time participants attending Q Commons gatherings around the U.S. and the world, this marked an important first step in demonstrating a new kind of public faith in their city. It’s not often that entrepreneurs, teachers, artists and civic leaders spend time together focused on service to their communities. But when they do, amazing ideas, projects and solutions can begin to take shape.
What does it look like to create 52 events worldwide all on one night? The short answer: fifty-two different ways. As Gabe Lyons shares, “we’ve created a tool that we place in the hands of local leaders who understand their context, and know how to use this opportunity to push the conversation forward locally. We support them behind the scenes, as they venture out to create a new opportunity in their city. We want them to be the hero, not us.”
And just one look at the #QCommons hashtag on social media tells the story. Photos from a variety of events showcase dozens of unique settings, from downtown theaters and art museums to churches and high-rise gathering spaces that played host for this one shared moment.
To give you a taste of how this played out in other corners of the world, the following stories highlight a few different Q Commons cities and their local experience.
According to Yen Goh, a Q Commons organizer in Singapore, the vision for this conversation is to develop a sense of cultural responsibility for Christian leaders. “We want to create a culture where Christians do not isolate or compartmentalize living out their faith from the civic space or public arena they are immersed in.”
Meeting at National Museum of Singapore, Q Commons hosts overseas aimed to connect the conversation to attendees who they refer to as “pre-believers.” The venue, a restaurant designed to house civic dialogue inside a cultural and architectural landmark (and appropriately named Food for Thought), created the perfect setting for Q Commons Singapore.
The evening was arranged to best incorporate topical interaction and response, so not only was the audience involved in the discussion, they were invited to commit to participation in both ongoing and newly developed local community projects.
Local talks at Q Commons Singapore carried a resounding sense of hope for the nation. Presenter Rebecca Lim emphasized the importance of stories as a medium for shaping and sharing culture, and proposed methods to celebrate and advance the common good through storytelling in the digital age. In her talk entitled, “Why Love Your Neighbor,” Melissa Kwee addressed the tension and value of serving in a self-serving society, instigating an effort to become a culture that sees volunteerism as opportunity, not obligation. Tong Yee, a social innovator, shared his experience in learning and empathy as a foundation for a gospel-centered, innovative and effective social enterprise.
Local organizers hope to continue to scale Q Commons Singapore to become a “grounded brand” that sustains and resources long-term community projects.
Brianna Woods, an organizer in Portland, described the Q Commons movement as “inclusive and accessible to people who might otherwise feel marginalized and not included in the conversation.” And that’s the point.
There are many strong, experienced leaders in the northwest, and Q Commons Portland brought them together for this evening of ongoing dialogue, tapping into expertise from cutting-edge practitioners to provide insight, posing questions and offering perspectives that many attendees aren’t often exposed to.
Sergeant Mike Geiger, who serves on the Human Trafficking Unit of the Portland Police Department, shared some misconceptions of sex trafficking and child exploitation to help citizens better understand how to respond to victims of trauma. Kali Ladd addressed the increasing racial gaps in education affecting Portland schools, and how to reconcile the disparity in a city attempting to embrace equity. Jonathan Collins implored businesses in Portland, a city of artists, to start thinking about commerce creatively in a society that finds increasing meaning in innovation and imagination.
Once considered one of the roughest cities in the U.S., Chattanooga, Tennessee has experienced revitalization in recent years. But while entrepreneurship is helping move the economy and culture forward, a growing local community is conscious of the gaps in society, and is working to create a city where everyone can flourish.
Q Commons Chattanooga convened at Camp House, an innovative venue functioning as both a coffee shop and Anglican abbey. Some of the most passionate connectors in the city designed this space to facilitate gatherings like this, and the creative team behind Q Commons Chattanooga was confident that the “mill-like” feel and welcoming community of this location was ideal to capture the ethos of Chattanooga, a city “poised for the conversation.”
Presenter Adam Boeselager, a millennial entrepreneur, shared a message for the creators of the city, asking them to start seeing entrepreneurship as a Christian service and an opportunity to find redemptive value in giving your ability to advance the common good.
Both Donna Williams, who works in the mayor’s office, and Hayne Steen, a counselor, encouraged attendees to embrace cultural responsibility by including those often marginalized in society. Williams focused on “sealing the cracks” in the community, inviting the audience to start seeing those struggling financially and closing the economic gaps created as a result of Chattanooga’s recent growth. Steen addressed the stigma of individuals with mental health issues and a Christian’s appropriate response. He acknowledged that everyone struggles with mental health, and shared how he is inspired by the hope and strength from those he counsels. The best way to become healthier, according to Steen, is for us all to confront our mental health issues together as a society.
Stephen Van Gorp, a Q Commons organizer in Chattanooga, was pleased by the number of relationships that developed during the event, noting that attendees found a new network for exploring deep questions and issues that matter locally.
“People learned there’s a place—a safety in discussion at Q Commons. We’re confronting tough issues together.”
Ultimately, the vision behind Q Commons is to help local communities gather two times each year (spring and fall) for an evening of learning, collaboration and relationship-building between neighbors, city leaders, industry heads and churches seeking to advance this kind of conversation. Click here to see images from around the world of Q Commons hosts.
If you’re interested in learning more about organizing a Q Commons gathering in your city, the next event will take place on March 3, 2016. Apply to Host Q Commons in your city or contact [email protected] for more details.