One of the most frequently asked questions I receive about our new ACT 3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort Groups is how we determine where to convene a group? The answer is relatively simple.
I will begin a Cohort group where 15-25 people are seriously interested in being gathered together to form such a group. To know this I first need to determine initial interest. This is usually done by one or two people asking if they could host/help with a group in their area. If they have a network of friends who are interested, and if they are situated in an area reachable by a drive of less than three hours from others we know to be interested in the group, then we consider it. The size of the actual city is NOT a determining factor though I do need to be able to get there by plane (and perhaps a short drive after my flight). Location will play a definite part, at least in these early years. Once we have hundreds of graduates, and a dozen or more mentors that have been trained, we can then go to almost any location, even to more remote places.
Let me explain further. A friend in Raleigh-Durham (NC) spoke with me this past Sunday. He is very interested in ACT 3 and the Cohort groups. He will speak with his network of friends in his area. Several other friends in the North Carolina area, who can reach Raleigh-Durham by car in a few hours, have also expressed interest. We began a thirty day prayer experiment this week. During this time we ask you (if you are close enough to Raleigh-Durham), and anyone else who knows about this idea for this area, to reply to me or one of the local contacts. If my friends in North Carolina, and anyone else who contacts me, express serious interest then we will then go to step two. Here we will ask people to "sign up" and make a down payment by signing a student/mentor contract. I would then interview the prospective student and if we both agree they are accepted. This monetary contribution does not begin until formally accepted. The cost for a Chicago group is $1,000. The cost for a group outside of Chicago, because of travel and additional expenses, is $1,200 per student. There are creative ways to do this but the groups cannot be free. Why? We need to determine interest, commitment and seriousness. In addition, we need to reinvest this money into growing the program so we can train others and reach a very large number of people over time.
The dates for a particular group will be determined by what works for me and the host city. Most ACT 3 Cohort groups meet four times, for eight hours each time (thus all day meetings from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. local time). These four meetings are spread over eight months to allow for reading, dialogue, small groups and the experience of how we best learn together. You can see the curriculum and watch videos on the program at the home page for ACT 3. Click the icon marked The Unity Factor.
Right now we have an ACT 3 Cohort group planned for Wheaton (Chicago) to begin on Monday, September 17. We also have a group planned for Philadelphia (Biblical Seminary in Hatfield) to begin on Thursday, September 20. Another group will be formed in Phoenix in May that will begin in the fall (sometime in September/October). The next most likely city for this fall is Dallas/Ft. Worth (TX). Then we are "looking" with prayerful waiting at these cities to see if they come together now or, perhaps, later: St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham and Findlay, Ohio. Findlay is within two hours (all Interstate Highway) from Toledo, Detroit, Columbus and Dayton.
Down the road we are talking seriously about Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Boston. Nashville also came on the screen of "possible" sites just this week. All of these are in the stage of "maybe"(now or later). The actual direction for where groups will spring up depends on you (plural) expressing desire to work with me/us in developing our network for such a group in your area. Again, if you're interested let me know. You can respond to this blog, via Facebook or by email. I will then work with you to determine what we can do and when we can do it.
We have 13 graduates from our first class, as I noted last week. We will have another local group beginning in six weeks that will have at least 20 in it. Then in the fall we will have at least three, maybe even six, new groups. By this time next year I hope to have over 100 graduates. Then I begin to identify mentors who will become my associates and lead groups around the country under the sponsorship of ACT 3. The simple idea here is one of discipleship training reproduction. We are equipping leadership for the future. The graduates will thus enter into a "lifelong learning" phase where they will be socially networked with one another and be invited to attend a large group meeting each summer. A web site is being created with a password from graduates to access a host of ongoing resources for free. Graduates can return to any group or session any time they desire without further charge. In this context we will continue to develop each graduate in three areas: (1) Interior life and spiritual discernment, (2) Ecumenism, or unity in a Christ experienced corporate life and lived out with other Christians, and (3) Missional theology and practice in local groups and churches.
You are welcome to prayerfully consider a Cohort group whether you are an elected or recognized leader or not. You have to be older than 18 years of age. The group is open to people from any Christian church, male or female and persons of all ethnic and national origins. It is, of course, ecumenical, which means this is a core value of the mission and of these groups.