Calling Young Adults into a New Family - Exalt Plano

 
 

Josh was facing a challenge. As the Director of Evangelization for Prince of Peace Parish, Josh had been asking himself a lot of questions about what it really meant to be Catholic and what evangelization really ought to look like. He’d been involved in putting on countless worship nights, mission trips, apologetics dialogues, and the like. One day he was appalled to realize that these efforts often lead into growing a consumerist culture of ministry event-hopping that so characterized the Millennial and Gen X generations - the very life habits he was trying to combat.

He set out to build a counter-cultural tribe of young adults who were going after Christ as radically as the early believers, but one that would take on the long-term mission of parish renewal. To this end, Josh and his team began holding Exalt nights: a deep prayer experience with adoration and worship, followed by drinks afterwards at a local bar to build community. Within a year the event had grown into a regional powerhouse that was changing lives and leading whole families into encountering Christ. But Josh’s original dream still had yet to be achieved. This had to be more than just an event - it needed to become a family.

Discovering the Tribe

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We believe that belonging in a tribe means allegiance to a specific set of beliefs and values.
We also believe that the tribe’s values come from the beliefs shaped in the furnace of the founders’ most formative experiences. So that’s where we started with the Exalt team. We lead them in a two day sprint that took the Exalt team to vulnerable places with each other they’d never been before. They got real about their deepest memories of brokenness and the redemption they had found in Christ. The commonalities between the team’s stories were almost shockingly similar. They had always stood for the same things, but it wasn’t until we showed them the identity manual we made for them that they finally had words to express it.

Each member had responded to the radical call to discipleship through a life changing encounter with Christ that left them laying down their lives in order to commit to a new way of life and a new family. When each of them experienced the Fatherhood of God, they were able to be real with each other, to open up the mess of their lives to Christ and to each other. They didn’t have to perform or compete anymore. In the face of even a Christian culture that often times can be inauthentic and oriented toward performance, Exalt stood for a messy, vulnerable, and radical belonging. Exalt has always had an early Church, upper room kind of feel. When you walked into one of their nights, you sometimes got the feeling that you were walking into the meeting place of some subversive insurgency unlike any other.

We realized that the dangerous, unapologetic call of Christ to lay down everything in exchange for the Kingdom of Heaven was the foundation of its tribe. But all this was under the surface, and it needed to be clearly articulated.

Starting with Why

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They shaped their next theme around calling the Exalt community to a new level of commitment to the local parish family, to lay down their lives not just for the abstract “family of God” but the local family that was right there in Plano. TX. Instead of hiring outside speakers, they decided to raise up local Exalt community members that have been there from the beginning to witness to their pears, and empowered them with Exalt’s values as a starting point for their talks. We helped them craft mantras for t-shirts with phrases like “Table Flipper” and “Boat Rocker” that would speak to the kind of identity that every Exalter was taking on by coming into this community.

We started by defining the values and the identity statement that would guide every decision the community would make. They put that statement on every postcard, every flier, and spoke it from the front of the room.

“We call the restless wanderer home so that they can be real, messy, and vulnerable before the throne of the Father.”

Crafting the Symbols

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Every tribe identifies with its own set of symbols that visually express its identity. The visuals for Exalt would need to emphasize an energetic, rebellious zeal. We designed a visual brand language and a website to capture the boldness and the daring of Exalt’s mission. As their brand and programming evolved, we made brush-stroked word marks for each of the young adult ministry programs. The brush strokes were messy, and constantly in motion. They felt powerfully expressive of Exalt’s radical mission.  

The “X” that would be the centerpiece of the brand alluded to the cross we get on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, and to the mark on the foreheads of the believers in the Book of Revelation. The X would also stand as a target, a standard they would raise over the parish at Prince of Peace in Plano. Seeing the courage and excitement of the leadership team committing fully to their new identity was inspiring, and we couldn’t wait to see the response to the new Exalt.

Building the Mythology

A tribe’s culture is built on the stories it tells repeatedly. We call this a tribe’s mythology. Exalt started telling stories that spoke directly to the restless wanderer and called him/her to face their specific spiritual battles alongside their community. The Exalt team and Sherwood Fellows developed an ongoing strategy to plan each semester’s theme and create an ongoing series of videos that would build a kind of shared mythology for Exalt’s members. These films would bring the interior spiritual realities of each message to life.

The Victory

Though uncovering an organization's identity through re-branding often has an immediate impact, it sometimes takes years for the greatest fruits to come. The first and most important fruit that came from the process was a new energy and passion from the leadership team and volunteers. They came back to their work with an excitement they’d never had before, and a trust in each other that made them an unshakable force to be reckoned with, even when they disagreed. We took the venue’s decor and atmosphere to a new level. There was a palpable excitement and energy in the air. That feeling of a subversive underground meeting space, that once was subtle, was now punctuated and obvious. The crowd that has been showing up has been an edgier, more diverse crowd than they’d ever seen. Under the new branding, Exalt became more than just an event to attend; it is now a movement to join, a place to belong that’s transforming the way young adults in Plano do life.

Exalt nights have grown to max out their event space, and since the change, the nights have been charged by a new energy and enthusiasm. Attendees sing louder, worship harder, and open up to each other in ways no one expected. Over the course of two years, the demand for their small groups, service projects, and social events skyrocketed. Best of all, young adults have actually started to commit to the parish as volunteers for the youth group and even Alpha. We’re still working with the team on planning the strategy, creative direction, and theme for each semester. If you show up at an Exalt night, you’ll see us singing worship along with the Spirit-filled and rabble-rousing crowd - a crowd that has expanded their identity as believers and is pursuing a higher call to holiness together.