EXALT: PRINCE OF PEACE YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY
Josh was facing a challenge. As the director of youth ministry for Prince of Peace Parish, he wanted to build a countercultural tribe of young adults who were going after Christ as radically as the early believers. Josh and his team began holding Exalt nights: a deep prayer experience with adoration and worship, followed by drinks afterwards at a local bar. They had around 100 committed Catholics showing up, but to Josh that wasn’t success. If Exalt was going to change lives, it had to be more than just an event — it needed to be a movement.
Josh first asked Sherwood Fellows to help market Exalt, but we realized that there was a chance for bigger impact than just getting more people to attend. We’re former youth ministers ourselves, so we get the challenge: for young adults to be invested in any ministry, joining that ministry needs to mean something specific. Sitting with us in his office, which also doubled as a storage unit for sound equipment, Josh decided to take a risk and start from the ground up by defining Exalt’s brand. Together, we set out to doing the hard work of discovering the ministry’s identity and creating a culture that would attract young people and give them a transformative experience of belonging.
Discovering the Tribe
We started by interviewing Josh as well as Dave, a worship leader and musician who was the other half of the Exalt team at the time. Dave’s music at the Exalt nights was a little more real and raw than a lot of other worship singers, and meeting at Dave’s music studio, we soon saw the connections between Josh, Dave, and ourselves: we’re all a younger generation hungry for authentic community, for the opportunity to live out the radical call to Christianity with others who refuse to define themselves by the standards of the world.
Each of us had responded to the radical call to discipleship we had felt at the Exalt nights. Exalt has always had an early Church, upper room kind of feel. When you walked into one of their nights, you sometimes gotthe feeling that youwere walking into themeeting place ofsome subversive movement.
We realized that the dangerous, unapologetic call of Christ to lay down everything and follow Him was the foundation of its tribe. But all this was under the surface, and it needed to be clearly articulated.
“Marc,” the Target Audience
When you express an identity in a brand, you always want to go for the hardest person to sell. Our first step was to express the radical, dangerous, subversive experience of the early Christian in words and visuals for the modern de-churched male millennial, the toughest audience for any Christian denomination to capture.
Crafting the Symbols
Every tribe identifies with its own set of symbols that visually express it’s 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 bold daring of Exalt’s mission. We also scripted and produced trailer-style videos to capture the theme for each semester of Exalt. Seeing the courage and excitement of the leadership team committing fully their new identity was inspiring, and we couldn’t wait to see the response to the new Exalt.
Ongoing Strategy to build a Mythology
A tribe’s culture is built on the stories it tells repeatedly. We call this a tribe’s mythology. Exalt needed to start telling stories that would speak directly to Marc and call him to face his specific spiritual battles alongside his community. The Exalt team and Sherwood Fellows developed an ongoing strategy to plan each month’s theme and create an ongoing series of videos, creating a kind of shared mythology for Exalt’s members to learn from that would bring the interior spiritual realities of the message to life.
The first semester under the new brand, themed “Unmasked,” focused on finding your true spiritual self underneath the externals of worldly life. 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 showed up was edgier, more diverse crowd of millennials than they’d ever seen. Every theme since has followed a similar vein. One of our themes we’ve been most proud of has been “The Resistance,” a theme based around the story of the martyrdom of St. Perpetua, a second century roman noblewoman who died in the arena. Each theme has added to the Exalt mythology and given the community more language, imagery, and symbol with which to communicate their beliefs. Under this new brand storytelling, Exalt has become 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 by 200%, maxing out the event space, and since the change, the nights have been charged by a new energy and enthusiasm. After the first event, young adult members volunteered to join the team, and they now help run Exalt nights each semester.
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.