If evangelical publishing powerhouse Jennie Allen wants to be your friend (and, of course, she does), brace yourself. She’ll barge into your brain, maybe right into your very house, just to help you fold the laundry and chat about Jesus. In Allen’s relentlessly busy mind, this is what God expects of her, indeed of everyone: To connect, to build a community of people to love, cry, laugh, worship, even fight with.
“I’m bossy but I’m usually bossy with a smile,” Allen tells PW. Based in Dallas, she is the power source behind a run of bestsellers for WaterBrook, beginning with 2017’s Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard (selling over 100,000 copies in all formats) followed by her 2020 blockbuster Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts (600,000 units sold and counting). February will bring her newest title, a clarion call for creating deep, healthy, joyful relationships with Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World.
Laura Barker, v-p and editor-in-chief at WaterBrook and Multnomah, describes Allen’s writings as “down-to-earth and vulnerable. [Readers] come away feeling that she gets it, that she truly sees them and understands their struggle. But what keeps them coming back book after book is that she delivers tangible, relevant, Bible-infused solutions to the tensions we all face in walking out our faith in daily life.”
Discipleship is essentially Allen’s industry. She started out leading Bible studies in her living room, then moved on to write studies for HarperChristian Resources and Thomas Nelson. Her first trade title for Thomas Nelson was Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul in 2012, followed by Restless: Because You were Made for More in 2015, and she continues with devotionals for that publisher. Allen jokes. “My only degree is in God.” (A master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary followed her undergraduate degree in communications from Carson Newman College.)
With the entrepreneurial energy of someone who was always the first on the block with a lemonade stand every summer, Allen soon added blogging and podcasting. Her characteristic style is to share pretty much everything including husband Zac’s battle with depression. She’s a popular speaker at conservative evangelical events. Moderating a panel at a 2014 Gospel Coalition, Allen talked about how a woman can step up in the church, “effectively applying truth and scripture, not hiding, not sitting in the back row with her gifts.”
But her primary platform since 2014 has been If:Gathering, a nonprofit ministry to women which has a worldwide following for its Christian study resources and annual conference. Tickets for the March 2022 in-person meetup for 3,000 women in Dallas sold out in October.
“I’m not pounding people on the head, but people are more eager than you would think to talk about God," Allen says about her style. "That’s what is needed right now. Everyone I talk to is suffering and discouraged and angry. Well, here I am. I care about you. This is what helps me. I think it can help you, too.”
In Find Your People, Allen describes her family's move from Austin to Dallas — with four children and her husband as he shifted his career from pastor to businessman. She sat in her new house, sobbing with loneliness. Then, no surprise here, she took her own advice and went to work throwing open doors to connect with others. The book hums with energy as Allen laces pages with imperative verbs: Do this! Pray that! Ask God! Be all in! She has an action list after list with ideas for overcoming obstacles to friendship with any stranger in a five-mile radius. Put in the time. Nothing is too mundane. Go ahead and invite them to a meal. The If ministry has a stack of cards, including recipes and conversation starters for dinners with your new friends. After all, she writes in the new book, “Jesus was an incredible initiator.”
Allen brushes aside the popular notions that she says keep people isolated, mocking them in italics: “To each her own. Honor your truth. You do you.” She writes: "It’s all nonsense. Why? Because the last thing you and I need are friends who do nothing more than cosign our stupidity. If I’m about to careen off a cliff and you choose to stand there cheering for me, we’ve got a problem. I don’t need acceptance when I’m being a fool; I need help. And so do you.”
As if, once in Allen’s high beams, you had any choice.