Last year, the brand-new Belong Tour came to represent “the new evangelical woman.” This year, the 12-city tour—headlined by top Christian authors and branded as a fresh take on women’s ministry events—was canceled before it began.
Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist announced on social media this weekend that Belong’s new owners had called off the second-annual tour against their wishes. They apologized to thousands of women who had bought tickets and made plans to come.
“There is no way for me to say how sorry I am,” Hatmaker told her Facebook fans. “I am just sick. In all my years of ministry, I have never cancelled an event or had one cancelled like this, and I share every bit of your frustration, shock, and disappointment.”
Bestsellers Hatmaker and Niequist, along with author Deidra Riggs, singer Nichole Nordeman, and others, were scheduled to appear at a dozen two-day events at stadiums and convention centers across the country, starting in late August and running through early December.
“Due to low ticket sales and the high cost of doing these events, we have found it necessary to postpone and restructure the tour,” the Belong website said. A new version of the tour will resume in 2018.
The Belong Tour debuted last year as a younger spinoff to Women of Faith, which concluded its farewell tour in 2016 after 20 years of events totaling more than 5 million attendees. Over the past five years, Women of Faith has changed ownership a few times, from publisher Thomas Nelson’s Live Events Management to popular talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME) to its current owner, Inspire Live, which purchased the company within the past year, according to WME.
GJ Reynolds—an entrepreneur and motivational coach who has made millions through fitness and direct sales—founded Inspire Live as a “transmedia inspirational empowerment company” in October 2016, according to LinkedIn. Reynolds, who refers to himself as a “playful and powerful warrior,” attended multiple stops on the 2016 Belong Tour and promoted Belong on his social media channels in the months since.
Earlier this year, Reynolds was listed as the owner of Women of Faith’s web domain, and Belong’s terms of service were updated to link to Inspire Live’s legal counsel. Women of Faith and Belong share headquarters in suburban Dallas. In addition to the two Christian women’s ministries, Inspire Live includes about a dozen other companies with inspirational or fitness ties, including his own brand, “Simply G.”
CT contacted Women of Faith, Belong, and Reynolds by phone and email on Monday but did not receive any response. Multiple people formerly involved with the Belong Tour declined to comment.
Though the tour information has been pulled from the site and replaced with instructions for trading in or refunding purchased tickets, Belong hasn’t yet shared the news on its Twitter or Facebook feeds. In fact, it has not posted anything on social media or its blog in about two months.
“This decision wasn't ours, and when we became aware of it, our first question, of course, was ‘What about the women who have trusted us with their weekends?’” wrote Niequist on Instagram. “I apologize for the ways this change affects so many of you. I'm thankful for all of you who took a risk & joined us in 2016, & for all of you who bought tickets for 2017.”
Thousands of Women of Faith fans attended Belong’s 2016 tour, themed “Rock Your Purpose.” The 12-city event drew groups of women in matching T-shirts eagerly posting photos on social media and waiting in line to meet the speakers, including a crowd of over 10,000 in Dallas.
Yet in comment sections and blog posts, a few critiqued the event for not having more prayer, Bible reading, and explicit Christian focus.
Belong dubs itself an event for “every woman—for conservatives and liberals, young and old, married and single, those who go to church and those who don’t, women of every background and race.” It received some pushback from conservatives last year around Hatmaker’s remarks endorsing same-sex relationships and surprise guest speaker Glennon Doyle Melton, who later announced her relationship with soccer star Abby Wambach.
Hatmaker’s newest book, Of Mess And Moxie, was slated to be sold during the 2017 Belong Tour.
The Austin author did not speak at this year’s IF: Gathering, a sold-out women’s event held in her hometown and livestreamed worldwide, after having been involved since its founding in 2014. (She opted out several months before.) Fellow author and speaker Christine Caine’s Propel Women movement recently announced five conferences, mostly at churches, on the topic of purpose and calling.