Though all of Acton’s efforts involve education in some capacity, no component of our work provides a more challenging and engaging learning environment than our many educational conferences.
At the summit of our programming stands Acton University , our annual summer conference that provides a unique, four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society . You may recall that, due to burgeoning demand from highly qualified applicants around the globe, we are in the process of expanding the conference. We are pleased to report that with over 1,000 applications received, the expansion’s second year saw more participants, lecturers, and courses than ever before.
The conference’s nearly 800 participants traveled from over 75 countries on six continents, and designed their own curricula by choosing from almost 90 courses on topics covering theology, economics, business, development, intellectual history, philosophy, and ethics. Conference quality remained extremely high, with 99% of participants indicating they would recommend the conference to friends and colleagues. See below for some of the unsolicited feedback we received after the conference.
“What an outstanding experience. I now have a clear vision of what [Acton’s founders] have created right here in Grand Rapids, and I’m thankful to have been a small part of it last week… It was inspiring beyond words and was truly a blessing to all.”
“Acton University has changed me. Or, perhaps, has pointed me back to who I am… I am so glad that you gave me this opportunity to start looking for what you as an Institute have to intellectually offer me and my life.”
We also offer smaller conferences. Given the continual growth and importance of U.S. cities, we realized that urban-area pastors and parachurch workers constitute an important target audience for any national outreach to religious leaders. Given their close proximity to poverty, these individuals often carry political weight in speaking to the efficacy of government programs. These leaders are not always familiar with the underlying economic causes of poverty, and often support redistributionism without understanding that welfare programs at best soften the harshness of poverty, and at worst foster a culture of dependency.
To remedy this situation, Acton holds an annual conference outside New York City (Thriving Churches: Flourishing Communities ) for influential urban ministry practitioners from around the country. Participants explore the nature of the human person, examining concepts such as justice, equality, stewardship, and virtue from a perspective of natural law and limited government. In September, we welcomed 30 impressive individuals representing New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Detroit, and Chicago. Lectures included “Compassion Gone Awry,” “The Context of Urban Flourishing,” and “Empowering on the Ground.” This cohort was among our most leveraged ever, with participants exercising direct influence (through pastoring, teaching, advising, etc.) over an estimated 72,000 people annually.
All signs indicate that Acton’s programs are moving in the right direction: interest and demand continue to grow and intensify, and post-conference surveys routinely demonstrate that participant satisfaction is uniformly high. But this is not enough. If our conferences are truly making a difference, and if minds and hearts are being genuinely transformed, then program alumni should continue to experience the benefits of conference participation for months, even years, down the road.
For this reason, we recently carried out a major alumni survey, targeting conference alumni from the past 23 years. Over 400 individuals took the time to participate. Please see below for some of the most instructive and interesting results.
These findings require little elaboration, except to say that they speak strongly to the power and longevity of the work that your support makes possible.
While much of our online material provides brief commentary on timely topics, we continue to publish books and e-books for those who seek a deeper exploration of central Acton themes.
In service to the Protestant community, Acton is releasing a series of short books (or primers) examining the relationship between faith, work, and economics. Although all primers address this central theme, each is written from the vantage point of major evangelical subtraditions. The Baptist , Pentecostal , and Wesleyan  primers have been published, earning endorsements and forewords from prominent seminary presidents and denominational leaders. Although these works are published under one of Acton’s in-house imprints (Christian’s Library Press ), denominational publishers have approached us about possibly republishing and distributing them to hundreds of clergy. We expect to release the Reformed primer in the near future.
We also released a book entitled A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey: Inspirational Classics and Practical Advice from a Serial Entrepreneur and an Entrepreneurial Priest . Businessman Jeff Sandefer and our president, Rev. Sirico, help the reader to achieve a purposeful and heroic life through a series of illuminating stories, reflection questions, and personal growth challenges. Over 500 copies have been sold to date.
Our work additionally reaches millions through coverage in popular newspapers and magazines. Just since our last report, The Washington Times published a book review  of Rev. Sirico’s Defending the Free Market, the Detroit Free Press published an article about Acton’s new facility, and Christianity Today mentioned our efforts  on faith, work, and economics. On the heels of Hurricane Sandy, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post quoted Acton Associate Editor Ray Nothstine  on the potentially negative impact of evacuation orders on individual liberty. Finally, editors of Forbes recently invited Rev. Sirico to contribute a regular column; you can read one of his latest, covering the spiritual dimensions of the Newtown tragedy, here .
In addition to our conferences and research work, our documentaries and DVD curricula allow us to promote faith and freedom in an accessible and persuasive format. These films have won awards , appearing both around the world and on hundreds of PBS affiliates nationwide.
As you know, PovertyCure  is a comprehensive educational initiative to explore the roots of the ubiquitous issue of poverty. Through this effort, we place the human person, made in the image of God, at the center of the economy, thereby unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of the developing world. Only through human creativity, personal initiative, and a robust moral culture can populations emerge from poverty once and for all.
PovertyCure has been deeply successful thus far, with nearly 1,000,000 followers on Facebook  and some 200 partner organizations —ministries, NGOs, universities, and microfinance firms—that are actively promoting the initiative to their own constituents. This past November we released one of PovertyCure’s centerpiece elements: a six-lesson DVD curriculum  designed for group, homeschool, and individual study. Through interviews with religious and political leaders, as well as entrepreneurs, missionaries, and renowned development experts, the curriculum explores the powerful resources that Christianity brings to the pursuit of human flourishing. The curriculum is accompanied by a participant guide offering in-depth questions to stimulate discussion and insight.
Although the curriculum was released fewer than three months ago, more than 600 copies have already been shipped to high-profile organizations and influential individuals around the world. In addition to our own marketing efforts, the PovertyCure network has been indispensable to promoting this item, with organizations buying dozens of copies to distribute and use for training purposes. We have received a great deal of relevant feedback. Wrote one prominent author:
Beginning to end, this series is phenomenal! I was so impressed with both the quality and the content. It's such a powerful thing to hear directly from local entrepreneurs who have ideas, innovations, and businesses of their own, speaking to people who have perceptions about underdeveloped nations that need to be broken. Congratulations to all of you on a fantastic product!
PovertyCure is not our only recent release. After a long period of piloting, we recently produced Our Great Exchange: Your Life, His Gifts, Our Purpose . The curriculum, which boasts over two hours of creative storytelling and captivating interviews, explores the “why” of Christian stewardship, demonstrating its importance to discipleship and Christian living more broadly. Just as exciting as the product is a new delivery mechanism we created to facilitate mobile engagement: StudySpace. This fully functional app seamlessly delivers video and audio material, PDFs, study questions, Bible text, group polls, discussion forums, and more. Those studying Our Great Exchange are expected to gather weekly to watch one of seven curriculum segments with their small groups, while using the StudySpace platform to continue engaging the material both individually and collectively. We look forward to customizing this cutting-edge learning tool for other Acton products, including the PovertyCure curriculum.
One of Acton’s longest-running outreach vehicles is Religion & Liberty , a quarterly publication featuring articles about faith and free-market economics. In order to cater to iPad and iPhone users, we released a free Religion & Liberty app  on the App Store, which includes notifications upon release of the latest issue and access to magazine archives going back to January 1995. The app has received nearly 2,300 downloads.
The last Founders’ Report described our efforts to build an online platform for instant, interactive broadcast of Acton University lectures and courses . In early November, we used the platform for something new: advocacy. In line with Acton’s promotion of religious liberty and conscience protection, we welcomed Mr. John C. Kennedy, CEO of Autocam Corporation and an Acton board member, for a talk on the HHS mandate. Kennedy, a devout Catholic, had sued the federal government , saying that his religious beliefs prevented him (and his business) from complying with orders to provide abortion-inducing drugs. Dozens of individuals “attended” the event, including attorneys, think tank representatives, university administrators, and local media representatives. The talk was followed by 30 minutes of lively Q+A.
A testament to Acton’s rising reputation, our digital following in 2012 ascended to record highs. In early December, our website surpassed one million unique visitors for the year, with web traffic 25% higher overall than in 2011. The reasons for this success are many: more and better PowerBlog  posts, the release of the PovertyCure curriculum, and publicity made possible by Rev. Sirico’s Defending the Free Market . Also integral, of course, were supporters who eagerly shared our online material with their own networks via social media and e-mail. We look forward to continuing this forward momentum in 2013.