Engaging People with the Gospel Through Questions

Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked so many questions?

For example, he once asked a rich man, “Why do you call me good?” Why didn’t he just give the man a gospel presentation? What’s the deal with clarifying goodness?

The truth is, the questions Jesus asked engaged people on deep levels and his example helps us understand how we might do the same as a pathway to sharing the best news people have ever heard.

Randy Newman, author of “Questioning Evangelism,” will lead a seminar on this topic at the Christianity Explored North American Conference, taking place on April 14th, in McLean, Virginia. The theme of this year’s conference is “Building Momentum for Evangelism.”

Christianity Explored was developed out of All Souls Church, Langham Place, in central London, where the late Dr. John Stott was a long time rector. Questions played a key role in Stott’s conversion.

When Stott was 17 years old, Rev. E.J.H Nash made a presentation at his school. During that presentation, Nash – who would later become an important mentor to Stott – challenged him to consider the following questions:

“What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ? Have I ever opened the door to Christ? Have I ever invited him in?”

You can read more about Stott’s conversion at Justin Taylor’s blog post on The Gospel Coalition’s website.

In his book, “Honest Evangelism,” Rico Tice talks about questions. For example, Rico shares the importance of coming up with a “pain-line question” to help move conversations with people into an area where you can begin talking about the gospel. He says that we need to listen to people so that we can ask a question that draws on our relationship with them. He calls this a “pain-line question” because when we ask it, we don’t know how the person will respond. He or she could respond with a hunger for a discussion on the gospel, or perhaps the opposite response, hostility.

If this interests you, and you want to grow in this area of using questions in evangelism, I encourage you to register for the April 14th conference. Click here for more information or to register.

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Why Is God Pleased to Use Us in This Way?

CEUSA-2017-Year-In-Review

Momentum.

You don’t always sense it in the moment, but when you step back for a larger view, it becomes apparent to you. That is what happened as I reflected on 2017.

Christianity Explored North America is just one part of a worldwide ministry that is in 100 countries, with materials translated into more than 50 languages.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and look at the 2017 Year in Review presentation below. It captures that sense of momentum well.

Why is God pleased to use us in this way?

Consider this reason that leaders in South Korea give for why they are so excited about Christianity Explored: “Korea needs tried and tested Gospel resources.” 

That is just as true in the United States, Canada, and Latin America as it is in Korea.

2017 in review

My Three Words for 2018

Those who have followed this blog for the past several years know that I like to start each new year with three words to guide me for the coming year (2015, 2016, 2017).

These three words are not resolutions, but words that serve as a way to bring focus to my goals and efforts for the year.

My three words for 2017 were: questioning, connecting, and storytelling. These words led to a greater sense of curiosity about people in 2017, and they helped me in building relationships. I also gained a greater appreciation for the power of stories, but I still need to grow as a storyteller.

That leads to my three words for 2018:  Listen, Love, and Learn.

Each of these words have multiple dimensions.

Listen.  I want to hear what God is saying to me through Holy Scripture, but I also want to listen to people so that I can clearly hear what they are trying to say. In addition, I want to focus on listening to my self-talk and considering whether or not I’m telling myself the truth. Finally, will try to listen to my body as I grow older, so that I can understand what it needs to thrive.

Love.  I desire to meditate on how God loves me in Jesus Christ and allow that love to naturally fuel my love for God and for his people. I then want to look for concrete ways to show love to whomever crosses my path, even when I don’t feel like it. I also want to look for ways to love people even when they don’t love me in return.

Learn. I want to learn more about God, myself, and the people I encounter each day. I specifically want to learn from the stories people share with me and how the Holy Spirit may be working in their lives. I’m also focused on continuing to develop the sense of curiosity that my words for 2017 helped encourage.

Have you chosen three words for 2018?

If not, I challenge you to try this three-word approach as a guide for your year.

God Is with Us, But Can You See Him?

If God can be in a manger in Bethlehem, he can be anywhere.

So many people missed the joy of the birth of Jesus because they were not willing to see. Herod missed it. All he could see was a threat to his power. Bible scholars of the day missed it. They were too wrapped up their in scholarly debates.

Yet, for the people willing to come and see, they found indescribable joy in the birth of Jesus. Wise men found it. Shepherds found it. An old man named Simeon found it and even blessed God for what he had seen, saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

A lesson for us this Christmas Eve is that when God seems to be absent, maybe the problem isn’t one of God’s absence, but of our perception. Maybe we don’t see.

The Apostle Paul describes the problem of unbelief as a problem of blindness.

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4

The joy of running a Christianity Explored course is that as you present the truth and serve others in the name of Jesus, you get to see God do the miraculous work of opening blind eyes.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

As you think on this, consider using the last verse of the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as your prayer for those around you this Christmas.

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.

Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.

Christy’s Story: Seeing God on the Move in and through Refugees in Ohio

By Christina Staats

For more than a decade, I ministered to university students in England with Cru. Two and a half years ago my church asked me to move back home to the US to start a refugee ministry with them in Akron, Ohio.

Like many people at that time, I knew little about refugees, but the crisis on the shores of Europe and Syria was provoking many conversations and a desire to help people in need.

What I discovered was that refugee resettlement was not a new thing for the United States. The country has been resettling refugees since World War II and there is a well established program for resettlement. Many refugees have been brought from the worst conflict zones on earth to US cities where they are given a new opportunity to continue their lives.

Akron has been a resettlement city for many years and it is now the place where my work is done, mobilizing churches and people to “welcome the stranger.” In this role, I have seen God at work in at least two ways.

Refugees learning to play football

First, God is at work bringing opportunities to share Jesus with people who come to the US from places on earth that are most closed to hearing the gospel.

I have sat with friends from closed countries and had the opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. I have helped them translate Bible stories and often, they have said, “It is the Christians who help us.” They have often asked if they could go to church with me.

Second, I have seen God work through young, university-aged new friends from Nepal. They are believers with a Hindu background. Yet these young believers are planting churches and are active leaders in those churches. Akron is filled with Nepali speaking churches with a vision to plant more churches.

They are now on a mission to reach people with the gospel. As they work to support their families, living in multi-generational houses, they are taking time in between their night shifts, or their studies, to share their faith, preach, and start house churches.

Christy, Jas, and another friend!

For example, I recently hosted an international Christmas party.

My friend Jas, at 22, got up and shared the Christmas story and the gospel with a room that was full of refugees and American volunteers.

Jas and I are praying
to start a Christianity Explored course in the new year so that we can help people learn about the identity, mission and call of Jesus. God is on the move!

Would you pray for refugee ministries this Christmas?

Pray that those from countries that are closed to the message of
Jesus will have opportunities to hear the gospel

Pray for the American church to move toward their new
neighbors, to get to know them, and to share both the gospel and their lives with them

Pray that God would use people from refugee and immigrant
backgrounds to reach out to others coming to the US as refugees

Would you like to get involved in refugee ministries?

Google “refugee resettlement” in your city to find out how you can
get involved in welcoming newly placed refugees locally

Learn more about God’s strategy for bringing people from
closed nations to the US so that they can hear the gospel and be served
in Jesus’ name. Help local and state officials see the possibilities.

Pray and look for opportunities for God to use you among the
strangers he is bringing to your community. This can have a positive impact on your own faith as you see in practice how big our God is.

And very practically, at Christmas, invite a refugee or an
international student into your home and show them hospitality
in the name of Jesus.

How to Advertise Your Christmas Outreach Event on Facebook

How will people in your community know about outreach events at your church this Christmas season?

You may look to advertise in local newspapers, put up posters at area businesses, add the information to your church sign, or send postcards and flyers through the mail.

But are you taking advantage of one of the most helpful – but often overlooked – opportunities? Facebook

That’s right! Facebook is a strategic, simple, cost effective way to let people in your community know about events at your church.

To help you get started, The Good Book Blog has shared “5 Steps to Advertising Your Christmas Events on Facebook.” Included in the post is a link to download a basic, step-by-step guide to get started.

I hope this information is helpful, and that your church outreach events are effective in sharing the best news ever heard!

(content from this post was originally published on The Good Book Blog on November 30, 2016)

5 Tips for Effective Christmas Outreach


A big question ministry leaders ask during the Christmas season is: “What is our plan for Christmas outreach?

The following are a 5 tips from David Dargue, minister of Christ Church Gosforth.

Talk to regular attendees

As a staff team, you’ve had ideas about what you might do. We each hope and expect to be personally engaged with people who are looking into the claims of Christ. But since we’re only a small part of our church, we’ve talked to our regular attendees to find out what they think will be effective.

Make a plan and execute that plan

This year we chose to lead a Life Explored course because it’s a good fit for people in our area. We’ve also designated a specific time and place for our meetings and reduced our list of scheduled activities. This ensures the course doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Incorporate volunteers

We need to move from ‘my plan’, to ‘our plan.’ We’ll have a Sunday announcement about the course so that regulars know what it is. We’ll  also recruit and cast vision to the church community, so that it becomes their plan too, and not just mine. We want to make it clear that Life Explored is something we’re doing together!

 Be enthusiastic!

Make sure that all people know about your Christmas outreach plans, and that  they are communicated with excitement and anticipation. It’s a great time of year to share the best story ever told.

Remember your guests

As a church, hopefully you’ll have guests at your services. So how do you follow up with them? While you might be able to meet some visitors during services, you won’t be able to speak with everyone. Find a way to take note of who the guests were and who they came with, and you’ll be in a better position to get in touch afterwards.

(Content from this post originally appeared on the Christianity Explored Ministries blog on December 7, 2017)

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? What if You Are in Prison?

Stephen James is our Director of Prison Ministry. He joined Christianity Explored Ministries in 2008 to help develop our courses for prisons, after spending time in prison himself.

Christmas is one of the hardest times to be in prison.

It’s meant to be a time spent with family; eating, drinking and enjoying life. When your freedom is taken from you at this time of year, being in prison has its biggest impact. I spent two Christmases inside and they were some of the lowest points of my life. You know exactly what you’re missing out on beyond those four walls and can spend up to 23 hours behind a locked door.

Recently, as I was running a Life Explored course in prison, some of the prisoners were very happy to tell the others that they were getting out before Christmas. I felt real pain for the guys who will still be inside because I’ve been there. But should we feel that pain with them? Well, it’s a ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Yes, because it’s meant to be the season of goodwill to all men, even those who are serving a prison sentence. We want everyone to experience the best gift anyone could receive and that’s freedom – not from a physical prison but from the slavery to sin, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life, being with God forever.

No, because if you do the crime you must do the time. Prison is where rehabilitation is meant to take place and it’s at this time of year prisoners are more likely to do the deepest of soul searching and ask the bigger questions about life.

What can we pray?

  • Prisoners are more likely to attend services during the Christmas season, some will be seeking out the real meaning of Christmas.
  • Some prisons hold their own Christmas services, run by the prisoners themselves.
  • Prisoners tend to think about the future and what to do in the New Year, so Christmas is a good time for them to receive resources like “If You Could Ask God One Question,” by Barry Cooper and Paul Williams

It is through the above that we can pray that prisoners would encounter the real Jesus, and that this encounter would be life changing, at the deepest level of the heart.

How can we get involved?

  • The United States has lots of ministries that go into prisons regularly to take Bible studies, Sunday services and offer support to prisoners.
  • Many churches have their own prison ministries.
  • Do a simple Google search and find out what’s going on in your area.
  • Find out more about how you can support the work of Prison Fellowship International, as they use the Christianity Explored course as part of their The Prisoner’s Journey outreach to prisoners in some of the toughest prisons around the world.

For he himself [Jesus] is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). May we all know and enjoy his peace this Christmas!

(A version of this post first appeared on the Christianity Explored Ministries blog on December 3, 2017)

Thanksgiving and the Secret of Contentment

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippans 4:12

I remember the day clearly…

It was an elementary school Christmas party. We had a gift exchange. All of my classmates received shiny new toys, and all I got was a writing pen. I was upset as I focused on what my classmates had received.

I remember that day clearly because of my lack of appreciation.

You see, my best friend Steve gave me that writing pen. He had been so excited to give it to me. He saved his money and sacrificed to give me that pen. Steve was an orphan. No parent helped him. The pen was a true expression of how much he valued our friendship. By comparison, the other gifts – including the one I had given him – meant little.

I still can’t believe how much I must have hurt him. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the incredible value of his gift. By that time I had completely lost track of Steve.

A Time to Reflect

Do you think a lot about the gifts you’ve given and received? Do you obsess about what you don’t have? Do all the marketing messages that surround you focus your eyes in the wrong place and zap your contentment?

These are things we often think about at Thanksgiving – and the consumer oriented holidays that have grown up around it: Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

For example, in the last session of the new version of Discipleship Explored (available March 2018), Barry Cooper cites a poll of Americans that asked them how much they would need to realize the “American Dream.”

Those who earned $25,000 a year said it would take $54,000 a year. Those who made $100,000 a year believed it would take $192,000 a year.

In other words, the poll indicated that most people think that it will take about twice as much as they currently have!

The Biblical Secret of Contentment

The Apostle Paul makes a remarkable statement about contentment:

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12

We need that secret today.

A first hint of that secret is found in Philippians 4:6: “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” There is a direct correlation between giving thanks and experiencing contentment.

A second hint is found in Philippians 4:19, where Paul speaks of the riches we have “in Christ Jesus.” Or, as Barry Cooper says in Discipleship Explored, “I am in Christ. I’m unimaginably rich in him!”

As you reflect upon gifts and giving during this holiday season, may you consider yourself rich in Christ and may this secret of contentment bless you greatly and become for you an eternal source of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Martin Cathrae / CC BY

Deepening the Gospel’s Impact in Colorado

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Making disciples is what Christianity Explored is all about. We desire to deepen the gospel’s impact on people’s lives and see them transformed into the image of Christ.

Consider three ways God has been at work through a Christianity Explored course at Deer Creek Community Church in Littleton, Colorado.

  1. Eagerness – One attendee arrives each week dressed in his full Denver Broncos fan apparel, as the class takes place on a Sunday. He sacrifices watching his favorite football team play to come to CE – and he’s thrilled to be there.
  2. Comprehension – During the first week of the course, a woman at Brett’s table exclaimed, “I just can’t see how Jesus could be God. Either he was God and he wasn’t on the cross, or he wasn’t God and he was on the cross. Either he is a man or he is God. How could he be both?” By the second week of the course she shared, “I can now see how Jesus is God by the things he did and said. I think he is who he said he was.”
  3. Community – A couple attending the course grew up in a Unitarian church. For 6 years they have avoided attending any church, but they made the decision to try out Deer Creek’s Christianity Explored course. They loved it and are now committed to coming every week.

Every day, we are equipping churches and other ministries with disciple-making resources to help people discover Jesus and grow in their relationship and understanding of him. The result is a deepening of the gospel’s impact on people’s lives – in Colorado and beyond!

Thank you for bringing Christianity Explored into your homes, coffee shops, businesses, gyms, and the classrooms of your community. If you are not familiar with our resources, check out our website.

 

Photo by Didriks / CC BY

Seeking to Strengthen Churches

The Apostle Paul didn’t just make converts; he strengthened churches.

Acts 15:41 says that Paul returned to cities where he had previously evangelized, “And he went through Syria and Cilcia, strengthening churches.”

Christianity Explored doesn’t seek to do the work of the local church, but to strengthen the local church.

We seek to equip hundreds of leaders in local churches to train thousands of people to share the good news of Jesus with people who desperately need to hear it. As Rico Tice says: “We all can’t be Bible teachers, but we all can be Bible sharers.”

We strengthen the local church by:

  • Reaching those who don’t yet believe
  • Training believers in how to share their faith
  • Increasing leaders’ confidence in the Bible as the Holy Spirit brings it to life

For Karl Willock, one of our enthusiastic supporters in Colorado Springs, that’s what he found most attractive about Christianity Explored.

Karl explains:

“Although most para-church organizations are performing important and honorable tasks, very few assist and support the work of the local church. This is why I eagerly recommend and compliment the work of Christianity Explored. They make their affordable resources available primarily through local churches. By reviewing their website, the focus is unmistakable – helping churches evangelize the lost and disciple the found through simple and engaging media.” 

We’d love to share Christianity Explored courses and resources with you, and if you have any questions, please leave a comment below!

 

How Life Explored Is An Excellent Bridge to Christianity Explored

Life Explored

As Life Explored celebrates its one-year anniversary, the stories we have heard about its effectiveness are giving us keen insight into how God is working through all Christianity Explored courses.

One key insight is how well Life Explored and Christianity Explored fit together.

In Colorado Springs, Dave Hampton has found that the title “Life Explored” captures the imagination of people in today’s culture in a way that the title “Christianity Explored” does not.

Consider three people Dave and his wife personally invited to attend a recent Life Explored course at their church.

Dave says:

“They admitted they would never have come to the course Christianity Explored, due to their own conjured up beliefs about Christianity that were influenced by really negative past experiences with professing Christians and past church exposure.”

Dave had this to say about how God used the Life Explored and Christianity Explored courses together to speak to these three people:

“As they pondered a new viewpoint, and came to recognize the idols in their own lives that never satisfy, they also got comfortable with the friendly environment and with the people leading the table discussions.”

Dave saw something happen as a result:

“This opened the door for them to commit to come to Christianity Explored and dive deeper into the message of Jesus and the truth of the gospel! All three did attend our last Christianity Explored course.”

And the Holy Spirit is continuing to work in their hearts through God’s Word.

“ALL three are again attending the present Life Explored course with us! You can see the Holy Spirit working in their hearts.”

With a new Discipleship Explored launching in 2018 (an ideal next study after Christianity Explored), we hope people like these three will be ready to take the next step in their gospel journey!

The Power of Questions and Stories

In this short video, Bruce and Nancy Longbottom share about running a Life Explored course in their church in Indianapolis. At one point, Bruce says, “(Life Explored) tells a parable and draws people in that waySo it seems to be using the same methodology that Jesus used.”

Consider this…

If all unbelief is intellectual, then we can limit our evangelism to rational arguments.  If all unbelief is intellectual, then the primary thing we need to do is present enough facts to support the truth of Christianity.

But in my experience, I have not found that to be the case.

Randy Newman, who will lead a breakout session at our Christianity Explored annual conference in April 2018, notes in his book Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did, that, “Not all unbelief is intellectual at its core; therefore, reason alone will fail to sway such unbelief.

As an example, Jesus says in John 3:19: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

Some unbelief is a matter of the heart and of the will, rather than primarily of the intellect.

Jesus used a variety of ways to move people from their unbelief. Besides rational argument, he also used questions and parables.

Here is an insightful exercise for you to try. Read through the four Gospels and record the number of different questions Jesus asked.

And Jesus was also known for telling stories, or parables.  Just this morning, I watched a video of well-known preacher, Randy Alcorn, talking about how God used the stories of C.S. Lewis in transforming his life. C.S. Lewis wrote this about the power of stories:

“The whole subject [Christianity, God, and the sufferings of Christ] was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?”

What watchful dragons do stories sneak past? How about the internal guards that keep out ideas that challenge our accepted reality?

I invite you to check out the original stories we use in Life Explored HERE.  I also ask you to put our 2018 Christianity Explored North America conference on your calendar. It will take place on April 14, at McLean Presbyterian Church, located in McLean, VA.  Our topic will be: Building Momentum for Evangelism.

Did You Know? The Great Commission Has No Geographic Boundaries

Many of the least reached places and people groups in the world exist in North America.

In the ten states with the least evangelical presence in the US, less than 7% of the total population is evangelical Christian. In addition, God has brought many people from the world’s least reached people groups and nations to North America.

Unreached Peoples and Least Reached Places from CPMP on Vimeo.

This short video, produced for the North Carolina Baptist Association, documents the open door of opportunity for evangelism and missions in the US and Canada. As the narrator suggests, maybe it’s time to adopt a model of missions that no longer makes a distinction between domestic and foreign.

 

 

This Is Why Honest Evangelism Is Such an Effective Tool for Equipping Your Congregation

While serving for 5 years as a campus minister at Harvard University, Pastor Bradley Barnes discovered a love for the Church in New England. In response, he felt called to launch a church campus of Christ the King Church in Newton, MA.

With less than 2% of the population in the Boston area attending a gospel preaching church, he saw the vast opportunity to share the gospel with people unfamiliar with it.

Even though he admits the book sat on his shelf for months – unread – Bradley found that once he read Honest Evangelism he discovered a great tool for helping people learn where to start when sharing the gospel.

In the video below, Pastor Barnes explains why encouraging people to read Honest Evangelism proved to be an excellent way to equip them for gospel outreach in the Boston area. Barnes explains to a colleague, Jason Wakefield, how reading Honest Evangelism not only proved to be an effective tool for the congregation – it helped him personally.

Click here to order copies of Honest Evangelism. Be sure to notice the bulk discounts that are available!

A Christianity Explored Testimony: A Good Start In Boston

Alan recently spoke with Dave Comeau, Associate Pastor at South Shore Baptist Church (SSBC), and he was thrilled with the results of the church’s first Christianity Explored course (course leaders pictured above).

A solid core of 14 guests attended, with 20 different guests coming to at least 2 sessions. Dave was encouraged by the response, particularly given where the church is located – South Shore Baptist is in Hingham, MA, an affluent suburb located 20 miles south of Boston.

As the pastor overseeing outreach and evangelism, Dave carefully laid the foundation over a two-year period of time before launching the course after Easter of this year. He trained the congregation in evangelism and raised up leaders for the Christianity Explored ministry.

Several things struck me about South Shore’s approach that may be helpful to other churches starting Christianity Explored:

  • Dave set high expectations for table leaders. Initially 35 people expressed interest in serving as a table leader. Dave then met with each potential table leader to help them fully understand the cost and responsibility of serving in this capacity. Of the original 35 potentials, 20 thought the Lord was calling them to trust in Him in this new way. Several others decided it wasn’t the right time for them to serve as table leaders, and decided to help out in different ways such as prayer and hospitality. However, only 8 of these leaders were needed to run the course. The others are currently looking for other ways to run a CE course and look forward to serving at SSBC next January. Two women are starting a summer CE group in their home with friends and neighbors. Others have run the course one-on-one.
  • They learned that hospitality is an essential ingredient and not a diminished role. A woman from the outreach ministry led a hospitality team that served with enthusiasm and joy. Hospitality included set up and cleanup, preparing home cooked meals, greeting guests and serving good food. The non-Christian guests expressed their appreciation for the kindness and quality of the hospitality they received. The SSBC team learned quickly how little things make a big difference. Remembering names and details about previous conversations were simple but powerful acts of love.
  • They sought to build personal connections at the tables. Guests were divided into four tables with two leaders at each table in a large room in the church. They watched the video together as a group but all the discussion took place at the individual tables, including the meal. They remained together as a group for the next seven weeks. SSBC did not do the day-away on its church campus. They left it up to the individual tables to decide if and where to do the day-away. Inviting the guests to one of the leader’s homes for the day away was encouraged. This helped continue building the relationships. As a result, all the guests who were part of the course have continued to be in contact with the church, their leaders, or a pastor in some way. While none have professed faith yet, they have all come much closer than they were before starting the course. Several people mentioned how they understand Christianity and the gospel much clearer, especially as it relates to “being a good person.”
  • They provided a resource table. On nights when the course was running, they had a resource table available for both guests and table leaders. For table leaders, the resource table had various articles and books available for tough questions that may come up. Pastors Dave and Stephen and other well-read members of the church were available to help with tough questions before, during and after the course. Pastors Dave and Stephen took turns “MC-ing” the evening. They would introduce the topic of the night with an attempt to break the ice and help bring some walls down. They would use humor, share an illustration or give a brief apologetic. They’d also recommend a book or article at the resource table that would be useful should anyone have questions.
  • They did a dry run before starting the course. This helped the hospitality team and the table leaders get more comfort with the feel and flow of the night. The table leaders played the role of unbelieving guests while Pastors Dave and Stephen played the role of the table leaders. This helped give the table leaders some experience in running the course. Dave mentioned that he would like to do more of this next time to help prepare the leaders for questions that might come up.
  • They released the table leaders to do the work. Dave mentioned how faithful and committed the table leaders were. They showed the love of Christ to these guests and it had an impact. The table leaders have become encouragers to others in the congregation to get in involved in the work of evangelism. Several others in the church have asked how they can use CE in their contexts. In order for CE to have the greatest impact on your church, it is essential that pastors equip, encourage and release the congregation to do the work. “I was happy to fade into the background,” Dave said. “The table leaders did all the heavy lifting and have my utmost appreciation for the courage and faithfulness.” The SSBC CE team is excited about how the Lord will continue to use CE to create a culture of evangelism and love for our neighbors in the church.

Through the course, Dave found that:

“Christianity Explored connects with different kinds of people. There was a diversity of people who attended. They came from different religious backgrounds or no religious background whatsoever. The table leaders found that the discussion drew guests in and encouraged them to be honest, open, and seeking. Guests indicated that they didn’t feel pressured, but rather the course invited them to consider Christ. It was a huge win that they would feel this way…”

“We did not want this to feel like a trite religious sales pitch but rather a thoughtful and personal exploration of the person and work of Jesus. Based on the course, the folks at Christianity Explored clearly feel the same way.”

The 600-member South Shore Baptist Church plans to continue running Christianity Explored after Christmas and Easter. They have found it to be winsome, clear, and logical. Cody Busby, who is relatively new as Senior Pastor, served as a chief cheerleader for the course and Associate Pastor Stephen McDonald encouraged and supported the table leaders and befriended guests.

However, all three of the pastors fully realize that the real heroes of this good start are the members of the church who answered the Lord’s call and served for His glory and the good of their neighbors.

How Do You Get People to Come to an Evangelistic Bible Study?

On May 11th we hosted our first webinar on best practices to follow when leading a Christianity Explored course.

Our topic focused on a question we hear often: “How do you get people to come to Christianity Explored?”

Thoughts shared during the webinar include:

  • You need to show people the value of the course
  • Personal relationships are key
  • Nearly 90% of the people who come are there because they were invited by their friends

Click HERE to download that 26-minute webinar.

The following are two recent stories showing the importance of personal invitations.

Sherrie and Kevin Evans: Littleton, Colorado

Sherrie Evans leads a Christianity Explored study out of her home in Littleton, Colorado. Twice each year, Sherrie and her pastor’s wife, along with one other lady, go door-to-door in their neighborhood and personally invite a couple of hundred households to their Saturday morning Christianity Explored course.

Each time they do this 5-10 neighbors show up, and they join with other neighbors taking the course again. These neighbors have become friends, leading to a lively group!

One major attraction to the group is the brunch Sherrie serves each Saturday during the course. Sherrie has invited neighbors and has run the course several times now. Each time she leads a course her confidence grows.

Hunter Benson: San Diego, California

Hunter Benson of Redeemer Presbyterian in San Diego was surprised by the attendance at the first session of the Christianity Explored course his church ran this spring. Just before the course began, only 12 people had registered, but 35 people came!

How did that happen? It happened because 10 different Christians brought non-Christian friends to the course (several of whom had been very opposed to Christianity – it was a miracle they came!). With that mixture of Christians and non-Christian friends there was lively discussion, with honest, challenging questions being asked.

Hunter overheard several people say that the course is the first time they’ve ever read one of the Gospels. This is a powerful result of friends inviting friends – and these friends are now discussing questions of faith and are looking at the Word of God for answers.

If you are interested in learning more best practices for leading a Christianity Explored course, consider attending one of the following webinars:

Training Your Christianity Explored Leaders
Thursday, May 18
4 PM to 5 PM Eastern
Click Here to Join

The Meal: A Key Component of Christianity Explored
Thursday, May 25
4 PM to 5 PM Eastern
Click Here to Join

These webinars utilize the bluejeans video conferencing network. Simply log in using the links above, and if you experience any difficulties please email me at: alan.avera@christianityexplored.org.

I look forward to seeing you there and discovering how Christianity Explored can help you reach more people for Christ!

What Are You Seeking to Accomplish?

Where do you start if you are seeking to get people moving out in evangelism? How do you choose an evangelism program and implement it?

Before you answer those questions, here is an important preliminary question: What am I seeking to accomplish?

If they are being honest, many people would answer, “I am seeking to find that magic bullet that will work instantly and in all situations.

I see so many churches churning different evangelism programs, based upon this answer, with what I call the “program of the day” approach. Churches try something once and then judge whether it is that magic bullet they seek. If not, they try something else. Finally, they get tired and stop trying.

Here is what I believe is the answer to the question, “What am I seeking to accomplish?” I want to see people in my church come to love, live, and tell the gospel.

If that is what you are seeking to accomplish, you should understand that it is a process that takes time. It cannot be accomplished by continually trying the next new thing.

With that answer in mind, as you examine and choose an evangelism approach for your church can you find something that helps ordinary Christians in your church come to love the gospel more and more? Can you find something that helps people understand more clearly who Jesus is, why he came, and what it means to follow him? Can you find an approach that helps ordinary Christians understand the implications of the gospel on their lives? And can you find an approach that gives your people confidence in the Word of God as the primary evangelistic tool?

Working through questions like these, and doing your homework to be sure you know where you are going, will help you develop an evangelism approach that is good for the long haul.

It was more than thirteen years ago that Countryside Community Church, located in Sherwood, OR, was looking for an evangelism approach. They found Christianity Explored.

Here is how Peter Kozushko, the Pastor who oversees outreach and evangelism, describes what they found in Christianity Explored:

“We have been running Christianity Explored at our church three times a year for the past thirteen years and God has used the course to bring many people to faith in Christ as well as excite and equip our people to engage in the evangelistic mission of the church. We are grateful for how God has blessed this ministry. But even if the Gospel growth had been meager, we would still have run the course because it is theologically aligned with our church, it’s engaging, and it presents the Gospel with integrity (i.e. it doesn’t tip toe around sin, God’s wrath, and repentance). We must set forth the truth plainly and trust God for the results.”

We encourage you to do your homework and to know what you are looking for.  Then consider if Christianity Explored is a resource that can help for the long haul!

Two Purposes for Our Annual North America Conference

While Christianity Explored is expanding rapidly in parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is only slowly expanding in North America. Why is that?

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Even though Christianity Explored is a proven tool not only for sharing the gospel, but also for helping ordinary Christians learn to share their faith effectively, it is not as well known in North America as it should be.

One of the purposes of the 2017 annual North America conference is to help introduce this proven tool to churches that need a resource like this.

That is one reason we rotate the conference to different areas of the country. We strategically and prayerfully choose areas of North America that we believe would benefit from Christianity Explored – places where people are in need of a tool that helps them connect the gospel with people in today’s culture.

The good news is that there are hundreds of churches in every region of North America that have been using Christianity Explored for years and have found that it works. Our annual conference links these churches together, equips them to use our resources better, and gives them opportunities to connect and help each other. We also gain their help both in spreading the word about Christianity Explored and in supporting our expansion efforts.

There is still time to register for this year’s conference before the registration deadline of Friday, March 17th. Countryside Community Church is our conference host this year, March 24-26, in Sherwood, OR (Portland area).

Register for Christianity Explored’s 2017 North America Conference Today!

If you are reading this post but aren’t familiar with how Christianity Explored works, the following short video explains the course to potential guests.

 

You Want to Reach Your Community with the Gospel, but How Can You Get Unstuck?

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Have you ever felt and thought the following?

I want to reach people in our community with the gospel, but I know I’m not as effective in doing that as I could be.”

I’ve certainly felt and thought that. Working first as an associate pastor at an established church outside of Washington, D.C., and then after founding and growing a church plant for 15 years, I’ve personally struggled will all facets of that challenge. Along the way I tried just about every tool out there to help.

Later, as the director of church planting and renewal for a small Presbyterian denomination, I helped pastors and church leaders all over the country wrestle with it, too.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about my role with Christianity Explored. Simply put, I’ve seen that CE works. It’s a proven tool to help you reach your community with the gospel, with a track record of more than 15 years of helping churches like yours reach their community in more than 100 countries. It works in all kinds of communities. Prison Fellowship International is finding that it works even in some of the toughest prisons around the world.

Now our North American Conference is just around the corner. This is a conference where you can learn about CE, hear from leaders and peers who have experience using it, and get 1:1 help to show you how to unstick your community gospel outreach. If you haven’t tried it yet, attending is an ideal way to learn more. If you have already experienced the effectiveness of CE, the conference can provide help in using it more effectively.

The Christianity Explored North American Conference has grown in attendance each of the past 5 years, and 95% of attendees report they found it both relevant and valuable. A pastor from California who attended the conference last year said that the conference gave him the training and motivation he needed to successfully implement Christianity Explored in his church.

The 2017 conference is in just a few weeks, March 24-26, hosted by Countryside Community Church in Sherwood, OR (Portland area). We invite you to our vision dinner and supporters evening on Friday night, the training conference with Rico Tice on Saturday, and if you can stay over until Sunday, Rico will preach at all services on Sunday morning at Countryside.

rico-002Rico Tice, our keynote speaker, will address the important topic of connecting the gospel with people in today’s culture.

Noted theologian Dr. Sinclair Ferguson calls Rico a witness to sinners and an equipper of saints. He is Minister of Evangelism at the well-known All Souls Church, Langham Place, in London where the late Dr. John Stott was long-time Rector.

Saturday training will include breakout sessions that are designed to provide something for everyone, from evangelistic rookie to seasoned gospel witnesses. Cost is a mere $25, which includes lunch and snacks.

The conference is an opportunity to learn from experts, leaders, and peers who have done this before, and can show you how to do it, or help you take the next step to do it even better than you are now. People have found past conferences valuable for networking with others passionate for the gospel, and as an opportunity to bring along team members so all can catch the vision of what can be in terms of reaching the community with the gospel.

I love to hear from pastors who tell me how CE is helping them reach their communities with the Gospel. A good example is a pastor in New England. He told me that while running CE courses at churches in Boston and New Hampshire, he has seen people realize for the first time that Jesus is a real, historical person. He also has found that CE is an excellent tool for raising up leaders that are equipped for taking a key role in reaching the many New Englanders who haven’t got a clue about who Jesus is, why he came, or what it means to follow him. We would like for you to see the same thing happen in your church and community.

Click here to register for the conference by March 10.

Making Christ Visible

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We all sense that there is more to love than Valentine’s Day, but how far are you willing to go to show your love to a friend, co-worker, or teammate? Are you willing to love enough to risk rejection?

Rico Tice shares a story* of what he learned about his love, or lack of love, for a rugby teammate. Rico explains the incident:

“I’d given a guy in the rugby team a tape (I’m old enough that it was a tape, not a podcast) of a sermon I’d preached. It was on John 1 v 29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (ESV). I remember that in the sermon, I simply and starkly said that either we pay for our sin in hell, or the Lamb pays for us on the cross,”

“This friend, called Ed, played my sermon one night to his housemates, who were in the same rugby team as us; and one of them, Dave, got very upset. He said: “If that’s what Rico believes, the fact he’s said nothing of it to me in months means he’s not really my friend.” So Ed rang me up and said: “Rico, you need to speak to Dave; he’s upset that you’ve not talked to him till now about what’s in the sermon.””

Rico concludes about the lesson he learned from this about love:

“If I’d really loved him, I’d have warned him about hell, shown him the cross, and invited him to trust Jesus and spend eternity with him in the new creation. It was a life-changing phone call. I found myself praying that I wouldn’t only have a sense of God’s love for me, but that I would have that same love for others: that I would love them enough to risk rejection in order to speak to them about Jesus and warn them about hell.”

Rico’s story captured my attention because it reminds me that even though I believe that God is at work in the world, it is my responsibility as a Christian to make Christ visible through my words (telling the gospel) and actions (serving others for Jesus’ sake). It’s my responsibility to share the greatest love of all with the people in my life – even when it’s tough! Sometimes there’s a pain line we must cross, the pain of risking rejection. Is your love great enough to move you across the pain line?

Who is your Dave? What do you use to help you proclaim the gospel of Christ with words? Christianity Explored and Life Explored are great tools for telling the gospel to that person. And what can you do this week to serve your Dave for Jesus’ sake?

*Rico shares this story in his book, Honest Evangelism: How to Talk about Jesus even when it’s Tough, published by The Good Book Company, 2015.

Three Words to Guide Me in 2017

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As the new year began several years ago, I chose three words to guide me in the year ahead. These words related to my larger goals and my sense of vocation – my sense of how the Lord is uniquely calling me. It’s a practice I continue each year.

It started when my son Mark pointed me to a blog by Christopher Penn, whose writing pointed to another blogger, Chris Brogan. Brogan first implemented the three-word exercised in 2006, as an alternative to making New Year’s resolutions, and he has been choosing three words ever since.

For 2016, my three words were: Gratitude, Daily, and Acknowledge. Focusing on these three words successfully helped me focus on God’s provision for each day – a focus on the words “Give us this day our daily bread” found in the Lord’s Prayer.

My three words for 2017 move in a different direction and I’d like to share them with you!

My Three Words for 2017

#1 – Questioning. This pertains to both questioning the status quo to see if there is a better way to do things and move forward, and it also applies to questioning people to learn more about their stories and what makes them tick. I want to be more curious in 2017.

#2 – Connecting. This was one of my three words two years ago, but this year I am using it in a slightly different way. This year I aim to connect more deeply with friends and family, but also build stronger connections with more people in my daily life and ministry spheres.

As my good friend John Kimmons says, “It’s all about relationships.” In this, relationships depend upon deepening connections with people. This is what I want to focus on in 2017.

#3 – Storytelling. With the release of the new Life Explored series in September of 2016, I’ve been reflecting on the power of story in communication. As I read the Gospels, it’s hard to miss the fact that Jesus was a master storyteller. One of the many things I need to learn from Jesus – as I seek to grow to be more like him – is the art of storytelling and communicating the gospel.

There you have it! Three words to guide me in 2017: Questioning, Connecting, and Storytelling.

If you find this three-word exercise to be intriguing – why not try it out? I would love to hear your three words. Leave a comment below or email me at: alan.avera@christianityexplored.org

 

My Year Learning about Christianity Explored throughout North America

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By:  Emily Gray

As a Christianity Explored (CE) contractor this year, I have been able to see the influence CE has had across America. It has been such a privilege to see how God is using these tools to reach lives.

I called churches in several states throughout North America and was able to hear of how CE is being used and how the Lord is drawing people to Himself. Christianity Explored has allowed many churches to reach out to their communities and share the gospel in a relational and understandable way.

Often I found church leaders were excited to share what God is doing and were eager to continue using CE as a way to reach people that they might not otherwise have the chance to reach. While not all ministry methods work for every single person, CE is a program that can be effective and can be a foundation for sharing the Gospel. Whether you use it with children, women, teenagers, internationals, or as a personal Bible study, CE is very flexible in that you can use it with different people groups and it is adaptable to different ministry contexts.

One of the most interesting ways it is used is through prison ministry. Many people use CE when they go to spend time with inmates. CE provides a path to guide them in talking about the Gospel in an open and comfortable way.

Each testimony that I have heard throughout my time with CE has been an encouragement to my heart as I have learned so much from these leaders who have been taking steps of faith in order to fulfill the work of the Lord. No matter how you share the Gospel it should always be with a loving heart and desire to further Christ’s kingdom for His name’s sake.

Bring a Proper Perspective as you Plan to Launch Christianity Explored

With a newly revised edition of Christianity Explored (CE) and an updated support website (www.ceministries.org), this is a great time to think through what can make a CE Ministry a success. The revised edition includes a brief “QuickStart Guide.” The QuickStart Guide lists five steps in getting started:

  1. Plan
  2. Publicize
  3. Prepare
  4. Present
  5. Progress

Over the next few weeks, this blog will give you some insight into each of these steps. Let’s begin with planning as we focus on the need to bring the right perspective to our planning.

Perspective– It is crucial that you view CE as a ministry, and not just as a curriculum. A curriculum is done after the seven weeks, but a ministry is something that is built over time. Too often church leaders adopt the program, or curriculum, of the day, try it, and then move on to something else. The chapter on getting our expectations right in the Leaders Handbook is sometimes painful to hear, but it is crucial if you want to build a ministry.   Yes, God does provide dramatic results (not always the same ones we are looking for), but often we need to start by expecting disappointment and delay. This will keep you from giving up too soon because the initial results did not match your unrealistic expectations.

Find One Key Ally – Sometimes CE advocates in a church are so excited about the ministry and the material that they are frustrated that the rest of the church is not on board with them at the beginning (or even a few years down the road). Let me recommend that you find one person who shares your passion for the gospel who will walk with you down this road. You will need each other to remind one another of the proper perspective needed at each moment.

At Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, we formed a small core-group of leaders who believed in “letting the Gospel tell the gospeland who also believed in the relational methodology behind Christianity Explored.   Each week we would meet a half-hour before the course and pray.   For the first 3 or 4 years we hardly had any non-believers as participants in the course.   More than once we had none at all.   It was at those moments we had to remind ourselves that we believed that CE’s approach is the right way to do evangelism. We still ran the course even if there were no non-believing guests, seeing that as vital practice for that day when the non-believers would be there.   We were experiencing disappointment, but we encouraged each other with the belief that we were also experiencing delay – and that dramatic results would come. We have now been running the course for 15 years, and over the past few years, we have seen dramatic results. We just concluded our most recent CE course, and we had a record number of guests – over 75! God has also drawn dozens to himself over the years.

By Kevin Allen

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What about offering Christianity Explored on Sunday Morning?

Here is an example of a church that offers the Christianity Explored course on Sunday mornings, and uses it as a first step for guests to connect with the church.

 

We had an evangelistic logjam in our congregation and hosting Christianity Explored on Sunday mornings has been the key to clearing the path for non-Christians to come to know Christ and join his church.

Our logjam was a result of fear, as it usually is. Yes, it was part fear of re-introducing ourselves to neighbors whose names we forgot, part fear of talking about our faith and the potential risk of rejection, but mainly it was the fear of what would happen to non-Christian friends and neighbors when they were invited and then came through the door of our church. Where could they put the baggage they were bringing with them? Where could they find answers to questions that concern them? Where could they go that they would perceive to be ‘safe’? Where could they be introduced to what we believe before they dived into a corporate worship service?

The answer was to host, three times a year, Christianity Explored during the Sunday School hour at our church. We stretched the day-away into 3 more Sundays worth of material (bringing us up to 10 Sundays worth of material), and exchanged a full meal for coffee and snacks.

Some benefits were immediate. The time resolved two of our logistical challenges: childcare and overly busy Mon-Sat schedules for guests and table-leaders alike. I, as a pastor, gained a place to confidently invite visitors to attend, as well as a place to train, over the next few years, a majority of the congregation in Christianity Explored and a gracious apologetic.

Other benefits were long-term. Over time, our members gained renewed confidence to invite people to visit our church and that when someone said “yes,” (and sometimes a ‘yes’ takes years of relationship building!), Christianity Explored would still be offered and myself and others would be there ready to receive them. After five years, all of our major events and outreach groups and all of our members now point to Christianity Explored with confidence as ‘the first step,’ and from Christianity Explored participants can naturally join any of the other discipleship courses on offer during that time Sunday morning and continue to join us for worship after.

The logjam has been cleared. Non-Christians have come to know Christ and join his church, and Christianity Explored has been the tool that the Lord has helped us use to clear the way.

 

Rev. Joshua M. Knott

Associate Pastor

Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Newark, DE. (PCA)

http://www.epcnewark.org/christianity-explored

An environment for people to ask questions

Britt is a videographer who filmed stories of people coming to Christ through Christianity Explored at Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. He was touched by the effectiveness of a ministry that provided an environment where people could ask questions and not be made to feel silly for asking. That is the “explore” part of Christianity Explored. Now he has been dialoguing with his neighbors, Dave and Cindy – and he wants to bring them to Christianity Explored! So, while Britt does not attend Village Seven, he has confidence in how Christianity Explored tells the good news!

Here is one example of a story Britt filmed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PATpiJWraA

Thanks for helping spread the gospel through Christianity Explored here in North America. We invite you to like our Christianity Explored North America Facebook page and to visit our websites:

www.ceministries.org/na or www.christianityexplored.org.

—————

Kevin Allen

Regional Director – Western North America

 

Christianity Explored North America

3009 Drakestone Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80909

www.ceministries.org/na    www.christianityexplored.org

Phone – 719-357-7538   Email – kevin.allen@ChristianityExplored.org

 

Bringing the Gospel to some of the Darkest Places on Earth

Two years ago, Christianity Explored entered into a partnership with Prison Fellowship International (PFI).  PFI developed a new in-prison evangelism and discipleship program with the Christianity Explored prison edition at its core.  They branded this new program as The Prisoners Journey (TPJ).

 

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11 countries and is now running in 161 prisons.  43,000 prisoners have been exposed to the program, and 23,000 have completed the Christianity Explored course, and 14,000 have gone on to further discipleship and Bible study.

 

The goal is to present the gospel through the Gospel of Mark to one million prisoners by the year 2020.  PFI estimates that at the current response rate and planned expansion to other countries, they are ahead of schedule toward meeting that goal.

 

Below is the TPJ Logic Model, or projected flow of prisoners through TPJ in a typical international prison. The typical prison has 500 prisoners, although that number is moving upwards to 600 prisoners per prison in many countries. TPJ is introduced by a big event that seeks to reach half the prison population. Of the prisoners coming to the big event, about a third will enroll in and complete The Prisoners Journey course, which is essentially the Christianity Explored prison edition course. The really exciting news is that 60% of those completing the course will go on to further discipleship and Bible study. This is then repeated three times per year. The typical prison has an annual turnover rate of 20%, so there is a constant flow of new prisoners to reach, and also prisoners who complete the course want to invite others to participate. Through TPJ, Christianity Explored is helping bring the gospel to some of the darkest places in the world.

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Epic Explorers is loaded with material

Enough resources to use over many weeks

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“Epic Explorers digs deep into the gospel for children to receive truth and nourishment,” explained Rebekah Harkins, Children’s Ministry Coordinator at the Greenville ARP Church.  She said that children enjoy adventuring through the book of Mark.

Her church has a weekly Wednesday night program for kids 1st-5th grade. She has found that the material presents the Gospel in a very clear and understandable way for both kids who are new to the faith, as well as kids who have heard the Gospel story before. The kids enjoyed going through Mark and putting together each part of of the map.  This helped point to each aspect of who Jesus is, why he came, our new life in Christ, and what it means to be a disciple and how to love Jesus.

“The material went through presenting the Gospel in a very clear and understandable way for kids.”

“The Leader’s Guide was loaded with tons of ideas for crafts, games, and it was easy to navigate a lesson because of the great instruction of what Scripture to use, things to pray before the lesson, and what words to say to meet the kids where they were.There are 5 lessons in the material but it was flexible and full of so many great ideas for illustrations and teaching tools that we were able to split some of the lessons in half and make adjustments to fit their schedule.”
While the material was designed for five sessions to fit a typical Vacation Bible School format, churches are learning that the material is flexible and can be used in a variety of ways.  Harkins found that there is plenty of material to use it over a longer period than just 5 days.

 

Love in the Name of Christ

Love Inc of the Black Hills in Rapid City, SD, has been using Christianity Explored for more than two years.  Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ) mobilizes local churches to transform lives and communities in the Name of Christ.  They seek to walk alongside people on their journey to wholeness through mutual service, education, friendship, and prayer.

Roy-1-e1428757666488-150x150Program Director Roy Roberts says, “We use Christianity Explored as our primary introductory material, then encourage people to also go through the Discipleship Explored course.”  One thing they especially like about our material is, “Teachers have found that the courses lead to lots of discussion.  They use the course videos, which open up a lot of avenues for group discussion.”  They have seen people become followers of Christ as a result.

Having learned about how Love INC was using Christianity Explored through a newspaper article I saw online, I spoke with Roy Roberts to find out more about Love INC’s experience with our courses. Roy has been with Love INC of the Black Hills for two years. They were already using our material when he got there.

“Christianity Explored has been a really good course for us. We have used it on three campuses, and now will be using it on a fourth. Most of the individuals coming to our campuses are either homeless or experiencing poverty.”

“We use both Christianity Explored and Discipleship Explored. We have found Christianity Explored to be a great foundational course. Most of the people coming are non-churched.”

“Most of the people teaching the courses are pastors. They have found that Christianity Explored and Discipleship Explored give them a great connection with the people coming, and they have seen many of the people start coming to their churches.”

“With one group, going through Christianity Explored then Discipleship Explored led to an ongoing Bible Study. They started with Christianity Explored, then went to Discipleship Explored, but they wanted more, so now they are continuing with other studies.”

“Some of the people coming are not able to read or write. We have to connect them with tutors as they do the course. This can help reach two people, because not all of the tutors are Christians. The tutors learn from the course just like the students. We also connect the students with people who can teach them to read and write.”

It was interesting that Roy made the point about using the course with people who cannot read or write, because a week before this interview, another ministry had asked me if our courses work with people who cannot read. Christianity Explored is adaptable and is being used with many different kinds of people.

3 Words for 2016

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Before we end the first week in January, it’s time again for me to choose three words to give me focus for the new year. The idea of using three words instead of New Year’s Resolutions originated with public relations blogger Chris Brogan.

Chris explains, “Pick any three words that will guide you in the choices you intend to make for 2016. They should be words that let you challenge yourself as to motives and decisions. They should be words that help you guide your actions.”

My three words for 2016 are:

Gratitude

Daily

Acknowledge

These three words are inspired by a Christmas gift we received from my son’s girl friend, Amber, and the discussion we had about the gift.

The gift was a framed piece of artwork she had created using the phrase, “I will be grateful for this day.” In our discussion about this phrase, she mentioned how we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The prayer focuses our eyes on what God gives us daily. The appropriate way to respond to daily provision is daily gratitude.

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I easily miss living in the current day because I worry about what might happen in the future, or I refuse to let go of something that happened in the past. Yet today is the only day in which I can act. So then, the only way I can make a difference is daily. And the place to look for God’s provision is daily. And I once I see his provision, it helps me to acknowledge it. This acknowledgement doesn’t need to be a lengthy prayer, but rather can be a “thank you” whispered to God, or a comment made to someone else about how God has provided.

In the previous two years, I have focused on my relationships with other people.

Here are my 3 words for previous years:

2014: notice, serve, and appreciate

2015: connect, appreciate, and thank.

This year I want to focus more on recognizing and responding to God’s provision in my life.

So thanks to Amber for inspiring my 3 words for 2016.

 

Better Than Anything Else I Have Found for Middle School Students

“The CY course is better than anything else I have found for middle school students,” said Ben Lyon, Associate Pastor, Worship Arts and Youth Ministry, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA. “This material is a real homerun.”

CY aims to be a life-changing journey through the Gospel of Mark for 11-14 year olds. Like the Christianity Explored course for adults, it uses Mark’s Gospel to explore who Jesus is, why he came, and what it means to follow him; but it is specially tailored to make the gospel as clear as possible for middle school students.

Ben LyonWhen Ben first saw the CY course, he didn’t like the look of it. He didn’t like the cartoons in the student handbooks, and he wasn’t sure how the students would receive it. But when he actually started running the course for the first time, he found it was ideal for addressing the questions and issues with which his students were wrestling.

Middle school is when students are trying to find their own faith. Ben discovered that CY is good for this age group because it helps students see for themselves who Christ is.

Their first experience with using CY was so good, that Trinity Presbyterian is now using it for a second time this fall. The result this time is equally as good. They run it on Sunday nights as part of their weekly youth ministry. They have modified the course by not doing the day away, but instead using the day away talks as three extra weekly sessions to expand it to a ten-week course instead of seven-week. “It’s the perfect amount of material for our fall schedule,” Ben explained

About 25 students are in the middle school group at Trinity. They break into small discussion groups for about 20 minutes for the opening, exploratory discussion. Then they come together as a large group to listen to the talk (about 20 minutes). Ben, or one of his volunteer leaders, delivers the talk live instead of using the DVD. Ben says, “The materials in the leaders guide for delivering the talks are great, easy to use, and can be handed off to volunteer leaders. It provides good content to help middle school students open up and engage the issues they are facing.”  After the talk, they break into small discussion groups for about 30 minutes of discussion and prayer.

Ben also likes the training notes in the front of the leaders guide about working with 11 – 14 year old students. He says that material is right on.

Having run the CY course now for a second time, Ben says it will become a regular part of the youth ministry at Trinity.

What do I need to be content?

A great hindrance to giving thanks is a lack of contentment. As we approach the American celebration of Thanksgiving, an excellent question for self-discovery is, “What do I need to be content?”

In session 8 of Discipleship Explored, Barry Cooper tells about the results of a poll in which Americans were asked, “How would it take to fulfill the American dream?”

Those with an income of $25,000 said it would take $54,000.

Those with an income of $100, 000 said they needed $192,000.

So Barry concludes that if we are basing our contentment of material circumstances, then we tend to think that if we just had twice as much, then we would be content.

In contrast to this, the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” He goes on in verse 12 to say that it doesn’t matter what his circumstances, whether in plenty or in hunger, or any other circumstance. The Apostle Paul knew the secret of contentment and thanksgiving.

In his book In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life, Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Contentment is an undervalued grace…If it could be produced by programmed means (“Five steps to contentment in a month”), it would be commonplace. Instead, Christians must discover contentment the old-fashioned fashioned way: we must learn it.

Thus, we cannot “do” contentment. It is taught by God. We need to be schooled in it. It is part of the process of being transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us. It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character. It involves the growth of a good tree that produces good fruit.

A little later in the same book, Ferguson explained the source of contentment, “Christian contentment means that my satisfaction is independent of my circumstances. When Paul speaks about his own contentment in Philippians 4:11, he uses a term commonplace among the ancient Greek philosophical schools of the Stoics and Cynics. In their vocabulary, contentment meant self-sufficiency, in the sense of independence from changing circumstances. But for Paul, contentment was rooted not in self-sufficiency but in Christ’s sufficiency (Phil. 4:13). Paul said that he could do all things-both being abased and abounding-in Christ.”

So contentment is a discipleship issue. It is an issue of learning to live “in Christ.” I pray that we all may learn a little more contentment this Thanksgiving.

If You Could Ask God One Question

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Have you ever wanted to ask God a question? If you could, what would you want to ask Him?

Paul Williams and Barry Cooper spent many years asking people, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” Their book by that name, one of the resources produced by Christianity Explored, takes the 12 most asked questions and gives careful answers to each question including answers from the lips of Jesus.

I met a man a few weeks ago, Dan Sietman, who regularly gives away copies of this book. Dan serves in administration and counseling at a church in Ohio, and is also involved in a jail ministry. He explained why he likes this book, “I have found this to be a very valuable resource as I talk to people who have many questions about God and what we believe as Christians.”

Here is his story about how this book impacted a man he calls “Harry.”

We have a team that ministers in our county jail each week. I met Harry in mid-March of this year. He began attending our men’s Thursday night class. Harry is from India, and I learned that he comes from a Sikh background (a religion that developed out of the Punjab region of India). About a month after attending our class, Harry told me that he had “decided to follow Jesus Christ.” Knowing that this could mean that he was intending to simply add Jesus to the other gods he recognized, my approach was to encourage him to read his Bible and to look for truth. I also encouraged him to ask any question that might come to his mind.

Each week he would tell me that he had so many questions, but my time was always limited, and it was hard to focus exclusively on Harry, so I brought him a copy of If You Could Ask God One Question. The next time I spoke to him, he was so grateful. He told me that he had read the book several times and that it was the most helpful thing he had read to help him understand God and Christianity. I later learned that Harry was loaning the book to other men in his cellblock and many of them found it very helpful as well.

At my most recent personal visit with Harry, he handed the book back to me and asked if I would give it to his wife. I told him, “No, you keep it here and keep sharing it with men you meet here. I will get another copy and give it to your wife.” I don’t know for sure if Harry has trusted Christ exclusively as his Savior, but it is very clear that the Holy Spirit is working in him. Apparently, Harry’s sister-in-law is a Christian who is praying for him and sending him good Christian books to read as well.

With that book, Harry has been an “evangelist” in his jail pod. There are between 30 – 40 men in that pod. Harry has been sharing the book and has been a real encourager to the men.

A Very Different Christmas

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Open the presents in God’s living room this year… Get the brand new A Very Different Christmas eBook by Rico Tice and Nate Morgan Locke FOR FREE throughout October.

Go to The Good Book Company North America Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/thegoodbookcompanynorthamerica). Look for the post about A Very Different Christmas FREE eBOOK and follow the instructions.

Rico Tice’s new book, A Very Different Christmas, explains the Gospel in a simple yet challenging way. It looks at the Gospel through four different Christmas gifts. This book was written for Christians to give to their unbelieving friends and family members in order to show them the beauty of the Gospel, yet I also found it to be challenging and refreshing for me as a believer.

I often forget how precious and valuable the gift of salvation is and I take for granted how vast God’s grace is towards me. To gain even an elementary understanding of that grace is overwhelming.

It becomes very easy to get caught up in activity, especially during the holidays, and to lose sight of what Christmas is all about.

Accepting God’s gifts to us, especially the gift of righteousness that Jesus gives to God, the Father, on our behalf, is the only way to start our relationship with Him. But we also need to continue walking in light of the gifts that God gives us, instead of thinking that we have something to give him that can earn his favor. This can be easy to forget, and so it is easy to try and live decent lives as if the truths of God’s gifts to us don’t exist. So get this free eBook and examine it as a resource to give to unbelieving friends and family members this Christmas, but also let its message sink into your mind and enable you to live for Christ each day.

By Emily Gray

SOUL: Introducing Jesus to a New Generation

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SOUL is similar to Christianity Explored, but directed toward older teenagers and young adults, SOUL is perfect for presenting the Gospel to this age group in an accessible and relevant way.

Earlier this week I spoke with Elinor Griffin about her experience using SOUL for a short-term mission trip she helped lead as a ministry intern with her church.

Every year Greenville ARP Church sends their youth on a mission trip to a small church in Virginia. They have been doing this trip for many years.

I asked Elinor a series of questions about her experience using SOUL.

  • How was SOUL used on the trip?

-Every year our church goes to this small church to run a Vacation Bible School program for teens. This year we watched the SOUL DVDs and then broke out into discussion groups.

  • How did you see God working through the course?

-We had a very rambunctious group of kids and whenever we put on the SOUL DVDs it was dead silent in the room. I could just feel the Holy Spirit working in the kids and it was incredible. It was also great to have our break out sessions after each DVD to have discussion time. The kids had a lot to say about the material and you could tell that God was genuinely working in their hearts.

  • What advice would you give to those running a Bible study or using SOUL?
  1. Know your material. Part of what really helped is that the team and I all had a lot of prep time together as well as prayer time. It helped us to grow closer together in our own lives as well as a team.
  1. Know the Bible: it’s great to know the study material you’re using, (More information here) but you need to know how to back it up with scripture.
  1. Prayer. Before and after the event is always a good idea.

Helping Children Explore the Life of Jesus

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Epic Explorers is the brand new children’s version of Christianity Explored. Epic Explorers takes children ages 4-11 on a five-session adventure through Mark’s Gospel discovering who Jesus is, why he came, and what it means to follow him.

This study is great for Vacation Bible School (VBS). The flexible sessions can also be used for an evangelistic group or after-school club.

We estimate as many as 200 churches in North America used the new Epic Explorers course for summer programming this year (based on sales of the leader’s guide).

An example is Union Lake Baptist Church in Commerce, MI.

“We ran VBS on a schedule that included 2 Bible lesson times and rotations into a craft period, game period, snack period, and music period.  We also offered a “store” where the children could purchase items with points they had earned for bringing their Bible, visitors, saying verses, etc”.

They had many different games for the kids to participate in. Another way they used the program to engage families was by hosting a hotdog lunch for the parents after the activities. A majority of the children who attended were from outside of the church so this was a great way to build relationships with the families.

Opening the Bible Here to Reach Students from Around the World, Part two

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As a conclusion for our last post, we will hear more of how God is moving through the use of Bible studies to internationals. The ministry leader that we are hearing from today has used Christianity Explored with international students.

 

Q: How do you get students to come and participate in the study?

We have a welcome banquet for international students every year in September.  At this event, we have a signup sheet for different activities we offer.  One of the activities is a weekly dinner and Bible discussion.  The students who are interested sign up and we contact them to invite them to our house for the dinner and study.  We let them know up front that it is open to any one of any faith and that we will be exploring together the life and teachings of Jesus.

Q: What do you like about Christianity Explored?

The CE study is well designed and easy for the facilitator to present to the students.  It had good questions for thought and reflection.  The accompanying video was also very well done and engaging.  We also used the study “Jesus through Asian eyes”.  It covered great questions about the person of Jesus Christ and the claims of the Christian faith.  It raised points that were good for discussion.  The material responds to basic questions that non-believers have about the Christian faith.

Q: Is there a certain story or memory that you would like to share from using the study?

We have Muslims students that join us often as well as Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and Christians.  It has been amazing for us to see all of these students from different background and countries come together because of the welcome of hospitality and warmth of our home.  They find a home away from home and friendship.  They feel safe because we welcome all and we allow and encourage questions and discussion.  There is a tremendous power in relationship.  When they feel accepted no matter their background, then they feel safe to explore and discover about Jesus in a way that they could not in their country of origin.

Q: How do you think others can engage people to come to their Bible study groups?

1) We begin with the premise, come and see who Jesus is.  We have no hidden agenda and we are very open from the onset that the Friday dinner also involves Bible discussion. Then we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to draw students and bring to us the ones that God is already working in their hearts.

2) When we plan for the dinners, we keep in mind the different food restrictions of the students.  We offer several choices and are respectful of the dietary practices.

3) We show a deep interest in them and in their stories.  We encourage them to share about their families and their lives.  So it is not just Bible study, but the whole evening together that is ministering to those that come.

 

Opening the Bible Here to Reach Students from Around the World

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There are exciting ministries here in Greenville, SC that reach-out to international students. The students are engaged through friendship and Bible study. Over the next two posts we will hear from two ministry leaders about how they cultivate Bible study environments that allow students to engage comfortably.

 

Q: How do you get students to come to your bible study? 

I cover the invitation with prayer then make the invitation simple and relational, “We are going to meet together to talk about the Bible and what it says.” “Have you wondered what the Bible says or who the God of the Bible is? – If so please join us for Bible Fellowship on ‘date & time’. We will have snacks and enjoy a time together as we discuss”.  I count on the Holy Spirit to draw students to the study and through the study to Himself.
 

Q: How do you get the students to engage in your study and continue to come? 

It is first about connecting in friendship, getting to know each other so that you build an environment that is fun and where trust is built.  Having time to socialize, have snacks and chat is important.  Students have busy schedules and international students are very academic minded, so establishing a good relationship is very important. The enemy will seek to distract students with the cares of their academic work.  We also have to be patient and understanding with an open posture toward students. We never want a student to feel pressure; and we strive to remain loving, caring and open, even if the student is not.  This is demonstrating God’s faithful love.
 

Q: What advice would you give to those seeking to start up a bible study? 

Pray, Pray, Pray!!  And get a group together that will cover you and the group in prayer during the study time.  And Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!  With internationals you always need to be sensitive to the culture and worldview that students are coming from when opening up God’s word to them.  Studying where Guilt/Innocence, Honor/Shame, and Fear/Power is within the scriptures is important in helping students understand the gospel and in helping them cross over into the Kingdom.

The Lord Had Other Plans

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By Stuart Jackson

It was a warm summer day on July 17, 2013 when my friend and fellow pilot, Mike, asked if I would like to fly with him in his 1941 Stearman Bi-plane to an aviation enthusiasts meeting at a privately owned airport in southern Spartanburg County, SC. Mike is one of the best pilots I’ve ever known. He has a side business of offering flights to the general public in his open cockpit bi-plane. Mike often allowed me to fly his plane and practice take-offs and landings, which I was doing before our meeting at 6:30pm on the evening of July 17th.

The weather was fine and we were both enjoying flying the Stearman that afternoon. I was “acing” all of my take-offs and landings too. There was an appreciative audience of pilots and volunteers on the ground watching as we flew around the airstrip. The grass runway at this airport is 7000 feet long. We were flying from South to North along the runway. There happens to be an 80 foot gradual rise from the South end to the North end of this runway and this would have a tremendous impact on how this flight went terribly wrong that day.

When it was getting time for our meeting to start, I turned the control stick back over to Mike and he then prepared to do a maneuver called “the hammerhead”. This entails flying along the runway at just above ground level and then steeply climbing up, which results in a stall, before turning the plane around to face in the opposite direction and making a sweeping low pass again.   During this maneuver, the pilot is watching the altimeter to make sure he has enough altitude to complete the turn. Mike had done this dozens of times at the opposite end of the runway.

If you have ever been to an airshow, you’ve seen pilots, as they do their acrobatics and maneuvers, turn on the smoke for “effect”. Mike had turned on his “smoke” and we were trailing masses of it as we made the final pass before the starting the steep climb. As we climbed, Mike was watching his altimeter. I had my eyes outside the cockpit. When we reached the stall, I knew good and well that we did not have enough altitude to complete this maneuver.

It was a strange, but very calming and peaceful presence that I felt at this moment. I knew we were going to crash and it was going to hurt, but I also knew that we were both going to survive. I can say with certainty that it was the Holy Spirit that had given me this assurance. I have a foggy recollection of flying through the branches of a tree and hitting my head hard on the right side of the cockpit. I also recall landing very hard and dirt flying in my face. Mike had managed to turn the plane right side up and facing down the direction of the runway before hitting the tree. The observers on the ground told us that, as we landed hard, the wheels of the plane broke off and we bounced about 5 feet in the air and then landed with the stub axles digging into the ground. With the forward momentum, we were flipped upside down and put into a slide on the top wing for about 50 feet.

Stuart Jackson plane crash

I vaguely recall fiddling with my harness buckle to free myself. This is difficult as I am now hanging upside down. Somehow I managed to get free and alongside the wing. I was told that Mike pulled me up and helped me get away from the wing, which was full of fuel. The plane could have burst into flames, but we were spared. I remember Mike saying to me when we were clear of the wreckage, “The Lord has other plans for us, Stuart”.

Miraculously, we both survived with only minor injuries. Apart from abrasions and bruising, Mike needed 20 stitches for a head laceration and I had a mild concussion. The only lasting injury I sustained is stiffness and pressure in my right shoulder, probably from the plane’s shoulder harness. I see this stiffness as a reminder of how the hand of my Lord Jesus Christ was on me that day delivering me from the jaws of death and giving me a testimony of His grace in my life.

Being originally from Yorkshire, England, I was raised in the Church of England. Up until a year before this plane crash, I was a nominal Christian without a personal relationship with Christ. But through seeing the emptiness in my brother’s eyes as he was dying a few years before this, recognizing the emptiness in my own life, and then talks with Pastor Matt Miller as he helped me understand and apply the gospel, I came to a personal relationship with Christ.

Now I know I have been spared to continue in my Christian walk here on earth, where I can serve and be part of a vibrant church family. In telling this story, it is my honor and joy to testify to His mercy and praise His Holy Name to all who will listen.

Last Friday was the anniversary of the crash. I got a text message from Mike saying “Hey 2 years ago today God had different plans for you and me.”

How Do We Get People to Come?

One of the most asked questions regarding  Christianity Explored is, “How do we get people to come to the course?” The most reliable answer is, “Inviting people to come with you to the course.”

But others have developed some good ideas to help with these invitations.

Tom Harr and Ethan Dunham at Faith Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, have developed a postcard that can be given to church members to give to the people they invite, and that can also be sent to people in the community.

Tom writes, “We do give them to church members to hand out and then we typically mail about 15,000 into the area immediately surrounding our church (North Wilmington is a relatively densely populated suburb of Wilmington and Philadelphia).  It’s part of a broader mailing program that builds awareness in the community of our church.”

“We’ve averaged about 4-5 family units attend at least one session due to postcard response… probably 2-3 stick through the course.  That’s not a very good economic return on the face of it, but we’ve had several conversions and several people become regular church attenders as a result.”

“I still find it remarkable in our increasingly de-churched northeast suburb that anyone would get a postcard in the mail from a church they’ve never visited and then come.”

Tom also explains that they have rebranded the course as “Faith Explored” for using at their church to coordinate with the name of the church “Faith Presbyterian.”

Concerning the design of the card, Tom says, “The most quoted feature of the card from people who come because of the postcard with no prior connection to our church is “If you could ask God one question…” Hence that’s become more prominent over the years in the design.”

Another church recently told me about using social media to invite people to the course. That church asked about any design ideas for using with social media posts. Maybe this postcard used by Faith Presbyterian can give you design ideas not only for direct mail, but also for invitations, and for social media posts.

Faith Explored postcard2                      Faith Explored postcard3

Falling in Love with Jesus

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Keith and Rose Robinson, table leaders at Grant Memorial Baptist Church in Winnipeg, Canada share how they “fell deeply in love with Jesus” during the course and are now blessing others with the same message that changed their lives.

What were your lives like before you came on the course/became Christians?

We both felt that we were missing something in our lives.  Something was pulling at both of our hearts.  We wanted to discover if our lives together and the relationships around us could even be stronger and more fulfilling.  By observing a few Christian family members, including an uncle and aunt that married us eleven years ago, we both saw that there was something different about how they carried themselves.  We both wanted to see why having Jesus made such a difference.

How did you find yourselves attending a church course? How did you hear about the Christianity Explored course at Grant Memorial Baptist Church?

Although Rose was a Catholic and I was raised in the United Church, both of us had not attended church for a long time. When we decided that we wanted to go to a church, Rose asked a coworker about churches and she recommended Grant Memorial Baptist Church. We made the choice to try Grant and it was the best choice we have ever made.  We were warmly welcomed into their community at the first service.  We also enjoyed the music and the message even though we did not quite understand it.  It was very powerful and we definitely wanted to hear more. We then asked Ted Hull how we could find out more about Christianity.  Ted is a long time church member and his wife is a second cousin to my dad.

What happened at Christianity Explored that had an impact on you? What was the highlight of the course for you?

The whole experience of Christianity Explored had a positive impact and assisted our walk in becoming Christians.  At the start of the course, our table leaders did not tell us what we had to believe.  Instead, they provided warm, positive insight combined with the course material that let us learn about Jesus in our own way.  The atmosphere also was comfortable and open for asking any question that we had.

Rose and I were always close.  However, we saw our relationship grow even stronger as we were working through the course material and the Gospel of Mark.  One Saturday night after having dinner at my parents, we came home and started to study our Week 5 questions on the resurrection.  We started studying at 9pm.  When we finished, we thought we would watch a show before going to bed.  However, we found out it was nearly 2am. We had been studying for five hours and it felt like one hour.  That was the night that we both fell deeply in love with Jesus.

After becoming a Christian, what led you to becoming a table leader at the Christianity Explored course at Grant Memorial Baptist Church?  How has this helped you and your wife grow as Christians?

After we both experienced the impact of Christianity Explored in our own lives, we wanted to watch other people’s lives being impacted like ours.  Rose and I felt that sharing our love for Jesus through Christianity Explored was the perfect fit.  We are humbled that God has glorified our lives that we are able to give back.  During our first time as tables leaders, Wendy, one of the participants, fell deeply in love with Jesus. Wendy has now brought another friend to our second class.  She has invited her husband, mother, and nephew to church. We also had my parents come to the course and this spring they will be baptized at our church. It is very clear to see how much Christianity Explored has impacted so many people in their walk in just three classes.

Because of the course, we have both become more confident as we would have never been able to be table leaders without the glory of God that we received.  The other exciting impact is that Christianity Explored has taught us how to read, understand, and fall in love with the Bible.  We are in love with the good Word.

How has the Christianity Explored course impacted your church community on a personal level?

Christianity Explored has changed our lives in an extraordinary way and we are now baptized, church members, church greeters, and table leaders at Christianity Explored.  God has enriched our lives with the seeds that we planted and our growth in faith is the most amazing feeling that we have ever experienced.  In addition, we have made many Christian friends that have taken us under their wing to assist us in our walk. We have seen how important it is to have such strong Christians at Grant Memorial Baptist Church that follow what Jesus wants us to do. “Love others like I love you.”  Becoming Christians has also enriched our lives by filling our hearts with the love of Jesus, which has improved our relationships with family, friends and new friends.

What would you want to say about attending a Christianity Explored course to others who are seeking spiritually?

Christianity Explored is the best way to go about and will allow you to learn not be told, ask questions without fear of judgment, and observe from the leaders what Christianity is on your own terms.  If you open your heart and mind, you will find your path to your salvation at the cross of Jesus, and your life will never be the same. Take some time; plant some seeds for your eternal life; it is worthwhile.

The DVD that accompanies the course material is a wonderful package that has been put together.  We like they way Rico is able to engage the participants and help facilitate their understanding.  The course questions are laid out in a way that takes the seeker/inquirer down a path of learning that will lead to the love of Jesus and understanding of Christianity. We both would love to talk to other churches about what Christianity Explored could do for their community.  We are thankful that God directed us to Grant Memorial Baptist Church and Christianity Explored.

Gospel Impact in Winnipeg

GMBC-front-8109a-sm-e1399654228978Grant Memorial Baptist Church, a church in Winnipeg, has been running Christianity Explored since 2008.  Susan Moore, Director of Adult Ministries shares with us the impact that the course has had on their church community.

Why did Grant Memorial Baptist Church decide to use the Christianity Explored course?

We came across the Christianity Explored course after experimenting with other evangelistic courses. We were very pleased with the format and theology. The curriculum was well thought-out and well produced. We have not looked back since 2008!

“the most effective evangelistic tool we have”

How many times a year do you run the course? What is the format/structure of each session?

We offer the course on Wednesday evenings at 6:30pm at least twice a year – once in the fall and once in the winter. For the last couple of years, we have also offered a course in the spring, primarily for visitors who have indicated interest in the course while here for Easter services. We always follow the same format. Supper is at 6:30pm. Discussion and video starts about 7:15pm and ends at 8:30pm. We currently have 5 table leaders and we usually have about 15 participants. It is a small class but considering we have run the class about 16 times, we are always encouraged that new people keep attending.

“high percentage of participants that come to faith”

What are some of the highlights from using CE in your church ministry?

We are always amazed at the high percentage of participants that come to faith in Jesus Christ through the course. It is by far the most effective evangelism tool we have. The highlights are always the stories – the transformations in people’s lives. We had one young man who attended to please his Christian girlfriend. He was a very good thinker, full of questions. He made a decision for Christ, went for ministry training and is now pastoring in another church in our city. Keith and Rose Robinson are also wonderful examples. They came, they listened, they did their homework, they came into a relationship with Christ. They wanted to know their spiritual gifts and as soon as they took a course we offer on that, they started serving. We had them apprentice in the fall and they are table leaders this time around. I just had them as table hosts at our Newcomer’s lunch as well, as they are friendly and welcoming and know what it’s like to come in to a large church and find a place to belong and a place to serve.

“well thought-out and well produced curriculum”

What lessons have you and the other table leaders learned from running the course regularly?

  • Creating a welcoming, comfortable environment for people with questions. Our table leaders need to be P1010349“unshockable” as people come to the course from all backgrounds and current realities. In our current class, there is a young man who has already spent significant time in prison sitting next to a well-dressed professional woman. It’s a beautiful picture of the Church.
  • Christianity Explored is the first step in to the church. We try to provide good follow-up in terms of offering next steps and providing spiritual guidance for new people.
  • A supportive church body. We need our people to invite and bring people and they are doing that. Some of our small groups cook and serve one meal each session so that we can show the guests that our people are glad they are here and want to serve them.
  • The gospel never gets old! We have also learned that some people who have been Christians for a long time also benefit from learning the “basics” again.

How has the Christianity Explored course impacted your church community as a whole?

We video record people’s faith stories after taking Christianity Explored and we play them in a Sunday morning service to invite people to come to the next class. Our people hear of Christianity Explored when new believers are telling their stories in the baptismal tank, so people see the results of the course and value it.

“high quality, plain speaking, and engaging”

We noticed that you also run the Discipleship Explored course. How have you found this course as a follow up to the Christianity Explored course? What has been the general response to the course?

As a follow-up to Christianity Explored, we have run the Discipleship Explored course a number of times, especially when we feel that the group members have bonded together, but are very young in the faith and need to move on together as a group to the next course. We always try to have at least one of the table leaders from Christianity Explored move on with the group to Discipleship Explored so that there is continuity and comfortability for these new believers who still feel a bit insecure in a Bible study setting. In our current course that started three weeks ago, we are offering the two courses concurrently with everyone having supper together. This keeps the element of community that we have found to be so vital to keeping these people engaged and making them part of our church over the long haul.

“The gospel never gets old!”

What would you want to say to a church or pastor who was considering running a Christianity Explored course?

I would offer great encouragement to a church who is considering offering the course. It is high quality, plain speaking and engaging. When you add in some good food, some compassionate table hosts and the Holy Spirit, the results are incredible.

3 words for 2015

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Last year my son, Mark, introduced me to a blog by public relations professional Christopher Penn. Around New Years Day each year, he chooses three words to give him focus for the coming year.

So on New Years Day, I chose three words to give me focus for 2014:

notice, serve, and appreciate.

I tried to notice people more than I have in the past. I still centered on myself more, but keeping the word “notice” in the back of my mind helped.

People heard the word “serve” much more in my daily interactions. I regularly made it a point to ask people how I could serve them. That’s not a word people are used to hearing outside of the hospitality industry. Yet I have to admit, it’s much easier to ask, “how can I serve?” than to pitch in and serve.

The word that proved the biggest challenge, and the one I need to work on again next year is “appreciate.” My appreciation needs to begin first of all with God, who is the rightful king of the universe and the ultimate author and provider of everything I enjoy.

2011-year-resolution-400x400That leads me to three words to give me focus for the coming year:

connect, appreciate, and thank.

The word “connect” was inspired by one of the responses to my Facebook post last New Years when I asked friends to give me their three words. Our good family friend, Diane Kendall, wrote about a word that can change your life, the word “present” – to be present with the Lord, people, and circumstances. Recognizing my tendency to withdraw into my own world, the word “connect” points to the present world around me and the people in it.

To appreciate is a specific way to connect with God’s world and the people and things in it.

Then ideally, this appreciation will be expressed. So the third word is “thank.”

The three words differ from resolutions in that they are not framed as specific goals or objectives, but rather they are aspirational values, things that I seek to integrate as core values in my life.

With that in mind…

What are your three words for 2015?

Why Christmas is Such Good News

Mark’s Gospel doesn’t begin with the Christmas Story. There is no manger, no baby Jesus, no shepherds and magi. Instead, Mark begins with these words:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In week 1 of Christianity Explored, Rico Tice makes it clear that Christianity is the gospel, or good news, about Jesus Christ. While gospel means good news, those simple words don’t do it justice. It’s the kind of news that makes people dance in the streets and hug complete strangers; it’s like the announcement that war is finally over. It’s that good!

When you come to the Christmas Story, if you don’t see it as the best news you have ever heard, then maybe you’ve never understood why Jesus came, and thus you have never understood what Christmas is all about.

When Jesus spoke of why he came, he spoke of coming to rescue rebels, those that are in rebellion against the rightful king of the universe.

In Mark 2:17 Jesus said,

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

That applies to all of us, because all of us regularly worship and serve other things more than we love and worship God.

And this sin, this rebellion, is serious. Jesus said that it is better to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye that causes us to sin rather than to suffer the just consequences of our sin, which is hell. (Mark 9:43-48)

The problem is that even if we were to cut off a hand, a foot, or an eye that causes us to sin, as Rico says, the knife would never go deep enough. As Jesus says in Mark 7:21, the ultimate source of our sin is our deepest self, described in the Bible as the heart.

Jesus came to deal with our separation from God that comes as a result of our sin. He says in Mark 10:45, “ For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Apostle Paul makes it even more clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

On the cross, Jesus took our sin and gave us his righteousness. The rebels were rescued. That was symbolized by what happened in the Temple at the moment when he died on the cross. The moment he died, the thick curtain in the Temple that separated God from his people was torn in two from top to bottom. It was torn from the top – meaning God tore it.

God and sinners reconciled!

That’s why Jesus came, and that’s why Christmas is the beginning of the best news we have ever heard!  Merry Christmas!!

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Building Bridges through Questions

This past week, I led a seminar for the Great Lakes District of the Evangelical Free Church.

I posed the question, “What makes sharing the gospel so difficult?”

One participant responded…

“Our lack of bridges with unbelievers.  We don’t have strong enough relationships with people outside the church to be able to share the gospel.”

People often ask me, “How can we get people to come to the Christianity Explored course?”

I wonder if we struggle with inviting people because we are better at building walls than we are at building bridges.  One way to build bridges is to learn how to ask good questions.

Earlier this week, I met with John Crilly, National Field Director for Q Place – a ministry that empowers Christians to engage in meaningful conversations about God with people who believe differently.

Q Place’s The Arts of Spiritual Conversations encourage believers to practice 9 everyday activities that will then open a gateway for talking about God naturally with anyone.  These include simple relational skills like listening, noticing, and asking questions.

Jerram Barrs, a student of the late Francis Schaeffer, is a professor that has had a strong impact on my practice of evangelism.  In his book, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, he speaks on the importance of building bridges through questions.  He makes the point that questions “help us to understand what is in a person’s heart and mind.”  However, he warns against seeing questions as a sales technique.  “Our questions must arise from a relationship that has integrity.  Jesus asks people questions because he wants to know them, and because he desires that people come to know him.”

Barrs goes on to cite an article by Paul Weston that lists the number of questions in the gospels that Jesus asked in His everyday interactions with the people around Him.

Matthew: 94 questions

Mark: 59 questions

Luke: 82 questions

John: 49 questions

“Schaeffer used to say that if he had only one hour to spend with someone, he would spend 55 minutes asking them questions, and 5 minutes trying to say something that would speak to their situation once he understood a little more about what was going on in their heart and mind.”

Here are two resources for developing good practices in asking questions:

  1. The Q Place
    For those in the Midwest, Q Place is hosting their VITAL Conference on October 30 in the Chicago area.
  2. Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did  (Grand Rapids:  Kregel Publications, 2004)