This study was created by Matt Morton, Blake Jennings, David Blaschke at Grace Bible Church in College Station, TX for use in their college ministry. Each page in the series has 2 handouts - one for questions and one for information. More description is in the introduction.
The church college ministry where we minister has attempted, with varying degrees of response, several different models of evangelism over the past few years. Our primary method until recently was confrontational evangelism, in which pairs of students simply walked around campus and directly approached students with the gospel. In many churches, the confrontational approach takes the form of walking around the neighborhood and knocking on doors.
In the past two or three years, however, we have found a need to pursue some different methods. While the confrontational approach is very effective for training purposes, the number of unbelieving students who respond positively to being approached “out of the blue” has decreased significantly. Our conversations with other pastors have convinced us that this is an increasingly common concern. Given these concerns, we recently decided to create curriculum for an evangelistic small group, specifically designed to present the gospel in a more relational and non-confrontational setting.
A few studies have been written for this purpose, but they were either too long for our setting (some of them required up to 16 weeks) or they were very apologetic in nature and less discussion-oriented. We felt that we needed a study that was designed around open-ended questions and could be completed in the course of a few weeks. Most non-Christian students with whom we interact seemed unlikely to commit to a very long course or one in which the leader did most of the talking. We designed this study with their needs in mind, but we feel that it could be used well in a variety of settings.
We asked a small number of our most mature Christian students to consider helping us out with this study. Each of them was asked to pray and then to invite as many as three non-Christian friends to participate in the study. They simply approached their friends and told them of a new group on campus that was meeting to discuss spirituality and Christianity and asked if they were interested in attending.
The initial positive response was surprising to us. We had five believing students agree to participate. Over the course of the Spring nine non-Christian students attended at various times. Among these students were those identifying themselves as agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Roman Catholic, and Jehovah’s Witness. All of them respectfully listened, provided input, and asked good questions throughout the course of the study.
We experimented with various arrangements for the group. The first week we separated the men from the women, but on subsequent weeks we kept them together. We found that there was no significant impact on the group whether they met together or separately. The most important factor in maintaining a good discussion was group size: The ideal size seems to be 5-10 people. Too few and it feels awkward; too many and certain people dominate the discussion.
Each week one of the Christian students moderated the discussion. The biggest challenge was getting the non-Christian students to actively participate by asking and answering good questions. We found the best way to accomplish this was to have the moderator ask directed questions at particular participants (not to single them out but simply to encourage participation). We also stressed that the environment must remain non-threatening; arguments, ridicule, and sarcasm were very strongly discouraged.
We limited their interaction to about fifty minutes, during which time the pastor(s) left the room. During the final ten minutes one of the pastors would come back to the group and answer any remaining questions. We found this time to be particularly helpful, both to tie up loose ends and to give us a sense of what were the pressing issues that needed to be addressed in future weeks.
Each lesson consists of three parts. First, there is a page of guided questions for the moderator to use to get the discussion going. Consider these questions as a beginning point; if you are the moderator you will probably want to ask follow-up questions depending upon the particular needs of your group. Second, there is a leader’s guide with each lesson. It consists of objectives for each lesson along with a discussion of each guided question, its purpose, and roughly how long you ought to spend on each section (assuming that you have about one hour to complete the discussion). Third, there is a handout with each lesson that provides some basic information for each person to take home. For example, the first lesson on the existence of God includes a handout with some very briefly worded arguments for God’s existence and thoughts about His importance. These sheets gave each participant something to think about before the next lesson.
As mentioned above, the entire study lasts five weeks, and consists of the following topics:
The studies are designed to be cumulative, and the Gospel is clearly presented on the final week. Ideally, Christian participants will continue to share and dialogue with their friends after the formal discussion has ended. The goal of the formal discussion is not necessarily to “convince” everybody that Christianity is true. Instead, we defined a successful group as one that presented a biblical worldview and the gospel message in a way that at least caused non-Christian participants to carefully their belief systems in light of biblical truth.
We are definitely interested in hearing of your experiences with this curriculum, should you choose to use it. Hopefully your input can help us improve this and make more effective for everybody who participates.
Objective: This first lesson has a relational goal and an instructional goal. First, we want each member of the group to feel personally valued and excited about the study they are beginning. Our experience has been that people are most responsive to the Gospel in an environment where they are truly cared for and love. Second, we want each person to have an opportunity to better understand, express, and reconsider their own thoughts about God’s existence and relevance. We will try to introduce them to some basic apologetics for God’s existence and talk briefly about how He can be relevant to our lives.
You might want to establish some basic guidelines for your group. First, any question is acceptable as long as it relates to the topic at hand. In order to clearly understand the concepts presented, some of your group members will need to ask many questions, some of them unusual or uncomfortable. As the group moderator you will need to skillfully lead the group to resolution on these issues. Second, while the study will emphasize presentation of the Christian point of view, group members are free to express dissenting opinions and thoughts. Finally, harsh, unkind, or sarcastic comments will not be tolerated by any party. All group members should find a way to openly discuss the topic at hand in an atmosphere of kindness and respect.
Discussion Prompt 1: If you could talk with God, what you say to Him? Is there anything you would like Him to say to you?
This is just an opening question to gauge everybody’s position about God. Here we are trying to get to some of the heart issues behind people’s feelings about God. Sometimes a dialogue format is more conducive to expression of deep-seated frustrations, concerns, or fears about God. Does the person need to hear, “I love you,” or “You’re important,” or “I’m in charge” or what? Also, what are the key questions they would ask of Him?
We have found that one of the main questions that arises here is, “If God is good and all-powerful, why do so many bad things happen?” At this point in the discussion it is not necessary to attempt an answer to this question, but simply let participants express their concern. After the study you can provide articles on this topic or discuss it further as the lesson continues.
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you believe that God exists? Why or why not?
This question is meant to get everybody’s thoughts about God out in the open. It is helpful if each participant expresses his or her viewpoints, but if somebody strongly objects to sharing don’t pressure them strongly in the group setting. Even as facilitators, you should express your views and reasons for believing in God in order to foster openness. In addition, you can share with the others some defenses for God’s existence, such as:
NOTE: Do not go overboard; share your thoughts, but do not launch into a sermon including the above as your major points. Simply share what you think is the best reasoning; share it simply and graciously. At this point, do not get into arguments about these issues, but simply let everybody express their viewpoints without fear of ridicule or contradiction.
Challenge participants (including Christians) to defend their points of view rather than just state them. You may find that some of your group members have never carefully examined what they believe and this may be a good chance for them to really think about these issues. Do not embarrass them, but gently prompt them to support their positions.
Discussion Prompt 2: What do you think is the strongest evidence for God’s existence? Against His existence?
This is a simple follow-up to the previous question, designed to draw out the strongest objections to God’s existence within the group, along with the strongest evidence for it. Encourage open discussion on this topic and work to create an atmosphere where unbelievers have to face some new ideas about God’s existence. If there is a really tough objection, acknowledge it honestly and bring it up at the end of the hour.
Again, we have found that the most consistent argument offered against God’s existence relates to the problems of evil and suffering. It would be good to have some materials on hand to distribute after the discussion.
Discussion Prompt 3: If you have objections to God’s existence, do you think they can be resolved? Why or why not?
This is a question intended to see how open your group members are toward the concept of God. Are they willing to consider new ideas or not? If somebody feels that their objections cannot be resolved, gently challenge them to have an open mind. If somebody says that their objections can be resolved, consider asking, “How could they be resolved?” This will give you some useful information. You will probably find that few of your group members will openly admit that they are close-minded on the issue.
Discussion Prompt 1: Based on your observations of the world, what do you think God is like?
Try to get your group members to openly express their beliefs about God’s nature. Is he loving or cruel? Does he care about us or not? Is he all-knowing and all-powerful or limited? Don’t be afraid to share the Christian worldview to balance other views in your group. Challenge them to provide support for the ideas they express.
Some group members might be afraid to express a negative opinion of God. If you sense that certain people are holding back out of politeness, directly question them on the subject. Try to generate a good discussion about God’s nature that will really challenge everybody’s thinking.
Discussion Prompt 2: What do American culture and media say about God’s nature and character? Do you agree or disagree with the culture?
This is a similar question to the previous one, but geared more toward causing them to think critically about the influence of media on their perceptions of God. Do they simply believe whatever they see and hear or do they really seek truth? If you are running low on time, you might want to skip this question.
Discussion Prompt 1: Whether you believe in God or not, do your beliefs about Him have any practical effect on your day-to-day behavior? Explain.
The purpose of this question is twofold: First, we wish to have participants examine how their belief systems affect their lives. Even those who claim no religious beliefs will find that even an absence of religious belief affects their behavior. Second, use this as a chance to share how God has influenced your life, behavior, and attitude. How are you different as a result of believing in God and why?
Again, some non-Christian participants may be particularly reticent to discuss God’s effect, or lack thereof, on their lives. Without pushing too hard, you might want to ask some gentle and direct questions on the topic. Ask a particular individual, for example, “Bill, you say that you do not believe in God at all. Do you think that your life would be different if you did believe in a personal and loving God? If so, how?” Hopefully participants can begin to see that belief in God might have a positive impact upon their lives.
Discussion Prompt 1: If God does exist, do you think He communicates with people? If so, how?
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you think a person can know God personally? If so, how?
These questions are intended to lay the groundwork for future discussions. Does God speak to people? Can we know Him? This will be significant as we discuss the Bible and salvation. At this point, simply let everybody, including facilitators, express their views and discuss them.
Your goal is to surface the spiritual condition of various people in the group. Then in following weeks you will have the chance to deal with specific issues relating to each person.
Objectives: Like last week, this lesson has a relational goal and an instructional goal. First, we want each member of the group to feel personally valued and excited about the study. We want them to continue building relationships with others in the group. Second, we want each person to have an opportunity to better understand, express, and reconsider their own thoughts about the Bible’s reliability and relevance. We will also try to introduce them to some basic apologetics for the Bible’s reliability.
One word of caution: This is a big subject. The ideal situation would be that you would have an opportunity to follow up with your friends sometime before next week to continue to discuss these challenging issues. By that time, they will have looked over the evidence on the handout we give at the end of the lesson and should be ready to discuss it more thoroughly. This follow-up conversation may illicit more questions.
Discussion Prompt 1: In your own life, what do you rely on to guide you (yourself, a religious book or creed, culture, opinions of friends or family, etc)?
Discussion Prompt 2: In our culture, where do people turn to find meaning and purpose in life? Why?
Use these two questions as ice-breakers. Your goal is to simply raise the issue of what each person in the group relies upon as the ultimate authority in their lives. Is it their own feelings or reason? Is it friends, family, or culture? Or is it a religious book or the beliefs of their denomination? Try to draw everyone into this discussion. At this point, share your own view and feel free to tell them why you hold it, but don’t begin to defend the Bible as that ultimate authority. You’ll get to that in the next section.
Some people may be uncertain about their own source of authority for living, so try to ask specific questions to draw out the information you desire. How do they make major decisions? To whom do they turn for advice? What assumptions do they have about life that might be hidden under the surface?
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you agree with the statement, “The words of the Bible are the words of God”? Why or why not?
This question is designed to start the group thinking about the Bible as a reliable guide for life. Try to draw out everyone’s views on this question. The most important part of the question is “Why or why not?” since this will begin to surface objections that they have to the Bible’s reliability, many of which you may be able to eventually help them overcome. Try not to let any one person control this part of the conversation. Also, present your own view and some of the evidence or theology that leads you to hold it, but again, don’t dominate the conversation.
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you think there are problems, inconsistencies, or errors in the Bible that reduce its reliability?
Your goal here is to probe misconceptions some may have about the Bible. If someone answers “yes” to this question, follow it up with, “do you know of any specifically?” Many people assume there are errors or hear that there are on TV or from a friend, but do not know of any errors themselves.
In our experience, some group members will actually have one or two supposed contradictions or errors that they will introduce into the discussion. Listen carefully and try to get the group to respond to each objection. If you know of a good answer to a biblical problem, feel free to state it here. If you run across a question you cannot answer, tell them you will do your best to find an answer and share it with them later.
Discussion Prompt 3: How does it compare to other religious books such as the Koran or the book of Mormon?
It’s very likely that no one in your group will have a solid answer to this question. So you may want to talk about it briefly. There are a few keys that this question is trying to draw out: (1) the Bible is much, much more reliable as an accurate historical document than any other religious book [we’ll give you facts to support this on the handout we’ll give out at the end], (2) the Bible is uniquely cohesive and unified for a book written over thousands of years by many different authors, (3) the Bible is surprisingly humble, including embarrassing truths such as the disunity and immaturity of many of the early churches, and even the sins of the heroes of the faith such as king David, Solomon, and Peter.
In our groups, a few people were from other faiths (such as Hinduism), so they obviously made a point to discuss the beliefs of their religious texts. The challenge in this instance was to be kind while presenting the point of view that the Bible is superior to other religious texts. One way to accomplish this is to present some strong evidence for the reliability of the Bible and then compare that evidence with other religious texts. Ask the group how we should decide on the reliability of a particular book. If we use traditional criteria such as internal agreement, external sources, and historical reliability, the Bible clearly comes out ahead.
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you believe the Bible is a relevant guidebook for life in the 21st century?
Why or why not?
Our view, of course, is that even though the Bible was written 2000 years ago and says nothing directly about college football or the internet, it still has much to say about the truly important things in life. It is still a relevant guide for our beliefs, our values, our choices, and our relationships. Again, try to draw out conversation from all participants on this question. Be ready to share and briefly support your view.
One way to make this question interesting is to play devil’s advocate. For example, “Some people feel that the Bible is just a book of old stories and obsolete moral principles. Do you agree?” Direct questions like these to particular individuals and see what they have to say. Some may feel that the Bible is relevant but not superior to other religious texts. If that is the case, ask why and briefly discuss with the group why you feel that the Bible is particularly relevant today.
Discussion Prompt 2: What value does the Bible have in your own life?
This is a more personal question than the previous and should offer you a chance to share about the powerful impact the Bible has had in your own daily life (kind of a mini-testimony). Encourage everyone to share. The point of the question is that people will begin to see the Bible as a living and active book, one that has purpose and meaning for today.
We have found it very helpful if the group facilitator speaks first to get the conversation rolling. If nobody speaks up, you might want to ask some directed questions to individuals to get the conversation moving.
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you think the Bible can be trusted in its description of Jesus’ life? Are there errors? Are there important things about Jesus left out of the Bible?
This is our “hook” question to prepare us for the study next week on the life of Christ. You don’t need to talk about it much this week, but may want to read it to give the group a heads-up about where the study is headed. If you do have time to talk about it, expect to get a lot of divergent answers. The popularity of books and movies like “The DaVinci Code” has really given people reasons to question the Bible’s account of Jesus’ life. So if time permits, just open this can-of-worms a bit so participants can start thinking about this question for next week.
Objective: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce participants to the concept that Jesus is God in the flesh and that His life, death, and resurrection are actually significant for their lives. Ideally they will walk away from the lesson understanding that Jesus claimed to be God and that the Bible backs up His claims. In addition they will begin to think about the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. In the final two weeks of the study we will probe the crucifixion and resurrection in more detail, so do not feel the need to answer every question on these topics this week.
Discussion Prompt 1: What kind of person do you think Jesus was? Have you read or heard anything that influences your opinion?
You are looking here for general impressions, e.g. “Jesus was kind,” “Jesus was wise,” “Jesus was righteous.” Probe your group members to explain where they got those ideas about Jesus (from the Bible, from media, from family or friends). Even if somebody has strong negative feelings about Jesus, at this point simply ask them why and keep the discussion moving…avoid a major argument. At the end of the discussion you can clarify the biblical perspective. Make a point of asking people to support their opinions as well. If somebody says that Jesus seems weak or unkind or angry or anything negative, ask them to clarify what they mean and from where they get that opinion.
Possible follow-up questions: What does the media say about Jesus? How does your family feel about Him? What do most of your friends think?
What attracts you to Jesus? What repels you or scares you away from Him?
We have found that most people have generally positive impressions of Jesus, even if they have never read the Bible. However, most people do not necessarily believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, so the next several questions are intended to address that issue.
Discussion Prompt 1: What is the significance of Jesus’ claims about Himself?
Read the following passages with your groups and begin a discussion about their significance:
John 10:30-33 – The key points here are (1) Jesus’ claim to be one with the Father; (2) the reaction of His contemporaries (they try to stone Him for blasphemy). This passage should make it clear that Jesus actually did claim to be equal to God.
Mark 2:5-11 – Only God has the authority to forgive sins. Jesus validates His authority to forgive sins by actually healing the paralytic.
John 14:6 -- Jesus claims to be the unique and only way to have a relationship with God and eternal life.
Your objective with this question is not primarily to tell them the right answer, but to lead them there. Some people might disagree, but that’s okay right now (again you can clarify the right answers later). Focus on moving the group to discuss the significance of Jesus’ claims to deity. If people wish to debate the reliability of the passages at hand, simply refer them to the lesson on the reliability of the Bible from last week and remind them that from this point on we are operating under the assumption that the Bible is basically true. If they still disagree, talk with them after the discussion about it; do not let this issue prevent the forward progress of the discussion at this point.
Ideally, participants will agree that Jesus made some very bold claims of equality with God. You might want to follow up and probe them about the significance of these claims. If Jesus claimed to be God and is not, what are the implications? How would that affect your opinion of Him?
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you agree with Jesus’ claims? Why or why not?
This will give you a good idea of where your group members are spiritually at this point. Your goal is to determine the reasons why they may disagree and help them approach solutions.
We have found that non-Christian participants may be reluctant at this point to share disagreement with Jesus claims. Gently encourage them to speak us. If they disagree, ask them why and ask them to support their opinion somehow. Depending upon the particular objections they have, you might want to provide some supplemental material about the deity of Christ, such as C.S. Lewis’ writings on the subject in Mere Christianity.
Discussion Prompt: What do you observe about Jesus’ death? Why is it significant?
Have them discuss why everybody focuses on Jesus’ death: Why do people wear crosses around? Why do people celebrate Good Friday? For most great men we celebrate their lives; why do we focus on Jesus’ death?
The purpose here is to simply get them wondering why such a good person died. What was the point of Jesus’ death? Why was he killed? Did his death accomplish anything? You want to move toward the idea that Jesus was killed for our sins, although we will discuss this a little more in the final weeks.
Non-Christians might wonder at this point why He had to die, and we are not at the point in the study where they will be provided with a clear answer. If anybody is particularly troubled by this, simply reassure them that in the final two weeks we will clearly answer this question.
Discussion Prompt 1: Read Matthew 28:1-7. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Talk here about some of the group’s feelings about the resurrection. Do they have significant problems believing in it? Why or why not? Can you offer any evidence to help them walk through the issue of Jesus’ resurrection?
For example, if they believe that Jesus’ body was stolen, ask how that could be possible given the large number of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. If they believe that Jesus simply fainted, ask how a person could survive 6 hours on a cross, a spearing in the side, followed by mummification and 3 days in a dark tomb. How could He have then rolled the stone away?
If his body is still in the tomb, why did the Jewish leaders not simply produce it in the first century to prove that Jesus never really rose?
Do not be antagonistic, but gently probe some of the inconsistencies of unbelief in the Resurrection. Many people will still choose to disbelieve in it after this discussion, but they should at least reach a point where they understand that it is not an unreasonable or crazy doctrine.
Discussion Prompt 2: Assuming Jesus did rise again, what is the significance of His resurrection?
For leaders to read ahead of time: 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. Jesus’ resurrection is significant because it demonstrates that Jesus conquered death and sin. Our sin did not eternally kill Him. It demonstrates that He has victory over our sin and we therefore have salvation. It also demonstrates once and for all that He is the unique Son of God.
Read Matthew 28:1-7 as a group.
Follow-up questions: Has anybody else ever risen from the dead? Do you believe that Jesus literally rose again? Why or why not?
What is the significance if Jesus really did rise from the dead?
Try to help them understand the dramatic significance of the resurrection. No other religion makes such a dramatic claim, rooted in historical fact. The resurrection sets Jesus apart as completely unique and different from every other religious leader or person in history. If His claim is true, then He is clearly superior to every other human being and His claims of deity ring true. In addition, His promise of salvation to those who believe in Him carries the mark of authenticity.
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you think Jesus is relevant in today’s world? Why or why not?
You are trying to provoke discussion about the value of Jesus in a world that worships a number of other deities and objects. If they say Jesus is irrelevant, ask why. If they believe the resurrection to be true, gently stress that Jesus must be relevant to everybody if His death and resurrection are the only way to have a relationship with God.
Again, non-Christian participants will probably be reluctant to say that Jesus is irrelevant. Try to draw them out and get to the heart of their feelings on the subject. They may not understand at this point why Jesus is relevant, but they should begin to have a sense that He is somehow different from other religious figures and that His life, death, and resurrection have clear implications for our lives.
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you think Jesus is relevant to you personally? Why or why not?
Ask them to think about their life. What difference would it make if they really could be assured of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? What difference would it make if He really has risen from the dead? How would it affect their relationships with family, significant others, God, themselves?
Some may feel that He is relevant for moralistic reasons but not that He is the only way to have a relationship with God. If that is the case, you may want to talk with them after the study and review Jesus’ claims and the claims of the Bible regarding His life, death, and resurrection.
Objective: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the concept of sin and evil to participants so that they understand the need for salvation in Jesus Christ. When the lesson is over, each group member will ideally understand that:
When the study is over, each participant will hopefully understand his or need for some kind of forgiveness or intervention on God’s part to alleviate the problem of sin.
Discussion Prompt 1: Based on your observations of the world, do you think most people are basically good or basically bad?
This question is intended to determine some general attitudes about good and evil within the group. Most of your participants are likely to say that most people are generally good, simply because this is the prevailing cultural point of view. When group members respond that way, it is a good opportunity to segue into the following question. Make sure to challenge people to defend their points of view: What evidence do they have that most people are good or bad?
Discussion Prompt 2: What do you think is the underlying cause for all the suffering in the world?
This question will be especially helpful if most of your participants believe that people are generally good. If people are basically good, then where does evil come from? How do we explain events like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide or destruction in the Middle East or other displays of evil on a grand scale? Are other factors involved, or are people truly prone to bad deeds in their natural state?
Express your viewpoint as a facilitator. Introduce the idea that people are inherently sinful by nature. What do your group members think? Explain why you think the evidence demonstrates that people are not naturally good.
Discussion Prompt 1: How would you define the word “sin”?
The point here is to simply get different answers regarding the meaning of sin. Is it the transgression of a cultural taboo, violation of one’s own conscience, or disobedience to God’s perfect standards of righteousness. Some of your group members may not believe in the concept of sin and may argue for the relativity of good and evil. Explore this concept a bit: What are the practical ramifications if there are not definite standards for good and evil? This will lead into the next question.
Discussion Prompt 2: What makes and action “right” or “wrong”? Who has the authority to judge between good and evil?
This question will naturally flow from the first one in this section. Some people will probably feel that right and wrong are simply societal constructs designed to preserve the power of the government or the ruling class. Others may feel that right and wrong are simply based upon what makes us feel good or bad emotionally. A few may actually believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. One way to press the issue is to find an extreme case. In other words, if a person believes that right and wrong are simply societal constructs, how can we absolutely condemn the actions of a serial killer like Dennis Rader? Is there a setting in which such behavior would be acceptable? Is genocide acceptable as long as the ruling government condones it? Is it okay if every government in the world favors genocide or turned a blind eye? If not, then why not?
If right and wrong are purely individual concepts, based on conscience and personal preference, then what are the ramifications of such a viewpoint? Is it wrong for one person to indulge his sexual desire by raping and murdering another, simply because it makes the offender feel good? Why or why not? On what basis can we call a sociopath’s version of morality incorrect if there is no absolute standard?
Discussion Prompt 1 (after reading the passages listed): According to the Bible, are people basically good or basically bad? Do you agree?
After reading the passages, it should be clear that the Bible supports the idea that people are basically evil because of the sin nature. Get the thoughts of your group. Does this seem like a reasonable idea or an unreasonable idea? Is everybody really a sinner?
Some people may protest that while everybody has committed sin at some point, most people have generally good intentions. Explore with them the question of how much sin makes a person a “sinner”? Is sin like a small impurity in a beautiful diamond, which is aesthetically displeasing but not truly harmful? Or is it more like a drop of poison in a bowl of soup, which is deadly even though the amount is small? In other words, does just a little bit of sin make a person unacceptable to God or not?
The biblical viewpoint from Romans 3 will support that nobody is acceptable before God.
Discussion Prompt 2: According to the Bible, what are the consequences of sin? Do you agree?
Introducing the concept of hell may be difficult. Some of your group members will no doubt find it unfair of God to condemn everybody to hell on the basis of just a little bit of sin.
It may help to review the perfect holiness of God and the absolute unacceptability of sin. Also, it may help to review some passages indicating that sin is a choice; even without the sin nature, we would have chosen sin (Romans 1:18ff). Therefore we have incurred guilt on our own; God did not make us guilty. He merely pronounces the sentence.
Another key point: If heaven is a perfect place for God’s glory to shine, then it would be a tragedy if it were populated with sinners. There must be some way to remove the sin so that it will not taint heaven.
Clearly express the idea that sin produces spiritual death and eternal separation from God.
Discussion Prompt: Assuming everybody is a sinner and sin destroys our relationship with God, do you think there is any hope for us?
This question is intended to set up the discussion of salvation during the final week. Sin seems to have left us in a hopeless situation, separated from God and unable to help ourselves. Is there any way to get around this problem? Ask your group members what they think. Perhaps they feel that sin can be overcome through education, or cultural understanding, or material wealth, or simply hard work.
Challenge everybody’s assumptions at this point. It is okay to express your viewpoint that human effort seems insufficient, since everybody is a sinner. It makes no sense for sinful people to try to solve their own sin problem, especially if our entire being is shot through with sin.
Objective: The purpose of this lesson is to clearly present the gospel, the biblical solution to our sin problem addressed last week. Participants should hear a clear presentation of the gospel and have an opportunity to voice objections or questions. When the lesson is over, each group member will ideally understand that:
When the study is over, each participant will hopefully take some time to honestly consider the claims of the gospel and, Lord-willing, place their faith in Christ. This may not happen in the short span of Thursday evening, so be prepared to follow up with the person you invited during the next few days to discuss the gospel further.
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you believe that a person can have a genuine relationship with God? If so, how? What is required?
This is designed to be a good discussion starter. This is not the time to clearly present the gospel. Instead, help each person present their view. If needed, ask follow-up questions like, “What would it look like to have a real relationship with God in this life? What would it be like to have a relationship with Him in the next life? How do other religions answer this question?” Use these follow-up questions only as needed to jump-start the discussion. Remember, the goal here for the Christians in the room is NOT to dominate the conversation or lay out the gospel, that will be later. The goal is simply to get everyone participating.
Discussion Prompt 2: If you were to stand face-to-face with God and He asked, “Why should I let you into heaven?” how would you respond?
Here’s another discussion generating question. Again, the goal is not to lay out the gospel (though do feel free to share your own view), the goal is to get everyone participating. This question is also designed to help you all determine the spiritual state of the non-Christians in the group. What are they trusting in to get to heaven? This will help you better explain the gospel to the person you invited as you follow-up with him or her in the coming weeks.
Discussion Prompt 1: Last week we studied humanity’s problem of sin and saw how seriously the Bible treats it. This week we’ll seek a solution to this problem. Let’s start by reading Ephesians 2:8-9, a summary of the biblical solution to our sin problem. How is the solution offered in the Bible different from the answer given by other religions? Do you agree that good works are unable to save a person? Why or why not?
This long question is designed to review the discussion from last week and transition from our problem to God’s solution. Read the question out loud once or twice and then have someone read the passage.
Your discussion at this point is not focused on what is the gospel, it’s more focused on what it’s not – salvation through good works. Other religions typically present salvation as something earned through human effort. In stark contrast, biblical Christianity claims that no human effort could ever fix our sin problem (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:20), and so we are left in absolute dependence upon the grace of God to fix our problem.
Discussion Prompt 2: If our good works cannot save us, then what hope do we have? Read Romans 5:8, 1 Peter 3:18, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as a group. According to the Bible, what did Jesus do about our problem of sin?
It is likely that even after discussion prompt 1, some participants may still not agree that good works can’t save us. That’s okay, we’re just introducing them to these concepts at this point. Regardless, move on to this second question by saying, “Assuming that the Bible is accurate in saying that our good works cannot save us, then what hope…” (and read the rest of the question).
Have a different person look up and read each reference. Now discuss the question. The goal here is to help participants see the radical solution God provided to fix our sin problem – the death of His guiltless Son in our place. Jesus died as our substitute, taking on Himself the penalty for our sins so that through faith in His death and resurrection, we would be forgiven by God. Then the Father raised Him from the dead conquering sin and death so that we would have hope of everlasting life.
These passages should be relatively straightforward. In the book of John, to have eternal life means that a person has been spiritually reborn – he or she was spiritually dead, separated from God due to sin, but now has been made spiritually alive and reconciled to God through forgiveness of sins. This eternal life is a possession of all believers now and forever that can’t be lost. How do we receive this free gift of eternal life? Simply through faith. A person permanently receives eternal life the moment he or she believes that Jesus, God’s own Son, died for their sins and rose again.
As believers, resist the urge to jump in and answer this one immediately. It will be far more effective if the unbelievers in the room are left to wrestle with these verses and draw out the implications. Yet once they’ve participated, do join in to share your thoughts. Hopefully, by the end of this question, the gospel as described in the previous paragraph has been clearly presented.
Discussion Prompt 4: Read Acts 4:12 and 1 John 5:11-13. According to these passages, what is the apparent consequence for those who do not believe in Jesus? Is there any other way to have eternal life apart from Jesus? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Here’s another question where it is best for the believers to hold off a bit and let unbelievers wrestle with the clear teachings of the two passages. The goal is not to get into debates about the destiny of infants or unreached people who die. Instead, the goal is to keep the discussion focused on the people in your group. Answer it from the perspective of participants in this study – is there any way other than faith in Christ that we in this room can fix our sin problem?
Obviously, our answer is “no.” A case can be made for the salvation of infants who die, but that’s not the point of this discussion. For all of us, the Bible says that the only way to be reconciled to God is through faith in His Son. Our goal with this question is to help participants begin to see the choice they have in front of them. If they value the Bible as the source of ultimate truth, then there is only one option for salvation – faith alone in Christ alone. Look for an opportunity to move the discussion to the next question….
Discussion Prompt: Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead? If not, what is keeping you from believing this?
Do you trust Jesus alone for eternal life? Why or why not?
Ask one or both of these questions in any order as you see fit. Ask it to each participant in the group (smaller, non-coed groups are better for this). This really brings our five week study to its climax. Having heard what biblical Christianity teaches, especially about sin and salvation, where do they stand? Faith is a conviction that something is true – are they convinced?
DON’T push hard for conversion here! If they do believe, then praise the Lord! According to the Bible they are at that moment saved. Tell them this fact. Stay with them afterwards and begin to tell them about what has happened – all of their past, present, and future sins have been totally forgiven, they’ve been given eternal life, and God’s Holy Spirit now lives inside them. Begin to teach them about eternal security – that they can never loose this eternal life. It may be helpful to lead them in a prayer, but explain that this is not for salvation – they were saved the moment they believed. Instead, lead them in a prayer of thanksgiving where they thank God for sending His Son to die for them and for giving them eternal life. Plan on following up with them once a week (or more) for the next few weeks to begin to ground them in their faith. Also invite them to church and to a small group!
What if they’re not yet ready to believe. No worries! Plan on following up with them in the coming weeks to talk about the gospel further and to discuss objections they may have. Keep praying for them and remember that it often takes multiple hearings of the gospel for someone to believe.
NOTE: In our groups, we found that some non-Christian participants were reluctant to open up on this question and share any objections or barriers to believing in Christ. If you find this to be the case, you might try asking the question more generally just to get the discussion going. For example, “What are some typical barriers that people might face in trusting Christ?” You can then follow up with individuals after the study is over to see where they stand personally. One of the advantages of the study being organized around personal invitation is that even if people are unwilling to share in the group setting, they might be willing to discuss these issues one-to-one with a friend.
If you need materials to begin new-believer follow-up with any of the participants, feel free to download our Essentials packet.