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.