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.