If this is the first post you’re visiting on my missional journey, feel free to start at the beginning here

The month leading up to that Church planters assessment course I was able to hang out in Europe and be involved in some of the churches’ ministries. It was fun to see how the church plant was doing from the perspective of a recent and eager seminary grad. One experience, which I didn’t quite understand at the time but really appreciated much later, was their Alpha Course.

The Alpha Couse is this program where people come together, eat a nice meal together, watch a dry 45 minute message on VHS by a guy named Nicky Gumble, and then discuss the message. I was appalled by the video – straight up apologetics – Why do we believe the Bible is the word of God? Does the Bible say that Jesus is the Son of God? I was not appalled by the basic truth of what he was saying. It was solid. I was surprised at the lack of clever tactic. I was surprised at some of the circular argumentation. It wasn’t really that cool either. BUT… but… the group dynamic was very interesting. You see, the main difference was that in this group in Europe, there were just as many unbelievers as there were believers – perhaps more!

In the first meeting we got really honest reactions – people would flat out disagree with what was said on the video. But, they liked the people and enjoyed the meal. Would they come back next week? Yes. Thus begins a process. The following weak they would still disagree with most of it but would find something interesting. As the meetings progressed, they would begin to connect the dots and instead of analyzing and rejecting one Biblical truth against their humanistic world view, they began to see a whole new belief structure that had weight to it. The community and fellowship was keeping them in the process.

In the years that followed I found a new appreciation for the text, “Faith comes by hearing”. The way I always understood it was that upon an initial introduction to the Christian message people, if elect, would hear the word and automatically and immediately believe. This is a convenient understanding since it releases teachers from the difficult work of cultivating hard soil.

How would it change our approach to missions and church planting if we believed that the most solid faith was developed by a repeated exposure to the Word? Overall, it implies a responsibility to provide avenues for patient Bible investigation instead of an atmosphere of crisis and panicked decision.

I honestly, (and I hope not naively), believe that a significant number of people would be open to spending time in a safe community exploring what Christians believed as long as there wouldn’t be a pressured sales pitch. And really if it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and reveal Christ then couldn’t we simply share the message then trust Him enough do a transforming work in their hearts as He wills?

What would honest group conversation look like? It could be probing questions while reading through one of the gospels. It could include goofy stuff Christians do, why they may do it, and why it may not even be “Christian” (thus addressing their phobias of Christianity). I’m sure there are lots of different options. The sad thing is that so many evangelical churches would rather spend a lot of time and money on a on-off event rather than invest time in cultivating a culture of informing faith.

Live it Out:
I’m hoping that you’ve been able to share this post with some friends. What would it look like for you and your friends to host an investigative bible exploration group? Would you be open to praying with them about this?

Do you have some unbelieving friends who you know well enough to know whether they’d be interesting in learning more about Christianity? Would they see it as a safe place to explore or would they be concerned that it would be antagonistic or pressured? To be clear, the purpose isn’t to convince or convert, but to educate and clarify what Christians believe – perhaps you could respond to some of the things they find weird about Christianity (see Living it Out item from an earlier post! 🙂 ).

If you find bridging this gap with unbelievers difficult they you will be interested in the following post.