Since Tim Keller’s superb book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (hereafter RFG) was published in 2008, I’ve used it to lead several discussion groups. Attendees were mostly professing atheists, skeptics, and de-churched (and even two Muslims). I’m exploring starting another discussion group in Minneapolis, so I’m dusting off my well-worn copy and getting reacquainted with it.
How did I lead such a group? How can you lead a group?
Here are seven practical pointers to get you started:
- Read (and re-read) the Book–As you’ll be leading the discussion, you’ll need to be thoroughly conversant with Keller’s arguments. Read it carefully, pencil in hand for underlining and note-taking. Become so familiar with the book that you’re three steps ahead of everyone else. This isn’t to display one-upmanship. Rather, it’s to demonstrate you’re competent to facilitate a fluid discussion. Know the book.
- Give it Away--Don’t even think of making people buy their own copy. Here’s a rule of thumb: Buy as many copies you think you’ll need, and even then ensure you have several to spare. You don’t want an unexpected newcomer joining you in week 5 of the discussion empty-handed, sharing a book with a stranger. He likely won’t be back the following week.
- Download the Discussion Guide–Redeemer City to City, a ministry arm of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NY, created a separate website for RFG, including a video trailer, discussion guide, and reviews. Download the reader’s guide and use it as a springboard for discussion, modifying it as necessary for your context.
- Choose Christians Carefully–Don’t open up your group to all of your Christian friends, no matter how well intended. Why not? Otherwise your group will be mostly composed of Christians. (And why would you want to do that?) Instead, carefully choose who you think might be a good addition to the group. Consider who’s eager to learn how to share their faith? Who loves people who don’t know Jesus? Conversely, consider who might hijack your group? Or scare everyone away? Or be argumentative and divisive? (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) Yes, the book is also aimed at Christians who need to better learn to struggle with and express how doubt intersects with faith. A healthy ratio of group participants is a third Christian, two-thirds everyone else.
- Choose Place Wisely–Where do the people you’d like to be in you group meet during the week? Where’s a great third space to conduct a discussion group that’s neutral, high traffic, non-threatening? Previously I’ve chosen a public library and several coffee houses. The next place I’m considering is a well-known hipster bike shop with a well used cafe in a central part of the neighborhood. Conversely, where shouldn’t you meet? A church building is the death knell, as is an overly quiet place not conducive for lively discussion.
- Use Meetup–Meetup is a great place to post your group. There’s a nominal fee, but it’s the best place I know (especially in larger cities) to promote your group and reach your target audience. Some categories I used to promote my group were atheist, skeptic, seeker, Jesus, agnostic, religion, Christian, God, spiritual, etc. Anyone on the group interested in those things will automatically be notified of the new group. People then contact you via e-mail for more information.
- Pray–After all the prep work has been done, it’s all in God’s hands. Forge ahead and be prepared for an interesting journey!