The goal of an apologetics conference or seminar is to increase the confidence and ability of church members to share the gospel effectively with unbelievers. But that is not all. It is also to motivate them to initiate conversations with unbelievers as soon as possible after the conference. Being prepared to evangelize and defend the Christian faith is not enough. Believers must also be moved to actually engage the unbelievers in their lives. Ideally, church members will begin a lifestyle of evangelism powered by continued learning in apologetics through books, videos, and websites.
To make an apologetics conference as effective as possible, a church needs to plan ahead for the time leading up to and following the conference. This short guide outlines pre-conference as well as post-conference recommendations.
People respond differently to the word apologetics. Some scratch their heads and wonder what apologizing has to do with Christianity. Others salivate at the thought of being able to silence critics of Christianity in a debate or shouting match. Still others recoil at the thought of arguing with unbelievers, finding the thought distasteful and “mean.” How apologetics is presented to a congregation, then, is very important.
Since apologetics is the muscle behind evangelism in a skeptical and antagonistic world, we need to present the concept as a positive, helpful resource to assist Christians to find more confidence in their faith, and to effectively reach their unsaved friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates. Consequently, we want to talk about apologetics as we would a firefighter or police officer who arrives on scene to assist, enforce, and rescue. For anyone who has experienced fear, frustration, or failure in trying to share the gospel, apologetics is the deliverance they hoped for.
To prepare your church members to develop an interest in your conference, you want to construct a sense of need and urgency that can be met through the conference. This doesn’t have to be created artificially—the Bible already provides this with its call for us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20), be witnesses (Acts 1:8), and be prepared to defend the faith (1 Pet. 3:15-16). We have all felt that burden of fulfilling these commissions mingled with the frustration of how to do so. By casting the apologetics conference as a solution to the frustration and assistance to the commission, interest can be created in church members.
Here are some suggestions to prepare church members prior to holding a conference:
- Preach a series in Sunday Morning services on evangelism and the various passages in the New Testament that speak of our responsibility to share the gospel with unbelievers. Emphasize the centrality of bearing witness to Jesus in the New Testament as the major focus of evangelism.
- Conduct training on how to lead an unbeliever to Christ. Many Christians in the 21st century express confusion about what to say to someone who wants to repent and place their faith in Christ. While this specific topic is mentioned in the apologetics conference, it is usually assumed that church members already know how to lead an unbeliever to Christ.
- Provide a mechanism for church members to submit questions that they have about speaking to others about Christ, and questions from unbelievers that they don’t know how to answer. This can be done in a Sunday School class, or better yet, a short segment of the Sunday morning service in the weeks leading up to the conference. While some churches have limited time in their services for anything besides the usual programming, a critical part of post-conference follow up is public testimonies of opportunities to share the gospel. Beginning before the conference with a time to field questions can begin a tradition of weekly conversations on evangelism. Many churches who see no growth from conversions miss the fact that unless evangelism is discussed frequently, it will never become part of the culture of the church. By taking time weekly to allow congregational participation by sharing their experiences in witnessing, a church continually refreshes the vision for evangelism.
- Provide good books on evangelism and apologetics for church members and promote their use. The churches with the highest participation of congregational outreach typically promote the reading of good materials, especially books, among their members.
- Dedicate an adult Sunday School class to apologetics for a few months leading up to the conference. Rather than duplicating the efforts of the conference, this step would reinforce the interest in the topic. Apologetics is such a vast topic that no short series could ever exhaust or needlessly reproduce the helpful materials dedicated to it. Even if merely a small portion of the congregation attends the Sunday School class, interest and excitement for the topic can be spread.
- Encourage members to make a list of every unbeliever with whom they have a relationship and begin to pray for their salvation. By doing this a month or two before the apologetics conference, they will often find a growing burden for those on their list and an increased desire to learn how best to reach them with the gospel.
Post-Conference Follow Up
While a conference often creates excitement and interest in apologetics, like anything else, this can fade with time. It is critical to see the conference as the beginning of a new movement in the church. Your desire should be that the conference will begin or increase a culture of evangelism, in which church members see witnessing as every bit an essential part of their faith as attending church, taking the Lord’s Supper, praying, singing, and Bible reading. Unless there is a plan to maintain and build on the excitement, such a culture will simply not develop.
What really matters after an apologetics conference is not the initial surge of interest and excitement in the weeks following the conference, but rather the evangelistic temperature of the church six months later. You should not expect that it will be constant. Everything in nature fluctuates. Evangelistic fervor often rises after a perceived successful encounter, and declines after a perceived failure, or a long period of lack of contact with unbelievers. By maintaining certain practices, you can keep the enthusiasm for reaching the lost relatively steady throughout the year.
- Provide a time in the weekly worship service for people to share experiences they had during the week to share their faith. Nothing relieves Christians’ fears about witnessing more than discovering that someone like them took a risk and spoke to a coworker about Jesus. They sit in the pew and think, “Well, if Sarah can do that at her job, then I can certainly do the same thing at mine!” This suggestion of giving a portion of the service over to unpredictable short speeches terrifies the average pastor, and sometimes with good cause. Yes, members can ramble on or forget the reason they are holding a microphone. Certainly they can say things that are incorrect or inappropriate. However, if there is verbal instruction given and a moderator of the time, this regular testifying can become a powerful encouragement to the church as a whole. In addition, by giving time each week to this critical part of discipleship and the purpose of the church, you communicate to people that evangelism is a high priority in your church.
- Provide a means by which church members can give feedback regarding the conference. Don’t just listen to the anecdotal evidence of members telling you how much they enjoyed the conference. Let them express in a survey which elements of the conference were beneficial, and which were not. You want to make sure that the conference scratched where your church members truly itched. It would be a sorry mistake to think that members were helped, when in fact they were not. Such a scenario would likely be a detriment to interest in outreach in the future.
- Include helpful resources for continued learning about apologetics each week in the church bulletin. Most churches have empty space in their bulletin. While not every member will take advantage of your suggestions, providing a link to a useful website or video, or a brief review of a quality book on apologetics will keep interest alive in the topic.
- Every few months include a short video clip by an apologist in your Sunday morning service to keep evangelism and apologetics on the front burner of your church culture. Resources such as “The One-Minute Apologist” (http://www.oneminuteapologist.com) can give a little shot of encouragement to those trying to maintain a lifestyle of evangelism.
As you can see, the pre-conference and post-conference recommendations are designed to encourage a culture of every-member evangelism and apologetics. This is probably the only way to sustain the excitement of a conference. The advantage of this is that the conference can meet appropriate expectations—to reinforce and further ignite a church’s commitment to reaching the lost. Too many churches want a conference to establish and maintain a culture that has never before been established. Such a hope is simply not reasonable. But if a church has already established a culture of concern for the lost, a conference can strengthen and equip members in a way that makes them much more effective.
I trust your preparation for your upcoming Apologetics for the Church conference goes well, and that my ministry with you will help your church more effectively reach unbelievers for Christ!
Dr. Mark Farnham