Last night, nine conversation partners gathered at Barnes & Noble Cafe to discuss the question of what gives life meaning–what makes life worth living?
It was the third session of a MeetUp group I’ve been hosting, called “Ask A Pastor.” If you are a church leader looking for new ideas, I recommend starting a MeetUp.
If you don’t know, MeetUp is a website/app that allows people from all over to gather around similar interests. There are MeetUps out there for nearly every interest imaginable.
As someone who enjoys bringing people together and combining teaching with genuine conversation, I have co-led discussion groups in the past. But I got the idea of using MeetUp as a platform for spiritual conversations from Tom Schmidt, a church planter and pastor in Naperville, Illinois. Tom has been an incredible resource for me–and he was even gracious enough to let me straight-up steal the name of his group. (Here’s his, and here’s mine; see what I mean?)
Last night’s MeetUp was a really engaging conversation, and we spent our time talking on everything from where we look for significance, to textual criticism of the Bible and even Church history. It’s encouraging to see that folks are thinking about these things, and it’s even more encouraging to know that, through these “Ask A Pastor” MeetUps we are creating an environment where people of all religious stripes and philosophical bents can come together and discuss these issues.
Some weeks, the discussion has gotten heated, and certainly not everyone agrees with one another, but our conversation partners have always left as friends. And as I might have expected, some of the best discussion actually happens after the official MeetUps end.
Benefits of MeetUps
Along with the rich conversations, here are some of the other benefits that have come from the group:
- The chance to make new friends.
- Connecting believers with unbelievers in friendly conversation.
- Offering Christians and non-Christians exposure to one another’s worldviews.
- Presenting space for seekers to get their questions answered.
- Gaining Christians valuable experience in having spiritual conversations with people who believe differently than them.
- Providing a safe “front porch” for individuals who are interested in spiritual things, but are not yet ready to attend church.
- For me as a follower of Christ, it’s been great to have the opportunity to talk about Jesus with people who don’t yet know Him.
- Encouraging church members (at Park we call them partners) to bring their friends with them for spiritual conversation.
- Bringing exposure to the local church in the neighborhood (we host our MeetUp around the corner from where our church gathers for worship services).
- Giving people a chance to share everything they really believe about a subject without fear of judgment.
At our group, no spiritual or biblical background is required or assumed. Everyone’s viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.
Again, using Tom Schmidt’s format, our meetings look like this:
- 5-10 minutes of introductions and ice breakers.
- 15-20 minutes of teaching–I present a biblical view of the night’s question or topic (I spend the bulk of my time involved in the MeetUp with the teaching portion). During the teaching, I’ve handed out cards for participants to write down questions, comments, or observations.
- 60-80 minutes of open discussion. Sometimes I provide prompts, but other times it just flows.
- 3-4 minutes of wrap-up. I’ll recap the discussion and put my pastoral “bow” on the discussion. At this point, folks are free to take off, but some will typically stay and hang out. The official times run from 7PM – 8:30PM, but conversation has continued long into the night.
The Conclusion of the Matter
Whether you are a pastor, consider yourself an evangelist, or just enjoy getting diverse people together for enriching discussion, I highly recommend starting a MeetUp. There’s a fee, but it’s been worth it for us.
If you decide to go this route too, would you do me a favor? Let me know. Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me how it’s going. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about what’s worked (and not worked) for us.
Final call to My Skeptical Friends
Before I go, let me say: while “Ask A Pastor” is facilitated by an unabashed Christian (i.e. Yours Truly), our group is open to people of all faiths and no faith, and we work hard to keep the group non-judgmental and respectful to everyone. However, I have yet to find an atheist/secular humanist MeetUp group in my area that is open to having followers of Jesus participate. I totally understand the desire to share ideas with like-minded people, but there is a real benefit in opening your group to people who believe differently than you do. If you or someone you know hosts such a group, preferably in Chicago, would you let me know? I would love to attend and participate!
Live on the Northwest Side of Chicago? To RSVP for the next “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions)” MeetUp, click here.