How to Start a Church Apologetics Ministry
While a student at Southern Evangelical Seminary in 2001 I had a dream that one day there would be an apologetics conference in the Washington DC area. A couple years later I had a dream that one day a well-known apologist would speak at my home church, Mt. Airy Bible Church (MABC). Today I can report that God has shown me how small my dreams were. As of February 2012, Mt. Airy Bible Church, in the small town of Mt. Airy, MD (pop. 9,000) has hosted the following world class apologists (some multiple times): Norman Geisler (6X); Craig Hazen (3X); Greg Koukl (3X); Frank Turek (2X); Brett Kunkle; Ergun Caner; Gary Habermas; Greg Ganssle; John Mark Reynolds; Joseph Holden; J. P. Moreland; Nabeel Qureshi; Ron Rhodes; Scott Klusendorf and Sean McDowell.
It all began during a couple difficult witnessing encounters in 1997. While working as a vice-president in a telecommunications business I learned the hard way that apologetics and evangelism go hand-inhand. I had simultaneously run into a hard-core, angry, irrational atheist and a very polite, very rational agnostic and learned quickly that I either needed to get some answers or stop sharing my faith. I chose to get some answers.[MP3 | RSS | iTunes]
In 1999, after completing a three year men’s discipleship course called Men with a Mission taught by my senior pastor, Dr. Wally Webster, I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Apologetics program at Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). In the fall of 2000, I was permitted to teach my first apologetics class in the MABC Adult Christian Education program (Sunday School). Over the next nine years, I taught on apologetic topics every chance I got.
On June 13, 2009 with the help and support of my ministry partner Pastor Marvin Patrick, I submitted a proposal to the elder board of MABC to start a formal apologetics ministry; on July 7th, 2009 they approved the formation of the Mt. Airy Bible Church Apologetics Ministry. The mission of the ministry is: to train the MABC congregation and surrounding believing community to defend and share their faith in a humble and respectful way; to provide the skeptic/seeker in the MABC community with positive evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian worldview; to increase the faith of believing Christians by training them on the evidence that exists for the Christian worldview, and to be engaged in the marketplace of ideas in the local community. This will be accomplished through research, teaching, writing, and facilitating world class apologetic teachers to speak in Mt. Airy.
Prior to the formal kick off of the apologetics ministry various apologetic activities had taken place at MABC including the planning of our first apologetics conference which took place in October 2009; teaching apologetics topics in Sunday School; and occasionally hosting a simulcast debate or seminar. The reasons for formalizing the ministry in 2009 include 1) to gain elder oversight, 2) to leverage the church’s non-profit status, 3) to provide an approved ministry for members to serve, and 4) to leverage the administrative staff of the church as well as the facilities and all associated resources.
Today the apologetics ministry is going strong. We have two seminary trained apologists on our team, a third who has completed the certificate in apologetics program at Biola and a fourth who has begun work on the certificate program at Biola. On February 12, 2012 we kicked off our A Shot in the Mind program which is a monthly apologetic event with speakers (primarily members of the ministry with an occasional outside speaker) presenting on an apologetic related topic followed by a time of Q&A. We are planning our 5th apologetics conference for October 5-6, 2012.
While we attracted top names in the apologetics field and a couple hundred people attended each of our conferences, only 40 or so (about 20%) of the attendees were from our church and half of them were helping out as part of the apologetics ministry team. The fear of apologetics for the average lay person should not be underestimated. In an informal poll taken by a show of hands during a Wednesday night prayer service when asked the question: “how many of you think apologetics is for the intellectual elites among us and is too difficult for you?” approximately 75% of the hands went up. It should be noted that most of the attendees of this meeting comprise the core of the Mt. Airy Bible Church ministry – the committed. We asked them to fill out a card and tell us what topics they would like to have covered at our annual conference, our monthly Shot in the Mind presentations or some other venue. The top questions were related to: 1) Is the Bible reliable?, 2) how to respond to the same-sex marriage issue (note: this was being voted on in the Maryland senate the week of the survey), 3) does the age of the earth matter?, and 4) the abortion issue.
What I would do differently:
Although I am thrilled with where the ministry is and what God has accomplished through it, I believe we would have more of a following from our own church if we would have been more purposeful about targeting our own people sooner. I would have spent more time trying to spread the apologetics bug to our senior pastor who actually caught the bug reading an apologetics book while on a mission trip. He is now not only fully supporting the ministry but actively promoting it – this makes a huge difference!
Advice to someone desiring to start an apologetics ministry:
- Set apart Christ as Lord
- Get trained. Consider seminaries (SES, Biola, Veritas, Liberty, Columbia)
- Be accountable to someone like a local church or existing apologetics ministry
- Find a ministry partner to help share the load, bounce ideas off
- Get your senior pastor and/or elder board supportive of the ministry; until they are, be faithful to bring apologetics to whatever venue you can
- Understand what the major apologetic issues are in your locale and go after those hard
- Work with seminaries to put on conferences; some of them will coordinate the whole thing and even split the cost with you
- Try to get sponsors for conferences so you can keep the costs low. At $40/head people will come. At $20 or less per head, people will pay for their friends to come too!
- Find a way to get apologetics training to the young people; the need is great and they can handle the basic material as early as middle-school
- Be a training ministry. Train up apologists within your ministry to help share the load
- Team up with other local apologetic ministries as you can
- Have a big vision, we have a big God
- Do it all with gentleness and respect
May God bless you as you seek to honor him by evangelizing the world and defending the faith.