Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Get Apologetics in Your Church 2: An Effective Model for a Youth Apologetics Home Group

An Effective Model for a Youth Apologetics Home Group
By James Klopfenstein

I am an Electrical Engineer (avionics systems) with Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I've been married to Sue for 30 years and we have 2 daughters (Amy 23 and Heidi 21). For the past 6 years, my wife and I have been leading a Sunday night home group in apologetics to help high school age youth prepare for secular college.

I am proud to say that I have two daughters who majored in the sciences at secular state universities and both have kept their faith intact. I attribute this to 3 primary factors:
  1. The grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ and the wooing of the Holy Spirit
  2. Both had a freewill bend to consider God and the truth of Christianity
  3. A family commitment to Christian apologetics training
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Although the first two points were very important, I want to discuss the third point, our story. In their late grade school years, I discovered my daughters had interests in the hard sciences and I soon realized they would most likely attend secular colleges in just a few short years. Having taught junior and senior high Sunday school for many years, I detected an interesting pattern. Many Christian youth, even those charged up from weekend retreats and weeklong youth camps, would often give up church and their Christian beliefs after leaving the home. Through my own observation and other research that I read, I concluded that many left because of intellectual skepticism. They just began to doubt that Christianity was true. Knowing about the perceived conflict between science and religion, I decided to begin to prepare my children for what lay ahead. I first ordered the full set of Moody Science video classicsThese videos were produced in the 1950s and 1960s with Dr. Irwin Moon to show how science points to the creator God. Although they are old, they are still timeless, God-honoring, entertaining, theologically sound, instructive, and family-friendly. So on Sunday nights instead of watching the Disney channel and Nickelodeon, we watched a Moody science video and discussed it. I then discovered Summit Ministries, “Understanding the Times” high school curriculum and we began to work through it on Sunday nights. As I saw how much these Sunday night studies were benefitting my daughters, I decided to talk with my youth pastor about opening up our home to my kid’s friends. He loved the idea and for the past 6 years my wife and I have been leading a small apologetics youth group in our home to prepare high school students for secular college. Although my kids have long since graduated, we have been encouraged by parents and pastors to continue our group. Our model is simple but I believe it is effective. It has helped a number of young adults to stand firm in their faith when they leave home for college.

Here is the model

Preliminary work and Preparation:
We start the group in the fall right after school starts and end in the spring just before all the senior graduation parties. In August, we send out a parent letter describing the importance of apologetics and discuss the topics we will be studying. We print up invitation cards created from a PowerPoint slide and encourage the youth to hand them out at school. Our youth pastor allows us to promote the group during the weekly youth services. We have also posted a notice and invitation cards on a public bulletin board at the local Christian bookstores with the owner’s permission. An announcement is also made in our church bulletin. Initially we suggested that the youth come without their parents. However, we now see the value of allowing parents to come with their kids if they so choose. Additional wisdom from other adults can be very helpful. We do ask the parents to be sensitive to their kids because some kids don’t want their parents to come. Even so, those kids typically don’t mind if other parents show up, they just don’t want theirs to be around.

Meeting Format

Food: Starts at 5:45 pm. FOOD IS KEY! All teenagers love to come to a place with food. We decided to create a weekly food budget as one of our weekly offerings above and beyond our tithe. You can also get the kids and their parents to provide food as well. Frozen pizza, baked cookies, brownies, and chips work great. They love carbs at this age. We do have some carrots and vegie tray items for the health minded.

Humor: Between 6:00 and 6:15, I play about 10 minutes of Christian standup comedy. They love it. In fact, I think some come back every week just for the comedy. My kids love Tim Hawkins and Bananas Comedy entertainers like Jeff Allen, Mike Williams and Paul Aldrich. And for the Brits, we’ve even watched a couple of sketches from Bill Bailey, who I don’t believe is a Christian. We were very selective with Bill though.

PowerPoint Game: Then we do a fun PowerPoint trivia game. They love the competition and silliness. Here are a couple of places to get good PowerPoint Trivia Games. ( —check out the Power Play volumes). We usually split into teams and the team that wins gets first choice from a big candy bowl.

Worship song: Live worship would be great but normally we get no takers to lead worship. So we typically select a good worship song from YouTube and display it on the HD TV.

Apologetics Lesson: We try to start the lesson by 6:30 pm and try to finish by 7:30 pm. I’ve found that video based teaching works the best. Trying to get a teenager to read a chapter in a book prior to group time is almost impossible. Besides there is a plethora of apologetic teaching curriculums and videos to choose from these days. I have attached an extensive list at the end of this paper. Thirty minutes of video time is best, however a few minutes more is OK if needed. If a lesson is an hour long, I will generally split it into two lessons. I’ve also discovered that I can hold the groups interest much better if I frequently pause the video. I then ask questions, re-explain difficult and key concepts and if applicable do some role playing between the group members. Role playing involves developing some pre-planned questions for a skeptic to ask the Christian. It allows them to practice real dialogue in a safe environment. They find it is much harder to be salt and light by answering with gentleness and respect than they think. As the group is watching the video, observe their faces. If you detect confusion, “PAUSE” for discussion. Many of the curriculums have questions and or discussion guides after the video. If they don’t, sometimes I make summary PowerPoint slides with fill in word blanks to cover the key points. Be sure to add in appropriate scriptures as applicable. In addition, some curriculums have study guides that can be purchased. Encourage your kids to purchase these study guides so that the dedicated authors continue to publish excellent curriculums. Depending on the study, you may want to assign group leaders and break into smaller groups to do the questions and discussion.

Closing Prayer Time: After the lesson, we make a list of prayer requests and close in prayer.

That is it. After we close, we allow the youth to stick around for more fellowship and food. This is when some of the real important ministry takes place, especially one-on-one discussions. It is also a good idea to have a “Question Box” box by the sign-in sheet. I learned this from AnchorsAway Ministries. Set out a decorated shoe box with an open slot cut out of the top. Set note cards by it and tell the youth that they can write out any “ad hoc” questions they want and insert them into the question box. Having the question box gives you a good week to research the answers. 

Apologetics Curriculums and Videos that we have successfully used

Note:  Much of the content description below comes from the referenced web links, however, I have added some of my own personal comments.  

Rooted—A film based apologetics resource created by young adults for young adults.  This curriculum is the brain child of Peter Bocchino, who served as Director of Leardership Training for Ravi Zacharias Ministries for nine years  and was co-author of “Unshakable Foundations” with Norman Geisler. This is one of my favorite curriculums because it is based on 1st principles. I got to know Peter quite well via email and he actually connected to our class via Skype a couple of times to answer questions and to role play with the group. Peter really challenges you to think and to do apologetics like Jesus. You can visit Peter’s website here.

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision - DVD Companion - by William Lane Craig - William Lane Craig's "On Guard" will help teach you how to defend your faith through this collection of 8 videos sessions on one disc. Over the weeks of study, you will learn eight apologetics arguments and gain insight, understanding, and application. We are doing this study now and it is excellent. William Lane Craig is very articulate and clearly teaches how to present incredibly powerful arguments. I do use the PAUSE button occasionally to explain his vocabulary, but I’ve convinced the kids that the words they are learning are excellent preparation for the vocabulary section on their college entrance exams. I would highly recommend this series. 

Christianity and the Tooth Fairy - John Lennox at The Veritas Forum at UCLA, 2011 - Children believe in the tooth fairy until their reasoning capabilities mature and they recognize this belief is neither grounded nor relevant. Does belief in Jesus Christ require a suspension of logic? Can Christianity be proven to be true? UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein interviews Oxford mathematician John Lennox with honest questions about Christianity and the grounds for faith. This will be followed by audience Q&A.  We showed this cordial exchange over a 3 to 4 week period. John Lennox is an outstanding communicator and defender of the faith. We really enjoyed this video. By the way has hundreds of videos of top notch apologists giving talks on leading college campuses. You could use  as  an unending resource if desired.

TrueU 1 – Does God Exist? Produced by Focus on the Family and taught by Stephen Meyer, author of “Signature in the Cell”. This life-changing DVD provides facts and insights from philosophy, cosmology and biology to help you engage intellectually with professors and peers in ten 30-minute lessons. This in an outstanding series on the existence of God. His scientific reasoning on life’s origin is a must see for young adults studying the sciences. I especially appreciate his clear explanation about “inference to the best explanation”.

TrueU 2 – Is the Bible Reliable? Taught by Stephen Meyer. This DVD series provides a thorough overview of major archaeological and historical discoveries that demonstrate the historical reliability of the Bible. The material presented in the ten lessons (approximately 25 minutes each) will help you to respond to critical arguments against the historicity of the Bible with solid evidence, and gain a better understanding of the geography, culture, and history of events in the Bible. This is the sequel to Does God Exist. It is very good and thorough but quite technical in historical details. For some not excited about history, it may be a bit academically demanding.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – DVD Complete Series by Frank Turek In an informative and entertaining way, Frank uses logic, science and hard historical evidence to show why the Bible is true, and why it takes a lot more faith to be an atheist than a Christian. Twelve shows on three DVDs. 25 - 40 minutes each.  Includes Q&A. Designed to be a stand alone DVD set or a companion series with three other outstanding “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” products: The Book, The Workbook, and the Curriculum (all available at
1.     Does Truth Exist? The Road Runner Tactic  
2.     Does God Exist? In the Beginning...  
3.     Does God Exist? Divine Design  
4.     Does God Exist? The Origin of Life  
5.     Does God Exist? What About Evolution
6.     Does God Exist? The Moral Law  
7.     Are Miracles Possible? Signs of God or Gullibility  
8.     Is the NT True? Do We Have an Accurate Copy?  
9.     Did the NT Writers Tell the Truth? (Part 1)
10.  Did the NT Writers Tell the Truth? (Part 2)
11.  What Books Should Be in the Bible?
12.  So What If It’s True?

You can also get his PowerPoint presentation here. Frank is a great communicator with a bit of an “in your face style” New Jersey flair. If you have a strong interest in apologetics and a desire to know how to present this material on college campuses, I would recommend that you look into attending Frank’s CrossExamined Instructors Academy held every August. I’ve been to it twice and I learned a lot.  Not only are there great instructors,  I also got just as much out of being around like minded Christians and I still keep in touch and trade ideas with many of the other students that I met.

Craig vs. Hitchens: Does God Exist? DVD - Dr. Craig takes on one of the "four horsemen" of the New Atheism in this celebrated encounter moderated by radio personality Hugh Hewitt. Nearly 10,000 people attended this debate in person, while countless more watched it live at sites in 35 states and four foreign countries. Moderated by Hugh Hewitt and hosted by Craig Hazen at Biola University. One atheist blogger's summary of the debate: "Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child." Actually this was a live webcast event on April 4, 2009 which was videotaped. We used the webcast as an outreach to invite friends and watched this live debate as it was steamed from the Biola campus. Both youth and adults invited friends. I invited some of my co-workers. My seeker boss still talks about the debate. He really enjoyed it. Occasionally Biola does webcasts of some of their apologetics events. You can find out more about them and contact Biola at this web link

Illustra Media video documentaries - Illustra Media produces video documentaries that examine the scientific case for intelligent design. Working with Discovery Institute and an international team of scientists and scholars (including Michael Behe, Guillermo Gonzalez, Stephen Meyer, and Lee Strobel), Illustra has helped define both the scientific case for design and the limitations of materialistic processes like Darwinian evolution. These documentaries include Unlocking the Mystery of LifeThe Privileged Planet , Darwin’s Dilemma and Metamorphosis. These are a bit long to use in just one lesson but they are excellent. They could be used for “bring a friend” movie night and just shown. After showing Unlocking the Mystery of Life, one of the skeptic students commented, “Is this stuff really true? I feel cheated, we’ve never heard about this stuff from our science teachers”.

Thinking Like a Christian – Summit Ministries - Thinking Like a Christian is an engaging 12-week study of the Christian worldview. The complete package comes with creative lesson plans for teaching youth through adults, including weekly projects, resources, video clips from noted Christian thinkers, and reproducible handouts, providing all the information needed to successfully teach worldviews to your group. Another quick note about Summit Ministries.  Summit offers outstanding worldview conferences for students in the summer. I sent both of my daughters to a Summit Conference the summer before they started college. Neither of them really wanted to go. Both had the same excuse, “I only have limited time to spend with my friends. Why do I have to go, I won’t know anybody?” However, they both loved Summit and have highly recommended it to their friends. My youngest said, “Thanks for making me go Dad. Of all the Christian camps, conferences, and big events that I’ve attended over the years, Summit was by far the best and made the biggest impact on my Christian faith. It wasn’t just about feeding my emotions; they really taught me how to think and live as a Christian. I also found some great new friends.” We now encourage the parents of our group members to consider sending their teenagers to Summit. Here is the link to the student conferences.

Countering Culture – Summit Ministries - Countering Culture is an engaging 12-week study in worldview analysis. The complete package comes with creative lesson plans for teaching youth through adults, including weekly projects, resources, video clips from noted Christian thinkers, and reproducible handouts, providing all the information needed to successfully teach worldviews to your group. 

The Reason for God: A DVD Study: Conversations on Faith and Life – Timothy J. Keller - The Reason for God curriculum can be used individually, in groups, or by any believer who is engaging with friends who don't share his or her beliefs. Christians will be challenged to wrestle with their friends and neighbors' hardest questions, and to engage those questions in ways that will spark an honest, enriching, and humbling dialogue. The Reason for God curriculum contains a DVD which captures a live and unscripted conversation between Timothy Keller and six panelists discussing their objections to Christianity. This one may be a bit advanced for high school students. However, I did use it in an adult Sunday school class and received many positive comments. Timothy Keller truly demonstrates the scriptural command of 1 Peter 3:15 “… But do this with gentleness and respect.”

AnchorsAway Ministries - Anchorsaway is a college-level Christian worldview educational experience targeting high school seniors and college students. The purpose is to encourage student's biblical and spiritual growth and to equip him/her to confidently live out their faith in every area of life. We expect our students to become a powerful influence for Christ, wherever God might take them. This was one of the first curriculums that we used and I chose it because it was endorsed by Chuck Colson as a great worldview curriculum.  When we taught it, we had to attend an AnchorsAway training conference before being allowed to use it.

The Case For A Creator, Small Group Edition DVD By: Lee Strobel, Garry Poole - In this compelling 6-session DVD curriculum, Lee Strobel and Garry Poole explore cosmology, cellular biology, astronomy, evolution, physics, and DNA research to reveal the incredible complexity of the universe---which is best explained by the existence of a Creator

The Case for Faith, DVD ROM: A Six-Session Investigation of The Toughest Objections to Christianity By: Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg - Why is there so much pain and suffering in our world? What should we do with our nagging doubts? Is Jesus the only way to God? Former skeptic Lee Strobel brings his tough-minded and engaging approach to these pressing questions. Based on the book The Case for Faith, this six-session, video-driven study addresses the most common obstacles to faith in Christ. 

The Case for Christ DVD ROM: A Six-Session Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus-Lee Strobel - Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God? Retracing his own spiritual journey from atheism to faith, Lee Strobel, former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, cross-examines several experts with doctorates from schools like Cambridge, Princeton, and Brandeis who are recognized authorities in their own fields. Strobel's tough, point-blank questions make this six-session video study a captivating, fast-paced experience. But it's not fiction. It's a riveting quest for the truth about history's most compelling figure. 6 sessions; 1 DVD with leader's guide 

Tactics in Defending the Faith: Interactive DVD by Gregory Koukl - Are you tired of finding yourself flat-footed and intimidated in conversations about your faith and values? Do you want to increase your confidence and skill in discussions, no matter whom you're talking to? Then Tactics is for you. Included are six one-hour interactive sessions on DVD with discussion, role-playing, self-assessment quizzes, recall exercises, memory tools, games, and competition. Comprehensive leader and student manuals are included in PDF for printing and copying. And when you learn the material well enough to teach this course without the DVD, use the PowerPoint slides included on the data CD. 

Faith Under Fire - Four-session DVD small group curriculums based on Lee Strobel's popular PAX-TV program. Using video clips from the popular PAX-TV program Faith Under Fire, this cutting-edge curriculum features spirited discussions between well-respected Christians, people of other faiths, or people with no faith at all on important spiritual and social issues. Host Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, provides additional comments to guide small group discussion.

With No Apology by Joe Boot - In a series of five intriguing taxi journeys, J. John asks his friend and colleague, Joe Boot, how to answer life's hardest questions. With No Apology is ideal to watch in groups or on your own. It raises tough issues, and provides the tools to help you develop your own response. It offers a helpful summary of the sessions -- plus questions for further discussion, a glossary of definitions and suggestions for further reading. This is one cab ride we're sure you won't forget in a hurry...J. John is a motivational speaker who helps people see the spiritual dimension and purpose of everyday life. You can get the study guide here.

Curriculums that we may use in the future

Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson An Idea Film. A Bookumentary. A cinematic treatment of a worldview. A poet live in concert. A motion picture sermon. VH1 Storytellers meets Planet Earth. In this unusual but fascinating film sequence, best-selling author N.D. Wilson gives an emotional and intellectual tour of life in this world and the final chapter that is death. Everything before and after and in between is a series of miracles--some of which are encouraging, others disturbing and uncomfortable. 

God and Evolution presented by Biola University and Center for Science and Culture – At this web link you can find video clips created to be used in conjunction with the God and Evolution book edited by Jay Richards. The clips highlight various chapters and themes in the book and are appropriate for use in small groups and adult Sunday School classes that are discussing the books. For suggestions on how to incorporate these clips into a class, download the free discussion guide for God and Evolution.

3 Views on Creation. YOU DECIDE. In the Beginning: a conference & debate on the days of creation by Fixed Point Foundation - The question of origins is as controversial inside the church as it is outside of it. How should Christians explain the Genesis account to skeptics, who think it doesn’t agree with modern science? How can Christian parents help their children navigate through this controversy without compromising their core beliefs or appearing intellectually naïve? This truly unique conference allows you to listen as top proponents argue their own views on creation. Decide for yourself which view is the most Biblically and scientifically accurate. 

If God Made the Universe (Small Group Study): Hugh Ross - A small group study has never tackled a bigger subject! Drawing from his popular book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Dr. Hugh Ross shares Scripture, stunning satellite photos, and the most recent scientific findings to explain the great love story that is our universe. This DVD series invites you to be a part of Dr. Ross’ small group. Each session includes a brief presentation (about 20 minutes), followed by Q&A. The eight sessions address these cosmic questions: Why Is the Universe So Vast? Why Is It So Old? Why Is It So Dark? Why Is There an Earth? Why So Much for So Little? Why Is It Decaying? Why Isn’t It Perfect Now? What Will God Make Next? 

ASK Curriculum by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries - the ASK curriculum aims to empower students with the critical tools necessary for understanding their own faith and for investigating and evaluating differing worldviews. Hosted by Nathan Zacharias, interactive ASK curriculum is comprised of:
·    A two DVD set containing 16 sessions in 4 modules—origin, meaning, morality, and destiny
·    Exclusive web access for your class on the ASK website containing facilitator and student content
·    An SMS text messaging tool for interactive in-class questions
·    A digital facilitator’s guide (downloadable from ASK website)

Test of Faith - Course DVD by Faraday Institute for Science and Religion - Science and Christianity Unpacked. Explore issues at the interface of science and Christianity using the award-winning ‘Test of Fatih’ documentary series. Designed to enable non-specialists to join the discussion. The relationship between science and faith is often represented as a battleground.  The claim is that science has pushed God into the margins.  But is the truth more complex?  Talking to leading scientist-believers, we probe the issues at the heart of this debate.  Has science really murdered God?  Or is the God question being redefined in new ways by science?  Does the possibility of a Creator remain an ineradicable challenge?


Unknown said...

Is there a similar program for kids?

James Klopfenstein said...

Summit Ministries does have an elementry worldview curriculum. Check out this web link:

Tom P said...

These are great. Thanks for sharing! I am a Catholic, so for those interested in resources like these may I suggest the following:

and The Reason Series: What Science Says about God:

jgklopfe said...

Laida, for elementary age children, check out this web link from Summit Ministries. I haven't used these materials, but Summit is a top notch ministry

Thanks Tom P, and thanks for posting the web link, the reason series looks interesting, physics has great arguments for God's existence.

Unknown said...

this is really great info. i have recently started an apologetics group in my church and this is exactly what I need. I have roamed the net looking for group-study materials and have seen most of these.

my group is an adult one we have just completed the truthproject from focus on the family. i am thinking about lee strobel materials to do next.

thank again

Unknown said...

Your post is outstanding!!!

If you only had one curriculum to choose for a group of seniors getting ready to go off to college which would it be?

Thanks again for the great post!

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