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Explore God church partnership to begin in September

npetersen@dailypress.com

You’ve probably seen the signs — “We all have questions” — written in white against a black background with “exploreGod.com” just below.

The signs, scattered across the Williamsburg area, announce an upcoming initiative in the Historic Triangle. More than 20 local churches are partnering under a shared sermon series developed by Explore God, a Christian organization based in Austin, Texas.

The series, like the slogan, is simple: seven questions, seven weeks. Listed on their website, the questions progress as follows:

  • Does life have a purpose?
  • Is there a God?
  • Why does God allow pain and suffering?
  • Is Christianity too narrow?
  • Is Jesus really God?
  • Is the Bible reliable?
  • Can I know God personally?

Participating churches can address the questions from the pulpit, in smaller discussion groups or both. They can use passages of scripture suggested on the website or choose their own.

Donna Via is the local Explore God coordinator and the mother of Jamie Radtke, the organization’s president. Via began work on a campaign in Williamsburg last winter, after working with her daughter and witnessing campaigns in other cities.

Explore God, she said, has more than 10 million followers across its six social media platforms and operates in 80 countries. She said church attendance usually increases around 10 percent during the sermon series.

Similar to other campaigns, the churches involved in Williamsburg come from multiple denominations, including Catholic and Protestant. The series runs Sept. 16 thorugh Oct. 28.

Elizabeth Duncan, adult ministry director at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, one of the participating churches. Via invited the Chapel and other local churches to an informational meeting this February, and Duncan said they were one of the first churches on board.

Duncan values the traditional Sunday-morning worship and sermon, but was most excited about the initiative’s emphasis on small discussion groups, which offer a more intimate setting.

“People grow in groups,” Duncan said. “These questions put us all on the same playing field.”

The community-wide series also gave the chapel a rare chance to partner with other churches in the area, one of the priorities of Lead Pastor Travis Simone. Through the initiative, Duncan wants to emphasize that Williamsburg’s churches aren’t in competition.

“The bottom line is that the church is much larger than the Williamsburg Community Chapel,” Duncan said. “We want to break down these walls.”

Timothy Keeney, pastor at St. Bede Catholic Church, said Simone invited him to join the program earlier in the year.

Though the questions focus on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, Keeney said the series will benefit his whole congregation.

Keeney said some of Explore God’s multimedia resources will help reach younger congregants, but he will be selective because not all of them fit with the Catholic faith.

“People are asking the same questions in different ways,” Keeney said. “So it’s about using the language of today but keeping it in the context of scripture.”

Those big questions are exactly why Ben Robertson, campus minister for College of William and Mary’s chapter of Reformed University Fellowship, decided to participate.

Robertson said he passes on most large church campaigns but saw this as an opportunity for shared discussion in a polarized world, where religion is off the table in everyday conversation.

“There are good reasons on both sides to be intimidated. God’s either here or he’s not,” he said. “But it’d be a sad thing to dismiss just because it’s awkward.”

With his ministry on campus, Robertson wanted to create a culture where students could ask objectionable questions. He takes time after weekly services for a question-and-answer period and sometimes continues the discussions over coffee. He reserves the right to respond, “I don’t know.”

Partnering with campus InterVarsity, Robertson will invite students to discuss the seven questions as a group. Anyone is free to come.

“This is something we’ve done all along,” Robertson said. “Come and see, come and hear, come ask your questions. Let’s talk about it.”

If the coming seven weeks go by and nothing changes, Duncan said she’ll be sad, but she believes Explore God is a way to get people out of their comfort zones, in the church and beyond.

“We all have the same mission,” Duncan said, sitting under a canopy on a summer afternoon, next to the church doors and outside its walls.

Petersen can be reached by phone at 757-345-8812 or by email at npetersen@dailypress.com.

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