Open forum FAQ's

What is the "Open Forum"?

The Open Forum is a gathering of friends for the purpose of interacting on significant life and God issues. Normally, it takes place in a non-threatening environment like a home or country club where the guests enjoy eating, meeting each other, laughing and sharing their thoughts. It’s a real discussion about basic life issues, not a Bible Study or a church gathering. Our objective is to help our friends examine their philosophy of life. Many people have never carefully evaluated their beliefs, and the Open Forum provides them a comfortable environment to do this.

What Happens at an Open Forum?

First Phase: Dinner/Dessert/Icebreaker

  • A mixer in which relationships are furthered around small talk, appetizers, and a fun icebreaker like a singer/songwriter sharing a few songs, a coffee shop giving a "Coffee 101" lesson, and other fund and entertaining options.

Second Phase: The Discussion

  • The discussion facilitator (Search staff or Search trained leader) makes three promises and gives one ground rule before the discussion begins.

    • Promise One: This is is a discussion and not a lecture about God and life issues.

    • Promise Two: It will only last 59 minutes and 50 seconds (a fun way of saying this will not drag on all night).

    • Promise Three: At an appropriate point the discussion facilitator will give, as an option for consideration, the Bible’s perspective on whatever issue we are discussing.

    • Ground Rule: There is to be no mentioning of anyone’s C-H-U-R-C-H. We want to discuss the personal thoughts and opinions of our guests.

Third Phase: Dessert  

  • The final phase consists of consists of coffee, desserts and a time to continue the discussions on a more informal basis.

Who Do I Invite?

The success of the Open Forum from the human perspective is the product of having a proportional number of guests participating in the discussion. Therefore, it is critical that we commit to invite as many people as we can to come to the Open Forum.

Invite people with whom you have relationships. Generally, these relationships are found in four areas: biological, geographical, vocation, recreational.

The criteria for identifying the people in your network is as follows:

  • You know them on a first-name basis.

  • You have regular contact with them.

  • They don’t seem to have a personal relationship with Christ. They may say they are a Christian, but don't seem to know Christ. See below for more on this.

  • You feel they are responsive to you, or would be open to cultivating a relationship based upon common ground. Common ground is defined as areas of shared interest, background, experience, ability, or life situations that serve as the basis for developing relationships.

There are two main types of people in Middle Tennessee that we find enjoy coming to an Open Forum. The "seeker" and the "cultural Christian." 

  • The "seeker" generally can be described this way:

    • Self identifies as a non-believer, yet is interested in exploring questions of God

    • This category would cover everyone who self-identifies as an atheist to agnostic

    • May see little to no value in church participation/attendance

    • May identify as “spiritual” but not religious

  • The "cultural Christian" generally can be described this way:

    • Self-identifies as a Christian

    • Likely church attender and knows "the language"

    • Evidence of a personal relationship with Christ may be hard to see or non-existent (ex: desire to read and obey the Bible, awareness of the Spirit’s work in their life, a desire to share the gospel, other biblical evidences of true conversion)

    • May question the security of their "salvation"

    • May be confused about the gospel message. Likely cannot articulate the simple gospel message if asked. If they can, this person usually will also make comments that contradict the gospel (ex: “I hope I make it to heaven,” “I’m doing my best to keep the commandments,” “I am a pretty good person, so God is pleased with me.”)

    • Has not been discipled in any serious manner. Nobody has shown them how to live “Christianly.”

    • Because of the individual’s confusion, it is hard to tell what they really believe.

How Do I invite A Friend to the Open Forum?

Principles for inviting people:

  • Pray for your friends before you invite them.

  • Identify and list your network of seeking friends.

  • Invite those you don’t think will come as well as those you think will come.

  • Be honest. Describe the evening as a dinner or dessert discussion which will examine God and life issues.

  • Plan to invite people with whom you have regular contact (take them to a sporting event, have them over for dinner, attend a concert, etc.).

  • Be sensitive to the people God may bring across your path over the next few weeks (acquaintances, new friends, etc).

  • Invite your guests to all evenings of the discussion, if there are multiple. If they can't make them all, that's ok. One is better than none!

  • Know that if you invite five guests, normally at least one will be free to attend. This is a normal ratio.

  • Come even if your guests do not!

Process of inviting people:

  • Here is some canned language that you can use to describe the Open Forum in an email invitation:


I want to invite you to be my guest at a series of conversations called "Open Forums." The Open Forum is a conversation with people from all different religious and non-religious backgrounds on topics related to God and life. We discuss the kind of big questions that most of us don't normally slow down long enough to talk about. Questions like, "Is God relevant to my life?," "What is the good life?," or "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It's a conversation, not a lecture. Based on our friendship, I thought you'd enjoy being a part of this with me.

The conversations are sponsored by a non-profit in town called Search, which specializes in creating these discussions with people from all different backgrounds. The conversation will last one hour, there will be appetizers, beer and wine, and dessert. Each night there will be something fun to kick off the evening. For example, one of the nights we will have two hit country songwriters share songs and stories from some of their hits. You'll love it. 

There will be three of these Open Forums on ———- nights (insert dates here) from (insert time here). You don't have to come to them all, but I'd love for you to be able to. I want to invite you to the first one and if you like it we can attend the others. 

There is no cost and no "catch." This is a great event with other curious and thoughtful people who want to wrestle with these deeper questions together. I know you'll enjoy it. 

Please let me know if you'd like to attend."

  • Use the provided digital or physical invitation we've created. Include the digital version in digital communications. Use the physical invitation as a reminder once you get a commitment. Write a short handwritten note and mail that along with the invitation, it adds a nice personal touch.

  • Do your best to get a firm commitment as we have catering to prepare for. Offering to ride with your guest often helps to get them there.

  • Let your friend know that they are coming to a fun night of conversation, but that they aren’t required to participate in the discussion. They can just come listen if that is what they are comfortable with.

  • Give them an idea of the rough breakdown of the night's schedule, as noted above. Let them know that it will be fun!

  • Follow up your invitation with a phone call/text message/email to confirm they are coming.

How to Respond to Common Questions Your Friends Might Ask

Who leads these Forums?

The discussion moderator is someone who has studied in this area and who enjoys leading these groups. Usually it is a Search staff member.

Are these Forums sponsored by a church?

They are not church sponsored. It is not the goal of the group to get people to join any particular church. There are many different beliefs represented in these groups.

What is the real purpose of these discussions?

We want to help people think through their beliefs. As various viewpoints are presented, biblical Christianity’s perspective will also be discussed.

What if I don’t enjoy myself after attending the first session? Do I have to come back to all three sessions?

Not at all! If it is not an enjoyable experience for you, don’t come back. However, most people find it is very enjoyable.

Do I have to talk? I don’t know if I can verbalize my beliefs.

No. If you come and listen - great! There may be someone else at the discussion who will have similar beliefs. So come and relax! And if you want to throw in your viewpoints - great.

Is someone going to try to convert me?

No one can force anyone to believe anything they don’t want to. Part of the moderator’s job is to make sure no one forces their viewpoint on anyone.

Is this a religious discussion?

Not exclusively, but it will be focussed on topics that relate to God and life. No one religious perspective will be represented exclusively. It is just a group of people trying to think more clearly about their beliefs in a discussion format.

What are some topics that might come up?

  • Is there a God?

  • Is God even relevant anymore?

  • What is the purpose of life? Who decides?

  • Why do bad things happen to descent people?

  • What happens when this life is over?

  • How should we live while we are here?

  • Is there an explanation for the morality that most of us share in common?

  • Anything else that you want to discuss

No, I’m not interested I am an atheist.

That’s fine. It will help to produce a dynamic discussion if the atheistic position is represented.

Is this just a setup so you can corner me with your Christian position?

No, there is no hidden agenda. Our real goal is to have a stimulating discussion on belief systems. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. In a lot of ways it is also true that the unexamined faith is not worth believing. The Christian perspective will be presented as an alternative for discussion, along with the other viewpoints represented.

Come on, I know you, you’re always trying to convert me. Do you mean to tell me this is really an open discussion?

Look, I admit I have not been a good listener in the past. I’ve argued and probably turned you off. I’ll admit that I’d like to see you believe what I believe. But our real intent is to evaluate all of our belief systems in light of biblical Christianity. However, this is not a set up just for Christianity, other viewpoints will be discussed.

Search's 1-2-3 Outreach Philosophy  

Follow Up Tips

We've put together a helpful video with some tips on following up with your guests. 

Below are the questions we recommend in the video.

If you don't know much about your friend's spiritual thoughts/journey:

•    Tell me your story
•    Has God has ever been a part of your life?
•    When you think about who God is, what are the things about him that you are most certain of?
•    What thoughts that were discussed at the forum were interesting to you? Why?
•    Would you be open to meeting more to discuss these things further?

If you know a good bit about your friend's journey and you have a good relationship:

•    What thoughts that were discussed at the forum were interesting to you? Why?
•    When you think about who God is, what are the things about him that you are most certain of?
•    What are your thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth? Who was he? Why do you think that?
•    If you could have a relationship with God that started right now, would you like to know how?
•    Would you be open to meeting more to discuss these things further?