Fort Worth

In North Texas churches, Explore God helped change spiritual climate

Pastor David Daniels delivers a sermon at the Pantego Bible Church, one of hundreds of DFW churches to participate in Explore God.
Pastor David Daniels delivers a sermon at the Pantego Bible Church, one of hundreds of DFW churches to participate in Explore God. Special to the Star-Telegram

Questions about faith, God and the mysteries of the universe have been around as long as faith itself.

Historically, many people have kept their deepest, most fundamental questions to themselves, perhaps assuming they are the only ones who think that way.

Explore God, a Christian movement that uses social media, billboards and radio spots to spread its message, intends to shatter that wall, shining light on the biggest questions not only for Christians but also for people of any faith or belief. It also challenges the notion that Christians have it all figured out.

As part of the project, more than 400 churches in Dallas-Fort Worth completed a unified seven-week series last month that addressed seven big questions through weekly sermons, discussion groups and more informal meetings.

The conversations and affirmations of faith will continue while Explore God looks to grow beyond Texas.

“We get excited about a movement of hundreds of churches and organizations to make it normal for people to have conversations about life’s biggest questions,” said Pastor Chris Freeland of McKinney Memorial Bible Church in Fort Worth. “Everybody has to wrestle with these questions. Regardless of your starting point, your religion or your worldview.”

Explore God is an Austin-based nonprofit with a small staff and in-depth website full of videos and testimonials meant to provoke thought without coming off as threatening or preachy.

“It didn’t take the posture of helping Christians win arguments,” Freeland said. “It took the posture of helping Christ followers have conversations.”

Explore God relies on donations from churches and individuals. The organization reported revenues of $4.37 million and expenses of $4 million in 2013, the most recent year for which Internal Revenue Service documents are available.

Its decentralized nature — not making everyone travel to a church conference — means the discussion can happen in homes and coffee shops. It’s nondenominational so as to appeal to a wider audience.

“I’ve never seen something like that,” said Freeland, who has been a pastor since 1999. “Certainly not in Dallas-Fort Worth. I’ve never seen this number of churches and organizations come together around the same thing at the same time.”

Finding answers

How can a loving God allow the suffering that fills the news daily?

A survey by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, found that’s the top question people want to ask God.

For Freeland, the question has intellectual and emotional component, starting with God sending Jesus to live among men and ultimately die on the cross, then rise from the dead.

“We now have experienced the love of a God who is present, who has a plan and can undo the worst wrongs,” Freeland said. “All sad things coming untrue is quantitatively better than if no sad things had happened from the very beginning.”

David Daniels, the senior pastor at Pantego Bible Church in east Fort Worth, goes to the Old Testament for answers.

“As I looked at the question, I took it back to the very beginning of time,” he said. “Human beings, in their rebellion against God, introduced sin into the world. The principles of sin has contaminated God’s creation.”

It all leads to belief that an afterlife brings lifetime free from pain and suffering, Daniels said.

Taking it to the streets

Paul Horton and his wife, members of McKinney Church in Fort Worth, hosted meals at their Arlington home as part of Explore God. Their neighbors weren’t all church members, either.

“It was an opportunity as neighbors to get beyond some superficial things,” Horton said. “We actually got to have some deep discussions that have eternal significance. It’s questions we all have. This forces you to bring them to the front of your mind and deal with them.”

Now that the series is over, they plan to continue meeting once a month.

Ed Frazier and his wife, also of Arlington, led the discussion group at Pantego Bible Church. The goal was to have an open dialogue, not push toward a particular conclusion.

They watched videos in which people around the world were asked their opinions on these questions. They got different points of view, from those who believe in God to those who don’t.

“That led to a really robust discussion,” Frazier said. “A lot of the answers on the video were things that had been rolling around in people’s minds but they couldn’t articulate. After watching the video it just came out.”

Church with no borders

The Explore God initiative started in Austin and has made a huge push into North Texas. It’s also spreading to other states including California and Tennessee, and even Mexico.

But what got Camille Rodriguez most excited was its online reach, to truly have a church without borders.

Now the chief operating officer for Explore God, Rodriguez has a background in social media and online ministry. She’s had conversations with people in South Africa, Germany and elsewhere.

“It’s a fascinating thing to talk with others across the globe about their faith and the questions they have,” Rodriguez said.

The goal was to broach the very tough subject without trying to win the argument, or come at it from a certain point of view.

“We have more in common than we don’t have in common in our struggle to know more and understand more about God,” she said.

In North Texas, Explore God blanketed the airwaves and billboards with advertising throughout Texas unlike anything Daniels has seen in 25 years in ministry. Ads were broadcast on popular radio shows including Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio, 103.3 FM in Dallas-Fort Worth.

“It made it almost impossible for anyone not to hear that there was something going on in a coordinated way,” Daniels said.

After the seven-week series, Pantego baptized several new members into the church.

“It has really affected the spiritual climate of our church,” Daniels said. “For those already in our church, this gave them a great foundation.”

Bruce Miller, senior pastor at Christ Fellowship in McKinney, said they also had discussion groups with high school and middle school students.

“It’s been one of the most transformative things we’ve done,” Miller said. “The students responded to the questions more deeply than we expected, even in middle school. We have had parents come back and thank us for doing this curriculum with their students. That’s pretty rare.”

Explore God’s seven big questions

  • 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?