The author of the “Doubters’ Club” paves the way for dialogue across a wide range of beliefs

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – For centuries, people sharing similar spiritual beliefs have come together to worship in congregations with other like-minded people.

A large number of religions and denominations have been the result.

At the same time, there has been a reluctance among members of one religious group to develop meaningful dialogue with those from other groups – or with individuals who do not belong to any particular group.

Lately, however, some people have made efforts to bridge the gap between various groups.

Among them is Preston Ulmer, a pastor in the Assemblies of God denomination, who helped start a group known as the Doubters’ Club a few years ago in Denver, where he had moved to found a new church.

The idea was to develop conversations in a non-threatening, non-judgmental setting where people can talk freely about what they believe – or don’t believe – without any strings attached.

Ulmer’s recently published book, “The Doubters’ Club” (NavPress, softcover, 176 pages, $ 16.99), explains what prompted him to create such a group and how it developed in d other cities in the country and around the world.

During the process of formulating the model that became the “Skeptics’ Club” Ulmer says he was challenged to “love and live more like Jesus, not just think like him”.

Here is an email Q&A interview with Ulmer:

1. What led you to found the Doubters’ Club?

My wife and I felt compelled to move to Denver, Colorado to found a church, and we knew we wanted to build a community of faith for the skeptics and the spiritually wounded.

When it came to figuring out which neighborhood we wanted to start the church in, I wasn’t sure exactly how we were supposed to do it.

On a weekend visit to the city, I asked a random cafe owner what kind of church he was visiting. Looking back, that was a stupid question! It is just unwise to assume that people go to church, and it can be quite offensive when you don’t have a previous relationship. He told me that he was an atheist, but that he would go to a place where he could ask questions and where he was not judged for thinking differently.

When we moved to the area months later, I visited him and asked if he would help me start something called “The Doubters’ Club”. Since its inception, it has been a group co-moderated by two friends who do not think like the other but who are committed to seeking the truth together.

2. Did you have any concerns about such a company? If so, what were they?

Church planters have courage and flexibility when they move to a new neighborhood. It was certainly true for us! I only say this because “worries” or hesitation with the doubters’ club weren’t really categories at this time of life. It was a more cautious optimism. Traditional church models were not working. Why not try something new?

3. For Christians seeking to reach out to their community, how useful can something like the Doubtful Club be?

It’s an amazing way to invite people to participate in God’s mission before they even believe in Jesus. In fact, it requires that they do not think like a Christian. It helps the community in a very real way. First, he builds bridges where the world builds walls. Relationship is victory in these contexts, not conversion to a certain way of thinking.

Additionally, doubters’ clubs help rebuild the impression people have of Jesus, the Church, and Christians in general. I could share countless stories of how evangelicals and deconstructionists found healing and pursued God through these contexts.

Finally, it really helps us Christians. We tend to get stuck in a bubble, and any time we step out of that bubble it is usually with the ulterior motive of conversion, church attendance, or some other “next step” that we do. we have it up our sleeves. What if we learned to befriend people like Jesus? This means that even if they have betrayed or hurt us, we remain attached to them.

4. What are the main characteristics of those who run the Doubtful Club and those who participate in it?

Honestly, we have four “rules” that I think would answer this question well. We always have these rules visible at every meeting. They are essential for those who lead and those who attend. (1) We value respect before being right. (2) We understand and accept differences of opinion. (3) We listen with an open mind. (4) We are a safe place.

5. How familiar or well versed should people be when considering leading a group like this?

The beauty of this group is that it doesn’t require a masters or doctorate degree. In fact, it doesn’t even require someone to be an avid reader. It is not a ministry of apologetics. It’s a club! The goal is friendship and the pursuit of truth together. So I guess in a way the best leaders are the ones who are willing to admit when they don’t know and are committed to finding the answers with the group members.

6. What is the key element for a person who creates a group like this? I think being a good listener would be important.

Yes! Good listeners and good questioners win the world because the world has learned to trust the people who care about them. It’s rare. I had someone call me the other day to tell me they wanted to register for our next training. After speaking for about 2 minutes, it was clear that he needed a place to articulate the clear gospel to atheists in order to gain more of them. I told him this club would not suit him. Jesus was not the loudest publisher of what he knew to be the truth, but he was the busiest actor of what he knew to be love. This is what we are looking for!

7. How would you suggest creating a group like this? Where do groups usually meet?

If anyone wants to start a doubters club, I recommend that they take our online training. This is a two-day live cohort that takes a total of 4 hours. We organize these trainings on a quarterly basis. You can register on our website:

When it comes to where they meet, some of the best environments are cafes, bars, and microbreweries. No matter how cool someone’s church cafe is, we just tell people it can’t be in a church. It’s supposed to be for the community, so it has to be in the community.

8. How do you move the group forward in a positive direction rather than arguing over the differences?

Science has taught us amazing things about the human brain. When arguments do arise, we have placed each other in the resistance part of our brain. This is the fight or flight part. They must be in the frontal cortex where we have rational, joyful, forward-looking thoughts. This is where people co-create responses with each other. The only way to make that 6 inch long trip is to build confidence. And the fastest way to build trust with people is to listen.

We continue to move in a positive direction by listening, listening and listening again. Then we ask questions that help them co-create an answer that pushes them toward the truth.

9. What are the goals and outcomes of such a group – and is it an effective way to evangelize?

I like this question, but most people don’t like my answer. The goal of the Doubtful Club is not to convert people. It is about restoring dignity to their journey by giving them a thoughtful Christian friend who will naturally share Jesus for a long period of time. It is not evangelism. It is a big job of pre-evangelization.

10. Do you see a biblical basis for the skeptics club?

Yes. If you’re looking for the verse that commands us to start gatherings like this, it’s not there. Which, if we were to be honest, the Bible was not for us to select verses anyway. But the Doubters’ Club model is inevitable if you read about the life of Jesus and Paul’s ministry. Jesus kept insisting on this idea of ​​killing our prejudices and preferences for the good of the other. It is in his parables, in his daily life, and deeply rooted in Christology. Luke 14 is my favorite parable for this reason. Philippians 2 shows us that he did this before he even came to Earth. I think the group of disciples was the first “Skeptics Club”. Paul in Athens shows us a model of letting culture be the people who ask questions.

11. How has your church or denomination supported you in this endeavor?

I am a minister of the Assemblies of God. It’s surprising to some, but the GA has incredibly supported this organization. General Superintendent Doug Clay has shown his continued support by endorsing my most recent book, sharing the stories with others, and visiting my office just to ask questions about our gatherings. Any success of the Doubtful Club is due to the encouragement of the pastors within my fraternity.

12. How many groups like this are there in the United States and around the world? Do you know of any in the Topeka or Kansas City area?

We have launched over 60 clubs around the world. Now you have to remember that clubs are not churches. They are not meant to last forever. It is generally said that the life cycle of a club should be as long as it takes for it to become a lifestyle. We have clubs that last 6 years and we have others that last a year. However, we are still launching them. In fact, we have a few launches of them this month in Seattle and San Francisco.

We actually have a group in Kansas City!

For more information on the book “The Doubters’ Club”, visit

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Lola R. McClure