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City Center Conversations aim to tackle the big questions
Photo by Caleb Yarbrough

City Center Conversations aim to tackle the big questions

Jan 24, 2018

Caleb Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

LITTLE ROCK – In a day marked by distractions and confirmation bias, a new ministry is attempting to create a space for exploring big questions from faith-based perspectives.

City Center Conversations is an event series started by members of Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock, and hosted by Steven Smith, the church’s pastor.

According to its website, the organization’s “strategy is to host nationally known speakers, who are living out their faith in the public square to Little Rock, to have open conversations about faith and tackle some of the biggest questions of the day.”

According to Smith, many churches don’t do a great job at “influencing the influencers and reaching the intellectual community.”

“I have talked about this with Robert Lewis, a member of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. He said, ‘You have to understand that the influencers are the underserved in our city. They are just the intellectually underserved and spiritually underserved.’”

Smith said that this concept of Little Rock’s influencers and intellectuals being underserved resonated with him and with multiple laymen at Immanuel Baptist. The laymen were excited to employ their interest in “conversations that stimulate the left brain” as a way to engage similarly wired believers and non-believers alike in meaningful interactions.

“The great thing about Little Rock is that if you can arrest the attention of a few, you can arrest the attention of a lot. You are only two or three conversations away from reaching a big part of the city,” said Smith.

The first City Center Conversations event was held Dec. 12 at Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. More than 500 people attended the sold-out event. Guests included Christian church leaders from multiple denominations, local businessmen and women and state and local politicians.

“It has really resonated with people in the city. I think they have wanted something like this, a venue where they can have these types of conversations,” said Smith. “Say you work downtown and you are a doctor or you are at a big law firm, what are you going to invite your buddy to at church? There are not many things (that allow for this).

“It (City Center Conversations) allows you to come into a non-threatening environment. It is fun and it’s relaxed,” said Smith. “It isn’t evangelism. It is more pre-evangelism. But it is an entre to the gospel.”

The second event will be held Feb. 20 at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. The special guest for the event will be Lee Strobel, author of multiple best-selling books, including “The Case for Christ,” which was recently adapted into a film of the same name.

In addition to authors like Eric Metaxas and Strobel, Smith said that future events will feature guests who specialize in myriad areas, including apologetics, science and entertainment. Smith will continue to serve as host of each
City Center Conversations event.

According to Smith, the goal is to hold three to four City Center Conversations events each year.

One of the overarching aims of City Center Conversations is to have conversations about faith. And while members of Immanuel Baptist started the organization, the hope is that theological, political and/or cultural differences would not hinder open, honest and fruitful discussion.

“Honestly, one of the reasons I love this is because I want to bring in people to this who I may not have in my pulpit,” said Smith.

“There are guys that I would not have in my pulpit, not because they were unbelievers or pagans but because I have a narrow understanding of the calling of a pastor in that role.

“With this (City Center Conversations), however, I feel a tremendous amount of freedom,” he said.

“If a guy was a different political or theological affiliation from me, I don’t have to make that clear in that environment because it’s probably already assumed that we are different,” said Smith.

“It’s an environment where we can think about the right things without having to affirm the differences.”

Contact Caleb Yarbrough at caleb@arkansasbaptist.org. For more information on City Center Conversations visit citycenterconversationslr.org.

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