Father James Mackay, the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Royal Docks London, sits with us and talks about his experience of running 7 Alphas in less than 2 years.
When asked how he decided to run Alpha in his parish all these years with such enthusiasm and commitment, Father James says, “Alpha brought me to life in my faith.” [He first tried Alpha at Holy Trinity Brompton Church.]
Here are his 5 tips for leaders who are currently running Alpha or potential leaders who are considering running the course, particularly in a Catholic context.
1. Focus on THE ONE!
Instead of chasing after numbers – focus on the individual. When we first ran Alpha, we fell into the trap of focusing on numbers and trying to make the course as far-reaching and sought after as possible. We soon recognised that this approach was proving unfruitful and changed the way we thought about Alpha and people.
Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the pressure of reaching everyone in our community, we began to focus on the ones in front of us, the ones who have already committed to coming along and giving Alpha a go.
How can you practically focus on the one? You make them feel noticed! You send them a weekly text, a personalised welcome note, an animated greeting… These are some simple ideas. It’s up to you to figure out what will make your guests feel noticed and appreciated.
2. Keep Jesus at the centre
Over the course of running 7 Alphas, we have learned that success doesn’t stem from every aspect of the course running harmoniously at all times. What makes Alpha so effective is that Jesus is at the centre of the course from beginning till the end.
Alpha isn’t about perfection. At its very core, Alpha is about creating a space for individuals to explore the meaning of life – Jesus. Keep that in mind when running Alpha to prevent you from falling into the trap of working hard and expecting everything to go perfectly at all times.
Keeping the focus on Jesus all throughout Alpha has shielded us from perfectionism. It has made space for us to make mistakes without being weighed down by the burden of failure.
3. Watch your words
Jargon can be an obstacle if we worship it. When running Alpha avoid using jargon where possible. If you have to use jargon, pause and explain the word/expression. Don’t assume that your guests are familiar with it.
Taking the time to unpack jargon will prevent communication break-down and it will ensure certain words or expressions are more accessible to guests.
4. Understand Alpha's aim
Leaders need to understand quite early on that Alpha is not the end aim. Ultimately, it was created 'by the church, for the church, through the church.' For the majority of people, Alpha is the start of a journey of exploration that continues for the rest of their lives.
Alpha is the pre-evangelisation and evangelisation phase of a properly integrated Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In the Catholic church, the Rite of Initiation of Adults is the process of formation for people who wish to become a Catholic.
Alpha gets people genuinely hungry for Catechesis (deeper teaching), allowing people to develop this hunger for themselves rather than being forced into it.
The course actually stirs a reason for continuing in the journey of faith and enables people to then go deeper into distinctly Catholic practices.
5. Don't forget about those in their 20s
Alpha is for everyone and for that reason leaders should focus their energy on creating a space for everyone, including those in their early 20s as they are probably the furthest away from the Church.
In our parish, we were set on getting young adults to try Alpha and so we focused on inviting this age bracket. We found that using testimonies is particularly effective when inviting young adults.
Sharing a testimony is ultimately just sharing a story, and young people know that there's no hidden agenda. Translating the Alpha conversation into one that is open and not riddled with a hidden agenda of conversion works. Ultimately those in their early 20s need to be able to walk into Alpha and feel loved and at home.
When young people find Jesus through Alpha it allows for their life-changing experience to translate into testimony, which we pray, will result in the multiplication of this generation finding faith in Jesus.
How do you get the rest of your church as excited about running Alpha as you are? Read our next blog