A challenging aspect of running Alpha can be figuring out how you can create a real community with the guests and how you can encourage them to get integrated into church community once the course is over.
We talk to Chris Godlonton and Tom Basson, both church leaders from South Africa, about the best ways to begin to integrate Alpha guests into church life after the course. Chris is the church administrator of the Crossing Church in Gauteng, South Africa and has been running Alpha for three and a half years. He is married is a father of two boys aged one and two.
Tom and his wife Jess are also parents of two boys, aged two and four. They planted a church in Durban North five years ago which is part of the multisite Grace Family Church Kwazulu Natal, South Africa and have now run Alpha 10 times, twice a year.
1. The Alpha Weekend
In giving advice on how to create this real Alpha community, Tom and Chris both share their takes on the Alpha weekend. Chris and the team at the Crossing Church run the Alpha weekend at church rather than going away as he has found that it is hard for people in the Johannesburg context to go away for an entire weekend. Doing the Alpha weekend in the church has been a great alternative for Chris who has found that while the Alpha weekend is essential, going away is not.
Tom on the other hand, has found going away for the weekend to be a great success, showing that there is flexibility in how you can run the Alpha weekend depending on what works best for you and your context!
“If you don’t do the Alpha weekend it’s not Alpha” Tom says, because it “fast tracks community.” The Alpha weekend creates a shared experience for the members of the group which leads to deeper fellowship. Tom then goes on to explain that people need to “belong before they believe” – finding “faith because they feel they belong.”
The Alpha weekend has an important role to play in bringing people together and therefore increasing the chance of continued community after Alpha.
In order to make the Alpha weekend the best it can possibly be Chris advises giving people early notice about the dates, as well as avoiding booking the Alpha weekend during school holidays. “Start planning the dates from the second week” is his advice. Giving people plenty of notice will reduce stress and it will give people plenty of time to plan for their Alpha weekend.
Structure is another point stressed by Tom. “Keep Friday fun by having an activity that everyone can do together. Saturday is the heaviest because of the three talks, so use Sunday for discussion and to affirm and encourage guests."
“Small things make a difference,” Tom adds and shares that even when they gave people something as small as a thank you card, it was mentioned in several people’s testimonies!
2. Introduce Church Early
“Alpha is the beginning, not the end,” is a point that Tom believes should be emphasised very early on in the course.
When you’re in Week Three you might want to start introducing what’s happening in the church. Teaching leaders in the Alpha training to be intentional in everything they do and to have a mindset that goes beyond just the course can help with this too.
When it comes to Week Five, you could start introducing serving opportunities in the church or share what the church is doing in the local community and even globally if relevant.
When you’re in Week Six or Seven, it might be good to introduce sung worship to your Alpha sessions in preparation for corporate worship in a Sunday service setting.
Chris adds that you should “use Alpha as a spring board for church involvement,” and also making sure that this intention is emphasised to the rest of your Alpha team.
Introducing the concept of church as the Alpha course progresses can help make the guests’ initial experience of a church service a lot less intimidating and less foreign to them.
3. Follow Ups
WhatsApp groups are a great tool for following up with guests after Alpha. Chris plans follow ups at the beginning of the course and allocates people to groups based on their geographical areas. These Alpha groups then become small groups naturally after the course, that can then be discipled by the church.
Follow ups are vital in encouraging people to get involved in church.
The Alpha weekend as well as follow ups have an important role to play in bringing people together and therefore increasing the chance of continued community after Alpha.
It is also important for people to feel connected to the church throughout the course, as early as possible. This way they can feel that they belong to the church community and it can happen in an organic way as shown by both Chris and Tom.
Helping guest transition into church life is part of the challenge. The other part is getting your church on board with Alpha. We think this article will help: 11 ways leaders can inspire their church to get involved with Alpha