Balham Vineyard is a new church plant. They wanted to run Alpha to aid their missional work in the community and to facilitate friendship evangelism among their congregation. They are running Alpha in all of their small groups that meet during the week and encouraging everyone to invite friends along.
Week 8 - How can I tell others? ?
We were quite a small group tonight but agreed that one of our highlights of the weekend was seeing people mix, get to know each other and share more about each other.
Did you notice any differences in your group since the Alpha Weekend?
People definitely seemed more relaxed around each other and you can tell that relationships have deepened. It was a slight challenge making sure the people who hadn’t been on the weekend didn’t feel on the outside. It was lovely to see the group encouraging each other in the discussion time.
How did everyone respond to the episode?
The stories from the episode were all from “normal people” which made them very easy to relate to! We all liked the way that Nicky and Ugo talked about how if the Gospel is good news you will naturally want to share it and get excited about it. We then talked about how we share or what we find difficult about sharing our faith and times we’ve been questioned about it at work.
Where did you host the weekend?
We hosted the alpha weekend at De Vere Hotel in Denham, Uxbridge. It was a great location about an hour from Balham. It was a brilliant venue and we will use it again and again! There were roughly 50 of us at the weekend, the majority of whom have been doing the Alpha film series in small groups and others who are just part of our church.
Were there any differences in using the Alpha Film Series for the weekend?
It was nice showing the videos to the whole Alpha cohort, bringing the groups together and spending 48 hours as a church.
How did people respond to the ministry time after “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit”?
People’s responses were really varied. Some people cried, some people received the gift of tongues and one person decided that she wanted to leave. We tried to facilitate it so that everyone was comfortable and understood what was going on. People are already telling us about the impact this weekend has had on their lives.
Stories from the weekend:
“I came to this hotel 5 years ago to look at it as a potential wedding venue. I was engaged at the time and walking back in was a bit of a shock as my life has changed so much since then. When we invited the Holy Spirit to come at the Alpha Weekend, I found it really difficult and had to leave the room as I had a really painful feeling in my heart. I realised that I’ve been causing myself pain all these years and that I need to let go. I have been putting myself in bad situations for years and but that I can change who I am and my life by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“In the ministry time after “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” I felt the atmosphere change. I was being prayed for and felt God remind me of something that happened about a year ago. At that time, I had been praying for some people I could hang out with and friends I could rely on. God answered my prayer by bringing me into this amazing family.”
“I came along to the Job Club a month ago whilst on Ramadan. I asked one of the people there if they could pray for me and they said, “What can I pray for you for and would you like to come to church on Sunday?”. I came along and loved it so much that I haven’t missed a week since. I can see a very big difference in my life: I’ve started thinking positively and making good choices. At the Alpha Weekend, I had a back issue and a headache. People prayed for me and I was completely healed! I feel so at home here."
"I was visiting a friend who lives in Cardiff and asked if I could go to church with him. I don’t know why I had that feeling as I haven’t been to church in 15 years. I went along and cried all through the talk on forgiveness. Back in London, I went along to Balham Vineyard and felt at home instantly. The main difference in my life is that the anxiety and loneliness in my life has all gone. I really connected with God at the Weekend and I feel totally different."
Week 7 - How can I resist evil?
We had another full house last night with 'cushion on the floor' room only, which is a fab position to be in!
We had dinner together (chicken and lemon tray bake) then moved into the lounge for the film. I reminded people about the weekend and that there is no Alpha on Sunday church next week. Before we started the film I warned people that it was quite 'full on'.
Did your guests agree with what was being said in the episode?
The film was hard hitting and I think maybe took a few people by surprise, even with my mini-warning! I asked the first question and for the first week ever there was stunned silence, in fact I think it took 3 attempts at asking the question before anyone spoke. We then had a really good discussion, with everyone participating.
What conversations were had?
The conversation was much more about ways that we as individuals overcome temptation and walk away from evil. People seemed to find it hard to discuss big topics such as the Rwandan genocide that were raised in the film as they found it hard to connect these big topics of evil with their every day experience.
At the end I asked if people were happy to have a short time of prayer. We agreed to pray prayers of thanks for the way God protects and guides us and for that God would help us resist the enemy and overcome temptation.
What are the dynamics in your group like compared to the first couple of weeks?
The dynamics in the evening groups are always changing as we seem to have different people each week but there is still a deeper level of trust between the regular attendees. In the daytime group, relationships have deepened massively and there’s a great community feel there.
Week 6 - Why and how should I read the Bible?
How are friendships developing?
Last night went really well. We had a slightly smaller group (8 people) and you could definitely sense that people felt more able to share both during the discussion and over dinner. Friendships are definitely being formed and it feels very natural to be meeting together.
How did people respond to the episode?
Everyone seemed to really enjoy this week’s episode. One person commented that it felt much shorter than the others or maybe it was just that they had gotten really into it! It definitely provided food for thought, especially knowing how precious the Bible is in some cultures and how difficult it is to have a Bible, and yet we take it so much for granted in this culture. Favourite parts this week were the story of the two girls smuggling Bibles and the animation where Nicky tells the story about his friend Eric.
Most people in the group are reading the Bible regularly. Some are using apps, others devotional readings and others just picking it up and reading where the page opens. A few people had examples of when they thought God had spoken to them from the Bible and a couple of people commented that they have sometimes been scared or challenged by reading the Bible.
There was a good discussion about whether the Bible is outdated or a manual for life and, although no consensus was reached, the general view was that it is a manual for life. However, some bits (especially the laws) can't be just taken as literal for our modern world.
How are you preparing for the Alpha Weekend?
We reminded people about the Alpha weekend. It is gradually filling up but some people seem to be waiting until the last minute!
Week 5 - Why and how do I pray?
How did people respond to the episode this week?
Everyone loved the video this week. It was very moving and personal and everyone felt that it explained prayer in simple terms. People particularly liked Brother Luigi Gioia, a Benedictine Monk, who said that we don’t need to be in a certain state of mind to pray. Nicky’s honesty about hard times and unanswered prayer also really resonated with the groups.
What conversations were had?
The episode stirred up some brilliant conversations about prayer; everyone was open about things that work and things that they struggle with about prayer. Everyone had a different way of praying so it was good to hear other people’s thoughts about it.
How are the groups developing?
The different groups are becoming like little families, with both ups and downs! You can tell the groups are more comfortable with each and are getting on well over dinner. The discussion groups at the end of the evening seem to go faster every week! In one group, we asked if they were comfortable praying. Everyone was, but that drew us into a discussion about how so often prayer is just about asking for stuff and not thanking God enough. So we agreed that we would have a time of thankful prayer and encouraged anyone who wanted to do so to pray prayers of thanks.
Week 4 - How can I have faith?
How are all the different small groups going?
Everyone's experience is slightly different as the dynamics of the small group depend so much on the characters of the guests! Here are some of the hosts' responses from this week:
“This week’s episode provoked some laughter as well as some really good questions and topics of discussion. A few people shared some personal experiences of their journey of faith, which was brilliant. We also talked a lot about the fear of and love of God and what this means to us. I asked the group to imagine the fear/love question being asked of the vox pops group, or indeed their own family or work colleagues, and that prompted a good discussion about how different people perceive God. The discussion generally flowed better tonight with people opening up more about personal stories and experiences.”
“I really hope that the people attending are happy to discuss the issues raised in Alpha outside of this space. If someone asked 'Hey, I've noticed you keep saying you're busy each Tuesday night. What are you doing?' I'd pray they would answer 'Well, I'm doing this course called Alpha. It explores the Christian faith and it's really interesting'.”
“One girl has really started opening up. She’s already noticed a change in herself over the last month which she puts down to God and coming to church and Alpha!”
“There are definitely some cheesy, funny moments (which make me chuckle!). We all find it enjoyable, entertaining and it keeps our interest. We liked seeing Nicky and Pippa and hearing about their story (especially watching Nicky learn to chop asparagus!) and likening it to a relationship with God. After the episode, we had good chats about our experiences and how God's changed us.”
Week 3 - Why did Jesus die?
How are the groups developing?
The groups are developing well. There tend to be a few people away across the various groups but each one tends to have about eight people. Dinner, coffee and cake is a huge hit and conversation is very easy and relaxed.
It’s been good to see different relationships form amongst the groups. People are beginning to get to know each other and are sharing backgrounds, stories, plans and hopes for the future. One group even talked about having their own trip away as a social!
How did people respond to this week's episode?
This week’s film was very hard hitting. I think after the first two episodes, people were not prepared for how serious and emotional Episode 3 would be. By the end there was hardly a dry eye in the room and it took a few minutes for people to compose themselves before we started the discussion. As a result, the discussion felt much more honest and open. I'm glad we'd had the previous two weeks to get to know each other a little bit so that people felt comfortable being open, which I think they did.
Holding it in a home also helps to make it more relaxed and less threatening to people who aren’t regular church-goers. Consequently, the sessions feel more intimate and conversations flow more easily.
Is there any difference in using the Alpha Film Series?
The Alpha Film Series is definitely more accessible and relevant for us than the live talks or recorded videos. The videos are easy to watch and keep all the guests engaged through the use of different people and settings. The fact that we can send people the link to a particular week if they are unable to come means that no-one misses out on any of the content.
Week 2 - Why did Jesus die?
Once again, our small groups met in different homes across Balham. We were excited to see who would come back and how they would engage with the topics raised.
What guests were here this week?
One small group had three new people join, one move to a different group and one person not able to come. One of the new people had found us on the Alpha website by looking up her nearest Alpha course. Her boyfriend is a Christian and recommended she try Alpha to find out a bit more – she came with brilliant questions and really wants to explore faith.
How did people respond to the episode?
The episode got a lot of laughs this week and I think it works really well as a communication tool. To combine visuals, stories, discussion and the booklet is a powerful way to explain the Christian faith.
This week, we looked at “Who is Jesus?”. The video was insightful and combined lots of factual evidence, such as Alister McGrath explaining textual criticism. Guests are enjoying hearing from people who really know what they are talking about as well as the interviews of random people in the street. It does well to address the different points of view and backgrounds that the audience might have.
What conversations were had?
There were some really interesting answers to the questions asked. One of the best questions was, “If you had a chance to meet Jesus, how would you feel and what would you say to him?”. The answers varied from, “I think I’d say sorry as I didn’t believe him”, to “I’d ask him to marry me!”, to “I’m not sure I’d know it was him!”. Conversations across the small groups have been pretty open and honest. When positions differ, people are respectful and don’t claim to have the ‘right answer’.
We’re looking forward to next week and looking at “Why did Jesus die?”.
Week 1 - Is there more to life than this?
We are a new church plant with around seventy core members at the moment. We are definitely a church ‘on mission’ and our aim is to see thousands of people from Balham and beyond enter into a relationship with Jesus. We thought what better way to do this than to run Alpha as a church and open up the invitation for anyone and everyone to join us!
How did you launch your Alpha?
We hosted our Alpha launch party at the Bedford Pub in Balham in late April where we had live music, free buffet food, a short talk about what Alpha is and a story from someone who had been on it before. We had nearly fifty people attend with a number of people who don’t normally go to church too.
We made the decision to run Alpha using the Alpha film series for our church in a number of different locations across the area, including people’s homes. We launched Week 1 with five evening groups running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as well as a morning Alpha at our community centre on Friday. All the group hosts and helpers are part of our church and came to the Run Alpha 16 conference as well as the training evening we ran at our house before the course started.
Who came on week 1?
Around sixty people had signed up for the course across the six groups and most of them came this week. Lots of the people signed up are from church and already have a faith but there are also work colleagues, someone’s parents, someone who saw the leaflet in the library, someone from the Job Club that we run, a random internet sign up (who ended up having mutual friends with some of the group members) and someone via the Alpha website.
What was the response to Episode 1?
The response to Episode 1 of the Alpha Film Series was really positive. It was really engaging and kept everyone’s attention. People were impressed with the quality of the films and they definitely left people with wanting more!
Here are some responses from our small group leaders:
“We had a good first group: good food, great film and fascinating discussion. Before the film we did the 'name game' and although it was a little awkward to start with, it worked really well as a relaxed icebreaker. After the film we opened up the two recommended questions to all. After some silence, I repeated the question and conversation took off: suffering, evil, predestination, heaven and free will!”
"People found the 'What would you ask God?' question really interesting and we made sure that we wrote down everyone’s questions so that they know we’re planning to do our best to answer them over the next few sessions. We also asked if there was anything in Episode 1 of the Alpha Film Series that people hadn’t thought about before or found interesting, such as Bear Gryll’s explanation of his faith or Francis Collins, the American scientist looking for evidence for Christianity. That generated more good discussion."
We are also picking up the topics from each Alpha week during our Sunday services and going “deeper”. Our aim is to welcome any Alpha guests who may turn up on a Sunday as well as encourage our church community to connect with the materials themselves. The talks are shorter, punchier, story-based and point the audience to Jesus.