St Gabriel’s Cricklewood decided to use the Alpha Film Series to run Alpha as they wanted to try out a new and an exciting format to see how it works. Their course has a wide audience – people who want to know more about Jesus, people who have just started attending the church, colleagues and friends of church members who have been invited and people who see publicity material and decide to come along.
Week 9 - How can I resist evil?
How did people respond to the episode? Were there any highlights?
The guests enjoyed the episode a lot, especially the real life examples. The story of the man who had been in a coma and woke up with a completely different attitude seemed to really strike a lot of the guests. The idea of good and evil being part of everyday life was new to some of the guests.
What conversations were had this week, before and after the episode?
We spoke a lot about temptation and how different people respond to different temptations. It was interesting to reflect that some people weren't bothered by particular vices whereas others really struggled. As ever, the group was very supportive of each other and encouraging in thinking through practical steps to resist. They all appreciated the strength that can only come from Jesus to help us in resisting.
What do you want your guests to get out of Alpha in the final two weeks?
It would be fantastic if the final week consolidates everything the guests have learned so far and it be a chance to ask any questions they haven't been brave enough to raise so far. It would also be great to talk about next-steps: ideally we can get a plan in place to meet again as a group in the not-too-distant future and some longer-term plans for each guest to continue on their journey.
Week 8 - Why and how should I tell others?
How did your guests respond to the idea of telling others?
The guests were enthusiastic about the idea of sharing what they have learnt with others. We discussed how different people can react in different ways and the approaches we can take to engage others.
All of our guests have been open with friends and family about being on Alpha and are already thinking about who they can ask to come to the next course! They expressed a desire to be better prepared to answer people's questions as they are having conversations so we're thinking about what steps they might take after Alpha.
What are the dynamics in your group like compared to the first couple of weeks?
The dynamics within the group are much more relaxed and comfortable than they were at the start. The guests now know more about each other and are happy sharing their thoughts and views. They are very supportive of each other and seem to enjoy spending time as a group. They are always keen to find out how each other's weeks have been and are interested in what is going on in each other's lives. The dynamic now is more akin to a group of friends meeting to catch up than strangers doing a course together!
Week 7 - How does God guide us?
How did you start this week’s session?
This week we started the session with a meal and a chat over our food. The guests feel relaxed with each other and are able to share all sorts of things with each other about what is going on in their lives. The food definitely helps to give people something to focus on and it is a practical blessing to many of our guests who are coming straight from work.
How did people respond to the idea that God guides us?
People were really open to this idea and shared some stories of how God had shown them an unexpected path or decision he was encouraging them to take. We had some discussion about how it isn't always easy to know when a word or sign is from God and how we need to use our discernment to evaluate what's really going on.
What are your reflections over the last seven weeks?
It's been a great course for us so far! We've had quite a few people come along for different parts of the course but we've had a good core group who have been able to get to know each other and form real bonds. It's been good to have the film series as a resource to give a different slant to the usual speakers we have. Others within the church, who are not involved in Alpha, have been asking to see the Film Series so it is clearly popular!
Week 6 - Why and how should I read the Bible?
Are you seeing friendships develop between your Alpha guests as time goes on?
Yes! Our guests are bonding really well. They are getting to know and trust each other. Every week, they are starting to open up more about their experiences and feelings. Some of the topics we are discussing are personal and sensitive so it's really encouraging to see people being honest when they are speaking about their views. The guests are really supportive of one another and always try to build each other up when the opportunity arises.
What was your favourite part of the episode this week?
The guests' favourite part of the episode was when Nicky shared his experience of being pointed to a specific part of the Bible and then having that reinforced another three times before really accepting it! Everyone in the group recognised an element of themselves in this and it was encouraging to share stories of our need for certainty and how the Bible can speak into difficult situations.
I liked the section about some of the challenges of finding the best time and place to read the Bible (rather than falling asleep whilst reading it in bed!). This led to a really good conversation about some of the practical solutions different people in the group had found.
How have you been encouraging guests to book on to your Alpha Day/Alpha Weekend?
Our Alpha Day will be on 25th June and we've been telling guests about it from week 1! Guests are interested in coming along. No one has said that they don't want to take part, but some seem a little apprehensive about what the day will look like, what's going to happen etc. We've been able to share lots of good stories of people who have been on Alpha and have said the day away has been the highlight so we're optimistic that everyone will make it.
Week 5 - Why and how do I pray?
What conversations did you have about prayer?
The episode this week prompted lots of different questions about prayer. We talked about unanswered prayer and the struggles some of the group have had with this in the past. We also spoke about times for prayer - whether it is something people do regularly or only when they feel the need. Some people spoke about prayer as having a conversation with a friend whereas others feel it is a more formal relationship than that. There was broad agreement in the group that we should all remember to thank God before making our requests. We had an opportunity for guests to pray out loud at the end of the discussion and many of them were courageous enough to take this step!
Are you seeing any changes in your Alpha guests?
Guests are becoming more and more confident in voicing their views and more relaxed as they feel part of a group of friends. Everyone is also becoming more and more open to the messages in the films and are finding answers to their questions. As the group becomes more trusting of each other, they are eager to share their stories with one another. They are also providing support and answers for each other as they each have a different perspective and point of view to bring.
What would be your advice to someone else using the Alpha Film Series to run Alpha?
I would highly recommend the film series! It's been great for us so far. In terms of practicalities it's worth thinking about how and where you are going to show it and whether you will need to download each episode in advance or stream it online. If you are going to stream it, it is useful to check that your broadband can manage this without buffering. The episodes cover a lot of content in a short space of time, which is great and allows more time for discussion. Some guests might be interested in watching the films again so it's helpful to be able to share the links or downloads.
Week 4 - How can I have faith?
My main prayer request for Alpha at the moment is for our guests to continue to come along each week and for all of them to grow closer to God during the course. The guests get along really well and friendships are developing between them. This makes the atmosphere more relaxed as they look forward to seeing each other and catching up from one week to the next.
Are your guests enjoying the Alpha Film Series?
Our guests have been full of praise for the films! They have particularly enjoyed the range of different formats in the episodes, with different people speaking. The group was especially touched by some of the real life stories from people who have had their lives changed by Jesus. These real life examples have provided good starters for discussion as guests have reflected on what it would have been like to be in some of these different scenarios.
What's been your highlight?
This week, one of the guests said that they had made a prayer of commitment during the film last week. That's my highlight of Alpha so far! I was a little apprehensive about how the prayer would work with the film format but it was really natural. This is what Alpha is all about.
Week 3 - Why did Jesus die?
Our guests this term have been from a really wide range of age groups, backgrounds and experiences. It's been fantastic getting to know them all individually but also wonderful to see guests building relationships with each other. St Gabriel's is well-known for its food and hospitality, and conversations between guests have grown more easy and comfortable as we've eaten together and spent more time in each other’s company. This makes it easier for the guests to open up in the discussion time and speak freely about their questions and concerns.
Have you faced any challenges?
The biggest challenge we've experienced has been a group of extra, brand new guests arriving very late last week! Four guests came through the door ten minutes before the close of our session on Tuesday and, despite a slight panic, God provided. Two of the team were able to welcome the group, talk to them about Alpha and St Gabriel's and explain how the course runs. Having the first episode of the film series available online means that we can easily share an introduction with our new guests.
What's different about using the Alpha Film Series?
Usually at St Gabriel's we have live talks from a number of different people within our church. Using the Alpha Film Series has meant that we haven't needed to organise or arrange those speakers because the film series is ready to go! The films are shorter than the live talks which means that we have been able to spend a little more time in group discussions and we've also been able to close the sessions a little earlier, making it more accessible for those with caring responsibilities. The Film Series really opens up and makes it easier to run Alpha in different ways: at home or in the workplace.
Week 2 - Who is Jesus?
In the run up to Week 2 of our Alpha we were excited to see if our guests would come back for the next session and whether other guests might join us. As a team, and as a church, we had been praying for Alpha over the last week as well as praying for the guests who had come along for Week 1. We also continued to promote Alpha and had interviews with guests who did the course last term. These interviews worked really well and were so encouraging for people who are considering coming on the course as well as for the Alpha team!
Did you have the same guests this week?
In the end we had a much bigger group of people with us for Week 2. There was a real range of ages and stories - one lady had come to the course after an invitation from someone she met on a bus! The conversation over our meal was easy and everyone joined in; the guests are already starting to feel like a group who know each other.
What conversations were had in the discussion time?
After watching the Episode 2 of the Alpha Film Series we had a good discussion about the issues raised. Interestingly, there were some areas of unanimous agreement across the group, but other views were wholly different. This gave the group a lot to consider and think about. Most of the guests who were with us confirmed that they would be back next week and those who can't are going to return the following week.
So far, the Film Series has been great! The format is much more relaxed and it's been really useful for guests to know that they can watch the episode again if they would like to. Guests are able to express their views freely without worrying that they are "disagreeing" with the speaker because, in this instance, the speaker isn't in the room! We're looking forward to Episode 3 next week.
Week 1 - Is there more to life than this?
Preparation for the Alpha course at St Gabriel's has been in full swing for a number of weeks now! We've been pulling together a great team to support the course in many different ways: producing publicity materials, praying, planning rotas of all sorts (music, cooking, front of house, setting up, packing down) and of course talking to people about Alpha to get them excited about the new film series.
How have you been promoting Alpha?
To promote the new course, and the new way we are running it, we've had a number of interviews with Alpha guests from last term during our usual Sunday services, alongside showing the trailer for the series. The new format has generated a lot of interest within the church. Many people at St Gabriel's have done our Alpha course in the past so the new innovation is really exciting for us as a church.
The core team running our course includes our Children, Youth and Families minister who will be leading a small group discussion, a long-standing member of the church who came to St Gabriel's through Alpha (also involved in a small group discussion), a newer member of our church who has done Alpha in a previous church (doing front of house), our Worship and Community Minister who will be leading on providing music, our amazing kitchen team (two church members who are great friends and love working together) and me (who also came to St Gabriel's through Alpha). Lots of other people are involved in different ways but this is the main team. All of us have been involved in running Alpha before, but not all at St Gabriel's and we've never all worked together before - so it's a great chance to get to know people better by being in a team.
What guests turned up this week?
We had fourteen people altogether and some really interesting conversations. The group was a mixture of people who want to do Alpha themselves and people who had come to support a friend or family member doing Alpha. The first episode of the Alpha Film Series went down really well with everyone! There were lots of comments about the easy access to some of the big questions we all have. People particularly liked the vox pops sections where we heard from people on the streets.
Our conversations afterwards were hilarious. We focused on the questions recommended in the Alpha manual and my answer to the question, “What would you ask God?” was "What did Jesus say when he hit his finger with a hammer? He was a carpenter so it must have happened..." At the end of the evening there was a lot of enthusiasm for continuing on into next week so we're hoping to see guests coming back again, and looking forward to the second instalment of the Film Series!