St Sepulchre’s are running Alpha for people in the City of London to come to after work. They decided to use the Alpha Film Series as it presents the Alpha content in a new and engaging way.
Week 11 - What about the church?
What stories have emerged from running Alpha?
Week 11 and our journey through the Alpha Film Series has finished but, as we discovered this evening, the journey of faith for some of our guests is just beginning. It was so encouraging to hear many of our guests talk about their faith coming alive.
One guy said he wouldn't have called himself a Christian before he started Alpha and now he would. He came on Alpha because one of his old school teachers had suggested it to him when they met a few months ago after many years.
Another woman had had a faith when she was younger. Now she's rediscovered her faith and has started coming to church on a Sunday.
Another woman said she'd also really understood for the first time what being in a relationship with God was all about. She came on Alpha because she was given a flyer invite on the street.
That's not to say that this was the case for all our guests. One at the moment doesn't really think the Christian faith is for him. However, I think that's a great mark of how non-threatening Alpha is. It provides an opportunity to explore the Christian faith but with no pressure.
How did your final Alpha session go?
We ended our evening tonight with a barbecue which was a great way to finish. We'll meet up again as a group in just over a month and, in the meantime, guests who want to are joining Discipleship Groups in the church.
What has been your overall impression of using the Alpha Film Series?
Overall, we've loved using the Alpha Film Series and the guests have really enjoyed it too. We'll definitely be using the films again for our next Alpha and would recommend them to anyone who's going to be running Alpha in the future.
Week 10 - Does God heal today?
Week 10 and our topic for this week was ‘Does God heal today?’. The film had lots of amazing stories about how people had been healed after someone prayed for them. As it would be difficult to put this down to just coincidence it really made the guests engage with the topic.
Did people share anything they needed healing for?
Once the film was finished we demonstrated how simple it is to pray for someone who would like to be healed. We then gave the guests the opportunity to have a go at praying for others. Each guest prayed out loud which was really wonderful. Prayers were said for tennis elbow and an eye problem as well as praying for other sick people known to the guests and team. It will be great to hear the testimonies of what has happened next week.
What was the response to this topic?
After we had prayed we had some time to talk about healing. Questions were asked about whether someone could be healed by God without being prayed for, whether healing only took place if the person being prayed for had faith and why some people were healed and others weren’t. Great questions to ask and to discuss! Our time was over all too soon. At least there’s next week but I can’t believe that we’ve only got one week to go before Alpha is finished.
Week 9 - How can I resist evil?
How did people respond to the episode?
This week’s topic was about resisting evil. The most commented on part of the film was the man who said that his greatest temptation was women whilst being filmed staring at two attractive women as they walked past! This caused quite some amusement.
In the discussion time we started off asking the guests who had come how they’d found the Alpha Day. They were all overwhelming positive about their experiences and smiled a lot when recalling the day. This also encouraged those who hadn’t been able to make the day to attend the upcoming Alpha Day at HTB so they don’t miss out.
What conversations were had after the episode?
After talking about the Alpha Day we then talked about why bad things happen. I thought it was really interesting that much of what was said by the guests was based on the premise that bad things happen as a result of what human beings do, whereas in earlier weeks I think that if this topic had been talked about the focus of the discussion would have been more on why God allows bad things to happen. The guests all liked the last part of the film which talked about the armour of God and I think that this is something they will go away with to think about more.
Have you seen any differences in your guests after Alpha Day?
We’ve now only two weeks of Alpha left. After the Alpha Day, it seems as if there has been a gear change in some of the guests' approach to the Christian faith. One of the team said it was a bit like they had written their name in wet cement. So over the next two weeks we are hoping that the guests will feel more assured in the steps of faith they have taken in such a way that they will know for certain that God is real and they are in a relationship with Him.
Last weekend we had our Alpha Day. All of our guests who had been planning to come were able to make it which was great and we teamed up with another church, St Gabriel's Cricklewood, to make a larger group. This helped to create a buzz as the guests realised they are part of something bigger.
Were your guests worried about the day? How were these fears alleviated?
Some of the guests were a little bit nervous about coming along as they were unsure of what to expect but they relaxed once they saw that everyone was really friendly and that there were tasty croissants and coffee on offer for breakfast!
What did the day look like?
The day consisted of a series of films focusing on the Holy Spirit and discussion to reflect on what had been said in the films. We also had some brilliant worship led by two incredibly talented singers from King’s Cross Church.
In the first two episodes of the Alpha Film Series we looked at "Who is the Holy Spirit?" and "What does the Holy Spirit do?". They were both incredibly well-produced and very moving. They conveyed how powerfully the Holy Spirit can transform lives in a clear and compelling way.
Our main discussion time focused on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and the subject of spiritual gifts. Two of our guests were not familiar with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they were both interested to hear more about them. One guest shared his experience of receiving certain gifts and described how he had seen other people healed. Much of the discussion time focused on the gift of tongues and we unpacked what this gift is all about.
How did guests respond to the time of ministry?
We packed the films in and the third one of the morning was entitled “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?". Afterwards there was a time of prayer ministry and, if guests wanted to, they could commit themselves to Jesus and ask to receive the Holy Spirit. There was no pressure to do so. All of our guests were brave enough to receive prayer and one guest received the gift of singing in tongues which he had not received before.
We all had a well-earned breather after this with some yummy lasagna. The EU election results were published only the day before and so we chewed over the possible implications of this result.
In the afternoon we watched one final film covering a somewhat sizeable topic: “How can I make the most of the rest of my life?”. Nicky Gumbel discussed the importance of living for Christ and trying to not conform to the patterns of the world. After this film there was a final opportunity for prayer.
The guests said that they had enjoyed the day and found it interesting. One guest said she felt completely relaxed and zen. It’ll be great to hear their reflections on Alpha Day next week once they’ve had a chance to digest the day’s events.
Week 8 – Why and how should I tell others?
Week 8 covered the topic of "Why and how should I tell others?". The presenters, Gemma and Toby, discussed our natural instinct to share good news with others and some of the best approaches in talking about our faith. Nicky Gumbel’s account of how he told his now wife Pippa that “she looked awful” shortly after becoming a Christian was a particularly memorable moment!
Did your guests agree with what was being said in the episode this week?
The guests had differing thoughts about the idea of telling others about their faith or their exploration of Christianity. For some it came naturally and freely, but for others it was more challenging. This partly depended on how receptive they thought the people they were telling would be. A couple of the guests found the idea of telling their family members particularly daunting, especially as they are uncertain about what they themselves believe.
What are the dynamics in your group like compared to the first couple of weeks?
The dynamic of the group has changed quite a bit since the beginning of the course. In the first couple of weeks there was less consistency in who was able to make it - but now we have the same guests returning every week and we’ve benefited from this continuity. Everyone is much more relaxed and those who were initially shy about speaking up now have much more confidence to do so.
It was great that some of us were able to catch-up in the pub afterwards and I’m looking forward to getting to know more of the guests better on the Alpha Day this weekend.
Week 7 - How does God guide us?
I can’t believe we’re at week 7 already - the course is going so fast! We started this week with some yummy chocolate snacks and a little bit of fruit on the side to make ourselves feel healthier! Before the film we had a lively discussion about the England match and the news stories of the day. A lot of our guests were able to make the session which was really encouraging.
How did your guests respond to the idea that God guide us?
The topic of the film this week was “How does God guide us?”. It was great hearing so many testimonies and we all agreed that Paul Cowley’s story was particularly moving. In the discussion time afterwards our guests shared accounts of how they felt God has been guiding them over the last few weeks. Several of the guests felt that God had prompted them to come to Alpha.
I think everyone is increasingly seeing faith as a journey and the guests felt comforted by the idea of only having to take small steps at a time. Some guests were unsure of whether God has a plan for their life, but there was a general consensus that if God does have a plan then it is a good one.
How have the group dynamics changed since you started Alpha?
Over the past seven weeks our group has become closer. The guests are more relaxed and increasingly share their personal experiences openly and rely less on the leader to prompt the discussion. Our trips to the pub at the end of Alpha have also helped us to get to know the guests a lot better. I'm really looking forward to the double whammy that is week 8 and our Alpha Day next week!
Week 6 - Why and how should I read the Bible?
What did you enjoy about the episode this week?
This week on the Alpha Film Series we looked at the topic of the Bible. There was an interview with two women who had spent 9 months in prison for being Christians and giving out bibles in their country. It made me remember how fortunate I am not to be in a country where I could be arrested for my faith. One of the guests commented on the story, in particular on the women's courage, in the discussion afterwards.
What discussions were had among the guests?
Another aspect of the discussion which was interesting was a question about how you deal with the difficult bits of the Bible or the parts that are harder to accept. In the episode, Toby used the analogy of the Bible being like a jigsaw: sometimes you put the easier pieces in place and then work on putting the harder pieces in their place afterwards. One of the guests particularly liked this analogy and I got the impression that the guests went away with a lot to think over.
How are you preparing for your Alpha Day/Alpha Weekend?
In a couple of Saturdays time we are planning to have an Alpha Day where we will look at the topic of the Holy Spirit. We are joining with another church who is also running Alpha and using the Alpha Film Series. It's always really great to get together with other Alphas for an Alpha Day. It helps to pool resources and I think it helps the guests to know that there are other people who are doing Alpha as well as them. It can seem a bit tricky to get guests to give up one of their summer Saturdays especially when everyone's lives are so busy. However, we will do everything we can to encourage them to attend as we know that for many guests the Alpha Day turns out to be the highlight of Alpha.
Week 5 - Why and how do I pray?
What were the guests' responses to prayer?
This week's episode was on prayer. In the discussion afterwards, when the guests were asked if they had ever prayed, one guest said that over the past couple of weeks he had been taking time at the end of the day to pray about his day and what lay ahead of him tomorrow. He said that he'd found he was sleeping a lot better as a result. Then another guest said that she had also started praying since coming on Alpha. She'd found that she no longer has the chest pains that she gets when she is stressed. So that was a really positive start to the discussion!
As we talked further it was clear that a lot of doubts still remain (for example, do you just feel better because you've vocalised how you're feeling, is prayer akin to 'mindfulness', etc.) but it was great to see that the guests were really thinking about prayer as they discussed their views.
What would you recommend to someone else using the Alpha Film Series?
We're now nearly half way through the Alpha Film Series and have already decided to use it again next term. A great thing about the film series is that you can use it in all sorts of contexts and at different times of the day to best suit you. This time we have run it so that guests can come along for an hour in the early evening straight from work and next time we are planning to start a bit later in the evening so that those who struggle to get away from work by 6.30pm can come too. We think it’s worth thinking about the time of day and setting that will work best for those who are likely to come at the outset. Once you’ve worked that out the rest of the details fall into place much more easily!
Week 4 - How can I have faith?
Week 4 of Alpha seems to have come around so quickly! This week always seems to be an important one in the guests’ decision making as to whether they are going to keep going with Alpha or not. Everyone has so much else going on in life - work, family commitments, etc. So in advance of this week we were praying that the guests would be really excited about coming back and would actually be there. The good news is that some did, including someone who hadn’t been there on the previous week. It was also lovely that most of the other guests who didn’t make it got in contact to say that they would be back in future weeks.
How did your guests approach this week's topic?
At the start of each week’s episode there seems to be a sense of anticipation about what will be included in the film for the week. This week’s topic was faith which is a really challenging subject. In the discussion time after the episode some guests felt that putting your faith in something and how easy you find doing that depends on your personality. One person suggested that it might just require multiple smaller steps instead of making one big leap.
What's been your highlight of Alpha so far?
Our conversations continued afterwards and we talked about faith becoming knowledge. It’s always such a highlight to go to the pub after each Alpha session because that seems to be the place where we get to know the guests better. It’s always so interesting to hear more of why someone has come on Alpha, their story and what their thoughts about what we’ve heard and discussed so far.
Week 3 - Why did Jesus die?
Week 3 of Alpha rolled around and it was another warm sunny day so the ice-cream and mocktails were perfect. The ginger beer mocktail seems to be a firm favourite! Several of the guests arrived early so we had chance to have a catch-up before the film.
What topics of conversation were covered this week?
The topic of Week 3 was ‘Why did Jesus die?’ and our discussion time focused on forgiveness. The guests were great at coming up with lots of different ways to think about forgiveness and the conversation brought out lots of questions. The guests are becoming increasingly happy to open up and share their personal experiences which is really helping to build community within the group. Also, almost all the guests have now joined us for a drink at a local pub and this is helping to cement friendships. It’s a shame that a few of the guests from last week weren’t there, but hopefully they’ll be able to come back in the coming weeks. We had a couple of new guests join this week so hopefully they will now become regulars as well.
So far our alpha course is running really smoothly and there have been no major hiccups. Several members of our congregation have been brilliant at hosting every week and have made sure that everything runs smoothly. I partly expected there to have been a technical hitch by now, but so far there’s been no problems there!
Have there been any differences in using the Alpha Film Series?
It’s been interesting to compare the Alpha Film Series to live talks given on previous Alpha’s. This new format has definitely enabled more content to be packed into each session and I’ve found the graphics and visuals aids really help to focus my attention. Getting to hear so many personal stories is really adding to the richness of the course and the personal account of the reformed convict this week was incredibly moving. A few of our guests struggled to understand Corrie Ten Boom’s accent, but we were able to explain what she had said during the discussion time. I’m looking forward to see who’s going to be interviewed next week!
Week 2 - Who is Jesus?
What were you looking forward to this week?
In advance of week 2 I was really looking forward to the chance to get know everyone better by continuing discussions and hearing how everyone’s weeks had been. I was also hoping that some new people would turn up and that I would get a chance to chat more to those I’d only briefly met last week. I was interested to see where the episode for week 2 had been filmed and who was going to be interviewed this week. Finally, I was hoping that the sun would shine so we could all enjoy the mocktails and ice cream on a warm sunny day!
The sun did shine (hooray!) and most of the guests who were there on week 1 came back. There were a few guests who couldn’t make it this week, but they let us know in advance they’d be back on future weeks. They were all really positive about their week 1 experience when they got in contact. One person didn’t return without letting us know she wouldn’t be there which we were sad about, but Alpha is all about no pressure and no follow up so we’ll just wait and see if she returns in future weeks.
We also had a new person join us, which was great. So we still had a good-sized group with lots of discussion. There were some great questions and thoughts – “What would Jesus say in our culture today; would his message have changed?”, “Why didn’t Jesus say clearly that slavery was wrong?”, “Why did God send a son and not a daughter?”, “How strong is the evidence for Jesus’ existence?” etc.
How are guests finding the Alpha Film Series?
The Alpha Film Series is going down really well. The “expert” slots are great because they give even more credibility to what is being said. Last week, Francis Collins’ interview was really though-provoking. This week, it seemed that the strength of the evidence for the existence of Jesus and the New Testament made a real impact on some of the guests. I wonder who’ll be on the next episode – I might have a sneak peek before next week!
Week 1 - Is there more to life than this?
Who are you running Alpha for?
Fast forward to Week 1: we’re running Alpha in our church building which is located in the City of London between 6.30pm and 7.30pm (snacks from 6.15pm), aiming for people to come straight from work but to still have time to go out/get home/get back to their desk afterwards. In the past we have run Alpha at different times of the day (including at lunch time) but this is the first time we have tried the after work/pre-dinner slot so it will be interesting to see how it goes. This is also the first time we’ve used the Alpha Film Series instead of live or filmed talks.
The team started to arrive from 5.30pm and soon there was a hive of activity with rooms being set up, food being prepared, final tech checks, last minute team briefing, etc. Week 1 can be quite hectic with the team working out what needs doing, but it always gets better as the weeks go on. On week 1, it’s definitely worth having some spare friendly spare people who can be around to help out and chat to people.
You never know quite how many people to expect on the first few weeks of Alpha. Via alpha.org/run and the church website we had enquiries from about eighteen people in advance, but it’s hard to know if they’ll actually come. Someone emailed on the day to say that he couldn’t make it as he was being sent abroad for his job. At this point, I have to admit I was briefly concerned that perhaps no one would come.
The first guest arrived at 6pm, so a bit early. Others then followed. People had come to Alpha for all different reasons: someone had been invited along by a work colleague; another invited by their neighbour; someone had moved to London a couple of years ago, had got a job, house, etc. and now wanted to think about life’s big questions; someone wanted to know about the Christian faith so she could answer her daughter’s questions; someone who had started going to church but still had a lot of questions; and someone who had been thinking about doing Alpha and was given a flyer on the street. In the end we had ten guests, so went for one discussion group with four hosts/helpers.
At 6.30pm, after a quick welcome and intro, we dived straight into week 1 of the Film Series. The video was attention grabbing and engaging. One of the guests commented afterwards how good the production quality was. The film itself was just under 25 minutes long and so not too long and not too short.
How did the discussion group go?
The film was followed by the discussion time. As suggested in the Leaders’ Guide we started with the name game and soon everyone started to know each other’s names. To help us along we also used stickers for name badges which we will continue to do for the first few weeks at least. Questions which cropped up were, “Why is it so difficult to know what is or isn’t the truth?”, “Why do some people go to heaven/hell?”, “Why is there so much suffering?”, “Why do some people have harder lives than others?”, “Why are there different religions?”, “Why does God answer some prayers and not others?” and “Why did God create a predatory environment/system where animals eat other animals?”
As the suffering question came up from a few guests we started talking about that and then the conversation moved onto the tension between the idea of God being in control of everything but us still having free will. The conversation was getting nicely warmed up when all too soon it was 7.30pm. So we stuck to time by ending the discussion then, thanked everyone for coming, said we hoped to see them next week and invited anyone who wanted to join us for a drink at a local pub afterwards.