Having just arrived as the new youth pastor in 2010, Ray Driscoll wanted to connect with the youth in the area that hadn’t had anything to do with church. Alpha was the obvious choice. He launched it at Emmanuel Church which, through word of mouth, quickly grew and kick-started the church's teen ministry. We spoke to Ray about how this led to taking Alpha beyond the walls of the church:
By the end of my first year at the church, Alpha was an integral part of our DNA. At that point, we started to look outwards and think about how we could connect with the community. There were loads of young people in the parish that we weren’t reaching, a large number of whom attended the school down the road, Christ’s College.
We started thinking: why not take Alpha out of the church building and actually into the school?
That was the start of an exciting partnership.
I approached the school and, after a successful trial run, they decided to make Alpha part of the Year 8 RE syllabus. Launching the Alpha Youth Film Series worked right from the word go. Pupils really connected with the videos and we became hosts rather than teachers as we asked what they thought about the topics. It created a totally different environment.
It’s incredible. I have to pinch myself and ask whether we are really running Alpha in a secondary school. We run the first 6 sessions as part of the Year 8 RE lessons and then either run the next 6 in lunch time or invite the youth into our church youth group to finish the series. This model has worked really well and has led to some incredible stories:
Charlie, now in year 9, went through Alpha last year. After doing Alpha he started talking to us at lunchtime and then came along to our youth club. He is now a member of our church community.
"Even when you’re a Christian, you’ve still got questions. Alpha answered a lot of my questions and also many of my friends’ questions when they joined Alpha"
- Charlie aged 14
Cara, now in year 10, had no experience of church. Because of those Alpha sessions in her RE class, we were able to invite her and her friends along to Church, many of whom still attend today.
“We’re used to our lessons exploring what others have once said, but with Alpha it’s more about your opinion and how you feel about things. Religion is a sensitive subject, but definitely in my group of friends now we’ve done Alpha, we talk about our faith and beliefs openly. Alpha was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had; my faith is now important to me, whereas it wasn’t before. I would encourage everyone to do Alpha!”
- Cara aged 15.
By the summer of 2016, the whole school will have done Alpha. In 5 years we would have put 700 students through 6 weeks of Alpha. It’s amazing. And it’s been made possible through us taking a risk and approaching the school. Together, we’ve seen Alpha thrive. It’s the most powerful tool for reaching young people that I’ve come across.
“It’s key to give youth the choice, rather than forcing something on them; we show them options and create an environment where they can freely explore what they believe. The Alpha Youth Film Series is really good at that. It’s key for schools in Britain to include Christianity in the RE syllabus, but cover it in an open way. In terms of Alpha, I think it’s absolutely the right approach for teenagers in Britain today.”
- Mr Stephen Green, Headteacher of the Christ’s College
“One of the objectives of an RE GCSE is that pupils are able to think about what they believe and respond to other people’s beliefs. I find the Alpha Youth Film Series a really helpful time of giving them an opportunity to do that, to really spend time listening to what others think and to process their own beliefs as well.”
– Miss.Wymeersch one of the RE teachers in the school.
I think it’s an invaluable tool to get the youngsters to hear the truth of Jesus in a relevant way and in a way that connects with them. It also acts as a fantastic bridge between schools and the local church.
My advice to anyone looking to approach a school to run Alpha is to start small. Be realistic. Approach the school saying: ‘How can I serve?’, ‘Can I help on trips?’, ‘Can I help on the basketball team?’. In this way, you can earn their trust. Regardless of whether they are a Christian school or completely anti-Christian, they are unlikely to turn you down if you say, ‘I’m a Christian youth worker and I want to serve the school’.
If you’re thinking about running Alpha for youth within a school or if you’re already doing it, get in touch with Luke.Hamilton@alpha.org. We would love to hear all about it!
Most of us will have a connection in a school – with a pupil, a teacher or another member of staff. Think of the potential if we invited them all to #TryAlpha.