A large group of us went to an Alpha training course in Birmingham in 1994..I believe it was one of the first held outside London.I remember Nicky Gumbel telling the shark joke which is one I have tediously repeated ever since!
Alpha's charismatic emphasis was never hidden and the training was excellent.In fact I found it a very powerful spiritual experience
In view of that it may seem strange that instead of running The Alpha Course we ran a course we had written ourselves called "Just Looking" in a local hotel in Ross on Wye. Less charismatic than the Alpha course we still attracted good numbers and a number of people came to faith and were baptised.
Subsequently over many years we have run Alpha courses in both the churches I have pastored and again we have seen people come to faith and be baptised .
In my experience what works about Alpha or indeed" Just Looking" is not the teaching as such but the ability to talk about faith in a relaxed atmosphere with food ,where people can ask any question they like and know it will be taken seriously,
Above all this Alpha gives the opportunity for relationships to develop with people and through those relationships the love and message of Jesus can be shared. Alpha creates a space for people to talk about faith ,something that's not always easy to find in secular Britain in 2011
In my experience follow up works best where a group that have done the course together stay together in a small group
There are challenges but we certainly intend to keep using the course in the future
As I have stated above the thing that makes Alpha invaluable is the chance to build relationships with people who are not Christians. It really is all about relationships!I
The great danger for Baptist Churches with a membership structure Is that church becomes about the members rather than the gospel and people talk about the rights of members and the ultimate authority of the church meeting.It is possible for church to become little more than a cosy club rather than the people of God on mission!
The lessons we have learned from Alpha have helped us avoid that danger and have been applied in recent years to the whole of our church life. We have tried to share the life of individuals and the life of the local community ,to build relationships ,to put down deep roots locally, to be authentic,to recognise The Lordship of Christ .Alpha was, I think, an important stepping stone on this road.
Then along came Reggie McNeal and Alan Hirsch who for me at least demonstrate what missional church could be all about.. More about that next time..