Prayer and the Alpha Small Group
The following is an excerpt from "How to Run the Alpha Course:Telling Others" available at Alpha Resources.
Pastor Dutch Sheets wrote: “Evangelism without prayer is like a grenade without a detonator. Prayer without evangelism is like a detonator without a grenade.” Prayer lies at the heart of the success of any Alpha course and many churches have testified to the dramatic improvement in the success of their course when they have started to pray for it. There are five situations where praying for Alpha is particularly appropriate.
1. Leaders and Helpers Pray for the Individuals in Their Small Group
As well as committing to the 10 weeks of the Alpha course and the Weekend Away, the Alpha Leaders and helpers are responsible for praying regularly for the guests in their group, ideally daily during personal prayer time. We recommend that two Leaders and two Helpers are recruited to look after eight guests, so each Leader and helper may like to take responsibility for praying for two guests. The Leaders and Helpers are in the best position to pray as they are aware of the needs of each individual as the Alpha course progresses.
2. Leaders and Helpers Pray Together for Their Small Group
In addition, the Leaders and Helpers of each small group can meet together, maybe before church on Sunday or some other suitable time to pray for the course. This will help to unite the leadership team of the small group and to reinforce the individual prayer referred to above.
3. Leaders and Helpers Pray Together Immediately Prior to the Course
It is helpful for the whole Alpha team to meet each week before the guests arrive for a team briefing and prayer meeting. The items for prayer are largely self-defining: i.e., the Weekend Away, the Alpha Celebration Suppers, and so forth. This is particularly important for the session “Does God Heal Today?,” as the team can wait on the Lord for words of knowledge, pictures, and so on. These can then be read out after the talk and people who respond to them can be offered prayer.
4. Prayer in Week 4: “Why and How Do I Pray?”
During the session, “Why and How Do I Pray?” guests are given a theology, model, and practice for prayer. This relates primarily to personal prayer, which is a good starting point as people come into relationship with God. As prayer establishes itself in people’s lives, it should be possible to start praying together in the small group. Do not try to introduce prayer to the small group until the end of this session at the earliest. You may find that your group is not ready to pray together until after the sessions on the Holy Spirit. If possible try to pray together at least once prior to the talk, “Does God Heal Today?”
Tips for praying together in the small groups
Don’t rush this! Be sensitive to where people are spiritually. If you are going to open the session in prayer, then we suggest saying something like, “I have asked John to open in prayer” so that the other guests will not be afraid that the Leader might ask them to pray without giving notice at some time in the future. Remember that praying out loud for the first time can be quite an intimidating experience.
When you feel that the group is ready to pray, suggest that the group splits into triplets of all men or all women to pray. This makes it easier for people. The faith of the small group can be built up by feeding back answers to prayer.
When you start to pray in the small group, don’t pray your longest and most eloquent prayer. The guests will feel that they could never do that—and then they won’t! Pray a short, simple prayer and the guest will be encouraged to think, “Well I could do better than that,” and then they will!
One of the Leaders or Helpers should refrain from praying, showing the group that it is all right not to pray aloud.
5. Praying for Alpha as a Church
While it is important that those who are leading and helping on Alpha are praying for the course, we also try to encourage the whole church to pray for the Alpha course. We have found that an open corporate prayer meeting held weekly on a different day to the Alpha course works well. The agenda covers all areas of the life of the church but one of the regular items is prayer for evangelism and Alpha.
This weekly prayer meeting is an integral part of church life and incorporates times of worship. Anna Davies has run a number of Alpha courses in England. She writes: “We have put a lot of effort into trying to run the past few Alpha courses really well but had seen very little come of it by way of new Christians being born. However, the prayer meetings, which began nine months ago, have provided an opportunity for more united, consistent prayer for Alpha and we are now seeing on this present Alpha course a significant change. Nearly every one of the 24 people on the course are not Christian and there is an atmosphere of genuine openness to the Gospel. We are aware of God being more present in a way that He has not been before and very importantly, He seems to be peeling off some of the things in our own lives that hinder us from being effective communicators of the Gospel.”
For more information on prayer including a theology and a model for corporate prayer, please refer to The Church on its Knees by Jeremy Jennings as well as the Prayer Ministry Training materials.