We Stand In Awe Of what the Holy Spirit is Doing in People's lives
Senior Pastor Gary Gulbranson
Westminster Chapel, Bellevue, WA
Q: How would you describe your church?
A: Outreach focused, relationally based, Holy Spirit directed.
Q: How long have you been running the course and what has the impact been on you and your church?”
A: We are currently in our eleventh year. It has had a dramatic impact on our church. In the beginning it was off the radar screen. We are a church that has had a lot of different evangelistic expressions over the years. Our Missions pastor brought Alpha to us and quietly started the course in a Sunday school class. We were not following the recipe at the beginning, but we very quickly realized that we needed to adjust and now it is the major thing we do here. It is center stage for us.
The course has had a profound effect on me personally. My own involvement has evolved from giving acquiescence—“OK, give it a try”—to supporting it, to actually making room for it on Sundays for testimonies to now teaching the course. I currently serve on the Alpha USA National Board, and we host the Regional Director at our church.
Q: Tell me more about those first years. If it was under the radar at first, when did it start to catch your attention?
A: It was obvious to me that the course was well laid out. It was relational and allowed people to be in process and come to a place where they could safely work out their faith. I have always believed in this approach as opposed to an event where we are looking for a quick response. The course came to us when we were in a time of refocusing. We are a large church that has been around for 45 years. We began to realize that our community had changed. We, as a church, needed to relate to our community and begin to go out to them as opposed to waiting for them to come to us. Alpha came to us at just the right time when we were processing all of this. It just made sense. Since Alpha is incarnational and highly relational, it was the right thing for us at exactly the right time. Also, we began to see results. Lives were changed. It brought back the ‘wow’ factor to our ministry. We stand in awe of what the Holy Spirit is doing in people’s lives.
Q: What other things did you do to facilitate this growth?
A: It has been an organic growth—that is how the people experienced it—but we were intentional on how we rolled it out to our congregation. Our elders and key ministry leaders understood where we were going. Once a year I preach what I call the “Alpha DNA,” which is having a love for lost, love of the Kingdom of God, and a love for the Holy Spirit. This helps people understand this is not just the course, but our culture as well. These are things that were important to Jesus and should be to us as well.
Q: Have you begun to see people move to have a greater love for the lost?
A: Absolutely. We have always had a history of being outreach focused, but now we have increased that focus. We connect to our community in multiple ways that have become tributaries that feed our Alpha stream. For us, connecting with the international community has been big.
Q: Tell me a bit about the impact of your course on internationals.
A: We saw a need and began to adapt the course to meet the needs of internationals in our area. Our fall course had nine tables; one-third of our guests were hearing the course taught in their heart language. Then for those who were just learning to speak English, we developed Alpha for ESOL (English speakers of other languages) out of our desire to reach people where they are.
Q: Any final thoughts for a pastor who might want to give it a try?
A: Keep at it. It takes time and patience to let the Holy Spirit work. Contact your Regional office and find a Lighthouse church [a church that helps others get Alpha courses started] if you need assistance. Let it happen in its own time frame.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:19