How do we care for our community well in the midst of isolation, racial tension, and economic uncertainty? How do we create spaces where people can feel heard and valued when we can’t gather in person?
When the U.S. began to implement social distancing and quarantine this spring, churches were faced with what felt like an overwhelming challenge. They wanted to provide online opportunities for connection, but didn’t know where to begin.
Jaron, a seven-year youth pastor at The Church at Osage Hills, who had considered running Alpha Youth before COVID-19 became a pandemic, took a closer look when he realized his youth group would have to move to a virtual connection. He says, “Everything you guys are doing [at Alpha] is everything my heart is all about.”
Other communities–those that were already running Alpha and wanted to continue were skeptical about whether guests would really feel heard, known, and cared for in an online format.
Tim McDonald of Westside: A Jesus Church in Portland, OR, said:
“I’ve done a number of Alphas and know the power of the hospitality and relational dynamic. It was tough for me to imagine the [online] format working because of how powerful the circle of community is and how difficult it is to lead through a screen.”
The Alpha USA staff heard these concerns and looked for creative ways to make Alpha Online as accessible and powerful as it is in person.
Since creating a suite of resources to help churches run Alpha online in mid-March, our team has trained more than 2,000 people from over 1,700 churches across the U.S.
In addition to providing training and resources, we also spent a lot of time in prayer. We know that Alpha doesn’t work without the Holy Spirit and that’s even more true when all of the elements that we humans believe make it effective are stripped away because it’s being run in a virtual environment. So, we prayed–a lot!
As the year has progressed and racial justice, job loss, and other heavy concerns surfaced, it has become clear that our first response needs to be a humble and passionate plea for God’s help. It’s also clear that our world needs places where people can feel heard and respected. As the body of Christ, we have the honor of sitting with others who are lonely, hurting, and afraid. We have the privilege of creating a space for them to wrestle with questions of life and faith and pointing people to him.
David Augsburger, in Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard says:
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
Alpha offers a space to be heard and for honest conversation. Whether in person or online. In a large group or with few people. By the grace of God, we’ve seen Alpha work in ways we didn’t even know possible.
After trying Alpha Online, Tim McDonald had this to say:
“So far the experience has been amazing. We have actually seen growth week-to-week instead of attrition. It’s different for sure, but it is still so powerful, which shouldn’t be surprising. This is God’s work and it’s his Holy Spirit doing the heavy lifting. He is as present in those living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens as he is in our church buildings and venues, AND he never stops working to seek and save those far from himself.”
God is not surprised by what is happening in our nation and world today, the Holy Spirit is on the move, and we are still called to the same mission we have been called to since the beginning–to equip and serve the Church in its mission to help people discover and develop a relationship with Jesus.
Remember Jaron, the youth pastor from Osage Beach? He moved forward with starting Alpha Youth Online and has averaged 100 students per session–nearly double the attendance he experienced before going online! God is moving in the hearts of those students and drawing them closer to Jesus!
Jaron isn’t the only one reporting that kind of growth and turnout for Alpha Online. The stories just keep pouring in about what God is doing and we can’t wait to share them with you.
This is the first in a series of six posts sharing the journey of moving Alpha online, and the discoveries we’ve found along the way as we’ve come alongside the Church to serve and equip leaders in this unique cultural moment. Read the next post here.
Interested in learning about how you can run Alpha online this fall? Find all the resources you need here. Whether you run online or in person this fall, be sure to register your course to get the latest resources to support your Alpha.