People connecting with one another.
People meeting Jesus.
Churches worldwide are doing an incredible job finding new ways to make these connections happen, even in a virtual and swiftly changing environment.
As we’ve worked with leaders making the change to serving their communities online, we’ve heard many share a common concern: Will an online format result in a lower attendance? Will it result in less people connecting with Jesus? Maybe you’ve felt concern about this, too.
Across the country, and across all denominational lines, we are hearing stories of more people connecting with God and each other through Alpha Online.
Peter Holmes at Westside: A Jesus Church in Portland, OR, shared, “Instead of Alpha attrition, our numbers actually grew throughout the course. And I’ve never seen our guests, or our leaders, more engaged than they were this past spring.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago reported to us that their Alpha nearly doubled in one week! Their parishioners are bolder about inviting their non-believing friends to an online format and the result is that they are seeing a higher percentage of atheists joining Alpha online and experiencing the love and grace of Jesus.
People who would never have been able to come to Alpha in person, are attending virtual Alphas throughout our country. Like the single mom with two kids and a full-time job. Or the man with M.S. who can’t make a long-distance commute and refers to Alpha Online as “Accessible Alpha.” Or the cancer patient whose immune system is too compromised for them to be in large gatherings of people–cancer patients like Billy.
Billy was given a terminal cancer diagnosis three years ago. He came to Jesus through Alpha and loved volunteering with Alpha, but his diagnosis made it difficult for him to get around and participate anymore.
Then in April, a friend asked Billy to lead an Alpha Online course and Billy said yes. Billy shared, “My purpose in life, while I still have it, is to tell everyone I know about Jesus. He’s my reason for living. Thanks to Alpha Online I’ve been able to fulfill this mission. I’ve had this opportunity to invite my friends and share my story of hope.”
With only two weeks’ notice to run Alpha online in the spring, Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, WA wanted to reach people with Jesus’ love and launched an Alpha. “We were blown away with the consistent attendance and immediate transparency in the breakout rooms (small groups). From that single, last-minute online course, six people chose to be baptized. God is moving; even online!”
Rachel, one of the Westminster participants, shared about her baptismal experience: “For me, baptism symbolized my growing relationship with Jesus and was an act of recommitting myself toward discipleship. It was a way to cleanse myself of unhealthy habits and choices, and to instead choose to be led by my faith. I felt a peace as I was lifted out of the water, and excitement to join the church (and Alpha) family!”
At Substance Church in Minneapolis, MN, a host was participating in Alpha Online when their roommate overheard the call and started asking questions. This led to an ongoing conversation between the two roommates about God and faith, which eventually led to the roommate giving their life to Jesus!
Caleb, a high school senior in Des Moines, IA, had extra time on his hands when quarantine started, so he began talking to his grandpa. Together, they went through the first lesson of Alpha. After the lesson, Caleb asked if he could do the rest of Alpha along with his grandpa and ended up joining his grandpa’s Alpha Online group. God used a little quarantine boredom to break down generational barriers and draw both Caleb and his grandpa closer to Jesus.
These are just a few examples of how God is using Alpha Online to reach those who might never have come to Alpha in any other setting.
Of course, attendance and people coming to Alpha isn’t really what this is all about. The question we really need to be asking is whether people are connecting with each other and with Jesus? Do they feel heard, valued, and cared for? Are their lives changed?
Tyler Kamerman, an Alpha host at Eternity Church, Clive, IA, shared this about the online prayer time:
“The prayer time during the Holy Spirit retreat was extremely powerful. I think I went in a little skeptical, because I’m obviously more familiar with praying for people in person, but the experience was amazing. On multiple occasions, the person we were praying for commented that they felt it was a very powerful and/or moving experience for them and my partner and I were very aware of the Spirit moving as well. I would describe it as nothing short of a mountain top experience for me, and it has definitely shaped the way I now pray.”
Brad Thomas, the staff prayer leader at Eternity Church, in Iowa, had this to say about the experience:
“As we began to pray for people, you could feel the presence of God. People remarked over and over how what we were praying over them was exactly what they needed. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect was the presence and blessing of God I felt as I prayed for people. That was a surprise to me. But then, I always feel bad when I say I’m surprised by God. He knows exactly what we need.”
The Holy Spirit is not hindered by a screen. He can and will use anything and everything to seek and save the lost. He is at work when we meet in person and when we meet online from our homes. He will work all things for the good of those he calls according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).
God is doing amazing things. As Nicky Gumbel recently said, “This is not a moment to retreat, this is a moment to advance; to see the Kingdom of God advance. It is an extraordinary moment for the Church.”
If you’ve been on the fence about running Alpha Online and haven’t committed because it didn’t seem like the right time, or because you were fearful that no one would show up in an online format, now is a great time to reconsider.
People are isolated and alone, afraid and confused. We are all hungry for connection and for the presence of God. Don’t underestimate God’s Spirit or how/when he can show up. He is the God who does immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
This is the second 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. See the first post here. See 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.