Most people are familiar with the smell of barbecue—sweet, caramelized onions mixed with the smoky waft of grilling meat. The sauce is sometimes tangy—so seasoned it almost tastes peppery. Though the exact flavor may vary from place to place, Texas is known to serve good barbecue. That’s why Michael thought that hosting Alpha in a barbecue place would be a sure fire way to get folks to come. But on the first night, no one from the city showed up. What did he do wrong?
Michael first attended Alpha last spring at Gateway Church in Texas, where he observed something different. He reflects, “What I experienced at Alpha was unique. I didn't feel overwhelmed. I felt welcomed.”
Michael remembers, “I not only connected with the message, but I felt it needed to go out. I wanted to do something to reach more people from outside of the church. I knew I needed to talk with my neighbors in the community.”
Eager to connect with new people, Michael shared with a few families in his neighborhood about the possibility of starting Alpha. After a positive response, Michael got the ‘green light’ from Gateway to launch a course locally. Next he had to find a place to host Alpha.
"I knew I needed to talk with my neighbors in the community."
Michael explains, “At first we couldn’t find one. We searched for potential homes, stores and restaurants, until we finally stumbled upon Sammy Walker’s Bar-B-Que—a central location in the Dallas area. I had heard that a few Bible studies met there in the past, but didn't know what to expect from the restaurant management. However, they were so welcoming—they even gave us the location for free. It made me feel like God was in this and with us.”
Now that they had a location, Michael and his team were eager to invite people. How hard could that be when pulled pork was involved?
Quickly a plan was made, and Michael determined 3 strategies.
- Talk with neighbors—invite everyone.
- Promote Alpha throughout the entire city.
- Engage 5 local churches in the project.
However with limited time before the launch date, Michael spent a little time on strategy #1 (personally inviting a few families from his neighborhood), but mainly focused on strategy #2 by posting flyers about Alpha in public places like Starbucks and City Hall. Michael and his team wanted to get the word out to everyone in the area. All that people had to do was show up for barbecue.
With the tight turnaround, Michael and his team were unable to fully engage other churches, which was strategy #3, in the planning and inviting process. Meanwhile they prayed that the Alpha promotional pieces around the city would draw people. However on the launch night of Alpha at Sammy Walker’s, no one from the city showed up.
The only ones that came were the 18 people from families that Michael personally invited from within his neighborhood. Michael reflects, “I learned that first night that it takes more than just posting signs and hoping people will come. The Alpha strategy needs to be relationally based. The individuals that came to the launch of Alpha were there because they knew me and trusted me.”
"The only ones that came were the 18 people from families that Michael personally invited from within his neighborhood."
In the 8-week Alpha at Sammy Walker’s, God was working as many of Michael’s neighbors returned weekly to hear about Jesus and ask questions about life and God. But Michael was eager to reach more—his ‘neighbors’ in the city. In this experience, he learned that the way we invite people to Alpha is key. His emphasis needed to be on people rather than promotion. Though mass marketing can help to create awareness within a community, there is something very powerful about a personal invitation—a face to face conversation with a friend, a co-worker, a family member or even a new acquaintance. It often takes this individual connection to personalize it and bring events like Alpha to life.
It’s about being intentional to talk to people and personally invite within your natural relationships. Michael has learned, “We can’t just set up camp and expect people to come. Instead, we need to go where people congregate and then set up camp in their midst. I want to physically go to my neighbors across the city and start an Alpha at a place that feels comfortable to them—like home.”
"I learned that first night that it takes more than just posting signs and hoping people will come. The Alpha strategy needs to be relationally based."
Michael’s vision for this next season of Alpha is big. He shares, “It’s also important that we work directly with local populations in different geographical areas and engage churches in inviting others to Alpha, so that together we can bring people in and teach them about Christ. I envision Alpha reaching across a variety of ethnic lines—now we need to spread out and go.”
Hopefully the next season of Alpha will still include hot brisket.
Interested in Running Alpha? Learn more here.