Hot dogs, cotton candy and snow cones paved the way for an 8-week series on life, faith and God. It was a mid-February, Friday night in Chicago and many new faces were arriving at the carnival themed launch night of the Alpha Youth Film Series.
Matt, Youth Outreach Director of Bloomingdale Church, led this series of 20-minute episodes in an effort to introduce fundamental topics such as ‘Who Is Jesus?’ and ‘How and Why Do We Pray?’ to high school students in his community.
“I am passionate about rubbing shoulders with people who don't know Jesus. Many students have no clue who Jesus is. As a whole, I think we need better Biblical literacy. You’ll find many who may know a few popular verses, but not much more. It’s important to teach the basics of the Christian faith—including the Bible,” shares Matt.
Matt transformed his Friday night youth group of about 40-50 students into a weekly Alpha Youth Film Series party.
Over the next 8 weeks, plus a weekend hangout involving whirly ball, Matt transformed his Friday night youth group of about 40-50 students into a weekly Alpha Youth Film Series party. He was determined to make this a place where students would be excited to come and explore a conversation about God and even want to bring their friends.
Matt explains, “We made it a big deal—a big celebration that they shouldn't miss. We handed out postcard invites and our kids really did invite their friends. We also planned for each night of the series to focus on a different themed food. We recruited parents and adults in the church to help with themes, such as breakfast for dinner, cookout night, lots of desserts night, etc. This was a big hit. We actually found that mainly the brand new Christians were the ones to invite the most friends.”
59 students showed up the first week. The next week, 62 youth were there, followed by 72. By week five, 80 students were hearing about Jesus.
Matt shares how the core of the Alpha Youth night is when the youth group gathers, after a time of energetic games like human battleship and jugball, to watch an episode of the Film Series. The conversation really begins as co-hosts Ben and Jason travel around the world to Israel, London, Paris, and Vancouver, interviewing people and discussing some of the biggest questions of life in both a personal and communal context.
Matt says, “In youth ministry, it's about having a space to work out faith and ask questions. Space is something students need - a place to ask their question - even the craziest questions. Alpha creates an atmosphere for a safe and welcoming place that touches on these common gaps in faith. It gives students the opportunity to form friendships and share their opinion in small groups. We believe that learning about faith topics individually and in community will help each student learn and articulate their own beliefs."
In this space, Matt sees it as important to encourage the students to take ownership over their faith—this begins with asking and working through questions. In each small group, there was an appointed student leader that assisted the adult group leader. Their role was to ask questions that reflect upon the Film Series episode. Student to student—they could relate.
Matt reflects, “To build up leaders in this generation, we need to empower them with responsibility. At our church, we strive to challenge students in their Biblical understanding and practice community outreach with the mentality that we are to be disciples who make disciples. We encourage them to invite others to explore a life wholly committed to God.”
"To build up leaders in this generation, we need to empower them with responsibility."
Matt is seeing youth wake up, and his vision is clear—lead with Jesus; “At the end of the day, the most important thing is to teach this generation that Jesus is the only way. If a youth pastor is spending time with Jesus to know him more deeply and also loving students as Christ loved us, then fruit is going to happen. They need to have their eyes full of compassion, as Jesus did.”
Interested in running the Alpha Youth Film Series? Learn more here.