Thursday, April 17, 2014

Alpha course - how went it?

A while back I mentioned that we were running an Alpha course. The course has now finished and I thought I'd reflect on how it went.

We only had three 'punters' attend the course run by a team of five, but in some ways that was perfect. We'd never run Alpha before and were a bit daunted by the prospect of being grilled by non-Christians about our faith. The small group size was easily manageable and helped to maintain an intimate and informal atmosphere. The course proved to be an excellent training ground for all of us and we came away feeling confident that we could run another later in the year (albeit with a few tweaks).

In case you didn't know, Alpha is designed to give people an opportunity to explore the Christian faith in an informal, relaxed setting where they can ask any question they like. Each session begins with a meal, then a short DVD presentation followed by a group discussion afterward.

We were actually using the Student Alpha resources because we felt the DVD presentations on the standard course were too long to fit into our evening schedule (because of putting kids to bed etc. we couldn't start until at least 7.30pm).

So how did it go?

Each of the three individuals who came on the course were coming from a very different place in relation to their understanding and perception of God and the Christian faith. This was good because it gave us an insight into the different perspectives people have about Christianity. Interestingly, it also led to energetic debates among the three of them.

The DVD presentations proved to be a useful springboard for discussion, and we had some great chats. There were times when we had to challenge common misconceptions about Christianity and there were times where we shared personal stories of struggle, pain and hope which helped to bring us together as a little community.

One thing that proved useful was the book 'God's Not Dead' by Rice Broocks, a well-written apologetics book that tackles the common arguments used today by atheists to attack Christianity. It makes a compelling case for the logic and reason behind faith in God and gave us helpful insights and information about science, nature and philosophy. Our pastor, David, was unsurprisingly adept at answering the trickier questions and we were grateful for his input.

Some of the video sessions felt a little bit out of place and weren't quite what we'd expected. It actually felt as if, as the course progressed, it become more aimed at people who already believed in a God or had a faith of some kind, and were embarking on a 'how to be a Christian' course. A lot of assumptions seemed to be made, and overall the resources didn't quite match a course that we'd promoted as 'find out more about Christianity - no expectations, no pressure'. The good thing is that we were able to adapt the course according to the participants.

The attendees enjoyed the sessions, with really positive feedback at the end – plus we all got along really well. We even had a couple of opportunities to pray for them, and it was a real privilege. One always secretly hopes for a 'zapping' from God on those occasions but we didn't really get that. God had other ideas, (which is fine, of course!).

One key part of the course is a day retreat and we went to an amazing place near Chepstow, nestled in a small valley (actually a 'Cwm'), run by a former pastor and his wife. They open up their home for Christian meetings, retreats and other gatherings and have an amazing gift of hospitality. The food was incredible and the surroundings were idyllic. It was the perfect place to reflect on God's character.

Now that the course has ended, we have left things open for the attendees to explore things further – they have been invited to join our homegroup which meets every Thursday and seem quite keen to remain part of something. Whilst their journeys with God are only just beginning we are hopeful that one day they will take a full step forward into faith.

I'm looking forward to running our second course in the autumn. It will be a bit different as we implement the learning from the first time, but will still be very much an Alpha course. Unfortunately, our pastor will be retiring soon so we won't have his support next time round, but that's the way it is with these things – you'll never be fully prepared, you've just got to get on and do it.

If you live in Cardiff and would like to attend the next course, why not drop me a line in the comments below and I can let you know the details when I have them.

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