Bringing an Alpha course to life

So someone in your community has decided to run the Alpha course. Or perhaps it’s a different outreach program. Maybe you were the one to pick the curriculum. Will you be the one to make it come to life?

Courses come alive when hosts consider who’s on their unique team.

Christians have developed educational programs for centuries. Some traditions still use “catechisms” and many churches run a “Sunday school.” Alpha was developed in the UK in the ‘70s to teach the basics of Christianity in a relational and discussion-focused setting. 

Read how Alpha helped move Sidney to faith.

Similar programs, such as Christianity Explored, have since been developed. Whatever material you choose, all pre-packaged courses still need you and your team to prepare and lead well.

How will you do this? Here are five ways to get started. 

1. Find a shared vision

Your team of hosts is unique. No one else will host an outreach program as you do. Each individual will in some way shape the experience.  

But differences can be challenging. People on your team may have different opinions about how to run the course. Partnering groups (e.g. other churches or organizations) may have different priorities and goals. How will you still work well together?

Before hosting a course like Alpha, your entire team needs to develop a shared vision for facilitating together.  

Ask questions of all partners and hosts: 

  • Why are you hosting Alpha?
  • What’s your previous experience of this course?
  • What would failure look like?
  • What would success look like? 
  • Who gets to make decisions? How?

It’s good to lay everyone’s expectations on the table beforehand, to be aware of potential conflicts ahead of time. 

Already experiencing conflict? Here are 3 steps towards healthy conflict.

A shared vision might start with phrases like:

“We are hosting Alpha because _______.”

“People who attend Alpha with us will experience _______.” 

“During this Alpha course we commit to _______.” 

Your common vision cannot be the course itself (i.e. “We will host Alpha.”). The program is not the saviour; it’s just a tool to point to the Saviour. 

How is Jesus actually hopeful good news for today? Here are seven ways.

2. Identify your team’s strengths

Each individual on your team is important. They will flavour the experience in a way that no one else can. They are not just here to “bring a friend”; they are here to bring their unique perspective.

As your group prepares to host, ask these questions:

  1. Who is on this team? 
  2. What are their strengths? 
  3. What strengths are missing?
  4. Who can we invite to join us?

By paying attention to the strengths among hosts, your team is more likely to make the course come alive.

You can uncover strengths and skills by asking individuals what they like to do and what they feel they’re good at. You can also find them through observation—often people do not know they are gifted at something until someone points it out. 

Sometimes, especially for young adults who are still growing in self-awareness, people may not know their strengths. If you’re unsure what you’re good at, pick a role to try. Commit to it. Afterwards, assess how it went. 

You may have to try lots of things until you find what you are good at. That’s okay. 

Figuring out how to work in a group takes time. Learn to love group projects

3. Line up your strengths with the course

Be aware of the characteristics of your course. It’s a good next step to empower others to use their strengths. 

For example, here are some of the characteristics of Alpha: 

  • relationally focused, building trust and a sense of community
  • hospitality is central, including food and good conversation
  • inclusive, valuing everyone’s opinion
  • bold in inviting people to explicitly respond to the gospel
  • journeys patiently with people towards Jesus

Look for ways that individual team members can serve out of their strengths.

  • good listeners can serve as table hosts
  • sensitive communicators can facilitate the gathering
  • organized planners can handle the logistics of set up and tear down
  • outgoing individuals can act as greeters and lead icebreakers
  • tech-savvy people can look after any required technology
  • food-lovers can be in charge of the meal

Ideally every time you run a course, individuals can lean into their strengths. As they do, they’ll bring balance to the whole team, avoiding overemphasis on any one course characteristic. 

4. Maximize the course’s strengths

Another aspect of hosting a great course is to lean into the strengths of using a pre-packaged program:

  • expertise in content and delivery
  • time and energy are saved, since it’s ready-to-use
  • support is available from the larger organization
  • continuity even when leaders are absent or change

To maximize these strengths, you’ll need trust and humility. 

If you do not trust the expertise of the organization producing the material, you’ll spend time and energy trying to do what they do, instead of focusing on the participants and your strengths. 

Without humility, you’ll be unable to receive the support the organization can offer you. This can cause your group’s shared vision to remain unfulfilled as you run into challenges. 

One of Alpha’s key strengths is how it delivers all the content about Christianity through videos. This frees Christians to listen to others, rather than talk at them. Yet many Alpha discussions are derailed by Christians who try to do the teaching, rather than making space for everyone to share. 

More on listening as hospitality.

5. Plan for a course’s weaknesses

Courses also have weak points that need to be navigated:

  • potential mismatch of values between the program and the hosting team
  • repetitive, which can become boring
  • designed for one cultural context
  • offered in limited number of languages

When using an existing program, be realistic about its weaknesses. Assess them in light of your shared vision: Can this course still help us reach our goal?

If so, take a look at your team to assess how your combined strengths might be able to mitigate a program’s weaknesses:

If someone is skilled at teaching, add content that your team feels is missing. 

If someone has a creative idea, design a fresh way of doing the course.

If someone can adapt the material to a unique cultural context, support their efforts.

If someone is fluent in another language, consider translation options. 

Not all challenges can be overcome. It’s okay if you need to find a different course to help you achieve your shared vision. But the strengths of programs (and the strengths of your team) make it worth considering creative options. 

Remember, God is always in the room

Whether you use Alpha, or a different outreach program, your team is not alone in preparing and hosting. The Holy Spirit, God himself, is present. He is present to empower, lead, and encourage your team.

He’s also present as a promise and reminder that no matter how things go, God’s love for you will not change. You are safe to try and fail—or succeed in unexpected ways. 

So whether you are hosting for the first or twenty-first time, remember that God’s on your team too. 

Want to learn more about Alpha? Check out their video that overviews the course.

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About the Author

Sam Robins

Sam loves writing reflections on life and faith, whether as articles, short stories, poetry, or even as academic papers at McMaster Divinity College, in Hamilton, ON. When not writing or reading, you’ll probably find Sam exploring some kind of outdoor space, preferably on a bicycle in the city or in work boots on a farm.

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