I was recently talking with someone about the intersection of Alpha and church planting. He works with Alpha—the well-known and effective evangelism tool. I have been working in the field of church planting in one way or another for over 40 years. It was interesting to look at the ways those two important fields do and could intersect.
Now, in all of my years of experience, the biggest, most significant challenge a church planter faces is this: planting out of harvest– reaching people who are unbelievers. That’s the core purpose of planting. In order to do that well, we need to understand the dynamics of how people come to faith and the challenges they face… which brings us to Alpha, which focuses on bringing people to faith.
What is Alpha?
It is an approximately 12-week course for people who are interested in learning more about Christianity, but are uncertain whether it’s something they want to be a part of. Each of the twelve evenings covers one essential topic, such as “Who is Jesus?” or “Why and how do I pray?” Each evening includes dinner, time to build relationships, and time to discuss the ideas presented and ask questions. At the end of the 12 weeks, people may come to faith, decide they want to learn more, or decide this is not something they want to investigate further.
What comes next?
Although not originally designed as a church planting approach—Alpha is particularly well suited to being paired with church planting. Because Alpha is a relational, post-modern process, it provides a first step for those who are interested in exploring questions of faith. From there, those who are interested can move into the church plant. Church plants need to reach people who are not yet believers; Alpha needs some kind of direction or place to send people who come to faith.
An organic model
Consider the relational process of coming to faith. Think of Levi hosting a dinner at his house with Jesus, the disciples, the sinners and the tax collectors. It’s on neutral turf: a personal home. It’s relational, with dinner and time for conversation. It provides space and time for people to ask questions, discuss ideas, and get to know each other. There’s no pressure, and everyone can take their time. There’s opportunity for intentional conversation for those who want more, but people can certainly opt out if they choose. Smaller conversational groups bring about a sense of relational safety. Those who are not yet believers can get a personal taste of how faith is reflected in someone’s else’s life.
From there, some of those people may have believed. Others may have scoffed. Others may have continued their dialogues into the future. Yet this point is defined by the individual and will come at different places for different people… some will pray the prayer, others will continue the dialogue, yet others will slowly recognize that they’ve come to a new level of commitment or understanding.
And the roots of your church plant start right there. How we bring people to faith infuses the DNA for their continued growth. Those who have most recently come to faith are the very people who are best equipped to turn back around and become guides for others, helping them along the way.
Hopefully, you can see how Alpha parallels the process of church planting, providing rails to run on and seamlessly integrating. This is something I began thinking about years ago. In fact, I’ve blogged about it before in a post titled Alpha as a church planting tool? I’ll be spending the next few weeks of blog entries continuing to process my thinking about Alpha and church planting. In the meantime, consider the following:
What tools have you used that have been most fruitful in gathering from the harvest (of unbelievers)?
How do your evangelistic efforts transition into discipleship?
More on Church Planting
Logan Leadership is committed to providing resources to church planters. If you found this blog helpful or thought-provoking, you may also find the following resources helpful.
The Missional Journey– This inspirational and practical book covers church, small groups, and church planting—and how the pieces fit together: making disciples, starting churches, multiplying at every level, and making a difference in the world around us. This adds up to a renewed vision for what the church could look like, from the grassroots up.
Church Planting Coaching Guide and Storyboard– For church planters and planting teams as well as those who coach them, this downloadable coaching guide provides a clear framework for starting, growing and reproducing churches. Concise and practical, this downloadable .pdf is a go-to resource for new church development.