Over the last few weeks, I’ve looked at the Alpha Course and church planting intersect, how people come to faith and how Alpha allows for the nurturing of gospel seeds and protection of young Christians, and how continued discipleship and church planting is a natural next step after Alpha. Today, let’s look at some of the essential tasks of a church planter and how Alpha can help with those.
The things I’ve always told church planters they need to accomplish if they want to be effective (items on the right below) correlate directly with the starting points Alpha puts into place (items on the left below). Essentially, Alpha can provide the starting point for planters to move toward accomplishing these ends. Let’s look at each set of points in more detail.
Engagement with culture → Disciplemaking process
One of the big keys to Alpha is meeting people on their own turf, where they’re comfortable. We don’t expect them to enter into church-culture—we engage in their culture. This is also an essential part of church planting. If we hope to plant a church rather than simply rearrange people from other churches into our own, we need to be engaging with secular culture. Real church planting starts in the harvest.
Alpha also recognizes that the disciplemaking process begins before people make a decision to follow Christ. It begins in the parking lot. What people learn about Christ and the Church before they come to faith provides the foundation of the disciplemaking process. After all, the original meaning of “disciplemaking” wasn’t “take Christians and teach them theology.” It was “take non-believers and make them disciples.”
Meaningful relationships → Reproducing communities
Alpha begins by creating meaningful relationships. But after the course is over, what then? Church planting picks up where Alpha leaves off. A successful, healthy church needs to be built on communities. Then those communities need to reproduce themselves. Similar to the way Alpha starts a next round and people invite their friends and family. The group structure of Alpha makes community central to learning and growing. It only makes sense to have that expectation continue in the context of the church.
Authentic conversations within community → Ministry involvement
Alpha is based on dialogue and relationship— being “emotionally, intellectually, and relationally honest.” This environment creates a relational engagement in the harvest– one that is continued in a church. As a planter, you can use that DNA to move your church forward. Churches too need to be safe environments where people can ask any questions they have.
Small group settings in a church (whether in a ministry team, a Bible study, a small group, a house church, etc.) need to foster a similar environment. Small groups need to be a safe place to be emotionally, intellectually and relationally honest. Just as pre-conversion conversations are honest and challenging, so should post-conversion conversations be. This is how we continue to grow, sharpening and challenging one another in whatever ministry contexts we are involved in.
Experience life change → Leadership emergence
Once people experience life change, they become involved– first relationally, then in serving as well. As people create new relationships, invite others to experience God in ways they have, then begin serving and helping—they start to tap into their leadership potential. Often people are trained to serve in some capacity during the next round of Alpha. There is a clear next step for participants, and the planning for the next round of Alpha takes place while the first one is happening so momentum is not lost.
Similarly, the ways people get involved in a church community after conversion are first, relational involvement, then service that leads to gift discovery and leadership in one of its many forms.
Sharing Jesus with others → Continuous multiplication
Once an Alpha course is finished, another course is offered and people can go through it with their friends and family. Churches need to offer similar options for continuous multiplication. In this way—through sharing Jesus with others—the church begins and in this way, it keeps on growing. Whenever they stop reaching those who don’t know Jesus, they stop growing and begin dying.
The things a church planter most needs to accomplish are practically built into the structure of Alpha.
Additionally, Alpha provides a structure that puts the emphasis on conversations and on relationships. The meal portion and the discussion portion of the Alpha gathering are essential for this reason. There is both formal conversation (the discussion) and informal conversation (chatting around the dinner table). Dinner and dialogue are important values in Alpha because they are relationship building activities. People are growing in their understanding of the gospel by engaging with it, dialoguing about it, and experiencing it with others.
Imagine the possibilities…
Essentially, at the end of one round of Alpha, a new church could be started. Then, new rounds of Alpha could be used as the means of continuing to multiply the church through growth from the harvest. Raising up new believers and placing them into networks of relationships that will help them continue to grow provides the foundation for multiplication. It could continue growing and multiplying indefinitely!
Alpha meshes well with the natural ways people come to faith in the context of relationships. Alpha also aligns with good church planting strategy. Essentially, Alpha provides step one for planting the seeds of a new church. How you choose to grow it from there is up to you. Consider the following:
How is your ministry currently reaching out relationally to the unchurched?
What is the next step God is calling you to take?
If you have a big vision, if your goals extend beyond Alpha as a supplementary program to Alpha as a church planting tool—we’d love to talk with you. God can do extraordinary things, things beyond all we ask or imagine. We can get creative, and we can use the tools we have to build the Kingdom in relational ways that result in new churches that start new churches that start new churches! Let’s go!
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