In last week’s blog entry, I wrote about how the Alpha process parallels church planting. In today’s entry, I’m thinking about how the end goals of Alpha and church planting fit together as well. Really, the cornerstone of church planting and of Alpha are the same: salvation. That’s the goal both are moving toward. Given that, it’s worth considering the process of how people come to faith.

How do people come to faith?

There are as many salvation stories as there are Christians. However, most testimonies have two main components:

  1. Someone was faithfully praying for them.
  2. Someone invested in them relationally.

Many churches have focused prayer times for friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors to pray for their salvation. The timing generally aims at holidays that bring in newcomers, like Christmas and Easter, but anytime can work well. Pray and then look for opportunities to invest in the people on your list. Consider ways to serve them and enjoy their friendship. Developing trust and authenticity in relationships with nonbelievers makes a world of difference. It may take some time, years even, but be prepared to share about your own spiritual journey when the timing is right. So how do people come to faith? Prayer, relationship, and spiritual conversation. That’s the process for both Alpha and for church planting.

What are people looking for?

In both Alpha and new church plants, people are looking for a safe place to ask deep questions– an environment where there is no dumb question and they don’t feel judged for having doubts or struggles. Unfortunately, the church building is no longer the sanctuary for unbelievers that it once was. That’s why both Alpha and new church plants intentionally work in un-churchy environments.

People feel most secure in their own territory. Of course they do! Familiar ground is a low-pressure environment where people can take the time to process. That’s why you will find spiritual topics being discussed at the local coffee shop, on hiking trails, or over a meal. These are relational places and activities where conversations can be both casual and genuine. You don’t need to have all the answers to engage in sharing your faith, only love for God, humility, and a desire to share the gospel as you listen to the Holy Spirit.

What changes people? What convinces people?

I believe few if any people come to Jesus because of theological debate on social media. I’ve never heard of an instance. That’s not because debate is wrong or unimportant, but because those threads get heated quickly and people aren’t usually bringing genuine relationship and a willingness to understand the other to the table. The primary impetus for change is not anything we do, but the work of God through the Holy Spirit, so prayer is our main tool for salvation. Yet we play a part when we listen well, to both God and others with differing opinions, and also when we are willing to share parts of our own faith journey when warranted.

That change process is best done in the context of real-life, face-to-face relationships. It looks a lot like intentional and sustained friendship. Rarely does someone decide to become a follower of Jesus in one day. It’s a process instead of a one-time decision approach. Over time a spiritual explorer has experiences that feel like a confirmation that they are on the right path. Their exploration—in asking questions, in gathering information, in exploring relationships with believers, and in considering ideas—has yielded fruit.

Why Alpha Course?

This is where Alpha does such a good job helping people come to faith. The program builds on the prayers and seeds the person has been collecting and–through a small group setting– provides a relational experience to walk alongside people as they’re processing faith questions. In this way, Alpha can serve as a greenhouse of sorts for growing new believers in the earliest stages. It’s a time of providing a safe environment to water, weed, observe, add soil, wait, etc. Many new church plants could make good use of Alpha as a greenhouse for nurturing new believers and getting a healthy start on discipleship.

Next week, I’ll be reflecting on what a Beta Course could look like. Until then consider the following:

What is one step you can take to make your ministry context a safer environment for spiritual explorers?

How are you currently helping people move toward salvation?

Resources on Small Groups

If you found this blog post helpful, we also recommend the following small group resources:

Finding the Flow– Authored by experienced small group facilitators and trainers, this book addresses the ups and downs of small groups, offering encouragement and practical steps to help create a healthy and powerful small group environment.

Finding the Flow Leadership Training– Adapted from Finding the Flow, this downloadable kit includes everything you need to run small group leader training.

Photo by Chelsea Bock on Unsplash