The First Alpha - From Course to Church
At some point, the Alpha Course became a church. When was this? For the participants on the Alpha Course there was no confusion. They were attending a course that could have been held anywhere. It provided an opportunity to learn and ask questions with people they liked. Although a number on the people were finding themselves personally engaged with the questions of faith that the course raised, no one was under any impression that these meetings were church meetings. ‘Church’ was associated in the group's mind with ‘worship’ on a Sunday.
The final week of Alpha set the scene for what was to come. This small group of people that had met for the previous ten weeks could continue to meet and they could consider themselves ‘church’. Even so, as they continued to meet, the group still did not think of themselves in that way. Several things may have worked against this.
Firstly, the core team continued to meet on Sundays separately. They had not yet ‘thrown their lot in’ with the Alpha group entirely. The Alpha participants were invited to the Sunday gatherings at the manse but those who attended found the culture of the meetings difficult to adjust to. If the Alpha group was to be considered a church, then on that definition there were not one but two new churches in Stockethill.
Secondly, the core team and group together were consciously working towards the creation of a ‘church’. During the following summer, when the group visited other local churches, they were doing this to aid the foundation of ‘their’ new church. The implication in this is that the current meetings were not viewed as fully ‘church’.
Thirdly, during this period, the team were still seeking help from other Christians. The Frontline Stockethill project, mission training scheme was being planned by Ian. Much could be said about the project, but for the purpose of this section it probably shows the insecurity that must be felt by any church planter. Looking back, Frontline Stockethill, looks like a barely concealed attempt to plant a church by injecting Christians of a similar mindset into an area with little genuine concern to grow something adapted to its location. In the rush and stress of planting a church, things may not have been so neatly connected, but the ‘success’ of the first Alpha may still have felt meagre for the core team and made it difficult for them to treat this fledgling group as church in a full a sense as was possible.
A final factor may also be significant. Ian’s monthly reports record that he was still working with the idea of ‘seeker-sensitive’ services that could act as an introductory bridge to the disciple-making Alpha. Unwittingly, the continued influence of the ‘seeker-sensitive’ idea may have contributed to the church unnecessarily retaining some traditional attitudes towards Sunday worship. With such a Sunday focus, the small group would probably always struggle to be perceived as church in its own right.