The First Alpha - Three Stories
The three stories recounted in this video are important ones for the church because each of the three came into the church through the first Alpha.
All three came to Alpha having already had connections with Christianity. Marilyn had recently returned to the UK and was looking for a church. Graham had attended the Boys Brigade at the old Stockethill Church, but it was through his marriage to Fiona and reception into her family that coming into the church began to appeal. Meggie had been exploring spiritual things for some time and it was because of the recommendation of Alpha by someone from another church that she responded positively to the advertisement for the course that came through her door.
For all three, Alpha was significant because of the information it gave them. Both Meggie and Graham valued the course because they were conscious that they didn’t understand Christianity. Graham remembers being aware of how impossible it seemed to come to terms with the Bible, such a large book. For Marilyn, the course provided her with greater personal certainty in her faith because of the clarity of the information she heard with regard to the historical evidence concerning Jesus and the early church. This was not all the course did, by any means, but this was important. So much so, that the group wanted to run the course again for themselves, as well as for others, so that they could remember more of the information that was presented.
For both Meggie and Marilyn, there were defining moments of faith that were related to this knowledge. For Marilyn, again, it was on hearing of the extent of the early textual witnesses to Christ. Meggie spoke of a moment of conversion when everything ‘made sense’. Graham’s experience has an added element when he talks of the sensation of his back being healed.
For all three, perhaps what was most significant for the course is that, through the mixed experiences of life since the first Alpha, what began then is continuing today. They still value the knowledge that Alpha supplied, but they also value one another and recognise the length and significance of their relationship.
Knowledge vs Community
From theses stories, it seems evident that the Church needs to be adept at education, at supplying the basic information of the faith to those who might be interested. But, if you were to ask Ian if this is what the kingdom is firstly about, or whether this was a primary emphasis in their church planting, or whether this is what Stockethill Church has been about, then he would deny it.
Has Stockethill Church worked hard enough since then at making its presentation of the faith both simple and persuasive?
All would recognise the value of the Christian community that developed from the course. But, perhaps still, inside and outside of the church and even in Stockethill church, it is easy for us to undervalue and forget the communal nature of the kingdom. Part of Stockethill's ongoing work is to help the church recognise the spiritual nature of the community they have, to value it and be able to talk about it.
What Kind of People?
In acknowledging that the people who came through the course and founded the church had already had varying degrees of Christian experience, we should ask the question of the role Alpha was and has played. It acted as an introduction and a community forming tool. Those who came already had to be interested. In other words, the church’s members need to meet people first before they can be invited on Alpha. It is rare for people to respond blindly to a leaflet through a door, attend a course and then join the church. This first Alpha course was different only in the sense that other churches had already had a ministry to and with these people before they arrived in Stockethill.
Does it Last?
Again, it is not a comforting thing to say to those looking for the ‘key’ for church planting in our age, but through the ups and downs of life for all three, what began for them on that Alpha course is continuing today. Can we really judge the fruit of church planting within a year, within five years, within ten?
It is probably of little use to try and generalise from these three stories about how people join a new church. It’s worth noting that these three had all already started a journey towards Christianity. Appeals to providence can also seem of little help: you can’t plan for providence. At the same time, if we were to acknowledge that God’s hand was guiding this particular course and these people, then we cannot help but acknowledge providence. This being so, the most important response to these stories would be prayer. This prayer would not be that these people and this course could be reproduced, but that God would bring to our own situation at the right time, wherever it may be, the people his church needs.