Why Alpha Won’t Work

For millenia people believed in spontaneous generation (abiogenesis).  It’s the idea that living matter could spontaneously emerge from non-living matter.  So apparently mites could just appear from dust, maggots from rotten meat, and mice could appear from sweaty underwear and husks of wheat in an open-mouthed jar (I’m not making this up).  Thanks to early scientists like Redi, Needham, and Spallanzani the theory eventually went the way of my Commodore 64.

I love Alpha.  It’s a great tool to help people discover some of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.  It’s a great place to ask questions in an environment that is safe and enjoyable.  We’re in our second year of hosting Alpha at Crosspoint.

I have no problem with Alpha.  Yet I’m concerned with the expectations churches have about Alpha.  Like medieval scientists, they sometimes assume that if they just host an Alpha course, people will spontaneously appear.  I know plenty of churches that have tried it.  They did a great job of getting a venue together, recruiting and training volunteers, and advertising.  And nobody showed up.

The challenge is that churches don’t first develop a going and bringing culture.  We’ve only had a few people show up to Alpha as a result of advertising.  The majority of people who came (and who stayed) were invited by a friend.  Just hosting an Alpha is no silver bullet for helping people find their way back to God.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.  But if you first build an incarnational and invitational culture in your church, Alpha may work well for you.

So, first things first.  Teach your people how to GO…to incarnate the gospel in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, and friendships.  Help them understand that they are the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in this world.  Jesus left heaven and moved into the neighbourhood, and so should we.  Give them the tools to do this.  Host seminars.  Coach those who want to take it seriously.  But more than anything, if you are a church leader, you need to model this for your church.  Speed of the leader, speed of the team…

And can I just say – don’t make people so busy with church programs and events that they don’t have the capacity to build relationships outside of the church community.  If you want to learn how to streamline your church ministries, can I recommend Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger?

The single greatest challenge to the effectiveness of Alpha isn’t Alpha.  It’s church culture.  More about this later.

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