The Big Picture
Our vision is to see God changing lives, families, and churches again and again
Jesus calls us to ‘go and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything he has taught us’ (Matthew 28)
So, what’s the big idea behind this whole-church online Alpha?
It has been said that the church of God doesn’t have a mission. The God of mission has a church. We are that church
With this in mind, I and the leadership team of the church are calling the whole church to join together in a season of invitation and mission and to be a part of the biggest Alpha course St Mary’s has ever run.
We want to make it possible for every single one of us to join in by coming along and inviting our friends, neighbours, and colleagues to join us. We are so committed to this that we are making this the focus of our church activity next term giving everyone the time to give it their attention. Alpha online has spread rapidly across the nation and churches are finding it to be more successful than they ever thought and even better than face to face Alpha, attracting more people, reducing the barriers preventing people from coming, and encouraging more people to enjoy and learn together.
We are looking forward to seeing many hundreds of us signing up and inviting others to join us. Running throughout the week the course will be accessible to all ages and stages of life. The course is a great introduction to the Christian faith, but it is also great for those who have been Christians for many years. As well as enjoying great content, seeing God change lives is exciting and energising. We believe that this will be a truly transformational time for us as a church family.
Help us understand more
What is Alpha?
Alpha is an 11-week course that give people a chance to ask the big questions of life and to explore the Christian faith in a fun, non-pressurised environment. Each session will be 1.15mins long and will include a short film and a discussion where everyone can share what they think with a small group of people just like them.
We want everyone to be able to join in and so we are running the course over 8 time slots throughout the week so everyone can make it. If at any point people decide that Alpha isn’t for them, that’s not a problem. There’s no pressure and no charge.
The course is designed primarily for new Christians and for those seeking faith, but it always inspires the more mature. Topics focus on Jesus, his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit, the bible, prayer, guidance, healing and more.
Why do we need to do whole church Alpha?
Our longing is to see God change lives and it seems to us that there is a significant missional opportunity right now and we want everyone to be involved.
There are a number of specific advantages in running a ‘whole-church’ Alpha as opposed to a more normal Alpha just for new people.
- It gets everyone involved in mission together – it mobilises the army
- It creates a buzz for the whole church.
- Gives everyone a chance to invite their neighbours and friends to something they are participating in themselves
- It helps increase discipleship across the board
- It will draw new people into the habit of meeting in small groups
- It can help to re-energise existing small groups and give us all an experience of mission
- It will help us to develop new leaders
- It will increase our confidence in the gospel
Have other churches done whole church Alpha?
Yes. Alpha started out as a whole-church experience many years ago and it has been used in this way in numerous churches over the years. Most recently St Andrew’s in Crawley ran it on Sunday mornings for a term and it was hugely successful there.
Why are we not running other events during Alpha?
Normally we run our Alpha courses alongside our normal program but as we have seen the impact that online Alpha is having across the world we want to make the most of this opportunity and give it our best shot together. Our desire is not to stop things or to prevent us meeting, but to pull us all together on this one shared activity. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to join in and to be involved. Not having other church commitments for a term will free us all for this one main thing.
Can my Life Group run alongside Alpha?
We are excited about being on a journey together as one church, as one family. We are looking forward to learning together and sharing the same themes and questions all at the same time. If you can only commit to one thing, we’d love you to choose the ‘Everyone’s Invited Alpha’ but if you have capacity for other things, of course, that’s fine. The vision is to mobilise the whole church for mission.
My Life Group / small group doesn’t want to take part, is that ok?
That would be a real shame, but we won’t force anyone to join in. Life Groups are the core unit of the church and where we gain so much from pastoral care, encouragement, and accountability. But they are also the core of our mission strategy. We want to encourage every Life Group and small group to use this one term to be on mission together, invite our friends, colleagues and neighbours and see what God does. It will be really exciting!
Will Sunday services be based on Alpha too?
Yes, but not as a repeat. We will be following each week’s theme up on Sunday, sharing stories and testimonies that reinforce the learning but going deeper. We hope that this will help us invite those new to Church to join our Sunday worship while on the course and hopefully this will carry on at the end of the journey. We don’t want Sunday to be a ‘replacement Alpha’ but to add to the momentum, the learning and the depth of understanding. Sunday will still be primarily aimed at the gathered church for worship, teaching and prayer.
Can my Life Group be a private Alpha group?
No, not a private Alpha, but yes, you can sign up as a group. We want to encourage every small group to get behind this as a team, to encourage each other in our invitations and on the journey. The only thing we will need to watch is the size of our small breakout groups. As we all know, when a group gets much over 10 it gets less enjoyable, so you might have to split into two, or even three, especially if people respond positively to your invitations!
Can we do Alpha next term instead?
We won’t stop any group doing Alpha at any time and I am hopeful that some groups will want to do exactly that and be part of another Alpha in the Spring Term 2021. But the real hope is that you will join in with the whole-church effort this time around and share the experience with everyone else. We don’t want you to miss out. The idea is to join together at this time.
I’ve just joined a Life Group and I would prefer that to continue, is that ok?
If your group is new, we think it may well be a brilliant time to do Alpha together and we’d be delighted about that. We also just want to encourage you to invite others to join you on the journey.
Members in my Life Group have various pastoral needs – how do we take part in Alpha?
Being involved in Alpha doesn’t stop us caring for each other outside the group or at other times. Indeed, we would be really sad if it did. The great thing about an online Alpha course is that it helps people share and be open about what they are going through. You may find that your awareness and care for each other goes up not down through this time.
Faith based Questions
I have been a member of St Mary’s for over 20 years, why do I need to attend Alpha?
Hopefully, after 20 years, you will now be full to overflowing by now! You are exactly the kind of person we want to join us. Your wisdom, experience and knowledge will really help others as they share in the group times. We’d want you to see this as a real time of blessing and growth. Blessing others who are less mature and growth, and in rediscovering the truths that you already know all over again. You might have to be careful not to dominate the group time but just be wise to let the newest members explore faith more than you.
I would like to be a group leader. How do I volunteer?
Great! Use the sign-up form online to register your willingness to help. The key role as a leader is to be a host – to gently help everyone to feel that they have all had a chance to speak if they wanted to. You don’t have to be an expert in everything – just good at helping people chat and think. We will also need to have co-hosts, tech administrators and prayer partners, so there are lots of ways you can help. The great thing is that compared to our usual Alpha, as we are online, everyone can join in a small group which is where the fun is.
Will there be Alpha groups for my teenager to join?
Yes. We are working as a whole staff team on this together. Martin and the Satellites team will be working out their own program alongside the adult alpha. We are also exploring how to help families have ‘Alpha conversations’ more naturally and all together.
I have attended Alpha recently. Do I need to attend again?
You are some of our favourite people. There is no pressure on anyone to join in, but we’d really encourage you to do it with us again. Firstly, it will remind you of all you learned first time around and you’ll notice things you missed the first time. But secondly, we would love you to invite your friends, neighbours, or family members to join you. They will have heard about Alpha from you and will be comfortable to join you. You might change their life for ever!
I don’t want to take part in Alpha; what group courses can I do this Autumn?
We are sorry to hear that. We won’t be running any other courses this term and won’t be hosting events that might distract us. Do pray for us though. We will need that so much!
Will the 4pm Sunday service be about Alpha too?
Yes, absolutely! We will all be in this together. We are excited about us all being the same journey, whatever age we are or whatever congregation we currently feel most at home in.
Will we be running a Holy Spirit weekend or day as part of the course?
The sessions on the Holy Spirit are key parts of the course and it is great to give these a bit more time than a normal session. We won’t be doing a whole day or weekend, but we are planning to hold a number of double sessions that will focus on the Holy Spirit over a morning or an afternoon on one special weekend. These will include the offering of ministry and prayer. These will be great.
When will it all start?
Tuesday 8th September.
I work shifts so can’t commit to a regular weekly slot, is that ok?
Yes. Our aim is to help you not to have to miss any session. But if you can’t avoid it, this is fine. You will still get so much out of it. And we want others you work with to join you – so invite them too. We are currently planning for 8 different time slots, different times of day, right the way through the week, making it accessible to everyone – all ages, all work situations, all family situations. And if that’s not enough we will try to add more.
Can I invite my friend to attend even though they don’t attend St Mary’s?
Absolutely! The great thing about an Online Alpha Course is that people can come from all over the country, or even abroad. So, you can invite people to join us from work, or where you used to live. Your old friends as well as your new ones. It’s for everyone.
I like to spend my evenings away from screens after a day at work, will you be running a course at the weekend?
We could do. If this is you, let us know, as we want to make it possible for everyone to come.
Do I need to attend Alpha to secure a school place?
No. Absolutely not. Alpha is about us learning and exploring faith. It is never compulsory. Attending an Alpha is not counted as church attendance and so doesn’t count against the school criteria.
Can I choose who I am in an Alpha group with?
Yes. If you have particular people you really want to be with do let us know! We will try to accommodate this if at all possible. One of the lovely things about Alpha though is meeting new people and making new friends, so look forward to that too.
I would like to take part, but I haven’t worked out how to use Zoom yet, can someone help me?
Yes, absolutely. We will try to make it as easy as possible for you to join us. Zoom isn’t as complicated as it first feels, and we have lots of experience now of helping each other get online. You will soon become an expert and may even start training others!
I don’t have a computer with camera and sound, how do I take part?
A few ways. You could join someone else who does and come with them, you could borrow someone’s tablet (we could possibly help with this), or you could even access it via the phone. We don’t really recommend this, however, as it will be really hard to feel part of the conversation this way. Let us know what your challenge is, though, and we will see what we can do.
Can I use my iPad, Chromebook, or other tablet?
Yes! If you are lucky enough to have one, most certainly!
Each device has its own way of connecting but the process is very similar. You probably have already mastered this, but if you need any technical support, just let us know.