Imagine going to faith-based event, where everyone asks questions, but no one specific person answers the questions.
Alpha is a 10 to 11 week course. There are a million different ways you can do Alpha. The one I attended was at a church in the Valley.
It usually starts with food. Food is fundamental, communal, and an easy way to put people at ease. When the meal is over, participants are shown a video, or there is a live talk given… typically 30 minutes long, which explores different fundamental aspects of life and how the Christian faith intersects with life.
Session 1 asks the question: Is there more to life than this? Do our lives matter? What’s the meaning to life?
The next 10 video/teaching sessions are centered around how faith shapes and informs meaning to lives that often feel meaningless. They are all centered around fundamental questions:
Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus die? How can I have faith? Who is the Holy Spirit?
When the video session are over, you break into small groups for open discussion. There is a facilitator, but that’s genuinely all they do. They get the conversations started, and they’ll interject whenever they sense there’s a lull. Beyond that, they are simply a part of the discussion. They never directly answer questions (at least in my experience).
My own experience with Alpha was odd, in a good way. I’m training to be a pastor and I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it was strange to go into a context where nobody knew me. They didn’t know my position. They didn’t know what I believe. They didn’t expect me to answer their questions. Yet, they were still interested in hearing my opinion.
I found it liberating to ask questions — publicly — that I wrestle with every single day. What is the value of life? What is the value of my own choices? What’s this all about?
It was refreshing to hear people commiserate with me. It was nice to know they had struggled with those very questions, among many other questions I had never considered because of my own upbringing.
I’m not sure what the success rate of Alpha is… I don’t actually know whether or not it leads to conversion or increases membership. But, I do know what I experienced.
People had a chance to speak openly. They talked about their fears, their frustrations, and their doubts. It was nice to be part of a spiritual conversation that honest and engaging. By the end of the night, it seemed like everyone in my small group felt encouraged and ready to learn more.