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Attracting More People to Alpha

Thank you to Derek Rust, Alpha Pastor.

1. Pray
2. Persuade people of influence
3. Teach evangelistic values
4. Plan your Celebration Supper
5. Invite friends
6. Creatively promote your course
7. Promote Alpha Sunday
8. Host evangelistic events
9. Capitalize on times when people make contact with your church
10. Target community groups
11. Identify high visitor volume times of the year
12. Highlight regular stories of changed lives
13. Update the Alpha website
14. Collaborate with others doing a course
15. Serve your community in creative ways
16. Review, pray and perfect

Thank you to the individuals who gave us permission to use their stories to illustrate the ideas below.

1.  Pray
This involves corporate and individual prayer. Ask God to give your church a heart for the lost. A famous quote by pastor Dutch Sheets says, “Evangelism without prayer is like a grenade with out a detonator; prayer without evangelism is like a detonator without a grenade.”  Prayer has a central role in courses that are seeing lives changed. Do you know there is now a Prayer Course available?  Find out more about it here.

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2. Persuade people of influence
Persuade people of influence in your church to support the course.  Share the vision with key people at your church so they can get on board with the course even if they are not on the Alpha team.

Real life illustration:

Evangelism was a rarely spoken word in our church.  Everyone was busy in ministry but evangelism was not a focus.  With an Alpha Training event coming, and a burning desire to see us begin the course, we invited fourteen key lay leaders from our church, all from different ministry areas and all very busy.  These fourteen people came back from the Alpha Training event with a renewed passion to see people come to Christ and start an Alpha course.  Three years and twelve Alpha courses later, evangelism has been ignited and different groups are getting involved, bringing it back to their areas.  Many ministry leaders including prayer, hospitality, children, choir and adult education have caught the Alpha vision for seeing others discover a personal relationship with Jesus.

Go to "Developing an Evangelism Strategy" for an in-depth discussion on developing an evangelism strategy from the Alpha USA director that includes vision, intention and means.

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3. Teach evangelistic values

We cannot emphasize this value enough.  If you equip people in evangelism, you will populate your Alpha course with an increased number of unchurched individuals - for whom the course has been designed.

a) Through a regular preaching series
Teach on having a heart for the lost. William Temple (1881-1902), a well known theologian and one time Archbishop of Canterbury, is remembered for saying, “The church is the only organization on earth that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members.”

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, had a stirring vision of a great tragedy at sea.  As scores of people were drowning, only a few seemed to notice or try to help them reach safety. This vision captured his heart and made him an effective leader of a movement that is still bearing fruit today.  Lost people matter to God.  We need to be reminded of this truth often.

b) Through specific evangelism training small groups
Using materials like Becoming a Contagious Christian and Just Walk Across the Room from Willow Creek or Breaking News by J. John, an English Evangelist who has created some excellent and accessible evangelistic studies.

Below are a few additional thoughts on ways to teach evangelistic values:

Evangelistic values start with—to coin a term—otherliness, a deep knowledge that, as noted above, “church is not all about us” and a desire to help others find their way to God. Values are a way of describing the truly prized motivations that underlie a given activity. Thus, a church moving toward evangelistic effectiveness must first seek to understand—and change, if necessary, its fundamental orientation. Evangelism cannot be a tack-on program; it has to be systemic. Evangelism is not the only thing a church does, but everything a church does must value the goal of evangelism.

Evangelism starts, most simply put, with the creation of an atmosphere; an ambiance; an outward looking environment that says, "all are welcome." As Jesus welcomed people of all kinds, this attitude needs to permeate your whole church. Every church effective in evangelism has this in common.

Using the Alpha course as a way to reach the lost allows everyone to participate in the task of evangelism - this is wonderful news for pastors. Let’s face it. Many people in our society are nervous about evangelism. This is true of both the evangelizers and the evangelized. On an Alpha team, people with gifts that are not usually associated with evangelism can play a part, too. While only one person in ten says they have the gift of evangelism, many in your church could have a gift of “contributing to an environment.” Imagine the gifts of hospitality, generosity, mercy and helps that people could share.

Here are the three basic elements you need to get started:

  • A clear, easily accessible message—the Alpha talks.
  • A small group with the attitude we have been describing.  A place where “no question is too naive and no statement is too hostile.”
  • An environment that not only welcomes guests, but welcomes the person and work of the Holy Spirit, too.

It is the Spirit who gives the gifts and the character to pull this off. If you welcome Him and teach your congregation to do the same, He will give patience and words of knowledge; peace and kindness along with gifts of wisdom and discernment. One cannot “do” evangelism without the Holy Spirit, so welcome Him; invite Him to help you create a powerful, conversational, welcoming atmosphere. 

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4.  Plan your Celebration Supper 
A Celebration Supper done with excellence can actually make a big impact on a potential guest. For this meal, many courses use real silverware and linens.  If you can find a pianist or small band to play background music, this is a good way to create the feel of a nice party.  However, it is important that you know the audience you are trying to reach and have the Celebration Supper be appropriate.  For example, a rural church in Texas might have a great barbeque and fiddle players.

Real life illustration:
Holy Trinity Brompton in London, where the Alpha course began, goes all out for their Celebration Supper.  They transform the sanctuary into a beautifully decorated banquet hall with vibrant colors, fresh flowers, tasteful table decorations, long banquet tables adorned with white tablecloths.  The front of the church is layered with white streamers coming from the ceiling with colored lights shinning upward.  A professional band plays light jazz and the whole atmosphere communicates fun, energy and welcome.  The food is of the highest quality, and decadent dessert is always served with additional chocolate.  People are treated like royalty and the smiling faces of the volunteers communicates how glad they are that they’ve come.

Sample Celebration Supper Agenda

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5. Invite friends
This is the power of Alpha being offered more than one time a year. There are countless stories of people not coming after the first few invitations, but attending several courses later.  Those of us in leadership have to model that we are inviting friends and family. We can’t ask others on our team to do this, if we as leaders are not willing to do this, too. 

J.  John is an evangelist in England who is very supportive of the Alpha course.  When inviting friends or family to come to a course, he suggests using this helpful tip: 

“Hi ________, I know you have heard me talk about the Alpha course over the past few weeks.  I was wondering if you would like to come with me to our Celebration Supper in a few weeks (date/time).

If they say “Yes,” that is wonderful!  Give them a brochure or invitation or something with the date or time for them to have.

If they say, “No, I am busy that eve.”, then often it can feel awkward for both of you.  So, conclude the conversation with this comment:  Look Bob, so I’m not bothering you, would you like me to keep inviting you to events at my church that I think you would enjoy?

9 out of 10 times they’ll say yes.  What you have done is effectively gotten them to give you permission to keep bothering them!!

 

Real life illustration:
Donna and Larry worked with Steve.  They knew he was depressed and unhappy in his life and with his marriage. They invited him to attend an Alpha course three different times over two years.  He had not been to church in almost twenty years.  “Why do they keep asking me?” he wondered.  In the end he agreed to come to the Celebration Supper, but he never intended to go through the whole course.  He and his wife were cautious at first, but decided to return to Alpha the following week.  Although neither Steve nor Annette spoke during the small group time, they were drawn in by the other's questions and the discussion taking place in their small group over the ten weeks.  By the end of the course, both of their hearts were deeply touched and a new commitment to Christ had been birthed.  They returned on the next course to be helpers and on the next course, they were leaders.  The following year, they planted a new course at the church near their house.  Steve comments: “If Donna and Larry had not continued to invite me, I would not have the relationship I have today with God, my wife or my family.  Jesus has changed everything and I am so thankful.”

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6.  Creatively promote your course
Below are a few suggested ways to promote your course.  Choose what works best for your course.  Remember, the best PR is a changed life.  Alpha is friends inviting friends, but here are a few ideas to keep things fresh.

PR Suggestions

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7.  Promote Alpha Sunday
Highlight that the course is starting in a few weeks.  If possible, have at least one testimony of someone who had a life change on the last course.  Communicate the message that this Sunday should have an evangelistic thrust and include an invitation to sign up for the next course.

Testimonies

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8. Host evangelistic events 
Special speakers at your women’s or men’s ministry events, kindness outreach events, Craft Fairs, Christmas or Easter plays or concerts are a few ways to draw people onto a course. Alpha has also been a very effective follow up tool for larger evangelistic events like Billy Graham or Luis Palau festivals.

 

Real life illustration:
One church in the Midwest (USA) hosts a Passion play each Easter that draws large crowds. There are often a surprisingly high number of seekers who have been invited as guests.  At the end of the performance one of the pastors invites all who want to explore the Christian faith further to consider attending a spring Alpha course. The Alpha leadership team from that church has a table set up to promote their own course, but they also advertise all the courses offered in their area. Thankfully, many new guests find their way to an Alpha course and have an opportunity to explore their faith in a safe environment.

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9. Capitalize on times when people make contact with your church
There are certain junctures in life when people who have not been regular church attenders might make contact with your church.  Couples looking to get married, have a baby baptized or dedicated, or are checking out becoming new members can be encouraged to attend an Alpha course. Here is an example of a letter you can use to invite them on to the course.

Sample Invitation Letter

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10.  Target community groups 
Other groups that meet at your church may be natural feeders to your Alpha course.  For example, Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs), divorce, grief, and other support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are a few groups that have found the Alpha course is a wonderful next step for people wanting to explore their faith more fully.

Real life illustration:
Rick was an alcoholic who had studied Buddhism and was deeply involved in the New Age movement. He began attending Alcoholics Anonymous and his heart started to soften. One night, a friend from his AA class invited him to an Alpha course. Over the next 10 weeks, he met his “Higher Power” in Jesus Christ.  He is now a small group leader for Alpha, but continues to attend his AA meetings and uses it as a feeder for their local Alpha course.

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11.  Identify high visitor volume times of the year
Christmas and Easter are the times of the year when we traditionally see people go to a church even if they are not regular church attenders.  Having a testimony or insert in the bulletin, along with brochures and invitations, are ways to attract those seeking spiritual answers.

Real life illustration:
It was Christmas time and Brian was extremely depressed.  Although he had grown up as a pastor’s kid, all the information about Jesus seemed far removed from his current situation.  His addictions to drugs and alcohol were making it harder to get through the day.  He was now beginning to have suicidal thoughts.  He had occasionally attended a church near to his house, but had never talked to anyone.  However, this day when he walked in, he was greeted by someone who also handed him an invitation to an Alpha course starting in January.  He stuck the invitation in his pocket and went home.  Later that night, he got drunk and pulled out a loaded gun and placed the barrel on his temple.  As he went to fire the gun, his hand slipped. The gun did go off, but it only did damage to a wall, not his head.  The next day while he was trying to figure out what went wrong in his life, his eye caught the Alpha course invitation sitting on the table and decided to give Jesus one last chance in his life.  He went on the Alpha course and over the next ten weeks experienced the love of God in a way that transformed his thoughts, desires and attitudes. “I now have a relationship with Jesus…  He has taken away the anger and power of the addictions.  I want to serve Him the rest of my life.”

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12.  Highlight regular stories of changed lives
Have fresh stories of God at work.  The best PR for your Alpha course is for people to hear the stories of changed lives.  The more people can see God at work, the more curious they become as to what might happen if they take the course.  Often after someone in the congregation hears a story from someone they can relate to who has had a life change on the Alpha course, they are more interested in taking the course themselves.

Real life illustration:
Julie was sitting in church one morning wondering why she even bothered to come. Her kids were always squirming and everything seemed to go over her head. She came to church more because of tradition than because of a living relationship with Jesus. However, this Sunday Meredith got up and shared about how much she had learned and experienced on the Alpha course.  As Meredith was being interviewed, everything within Julie was stirred. In her heart she had a conversation that went something like this…“She is just like me.  She was asking the same questions I am asking. She now has peace and confidence in her relationship with God. Maybe I should try the Alpha course, too.”   Julie did attend the next course and after her positive experience on the first night, she brought three other people to go through the whole course with her.  Each of them was touched by the Lord and had life changing transformations.

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13.  Update the Alpha website
Keep your data current on the Alpha USA website so we have accurate information for those looking for a course for themselves or someone they care about. To update your course information, go to Register Your Course.

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14. Collaborate with others doing a course
Get to know other leaders in your area who are running an Alpha course.  Talk to them about ways to work together.  This may include meeting together to share ideas and to pray for each other.  There are a number of courses that have banded together to buy billboard space or take out a newspaper ad. It can make it easier to invite a guest if they see an Alpha ad in print.  In most instances, these leaders did not previously work or pray together, but now they find themselves united through the desire to bring the gospel to their city using the Alpha course.

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15.  Serve your community in creative ways
When we take the time to serve our community and love people in practical ways, walls of resistance often come down and out of curiosity people may consider accepting the invitation to attend the course.

Real life illustration:
In one small corner of New Orleans this past February (2005), a man walked into an unfamiliar church. He’d been a regular in churches all his life, but never this one. His motivation for visiting came from an unusual incident a few weeks before.

Like many, he had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. One day, a few strangers approached and handed him a hot meal in a white box. Each day they returned with another meal while he dug through the lifeless piles of wet rubble that had once been his home.

One day he asked where these people came from. The next Sunday, he followed them to their church. “I decided to come and see who this God is who does such a thing,” he said. “I have such a desire to know more about a God like that.”

Again and again, members of Alpha churches in Louisiana have donned gloves and mud boots, carrying shovels in one hand and a meal in the other, and have reached out to strangers. After all, that’s what Alpha is all about: creating an environment where someone is served and can learn more about a God who gives.

Continue praying for the many Alpha churches that are reaching out to those who still need so much. And for the seven Alpha courses that launched in January 2006 in hurricane stricken areas.

For more on this effective method of evangelism, see Steve Sjogren’s book Conspiracy of Kindness on Amazon.com

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16.  Review, pray and perfect
Be honest.  Try to have a debriefing meeting with the Leaders and Helpers after each course.  Look through the feedback forms, pray together, discuss what went well and what needs improvement for the next time.  Don’t forget to ask the question “If I was not a regular church attender, would I feel safe coming to this course?”

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