Lockdown Learnings from Online Alpha

My church has just finished our first online Alpha course. In fact it was the first Alpha course we’ve ever run, so all in all there was much to learn. But it was an outstanding piece of our lockdown experience together as a community on mission.

Why did we choose to run an online Alpha? As many church leaders have become fond of reminding us over these last few months, the church is not the building, it’s the people: something we fully believe in. So we don’t stop being on mission for Jesus even though our main central gathering has halted for a time.

Alpha seemed like a great option for us. It does such a good job at engaging with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. On our course we had people from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, some with lots of experience of church and some with hardly any.

Alpha Course Content

The Alpha Film Series is superbly constructed. The videos are beautifully shot and very well delivered. In terms of content, I was pleasantly surprised as I surveyed the material. Alpha always had a bit of a reputation for being a bit fluffy around the gospel (at least that’s what I expected to find) but I found the opposite to be the case.

The gospel was presented clearly from the first session onwards. The emphasis throughout was on the love of God for us as displayed in the cross of Christ. Ok, if I was being picky, there were one or two points that I thought were a bit squishy (the old Holman Hunt picture and the misapplied ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ line for example), but these were very much in the minority. No course is perfect.

The faces and stories on the Alpha film series are wonderfully diverse. There’s testimony from ex-football hooligans, former Rwandan rebel fighters, chart-topping rappers, and self-made Californian millionaires.

How Did We Do Alpha Online?

Practically speaking, we used Zoom to host our Alpha sessions. Rather than screen-sharing the Alpha videos, we sent out the video link ahead of each session for the participants to have ready on their devices.

After a brief intro at the start of each session we all watched the video together and then joined breakout groups for discussion. This is one of the standout features of Zoom. The entire event lasted around an hour. This meant that people could join the Alpha session and it wouldn’t take up their entire evening.

Obviously it’s important to do your research. Watch the sessions before deciding to tackle Alpha. There are some that may not fit your context. The cool thing is that the Alpha Film Series is highly flexible. Alpha recommend you do the first eight sessions in order as they constitute something of a unity. The sessions 9-12 are down to you.

Online vs. In-Person Alpha

There are obvious drawbacks to running Alpha online. The main challenge is lack of face to face interaction. Zoom is very one dimensional in terms of communication and so we missed the benefit of being together, sharing food with one another, and allowing the opportunity for conversation to overflow after the event if needed.

That said, our first experience of Alpha (of any type) was superb. I’d highly recommend giving it a look. It’s free to run, easy to set up, and you’ll doubtless connect with people that you have never had contact with beforehand.

The Alpha Holy Spirit Weekend

We landed on running the Holy Spirit ‘weekend’ as a double-session one evening. This for me was the biggest negative: we’d have loved to do a proper away day or weekend, but it was simply impossible given the times we are going through right now. We selected video sessions that talk about the Spirit’s ministry but decided that praying to receive the Spirit over Zoom would be too complicated. Others may have tried it, so I’d be interested to know how it went.

Over the period of the course, the breakout discussion groups formed close friendships, so each group is leading out on meeting up together to continue the conversations. We’ve just sent out goodie bags including a book, some church merch and a few treats, plus a letter from me thanking them for joining us on Alpha.

Lockdown Opportunities

In conclusion, lockdown provided us a superb opportunity to reach out with online Alpha. Additionally it’s invigorated the church with fresh faith for outreach despite lockdown. We’ve all been challenged in our own faith throughout the course, including those who have been believers for years. So why not give it a go?

Learn more about hosting online Alpha here.

What ways have you seen fruit from outreach during lockdown? Get in touch through social media or comment below!

David Varney

David is a bivocational pastor at Foundation Church Belfast. He's also a medical doctor. He's married to Marion and they have one daughter called Eliza.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *