Youth Alpha is going and telling
by Doris Fleck
For the first time since Nicky Gumbel launched the first Alpha series in the 1990s, two Fraser Valley area youth pastors pioneered a new Alpha film series for teens that has caught fire around the globe.
Geared for 13-18 year olds, these films were launched in 2013 as an “experiment” from a North American perspective, but have already been seen by over 500,000 people, translated into 19 languages and are being used in 49 countries. With acclaim from Alpha International, an updated version of this Alpha Youth Film Series is set to launch this October. Expectations are high that it will reach a global audience of three million in the next five years.
Alpha has been one of the most ecumenical and engaging evangelism tools in the past quarter century. Led by Gumbel, an Anglican priest at London’s Holy Trinity Brompton, he took the Alpha course his church ran for new believers and transformed it into one primarily for non-Christians. This original Alpha film series has now reached 30 million people worldwide. Spurred on by the success of the Canadian youth initiative, a new version of the original series was also released in 2016.
The first Alpha Youth Film Series was created on a low budget of just under $1 million, funded solely by Canadian donors. It features Fraser Valley youth pastors Jason Ballard and Ben Woodman as they host a journey through Vancouver, London, Paris and Jerusalem asking some of the most relevant questions young people face: “Is this all there is to life?” “Who is Jesus?” and “How can I resist evil?”
Given an increased budget, the new youth series will feature higher production quality, compelling interviews with people in more locations around the world and three new local co-hosts joining Ballard and Woodman. But the first Alpha Youth Film Series has already empowered an unprecedented number of Christian youth in the Greater Vancouver area to engage their high school friends in discussions about faith, life and God.
Peter Yoon, one of the new co-hosts in the upcoming series, is a friend of Ballard’s and attends the same church in Langley, Christian Life Assembly. Thinking outside the traditional “youth ministry box” Yoon says, “What worked for youth ministries in the past wasn’t working anymore.”
With a significant drop in non-Christians coming to their church through the evangelistic efforts of their young people, Yoon pitched his idea of training teens to run the Alpha Youth Film Series in their high schools. “Students trust their friends more than they would ever trust a youth pastor,” the 22-year-old youth pastor explains. “Alpha speaks to the human condition of relationship, conversation, honesty and transparency. It is a tool that supports and equips our students in a practical way.”
With enthusiasm from pastoral staff, teachers and students alike, Yoon began this pilot project three years ago with four high schools in the Fraser Valley. Students acquired permission to run the series over the lunch hour so the traditional meal that goes with Alpha could be part of each meeting. The series featured 12 episodes of about 20 minutes, and as the discussion caught on, students began seeing their friends come to faith in Christ.
The next year, 12 courses were run at 12 different school campuses. By then youth pastors from other churches were hearing about it from their students that walked the same hallways as the Christian Life Assembly youth. As interest grew and pastors from all over Greater Vancouver requested training for their youth groups, Yoon collaborated with other youth leaders and ministries to host a centralized training session for over 200 students in the fall of 2016. Now there are student-led Alphas in over 40 high schools across the Lower Mainland.
“It’s really cool what God is doing,” Yoon says. “It’s shifted the perspective of youth ministry from ‘come and see’ to ‘go and tell.’ With the launch of the new Alpha Youth Series this fall, and the momentum that brings, we want to be in as many high schools as possible.”
The 1,248 youth courses run across the country in 2016 represent one third of all Alphas run in Canada. “It’s been the student-led Alpha that’s been particularly exciting,” says Alpha Canada Director Shaila Visser. “We’ve been thrilled to see teens coming to faith through their friends, not just through a youth leader.”