Building God’s kingdom through Alpha
by Doris Fleck
With hundreds of Alpha courses starting up this fall across Canada, Alpha billboards adorn buildings, bus shelters and benches asking, “Is there more to life than this?” These provocative ads have resonated with thousands of people as they grapple with the meaning of life and the existence of God. Aimmey Chu was one of them.
Chu grew up in a Buddhist household in Vancouver. Like other teens, her personal worth was based on the opinion of others, and her self-importance came from the parties she attended and the international travel she had done. “My soul was slowly getting strangled by living a mediocre life, when I knew I could do so much more with my life,” Chu writes in her testimony on Facebook.
When a friend invited her to an Alpha course at Coastal Church in downtown Vancouver, she was ready to explore all the questions she had. Through the process, she became a Christian and was baptized this past April. “I’m not angry and mean anymore and I hope I never become the person that I used to be,” Chu declares. “I don’t swear anymore and I feel that I’m not wearing a mask to hide who I really am because I know who I am now in Christ.”
New Christians mentored as Alpha leaders
Coastal Church with its downtown location and three satellite campuses is one of 1,750 congregations contributing to a total of 3,800 Alpha courses throughout Canada in 2016. In the Great Vancouver Area alone, close to 1000 courses ran last year. Chu became a Christian at the end of 2016 and this year she co-led an Alpha course.
James Fam, Associate Pastor at Coastal, explains that they have been running Alpha courses for more than 20 years. Not only have they seen their numbers grow steadily, they also use Alpha as a springboard for leadership development. “Aimmey and other new Christians are such great examples of how they can lead Alpha,” Fam says. “They’ve seen the change in their own lives and they’re very open to sharing it and seeing that change in others as well.”
Fam explains that alpha is about facilitating a discussion. “New people coming to Alpha respond better to a (spiritually) young leader who doesn’t claim to know everything, rather than a seasoned pastor that tries to give them all the answers.” Fam also sees explosive spiritual growth in these new leaders. When they are presented with questions they can’t answer, “it forces them to learn, ask questions, read the Bible and grow in their faith.”
Coastal Church pastors help mentor new leaders by providing training sessions before each course begins and a debriefing session after every week of Alpha. “All the leaders will get together and share highlights, challenges, and celebrate wins,” Fam says. “They also learn leadership skills: how to control the person who talks too much, how to draw out the ones that are quiet, how to set boundaries.”
The Spirit’s radical work
Coastal Church averages 2,200 people each Sunday at its four locations. They run Alpha courses at all of their campuses during the fall and again in winter. They have seen steady growth from 519 participants in the Alpha course in 2013 to 954 in 2016.
After week seven or eight of the course, churches have the option of taking participants on a weekend away to focus on the Holy Spirit and explore questions like, “Who is the Holy Spirit? What does He do?” Coastal always includes this weekend and encourages Alpha participants to come because “it’s during this Holy Spirit weekend the most radical change occurs among the participants,” Fam says. “The weekend is absolutely a life-changing experience both spiritually and relationally,” he emphasizes. “During that weekend you’re walking through some really deep experiences with each other.”
The change is noticeable when they meet again at their regular Alpha session. Fam says, “They miss each other and are hugging each other…Their level of intimacy just skyrockets.”
As for Chu, she writes, “I lost my old life to only find my new life in Christ. My heart exploded with love! Jesus changed my life and I feel the fruits of the spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
More information on Alpha and where courses are being held can be found at www.alphacanada.org.