Zooming in on Alpha
Eight Elim churches have found a new way to connect with their Cornish communities during lockdown
Churches have become experts at hosting online services and events, but eight Elim churches in Cornwall recently joined forces to do this in a new way.
The group has united to run a joint Alpha course for their region; an initiative which launched in September.
The course is the brainchild of Kevin Pickup, pastor of Gateway Church in Launceston and Bodmin, and is managed by Steve Heathcote, who started as a minister-in-training just four weeks before lockdown.
"I live 40 miles from the church, so I think Kevin thought, ‘how can we keep Steve busy?'" Steve jokes.
"It is running much like you’d expect an Alpha course too. Guests come online to watch a film based on the week’s theme, then break into groups on Zoom to discuss it."
But Steve and his team have injected inventive elements to tailor it to their area.
"We set up a platform, alphacornwall.org.uk, and Elim’s evangelist Mark Greenwood recorded some presentations to introduce the sessions, and to show after the film. To advertise it, we filmed a call to action from Steve Ellerington, the pastor at Oceans Community Church in Bude, and local church members asking Alpha-style questions like, 'Is there more to life than this?'"
"Steve also filmed over Bude and the beach with his drone, so we’ve used that footage, plus local photography on our landing page and social media."
The course is running for five weeks, before moving onto a Holy Spirit day.
"We give people the famous Mark Greenwood moment of 'big yes, little yes, healthy maybe' at that point. That gives them the choice to become a Christian, leave the course, or continue with Alpha for another six weeks."
The previous experience of Alpha gave Steve the confidence to create this course.
"We did an Alpha at Gateway Church, the same way we’re doing here. Holy Trinity Brompton was also running one and was a few weeks ahead of us, so we watched what they were saying, particularly when it came to how the Holy Spirit day worked. It was encouraging to hear that the Holy Spirit still touches people, even though it’s on Zoom.
"It’s weird switching to online. You don’t know how you’re going to create the same environment you’d have on a live course. And then there are those awkward silences on Zoom. In a face-to-face Alpha, they say it's normal to have silence for up to six seconds. But on Zoom, even two seconds are awkward!"
That said, Zoom also has its advantages.
"I discovered in the small group discussions that relationships go deeper. I guess you get used to being on Zoom with people you don't know. I think HTB has been blown away by how many people have been doing Alpha. It’s a natural instinct to turn to God when there’s a crisis. Online, people are opening up really quickly, probably because they’re relaxed in their homes."
Steve believes the joint course has great potential to help people find faith and build trust, and that it could become a regular event for Elim across Cornwall.
"On a previous course, a highly intelligent lady with loads of questions attended. She didn’t become a Christian, but she came back again six months later and invited three of her friends. My wife bumped into her about a year later and invited her round for a meal. I’m not sure she had become a Christian, but she had grown to trust us.
"To have a spiritual conversation with somebody, even if they don’t become a Christian, is amazing. They’ve probably got closer to Jesus and understood more about him.
"That’s the beauty of Alpha, if you run it well it’s an amazing bridge into the community."
Kevin Pickup explains 'why it’s so exciting'
"With Alpha going online and seeing some incredible results, this joint course is a great opportunity. During the pandemic, people are asking more questions and looking to understand more about hope and the bigger picture.
"That’s certainly relevant with ongoing issues around Universal Credit and job losses. They’re saying one in three people could be at risk of losing their jobs in some areas here over the next six months.
"It’s really helpful to have eight churches coming together to pool resources and develop something to meet needs in our region.
"We’re really excited by the opportunity to reach as many people in Cornwall as we can with Alpha. Hopefully, it can be a model that can be used by Elim churches around the country."
Three things you can pray for about the courses
Whether it’s the Cornish Elim churches’ current Alpha course, or one you’re running yourself, Steve Heathcote says there are three things you can pray for:
Pray that the course will attract healthy numbers of guests and that they will be open to hearing the gospel
Pray that hosts have a spirit of joy, wisdom, and discernment to know where people are on their journeys with Jesus and that the hosts are able to listen and help them
Pray that trust and relationships are built between communities and churches through Alpha, and that momentum builds so Alpha can become a regular event
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