We were at a stage as a faith community where we were starting to see new people, mostly new or discovering Christians, and our faithful group of committed Christians. We were in a rebuilding phase as a church. We sensed that the Holy Spirit was about to blow a new wind over us and that we had to prepare. As we prayed, we were reminded of the disciples fishing all night on the boat without catching anything. Then Jesus said, “Hey, throw your nets on the other side!”  In other words, trust me and do it differently.  

 My crazy idea was for everyone to do the Alpha Course on Sunday mornings as our weekly gathering. The Alpha Course is an 11-week course that creates a space for a conversation about life, faith and Jesus.

 I googled to see if I could find out if anyone else had done this, and the only church I could find was in the United Kingdom. Divinely, I was able to set up a Zoom with them, and they were blown away that we were thinking the same as them. They said they looked around when they did it three years ago and found no one else who had done it this way! They shared their journey, and we were so encouraged to hear that the outcomes for them doing it as a community were the same as the dreams we had written down:

  • Activate new leaders
  • Build unity and a greater sense of family amongst us
  • Everyone grew in God, no matter how long they had been following Jesus
  • Break the tradition of always having a sermon
  • Encourage discussions and more voices to be heard
  • More space for intergenerational connections
  • Everyone involved (children – adults)
  • New small groups formed

So, we kicked it off right in the middle of another wave of COVID-19! Some may say that was crazy, but God has used this to His glory.

Each Sunday, we started with breakfast, having different teams responsible for this. What a fantastic variety we had! Everyone pitched in with set up, cleaning, and dishes with a great sense of family. The breakfast time was a highlight as we gathered around tables, built friendships, welcomed visitors, and connected with people we may not have talked to much before.  

During one of the breakfasts, a 9-year-old girl who comes fortnightly when she stays with her grandma wanted to share something with me. She said, “Grandma was making chicken fried rice during the week, and I told her that when it is our turn to bring food to OUR church, this is what we should bring.” This warmed my heart – this 9-year-old from a non-churched home has developed a sense of belonging to our Christian community. 

I watched over a few weeks as one lady came for breakfast for the first two weeks and then left before the Alpha session started. On the third week, she stayed in the foyer, listened to the Alpha video, and then left. In the fourth week, she stayed and joined in a group discussion.

We had a couple of worship songs and then listened to the teaching using the Alpha Film Series. It was very easy to listen to, and we could download it with subtitles for our ESOL families. The children had their own group during this time that was on the same weekly topic. Each week we had a small card and gift for everyone that reminded people of the topic.

The structure of the Alpha course is that there is a Holy Spirit Weekend in the middle. Due to COVID-19 and other factors, we decided to do “A Big Day Out” instead and spent the day together at our church venue. This was a wonderful day of connecting, relaxing, and seeing the Holy Spirit move on us in a gentle, deep, and healing way. 

The topic for the final week is “What About The Church?”  All ages stayed together, wrote words describing church to us, and then put them up on a cardboard “church”. It was a very powerful moment for us as we sang “The Blessing” over each other. Then people prayed out loud in their cultural language. One of the 12-year-olds who recently came from another country and had limited English told me the following week that when this happened, she felt like her “heart was throbbing out of her chest” and was so happy and peaceful. The power of experiencing the Holy Spirit!

The hopes we had at the beginning were far exceeded, and we are looking forward with expectation to what God will do amongst us next.  

Rachel Sangster is a pastor at Riccarton Baptist Church.

Photos supplied.

We’d love to hear stories from your local Baptist church, please email us: [email protected]

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