Rewarded for taking a risk

I never wanted to do alpha.

I mean, it's a great course and the statistics don't lie, but when the idea was first dropped in a brainstorming session, I was less than thrilled. Would new people actually come? Would we lose people because of the changes in format? Would there be disagreements and fist fights during discussion? To me, it seemed...risky. We’re doing fine as we are, so why shake things up? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Right?

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I remember saying to the Christ Central team, "if you guys think it's the right decision to run The Alpha Course, we should do it but God is just going to have to give me faith for it" because truth be told, I had very little. It's not that I was against doing it, I just wasn't overly excited about it.

So, we decided to move forward and run the course anyway. We interrupted our regularly scheduled programming of coffee, worship, message & prayer for a different format that included discussion and put worship on hold. We traded sitting row by row in a speaker/ audience set up, for tables where we could see one another and be seen.

Some might say that with this new face-to-face dynamic, they felt more exposed (put your hands in the air with me, introverts). This is probably because on a regular Sunday, you can come in, sit and listen to a sermon and then book it out of there afterwards without ever speaking a word to anyone; it’s not easy to do being the size that we are, but it IS possible. With Alpha however there is no such choice. I mean, we’re not going to force you to face us and participate in discussion but there’s definitely no sneaking in unnoticed (or sneaking out for that matter). Exposure can be terrifying, especially if you’re with a group of strangers.

What was it like?

As we sat around tables and shared stories of failure, addiction, acceptance, tradition and brokenness, something happened that I couldn’t have ever predicted. Walls of isolation and insignificance came down and connection was formed; bonds were made. We spoke out questions that we had, and were met with understanding. We were all each others teachers in these weeks and in these moments. We were all being taught by one another. We were all taking on new information, sharing old stories and connecting over coffee and pastries (shoutout to A Bagel Story for the amazing snacks).

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Our goal at Christ Central is to help people to find out where they fit in God’s big story, and now I can admit that Alpha was a perfect way to start doing that. I’m not saying that to be cheesy or so that I can wrap up this blog with a pretty bow; I genuinely mean it. There is something special that happens when we can discuss our doubts and question truths that we’ve been told our entire life. Each of us has a unique perspective that has been shaped by our socioeconomic status, race, upbringing and ethnicity; each one being valid and valuable. So when we share these beautiful (and oftentimes messy) points of view to the table, we can feel vulnerable, alone and even judged.

“Why would you ask that question”

“How can you believe THAT?”

“You’re not supposed to agree with them”

Learning from each other

But in asking these questions and sharing these opinions (albeit scary), we invite others into our personal, sacred space; a space where there could be rejection and hurt. We open the door cautiously, see who is waiting on the other side and then proceed with much caution. These people look safe, but are they actually safe? They’re saying the right things, but do they mean it? And the beauty of Alpha is that if we commit, we can see in each person, week by week, the progression of thought, the consistency of heart and persistence of kindness. It’s not just a one time discussion where you’re thrown to the wolves hoping you’ll survive. No, it’s an ongoing and evolving relationship that develops as time goes by. And those relationships open up opportunities to see the significance and purpose within each person. And when your significance and purpose is seen, it’s easier to find out where your life and God’s big story intersect.

That’s the continued hope; it’s not just for Alpha. It’s something that we hope to live out as a community every time we are together - at prayer nights, dinner parties, at the park, on Sunday mornings, at book club and more.

But it all starts with a risk. A risk to come. A risk to share. A risk to be heard.

And from those individual risks has come a growing church community that is going to continue to help people find their place in God’s big story.

Rhianon Hoffman