City Church Stonehaven is a church based in the heart of Stonehaven, wanting to reach out and spread the good news of Jesus to others in their local community. They had heard about the new Alpha Film Series and decided that this would be an adventure for the church to try out the new material.
Week 11 - What about the church?
Well, we have reached Week 11 of the Alpha Film Series and what an Alpha course it has been. It’s been amazing to see the growth in all of the guests we have had the privilege of leading on this course.
How have guests been affected by Alpha?
One lady, until recently, had never been to church. She came along to a social event we put on one Friday evening, she then came to church on the Sunday and started Alpha on Monday. By week 3, “Why did Jesus die?”, she had given her life to Jesus! Amazing! This lady hasn’t had an easy life, and there have been some ups and downs on the course, but she has seen God stepping into her life time and again, showing his love to her.
After the summer break, we are all meeting up together for a reunion. A couple of guests are already attending small groups and everyone else wants to be part of our church’s small groups which restart next term.
How did your final session of Alpha go?
For the final evening we talked about how the guests found the course; none of them imagined that they would have developed such deep relationships with each other. One guest said he felt called to work with street children and help support that work in under-privileged countries. A number of guests also mentioned their desire to help on the next course, so we can’t wait to have them as helpers.
How has the Alpha Film Series impacted your Alpha?
The Alpha Film Series has been an amazing addition and tool to engage with people in a discussion about faith in a relevant way and we’re really excited about the impact that it will have in our town, our area and our nation.
Brenda, one of our team members said that “I have been involved in running Alpha courses for 16 years and the Alpha Film Series has consistently yielded the most in-depth and life-changing small group discussions, with very little host facilitation.
Overall, the Alpha Film Series has been an incredible resource to have within our context of church life, with a number of guests becoming Christians on the course as well as young Christians maturing, and all guests now wanting to be plugged into the wider life of the church. We are so excited to be using the Alpha Film Series in September along with the Alpha Global Campaign and can’t wait to see what impact it will have on our area in the North East of Scotland.
Week 10 - Does God heal today?
This session on healing is always an interesting one to see how people respond to this question.
How did the episode handle this topic?
The episode was really helpful and insightful, giving lots of background and Scriptural evidence for healing as well as first-hand experiences from people being interviewed. These ranged from being very open to quite sceptical on the subject.
How did guests respond to praying for healing?
There were a number of guests that asked if we could pray for healing. One guest wanted prayer for arthritis pain in his right leg, and another guest asked if we could pray for her sinuses. Another guest asked for healing for her critically ill granddaughter, who is currently in hospital.
All the guests were really receptive to prayer for healing. Some guests felt some improvement, such as pain levels going down and one guest experienced a whooshing sensation in her sinuses. One couple had previously had a first-hand experience of healing as their daughter had been healed.
A number of the guests had questions surrounding healing such as, “How do we pray for healing?” and “Can we pray for people that aren’t present?”. Our Alpha team modelled both types of praying.
All the guests felt encouraged by the prayers and are happy to continue being prayed for for healing.
Week 9 - How can I resist evil?
We’ve reached week 9 and we’re onto the topic of evil, which has often been a difficult session in the past. However, the Alpha Film Series did a cracking job of navigating a difficult topic with knowledge and understanding, all the time putting hope at the centre.
How did guests respond to the episode?
The guests were really impacted by the testimony of Gram Seed and how he described himself as “pure evil”. They were shocked by that but even more so by his transformation and were heartened that God could work in even the darkest of situations.
Conversations that were had this week ranged from whether evil existed to recognising evil within the world. I think people felt positive after the video, as some had felt down after the highs of Alpha Day.
What do you want guests to get out of the last two weeks of Alpha?
With two weeks to go, I would love for guests to experience more of God’s love and to learn more about Him. With the topics of healing and the church coming up, we would love to see God do the miraculous in the lives of our guests and for them to feel like they belong to the church now that they have become Christians.
Week 8 - Why and how should I tell others?
This week we were talking about telling others about faith and this was a really interesting and accessible episode for people to get their teeth stuck into.
Did your guests agree with what was being said in the episode this week?
The guests agreed with what was being said about telling others in the episode. For a number of them, the question of had they told anyone they were attending Alpha was challenging as they felt like they knew they should tell others but hadn’t yet.
Time and again, I am amazed by the Alpha group and how it leads itself. Once again, guests were giving each other tips about how to share about Alpha and faith as well as how to be real, genuine and authentic. It was amazing to see. That’s what you dream of that when you lead an Alpha course – that you will become more redundant as the course goes on.
What are the dynamics in your group like compared to the first couple of weeks?
The dynamics of the group are totally different. Everyone is much more open, up for sharing and so kind, compassionate and caring to each other. There has also been more vulnerability shared in the group and people asking incredibly important, life-changing questions.
At the end of this week’s session, one lady asked the question “How do you know if you are a Christian?”. Well, after a brief discussion and input from other guests, we decided that if she had said the prayer at the end of the “Why Jesus?” booklet then she would be a Christian. As soon as she heard that, she shot up from here seat, jumped in the air with her hands raised and shouted “We’ve become Christians!”. She then said that she and her husband had both said that prayer this week and were so excited to be Christians now.
Week 7 - How does God guide us?
Have there been any differences in your guests since Alpha Day?
The differences in the guests since Alpha Day have been really significant and, in all honesty, transformational in some of the guests! One lady who was filled with the Holy Spirit looks physically different; a lot of weight has been taken off of her shoulders. Another couple of people have grown a lot softer and much more compassionate to others, looking out for others first rather than themselves. Other guests have recognised and realised that there are things or habits in their lives that God is asking them to leave behind. They have been wrestling with this as well as trying to be obedient.
How did you start this week's session?
We started this week’s session with a meal as usual and we were treated to a lovely baked salmon. The conversation in the group is flowing really well now and the group is really tightly-knitted together and supporting each other. Some of the guests had had difficult weeks but what was great to see was that guests were encouraging each other and pointing each other to the Bible, to praying and to trusting in God. Amazing.
How did people respond to the idea that God guides us?
People responded well to the guidance talk and really opened up about how they had chosen their paths in life which had led them to where they are now. Guests are also wanting to hear from God and be guided by Him. The five CS’s that Nicky talked about were really crucial for guests to see how God guides people.
One guest doesn’t feel like they have heard from God about an important decision, so one of the leaders shared about a time when they were potentially moving house and had felt that God was silent about this situation. However, when they stayed where they were, they had a real sense of peace. This sharing was really helpful for the guests.
What are your reflections on the last seven weeks?
Over the last seven weeks it’s been an incredible course to be part of. The group has really bonded and they all use words like family, care, trust and support when talking about each other. It’s been a beautiful thing to see how the Holy Spirit can take a group so different to each other and yet create unity and love.
The new film series has made it very easy for guests to get into and there is definitely something for everyone. This has also allowed the discussion times to flow much better than when we had previously used the live talks. We’re really excited about the impact that the Alpha Film Series will have.
Where did you host your Alpha Day?
For our Alpha Day, we decided to team up with a couple of other churches who are currently doing the Alpha Film Series pilot as well. With that in mind, one of the other churches hosted the day in their building. We had eight of our group coming along, with two unable to make it due to having work commitments. We are planning to do a catch up day for those guests.
Combined with the other churches, there were about twenty guests in all. It was a really good number of people and the guests were able to mingle with other groups. What was really good about the day away was that it was a real church team effort, in the sense that there were people serving and helping from different churches from many different denominations. We were hosted at a Baptist Church, we had volunteers from a Church of Scotland Church in the kitchen, a Vineyard Church was hosting the day, an NCMI church was leading worship and a non-denominational church was volunteering and helping to lead as well. A really united day with all aspects of the wider church working together.
How did you help guests to feel comfortable on the day?
Some of our guests were a little bit nervous and apprehensive about going on the Alpha Day. I think this was because of the unknown and the fact that we had really encouraged them to go along but hadn’t said too much about it. I think that many of our guests also had preconceptions about the Holy Spirit and knew that this day may change their lives. They were therefore a bit nervous of how things might change.
I think as time went on over the day, you could visibly see the guests become more relaxed and more natural as they realised that the Holy Spirit and being filled by the Holy Spirit is a very natural thing. One guest in particular had heard a negative review of a day away from a friend who was quite against faith, though has never been on Alpha. After session 3, and after she had been filled by the Holy Spirit, she was so relieved that the day was natural rather than weird or freaky.
What did you enjoy about the Alpha Film Series at Alpha Day?
Using the videos for Alpha Day made the day run a lot more smoothly as you can work around the timings of the videos much more easily than the old videos or live talks. The film series has done a really good job of condensing the material into 25 minutes sessions while still getting all the information that is needed.
I think some highlights from the videos would be the interview with Charlie Mackesey as he is real, authentic and not stereotypically Christian which made guests feel at home. The interview with Shane Taylor was also very moving, as people could see the transformation he has gone through and see that change is possible.
How did the guests respond to the sessions?
The videos launched very well into the session about “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?”. The response and ministry time after this session seemed really natural and guests were expectant and willing to receive from the Holy Spirit.
For some of our guests, they had never experienced the Holy Spirit, so they were really excited about this. A couple of guests really felt a heavy presence of the Holy Spirit and said that they “didn’t feel in control of their emotions, in the best possible sense” as they felt a number of barriers had been broken down from them making a commitment to God. Another of our guests, who had recently become a Christian, experienced the Holy Spirit for the first time and felt like “she was floating and that all her struggles and problems had been taken away by the Holy Spirit.”
We were able to affirm her in that and point her to Matthew 11:30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Overall, our Alpha Day was a real success and all of our guests felt they had experienced the Holy Spirit and felt a lot freer. We can’t wait for the rest of the course and how God is going to continue to work in the lives of our guests.
Week 6 - Why and how should I read the Bible?
How are relationships developing between the guests?
This week on the film series we’ve been looking at the topic of the Bible. What has been really interested is that, as guests have been coming along to church, they can see the links between Alpha and church on a Sunday.
What has made this transition easy has been the friendships developing between the guests and the helpers as well the depth of these relationships. One example is that when guests have been unable to make a week, other guests have met up with them separately in the week, just to check they are okay. More and more of the guests are meeting up with each other and sustaining their own relationships, which has been great to see and hear about. It really is true that on Alpha you make deep friendships that you will have for years and years to come.
What did you enjoy about this week's episode?
I think my favourite part of the episode was when it was said that science and faith can go hand in hand. It was especially good having John Lennox, an expert in both fields, saying this as this really affirms and solidifies faith. I also enjoyed the part where the Bible was described as a crossword puzzle and how you can wrestle with some parts over time and that’s okay.
I think the guests really enjoyed the fact that the pressure was off when it came to reading the Bible. The episode encouraged them to read the Bible and all the guests have started to do that but they really appreciated the fact that they could take their time with the Bible and read small chunks at the time.
It provoked a lot of questions from the guests, such as “Where do I start?” and “How do I start reading the Bible?”. We were also able to give out Bibles to a number of guests that didn’t have one.
How are you preparing for your Alpha Weekend/Alpha Day?
We are running our Alpha Day this weekend, which is very exciting. We are teaming up with a couple of other churches to put on the day and all the guests are looking forward to it. We have encouraged the guests to come along by reminding them of the day and also organising lifts for them in order to make it like a big road trip.
It’s been really encouraging to see how God has been using conversations with the guests. His timing has been amazing and we’re really excited about what God will do in the lives of the guests this weekend. We’re expectant and really looking forward to it!
Week 5 - Why and how do I pray?
Had your guests had any prior experience of prayer?
Prayer is something that most of the guests have had an experience of, whether they know it or not. However, some guests had never tried praying so saw it as a ritual rather than a conversation and a really foreign concept.
Everyone found the advice from Franciscan Monk Luigi Gioia very helpful: keep prayer real, simple and often. That solidified the idea of prayer in the heads of the guests into something that was achievable for them.
How did this week's episode relate to the guests?
The testimonies of Chilean miner José Henriquez and Nicky Gumbel really related to people and showed them the highs and lows of prayer. One of the guests, who has just come to faith, said that he has become a Christian because of “perseverance in prayer” as his wife and church family have been praying for him for years. He therefore wants to be persistent and persevere in praying for his friends.
The changes in the guests have been incredible. Some have become Christians and have grown in their character, confidence and personality. For others, the barriers have started to be broken down and real relationships are now growing. They are also being much more open with their questions of faith and learning about Jesus.
Would you recommend using the Alpha Film Series?
I think if someone wanted to use the Alpha Film Series, my advice would be to go for it. It’s really simple to use and is a great leveller for guests as it’s not anything like what they would expect a church or Christians to show. It also provokes good conversations. The depth of relationship that have grown so quickly has meant we’ve got friends for life who are exploring together what it looks like to know God.
Week 4 - How can I have faith?
This week was probably our toughest week yet. From the highs of last week and the growth in relationships, some of the guests had had a tough week and at points the discussion times were difficult and lacking.
A prayer point currently would be for protection for the guests and for them to be continuing to become more aware of God. We would also appreciate prayers that God would reveal himself to guests who haven’t yet discovered him.
Are the guests enjoying the Alpha Film Series?
The guests are really enjoying the film series and how easy it is to understand. The visual elements of the series have really helped people understand more about God. The fact that Toby and Gemma are on a journey across the world helps guests to feel like they are on a journey too.
This week’s content was a little bit trickier to grasp and understand but still managed to provoke good conversations about faith. Lots of the guests are still trying to explore the idea of a relationship with God but, through the questions and conversation, little steps have been made towards that.
What has been your highlight of Alpha so far?
The highlight has definitely been getting to know each of the different guests; their different stories and how they’ve come on Alpha. Some have been taken along by neighbours, daughters, wives and others are just earnestly searching. Some are students, working, unemployed, retired and all have their story to tell, which I find fascinating. That’s what makes Alpha: the guests!
Week 3 – Why did Jesus die?
We had a few less guests this week as a couple of the guys coming along do shift work, so were working on Monday night. I’m having them round on Friday afternoon for a catch up session. There is also a couple on holiday for two weeks but we gave them a USB with the next two episodes on to watch while away. So although we had smaller numbers on the night, all the guests are still wanting to keep coming back, which is so encouraging.
How are you building community?
The community side of Alpha has been great and on Monday we had Mac & Cheese with various ingredients in it. I thought that it had kale in it but was told by all the guests that was a silly idea and sure enough, what I thought was kale was actually leek. This sounds odd but what was great was that this kept on coming up throughout the night as a joke and the guests were really engaging with each other. I will happily be the punchline of all these jokes if these guests come to now Jesus!
The depth of conversation has quickly lent itself to building community and the guests all really care about each other. They have even been meeting up outside of our Monday night sessions which has been amazing.
What challenges are you facing?
The biggest challenge has been to keep the conversations on a relaxed level at dinner time. We have a couple of guests who are new to faith and are really keen to talk about church and that can be an easy pitfall to slip into. We try to stay away from that so people don’t feel excluded or pressured into coming along or becoming a Christian. Brenda and Grace have down a great job with this, talking about films, work and even the new Ikea opening in Aberdeen as topic starters other than church and Christianity.
Have there been differences using the Alpha Film Series?
The difference in using the Alpha Film Series to other Alpha formats has been the variety of it and having elements in the episodes that speak to different people so that each person takes away different things. Some really enjoy the parts where Nicky is speaking, others relate well to Toby and Gemma, while others enjoy the stories and testimonies, like Darrell Tunningley’s this week. The fact that those stories are there on the screen and told by the people first hand has been amazing and given the guests a much richer experience of who God is and how he can change lives.
I got a text message on Tuesday morning after session 3, saying that one of our guests had become a Christian. She had taken away the Why Jesus? Book, read it, said the prayer and given her life to Christ. Amazing news! The first Christian of the Alpha Film Series and hopefully the first of many. I can’t wait to see her on Monday and for all the guests to see what God has done in her life and that it is possible for them also.
Week 2 - Who is Jesus?
Due to the May Day Holiday, we had a couple of guests unable to make the evening but we still had seven guests. Two of the guest who couldn’t make were the church members who had brought friends last week so it was amazing that the guests felt comfortable to come on their own.
What were you excited about for week 2?
We were incredibly excited as a team for week 2 as we couldn’t wait to see all the guests and continue to build the relationships. We were also really excited about the next episode of the film series and, if it was anything like the first one, it would aid discussion immeasurably. Session 2 is often quite a heavy subject with a lot of learning and evidence in there, so how the film series dealt with that would be interesting for the guests.
The guests that did come were all so excited to be here. We talked about gigs we had gone to and also if we could see one musician/band in the world, dead or alive, who would it be. It brought interesting conversations about being an artist and creating your own sound and how that linked into worship music and God being a creator. It was all guest-led and we hadn’t even started the episode!
The episode on “Who is Jesus?” was actually amazing in how they managed to condense the talk into a really engaging 25 minutes. The visual element really helped with understanding textual criticism and how faith is based on evidence.
What conversations were had?
The conversations in the group were so open and honest. A couple who have been coming along both said that, having watched the episode, they believed in God in their heads but wanted to feel God in their hearts; not just having head knowledge but heart knowledge as well. We are praying as a team for God to reveal himself to them in his power and grace.
Another lady was sharing about her life and she said that “this is the first time she has felt instantly welcomed into a community.” She was also sharing that she’s open to God but still needs to see him and for him to reveal himself. The level of conversation and openness and honesty was amazing and I think the film series completely aided what can be a tricky session. I fortunately wasn’t facilitating discussions as I was holding back the tears each time someone shared about their life. It was amazing to see what God was doing in the room, in the guests.
The film series has been great so far. It’s very visual, incredibly slick and speaks to the now generation. It also has a clear touch of God on it, which is so encouraging. All the guests have loved it so far.
Week 1 - Is there more to life than this?
City Church Stonehaven is a church based in the heart of Stonehaven and we really wanted to reach out and spread the good news of Jesus to others in our local community. We had a number of people coming along searching for answers on faith and we thought that we would run an Alpha course. We had heard about the new Alpha Film Series and decided that this would be an adventure for us all to try out the new material.
We advertised in church for a few weeks, encouraging people to invite their friends and we also let people know who had been interested that the Alpha Film Series was starting.
On Monday 25th April, my first day working as the site pastor at City Church in Stonehaven, we launched the Alpha Film Series with “Is there more to life than this?”
Where are you hosting Alpha?
As a church we had run Alpha before and I myself have run a number of Alphas in a church-setting in Aberdeen, but this was a new challenge. Our Alpha is based at a family home in a more rural part of North East Scotland. There are three of us on the Alpha team (myself, Brenda and Grace) and we are aided by our kitchen team of Graeme and Lisa, who have opened up their home to us and are also cooking us dinner each week!
On Week 1, we thought maybe four or give guests would come but we actually had ten guests, including two church members who brought friends who had never been to church. There was a mix of brand new Christians, those searching and some who are still sceptical. The dinner discussion ranged from Rugby to pets to how did you come on Alpha? It was light, warm and we had a laugh.
Before watching the first episode, we had a bit of chat about what Alpha looks like and some ground rules about there being no stupid questions and everyone having the right to their opinion.
How did the guests respond to the Alpha Film Series?
Everyone watching the episode was transfixed. A lot of guests were visual learners and really appreciated the illustrations and the fact that we are all going on a journey. Some also commented that the idea of having evidence for faith really intrigued them and they had never thought of that before.
Everyone left excited and ready for more. The team are really encouraged and are praying for God to move and reveal himself to the guests throughout the course.