So, by this stage, lots of people know that in Richmond we have been using Alpha as our initial evangelisation tool. I keep hearing of parishes all over the place now using Alpha, including St Patrick’s Soho and many others. One parish priest and his team even did Alpha at HTB themselves, before running it in their own parish. If you think it’s beyond your parish, or you are just not sure, find out more – it is one of the best decisions we have made so far in our parish.
But, the question that I hear most often now is, What are you doing after Alpha? I think this question is just as big as whether you will do Alpha in the first place. If you decide to do Alpha, simultaneously, you need to think, How does this fit into our bigger picture of making disciples? What will we have ready for people afterwards?
Here is what I am discovering about people post-Alpha:
- They are overflowing. One girl who gave her testimony at our Christmas carol service was effervescent with joy. People contacted me afterwards to enquire about Alpha based upon her testimony.
- They are hungry with a desire for more. 45 people out of 50 signed up to our post-Alpha follow up. 4 people are preparing for Baptism.
- Friendships have been made, and there is a new, buzzing, joyful network of relationships all over the parish. The Holy Spirit is at work and, frankly, it is out of our hands.
Here’s what is also true about people who have just finished Alpha:
- They are not disciples in the sense of having made a considered, intentional decision to follow Jesus and give their life over to him. In terms of thresholds of conversion, they are still mostly around openness or seeking.
- They do not (necessarily) accept the authority of the Church – that is still a big leap for people who have been freely sharing their opinions for 11 weeks. They are on the whole not asking for teaching, but they know that a deeper relationship with God is out there, and they are open and searching for it.
- For the non-Christian guests, going to Mass is still too big a jump for some (although others have jumped in wholeheartedly, too).
So, we are taking a deliberately slow approach. We decided that, post-Alpha, we needed a discipleship pathway that leads people towards intentional discipleship in a way that is gradual but focussed towards that goal. We knew that it should be based within the small group context because fellowship within small groups has been the ‘sticking’ power, and also because it prepares the way further down the line for Connect Groups.
The resource we are using is Catholic Christian Outreach’s Discovery – Level One Discipleship. Here are the reasons we chose it:
- It is focussed on becoming a disciple, moving towards leading a Christ-centred life. It is not the same as catechesis, which we will offer in different, optional ways, alongside.
- Discovery covers the kerygma. You might ask, why do people need to hear the kerygma again, once they have done Alpha? Our answer is that, people often need to hear the kerygma multiple times, in varied ways, in order for the message to sink in and for them to respond to it.
- Furthermore, it presents the kerygma in a way that is deeper than Alpha. It covers key Bible passages that are not covered in depth in Alpha, such as Genesis 3. The presentation of the Redemption is excellent, and completely Catholic (I feel this is slightly lacking in Alpha).
- Being based on the Bible, it gets people used to reading their Bible. We had to sell a lot of Bibles as people did not own one (even after a lot of sales and marketing during Alpha!)
- It is the first of a series of five which means we will continue to offer different levels of discipleship training, until parishioners have completed the pathway. The levels that follow are: Source (on life in the Holy Spirit); Growth (on habits for growing in the Christian life); Obedience (on being able to surrender to God); Commissioned (on going out and making disciples).
We launched Discovery this week. We had 45 people come back together, and there was great excitement in the air. We ate a delicious meal together, but from next week onwards, everyone will meet in their small groups in people’s homes. At the end of Discovery, we will come back together in the church where people will be invited to renew their baptismal promises.
Forming future leaders for discipleship groups is a big priority of ours. There is a time at the beginning of renewing your parish when you are pretty resource-stretched when it comes to well-formed leaders… and we find that that time is now! We have a list of people who are currently taking part in Discovery who we hope to mentor as future leaders.
Having said all of this, we keep affirming that we are in a very experimental stage. Perhaps after six weeks we will recognise that Discovery is not working with our people, for whatever reason. Perhaps we will have to go back to the drawing board. I am aware that much more one-to-one mentoring is needed in discipling people (for example, threshold conversations), and this is where we don’t have sufficient numbers of disciples to train for this. Right now, we are doing a lot of sowing, in the hope and expectation that our disciple-making will yield future disciple-makers. Come, Holy Spirit!