Written by Alyson Thomas
Clear as day, I remember walking my dog on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend. I usually consider walking to a time for my brain to unwind and breathe. But on this particular day, I remember being overwhelmed by multiple cluttered thoughts running through my head. However, there was one word that I was able to grasp: Alpha.
I sent my Youth Pastor a simple message saying I wanted to start up Alpha in my local High School. For those who don’t know, Youth Alpha is an interactive video series of 13 episodes exploring the Christian faith through real-life stories and questions. Basically, you watch a video focused on a certain topic about Christianity, talk about what you just watched with a group of people, and eat.
After the idea was out, here is what happened over the next few months: My Youth Pastor was 100% supportive and willing to do anything to help out with starting up Alpha. He continued to check in with me to make sure everything was going smoothly with the planning and preparation. I rounded up five other people who went to my school that were passionate about sharing Christ with others, and the six of us formed the Alpha at AC (Ascension Collegiate) Lead Team.
Going into Alpha, the six of us had goals we each wanted to accomplish; we also had no idea what to expect. Getting a group of teenagers together in a school classroom to talk about Jesus in 2018 is a lot easier said than done. What if nobody shows up? What if people make fun of us? What if people start up a riot and complain about how we’re being too “forceful”? These were all questions we had that made us a bit uneasy and nervous about starting up Alpha. Unfortunately, the reality is that the concept of Christianity is not easily accepted in today’s society, especially in high school. People can be mean. In fact, I asked everyone on the lead team what their biggest fear about doing Alpha in school was, and the first response for everybody was “that people would make fun of us or judge us.” But we didn’t let that discourage us because we knew that through the power of Christ, we had the strength to shake up the school. And we did. Here’s what one girl said: “Our school – and school in general – has been known for being a harsh environment. But over the course of this school year, Alpha was a completely different environment; it was a community.” A sense of community and belonging is what it’s all about.
On March 6th, we hosted the first Youth Alpha session at Ascension. We put several posters up around the school promoting it, and one thing that we purposefully put emphasis on was the free food each week. Let’s be real, what better way to get a teenager’s attention than through food? Even better – free food? So, every Tuesday, people who came to Alpha got free pizza and drinks, then sat down in a classroom, and while enjoying their free pizza they had a video to watch. (Shout out to Pastor Isaiah who picked up and delivered the pizza every week, you da best!!) I got feedback from a few people, and they said they found the videos very respectful and easy to follow, and it didn’t feel like they were getting Bibles thrown at them. And that is kind of what they were expecting. We were literally hoping for at least 3-5 people to show up. That first session, we ended up getting 16 people. I was amazed and somewhat relieved that some people were actually interested.
From there on out, we kept getting an average of around 15 people per week. There was so much diversity amongst the group of students when it came to what they believed in. From atheists to people who go to church every week, or people who just haven’t had the chance to be exposed to anything Christian-like, they all came. What amazed me the most was that they were choosing to come. Yes, we did have a handful of people who came the first week and never came back. But we had another handful of people who came back every week and started to become more engaged as time went on. I can proudly say that two of those regular attendees are now active members of our church youth group, and come every week. Maybe two people don’t seem like that big of a deal, but we went into this saying “if we only impact one person’s life, this whole thing will be worth it.”
We more than doubled that goal, because I know that we impacted even more lives than just the ones who started coming to youth. People started to come back, and I soon began to think it wasn’t just for the pizza. They actually became interested in what was going on.
It wasn’t 100% smooth sailing all the time though. While I felt we were accomplishing so much, I also felt there was always something to worry about. One big weakness was the lack of conversation after the videos. I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time. Courage and confidence were things I lacked but desperately needed running a program like Alpha. It was a mental obstacle I had to get around, even though I struggled with it weekly. The cool thing about Alpha though is no one there expects you to have it all together. And I think people started to realize that as time went on, and they were less afraid to be themselves. I know that applies to me personally.
If I haven’t made it clear already, I think Alpha is just what a high school needs nowadays. The impact it has may not be visible right after you finish the series, but maybe you’ll see the impact three years down the road. Who knows? There is always an opportunity to reach out to people, and for that reason, Alpha at AC is more than likely going to happen again. Who knew that pizza could help bring so many people to Christ?