#13 – Reaching the ‘Mushy Middle’ : Participating in Evangelism with Alpha Ministries Canada ft. Shaila Visser

 In

And he says this mushy middle is the church’s greatest opportunity. They’re people who are spiritual, who likely pray regularly, but it’s like prayer to an unknown God. And he says the church in Canada should realize that there is a huge opportunity before them, and are they taking advantage of that? Non-Christians are looking for two things. One, is someone who will not judge them for their opinion and two, is someone that will have an open conversation with them. And I just think, how are we training and equipping people in the church to consider “how do I have a position on Jesus, have a position on issues in the world, but have a welcoming, open conversation with people?” ~ Shaila Visser

Often when we consider the word ‘missions’, we think of unreached people groups overseas, in other countries, or those who are in less physically reachable areas of the world. We think of the poor, we think of those who hold other religious beliefs. When was the last time you or your church considered those in Canada who have a need to hear about Jesus? Not just in the country as a whole, but in your city, in your community, and maybe even next-door? Perhaps at a church level, we have considered this as “local missions” and we have put forth some effort to have a ministry structure in place, and yet people still find it difficult to actively seek out and engage those who don’t know Christ.

If you are looking for a way to create, strengthen, or expand your ministry to help reach those closest to you, Rob invites you to consider Alpha Ministries Canada as a tool to add to your outreach efforts. Join him on this week’s podcast with Shaila Visser from Alpha Canada.

Topics Include:

  • Identifying a need for the Gospel in Canada
  • Specific tips with regards to Millennials
  • What is evangelism?
  • How does Alpha work
  • Tips for including this ministry in your churches
  • Common mistakes that pastors/churches make

Show Notes:

#13 – Reaching the ‘Mushy Middle’ : Participating in Evangelism with Alpha Ministries Canada ft. Shaila Visser
BCMB Pastor to Pastor Podcast

 
 
00:00 / 37:07
 
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Transcription:

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Shaila Visser:
And he says this mushy middle is the church's greatest opportunity. They're people who are spiritual, who'd likely pray regularly, but it's like prayer to an unknown God. And he says the church in Canada should realize that there is a huge opportunity before them, and are they taking advantage of that? Non-Christians are looking for two things. One, is someone who will not judge them for their opinion and two, is someone that will have an open conversation with them. And I just think, how are we training and equipping people in the church to consider "how do I have a position on Jesus, have a position on issues in the world, but have a welcoming, open conversation with people?"

BCMB Intro:
Welcome to The BCMB podcast, Pastor to Pastor. This is a podcast by the British Columbia Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. We want to help equip and encourage pastors, churches and anyone else who wants to listen in and be more effective in their ministry. This is Episode 13, 'Reaching the Mushy Middle' with Shaila Visser from Alpha, Canada.

Rob Thiessen:
Hey everyone! Rob Thiessen here with the BCMB podcast. Great to be with you again, and we're super excited to have with us a guest from Alpha, Canada. Shaila, welcome.

Shaila Visser:
Thank you, Rob. Good to be here.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, it's awesome. You made a trip on a beautiful sunny morning. I don't know when where the podcast will be will be out, but (for the family)... But anyway, it's a beautiful August morning here and we're in the basement of Northview in their little podcast room and super excited to be talking about evangelism. And Shaila, why don't you tell us a little bit about your pathway and you're a director for Alpha in Canada, which is amazing. God has blessed this ministry. And personally, you know, I've been involved with Alpha for lots of years, it feels like almost 20 years. But, so I remember the first days when it was brought to Canada. Anyway, it's been an amazing journey and so thankful. But, how about your journey? Tell us a little bit about your story.

Shaila Visser:
You know, I grew up in a Christian home in southwestern Ontario and had a wonderful, godly mother. My father didn't have any faith. And when I went off to university, I put it on the backburner and I just decided to leave Jesus behind. And then in university, I met a Christian woman. And in my last year of university, I made a commitment to following Jesus. And even at that time, I thought, how have I been at a large school, University of Western Ontario, 35000 students at the time. And no one - I had not met any other Christian except one person. And I thought to myself when I became a Christian "who's telling them?". Fast forward a few years, I'm working in downtown Toronto, working in a boutique marketing firm, and I'm meeting all these business women who have an outwardly successful corporate life, but inwardly are really falling apart. And then I thought to myself, "well, who's telling them?" And it dawned on me - I am! It's my opportunity and love to share Jesus with people. And so I got involved in evangelism work right off the bat because my soul was stirred for lots of people that didn't know Jesus and for looking at all my friends in university that didn't know him. And since then, I've always been involved in full-time vocational ministry in the area of evangelism and Alpha over the last number of years.

Rob Thiessen:
Wow. Awesome! Well again, it's great to have you with us. And let's just jump right into the topic. We want to talk today, our hope is to encourage all the listeners, the BCMB pastors, other pastors, other church leaders or anyone who might be listening just to rekindle their own heart for sharing the gospel, sharing the good news, how they can do that more effectively, and maybe have churches that are wondering, you know, should we start an alpha course to get a better picture of what's involved? So, it seems like questions and objections that people have to faith these days are changing. I noticed in conversations there are certain, you know, certain obstacles that come up all the time that people raise. So, how have you seen the church being effective in evangelism? Where do you see the church, sort of, doing well? And just tell us a little bit about that, those trends.

Shaila Visser:
Yeah, well, I think what we see is, from the research that both Reginald Bibby have done and Angus Reed - Angus Reed is doing a tremendous job of serving the church right now with all his research - and one of his latest research projects has been interviewing and understanding the sociological makeup of the church in Canada. And then, who's considering themselves part of the church, who's not. And what he says is, there is a percentage that are very committed to faith of all sorts: faith - Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh. They're all committed. And then there is this other percentage that is radically against faith. And then he says there's something called the mushy middle. And he says, this mushy middle is the church's greatest opportunity. They are people who are spiritual, who likely pray regularly, but it's like prayer to an unknown God. And he says, the church in Canada should realize that there is a huge opportunity before them, and are they taking advantage of that? And then he goes on to say that they're spiritual people and very committed to things like prayer. So how do we intersect with people that are spiritual, not Jesus followers, and help them understand faith? And more and more, it's about process, it's about conversation. And we just did a study with Barna in the U.S. called 'Re-imagining Evangelism'. Many of your pastors may have heard of it because it's been quite well advertised and lots of podcasts in the US have talked about it, and in it, they say that non-Christians are looking for two things. One, is someone who will not judge them for their opinion. And two, is someone that will have an open conversation with them. And if those two things are true, they're willing to engage. And this is particularly with millennials. And I just think, how are we training and equipping people in the church from the board or elders and staff to the pastor and the lay people who are out in the world Monday through Saturday? How do we equip them to consider "how do I have a position on Jesus, have a position on issues in the world, but have a welcoming, open conversation with people?" It's critical that we learn how to be hospitable, generous people that know how to love others well.

Rob Thiessen:
That's great. So, and that really fits in with my experience of Alpha that, you know... I remember one year we were doing the training and we had some wonderful people sign up, some long standing Christians, and they really had a problem with one aspect of the alpha course, and that is that they weren't allowed to sort of answer all the questions and people had sort of set them straight. And they said..., because the alpha training, you know, takes a certain posture. Group leaders are supposed to NOT tell everybody what's right and wrong. So talk to us a little bit about that, because an open conversation that's non-judgmental, how how can Alpha help train people for that?

Well, you know, I'm going to take one step back from that question, Rob, and say that the whole church has to remember that evangelism is joining a conversation the Holy Spirit's already having with another person. And when we remember that we are not the initiators, we are actually participating in evangelism, that it's a joyful participation, we no longer think we have to convert someone. We actually can hold it lightly and say we'll participate, we'll join a conversation, but we can leave the results to God. And so, in an alpha small group, we really train people on how to do that. It's the most difficult for Christians who have a gift of evangelism, they've been trained theologically, because they think they know the right answers. But time and time again, the research comes back and says people don't want the right answers. They want the opportunity to look into it and discover it for themselves. So you'll have someone early on in Alpha, ask a question about suffering or about could Jesus really be God? Isn't he a prophet? You know, that sort of question, and people want to answer it. But actually, that's not the real question they're asking. That's usually a surface question. And if you are patient and generous and kind with your small group, you'll find that week six, week seven, the real questions start to come out. But they only come out when they know that you're not sort of jumping on them with all the intellectually right answers.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. Yeah. One of the funny things in the Alpha training is the classic alpha answers to those kinds of questions. I remember one group setting where people were like, you know, they came up with the "Well, I think aliens came to the earth, you know, and all the Stonehenge and all that and it's aliens," you know. And so, Shaila, tell us the classic alpha answers that you give.

Shaila Visser:
Yeah, the classic answer is, "That's so interesting! What does anyone else think?" And the amazing thing is, a few weeks into Alpha, other guests will start to say, "well, I think that's crazy because, you know, what we just heard on the video said this. And I think that has a lot more validity than what you're saying." And suddenly the small group hosts and helpers aren't saying anything. It's the group itself that are debating and correcting and on a journey together, and it's wonderful.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, yeah. That is funny and we've certainly seen it unfold that way. And I think that is a big thing, people are testing you to see, well, will you be judgemental? So they basically throw out some of their strongest points. I found that, you know, in flights and stuff that conversations, that two questions typically come up. One is the Christian attitude towards homosexuality and evolution. And so I've had, you know, young adults, it seems to be the things that they identify as sort of 'faith blockers'. You know, how does Alpha handle those issues?

Shaila Visser:
Yeah. We actually don't really handle those issues. We think that we want someone to fall in love with Jesus. Because it's when they fall in love with Jesus, they're filled with the Holy Spirit, that then those second order questions start to be framed in the light of a heart attuned to Jesus. Verses, hey, let's give you an intellectual answer about "here's what the Bible says...this is why we think it's accurate..." I mean, you can just go down a rabbit hole with someone and you will be in that conversation for months and they still won't have met Jesus. And so we try to keep the conversation about Jesus. So even if someone brings that up right away and says, you know, "I have this objection", we'll say, "You know what, what does anyone else think?" And we throw out the question, let them debate it. Now, if there is someone in your small group who is just like, "I can't handle this. I need an answer", we often reference other resources, but we don't point to ourselves or to Nicky Gumbel and say, "Here's what his answer is" or "here's what my answer is." We say, "here's some other people that have thought about this and considered it quite robustly that I could recommend to you." But we're trying to help them love Jesus and know Jesus, because the rest of that comes after. Like all of us, we all have our objections to something about faith, whether it's suffering, whether it's a particular view on gender - we all have it. But when we fall in love with Jesus, our hearts want to know what he says and then those other things start to get addressed over time.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, yeah, that's good, Shaila. That's, kind of a little bit of a dynamic that, like, Alpha is an apologetic, but it doesn't feel like a lot of apologetics do, because you often times have apologetics just immediately veer into answering those questions. And with the Alpha course, you have that luxury of having the video, where it's just, you have to sit and listen and during the listening, it's mostly from start to finish about Jesus.

Shaila Visser:
That's right.

Rob Thiessen:
Or answering those questions about prayer and a relationship with God.

Shaila Visser:
Yeah, I think I'll just say to that, that I think that the reason we've been able to get that mix right about: what does the meal look like and then what should the talk encompass of the basics of the Christian faith and then the small group discussion, is because Nicky Gumbel legitimately sits in an Alpha three times a year. He's in a group filled with young people - I think the average age in his group or at the church, is 27 and his age group is typically 30 and under in his small group - but, he's sitting there. He's aware of how people are interacting with the information, interacting with the experience and I think that really helps us, when church leaders are actually hearing it and dialoguing with people that are exploring faith. You come up with the answers based on experience with them, not just we think this is the right way intellectually.

Rob Thiessen:
Right. Well, that brings up a good point. Let's just chat a little bit about that - leadership. And you mentioned church leaders interacting. So, how important is it that the pastor be involved in evangelism? What role does the pastor play in modeling, leading, inspiring?

Shaila Visser:
It's critical, Rob. I have, and the staff at Alpha Canada have, interviewed church leaders across the country. We did this in 2010 and 2011 very extensively. We've just been doing it, I've just been doing that again this year over the last number of months and we're going to get the staff to do it. And as we interview church leaders, we're trying say, "of churches that are seeing evangelism flourish, what are some key components that make it flourish?" And time and time again, the number one tip is: is the church leader doing evangelism themselves? What does their life look like? How is that coming out in staff meetings and board meetings, when they preach? How is it coming out that they're legitimately with people all the time that don't know Jesus, so they can relate to their people in their congregations that are saying, "Well, do you know what my workplace is like as a police officer? As a nurse? In the business that I work? In the restaurant that I serve in?" How can the pastor understand that? But if he or she is out with the people, then they have an understanding and they speak to their own experience. So I think, in the church in Canada, when church leaders are active in it, the church follows because they're building a culture of invitation and a culture of evangelism. The second thing I'd say is, we have to be careful what we celebrate and we can celebrate what God is doing in the lives of people, but we have to recognize what our part is. And so, I have a great example from a friend of mine who was the lead pastor at a large church in Edmonton, and he was doing some Αlphas and getting a lot of Αlphas going in his church. And on the first Sunday after Alpha had launched - I think they had maybe 20 different kinds of alphas running at that time - he brought people up to say, you know,"how did it go?" "Oh I invited two people from work. My one friend has come." or "I invited five neighbors and four have come." You know, that kind of celebratory invitation. And then the last woman gets up, and he saved her for last, and he said, "what have you done?" She said, "well, I have invited every neighbor to come. I've invited 40 people to come to Alpha." And he said, "how did it go? How many showed up?" And she said, "zero." And he said, "that must be very disappointing." And she said, "well, no, it isn't, because I invited everybody, but I didn't pray for people. And now I realize I should have prayed first. And now I know what I have to do differently." And he said, you know, "but we celebrate you. We celebrate that you were faithful to play your part. It's God's part whether someone comes to faith, it's God's part whether we actually have them come on Alpha, but you were faithful for your part." And what that does for a lay person sitting in the congregation is like, "okay, the pastor gets it." I can't convince someone to come to Alpha. I'm the national director of Alpha Canada, I can't convince someone to come. The Holy Spirit convinces them, but I play my part in invitation. And when we celebrate invitation alongside baptism and people coming to faith, I think it gives the congregation a perspective. "Hey, I get to participate. But whether they say yes to Jesus or yes to an invitation to church or to a Christmas service, is the Lord's business. But I'm participating."

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, well, I think one of the things that Alpha brought for us at North Langley, when we started doing it many years ago, was that, you know, like we'd always talk about invitations and we would do lots of events at the church and we got better and better and the events that we held were...were good, people liked them. We were a church with good music and the preaching, we were always working, but Alpha just hit it out of the park consistently. You know, we knew when they came to Alpha, they would probably have, like, a good experience. And most people stick with it. You know, the food, the hospitality, all those things make people feel welcome. And so, you know, that's a big part of it, because sometimes pastors are all, we're telling our church, "you should invite someone or you should..." But people go, "well I did last year and the event was bad. So I'm not sure I'm going to do that again." Like people don't want to risk it. But with Alpha, you feel like, oh, I could trust that. And Alpha's made some significant updates and changes from the days that we used to listen to Nicki talking for 45/50 minutes, and he's sort of a stock-still British guy. And they were great, too, but what are some of the changes that Alpha has made to update?

Shaila Visser:
I think there's a few things. One is that, of course, we launched the Alpha Film series a couple of years ago, which is a much more updated version of that Nicky Gumbel classic, where he was standing at the front of the church, and some people are familiar with that. But the Alpha film series was really designed to reach millennials and now it'll reach any age group, of course. But we wanted to say "what resonates with a millennial?" which, globally, is the largest cohort that's left the church up 'til now. I think Gen-Z, coming up right behind it, is going to be even larger, particularly in the West. But millennials had left the church in great number. And so we designed that product to reach millennials and I think it's been quite successful in that way with churches that know how to engage their millennials to participate in Alpha as well. The other is the Youth Alpha. I don't even know how to explain to you and those listeners, what God is doing with teenagers in the country right now. It is remarkable. The Alpha Youth series got launched, the first one in 2013 and then the last one just a couple of years ago. And 50 percent of our work now in the country is with teenagers and youth pastors are equipping their teens to run Youth Alpha for their friends. And we are seeing, I think we had 466 Alphas running by teenagers for teenagers, in the country last year, out of the over 2000 that were running for youth, because youth pastors are realizing this next generation is actually willing to get in the game.

Shaila Visser:
And if you harness that desire to get in the game to reach people, tremendous things are happening. I love the story of a young girl in Grade 9. Her pastor, her youth pastor was encouraging the Grade 10 and 11s to run Youth Alpha with their friends that they know from their school. And she said, "well, what about me? Can I do it for my Grade 9 friends?" And he said, "Do you have any other Christians you know in your school, so that you guys can pray together to invite your guests?" She said, "I don't know anyone." He said, "Okay, start praying, walking the hallways and praying, God, who should I meet and partner with to do this?" And she was Pentecostal and she met an Anglican girl and a Catholic girl, and they said, "Yes! Let's do this together." And they prayed that God would bring 10 grade 9 girls to do Alpha with them. And 40 girls came.

Rob Thiessen:
Wow!

Shaila Visser:
And 40 girls finished the whole thing. And, you know, some of them came to faith. And the faith of these three young Christians is remarkable! Because now they're like, "look at what God did through us and with us to make an impact on someone's life." And, you know, that is a life long seed of evangelism and the opportunity to make a difference wherever you find yourself. So Youth Alpha and the filming of that has made a remarkable difference and we're thrilled to serve churches as they use it.

Rob Thiessen:
One of our churches in Prince George, Westwood, I think, MB, their youth pastor runs an Alpha course or has the young adults in the high school there. And I think that's been really making a big impact. What are some of the other, sort of, unusual settings? I mean, over the years at the church, we ran Alpha in a local pub, at the Sportsplex Arena across the street, up in the restaurant. And it's been run in homes successfully. You've put it on the Internet now, making it accessible for people so they don't have to purchase videos. So tell us about some of the unique settings that Alpha is being used, besides just among the high-schoolers.

Shaila Visser:
Yeah, well, I think doing it at a sushi bar has been really fun. Chinese restaurants, as you said, pubs, fitness studios. People have just taken it where they think, hey, I've got a group of friends here that would not cross the threshold of a church. It's just too far a stretch for them. But they would come and do this at my home or in some place in my neighborhood that's a safe place. So there's lots of churches in the country that run them in very creative ways.

Rob Thiessen:
What are some of the most unusual places that you've seen or that you think "well, that's really novel?"

Shaila Visser:
Well, I think probably the part that we're most excited about, is when the church goes into the prisons and to youth detention centers and said, "we can run it here." And the stories of transformed lives out of desperate circumstances, are amazing. And we just want to encourage the church to always remember those in prison and say, how can we adopt a prison near us and come and support the local chaplain and get involved, be involved in a youth detention centre. I love hearing the stories of, like, Union Gospel mission that run it. And they don't run it for a lot of people, but they run it for a few that are interested, whether it's four or ten men or women who come through Alpha. And just hearing the life transformation that comes out of these situations is wonderful. But I think it's the teenagers that are still being creative, you know, A&W restaurant with an iPad and the free Wi-Fi and four friends. And I think that's been really fun to see.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. Yeah, it's amazing. It's opened up so many doors. So, Αlpha's being used in a wide variety of denominations. And, you know, Alpha has a unique...with Holy Trinity Brompton being a sort of a charismatic Anglican church. Such an interesting story how, you know, it was John Wimber in the Vineyard that - and I remember that I was serving in a vineyard church in Fresno while I was in seminary. I was a secretary or whatever - so, but I remember they were sending teams to England at that time and they would come back and tell stories about it and it was just interesting. So, talk to us about that part, about the work of the Holy Spirit. They used to call the weekend "the Holy Spirit weekend." By the way, we've always struggled as a church, going away for the weekend. And I think you just shared about Holy Trinity - they're all young people. And in a suburban setting with families and stuff, it's more challenging, so we're always adapting that weekend. But some churches have said, "oh, well, that teaching about the Holy Spirit, we're just we're uncomfortable with it so we don't use it." And I always am like, well, I think that's where people meet Jesus. So I'm not sure that we should cut that out. So, just talk to us a little bit about, why is that weekend or, in particular, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, what is it that happens there that is so vital to the Alpha course?

Shaila Visser:
Well, first of all, globally, our statistics tell us the vast majority of people that come to faith on Alpha, come to faith on the weekend, or the day, like if some people have to do a day. But I think it's because we take people away from their ordinary busy lives, we give them a retreat type of atmosphere, feed them well, have good discussions, they build deeper relationships with those on Alpha, their hosts and helpers. But, I think what's happening is we are leaving room for presence. And I think in our often hurried life, we don't give people an opportunity for the presence of God, and particular millennials, they are looking for an 'experience' because it's so self-focused about, "Is this right for me?", that when they actually have a moment that they experience the love of God or conviction of God, that they suddenly say, "Oh, my goodness, God is real, because He's real to ME." and we leave room for that. So we talk about, who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do? And then, how can I be filled with the Holy Spirit? And that's, you know, a gospel presentation worked into that about, you know, "Here, commit your life to Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And so we follow that up with what we call 'prayer ministry'. And the alpha way of praying wouldn't look like a traditional - I think, if people are thinking 'charismatic', they may have a certain perspective in their mind of what that looks like - and so I demonstrate it all the time for church leaders to explain, "this is how we do it," and all we do is, we stand up and say "We'd love, if you would like to come to a faith in Jesus and be filled with the Spirit - this is an opportunity - if you just want to say, "God, who are you? Show up", you know, and we invite them to put their hands out in front of them, with their palms lifted up, and we just pray the oldest prayer in the church as "Come Holy Spirit." And then we wait.

Shaila Visser:
No music in the background, nothing fancy happening. The only explanation for anything that happens is God showed up. And often times people say, "well, what do you experience, Shaila? Like, what happens when you pray that prayer?" And we say there's always two responses that look very similar: One tears, two tears. The first 'tears' is tears of joy, "God loves me." They experience this overwhelming sense - God is for me and he loves me. And they could just tell He's pouring out his love into their hearts. And there is tears with a smile on their face because we can see it as their hosts. The second response is 'tears' and it's tears of repentance, because for the first time, they realize they need Jesus, they need someone to come. They know they're not perfect. They know they've made big errors in their life, so they feel that conviction and they just are humbly saying, "God help me, I need you in my life." And so that's the typical response that happens on Alpha. Now, of course, lots of other things can happen because the Holy Spirit is going to do what the Holy Spirit wants to do. But that's the posture. And we see so many people come to faith because of it.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, and just for those listeners who maybe aren't familiar with the Alpha course, this sort of 'encounter' weekend comes after laying of a significant foundation of theologically understanding: What is the atonement? Why did Jesus die? So, people have been pondering, contemplating, interacting with what Christ did on the cross. What are his claims? So we've thought about all those things and then we come to a place where - and like, when you said that about millennials, you know, "it's about them." And of course, oftentimes, you know, we people are "Well, people should know it's not about them," you know, "and let's just get over that, you know, get to the truth." But really, you know, our relationship with God is brilliantly designed for Millennials because God actually, personally, is interested in them and Jesus wants to meet them and know them. So, yeah, I've found that often, too, that the weekend or the day away and the time for prayer, is a time when the penny drops for people who say "Ah, I was hearing these truths, but now I realize God is real and He's there for ME. I felt His presence." and yeah, so...

Shaila Visser:
Yeah. My friend Craig tells a story, a recent story from his Alpha. And he says, there was a police officer and his wife on the course and the police officer was absolutely like, "this is ridiculous. I don't believe any of it." But he liked the people, he liked the meal, so he kept coming. And it came to the Alpha weekend, they did a full weekend away, and when we had that last talk about 'how can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?', Craig went up and said, "Can I pray for you?" And he said, "sure", you know, kind of 'if it makes you happy. Cause I don't believe any of this.' And Craig said, "Would you put your hands out like this and just be open to 'if you're real, God, show me.'" And he said he just prayed, "Come, Holy Spirit", a very simple prayer, and the man just started to weep. And he cried and cried and cried and he said, "God is real." and he had an experience with God. He had literally two minutes before that, had no belief, no thought that Alpha was right about what it said about Jesus and he was, in a moment, transformed because the Holy Spirit showed up. And I think that's the beauty of leaving room for the Holy Spirit.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, yeah, so that's been an amazing part of the Alpha journey. So for pastors and leaders who are listening and considering running an alpha course. What are some important steps to remember and maybe, you know, what are some common mistakes or misconceptions?

Shaila Visser:
I'd say a couple of things. I think that lots of churches have tried Alpha and say to me, or to us, "it doesn't work." And in some cases, it may not. And it may not at all be the right thing for them, so we can agree and say, "yeah, it may not be right for your situation." But many pastors, as we talk to them and say, "what didn't work?" We realized that the number one problem is they weren't getting non-Christian guests on their course. They were getting lots of Christians and people had become a bit 'addicted to Alpha'; they thought of it as their small group, like "Oh, I come to Alpha every time and I'm a helper", but really, they're coming because they love the people, they love the food. And so a lot of churches have had to reboot Alpha and get new leadership into it, fresh leadership that is really geared towards 'how do I invite people from outside in?' and the Alpha people don't stay. If you've got the same Alpha leader after three or four years, you know you haven't done your job of raising up the next Alpha leadership. And that should always be transforming, just so you get new people and new perspective. But I would also say, "how is the church leader engaging their people to invite to Alpha?", so that they're building relationships, serving in the community, getting to know people so that there's always a pipeline of guests that are interested in at least coming and checking it out.

Shaila Visser:
I think the second thing that a tip would be, is ensure that whomever you recruit to be on the Alpha team that's what I call 'guest-facing' - they're in the small groups, they're welcoming people when they walk in the room - are the people that YOU would trust with your best friend, who you've been praying for 15 years, to come to something Christian. Would you put YOUR friend in THEIR group with THOSE people? And if the answer is "no", then, you know you don't have the right volunteers that are helping on Alpha. Now, you can put some of those people in the kitchen, they can help with serving food. But it's essential that you've selected, that you just haven't said, "Hey, volunteer and be in a small group." You need to vet people because that's the trust that you said earlier in this interview, "Do I trust that when I bring my non-Christian friend - who I work with Monday to Friday and I sit beside and we're in meetings together - If I bring them Tuesday night to Alpha, am I going to be embarrassed and have to apologize the next day or are they going to say, well, that was a great experience"? Maybe not for them, but there's nothing cringe-worthy for the Christian. So putting together the right Alpha is really important. And then the third thing, so many churches skip the Alpha weekend. They even skip the talks because they're nervous about the Holy Spirit. I just say, that's when people come to faith. That's when transformation happens. Don't skip it! If you're a bit nervous, I understand, we'll coach you through it. How do we do this in a way that works within our theological framework? Come Holy Spirit is not a scary prayer. And that's what it looks like. And when we do that, people come to faith. And when you skip it, Alpha has lost all of its power. It is just a nice theological talk every week and very few people come to faith. So those are three tips that I'd give.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, that's great. Well, thank you so much, Shaila, for for sharing and encouraging us. I wonder if you would mind just giving a prayer for BCMB leaders that are listening for their own hearts to be stirred, for our hearts to be stirred, to be touched with the love of Christ, the power of the gospel and be, you know, released or mobilized, activated in evangelism, whether it's Alpha or just sharing our faith person to person.

Shaila Visser:
That's right. Well, I'd love to pray and just want to say, we're here to serve. If there are church leaders listening and they just want to, you know, give me a call or connect.

Rob Thiessen:
How would they do that?

Shaila Visser:
They could contact me at the Alpha Canada office. They could contact me by e-mail. It's my first and last name at Alpha Canada dot org. I'm very easy to find, we're on the website with all of our contact details.

Rob Thiessen:
So alphacanada.org website.

Shaila Visser:
And we just want to serve churches in the area of evangelism and come alongside as much as we can. Even if they don't use Alpha, but they have questions about evangelism. We're here to serve.

Rob Thiessen:
Awesome.

Shaila Visser:
So let me pray.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah.

Shaila Visser:
Father, I thank you so much for the pastors that serve in the BCMB and God, we just ask that you would pour out your Holy Spirit on them, that you would reignite a passion for the people that are far from God in their communities, in their cities, in their neighborhoods. Father, for those who have been so busy in the work of caring for their congregations and have not in any way trying to avoid those that are outside the church, but just having a lack of time. Father, I pray that you'd help them find time for their neighbors, for their friends that don't know you, that you would reignite a passion for the people that are in their communities. Father, I pray that you would help each pastor know how to engage with the culture around them and then how to share that with their congregations, so that the lay people may be effective inviters, effective communicators of the gospel to the world around them. Father, we do pray that you would also kindle, in the hearts of the people in our nation, a desire to know you. Holy Spirit, would you please go ahead of every church in the country? Soften hearts so that when they're approached, Father, that someone may say yes to an invitation to a church service or to Alpha or to anything else they may be running. Father, we long for people to come to know you. Use us, Lord, and father, we pray that we would glorify Jesus in this, that we would not shy away from proclaiming His name, which is the name above every other name. We pray that Jesus would be on our lips because He is worthy. So, we pray come Holy Spirit, do a great work in the church and we will give all the glory to Jesus. And it's in His name, we pray, amen.

Rob Thiessen:
Amen. Amen. Thank you, Shaila. Yeah. Well, thanks, everyone. And I look forward to visiting with you all again on our next podcast. Have a great day.

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