Hacking Alpha: What Have You Done With It?

Just curious: What are you favourite Alpha hacks? What have you done with the Alpha Course to adapt it to your context?

I see that there is already Catholic Alpha and Youth Alpha and Armed Forces Alpha as well as Alpha for the workplace, and prison. And I am sure each one of these has its own hacks and customizations.

Hackingalpha1-1The church I preached at last week, up here in the north of Scotland, has an Alpha course on a Wednesday night. Its held in the town hall so the environment is not as informal as it was intended. And they have been using the default videos from suburban middle class England which doesnt really seem to fit the local context. And as far as i can tell, they have not yet hacked into the Alpha system to contextualize or adapt the material. Interesting to note that both the adult Alpha and the youth Alpha are being run by English who have moved to Scotland.

The youth up here have a different attitude. Youth Alpha just started up and my son is going along. Even in the planning stages they were talking of making their own videos to go with the series – something more gritty and urban than whats on offer.

And another thing. What happens AFTER alpha? Are people spoiled for “real church” after Alpha or are they plugging in nicely to the traditional Sunday morning service model? Do you know of any Alpha groups that become their own church?

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Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)


  • I thought Stephen Hunt’s book (Anyone for alpha? : evangelism in a post-christian society) was an interesting take on the programme. An agnostic (but often sympathetic) sociological analysis. I particularly liked his final chapter where he gives what he thinks the key questions addressed should be.
    I see he’s also written another similar book which may be less academic – “The Alpha enterprise : evangelism in a post-Christian era”

  • From a quick scan online it looks that they might be the same book with different titles or editions as “Anyone of Alpha?” is out of print now.

  • We just finished an Alpha course in Spanish. We found that there is a lot about Alpha that is 1. very english, 2. very formulaic (i.e.- pray this prayer, do this thing and you WILL obtain this result), 3. very charismatic (3 sessions on the Holy Spirit?).
    I also thought that 3 sessions on Jesus, 3 sessions on the Holy Spirit and not one really focusing in on Father God was a bit unbalanced?? I could be wrong. We also obviously ditched the dodgy dubbed videos of Nicky Gumbel and preferred to do all the talks ourselves.
    As our context is Spanish, we elected to center the alpha sessions around a mid-day meal on a Saturday. We usually started around 3.30 and seldom finished before 8 in the evening. Nice.

  • 10 years ago I started and ran for several years Alpha Courses (stock format – although first time I did the talks) in various Vineyard churches in the San Francisco Bay Area and it was decently received although people in the area tend to lack the local family roots for it to perpetuate as easily as it does in the UK.
    In the past few years and outwith a church umbrella I started what I call “Alfalpha – Alpha for sp(r)outing postmoderns”. Kept the social mealtime, but did it with a more natural social network of friends, had some Vibe & similar home grown videos or photos w music instead of a guitar, some short Highway or Damah videos as the subject matter and a much extended discussion time. Eventually morphing to watch a selected movie once a month and then come discuss over/after dinner.
    btw – my cousin and now her husband recently went thru Alpha in Wick (far north of Scotland). She as a searching wanting to believe person persuaded the local church to start it!. They both now have started to follow Jesus.

  • Andrew,
    how does one hack (or even adapt a little bit) Alpha, when it is forbidden by its author? My good friend, a pastor in Pilsen, tried to make a few changes do adapt Alpha for our completely atheist Czech context. He asked for permission and was strictly forbidden to make ANY changes. This led my friend to create a completely new program called Space for Closeness (in Czech: Prostor Pro Priblizeni). It is very relationship-oriented, slower than Alpha, and very successful, as far as I know. Actually it is extremely succesfull for the Czech standards. Their website is: http://www.3pe.cz

  • Not really a hack but we did Alpha “live” in Jan (We = Bellshill Salvation Army)
    We formed a worship band that played some fab music… relevant to the folk who attended (kind of like the band used in the E4 stings for big brother)
    and our officers taught the material – kept to the script at times and deviated at other times.
    What made it meaningful for the attendees was the fellowship – meal before… coffee during…
    Afterwards, everyone is now part of the homechurch network we have and some come to worship on a sunday…
    It worked for us… for now… but we’ll continually ensure it is relevant.

  • We cutted Alpha to a “little Alpha”. 5 evenings and one whole Saturday. Usually we try to plant a new (simple)church with this courses. Original Alpha takes too much time for us.

  • wooo . . cool.
    tom – love to hear of a house church coming out of it
    sasa – i did not realize that Alpha forbids hacking. I assumed everyone could contextualize it.
    Murray [i was living in san francisco 10 years and sometimes partnered with the san francisco vineyard] – i LOVE the Alphalpha name, despite the image of a little rascal with an X-treme protruding cowlick standing at attention.

  • I cant help but smile when I read your post. I assume that you are asking people how they have made this certain program fit into the context of their enviroment. The interesting thing to me is that how European Alpha is. The only reason I know about it is becaue I took a class called ‘church evangelism’ where we studied the different gimicks and methods/programs of presenting the gospel from FAITH to EE and Alpha. My opinion is that there is no need for these sorts of programs and that if you just disciple and teach your disciples to evangelize and disciple then it all kinda works way it was intended to. But I am glad that the Gospel is being preached on any account.

  • P.S. That is a way over simplification of what I think. And I didn’t mean that last post in a degrading way. I hope it was not taken that way. The last thing I want is to be labled as a snoby American.

  • snobby american? thats a twist
    no – no offence taken at all. And like you, I much prefer something less programatic and more spontaneous. But i know there are many people that are not built like me and Alpha, despite its English bent, seems to have made an impact with them.

  • first did alpha a long time ago with university students where we had sunday lunch together and then took our ‘session’ for the day from the sunday paper headlines – just remember great afternoons of quite delicious existential discussion and somehow we really did manage to cover all the session topics
    more recently i did youth alpha in canada where we took the session headings, gave young people a bunch of video cameras and sent them out to interview the local public (with the permission of Mall owners) with some key questions – at the same time we gave those questions to 4 ministers from different Christian traditions and captured their responses on video too – we ended up with a kind of tv fest alpha – each session involved sofa picnics, watching the clips, debating the key question and then checking in with the Christian viewpoint – it worked great for a group that would not have responded to a heavy teaching agenda – plus the results speak for themselves as most of those young people have gone on to be pastors doing alpha with other groups

  • the main frustration we heard from people in our congregation when we did a “mini alpha” to see if the full blown thing was going to work in our context was that they couldn’t understand the speaker on the videos and that there were several “culture specific” (read: only people from England would “get it”) references that left people confused. If we ever decide to do Alpha, we will do the teaching portion with a live speaker for those reasons. The other frustration was that the videos were too long so we would also shorten that portion.

  • Our Youth Alpha hack was to ditch it and find a better youth resource…Youth Emmaus, written by youth workers who actually do work with young people and understand how a youth resource will work on the ground!!!
    We had run Youth Alpha with various groups of young people but always thought the material was not really suited for youth work! It was more a case of …uh this sounds like it was written for adults and then adopted for youth (which it is!) We found each session made a few good points, but as a team we always ended putting in a load more prep time.
    Youth Emmaus is the way to go for youth groups wanting to run exploratory groups. It is very well designed and comes highly recommended over Youth Alpha, which doesn’t really appear to be written from the ground up for young people. If it was, they did a pretty bad job of it!!!

  • Did you try to contact Todd Hunter, since he’s now the Prez of AlphaUSA? He could probably let you know if Alpha is hackable, and also some creative ways that he’s seen it used.

  • Every Alpha course I ever seen has been hacked to some extent – firstly because everyone seems to believe they have the best idea how to evangelize – secondly alpha has a pretty sound model and the talk material (though very english middle class) is well thought out
    Then again I’m biased,Jesus found me through an alpha course which fed me almost perfectly into a cell based church On which I’ve noticed that – alpha groups often go on to form their own cell/home group as people find that is how they feel part of church not as part of a Sunday congregation
    Lastly though alpha if not contextualised can look frankly weird I don’t know a context where it hasn’t yet worked (diversity including ethnic Kazachs, Chinese house church, Knightsbridge London, High security prisons, rural africa)

  • thanks Oli
    Do you find that Alpha encourages the continuity from group to cell church or do you think they are biased towards the congregational model?

  • Well Holy Trinity Brompton (where Alpha International is based) don’t use a cell based model but a kind of half way house where they say the church is based on pastorates (20-30 people meeting as a congregation every other week) So although they are biased towards a congregational model (for example the style of sung worship on alpha is partly designed to introduce people to congregational sung worship) they also encourage alpha groups to transform into home groups (2-3 of which make up a pastorate znd meet alternate weeks to pastorates)
    Also I have observed that in the UK (and in my limited experience worldwide) it is churches that are leaning towards or embracing the cell based model that are most keen on alpha (New Frontiers, Vineyard or G12 based churches and Fusion for University Students)

  • I’m currently doing a PhD on Alpha… sociological and theology critique based on qualitative research (participant observation and post-course interviews) in six courses.
    There is a bit of a contradiction in Alpha’s structure. To be used as a franchise, which it is, necessitates standardisation. This is so that just as you can be assured that when you buy a big mac, or do Alpha wherever you are in the world, you are not getting some local variation but the standardised product. However, this makes authentic contextualisation difficult, if not impossible.
    As I understand it, there are various ‘levels’ of contextualisation from translation to inculturation. Alpha can be located at the translation level. So, it took the adult course and translated it to youth alpha. The most costly and difficult process is that of inculturation which involves a greater focus on the cultural context where the Christian faith is to take root and expression. This involves a dialectical process of reciprocal and respectful listening, of journeying together. The emphasis is on a holistic and community-centred, or local, approach, rather than a pre-packaged product.

  • We had an Alpha course aimed for mothers of younger children (specifically those attending a Mothers of Preschoolers program at our church – MOPS is not geared towards being evangelistic): it was offered during the same time as the church’s Women’s Bible Study Fellowship so that childcare was already in place. I don’t think the desired end result was so much to get them into a church, but rather to connect them with folks in the MOPS program where they could continue to question and explore.

  • I like alpha
    mainly cos at 15 it was something i could at least try and do in my school to invite a few freinds to that wouldn’t freak em out to much and felt accomplishable
    as it turned out it lead 4 of the leaders of our CU to christ rather than anyone outside .
    plus please go easy on Youth Alpha, i’ve been able to give it to some very over worked parent/youth workers at a catholic church near me and it lead to 12-15 of the young people becomeing christians
    and always hack it
    and in true hacking style
    never ask permission [;)Sasa]
    cos we all know better than our leaders anyway’s.
    Hey skinny some friends of mine from up your way got a little write up about them in emergingchurch.info http://www.emergingchurch.info/stories/revolution/index.htm
    Sounds like exzactly the kind of thing your talking about
    totally the kind of thing that makes a programe forgivable for being a program

  • Last night, in our children’s worker meeting, among other thinks we were looking at a course called ALF (About Life and Faith) which appears to be a sort of Alpha/bible overview for kids. I loved the way that the video vox pops could be used as discussion starters. But I think it would only work for over 7s.

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