Enquirers Courses in lockdown


Courses designed to enable enquirers to look into the Christian faith have been a significant part of church life for over three decades now. The best known of these is the hugely popular Alpha Course, with Christianity Explored also being widely used. Typically, the groups either run in someone’s home, a church hall, or in some cases a church will hire out a restaurant or similar venue for the duration of the course.

But how would such courses fare in Lockdown?

We caught up with three churches who were determined that Lockdown wasn’t going to stop them sharing the gospel to see what they learned from taking the courses online.

Luke Briggs (Chaplain at University of Leicester) ran Alpha for St John’s, Clarendon Park, and of his group of five, two members of the group from non-church backgrounds had made their own decision to follow Jesus by the end of the course. The new opportunities thrown up by the internet resulted in them having one group member living in Leeds (a University student) who joined the course, and Luke was able to put him in touch with a Christian student worker in that city!

At St Luke’s church in Thurnby, a Christianity Explored course took place just after Easter during the first Lockdown, and Vicar Tom Devas observed that questions that had arisen as a result of the pandemic were a feature of the conversations in the group. Ten people attended the course, with one lady who came originally from a different faith background becoming a Christian on it. Tom’s advice to others thinking of trying an online enquirers course was “keep it simple, and aim to keep the session to an hour.”

In St Catharine’s, Houghton on the Hill, both a Christianity Explored and a Jesus the Game Changer course were run. Steve Ransley, Vicar of St Catharine’s, enthused about some of the benefits of taking the courses online, noting that “in some ways online makes it easier for those attending: it’s less weird than having to walk into a room full of people you haven’t met before”, adding that having the course online also made it easier for some people to attend, particularly couples with children.

The common message from all three was that small group sizes aren’t a problem (Steve thought that the smaller groups probably made it easier for people to share), that these courses definitely work online (as evidenced by the stories of new believers coming to faith in them!), and all  were very enthusiastic about encouraging other churches to give running Alpha, Christianity Explored or Pilgrim type courses a try online.

Here are a few tips gleaned from our conversations with Luke, Tom and Steve:

  • It’s helpful to have someone from your team who can be the ‘social glue’, especially at the start of the sessions. Someone who can take the awkwardness out of the online setting, fill time or silences where needed and engage individual guests in light-hearted & welcoming conversation. Groups sometimes use silly little ice-breakers like rating who has eaten the best evening meal that day, one group even had a Christmas jumper competition on the last week!
  • The host(s) and the technical person don’t have to be the same. In fact, it’s arguably better if they’re not. If there’s someone on team who is slightly  less chatty, but can be responsible for admitting guests to the call, posting the correct link for the video, checking everyone is muted at the right time etc, that helps whoever is leading the course.
  • Online courses could work with a large or small group.  In a larger group the breakout rooms function would be used to enable multiple discussion groups (each with a team member as facilitator).
  • If you’re doing Alpha, the ‘Away Day’ or Holy Spirit sessions require a bit of thinking through. St John’s blocked out a Saturday morning rather than a full day. They kept things informal, encouraging people to sign in with breakfast in hand if they wished, and then used tea/coffee breaks as time away from the screen. Between the 2nd and 3rd sessions they encouraged everyone to get outside and walk for half an hour. This broke up the screen time and information overload but also gave chance for guests to reflect on where they were up to in their spiritual journey. They then reconvened for the final session and offered prayer ministry in a two-to-one ratio over Zoom breakout groups. Luke felt that the segments of quiet and solitude were a key ingredient in the day running well for the guests.

 

 


First published on: 18th January 2021

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