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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Anthony Richards
May 19, 2013

Ask Anything at Alpha

Anthony Richards is campus pastor at one of seven River Valley Church (Assemblies of God) locations in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Some 5,000 people attend River Valley in total. Richards believes much of River Valley’s growth from one campus of 600 members can be attributed to Alpha courses, evangelism resources designed to communicate the Christian faith to the widest possible audience and often used in an informal dinner setting.

“If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?” the Alpha website queries visitors. Corin Aldrich, Alpha USA reporter, recently spoke with Richards about Alpha’s easy accessibility to nonbelievers and believers alike.

evangel: What makes you Alpha’s biggest fan?

ANTHONY RICHARDS: In January 2007, River Valley Lead Pastor Rob Ketterling approached me about starting Alpha. Pastor Rob knew of Alpha, loved the concept, but had not yet run it himself. After hearing how Alpha gives people an opportunity to learn about Jesus and honestly express themselves, Pastor Rob and I committed to running Alpha and running it by the recipe. Any church that wants to have a successful Alpha program, absolutely must have the senior pastor behind it.

Since then, River Valley Church has been on Outreach magazine’s Top 100 list of Fastest-Growing Churches in America for the past five years, and we attribute a large part of that to the Alpha course. All seven River Valley campuses now offer Alpha.

evangel: As an evangelism tool, have you had many nonbelievers come to your Alpha courses?

RICHARDS: Absolutely! Some 60 to 70 percent who came to the course were people who did not want to be there. By the end of the first night, they’re into it. They come and have a great dinner, hear a talk, ask any question. They can be critical, cynical, any way they want.

When you invite someone to church, they can’t interrupt the pastor to ask a question, but at Alpha you’re free to ask and say anything.

Over the years, I’ve seen a multitude of ways Alpha can impact the church. Along with outreach, River Valley Church uses Alpha to connect people within the congregation. It doesn’t matter where you are on your faith journey, whether you’ve been a Christian for 20 years or the last thing you want to be is a Christian; Alpha is ideal for both.

evangel: How does River Valley Church use Alpha as a tool to grow leadership?

RICHARDS: One of the things I love about Alpha, from a leadership perspective, is that it does two things. First, it teaches people you don’t have to be an oracle to be a leader; you don’t have to know all the answers to all the questions or be a biblical scholar. That doesn’t make a good leader; loving people and helping them find the answers does.

The second hidden gem within Alpha is the role of the course helper who is trained to be quiet during the course. That is golden, because it teaches people that to be an effective leader in church, you need to become a great listener.

evangel: Can you share a story of how a person’s life was changed on Alpha?

RICHARDS: Recently, a woman was registered to come to Alpha with her husband. On the day the course was starting, the woman’s husband told her he was having an affair and was leaving her. She came to the Alpha course alone and in tears. She sat down at the table and was surprised to see, sitting across from her, a woman she had worked with at a restaurant five years earlier.

Now they’re talking with the pastor about how to form a support group and help other women in the church who have gone through difficult situations in their marriages. I could tell you story after story.


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