Friday, 25 November 2016

Unknown Numbers

If you have call display what is your reaction when a number comes up you don't recognize; nervousness, fear, annoyance, hesitation? Are you tempted just to avoid answering it - let it go to voicemail?

Well, I certainly wonder, when it happens, "Who could this be?" However, in my ministry with Alpha, it turns out as often as not to be a call I'm glad I took.

Yesterday, near the close of the day, I received such a call. I answered, wondering, of course, who it could be. It was from a pastor in a town in Alberta. I had met him at a recent networking event. He told me he has a youth group meeting in his church building in which there are no kids from his church! Twenty to twenty-five teens every week. No Christians! He wanted to know if Alpha had any resources he could use for this group.

Do we have resources?!!! (Rhetorical question of course on my part 😉)

I went over highlights of our Youth Film Series, including some figures showing how successful it has been across the country. I gave him our link to preview the videos, explained how he could set up an account and be able to download everything he needed to run the course (even training and promotional resources), offered to help personally, and gave him contact info for the youth pastor at another church in his town who, I made sure to ask first, should be able to help him as well.

I know my Youth Associate Amy will probably read this blog, so I was a little hesitant to tell this story. She is so enthusiastic to reach young people for Christ that I'm afraid she might want to jump right out of bed, ready to help.

Don't worry Amy. They probably won't start until February.



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Youth Alpha Training Summit - RockPointe Church

Youth Alpha Training Summit - RockPointe Church
I'm afraid I can't claim a lot of credit for this one. Most of the credit goes to Brent Sellers of RockPointe Church who has stepped up as an Alberta Youth Champion. Much of the credit for the establishment of the concept of Alberta Youth Champions goes to my friend and Associate, Amy Croy. So I come in a bit down the line for accolades. I did, however, deliver the banners and the Big Question Mark to RockPointe in the middle of a snow storm at great risk to my life and person.

On Saturday our Alpha Teams hosted the first ever Southern Alberta Youth Alpha Training Summit
--a gathering of youth, pastors and leaders, school christian clubs and individuals to prepare to run Youth Alpha in their circles of influence.

A message from Brent:
We had 50 people present, representing 6 multi-ethnic churches from five denominations, plus representation from several high schools. Our student teams opened the day by sharing their testimonies of God's faithfulness through their obedient efforts from last year. One group of adults in the room said to me "It strikes us that we could have everything perfectly planned, but what we've learned from these kids is that what we need most is faith."
We watched the NEW training videos that Alpha Canada provides--which are exceptional, by the way. I love how the opportunity for a mock discussion is built into session 2, and the opportunity for prayer is built into session 3!
Jason and Shauna Caldwell--parents of Evan and Jordan who died in the sledding accident at COP last February--shared a powerful challenge about the importance of taking the gospel out into the world for the sake of those whose souls are on the line. One of the most profound parts of the challenge was when Jason said "That bobsled track is like a metaphor for life, nobody knows when you'll round the next corner and your time will be up." His plea for urgency was profound!
Finally, we spent a time in prayer for one another that included anointing and commissioning. Some youth pastors/leaders took the opportunity to commission and anoint their kids... but the most moving part for me: I saw two girls who came separately BY THEMSELVES, and just happened to know one another, one from her Catholic School and one from her Public School, laying hands one each other and praying for God to use them for His glory.
Many people left having shared ideas, learned new techniques, and having made contacts that will lead to stronger partnerships in local schools. For instance, Notre Dame High School is running Alpha--they sent one girl to the summit. Harvest Hills Alliance, which is right around the corner came, too. Harvest Hills has numerous youth group kids at Notre Dame, but had no idea they were running Alpha. So, now Harvest is making sure all their kids are present, inviting friends, and leading groups at Alpha in Notre Dame!
At RockPointe--We have one team running Alpha at Calgary Christian School right now, and all our other teams (Cochrane, Thirsk, Manning, Bowness, Arbour Lake) are aiming to re-launch in January. Please pray for our youth on these teams, as the Lord's story in all this continues to unfold! Please also pray for a location for our Arbour Lake team, as we look to partner with local families or even the nearby Catholic School (Mark Richards is helping me with this).
Thanks be to God for His saints who so willingly and eagerly use the gifts He has given them. What an honour it is for me to be associated with such a team! What a joy to be involved in Alpha's ministry, equipping the body of Christ, the local church, to reach our nation for Christ.



Monday, 21 November 2016

I'd Been Warned - I Shoulda Known Better

I'll explain the title of this post, which refers to an incident that occurred at 11:30 PM, and work backwards form there through my day (Friday) I hope you'll forgive the flippancy of my Youtube link. It's just the way my brain works.

I booked my hotel room for Friday night at a hotel in Innisfail. However, my daughter said she had booked a stay at that same motel and left for another because her non-smoking room smelled of smoke. I thought, "Well that was then - this is now. Surely It wouldn't be a common occurrence." So I booked in, went to my room and everything seemed fine. That is until about 11:00 when I heard the drip, drip of water. I ignored it for a while, but then wondered if I had left a tap dripping in the bathroom, so I got up to check. There was water all over the floor, dripping from the ceiling.

I called the front desk and explained the problem. The clerk said he would be there in 5 minutes. I called again after 6, saying also that he should find me another room, and he came right to the room, finally realizing the problem. (It turns out that the toilet in the room above was cracked and leaking.) So he let me in to the room next door. Guess what it smelled like: yes, smoke. I told the desk clerk, he came into the room, took a cursory sniff and said he didn't notice it. But it was definitely there. Looking back, when I originally entered my first room I noticed the (not unpleasant) smell of ozone. An ozone generator is what they use to get rid of smoke odor. As I booked out the following morning I mentioned the smoke smell and the morning desk clerk shouted into the back office, "We need the machine in room 119." It seems it is not an uncommon problem for them.

I'd been warned - I shoulda known better

So... enough on that problem. My afternoon meeting in Red Deer was with Living Stones Church. Living Stones has run Alpha's Youth Film Series effectively in the past, but now their Senior Pastor is the driving force behind their running the new Alpha Film Series for the entire congregation. He was not able to be there, but I had a very good meeting with Associate Pastor Darren Aucoin. Living Stones began years ago with a small group of 6 people. They now have about 800 attending their Sunday Services. Their current location was once a drive-in movie theatre, and the old projection/concession building still stands as their youth centre.

Prior to Red Deer I had two meetings in Calgary. My late morning meeting (I'm working backwards, remember) was with Rob Martin of Eastside City Church. I was encouraged to hear that they have made Alpha an integral part of their church's small group strategy, where they intend to run Alpha sequentially and guests graduating from an Alpha course are then rolled over, if you like, to a new small group.

My first morning meeting in Calgary was with Southview Church where I had another great conversation and heard some wonderful Alpha stories. Just before we sat down, I was given a tour of their new facility. I smiled when my guide showed me their worship space (half of which was divided off and set up for their Alpha. My own church meets in a high school atrium, and we have to set up and take down about 110 chairs every week. Because Southview's worship space is, "multi-use," they set up and take down 1000 chairs every week. I don't think our people should feel so bad.

And that's as far back in the morning I'll go as I'm not sure you don't want to know what I had for breakfast.



Thursday, 17 November 2016

New Friends - Southern Alberta Day 3

This is the Neighbourhood Church, a street front church in old downtown Medicine Hat. It is rather a new church on my radar, but already I've found a new friend. When I knew I was coming to Medicine Hat, I checked our records and saw this church of which I had not previously been aware, so I emailed to say I was going to be in town. Pastor Michael Fischer replied to say he would like to get together, so we arranged a meeting for between 10:30 and 11:00 this morning.

The first thing that came up that indicated Michael was an OK guy was that he loves Alpha. You can see the Alpha posters prominently displayed in the front windows. The second was that he came to Medicine Hat from Hamilton, which was basically my own home town. His church started Alpha last spring by running it on weekday noon hours right there in the downtown. Fantastic! This fall they have been running a Sunday evening Alpha. Plans are for the Marriage Course and more Alphas in the future.

Their church caters, if you like, to, "artsy and talented" people. As a result, Michael told me, they have an excellent worship ministry and have taken pains to have the best sound equipment possible. He has been told by one visitor that they had the loudest worship band he had ever heard. I think I would enjoy it there. One, "complaint" Michael had was one of which many churches might be envious; that he himself was, "nearly 40" and he was the oldest person there.

Once again, I volunteered to return to help with a training event for his Alpha team and he happily indicated that it might be a possibility. That's 3 or 4 possible dates from just this current trip, so, Lord willing, there may be another Southern Alberta trip in the cards.

On my way to my first appointment of the morning, right in the middle of the city, on a through street, I had to stop to allow a family of deer to cross in front of me. They just walked casually out into the road like they owned it. It reminded me, in a sense, of driving through a Wal-Mart parking lot. I caught this one on camera. He seems to be saying, "C'mon kids. Hurry up!"

So I'm now in Calgary, ready for more meetings tomorrow. I'm really happy with how this trip has gone, and I still have meetings to come with more of my key churches. I'm becoming more and more encouraged with the strategy of deepening relationships with key existing Alpha churches. Alpha has one purpose - to help local churches reach their communities with the saving and life-changing message of Jesus Christ, and to supply them with the tools to do so - all at no charge or, as I like to say, for the low, low cost of nothing at all.



Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Day 2 - Lethbridge

My day started off with a great meeting with Pastor Bert Faulkner at Westside Community Church (PAOC). Their Alpha is going well, ending at the end of November, but they are already planning to run again in the new year. I offered my services and availability to come again and help run a team training, which offer was genuinely appreciated. Hopefully I'll hear from them again on that.

My next appointment was at lunchtime, so on the way I stopped at 2 churches that happened to be on my route: Maranatha Christian Reformed Church and St Martha's Catholic Church. Maranatha has been running Alpha's Marriage Course faithfully for years. In fact the couple that coordinates it has basically designed their finished basement for the very purpose. At St Martha's I met Fr Roque, who is that Parish's chaplain to the University of Lethbridge. He seemed quite interested in the new Alpha Film Series for young adults. I also gave him contact information for Josh canning, Alpha's National Catholic coordinator and Mark Richards, our Catholic coach out of Calgary.

My lunchtime meeting was with Pastor Greg Esselmont and his dad Randy of The Gate Christian Church in downtown Lethbridge. Their church is in an old Bank of Montreal building, with 2 story ceilings. I wish I'd thought to take some pictures because all the old vaults are still in the building, albeit with the locks removed from the massive steel doors. They too are extremely pleased at how their Alpha is going.

Greg and Randy mentioned I should stop in to a local street ministry, Streets Alive, so on my way to my next meeting I did, and left some information with the person in charge, who was familiar with Alpha. Hopefully I stirred his mind to consider Alpha, although Alpha in such a context is different in many ways from what we might consider a, "normal Alpha."

Both Streets Alive and The Gate were initiated by the Victory Church in Lethbridge, which has been quite active in the local Christian scene for years. Coincidentally, my next visit was as a local Starbucks with Associate Pastor of Victory, John Albiston. John is one of my favourite people to talk with. He was brought on board at Victory Lethbridge with responsibility for church growth and is a fount of knowledge in that area. He joined Victory in 2012, a year after Senior Pastor Kelly Stickel, whose arrival John credits with the beginning of a process that saw church attendance grow from about 400 in 2011 to over 1200 today.

Among other tips for church growth, John gave me his 3 Laws for Church Growth:
  1. Invite lots of people
  2. Don't suck
  3. Have people make friends
I won't expand on them here, but they make perfect sense when explained.

I'm writing this post in Medicine Hat, where I will be meeting various churches tomorrow.



Southern Alberta Day One (♫Dashing Through the Snow♫)

This was Calgary late this morning as I arrived. I'm not sure if this is a picture of Stony Trail, but that's what it looked like. The Trail itself was more just wet than anything, but my first visit was to the Bowridge campus of RockPointe Church to drop off some banners and the big red Alpha Question Mark for a Youth Training Summit event being hosted there on Saturday by Brent Sellers, Youth Pastor there and an Alberta Alpha Youth Champion. The event is for students or youth leaders interested in running the Alpha Youth Film Series in various contexts or venues. I must say I am so encouraged by Youth Pastors like Brent and others who have so bought in to the vision of seeing young people come to faith through Alpha. Much credit must be given to Amy Croy, my Youth Associate who has taken the initiative in gathering together a number of these Champions. (Please keep her in your prayers.)

OK, my point: RockPointe is on Highway 1A, between Calgary and Cochrane. This road was not so well-travelled as the main highways, and when I arrived at the church's location and went to turn left off the highway  I very nearly slid into the ditch. By the time I reached the central area of Calgary though, the snow was gone.

From RockPointe it was over to Eastside City Church, where a scheduling mix-up meant a rescheduled appointment for Friday when I'll be passing through Calgary again on my way home.

Finally, a very encouraging meeting at First Alliance with Heather Brown, Adult Education and Development Pastor, who oversees their Alpha program, I volunteered my services to return before their next Alpha in January to do a training for their Alpha team. (More snow?)

I'm writing this in my hotel room in Lethbridge where I have a number of appointments tomorrow (actually today, as it's after midnight.)

So, Blessings & Good Night


Monday, 14 November 2016

Preparing to Head South

Well no, not that far south, and not a holiday, but a round-trip through Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, back to Calgary, then Red Deer and back home. I should be gone from Tuesday to Saturday.

There was a bit of a monkey wrench thrown into this trip - last week, before it even began. It was all planned around being scheduled to address a Wednesday lunchtime meeting of the Lethbridge ministerial. This was planned a couple of months ago, and the date November 16 decided upon because that was the time I could have 15 or 20 minutes for my presentation, in addition to networking with pastors in the city.

So first of all, when I called my contact at the ministerial a couple of weeks ago to confirm, he told me they were having another speaker from Calgary and I would be able to have about 2 minutes after him. With a deep breath and a sigh, I mentioned I had put together a full presentation and it was hardly worth my time to make a 5-hour drive for a 2-minute talk. He agreed to work it out so I could have my full time.

Then, last Wednesday (the 9th) at about 12:30, my phone rang. It was him. "Hello John, where are you? Are you in town?"
"No," I said, "I'm in St Albert."
"Oh, didn't I tell you it was today?" No, in fact I was sure it was set for the 16th. Just to make sure I was not mistaken I checked our email string and he had indeed told me it was the 16th.

I had already set up a number of appointments in the other cities, so rather than cancel the trip I set about making individual appointments with the Pastors I had planned on meeting at the ministerial. My dance card is fairly full now, so Lord willing, some good will come out of all this.

And I'll be driving, not flying like the ones in the picture, so I'm praying God will keep the animals and the snow off the roads for me.



Thursday, 10 November 2016

Ninja Evangelization! Made My Morning

I received an email this morning from  one of Alpha's most ardent coordinators, reporting on the results of the Alpha she runs for Grade 9's in a local Catholic high school. She reports:
Out of 53 more-or-less regulars, at least 22 students began or strengthened a relationship with Jesus and 13 more are ready to dive in!"
She used this picture from one of the videos in her post-Alpha evaluation. In other words, asking students where they thought they were before the course and after. The water in the pool represents a relationship with Jesus. Choices were: 
1 – In deep and moving!
2 – In the water but not really moving
3 – Ready to dive in
4 – Testing the water but not ready to get in
5 – Moving toward the water
6 – Close but distracted by other things
7 – Know it’s there but focused on myself
8 – Not even in the room

BEFORE ALPHA, 39% did not have a relationship with Jesus and 36% were "testing the waters but not ready to get in (total 75%). AFTER ALPHA, just 22% did not have a relationship with Jesus and 15% were "testing the waters" (total 37%).
BEFORE ALPHA, 13% had a relationship with Jesus (were in the water) – including 2% who were "in deep and moving!" – and 11% were "ready to dive in" (total 24%). AFTER ALPHA, 41% had a relationship with Jesus – including 11% who were "in deep and moving" – and 26% were "ready to dive in" (total 67%).
Every Alpha, my team starts to doubt that they are making a difference, and every time they are bowled over by the results.  The students come to Alpha for RE credit – and pizza – and then Jesus sneaks up on them, gently drawing them to Himself. The Holy Spirit is working even when we don’t see it. That’s why I call it ninja evangelization!
Thanks Alana. You have what my mom used to call, "stick-to-it-ive-ness." I love your heart for the Lord, for kids, for Alpha.

You made me smile this morning, and if I may be so presumptuous to say, probably the Lord Himself too.



Wednesday, 9 November 2016

He is Still on the Throne

As tempted as I am to comment on last night's US election, I will refrain. As I have said, I was a fan of neither candidate.

But one thought does come to mind; John, the recorder of the Revelation of Jesus Christ was given a vision:
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.  And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. (Rev 4: 1-3)
Well, the day after the election there is still someone sitting on the throne and He is still in control. Whatever happened last night happened somehow within His will and with His permission, and whatever we may think of circumstances, God's will is still, ultimately, good, pleasing and perfect. Exactly how this all plays out remains to be seen.

And my own mission remains the same;
" only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
Blessings, and invite a friend to Alpha.


(Cross posted at A Reasonable Faith)

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

I Was a Bit Disappointed Until...

Alpha Canada recently upgraded their program for reporting statistics on Alphas running in Canada.

Late last year, when sitting down to forecast for 2016, and establish targets, I settled on what I thought was a challenging, yet fully attainable target of seeing 450 Alpha's running in Alberta by the end of the year.

I felt I had worked hard throughout the year, yet never seemed to be keeping up with my self-established target. I kept running a report based on number of courses run and Organizing Church name.

Late last month my friend and Alpha for Catholics coach in Calgary, Mark Richards, asked me to give him a list of all Alpha for Youth courses being run in Alberta in Catholic contexts. So I ran my report with those criteria and sent it to him. He replied, "What about, (such and such Catholic School), I know they're running one there."
I ran and re-ran the report but couldn't get the course in question to come up. Finally I resorted to asking someone who actually knew the program, Brandon at Alpha Canada, why this course was not showing up in my report.

It turns out I was limiting my statistics by using, "Organizing Church" as one of my criteria. If I just ran the report to find, "courses" I would get courses where the Course Administrator had not specified a Church name.

So I did.

And quelle surprise! Suddenly, even after removing duplicate registrations, there were 650 courses reported! (And that's just year to date. There may be more come online, although it is getting near the end of the year)

What was the difference? Well, courses are being run in prisons, schools, basements, living rooms, pubs, restaurants, business places, youth groups, all of which have not been reported as affiliated with a church.

And I know there are more. Because I hear of them. All the time. If I may say this, in love, youth pastors are the worst at not registering their courses. And God bless 'em, they are so concerned and single-focused on shepherding their kids that they often just go ahead and run an Alpha for their Youth without even thinking to tell us about it.

But God knows, and as much as we like to see numbers, the ultimate numbers may not be known until that day we are gathered, from every tribe and tongue and nation, around the throne of grace in Heaven.



Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What's Happening With Alpha

Centre Street Church, Calgary Alberta
We recently received information from a survey of the largest churches in Canada, by average Sunday attendance aver 1000. Six of them are in Alberta, and all six, by the way, are strong Alpha churches.

What was fascinating and encouraging was the response given when questioned regarding outreach and evangelism. The number one effective strategy across Canada was listed as. "effective programs for youth and children that meaningfully impacted parents." Well who could argue with that?

Number two, however, was the Alpha Course, mentioned specifically by name. Other figures I have seen recently show that over 90% of churches in a number of countries around the world agree that Alpha is an effective tool for evangelism and would recommend Alpha to other organizations.

Not that Alpha is effective only for Mega Churches; Alpha is just as effective in a home group with two to ten guests. Most of my Alpha churches are running Alpha with between twelve and thirty guests. One of my favourite stories to tell is of an Alpha my wife and I ran in our home with two guests. One was already a Christian and the other became one, so I count it as my most successful Alpha ever - 100% conversion rate.

This fall alone, there are close to four hundred Alphas running just in the Province of Alberta, and over six hundred since the beginning of the year. I hesitate to give an exact number because every time I do, more are registered (or discovered.)

If you are currently supporting Alpha, this is what your dollars are helping to accomplish. You are participating in what is possibly the most effective evangelistic outreach tool available today.

But if you are not, and are looking for a ministry where your contribution can make a positive difference in our nation and for the Kingdom of God, would you consider doing so? It's as easy as clicking on my image to the right and following the link.

Or, if you are so disposed, sending a contribution to Alpha Ministries Canada, #230, 11331 Coppersmith Way, Richmond BC V7A 5J9, specifying, "Alberta" in the memo line.

Thanks and Blessings,