Discipleship and formation
Once a guest has finished Alpha, online or in person, it is essential that there is an intentional process of ongoing formation in place to help people continue to grow as missionary disciples.
Process – The single most important thing a parish can do is move from a programme-based model of mission to a process-based model. The move to online ministry in parishes also adds to the increasing possibilities to engage guests in a flexible process of formation after Alpha.
Whatever particular form this might take – groups, praise and worship events, meeting in pairs or threes – creating and normalising a culture of lifelong evangelisation and disciple formation is vital if the post-Alpha journey is to be effective and long lasting.
Some great ideas for how to develop this part of the discipleship journey can be found here.
Parishes that have helped people continue their journey of discipleship successfully after Alpha have usually helped them to commit to 6 key areas for growth:
1. Prayer – Guests are encouraged to encounter God through daily prayer, learning to read scripture and pray with it, as well as learning the practicalities of prayer, drawing on all the riches of the Church’s spiritual traditions such as The Rosary, Lectio Divina and intercession.
2. Worship – Contemporary forms of praise and worship are also a key part of guests growing in relationship with God. Ultimately guests will be led to the regular celebration of the Mass as the pinnacle of worship and encounter with God.
3. Service – Releasing guests into service by empowering them to play their part in the mission of the Church as quickly as possible is vital for growth as a disciple. For some guests, who would fit well on the team, this will mean inviting them to return to serve on Alpha as a helper. Discernment of who the right people are to invite back is crucial so that the Alpha experience continues to be positive for new guests. For guests who don’t return as part of the Alpha team, they can be encouraged into service in other areas in the parish according to their giftings.
4. Learning – Growth will necessarily mean being fed. Guests will grow by continuing a lifelong journey of learning the Bible and the Church’s teaching. This is a continuous process through the whole of life. There are lots of great resources to help parishes with this part of the discipleship journey. See more details below.
5. Community/Relationships – It is crucial that guests build Christian friendships in the parish after Alpha in whatever way works best for them. The support and accountability of Christian friendships is key to growing as a disciple. It is important that the Alpha team are not their only link to the parish and that guests are introduced to other ministries in the parish and to a wider group of people outside of their Alpha group.
6. Giving – The last key area of growth as a disciple is encouraging guests to participate in the life of the parish fully by giving financially and seeing the part they play in the flourishing of the parish’s life and mission, which is not possible without financial giving.
The RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) connects well with these 6 key areas for growth. The 6 areas for growth can become the living context in which the RCIA is celebrated. It is important that the main ingredients of Alpha – hospitality/connection, worship, engaging content, discussion and prayer (ministry) are included in the RCIA experience so that guests can transition smoothly from Alpha.
Giles Chanson, Sainte Blandine Lyon, France
‘I had been a lapsed Catholic for more than a decade when my wife and I did Alpha. At Alpha we were able to rediscover faith. We were then invited to join a parish small group. There the formula was very similar to Alpha with worship, prayer and time for sharing. I was able to talk about things in my life with others in a non-judgmental, intimate setting but more importantly I realised I was able to help others and that gave me great joy. I feel part of the parish community now; I have developed close friendships and really look forward to our Sunday evening masses.
Create a Game Plan for Your Parish
Developing a plan for evangelisation and discipleship is essential for parishes to grow and be healthy. Forming missionary disciples will not happen unless there is an intentional process in place.
Each parish’s plan for evangelization and discipleship will vary depending on the size, location and financial situation of the parish.
A good example of this kind of planning is the ‘game plan’ which Father James Mallon describes in his book Divine Renovation. This plan is not linear but more like a recipe with seven key ingredients that overlap at various points.
You can read more about the ‘game plan’ and how Saint Benedict Parish in Canada include Alpha as part of a wider discipleship and evangelisation process.
Resources available for the ‘Learning’ part of the process:
A study program designed to help Catholics grow in confidence in reading and understanding the Bible and how it applies to their daily lives.
A Catholic Bible study program for women that link everyday challenges and struggles with the solutions given through the teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church.
A discipleship programme for teenagers offered by the NET Ministries.