When something becomes popular, there’s a tendency to focus on the “brand” or the “name” rather than the essentials that make it what it is.
Last week, I was blessed to attend the Diocese of Lansing’s Called By Name Assembly. A theme uniting speakers and our table discussions was the importance of pre-evangelization, that initial proclamation of God’s saving plan doesn’t happen in some sterile vacuum. It happens between individuals, usually people who are acquainted with each other, and always people who trust each other enough to be a little bit vulnerable, be a little more open than our unfriendly culture encourages–and, just a little bit more loving.
Of all the popular “on-ramps” into the Christian life or “processes that foster conditions for conversion” (as we might call these in a generic sense), I think Alpha embodies the heartiest dose of pre-evangelization principles. Pre-evangelization is a core part of Alpha. Cut out the pre-evangelization (because you don’t think you need it, don’t have the time, etc.) and turn it into a catechetical program, and you’re all good, right? Wrong.
If you’re a little bit uneasy, wondering if your Alpha (or plans for running an Alpha) are turning into straight up initial proclamation of the Gospel in a vacuum or catechesis, then I highly encourage you to listen to an absolutely fantastic 3-part podcast from St. Benedict’s Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia called “How to Kill Alpha in 10 Easy Steps” (it’s episodes 10, 11, and 12 here). The heart of the 10 steps all comes back to ignoring the importance of pre-evangelization, of belonging, of experiencing authentic human life and values as part of the “normal” life of the Body of Christ, as the vast ocean in which any and all proclamation of the Gospel must occur.