We recently caught up with Beth Pryor, who runs Alpha for Vintage Church in California, and she shared with us her practical tips on how to assign guests to small groups. Not every Alpha will have multiple small groups (e.g. if you’re running it for a few friends in your home); however, if you’re anticipating a lot of guests, these tips will help you think strategically about placing people to help facilitate great open discussion.
Invite Guests to Register in Advance
Although Alpha is promoted as “no pressure, no commitment,” most people understand that sign up is needed for food preparation including allergy info, dietary restrictions etc. As you gather this info ahead of time, you can also ask about age range and other details. Vintage Church uses an online form or registration card and guests fill out some basic details. They close their registration 48 hours before Alpha begins to assign guests to their groups. Even though Vintage Church had 500 people sign up for a recent Alpha, Beth and her team assigned each person to their group based on specific categories and any other special needs they identified from the registration process.
Group Guests by Age Range & Spiritual Background
At Vintage Church, they have found the most useful information for assigning groups is age and spirituality which are details that guests fill out in the registration process. While this might not work for every group running Alpha, Beth shared why these categories have worked well for Vintage.
For example, Beth and her team found that when they put guests who wouldn’t normally come to church into one group, they felt more comfortable sharing because of similar experiences of faith. In groups comprised of mostly self-identified Christians, the hosts sometimes found that these guests were not as far along on their faith journey as it first appeared. Having the groups divided into these categories has helped the hosts at Vintage facilitate conversation based on the unique needs of their guests.
Vintage also creates groups based on age and finds that their guests tend to form greater community and bonds if they are in a similar life stage. As Beth explained, “An 18-year-old is much more comfortable opening up to a 21-year-old than a 60-year-old. They’re going to have a lot more in common.”
Run Alpha Regularly
Although Vintage Church closes its online registration 48 hours before Alpha starts, they leave space in groups to allow people to join if they show up on the night of Alpha, but only for the first two weeks. After that, if people walk in, they are encouraged to come back on the next Alpha. This is one reason it’s been crucial for Vintage to run Alpha successively (two or three times each year) and have registration open for the next Alpha during the current one.
Usually if guests join late in the game, it is hard for them to follow along since they’ve missed the first few foundational talks. If you’re not able to run Alpha successively, another option for walk-ins is to have a specific group designated for them with a spare host and helper, as needed.
As you prepare to run Alpha, prayerfully consider how you will assign guests to groups. A little pre-planning during the registration process can go a long way to help create a space where loving community is built, where people encounter Jesus and where lives are transformed by the gospel.