Written by Jesse Friedl: AlphaUSA.org.  Edited by BC Youth Staff.

Corn dogs, nachos, and root beer floats paved the way for an 8-week series on life, faith and God. It was mid-February 2014, Friday night in Chicago, and many new faces were arriving at the carnival-themed Youth Alpha launch party.

Matt M., Bloomingdale Church’s Youth Community Outreach Director, oversaw this effort to introduce fundamental topics such as ‘Who Is Jesus?’ and ‘How and Why Do We Pray?’ to junior high and high school students in his community. “I am passionate about rubbing shoulders with people who don’t know Jesus. Many students have no clue who Jesus is. You’ll find that they may know a few popular verses, but not much more. It’s important to teach the basics of the Christian faith—including the Bible.”

Over the next 8 weeks, plus a weekend “Day Away”, the Friday Night Coffeehouse gathering of about 40-50 students was transformed into a weekly Youth Alpha party. The goal was to make this a place where students would be excited to come and explore conversations about God and want to bring their friends. “We made it a big deal—a big celebration that they would not want to miss. Students handed out postcard invites.  We also planned for each night of the series to focus on a different themed food. We recruited parents and adults in the church to help with themes, such as breakfast for dinner, cookout night, lots of desserts night, etc. It was a big hit!”

59 students showed up the first week. The next week, 62 students were there, followed by 72. By week five, 80 students were hearing about Jesus. Matt reflects, “We actually found that the guests were the ones to invite the most friends.”

Besides eating lots of yummy food and playing energetic games like human battleship and jugball, students watched the four 5-minute segments from the “Youth Film Series”.  Co-hosts Ben and Jason travel around the world to Israel, London, Paris, and Vancouver, interviewing people and discussing some of the biggest questions of life. Matt explains, “It’s about having a space to work out faith and ask questions. Space is something students need – a place to ask their questions- even the craziest questions.  At each table group, there is an appointed student leader. Their role was to ask questions that reflect upon the film episode. Student to student—they could relate.

Matt reflects, “To build up leaders in this generation, we need to empower them with responsibility. At our church, we strive to challenge students in their Biblical understanding and practice community outreach with the mentality that we are to be disciples who make disciples. We encourage them to invite others to explore a life wholly committed to God.”

Youth Alpha creates an atmosphere for a safe and welcoming place that touches on these common gaps in faith.