BLUFFTON, Ohio — For the second semester in a row, Bluffton University’s campus ministries team and student volunteers led Alpha, a multi-week video series and discussion group centered on the Christian faith. The international program, developed in London in 1977, creates spaces where participants come together for conversations about faith, life and God.
“Alpha is specifically designed for people who have questions about Jesus, questions about God, questions about Christianity and what it means to be a Christian,” explained Tig Intagliata, campus pastor. “It’s really good for seekers or people who are skeptical about faith or who maybe don’t have much experience going to church. It’s also a good refresher course. Anybody can get something out of it.”
During the fall 2019 semester, an average of 30 students gathered each Thursday evening for meetings. In the spring, about 40 students attended the weekly gatherings. Many of the students who had participated in the original group discussions returned to serve as group leaders during the fall session.
“My favorite part of Alpha is the relaxed welcoming feeling between everyone,” said Adam Byram, a sophomore history major who served as a table leader in the fall. “Many people are hesitant to truly open up to others, but it really became an environment where we could all just sit and share about our faith.”
The format each week consisted of viewing short video segments followed by a question for the small groups to ponder. The goal was for the evenings to be relaxed, with no expectations or pressure.
“It’s the kind of setting where any question someone asks is welcome,” explained Intagliata. “People are encouraged to interact in a very honest way.”
Near the end of the 11-week course, several leaders and participants came together for an overnight retreat held at Central Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio. Michael Short, a senior information technology major and member of the church, planned the event.
“The Alpha retreat really helped solidify the ideas we discussed throughout Alpha, and it was one of the best parts of the program this fall,” said Short. “This opportunity enabled me to question aspects of my own faith and explore on a more fundamental level why I believe the way I do.”
Student leaders are now assessing the program and determining if another session will be held during spring 2020. Many fall participants are interested in serving as leaders when another session is confirmed.
Intagliata said bringing Alpha to Bluffton was in direct response to what is happening in society at large, with an increasing number of students attending the university who didn’t grow up connected to a church or whose families stopped attending church for a variety of reasons.
“We need to offer opportunities for students to talk about faith with their peers,” explained Intagliata. “We have Bible studies, worship and Chapel, but I know a lot of students wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a Bible study or going to a worship service if they’ve never been to one before. Alpha helped us make connections with students in a new way.”