so they would know they could eat there.
Even though Indian food takes all day
to make, she’d always make it because
everybody loved it so much. Everybody
wanted it if they came to our house.
FT: What is Alpha’s strong appeal?
SV: I think churches in Canada need all
the help they can get from organizations
like ours that want to serve them and
help them achieve their mission in the
We just exist to serve. We often say we
re-engineer from the Church backward.
We’re always listening to the Church.
How can we serve them? What would
help them meet their needs?
In 2010 the number one thing churches were saying was, “Can you please update your material?” We did that with the
Alpha Youth Film Series. We also have the
new Alpha Film Series available.
We update a product, but at the same
time we’ve been championing the idea of
Alpha, and not just the tool. If people are
evaluating Alpha based on the video
product, they are missing the bigger impact of Alpha, which is the hospitality of
food, small group discussions where you
can say anything, and it’s safe for people
to disagree and have varying opinions.
And lastly that we leave room for the
Holy Spirit to move. The product had to
be updated, and we’re seeing a resurgence
because of that. It works for all age groups.
But on the other hand, they are also
understanding this idea of what it means
to engage our community with hospitality.
FT: Is it hard for Evangelicals in particular
to be okay with people saying potentially
incorrect things about God or theology in the
SV: Alpha can thrive or fail on the small
group experience. We often say that if you
don’t train your team every time, we will
default as Christians to wanting to provide an answer, and a “right” way of
thinking. It is the death of a good Alpha.
It is the hardest thing for Christians to
bite their tongues and allow people to say
things that are completely different than
what we hold true. The Christians think
it is their responsibility to right their incorrect thinking.
We say, “Please don’t. It will kill your
FT: So there really is a requirement to trust in
SV: I think we have to trust three things.
That the Holy Spirit is the primary evangelizer. Secondly, Alpha actually teaches
the beginning of the understanding of the
gospel. There is theology built into every
week of Alpha. The third thing is we have
to trust process. We have to trust the
process and the journey.
FT: Church people sometimes take Alpha again
and again because they enjoy it so much. But
it feels like that might not actually be Alpha’s
purpose. What do you say to that?
SV: We really discourage people from taking Alpha multiple times. We suggest they
come once as a guest. If they miss a lot of
weeks or miss an Alpha weekend, that’s
understandable to come again. But if
they’ve done 80 per cent or more of Alpha,
we suggest they volunteer next round.
We’re trying to avoid people coming
back again and again because they might
become passive and not active in their
own development. With church people
who take Alpha as a refresher, they
wrongly start to think of it as their ministry. And it’s really not the right atmosphere for new guests to come into.
FT: So committed Christians filling out the
groups is not the best plan?
SV: We’d rather see Alpha with five guests
than see a room of 40 people with five
guests and 35 Christians. It really is intended for people with no faith or new
faith. Alpha will die quickly if it’s full of
church people. It’s not for them. When
Alpha is predominantly church people
taking it, you’ve missed the beauty and
potential of it.
F T: Shaila, in your own life, what feeds you as a
Christian and a leader?
SV: What feeds me is doing what I love
and loving who I’m doing it with. Our
staff team is made up of the most incred-
ible, gifted people. And it’s fun. It’s not
just that we’re working hard. It’s fun.
We’re different, and we’re better because
we’re different. I love our diversity in age
and ethnicity, and the number of young
people we have.
I’m a better leader because we have so
many millennials working here. I love
coming to work. I’m a happy person at work.
The second thing that gives me life is
finding opportunities to actually share my
faith with people in my sphere of influence. I’m not interested in Alpha because
of Alpha. I’m interested in Alpha because
of Jesus. I still want to have faith conversations with lots of people. It gives me life
I’m very careful to prioritize my health,
which is spiritual, physical and mental
health. That’s taking time to work out, to
eat right, it’s how I treat my body as a
temple of God. It is a significant part of
my discipleship – finding the right
rhythm, reading great books, reading
My husband is my greatest advocate
and best friend. Spending time with him
is life giving for both of us. Finding a
rhythm to life in what I love to do and who
I’m doing it with is my biggest challenge.
I also get renewal from going for a bike
ride by the beach, eating with friends, it
is all life giving for me.
F T: Any final thoughts?
SV: I’m very inspired by the Church in
Canada and by the thousands of church
leaders I get to interact with. These are
men and women of faith faithfully serving
in their communities. They are the unsung heroes. We know what the statistics
are and the EFC has been great at feeding
those back to the Church.
It is my greatest joy and privilege to
serve the Church in Canada. We have
some of the most remarkable opportunities as Canadians both in our country and
abroad. As we continue to trust God and
leverage those opportunities, I think we
will continue to see Canadians are world
changers. And it’s fun to be part of it.
F T: Thank you, Shaila. /FT
THE FT INTERVIEW
It is countercultural to offer
the best for people on a