I am not sure when I first learned of the Alpha course but I do remember when I began to see its impact on reaching people with the gospel of Christ. In the early 1990s I began to travel all across the United States. As I did I met leaders and churches of all kinds, especially Protestant mainline churches. Wherever I witnessed a vital mission and growth in a mainline church I asked, “Do you have an Alpha course?” The answer, eight times out of ten, was affirmative. I then began to take note of the power of this simple course, a course that brought so many people to living faith. I then saw the Alpha course begin to enter Catholic churches, both in the U.S. and abroad. It was delightful to see people coming to personal faith, again through a simple course that used human relationships as a strength and brought people into a direct encounter with the gospel and the living Christ. Before long I met missionaries in Europe who were using Alpha in Catholic settings to win many more people to Christ. When I wrote Your Church Is Too Small in 2010 I included Alpha as an example of the narrative that I told about in my book.
Recently I have become acquainted with several Alpha leaders in the U.S. When I saw an article this week on Alpha, written by the U.S. president of Alpha, I realized that I wanted to expose more readers to this marvelous course by posting this article. It just might be something that you could use in your own context. It is such a powerful tool and just may have become one of the most effective tools in the missional tool kit of more and more congregations who want to join real hospitality with effective evangelism in a credible way. So what is the Alpha journey?
In the U.S., the Alpha course has already reached 3 million people in all 50 states and in every major denomination.On this extraordinary adventure called Alpha, together with our leadership team, I’ve asked God to provide clear vision in our strategic thinking and mission goals. Prayerfully, we’re seeking “to transform our society—one life, one church, and one community at a time.” Also, we’re enthusiastic about all that God’s doing to make this happen! In Genesis, God asks us to “go forth and multiply,” and in Matthew, He asks us to fulfill the Great Commission: to “go and make disciples” of Jesus Christ. With these instructions in mind, we’ve set strategic goals to greatly expand our reach in the U.S. We’re seeking to multiply the number of churches that run the Alpha course as well as the number of guests enrolled; to enrich families and individuals through many of the marriage, parenting and outreach materials we provide; and, most importantly, to see more and more lives transformed for Christ. We’ve set a goal to reach 18 million people with the Gospel via an Alpha course in the U.S. by 2020, which is part of Alpha’s global vision to reach 100 million people with the wonderful news of Christ by that same year. And, God willing, we’ll continue with great passion on this exciting journey of changing lives for Him.
Prayer is everything, really; it’s at the core of everything we do, every decision we make. Communicating with God, our gracious Heavenly Father is such a privilege and a necessity at the same time. At the core of Alpha are relationships, first with God and then with our guests. And prayer is key to our relationship with God. Also, as James 5:16 says, the earnest prayer of a believer—a person right with God—avails much. And through His Holy Spirit, we receive the love, joy and peace—and all the fruit—that only He provides. For each guest of the Alpha course, each seeker, it’s the power of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit that brings the conviction, revelation and transformation of the heart that he or she so desperately needs.
The Alpha course offers guests a 10-week small group experience, plus a weekend or all-day getaway. After talking with hundreds of people who have experienced the getaway, I can say with confidence, “It’s a crucial component, so please don’t omit it!” As you might guess, it not only helps everyone bond together more closely, but it also gives the guests the space, time and environment to thoroughly process all they’ve been learning, and it gives the Holy Spirit opportunities to soften hearts in amazing ways. Those who fill out evaluation forms often cite that “it’s the best part of the course.” In particular, it provides an opportunity for balanced teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit to empower Christ followers to be His witnesses. It’s often a time when guests experience for the first time that God really does love them. Their understanding of Christ and His teaching spreads from their head to their heart.One of the key ingredients to Alpha’s success has been in making its guests feel relaxed, accepted and open to the Gospel message. We want to treat others with humility and respect, to value each guest, to show them a servant’s heart and to honor them with confidentiality. And, of course, the atmosphere should be friendly, non-judgmental and inviting—a fun place to be! One of the best ways we can show people we love them is to listen carefully and respectfully to what they are saying. The most successful groups tend to learn about Jesus and have fun at the same time. That also brings up one of my favorite parts—the Alpha jokes. Our leaders weave humorous stories into the opening and teaching time, and during the discussions we encourage leaders to interject humor when appropriate. Finally, testimonies throughout the course by people who have “been there”—who can relate how God has opened their hearts and transformed them from the inside out—provide a powerful ingredient.
The Alpha course has proven successful in leading participants to make a personal commitment to Christ. When churches begin engaging the community through Alpha, they’re looking outward, seeing the broken and hurting people who need answers to life’s biggest questions. In reaching out to people from all backgrounds—co-workers, neighbors, classmates, those embracing other religions and world-views and even those in our prison systems—churches are discovering new blessings and new passion in sharing God’s truth. Churches that were perhaps declining find themselves growing. Often, churches develop an entire evangelism strategy, a vibrant prayer ministry and a new heart for those who need Christ’s redemption. I encourage every church to “Go Forth”—to multiply the souls saved for Christ and to fulfill His Great Commission. In summary, churches that implement the Alpha DNA see growth in new disciples, in leaders, in service and in financial giving.
The Alpha course offers a 10-week small group experience for those within and outside the church. The adventure doesn’t end after 10 weeks – it continues! Alpha offers a line of discipleship studies that help guests keep seeking, exploring and growing in faith. Many groups plan a follow-up reunion or party to stay connected, begin going to church together, start a small-group discipleship group, get baptized or serve together inside or outside the church. Also, many will invite their friends and family on the next Alpha course and will often be a helper and then a leader on the course. God faithfully paves the way.
Gerard Long is the author of the post and the president of Alpha USA. Today in the U.S., three million people in all 50 states and 127 denominations have already experienced the Alpha course, with hundreds of thousands making a commitment or recommitment to Christ. (Globally, the Alpha course has reached 19 million people in 169 countries and 113 languages.)