I have been involved in three iterations of Alpha, in cooperation with congregations of other denominations (Anglican and Presbyterian) in our area. I know that Alpha is not looked upon with favour by some United Church of Canada folk, because of the way doctrines like the atonement are presented in the course, but I can't find another adult education activity that is as successful in forging ecumenical partnerships, motivating a congregation for evangelistic mission, and making disciples.
This article on Alpha is used with permission and credit attributed to Gerard Long 2012 Alpha USA.
By Gerald Long
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.
For the past two decades, the mission of Alpha — making disciples of Jesus from all walks of life — has greatly impacted the world for Christ. All the content of Alpha is based on the truth of God’s Word—on His infallible Holy Scripture. So we know the content is trustworthy and true, this Biblically-based content, is then systematically laid out to unfold the basic teachings of the Christian faith. We have updated some of the more practical aspects of the course several times to make it as relevant as possible and to achieve maximum results. Very importantly, we also ask that Alpha leaders teach the material as it is written, to not change its key teachings. Our training materials reinforce this point, and we entrust our leaders with this responsibility.
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 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.
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 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.)
Gerard’s first book, The Breakthrough was developed in cooperation with best-selling author Ken Blanchard, The Breakthrough uses a modern-day parable to communicate basic truths about God, suffering and the after-life. Gerard blogs regularly, where he writes on the topics of evangelism and church growth.