The U.S. arm of ministry leader Alpha International is poised for a new surge of growth through its world renowned evangelism program, the Alpha Course. The 10-week small group experience for those within and outside the church promises to bring spiritual life-change into U.S. cities and towns, into churches, workplaces, homes, cafeterias, prisons, and universities. And yes, into the hearts of thousands of people—changing, renewing, and transforming them for Christ.
Why such a “hope-filled” forecast?
For starters--like the first significant weather event of the season--the aptly named Alpha course is all about new beginnings and setting life-change in motion in ways that have proved effective around the world. Since it was launched in London’s Holy Trinity Church-Brompton (HTB) in the late 1970’s, and with the introduction of Alpha Publishing in the early ‘90’s, the Alpha course has reached 18 million people in 169 countries and in 113 languages. Great Britain, France, Japan, South Africa, and dozens of other countries have seen huge increases in the number of personal commitments to Jesus Christ. According to various research studies, one-half of participants in Alpha make a commitment or recommitment to Christ.
Popular media has noted this astounding response. Not only has Time magazine asserted that the Alpha course has sparked an unexpected and largely unnoticed spiritual awakening in HTB’s London, where crowds of young people “line up hundreds deep each week” for the next Alpha gathering, but it also reveals, “Many claim Alpha has changed their lives and appear genuinely happier for the experience.”Newsweek notes, “Alpha…uses modern methods to promote and explain Christian teachings around the world.” And Susan Lee, senior editor of Forbes exclaims, “It works. I can testify to that. Indeed, it even worked for snobby old me.”
The worldwide phenomenon has made great headway in the U.S.--with three million people in all 50 states impacted and every major denomination (127 total) participating. As a result thousands of new transformation stories are on the horizon and gathering energy. Dr. Rick Warren, founding and senior pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose-Driven Life, agrees. The Alpha course is “one of the most effective tools for the 21st century,” he says. The New York Times reports, “This novel approach to Christian education…has been catching on nationwide.”
What makes Alpha USA so “right for our time”?--as Dr. Tim Keller, popular Christian author, speaker, and senior pastor, attests.
“At its core,” explains Alpha USA president, Gerard Long, “Alpha USA is a practical introduction to the teachings of Jesus Christ.” It’s key to effectiveness is that it allows people outside the church—where it’s aimed—to come and ask the big questions: Why is there all this suffering in the world? What about the other religions? —And what happens when I die?”
The “tremendous discussion,” Long continues, is what sets Alpha USA apart from other evangelism approaches. Set in a non-judgmental environment of acceptance, small group participants come to the truth through dialog and discovery, rather than being told what to believe. They find answers to the deepest longings of their souls, he asserts, “and what we try to do is get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do what only the Holy Spirit can do—which is lead people to Jesus.”
Each of Alpha’s sessions meeting once a week for 10 weeks, begin with a relaxed meal and conversation--a time to get to know one another. Then participants listen to a brief talk on a critical life topic, such as the existence of God, the purpose of life, or “Who is Jesus?”, and end with a lively and very interactive small-group discussion. Midway through the course a week-end or all day getaway is scheduled for in-depth discussion and reflection.
In the last four years in the U.S. “we’ve seen 175% growth in the number of churches running Alpha,” Long adds. This indicator will continue to rise as, for the first time, Alpha Publishing USA offers both its highly-successful outreach course and the balance of its product line through general and Christian bookstores and on its interactive website: AlphaUSA.org.
International best-sellers from Alpha USA include an extensive product line of resources by Nicky Gumbel, Alpha’s founder and HTB’s senior pastor, as well as The Marriage Course and Gerard Long’s recent modern-day parable The Breakthrough. The product pipeline is full of engaging resources for evangelism and spiritual growth with two new parenting courses slated for publication in early 2013.
Now, people of all ages and backgrounds, from skeptics and seekers to those who want to dig deeper into God’s Word, will discover a whole line of biblically-based resources that encourage deep spiritual life change and build faithful followers of Jesus Christ. While this phenomenon may not cause a blip on the weather radar, it certainly will bring a refreshing new shower of Christian growth and discipleship across the nation.