The Alpha Course
What is Alpha?
All over the world, the Christian church is experiencing remarkable growth. New shoots of life are springing up giving fresh dynamism, hope and vision.
Alpha is one of these shoots.
Thousands of Alpha courses are now running in many countries. Hundreds more register each month as church leaders from all denominations report the astonishing impact the course has on non-churchgoers and existing Christians in their areas. And it's spreading fast to many secular locations - prisons, businesses and schools.
Developed at Holy Trinity Brompton over the last twenty years, Alpha is a 15-session practical introduction to the Christian faith. It's aimed especially at people who don't go to church. At Holy Trinity, Alpha courses are held throughout the year and have hundreds of people attending each week.
The syllabus for the course is contained in the book Questions of Life. Some courses are held during the day. Most are evening courses. At the evening events, there is a light meal followed by a talk on a subject central to the Christian faith. Then participants break into pre-arranged groups of around 10-12 people (in which they remain for the entire course) to discuss the talk in an environment where each person should feel free to ask or express whatever they wish. A team of around three or four 'leaders' or 'helpers' from the host church are attached to each group. There is also a weekend away during which the subject of the Holy Spirit is addressed.
How did Alpha begin?
The Alpha course has been running for 20 years, but it was only in 1993 that its astonishing possibilities as a vehicle for evangelism began to emerge. This is the story of how it happened:
Twenty years ago, Charles Marnham, a clergyman at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, began looking for a means of presenting the basic principles of the Christian faith to new Christians in a relaxed and informal setting. He devised the Alpha Course.
The talks addressed such questions as 'Who is Jesus?', 'How and why do I pray?' and 'How does God guide us?'. When Charles Marnham moved on, others took over leadership of the course and made their own changes.
By the time Nicky Gumbel took over Alpha in 1990, the course was a central feature of the church's life, with the number of participants regularly totalling around 100 people on each course.
It was while leading his second Alpha course that Nicky made a discovery which transformed the church's whole approach to the course and gave it a new dynamic. As he looked around the 13 members of his 'small group', he realized to his surprise that apart from the three Christian helpers, all the other 10 members of the group were non-churchgoers.
"They had all the normal objections: 'What about other religions?'; 'What about suffering?', and so on - and we had a stormy first six weeks," he said. Then they went away on the weekend and all 10 announced their Christian conversion together.
The experience transformed Nicky's thinking about Alpha. He realized how this simple course in basic Christianity could become a powerful medium for evangelism. He quickly worked to give the course the kind of 'feel' that would be particularly attractive to non-churchgoers.
The method of welcome, the atmosphere of the small groups, the food, the seating, the flowers, the sound, and the material of the talks themselves were all changed to make them as attractive as possible to the person who walked in 'off the street'.
He emphasised to the Alpha small group leaders that no question should be treated as too trivial, threatening or illogical. Every question would be addressed courteously and thoughtfully - and none would ever be 'pestered' if they chose not to continue with the course.
Nicky Gumbel explains: "It's all friendship-based. There's no knocking on doors - it's friends bringing friends."
For more information about Alpha see the Alpha Course website.
We do not currently run Alpha at The Good Shepherd, but we can give details of courses running in other local parishes to those who may be interested. Please see the details below of the course(s) which have been run at All Saints Church by way of example. A new Alpha course is due to start on 1st July at All Saints - Contact our Church Office for details on 01628-632567 or email us: email@example.com or follow the link for All Saints contact details.
ALPHA COURSE PROGRAMME
Who is Jesus?
Why did Jesus Die?
How can I have Faith?
Why and how should I pray?
Why and how should I read the Bible?
Who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do?
How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?
How does God guide me to make the most of my life?
What about evil and does God heal today?
What about the Church and telling others?