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Evangelistic Bible Studies that work
‘Tell them and they will forget. Show them and they will remember. Involve them and they will learn’ Chinese proverb
The Alpha concept
In one sense, there is nothing new about the Alpha Course system. Yet it has been incredibly successful. Why?
Alpha started in a city church in London, UK. It is now widespread across the world with similar courses such as Christianity Explored following the same pattern. Many larger churches maintain a continuous rolling program of courses. The key features of these course:
- small seeker-friendly group Bible study which runs over a defined period of weeks.
- often held in neutral surroundings – usually someone’s home (though some churches have very successfully chosen a venue such as Pizza Express, thereby attracting others to join).
- aims to invite Christians and non-Christians (or very new Christians) in approximately equal numbers to join the whole course of studies.
- social interaction and friendships between the group built up over shared meals.
- usually an opportunity for the group to get away for a day or weekend retreat halfway through the course.
- offers a framework of lessons for the group leader to use, with advice available on how to run the course.
- answers from the Bible are arrived at through non-threatening discussion and interactive sharing, rather than a preaching method.
Adapting the concept for the InternetPaul Boag, a British Christian working with an Internet outreach fellowship, found that in dealing with questions from inquirers through website or chat-room witness, the same questions were arising again and again. He hit on the idea of inviting a small number of inquirers onto a closed email list (ie. it was only open to those invited), along with a small number of mature, prepared Christians. (An email list such as Yahoogroups allows each member to initiate an email which goes to the whole group, and each person can reply to the whole group.) He adapted Alpha sessions for the Internet using this format:
- subjects covered follow roughly the Alpha course pattern, though may be modified in terms of order and content according to the needs of the participants.
- each new subject launched with a plain email of around 500 words.
- email discussion invited around that subject, with the whole group participating.
- discussion on a particular study lasted two weeks, then the leader introduced the next topic.
- about 12 topics were covered, so the course has the potential to continue for six months or more.
- members were also encouraged to get to know each other by email, and to interact socially if they wished.
Paul and the team have now moved on to other areas of ministry. Nevertheless, the concept has huge potential for touching inquirers.
Using the conceptWhile the Internet should never replace face-to-face witness, the use of the Alpha concept online should be seen as a method it its own right, rather than a replacement for a face-to-face Alpha-type course. It could be used by any evangelistic website. A local church could offer an online Alpha course to contacts made through their church website, or to others who for whatever reason would not wish or be able to attend an Alpha course or other type of inquirer’s meeting in person.
Be aware that although the Alpha organization permits minor variation in the way their own material is presented within the copyright rules, major changes should not be branded as an 'Alpha' course. If you follow the same concept but with different study material, you should probably call it something else.
The concept workingDutch evangelical broacasters Evangelische Omroep have pioneered the Alpha concept in Dutch with great success: Wa@rom Jezus. It is hoped to translate the material into English.
Web outreach ministry Top Cretien also use a broadly similar online mentoring system for seekers and new believers who contact them through their outreach sites.
However, we are not aware of the Alpha concept being used or developed very widely, or in English, although we believe that it could have enormous potential. With a Web 2.0 integration of social networking and distance learning systems into a highly interactive format, there is potential here for web ministry for seekers which is not yet being used.
Similar projectsOther studies similar to Alpha include JesusWalk is a similar but broader online study concept in operation, aimed primarily at Christians but very much open for non-Christians to join. When you join, you can choose categories: 'Investigators and Inquirers', 'Christians' or 'New Christians'. This is an interactive email small-group Bible study. Why not join, and see how a group study can operate online? A new study is emailed every Saturday.
related pages within the Finding faith menu links
recommended books about evangelism principles, including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry