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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 10:54 GMT
Re-engaging the lost congregation
By Mark Elsdon-Dew
Communications director at Holy Trinity Brompton

A meal, a chat and a chance to meet new friends. It is a more appealing formula than a hard pew in a cold cloister. As a result, more than one and a half million Britons have taken part in the Alpha bible teaching course. Much of the success is due to clergyman Nicky Gumbel, one of the contributors to this week's BBC Two discussion programme, What the World Thinks of God.

Holy Trinity Brompton
Holy Trinity Brompton is the birthplace of the Alpha course
For some time now there has been a steady decline in Christian belief in the West.

As the ethical and cultural landscape has changed, the Christian message has been written off by many as boring, untrue and irrelevant.

At the same time, there has been an increasing realisation that the goals of today's culture, such as wealth and fame, are failing to satisfy.

Among younger age groups in particular, a deep spiritual hunger and longing to explore the big questions of life is increasingly evident.

For a generation which has grown up with little or no Christian contact, the traditional packaging of Christianity can obscure the heart of the Christian faith: Jesus.

But millions around the world are now exploring the claims of Jesus for themselves and one of the ways to do this is through the Alpha course.

The Alpha course has been running for more than 20 years, but it was only in 1993 that its possibilities as a vehicle for evangelism began to emerge.

'Man off the street'

Originally set up as a means of presenting the basic principles of the Christian faith to new Christians at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, the course was taken one step further by clergyman Nicky Gumbel who decided to make it attractive to non-churchgoers as well.

It's friends bringing friends
Nicky Gumbel
The method of welcome, the atmosphere and the material of the talks were all changed to make them as appealing as possible to the person who walked in "off the street".

Each weekly session is relaxed and informal, involving a meal, a talk and then a discussion exploring questions like: Who is Jesus? Why did he die? How and why do we pray? How does God guide us?

The course has been astonishingly popular.

Over 1.6 million people have now attended an Alpha Course in the UK alone.

It is running in more than 7,200 churches of all denominations around the UK and by 28,000 churches around the world.

Youth appeal

Service at Holy Trinity Brompton
Evangelical churches are attracting large, young congregations
Up and down the country, there are churches that can testify to growing numbers.

What is particularly exciting is that many of these are young people. On our own Alpha course for instance, the vast majority of those who attend are in the age group 18-35.

Nicky Gumbel explains: "It's all friendship-based. There's no knocking on doors, there's little advertising, but it's friends bringing friends."

The life-changing message of Jesus is resonating for millions in today's empty society.

Another hugely exciting initiative is Soul in the City which will be taking place this summer in London.

It is organised by Soul Survivor (the Christian youth organisation), which is mobilising tens of thousands of teenagers from across the UK to get involved in community and regeneration projects.

In this way, as the capital is influenced in a practical way for Jesus Christ, we hope that many will see something new, exciting and positive about the Christian message which they had never seen before.

What The World Thinks of God will be broadcast as follows:


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