Thinking Out Loud

March 19, 2012

Campus Alpha Now in 7-Week Format

Two weeks ago I was given a copy of an updated edition of the campus version of the Alpha Course, the popular evangelism and discipleship course which originated with Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, a district west of the London city centre.

Most people associate the course with Nicky Gumbel, although he didn’t start the course, but greatly popularized it after arriving on staff at the church in 1990. Since then, Alpha has been spun off in a variety of revisions, translated into a variety of languages, and customized to suit a variety of denominations. There is a prison version of Alpha, and it’s one of the few Christian resources for which study guides are available in Braille.

In the youth edition of Alpha, talks are always given live, no DVDs are used. But in the student/young adult/campus version the talks I saw feature a younger presenter, Jamie Haith.

Haith presents the course standing next to a video monitor in a manner not unfamiliar to fans of Andy Stanley. There are also some animated sections which are rather brilliantly synced with the live commentary.

But like its parent curriculum, Campus Alpha is again a lecture format. A university or college student who is open to investigating the Christian faith — the stated purpose of Alpha after all — is going to listen attentively to these lectures as do the students in the live audience.

Is that the best way to communicate with postmoderns? I’ve already expressed in this blog a bias toward an alternative, the mini-movie format H20 course, referring to it as “Alpha meets NOOMA.” While that course’s distribution has been passed like a hot potato from Standard Publishing to Thomas Nelson, it’s best days may be yet ahead, as the new Not a Fan DVD curriculum has greatly enhanced the profile of host Kyle Idleman. It’s so hard for so many of us to break away from the sermon paradigm; to move beyond propositional preaching.

But with Alpha, many times it’s the already-converted who take the course — sometimes several times — to deepen their understanding of basic core doctrines. So many times Campus Alpha is delivering to an audience already on side.

While some will argue that college and career ministry is neither middle school nor high school ministry, I keep thinking that in dealing with the broader spectrum of “youth,” some of the references (i.e.:to owning, or wanting to own a wristwatch), or quoting classical theologians maxims in Latin are just not the best strategies in connecting; again, especially with a postmodern environment. The audience listens politely, but doesn’t necessarily react to the attempts at humor.

Still, if Haith is simply following Nicky Gumbel’s script, he does it perfectly. His apparent passion for the subject matter makes him more than just what the Brits would call a ‘presenter.’

This is material that we all need to review from time to time. In the U.S., acceptance of the Alpha Course has been geographically spotty. If you haven’t heard of it, suggest to your church leadership they consider hosting either an adult version of Alpha or, if you live in a ‘college town,’ the revised 7-week Campus Alpha.

This is absolutely solid material, but don’t expect a lecture format to connect with every university or college student.

NOTE:  The 7-week course is in fact now being used in non-campus settings because of its length being shorter than the 10-week version hosted by Nicky Gumbel; however when referring to the length of both, it’s important to mention the retreat weekend courses comprise additional lectures, in this case three more, bringing the total to ten.

Also, in the revised format I was given to review, I’m told that more revisions took place with the support materials than in what is seen on-screen.

Finally, the entire package is being distributed pre-loaded on a flash drive, not with physical DVD discs.


  1. * “I am very impressed at how God uses this approach to evangelism. At Harvard I have never seen God use any form of evangelism as powerfully as I have seen God use Alpha.

    One of the most outstanding factors that makes Alpha so fruitful and faithful evangelistically is that it weds both modern and postmodern sensibilities of college students together. By that I mean (with respect to modernity) that it provides a safe context for people to gain exposure to the radical claims of the gospel—the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the depravity of man and need for forgiveness and salvation, the event of the atonement and resurrection, the need for repentance, the reality of the Holy Spirit and his ability to transform us. Yet at the same time it creates (with respect to post-modernity) a safe place for the individual to voice their own questions and objections and to begin to see Jesus with their own eyes. The appeal of the gospel comes not just through the radical propositions but through the beauty of the gospel as it gets embodied in the lives of the Christians who host the weekly Alpha meeting and through their habits of welcoming, listening, caring, being present and just sharing from their own experiences. It introduces them to the practices not just the ideas of Christianity.

    In short I am very bullish on Alpha and have appropriated its format and ministry philosophy in our own weekly meeting now at Harvard.” – Pat McLeod, CRU Boston

    * “Alpha is right for our time.” – Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City

    * “Who Comes? One Atheist, One International Student with Islam background, two students who identify as either bisexual or lesbian, one man battling alcoholism, one single mother and her 10 year old daughter, 5 “sleepy” christians, 3 passionate christian students.

    My definition of “sleepy” christian is one who has grown up in the church all there life, identifies themselves as christian, but whose daily walk lacks a real life giving relationship with Jesus. They are a little groggy :). our

    So far, we have had one student accept Jesus as her lord and savior (she is one of our students that identifies as being bisexual). Our Islamic international student is clinging to Jesus like never before even though his muslim brother “reports him” to his father in Africa every time he comes. The discussion is getting better every week. And our atheist is recommending it to his Intro to Religion professor!” Rachael, Iowa Central Community College

    * The majority of people who get baptized at National Community Church came through the Alpha Course.” – Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor at National Community Church, Washington DC.

    Comment by David Alan Short — March 20, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    • Thanks for writing.

      The experience of someone who is actively using the product obviously carry more weight than someone looking at it objectively in a bit of a vacuum. Alpha has always been a great place for people to bring their questions.

      I suspect that with many who come, the Holy Spirit has already been working on them, or some issue or circumstance has been gnawing away at them. If that’s the case, they will be willing to go through the course to learn more about Jesus.

      My problem is that I’m equally bullish about H20, but most people are familiar with the one and not the other. I think if more people were exposed to it, they could see the merit of it as an alternative approach.

      I also harbor a larger concern that the sermon format — the whole lecture format actually — is somewhat doomed in a culture raised on bullet points, sound bites, status updates and 140-character Tweets; not to mention the widespread increase in people being diagnosed ADD or ADHD.

      However, both Nicky and Jamie have a very calming, highly focused way of presenting the material that can slice through those barriers.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 20, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

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