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.

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