In these uncertain times we find ourselves living in, there’s a lot of attention being given to the issue of faith. New research shows that the demand to understand Christianity and grow in faith has significantly increased across Christian denominations.
In this past 12 months alone, there’s been a significant growth in the use of Alpha as a tool for evangelism across all the major denominations. Over 60,000 people participated in Alpha, and many thousands came to faith for the very first time. Melinda Dwight, the National Director of Alpha, joined us for this 20Twenty conversation to share her insights.
With so many lockdowns happening around the country, it’s easy to think that the work of the Church just stops. But in Australia at least, that has definitely not been the case. Many of us wonder how we are going to do church from week to week. But it’s actually been a real point of opportunty for people who want to explore faith and are looking for ways to do that, because they realise they’re not in control of what’s happening in the world.
That level of uncertainty means that people are asking deeper questions. When privately interviewed, the majority of people in Australia said that they pray. “So, the challenge is not the questions,” says Melinda. “The challenge is that people don’t know where to take them. Spirituality has almost become like mental health used to be. We don’t want to talk about it, but I think with the rise of the pandemic it’s really good to have an opportunity to check on our spiritual health and to explore some of these great questions and issues.”
Last year Alpha had to adapt and went online, and saw over 40,000 participants take part in a course. The general belief was that Alpha had to happen in person and that community happens best that way. But with people becoming increasingly desperate for connection, whether it’s in-person or online, it’s been a great way to bring them together. It’s been an interesting journey to realise how open Australians are to faith, while also acknowledging that there needs to be some change to the methodology and intention of how Alpha helps people explore that.
“We say Alpha moves with you because this has been such a change,” continues Melinda. “What we have found in particular areas where lockdowns continued, is that online has engaged more people than corporate church. Because they’ve been able to do it from their own home and they’re in control, there’s been an increasing number of people that have opted in to be a part of that.”
Melinda believes that because Alpha is only one week at a time, people tend to come again because most of them don’t want to up for anything over a period of time. “You can actually go to our website, and put in where your area is, and find an Alpha near you. Every question is important, and every question is valid. It’s a safe place to discuss them. Regardless of whether you have any church background or any religious education at all, you’re asking the heartfelt questions.”
Melinda says that when you look back over church history, any major crisis or pandemic has been followed by a major renewal. “I’m expecting that in this time of crisis, when people don’t know where to turn, that people of faith want to have an opportunity to help them explore. I want to be more available to Australians in this time of need. We would like to help churches and organisations think outward.”
“We didn’t realise how many people were perhaps a bit intimidated, and weren’t willing to go into buildings or places where they didn’t have an existing relationship.”
“I think online has made Alpha more accessible to more people. We still want to be face-to-face as well, but if this is what we have, then it’s a way to engage more people in that. It’s been a huge opportunity and blessing to go to wherever people are.”
Listen below to hear the rest of Neil’s discussion with Melinda, and to find out how you can do Alpha online.
Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.
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