By JOHN FORTMEYER
WEST LINN — The worldwide Alpha program is known for bringing tens of millions of people to faith in Christ, but a special new Alpha strategy to reach the challenging “Millennial” generation was outlined at an event here last month.
More than 250 people attended an “Alpha Unplugged” dinner at Southlake Church and heard featured speaker Shaila Visser of Vancouver, B.C., the program’s national director in Canada and executive director of the Alpha Film Series.
Taken by 29 million people since the 1990s, Alpha is an evangelistic course that seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith through a series of dinnertime talks and discussions. It is described by its organisers as “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life.” Alpha courses are run in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and a wide variety of other locations. The course began in Britain and is now offered around the world by all major Christian denominations.
Alpha’s film efforts began with a focus on teenagers in 12 short videos. It was a new venture introduced in Canada in 2013 at the urging of two youth pastors as something of an experiment to reach that age group, Visser explained. In fact, she said Alpha founder Nicky Gumbel joked that the series should be “contained in Canada, in case it fails, because no one looks at Canada.”
But the series has been received so well by youth that a new global version of the series is now in production, and Gumbel specifically requested the film programs be expanded to reach the spiritually questioning “Millennial” generation — those who are generally now young adults.
Visser said the Alpha format fits Millennials, who need a safe environment to raise the tough questions about faith — and where they can be argumentive or even angry — but still be loved.
She said she has personally observed Millennials saying a tentative prayer — “holding out their hands like they are saying to God, ‘I dare you to show up in my life,’ and He does!”
Kirk Petersen of Portland, Northwest regional director for Alpha and organizer of the dinner event, said it is appropriate to put a specific focus on Millennials.
“We’re looking at how to create something that they feel is made for them,” he said.
The Vancouver, Wash.-based M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has backed the Alpha efforts with a $400,000 grant, and Bart Hadder of Battle Ground, Wash., a program director at the trust, introduced Visser after a brief Alpha film excerpt was shown.
Hadder was visibly moved. “I’m just so impressed with people coming to Christ,” he said, his voice choking.. “How can you not be touched?”
The evening also included testimonies from two people who were led to Christ throughAlpha. Nyki Nassahm, who attended Alpha through Bridgetown Church of Portland, acknowledged that she started the program feeling “incredibly awkward,” but soon found it “awesome” as she learned that God’s character was not angry and judgmental, but loving.
She said those who get involved with Alpha should “come with an open heart and bring your questions.”
Dakota McGee said he grew up in a broken family and with no church background, and expected the Alpha course offered at Silver Creek Fellowship in Silverton to be “boring and dumb.”
“But it was so much fun, I decided to keep coming,” McGee said. Since then, his mother, stepdad and stepsister have come to faith in Christ as he did.
Kip Jacobs, pastor at Southlake Church, told the crowd that Alpha has made a great impact there because it has drawn “people that I am confident we otherwise wouldn’t have reached as a church.”
For more information, go to AlphaUSA.org