In a recent study by Barna and Alpha, forty-seven percent of Millennials said it was wrong to evangelize. Yet ninety-six percent of them said the most important thing is for their friends to come to faith. What are we to make of this apparent contradiction? Millennials (and Gen Z too, for that matter) don’t like what they think of as evangelism. If evangelism means telling one’s friends what to believe, or spouting apologetics at them, they say, “No, thank you!” And yet, it’s clear they yearn for their friends to know their Jesus. These statistics point to an unspoken concern among Christians today. “What is the best way to share my faith in today’s world?”
Is it the street evangelism or Billy Graham-style stadium evangelism of the twentieth century? Our Millennial brothers and sisters would tell us no, this is no longer the era of Billy Graham. And while we applaud with gratitude all that this leading evangelist of the 20th century did, we recognize that this style of evangelism was well-suited to its own cultural moment. Is the Church willing to recognize that our cultural moment might demand a fresh approach to evangelism?
God is not bound by culture. In fact, Scripture often speaks of God doing something new. The transcendent message of the gospel never changes. But the manner of our delivery must shift over time so it will resonate with each new generation.
A post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything culture requires an approach to evangelism that doesn’t tell people what to believe but rather gives them space to discover faith on their own. This is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) style of evangelism.
What does Alpha offer us in this cultural moment?
Alpha works perfectly in this post-everything framework. It was created for a post-modern audience and is anchored in a culture of hospitality and inclusion. Alpha offers guests a safe space to be heard, to ask hard questions, and to draw their own conclusions—all without judgment. Because Alpha is a safe space to explore doubts, Alpha is a bridge between church and culture.
In a post-modern world of relative truth, people don’t want Christians to tell them the truth. They insist on discovering their own truth, preferably in community, in the company of a “tribe.” When we rely on Holy Spirit to guide our guests, we need not worry that they’re searching for “my truth” rather than “the truth.” If Holy Spirit is drawing them to himself, he will do the convicting. Once he gets involved, “my truth” will become “the truth.”
Listening lies at the heart of Alpha. People rarely respond to the gospel when we try to convince them of its truth. They want others to listen to their point of view. In fact, according to this same Barna survey, the top qualities non-Christians look for in a person with whom to talk about faith are someone who “listens without judgment and “does not force a conclusion.” On Alpha, guests hear the stories of people whose lives have been transformed when they meet Jesus and have the opportunity to share the story of their own experience with God.
Alpha is a way to share our faith that fits a post-modern world of self-discovery.
Creating a culture of invitation
We know that eighty percent of guests come to Alpha because of a personal invitation, so how do we encourage our parishioners to invite people from outside the church? To create a culture of invitation within a church requires the vision and guidance of the senior pastor and the leadership team. A unified vision, teaching on our personal responsibility to share the gospel (even in a polarized world), and tools that will help parishioners in their faith-sharing all play a role in creating an invitational culture within a church.
Becoming a Great Commission church will likely involve a paradigm shift, and paradigm shifts are hard; but they’re not impossible.
When a church shifts to become laser-focused on our great calling to co-mission with Jesus, there may be some opposition. But even Jesus faced opposition at different times in his ministry. Yet he was intent on doing the will of his Father, and he calls us to do the same. A cultural shift can begin within a church when the pastor and leadership team are united in their vision and when they start teaching the church how to become invitational.
Empowering a church with a tool like Alpha frees parishioners from the pressure of feeling like they need advanced training in evangelism or theology to share their faith. In fact, they don’t even need to have the gift of evangelism or teaching to invite someone to Alpha. It’s as simple as being a friend like Andrew, finding their Peter and saying, “Come, and meet my Jesus.”
To create a cultural shift to a lifestyle of evangelism, a church has to operate in this framework all the time. Alpha begins to transform churches when those who are in the church begin inviting people outside the church.