Posted by: Brooke | April 5, 2009

Re-engaging the lost congregation

I was looking at one of Dr. Robinette’s early posts, which sent me to a BBC news page that contained this article. I was encouraged by its story and I feel that it is relevant enough create a post about. We discussed a similar topic earlier in the seminar about worship experience, the ways that it is evolving, and the spiritual experiences it invokes. Despite the more intense worship services and spiritual experiences many of us described, we still had a general consensus that something was still missing. I propose that what missing was the content, more specifically the spiritual satisfaction of dealing with the big questions in Christianity like “Who is Jesus? Why did he die? How and why do we pray? How does God guide us?”

This article, I feel, describes the second half of the story about the evolving worship service and its ability to satisfy the sprit. My only hope is that programs like these continue to spread and inform Christians in more and more communities.

Re-engaging the lost congregation

By Mark Elsdon-Dew
Communications director at Holy Trinity Brompton

A meal, a chat and a chance to meet new friends. It is a more appealing formula than a hard pew in a cold cloister. As a result, more than one and a half million Britons have taken part in the Alpha bible teaching course. Much of the success is due to clergyman Nicky Gumbel, one of the contributors to this week’s BBC Two discussion programme, What the World Thinks of God.

For some time now there has been a steady decline in Christian belief in the West.

As the ethical and cultural landscape has changed, the Christian message has been written off by many as boring, untrue and irrelevant.

At the same time, there has been an increasing realisation that the goals of today’s culture, such as wealth and fame, are failing to satisfy.

Among younger age groups in particular, a deep spiritual hunger and longing to explore the big questions of life is increasingly evident.

For a generation which has grown up with little or no Christian contact, the traditional packaging of Christianity can obscure the heart of the Christian faith: Jesus.

But millions around the world are now exploring the claims of Jesus for themselves and one of the ways to do this is through the Alpha course.

The Alpha course has been running for more than 20 years, but it was only in 1993 that its possibilities as a vehicle for evangelism began to emerge.

‘Man off the street’

Originally set up as a means of presenting the basic principles of the Christian faith to new Christians at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, the course was taken one step further by clergyman Nicky Gumbel who decided to make it attractive to non-churchgoers as well.

he method of welcome, the atmosphere and the material of the talks were all changed to make them as appealing as possible to the person who walked in “off the street”.

Each weekly session is relaxed and informal, involving a meal, a talk and then a discussion exploring questions like: Who is Jesus? Why did he die? How and why do we pray? How does God guide us?

The course has been astonishingly popular.

Over 1.6 million people have now attended an Alpha Course in the UK alone.

It is running in more than 7,200 churches of all denominations around the UK and by 28,000 churches around the world.

Youth appeal

Up and down the country, there are churches that can testify to growing numbers.

What is particularly exciting is that many of these are young people. On our own Alpha course for instance, the vast majority of those who attend are in the age group 18-35.

Nicky Gumbel explains: “It’s all friendship-based. There’s no knocking on doors, there’s little advertising, but it’s friends bringing friends.”

The life-changing message of Jesus is resonating for millions in today’s empty society.

Another hugely exciting initiative is Soul in the City which will be taking place this summer in London.

It is organised by Soul Survivor (the Christian youth organisation), which is mobilising tens of thousands of teenagers from across the UK to get involved in community and regeneration projects.

In this way, as the capital is influenced in a practical way for Jesus Christ, we hope that many will see something new, exciting and positive about the Christian message which they had never seen before.

I feel that this kind of ministry needs to have two kinds of approaches one being top down and the other being bottom up. The top down approach could be facilitated through seminary schools and theology classes geared towards grappling with these big questions and instructing ministers and priests how to help others deal with these questions. The bottom up approach in turn could be the laity spreading the news about these teachings and inviting friends and neighbors to attend classes with them.

I pose these questions to my fellow classmates: Do you think that this method of teaching/ ministering is practical, useful, and or needed in today’s western culture? If so, do know of church communities where this kind of teaching/ministry is taking place? Would this teaching/ministry assist you or someone you know in developing spiritually?

Thanks all! Good luck with your paper writing!



  1. Brooke, thanks for posting this article and your concerns because this topic will be applicable and very relevant during our lifetimes. I think that the decline of Christianity in the western world is a huge concern for modern Christians and is an issue that Christian communities need to be addressing. While I was reading the post, I could not help but think about the history of Christianity. The Christian movement spread rapidly through the Roman world even in the face of opposition and martyrdom. In three centuries, it exploded from a small Jewish sect to the official religion of the Roman Empire. Why was Christianity so appealing? I think one of the main reasons for the rise of Christianity was its communal concerns and social ideology. Christianity promoted the care of the poor, needy, and outcasts; encouraged open giving of one’s self to the community; and endorsed collective sharing. Christianity was about relationships and investing one’s self in another person. Many Christian gatherings centered on meal-time events and social gatherings. It was appealing to non-Christians because they saw Christians making a difference in the lives of others. This is a concept that Christians have gotten away from in recent times, and I believe that it is a notion we must revisit to before Christianity can return to prominence in the West.

  2. I think the biggest problems/conflicts within Christianity right now result from members not being well informed. This is especially evident in Catholicism, where parishioners flagrantly disagree with the decisions and theologies of priests, bishops, the college of cardinals, and the pope without taking the time to read through the letters published by Church authorities or the history that goes into making decisions. This also effects members’ enthusiasm, and I believe people would be more excited about attending Mass or services on a consistent basis if they had a better understanding of why they should be there.
    With that being said, I think the approach you proposed could be good, as long as there is a solid connection between the leaders contemplating the “big questions” and the laity. If there is not, we might continue to fall into the trend where people make church a social obligation devoid of religious practice while the ministers separately contemplate the theology. What I would suggest, then, is that the roles you proposed should not be so strictly defined. The leaders (while primarily concerned with the teachings) need to move into the community to invite strangers to church as much as the congregation needs to contemplate the big questions.

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