Sydney, Australia

Thousands of Australians are flocking to online Alpha courses that explain faith and the gospel, with new research revealing significant growth in demand across all Christian denominations despite COVID-19.

The 2021 Alpha Australia IMPACT Report, released in late July, shows that in the past 12 months there has been significant growth in the use of Alpha as a tool, with more than 60,000 people participating in programs from Geelong in Victoria to Joondalup in Western Australia and Adelaide in South Australia, and many thousands coming to faith for the first time. In 2020, 40,000 participants took part in Alpha online, hosted by more than 1,500 churches and organisations.

Alpha courses denominational breakdown in Australia

Graph showing denominational breakdown of churches participating in Alpha courses in 2020. PICTURE: Courtesy of Alpha Australia.

Among its key findings, the report showed Alpha has experienced a 345.48 per cent growth in participants in the last five years.

Melinda Dwight, national director of Alpha Australia, said the report highlights Alpha’s vision to share the Good News of the Gospel in Australia as it looks to achieve its goal of seeing 100,000 participants in 2021.

Melinda Dwight Alpha Australia

Melinda Dwight, national director of Alpha Australia.

She said they were “totally surprised” by the report’s findings after trialling the course online a few years ago with limited success.

“While it went OK, I decided the fundamental part of Alpha is ‘community’ and community has to happen in person, and prayer is best in person,” Dwight said.

When the pandemic hit, they updated some of the resources and relaunched Alpha online, “so I was very surprised by the results and the take up, particularly by people outside of the church”.

She said the safety of people’s homes allowed participants to be “more honest and vulnerable” as well as being open to prayer, while many people didn’t turn on their video, but “just wanted to listen and [have] some hope in their homes”.

Mike Stevens, pastor at Clovercrest Baptist Church in Adelaide, South Australia, says Alpha has been a part of his leadership across three churches and it’s a “fantastic tool to facilitate healthy Gospel conversations”.

Clovercrest itself has had a 20-year association with using Alpha programs.

For the past 12 to 18 months they have held two courses a year, with a steady stream of people engaging and a number of them making faith commitments.

Stevens says the use of new online version is “the way of the future”, owing to its ease of accessibility.

“It is definitely the way of the future. The thing about online is how easy it is to access, no matter where you are geographically,” he said. “Nothing beats being in the same room, but accessibility is really advantageous.

“There has been a seismic shift with technology. If it wasn’t for COVID-19, it just would not have happened.”

While she is not convinced COVID-19 is the reason behind the increase in numbers, Dwight said the pandemic was certainly the reason they were forced to adapt their program, with Australia ahead of other Alpha organisations around the world.

“We’re ahead of the global organisation. We moved to online quite fast [and] increased our number of participants last year and this year by using in-person and online [programs] and most countries around the world declined.

“Per head of population, we are probably the most successful Alpha country” partly due to the availability of technology and connectivity, Dwight said, but there was certainly a hunger and interest in spiritual conversations and she felt God was using COVID-19 to bring people into relationship with Him.

“[McKindle] data just before Easter said one in four Australians would go to church if someone asked them; one in four would consider it; [and] 49 per cent of people never have a spiritual conversation, but they would really like one.

“Our private research says 70 per cent of Australians in this season are praying.”

The Alpha program began in London in 1977 as a way of allowing non- Christians, new Christians and the friends and families of believers to explore life and the meaning of faith in a non-threatening, open and informal environment.

Almost 50 years later, it has been translated into 112 different languages and reached millions around the world, across all major denominations. As of May, 2021, 220 Alpha Youth Series programs have been registered and running in Australian schools, with 31 schools using the Series for the first time.

Alpha’s mission is to reach one million Australians whether it be in prisons, schools, youth programs, churches, in Catholic settings or online.