Away with the holy huddle!
In the last few weeks, I’ve had the chance to speak with several church leaders in the UK, and one comment that has stuck out to me is this: “In the opening scene of the movie Happy Feet, there is this shot of all the penguins huddled together. My fear is that this is what is happening in the church. We are huddling together in fewer, larger groups, so that we feel safe, despite what is going on in the outside world.”
The world we live in is changing. People are less religious than they have ever been before. People are more suspicious of large institutions than they have ever been before. And people are more connected (virtually), and less connected (relationally) than they have ever been before. The church in the West is in decline, and our tactic so far, according to many of the UK church leaders I spoke to, is to huddle together like emperor penguins, trying to stay safe and feel better in a larger group.
Yet, in the parish church in my home town of Marlow, I found hope. Here is a church that has been in decline for years, until six years ago. But today, things are very different.
What changed? The desires of the people in the church. They said: “If we don’t change, this church will die. We will do whatever it takes.” They knew that if they didn’t reach new people, there would no longer be a church. So they hired a young pastor. They started a new service for families. They placed a greater emphasis upon prayer. And they started running Alpha.
During my time spent worshipping here, I got to hear the stories of four people whose lives have been radically changed in the last few weeks as a result of the Alpha course. One young couple—recently married—who had little association to the church, being invited to Alpha and being radically transformed by an encounter with the Holy Spirit. I was left in tears as this young man shared his testimony with the church before giving the scripture reading one Sunday morning.
Another young lady, a friend of this couple, who they had invited to church, who texted them at 6:30 in the morning to say: “I’m coming!” That morning she heard the gospel preached and experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the prayer team, resulting in her giving her life to Jesus. Mourning had turned to joy in her life, she told me.
Then another, middle-aged man, whose wife had been praying for him, along with others for years. A “wild-man from the hills,” as he describes himself, someone who had struggled with addiction and crime for most of his life. However, the greatest transformation was not his leaving behind of drugs, alcohol, and crime, but Alpha. Through Alpha he has experienced deep inner healing and the profound sense of God’s touch through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
When the world around us is changing, we can huddle in a larger group to feel safer. Or we can step out and seek to reach this changing world with the unchanging, life-changing message of the good news about Jesus. Alpha is one way we can do this, and my experience here in the UK has shown me it is a very powerful and effective way to do so.
So, who will you invite to Alpha?