The digital landscape has changed dramatically since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the globe. For increasingly more people, the digital space has been front and centre of their lives in an even greater way as schools shifted online and working from home became a norm.
For many churches around the world, as Sunday services and physical doors to churches shut in line with global lockdowns, one of the biggest questions church leaders had to face was, “How do I survive as a church?”
As the pandemic hit, almost overnight the global church had to collectively rethink their strategy not just for gathering & worship, but also for outreach. Church services had to transition onto online platforms. Sermons, announcements and church activities had to either be recorded from home or be done via online video conferences. The desire for a sense for community has never been so dire, bringing about the critical question of “how can we reach out to the masses?” amidst lockdowns and forced isolations.
How can this connection be forged and outreach be done at a time where everyone is socially distanced and the only form of community is through the digital space?
In 2020, together with the global body of Christ, Alpha as an organisation had to pivot onto the digital space too, with one question in particular looming over us – can there still be effective evangelism with many parts of the world largely confined to their homes?
As an evangelism tool, Alpha’s strength has always been in its ability to provide space and opportunities for people to explore the Christian faith and ask some of life’s biggest questions. Covid-19 had brought with it, if anything, a whole new level of awareness to some of the biggest questions in life. With an entirely new culture of enforced-staying-at-home, Alpha’s evolution into the digital space helped meet that need for those searching for answers.
In the long run as well, this was the starting point of discovering how the digital space can play a big role in outreach not just during times of lockdown but beyond that even as doors to physical church halls reopen around the globe.
Being in the digital space, a theme of convenience begin to take place as we heard from church leaders around the world who ran Alpha online. Even as parts of the world begins to open up in varying degrees, the general thought is that the online platform will continue to remain as people find it easier to manage and plan their time for Alpha. This was especially true in urban settings where the barriers of traffic and commute time no longer stood in the way for guests to attend Alpha. Some guests who would never usually step into a church building also showed up online. The ability to attend Alpha from the confines of their homes and behind the screen of a device seemed to provide for some, a sense of greater security, safety, and comfort. They could explore something new without having to step out completely beyond their comfort zones.
The move onto Alpha online has created a space where discussions and sharing of the good news can be done at anytime and anywhere (as long as you have internet access and a mobile device, even hard to reach rural areas can be connected). By utilizing the digital space, anything can be done just by the tip of your fingers.
We are convinced that Alpha online plays a huge role in evangelism in times like these. Up until June 2021, over 25 million people have experienced Alpha in 140 countries and in over 100 languages. In 2020, over 1.3 million people did Alpha, a 15% increase from 2019 (Alpha Global Annual Review). With the transition of moving Alpha to the online platform and questions surrounding the effectiveness of evangelism online, we began to glimpse the answer to our question, “Would Alpha online work as well as Alpha in physical locations?”
In this article by Alpha USA which references Barna’s Research Journal, Five Changing Contexts for Digital Evangelism, it says that, “41% of non-Christians are open to participating in spiritual conversations if the environment is friendly.” What does this mean for us as preachers of the Gospel?
As the world adapts to doing life online, Alpha brings it’s signature culture of hospitality, fun, and empathetic listening from a physical environment into the digital space. While keeping that culture online, people are also finding it more convenient to attend Alpha. As written in the same article by Alpha USA on Barna’s website, “The ease of showing up to a Zoom room, compared with traveling to and physically entering an unfamiliar and daunting church facility, allows even skeptics to explore on safe ground.”
These preliminary data and findings indicate a likelihood that digital evangelism is going to be staying for a very long time due to the ability of offering guests the convenience of being able to connect from an environment they are already familiar and comfortable with.
Pioneer of Alpha, Nicky Gumbel mentioned at the start of the pandemic that, “this is the greatest opportunity for evangelism of our lifetime.” With everyone being locked in and chances of going out limited, community is more important than ever. Even as the world begins to emerge out of this pandemic, foresight informs us that the convenience and lower barriers of entry the online space provides means the likelihood of churches hosting in the digital space is just beginning, and is here to stay.
- Alpha Global Annual Review
- Alpha USA on The Promise of Digital Evangelism Environments
- Digital Evangelisation Report by Alpha Malaysia
- Alpha International
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