Monday, October 27, 2008

Alpha course

In today's class, we were talking about re-branding. Our professor Kerry presented some cases - the New Coke, political parties...but then she brought up the re-branding of religion, which is something I never really thought about. The two reasons to re-brand an image and/or product are when the brand has changed (which does not really apply in this case) or when the brand image requires a complete overhaul - which I think does apply. I never really thought of religion as a "brand", but now that it has been pointed out, it makes sense.

One of the re-branding tools that the church has used is something called the Alpha Course. The Alpha Course is a program offered to educate people on the basics of the Christian faith (although at first glance, one is led to believe that it is more of a philosophical discussion on the "Meaning of Life" than a lesson in Christian doctrine). It promotes that these discussions take place in a "relaxed, friendly setting" and that people of all faiths, backgrounds and viewpoints are welcome to participate.

The Alpha Course was founded by Charles Marnham, a clergyman at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, a Church of England parish in London in 1977. It was a program originally designed for members of the church. Alpha was taken over in 1990 by Nicky Gumbel and it was at that time that they realized the evengelical opportunities and it was then used to educate non-churchgoers in the fundamentals of Christianity. While it was started by The Church of England (an Anglican Church), Alpha has now spread to over 164 countries in a variety of denominations - including the Roman Catholic Church.

Alpha is organized in a series of ten weekly discussions - each session begins with some sort of refreshment, and then moves on to a short "talk" about some aspect of the Christian faith, be it Jesus, God or resisting evil. About halfway through the course, there is a day or weekend "Holy Spirit Retreat", in which the discussion focuses on who the Holy Spirit is, what the Holy Spirit does, and how you can welcome the Holy Spirit into your life.

So, I have tried really hard to explain the re-branding of the church to include people like me without being critical, without being judgemental, keeping an open mind. It has taken me a long time to write this, as I keep looking back and realizing that I am allowing personal opinion to infiltrate this blog. I must admit, I am a little curious - not so much about the content of Alpha, I have, after all, heard it all before - but whether or not we non-Christians would in fact be welcome at these meetings as their website says. I am also curious as to whether their "Convert in Ten-Weeks or Less" method is actually working.

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