Reinventing Ways to Share an Unchanging Gospel
Pioneering Alpha and beyond.
Nicky Gumbel is the pioneer of Alpha. He read law at Cambridge and theology at Oxford, practiced as a barrister and is now Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton church in London.
What was your motivation when you first set out to develop The Alpha Course?
I wasn’t brought up as a Christian. My father was a secular Jew and agnostic. When I encountered Jesus, I wanted other people to know the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. A relationship with God through Jesus transforms everything – it gives you life in abundance. And when you discover life in all its fullness, it would be the most selfish thing not to tell other people. The most loving thing you can do is tell everyone about this good news.
“We do need to find new ways to spread the Gospel because the culture is changing.”
I tried lots of ways to share the Gospel with others — a lot of trial and error, and perhaps more error than success. Then we found The Alpha Course, a course designed for those in the Church to grow in faith. We redesigned it for people outside the Church, and we have watched people’s lives change.
How has the popularity of The Alpha Course impacted your life?
We‘ve had a lot of fun, traveling all over the world. In the first 12 years, we traveled to every major US city, and countries like Indonesia, Philippines, India, Singapore, China and Russia. We haven’t been to every country in the world, but mostly the large countries. It’s fascinating to see different cultures.
Of course, if you’re famous, life is complicated. In my case, I wouldn’t consider myself that well-known. Every so often, someone stops to say hi, but my gray hair puts off most people. I was much younger in the Alpha films we produced, so that helps.
“We need to harness technology and use it in ways that bring the good news of Jesus to as many people as possible.”
Which mentors in your life have played a part in your journey of discovery?
The main one is Sandy Millar, who is now a Bishop, but he was the pastor at Holy Trinity Brompton for 20 years. He has pioneered everything at HTB, and continues to be a trusted mentor for me. Sandy is the most encouraging person; he’s so gracious and humble. When I have an issue or a question, I’ll call him and ask his advice — he’s always there to support me. He’s now 80 year old, but still speaking at Alpha conferences, in the US and elsewhere. He’s willing to go anywhere.
After a conference, he would run an Alpha course — for one person! He’s an extraordinary man. He didn’t retire and instead went to the poorest and most dangerous areas of London.
Describe the most defining moment in your last three decades of ministry.
Our first Alpha Conference in May 1993. Many churches phoned me asking how to run Alpha. It was taking so long that I figured I would gather everyone in one room to explain it. People then invited me to different countries to talk about it, and this launched the spread of Alpha courses around the world.
What would you say to a younger generation looking for new ways to spread the Gospel?
The Gospel is the same. It doesn’t change and it hasn’t changed for 2,000 years: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and you can have eternal life.
But, we do need to find new ways to spread the Gospel because the culture is changing. That’s why we filmed the course again. We are working on a new film with different presenters to represent people all around the world. We’re constantly reinventing ways to communicate the unchanging Gospel.
You shared on Instagram, “Every Christian has a testimony. The most powerful way of passing on the message of Jesus is to tell people your story.” How do you see digitalization and technology impacting the Church and her story?
It’s like the old printing press — it printed some terrible things, but it also enabled people around the world to access the Bible. Similarly, technology can be used for evil. Yet, it can also be used for good to reach people with the Gospel. We need to harness technology and use it in ways that bring the good news of Jesus to as many people as possible.
Nicky Gumbel is the author of many best-selling books about the Christian faith, including “Questions of Life”, “The Jesus Lifestyle”, “Why Jesus?”, “A Life Worth Living”, “Searching Issues” and “30 Days”.
This article has been adapted from Champions Vol. III