The Alpha Story: A Global Mission
Tricia Neill’s journey on taking The Alpha Course from the UK to the global phenomenon that it is today.
Alpha is a series of talks and discussions that explores the Christian faith that runs worldwide. Tricia Neill, President of Alpha International, has since grown to be an authority on the subject of turning vision into reality and helping churches grow. Interestingly, she shares how her first experience with Alpha decades ago did not leave much of an impression on her.
Tricia first encountered Alpha in her mid-30s, and she was the last person who thought God mattered. Looking back, she describes herself as a hard worker but also an avid partygoer. During that time, she was the leader of a team in charge of getting a new division up to lead exhibitions worldwide for the News International group by Rupert Murdoch.
It was during a tennis match that someone invited Tricia to Alpha — held at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), an Anglican church in the middle of London. Her friend told her that Alpha was a weekly gathering held over the course of 11 weeks, where they would have a meal, a talk, and a discussion that would let her explore the meaning of life.
Tricia says she actually accepted the invitation then only to be polite, but after the first evening, had no plans of going back. However, she ran into a neighbour who was experiencing a difficult time, and before she knew it, ended up inviting that neighbour to Alpha and promising to go with her!
That turned out to be what kept her going to the whole 11 weeks, and Tricia describes it as a major turning point in her life. She became a Christian that year in 1993, and before long, she was helping out with subsequent Alpha runs and even met the founder of Alpha, Reverend Nicky Gumbel.
Embracing A Global Vision
In April 1994, Tricia was invited to work with Nicky and the vicar at HTB, Rev. Sandy Millar, to help in the operations of HTB and support the growth of Alpha worldwide. During this time, there were about 200 Alphas running – mostly in the UK.
Her job involved helping churches of different denominations become aware of the Alpha course, and to equip churches that wanted to evangelise but had no clue how to do it. Alpha wanted to equip and train these churches, which would require the setting up of conferences at the regional and national level. They also committed to mentor and support churches that decided to run Alpha, and aimed to have the resources translated into several languages.
“This was a particularly tough challenge because there was only me at the beginning,” Tricia chuckles.
Getting Creative with Getting Alpha Seen and Heard
Perhaps that experience is what helped Tricia grow in the area of seeing vision converted into reality. She started by organising lunches with Christian media to get the story of Alpha out throughout the UK. These published articles were a key way to get churches around the world interested in Alpha.
They also published an in-house newspaper, Alpha News, with three runs a year. They sent these out for free to everyone who was involved in helping Alpha grow.
Additionally, they connected with previous Alpha participants and organisers who attended HTB and had since moved to other countries. These contacts encouraged their new home churches to try Alpha, while Alpha freely gave them the resources needed and provided training for their church leaders.
Another thing that helped was setting up a network of people who were unusually skilled at running the Alpha course and who desired to help others succeed in running Alpha too. They called them ‘Alpha Advisers,’ and they eventually became national Alpha offices in different countries.
“Alpha’s vision from the start has been: to play our part in the evangelisation of the nations, the revitalisation of the church and the transformation of society.” – Tricia Neill
This was also the time when they started exploring the idea of making the talks in film form, with the goal to make it more easily reproducible. They partnered with publishers and other people in the media industry to help churches have easy access to the materials.
Up to 2001, the funds for Alpha came wholly from the church at HTB. But with the desire to see Alpha grow across the globe, they knew it was necessary to open the doors to other people who wanted to sow financially into the project. This led them to establish a charity called Alpha International, with its own board of trustees to oversee the funding and the global growth of thehh Alpha movement.
These creative steps helped Alpha grow from its coverage which was mainly in the UK in the 1990s to reach across the globe in less than thirty years. As of 2018, Alpha has expanded to reach over 100 countries, with 34,000 churches in all the major denominations hosting an approximate 26 million people in total.
A Visionary Never Stops Growing
And this growth does not mean that Alpha stops there: by 2022, Alpha envisions to grow the number of churches that run it from 34,000 to 68,000! And it is not simply because they want to be more visible, but it is all in line with its vision of contributing to seeing the nations evangelised and seeing churches revived, and eventually, transforming society at large.
Perhaps as a direct result of HTB’s sowing into all the different churches that Alpha has blessed, HTB has also experienced tremendous growth: it has now expanded into a multi-site church, running 10 Sunday services across 4 sites. HTB also lives up to its vision of expanding the kingdom by planting over 20 churches in London and at least 12 more churches in cities around the UK, particularly those that are university centres, and including one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
With the surprisingly effective way that Tricia had helped Alpha see its initial vision fulfilled, Rev. Sandy Millar thought it would be a good idea for her to write a book about strategising action plans to see a vision fulfilled. He saw a need since he believed many who led churches actually held big visions but did not know how to go about implementing them.
A lot of Tricia’s strengths in the area of implementing strategies were developed during her years in the marketplace, and further enhanced during her time with HTB. Rev. Millar’s suggestion came in 2005, and in 2006, Tricia’s book, ‘From Vision to Action,’ was published.
The book is full of principles and suggestions on setting up leadership structures, casting the vision, building effective teams, and persevering in the midst of difficulty. Hopefully, it will help countless church leaders in also turning their dreams into reality in the different spheres that the Lord sets for them.
Are we walking in divine ideas of what the Lord wants for our specific spheres of influence? Perhaps we need to think outside the box and let Him guide us with creative strategies in fulfilling what He wants to do in our world. Witness innovative ways of reaching the lost through the Alpha Film Series at http://alpha.org.