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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
In early 2012, on the occasion of our second run through the Alpha Course, a local reporter interviewed me about the ministry. I thought that on the launch of our fourth Alpha it might be good to update and reprint the interview.
What do you like about the program?
The Alpha Course does a number of things very well. First, Alpha brings people from all walks of life together and builds community. Each Wednesday for ten weeks we enjoy a meal together, watch a very interesting talk on some aspect of the faith, break for coffee and desert and then have discussion groups for about 30-40 minutes. Even people who are not Christians enjoy it because of the relationships that are built.
Second, it actually is a course although there is no test and no college credit. Most Americans have a smattering of knowledge about the faith, but a surprising number don’t really know the basics. Anyone attending Alpha will come away with a much better, more comprehensive understanding of Christianity. Guests can ask any question they like and they will not be laughed at or talked down too.
Third, while it does present the basics of the faith and encourages people to believe there is no pressure. The whole thing is very relaxed, encouraging and fun. I think that’s because the speaker, Nicky Gumble, started out as an atheist and is very sensitive to the feelings of people who have a hard time with faith. He is also quite funny in a dry, British sort of way. Finally, the Alpha course is a way for the whole congregation to get involved in sharing their faith with their friends without putting them on the spot or asking them to act like sales people or expecting them to be experts in the field of apologetics. Alpha has been around for over twenty years and is a worldwide phenomenon so it feels like you are part of something really big with lots of support.
Why are you doing it again?
The Alpha Course is meant to be an ongoing program. As such it builds on itself. People come on the course, find out about Jesus, become believers and get excited about sharing what they’ve learned. Then they naturally want to bring their friends to the next course. That’s how Christianity grew in the first place, not through revival type events that are so well known in U.S. history.
How have attendees benefited from the course?
The first group that attended Alpha at Faith Community Church was very diverse. One African American lady saw a bumper sticker on my car and asked me about it in the grocery store. She came and brought her sister. One man said, “I came to the course thinking I was already a Christian. But I had terrible anxiety, and anger, and depression issues. I couldn’t sleep at night. On the third week of the course I prayed along with the guy on the video and a huge burden lifted off of me. I’ve not had those troubles since and I sleep like a baby. I believe I became a real Christian that day.” Another lady, a friend that I had known for about ten years, attended our last course with her husband. Her understanding of Jesus completely changed, and she was baptized. Her husband, who had never attended a church, began to believe that not all Christians were nuts, and started attending regularly.
Has it drawn new members/attendees to Faith Community Church?
Yes it has. It has reinvigorated what was already a very healthy congregation. I recommend the Alpha Course to any church that is looking for a new spark.