Alpha or Emmaus?

There can be few of us who have not had some personal involvement in either an Alpha course or one of the alternatives on offer - and the Emmaus course is much the most widely used of those alternatives. Apart from the occasional debriefing and review session in our local church, however, few of us have engaged in any serious research into the effectiveness of these courses. Here's where Charles Freebury's book comes to our aid.

Based on research undertaken for his MA in Evangelism Studies at Cliff College several years ago, it surveys the Alpha and Emmaus material clearly and helpfully and assesses and compares their usefulness and impact. Note is also made of other courses like Credo, Saints Alive, Good News Down the Street, Just Looking, The Y Course and Christianity Explored, but the focus is on Alpha and Emmaus.

The different chapter headings give a clear summary of the ground covered in this book: 'Contact', 'Course materials', Effectiveness - coming to faith and moving on', 'Receiving the Holy Spirit', 'Impact' and 'Sustainability'. The author uses not only his own research but also draws on surveys done by other people in order to give as much objectivity as possible to his study, and each chapter concludes with a helpful chart summarising its findings with symbols ranging from 'Very good' to 'Poor' somewhat in the manner of a Which? report. If readers feel that many of those findings simply reinforce what they already instinctively believe about either of the courses being assessed, their great value is that they offer properly researched experiential and statistical evidence on which those 'feelings' may be more reliably based.

So is there a 'Best Buy'? The author certainly includes a section headed 'Is there a winner?' but acknowledges that both course have their own strengths and weaknesses, and indeed that many churches engage in effective evangelistic outreach without using either of them. This is a thoroughly workmanlike piece of writing, and one which I would commend to every church for serious study - whether or not they currently use either Alpha or Emmaus. It will help you to look objectively at what you do provide for people who may be interested in the Christian faith but are still only dipping their toes in the waters.