Thirty one per cent of Australians who state they have ‘no religion’ told researchers they would search online to find out more about faith or religion.
The figure is slightly higher for young “nones”: 36 per cent of 18-34 year olds would also search online to explore the subject of faith further.
The online poll of 1280 was part of the National Church Life Survey’s regular Australian Community Survey research.
“When we had 24 people online we were pleasantly surprised.” – Nathaniel Truong
The new research was sponsored by Alpha Australia who are about to launch their evangelistic course online. Early signs – in addition to the poll – are that it will work.
Alpha, a short evangelistic course, usually runs with a group of participants sharing a meal and video presentation. This discussion format has been done by 500,000 Australians.
“We’ve had 348 Churches register Alpha Online courses since we launched in March 2020 – and 15 per cent of these are churches that have never run Alpha before,” Emily Papas from Alpha Australia tells Eternity.
“City on a Hill based in Melbourne (who had not run Alpha before) launched Alpha Online on April 20 in multiple locations across Australia.
“They have had an average attendance of 220 each week.”
Nathaniel Truong, an Alpha Leader from Hillsong Church who has also already trialled the course online, is from a church that’s done Alpha in a traditional format – and online. “The last time we ran Alpha physically at our church premises whilst implementing social distancing, only two guests showed up. So when we then had 24 people online, we were pleasantly surprised.”
“We saw leaders step up to lead in this new format and guests have genuine encounters with God.
“There is no limit to what God can do and I believe this is the greatest opportunity to reach people in the comfort of their own homes.”
Introducing God, an evangelistic course produced by Dominic Steele of Village Church in Annandale, Sydney, was also being run in early 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it ended up transitioning to online for the final three weeks of that course. Introducing God has a similar structure to Alpha: dinner, video, discussion.
“We had to play it by ear, week by week” as coronavirus struck, says course leader Laura Riley.
“We got to the point where we could not meet together week by week, so we set up Zoom, fumbled our way through the first couple of weeks … but it worked out pretty well.
“I wondered about Zoom, but it worked fine. We had built relationships over the first couple of weeks.”
Asking around, Steele found out that the churches who were doing a relational course (such as Alpha or Introducing God) when coronavirus restrictions set in are pretty confident they can run these courses online. But Steele found churches who had not already made the leap are hesitant to begin with courses run online.
Riley’s experience of the course that started off meeting around tables and ended up on video calls has given her the confidence to run a fully Zoomed course. She is expecting 13 guests to join her – as well as four hosts and a couple of extra Christians – for Session Three, she told Steele on his weekly Pastor’s Heart vodcast.
“People have felt relaxed engaging from home and the flexibility of running online has meant we can give people more options to join in.” – Leonie Wright
Church of Christ pastor Leonie Wright, from Kardinia Church (Geelong, Warrnambool and Ballarat) has also seen encouraging results with online evangelistic groups. “We have had great engagement for our Alpha Online course from both within the church and from our local community,” she said.
“People have felt relaxed engaging from home and the flexibility of running online has meant we can give people more options to join in.
“Participants have managed and adapted to the technology well, engaging in great discussion. We are excited to see what God is going to do in people’s lives in this season.
“Alpha Online will be something we continue to do even when restrictions are lifted.”
Mike Hastie, a pastor from inner city Sydney, asked a great question on the Pastor’s Heart podcast FB group: “We’re thinking about delivering meals the day of the first night, to do ‘iso hospitality.’ Anyone else doing this?”
We’d love to know.