In 1993, Tricia Neal was working for Rupert Murdoch at News International, living in the Middle East. She moved back to London and was working very hard so decided to accept a tennis friend’s invitation to a course where she ‘would meet nice people and no one would pester her’. She loved it, discovered faith and came back with a neighbour. Six months later, she received an email from Nicky Gumbel asking her to lead a group. She thought there was some mistake as she was so new to church, but Nicky explained that the best group leaders are those who have just experienced the course. She invited 26 people from her work to come along with her when they asked where she was going on a Wednesday night. 16 of them came, 4 finished it and one is ordained today!
Tricia now works as the Alpha Executive Director. She recalled that when she joined the organisation, “I had no office, no desk, no phone and no computer. The future looked bleak”. Nicky Gumbel said that, “before Tricia, we were all lawyers, accountants and teachers but we had no leaders with a management background. Tricia brought experience, a professional and competent ability to train, deploy and manage people.” Under her leadership, the number of Alpha courses grew from 200 in 1994 to more than 66,000 today in 129 countries.
I had the chance to interview Tricia, and was delighted to hear her enthusiasm for the courses, the organisation and her vision to keep moving forwards and help new people come to meet Jesus Christ. I asked her what a normal day looked like. She said there were no normal days,but there are days that are office based near to the church home, Holy Trinity Brompton in Central London. She travels extensively visiting America six times a year as well as the other Alpha regions in Africa, Europe and Asia around once a year. She keeps in touch with the international staff in 50 offices round the world as well a spending time with ‘people with leverage’ such as Archbishops and financial partners.
When asked what she thought was the best bit about her job, she replied, the people she works with, who are committed and passionate. They have often given up well paid jobs because they believe in Alpha and want to extend the Kingdom of God. The number of people who have attended an Alpha course to date is more than a staggering 22 million! Yet the team, headed up by Nicky Gumbel and Tricia, are still hungry for change and through ‘Alpha Innovation’ they are working to reposition the course and keep it fresh for a younger target audience, with shorter talks and a new branding. It might be tempting, with such a phenomenal track record, to rest up a bit but Tricia said that Nicky had recently announced at a gathering of the staff, “ok, we know that Alpha works, now we need to gear up and make a difference”.
I asked Tricia what she believed about friendship evangelism and she said it was at the heart, “Alpha is all to do with friends inviting friends. Most people who attend, do so because a friend invites them. If I go to a good restaurant or play, then I tell others. Alpha is like that.”
So, if you go past Harrods in London on a Wednesday night and continue up Brompton Road, you may well see 1,000 people queueing to get into a course. For many of them this will be their first visit through the church doors. God is doing amazing things through Alpha courses. Tricia Neal just says she was in the right place at the right time to be used for ‘such a time like this’. Her passion and enthusiasm twenty years on from her first day at work are an inspiration!