Influential evangelical and Alpha pastor Rev Nicky Gumbel yesterday sang the praises of the Catholic Church for being at the fore in bringing new Christians to faith in Jesus.
Gumbel, of Holy Trinity Brompton, the heart of Anglican church growth in the diocese of London and the nation, told a gathering of nearly 900 Catholic bishops, priests and laity: "I love the Catholic Church - she is leading the way in evangelisation."
He spelled out his Alpha recipe for success, but said key to his current thinking was the 2013 encyclical of Pope Francis on evangelisation and the joy of the gospel, Evangelii Gaudium.
Everyone, not just Catholics, should read the encyclical and put it into practice. He said he was reading and re-reading it. "If every Christian in England put Evangelii Gaudium into practice the nation would be transformed," Gumbel said, adding that the Church would also be revitalised and transformed.
"We need to reach the lapsed, and help them to understand what Christian faith is really about at its heart."
He said that in 25 years of Alpha, they had learned six jokes and they tell them over and over again.
Friendship was one key to successful evangelism. "I love seeing the friendships develop in Alpha groups, with Christ and with each other," he told the Proclaim 15 conference in Birmingham.
Another was personal experience of the Holy Spirit.
"Once you see a person encounter Jesus you want to see it again and again," he said. Key to this was people coming to faith on the Holy Spirit weekends which are the culmination of each Alpha Course "as they experience God's love."
Nobody joins Alpha, he added. "They join the local parish, Alpha is just the beginning, there's the rest of the alphabet to get through."
Many Catholic churches around the world use an adapted version of the Alpha programme for evangelisation.
Alpha as a parish based tool makes a lot of sense for Roman Catholic Church, said Gumbel. "If the parish system didn't exist, we'd have to invent it."
He said it was important for Church leaders to be close to people outside as well as inside the Church. He loves meeting people, hearing where they are and what their questions are.
"Evangelise according to your gifting, whether your gift is pastoring or something else. Involve everyone," he said, advocating the "small" approach. "I love the small group. I love smelling of the sheep, as the Pope would say."
Small teaching inputs about Jesus and a warm welcome were the keys to reaching the unchurched and lapsed. Evangelisation was always disappointing because lots of people drop out, but equally it was exciting because of those who stay.
The #proclaim15 hashtag reached the number three position in the UK trending chart.
The Archbishop of Westminster, who has recently joined Twitter @cardinalnichols, tweeted:
Cardinal Vincent Nichols launched his plans to turn 5,000 churches into "missionary parishes" at the conference, urging the parishes of England and Wales set up evangelisation teams to win souls for Jesus.