I got into a conversation with a Canadian earlier. This Canadian lives a part of Canada where, from what I can pick up, are several decent sized Salvation Army corps, a couple of social centres and one or two charity shops. The said Canadian enthusiastically shared that she volunteered at The Salvation Army.
‘Great’, I said, with as much enthusiasm I could muster. I go on to ask her if she is a Christian.
‘God no!’ she answers. ‘Wouldn’t want to have anything to do with religion.’
‘Why work with The Salvation Army then?’ I ask her.
‘Well, they are a good secular organisation who help people.’
The conversation proceeded relatively typically..gave her a few websites to look up to have a look into what The Salvation Army really is. I hope I haven’t gone and lost them a volunteer, but how ridiculous is it that even our volunteers don’t know what we’re about?
The question that pops to mind is why is it that the general public, even those who have a working knowledge of The Army, don’t know what we do? The common response to this over the years has been about publicity campaigns.
I was looking through a folder of official minutes the other evening looking for something and came across one issued a few years back entitled ‘Boosting The Salvation Army’s Image as a Church’ or something to that effect. Its main thrust was that we were to include the words ‘The Salvation Army is a Christian Church and registered charity’ at the bottom of headed note-paper. Well, thats really going to get the news out.
We’re good at throwing marketing tactics at our missional problems. I was at a seminar recently at Territorial Congress on church transformation, or something like that. I sat and listened to the usual talk about how the Army is declining. Then I sat and listened to the proposed solution to this. Basically, it was 1980’s church growth principles with a new name…a ‘Field of Dreams’ theology, you know, ‘build it and they will come.’
I put my hands on my head and assumed the ‘despair’ position.
In the UK, we’ve seen an influx of Natural Church Development promotion. NCD is basically a church audit programme. Its designed to help people be a better church, a more polished church, healthier even. A plan is then produced to improve the church based on ratings and scores produced by its members. For example, if the soldiers say the worship is rubbish, the report says ‘need to work on worship.’ Its technical stuff, I’m sure you can imagine.
The Salvation Army in many quarters seems bent on elevating the efficiency of our structures, programmes and ministries (mainly to ourselves). Meanwhile, the emphasis on discipleship, radical discipleship, is alien to a large number of people to put a uniform on their back week-in, week-out.
The future revolution for The Salvation Army will be about caring much less about structure/programme and much more about people. In coming up for 8 years of corps officership/leadership in one form or another, I can look back and say with confidence that programme, the maintenance of it and sometimes the preservation of it has been the most time consuming, soul-destroying task I’ve ever had to endure.
When you build an organisational structure at the end of the day, all your left with is a structure which very soon will become a burden. When you build disciples of Jesus Christ, passionately committed to the cause, you build an Army set for taking over the world beginning right where they are.
The world will soon discover exactly what The Salvation Army is when it is full of covenanted warriors exercising holy passion to win the world for Jesus. Bring it on Lord!