Ft. Collins acts on strategic priorities
by Captain Martha Sheppard –
Ed. Note: Ft. Collins, Colo., corps officer Captain Martha Sheppard reports on the corps’ progress in integrating the West’s Six Strategic priorities into its ministry. She serves with her husband, Captain Don Sheppard.
I thought it might give encouragement to hear about some of the progress being made on the field regarding the battle cry, “Make the future in the present.” How have we, as a small but integral part of the larger body, worked to incorporate the six-point strategy into our own corps’ vision plan? Let’s address some of the six points in the strategy plan—as they were addressed in our corps and then put into action.
#1 – Make the field a priority
At the Fort Collins Corps, we knew that the first priority had to be applied on the corps level as well. Our corps body recognized that evangelism to the community around us was lacking—and needed to be addressed immediately. But first, the members had to be trained themselves. So we offered evangelism training courses—“How to share your faith without an argument” and participated in the Soldiers’ National Seminar on Evangelism—attended by three soldiers and the corps officers.
Based on the Harvest Plan (corps review material), the corps council (which was just about everybody in the church, since it was so small) formulated a vision based on the slogan, “HEART to God, HAND to Man” using the words HEART to define our purpose as a church and HAND to measure the level of involvement/growth of a new believer.
The purpose statement of our corps is: We are a Church, an Army, that is called out by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit; one that is actively mobilized in Recruiting, Enlisting and Training Followers of Jesus Christ & Deploying them into Ministry.
#2 – Promote holistic ministry
This is perhaps the most exciting area to “evolve” in our corps. It was clear the corps people wanted to combine the social services and corps programming so the two were “seamless.” We hired a soldier to do the social work (the interviewing, etc.) and other soldiers volunteered to do the follow-up work (visitation, etc.). We had a goal of 90% involvement in Christ-mas programs by the church members—and we succeeded.
Regarding Christmas, we approached it with a completely different viewpoint (we used the mission ministry guidelines given by Lt. Colonel Don Bell at our Officers’ Councils). Why would we give food and toys to people without the message of Christ? With this in mind, we had church members involved in every point of the Christmas program.
Our bell ringing program experienced a complete transformation. Bell ringers were fed breakfast in the morning, followed by morning devotions. They were challenged in their spiritual walk. This year, we had over 45 bell ringers who asked for prayer privately as a result of these corporate devotions—16 of them became Christians, and even more rededicated their lives.
Last week, we had 14 bell ringers in our church service and seven of them had spouses with them. It was four weeks AFTER bell ringing had ended. Six of them are involved in small Bible study groups, asking questions, seeking answers. Two of them have been attending the soldiership preparation classes and were enrolled as soldiers last week. We had a Salvation Army history seminar (TEAM) and 12 of the 26 people were bell ringers from two months earlier. (Note: nine weeks later, we still have those bell ringers!)
Our social services ministry has changed its focus. We call it our FAITH program—Faith Actively Involved in Teaching and Helping. We use Salvation Army soldiers to talk to the people coming in—and are disciplining ourselves to become more faithful in our follow-up. We have challenged ourselves—and others who are working with those in need—to make it a point to do three things with every person who walks through the doors. (We usually do them after talking to the clients about what they think they need.)
1. We ask them about their spiritual beliefs (not aggressively). Do they have any? To you, who is Jesus? We just spur them to thinking about their beliefs.
2. We ask them if we can pray for them about anything. Not WITH them right there, but during the week. This reminds us to call them and ask them how things are.
3. We invite them to church. (We actually have a “unspoken” contest going on: who can invite the most people to church—who actually show up. It sounds unspiritual—but it works.)
#3. Make ministry to youth a priority
We have studied at great length about this one. At our last appointment (South Valley New Heights Center), we had a concert ministry to alternative urban youth—the ones who are generally unaccepted by regular society, the ones who were at fault in the Columbine tragedy, the ones with multiple body piercings. We regularly had concerts with attendance of 200-500 kids—all by Christian bands who gave their testimony, sang worship songs (intermixed with the most AWFUL music—to me, at least—an old person by their standards). We were able to attract many of them to our weekly youth group—which often had 40-50 teenagers there on a regular night. We noticed however, that the ones who have grown spiritually over the last few years (yes, we keep in touch with many of them) are the ones who had families and parents also involved in the church.
While we believe in the idea of reaching out to the youth as a target group, we believe that the Bible teaches the most effective way of “discipling” is in the family setting. Granted, most of the families we deal with are so dysfunctional that it is doubtful that good moral examples are being set. And yet, we are determined, as a church, that we will affect (and disciple) the families as a whole that we can. We still have target group meetings for youth but they will NOT be done in a vacuum—meaning that, as much as possible, we will make every effort possible to know the parents of the youth, come alongside them, and help them raise their children themselves (even if those parents do not attend church). In light of these, here are some of the activities and programs that we have started:
1. We do FAMILY Sunday school. We have families sit together and give them a topic with a Biblical reference, followed by a table activity. Last year, we did a survey of the Old Testament and now we are in the middle of the doctrines soldiership study. Since we have about ten bell ringers who have started attending Sunday school, we also have a New Believers’ class for those who want to attend it.
We have found family Sunday school gives families the opportunity to pray together (something that even our strongest Christian families do NOT do at home, sadly), read the Bible together, and talk about spiritual issues. This has been especially helpful to those families with teenagers.
What about kids with no families? We adopt them. Singles? They are great aunts and uncles. Couples with no children? It teaches them to pray with each other and they can discuss the issue on a more adult level. We have an adults only table, too.
2. Target Youth Group: Having said that, we definitely have a youth group. It is in the middle of forming its own constitution now. They have committed to participating in a coffee-house evangelism which meets every month and provides contemporary (and not so contemporary—meaning loud and alternative) music worship they can invite friends to. In the last month alone, they have brought over 10 new kids to the group. Not all of them stay but they are bringing their friends.
3. Young in Christ. Since we have seen such a large number of seekers this last year, we have seen a need for planned discipling for new believers. We have several mid-week groups, which have 2-4 people in them, studying various Biblical truths. These are different from our church mid-week Bible studies, which are studying holiness and doctrines.
#4: Cast a Global Vision
This has become an increased priority and has happened with the onset of regular prayer. Several people in our corps meet together every morning to pray. We pray for the local concerns and also for the prayer requests sent in the “mail appeal”—or the families who receive “memorial” gifts (meaning they have recently suffered loss)—for the Army and its specific needs—or the country and national events—for the world and the church at large.
As a result, our vision has been enlarged to include mission teams, including the burden to participate—we hope to send our own corps families and youth on a mission trip within the next year. We participate in the HEART Connection program—praying for our sister corps. We welcome guest missionaries and have taken up special offerings for “causes.” A few are part of the Presidential prayer team as well.
The most observable global need, however, is, as Commissioner Linda Bond noted, “the world at our door.” Our community has several trailer parks, filled to capacity (and overflowing) with people from the Hispanic culture. We are unfamiliar with it—and therefore, uncomfortable with it. How-ever, we have made a commitment to “bridge the gap” and bring the gospel to that part of our world, as well.
The Hispanic community is very family–oriented and therefore can be an essential part in our vision of providing the future with a very present Christian background. We are working on plans to meet their needs. Commissioner Bond, we are learning Spanish, too!
#5: Identify, train & develop leaders
Last year, we sent Tolani Seabrook to the School for Officer Training. We sent seven delegates to the Life Service Conference and this year we are sending four. We hope to send four cadets to training school this year and have a possible four more for the following year.
This part is a very frightening venture for my husband and me. (We were sent to training school by Capts. Ben and Marti Nunes, who had the auspicious honor of sending cadets to training school every year or so for many years. It left them repeatedly without leadership—and often, they felt like they were starting over.) Since we rely on these people heavily as leaders in our corps, it is with regret that we will see them leave—but we know that God will continue to raise up leaders—so that we can send them on.
Our mentoring program works so that we teach people and then they teach others, who teach others. This is actually happening right now—and we currently have two levels (we have taught them and they are teaching others). “HAND” is the measuring stick we use to assess where a believer is in their walk (Harvesting, Assimilating, Nurturing, Duplicating).
Our corps members are excited about participating in SA leadership training events, camps, and conferences. Last year, we enrolled 14 soldiers and all of them wanted to wear the uniform. Last week, we enrolled four more soldiers in uniform and two people came up and asked when THEY could start soldiership classes and get a uniform, too! While they don’t wear them on a weekly basis, they are always appropriately dressed for special events, disasters, and community programs.
#6: Direct Resources to Mission
A battle can’t be fought without some struggles. It’s not always easy to find the finances needed for expanding growth, hiring extra people costs money, and the definition of terms needed to qualify for grant funding is often widely debated. For example, does the FAITH program count as a new program because of its holistic emphasis, or is it an old program because The Salvation Army has always done it? A neighboring corps cannot get its bathrooms remodeled even though it services a large feeding program every day for the community—because of a technicality in a policy. While there is grant money available, there are opposing views on which programs qualify.
While waiting for THQ to clarify the direction it will take, we have decided to make sure that we ourselves were doing this on a local level. We have been able to cut a lot of expenses in the area of employees; this means that a lot of work falls to the shoulders of the soldiery. We have tried to examine all our programs to see whether or not they are helping us fulfill our HEART purposes (Harvesting Souls, Encouraging Each Other, Adoring Him, Remaining In Him, Training for Service). As a result, we have started having weekly Bible studies in our thrift store. The people sit on the couches in the furniture area and get free Bibles from our book room. We use Hallmark donations in many evangelistic forms. We offer lunch to those who need a place to “hang out” until their appointment at the job search office across the street. We put a Bible in every food box. We want to be faithful in the small things.
We have seen this corps grow from 20 (which included our family of eight) to a corps of nearly 90. We have a regular corps roster of 40 adults, which means that we generally have over 20 visitors or newcomers every week (the rest are children). It is very exciting. We don’t have professional musicians, we don’t do well in many areas, but each week, we have to add more chairs for the visitors. And yesterday, in church on Sunday morning, the angels rejoiced in heaven over three new names in the Book of Life.