It was déja vu! Conducting the command evaluation for the Intermountain Division several months ago, we were placed in a hotel at 1823 Curtis Street. The hotel is 20 plus stories tall and covers most of the city block–a block where I spent considerable time growing up.
From the time I was 10-days-old until I went to officer training, I was part of the Denver Citadel Corps at 1841 Curtis. The corps building at this location is long gone, replaced by this mammoth hotel. But what a corps it was. I remember for a time we had the top Sunday school in the territory, averaging over 350 a week. We had all the youth programs: junior band, corps cadets, young people’s league (y.p.l.), guards, sunbeams and scout troops.
A day at our corps began with knee drill at 8:45 a.m., Sunday school at 9:30, a short open air at 10:30, holiness meeting at 11, corps cadets in the afternoon, y.p.l. at 5 p.m. a full open air at 6, and evening meeting at 7, wrapping up around 9 p.m. Our family was there for it all. I often tease my mother that we left home so early for church on Sunday that we arrived in time to welcome the corps officers. Mom loves the corps. In her 78 years, it’s the only corps she has ever attended. She brought dad to the corps just before they were married. Both are still attending.
Thinking back, soldiers and friends came together often at the corps. Yes, we came in, but we also got out into the streets and neighborhoods frequently: two open airs every Sunday and neighborhood visitation every other Saturday along our bus pick up route. The coming in was all the livelier because we had gone out. We really were excited to see who came in as a result of our Saturday visitation and eager to see who would return for a second Sunday after following us in from our open airs. I would like to think we had a contagious enthusiasm and optimism about introducing others to Christ.
Thank God there are corps today where this contagious spirit thrives and survives. But we have evidence we need to strengthen our evangelist muscle. Look at the summary of all our corps below and note that the majority of corps in the Western Territory have seen no increase in the number of seekers over the past year.
Percentage of corps with an increase in seekers in 2000 over 1999
% of corps reporting an increase
Adult seekers – 37% youth seekers – 35%
% of corps reporting a decrease
Adult seekers – 46% youth seekers – 48%
% of corps with same # of seekers each yr
Adult seekers – 5% youth seekers – 2%
% of corps reporting no seekers either year
Adult seekers – 12% youth seekers – 15%
General John Gowans reminds us that the purpose of our Army is to “SAVE SOULS, grow saints, and serve suffering humanity.” But given the above statistics, evangelism is definitely a subject we need to address. It has been suggested that evangelism is one of the highest values in the church and one of the least practiced.
Most Salvationists would agree that evangelism is supremely important; eternities hang in the balance. In a recent survey, 86% of pastors admit their church falls short in doing something about it. So, not just the Army, but Christians everywhere are looking for answers.
One answer we are exploring in order to get infected with Great Commission fever is something called contagious Christianity. You can explore this via the Becoming a Contagious Chrsitian training course offered by Zondervan Publishing House. Or, you can submit your registration, found online (www.salvationarmy.usawest.org), and attend the course at our Commissioning weekend next month.
The aforementioned course talks about revolutionizing the way we view and do evangelism. Mark Mittelberg is the primary author. He outlines six different evangelism styles. These styles of outreach evangelism move us beyond the open airs and bus ministries of years gone by. He says, “It doesn’t matter whether your church is large or small, old or new, urban or suburban, upscale or downscale, high church or low church. Regardless of where you’re starting from…in the power of the Holy Spirit, you can take significant steps toward making your ministry more outwardly focused and evangelistically fruitful.” In chapter one he reminds us, “by its very nature and purpose, the church ought to be a contagious place that is ‘infecting’ more and more outsiders with the Christian faith.”
Elsewhere in this issue, there is encouragement to abandon the seeker’s register and replace it with a disciple’s register. A thought-provoking idea. For me, this is not a matter of either or, but a matter of one, two, three, four: go out, bring them in, get them saved, make them disciples. Saving souls or growing saints, it begins when we get out!