From the Desk of…
by Donald Bell, Lt. Colonel –
Early in my training, even before entering the training college, I was appointed by then Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Eugene Rice to attend a church growth seminar held in conjunction with an officers’ councils in the Southern California Division. There I learned about relational ministry and that the most effective way to make a corps grow is by inviting friends in my circle of influence.
Interestingly, some 30-plus years later, the territorial executive councils heard a recommendation, afterwards approved by territorial leadership, that the Army change the model of corps from building-based to program- and relational-based. The corps building may become the hub, but programs should be organized in various locations around the corps, including coffee houses and private homes. The recommendation emphasizes the importance of relational and outreach evangelism.
During our first appointment to San Diego, we had the responsibility of moving the San Diego Citadel corps from downtown to the Clairemont area. One of the reasons the corps plant was successful was that we first opened an outpost in the vicinity of the new corps to get to know the neighbors. Then when the corps opened, the band would play in the neighborhoods around the building while soldiers distributed flyers about the corps programs to each house. Many of the neighbors came to the meetings, and we scheduled follow-up visits that included a gift of cookies and devotional material. A relationship was established and then built upon by the congregation.
While serving on the Greater Los Angeles Sunday school board, I saw how other churches approached this same subject. Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena had so many high school Sunday school classes that the building didn’t have enough rooms to accommodate them. They quickly moved classes to local restaurants. This alone encouraged young people to attend Sunday school, and others in the restaurant were invited to join the group.
As plans are made by corps and local officers, I suggest exploring the various ways you have as corps officers, local officers, soldiers and friends of the Army, to expand the Army’s work in your community. Those who have attended the Aggressive Christianity conference or participated in outreach afternoons at youth councils have learned how to reach out through acts of kindness, open air ministry in parks, and feeding the homeless on the streets.
Our young people are excited about reaching out and sharing a personal witness of what Jesus means to them. Last year while attending youth councils in Hawaii, I saw this excitement demonstrated by young people taking the opportunity to help seniors at our Silvercrest by washing their windows. They also shared their personal witness and invited the seniors to the corps. The same happened at the ARC thrift store in Honolulu where young people washed windows on cars and helped people shop, while sharing the good news of Christ and inviting people to church.
In corps I have attended, I have witnessed how small groups helped the corps to grow. One corps had a small group minister who set about determining what the perceived unmet needs of that corps were, then set up small groups to address those needs. That might be Bible study, exercise classes, craft classes, new mothers classes, singles classes, newly married classes, recently widowed classes, AA and NA groups, weight reduction classes, and the list goes on and on. In another corps, the day Home League scheduled morning electives emphasizing a particular need or interest.