Root and secret
by Terry Camsey, Major –
This is the last in the Church Growth Principles series.
Commissioner George Scott Railton once suggested that critics of the Army, seeing only the outward military trappings of the movement, were unaware of the profound spiritual teaching Booth gave his people. As he put it, they could have no idea of “the root and secret of all the success of the Army”…its holiness teaching.
Certainly, Booth had no doubt in his mind that linkage and intimacy with the true Vine was essential if spiritual fruit were to be anticipated. Again, he had (years before others) discerned this Church Growth principle; that commitment went deep and was evidenced through his teaching.
Linkage to the community was another principle at work in those early days. Booth and his followers knew well the communities in which they not only ministered, but lived. And their intimate knowledge of the struggles and aspirations of people in those communities was no less profound. That knowledge was reflected in ministries undertaken to relieve the plight of the poor and to lead them to the more abundant life promised in Christ. Booth and his officers not only had identified the “poor” as a very responsive group, but were extremely effective in building bridges from the community into the corps…bridges that the target population felt comfortable in crossing to come within the influence of the gospel message.
I have, in this series, mentioned a number of basic principles that stimulate numerical and spiritual growth of a congregation. Booth himself was a student of methods of successful soul-wining in his day (see the article “The Founder’s Flaming Passion,” Young Salvationist, April, 1989). Over the years there have been lists and lists of so-called Church Growth “principles” published. I have identified at least 16 such lists containing an aggregate of 132 claimed Church Growth principles. In Your Corps Can Grow, (now) General John Larsson suggested a list of what he saw to be 26 key growth principles. There is considerable overlap in those lists and, truth to tell, some do not distinguish between a principle and a method.
“Methods are many, principles are few;
Methods frequently change, but principles seldom do!”
Dee Hock adds to this a word of wisdom, “Success follows those adept at preserving the substance of the past, by clothing it in the forms of the future. Preserve substance; modify form; know the difference.” That, I feel, is a major challenge the Army needs to address, and one which Booth himself had no difficulty pursuing…in an endeavor not to waste time on activities incapable of producing the “fruit” he sought from his ministry.
There is no doubt Booth was a pragmatist…1877, “In many of the old stations we appear…to have had something like stagnation during the year. We have only got a net increase of 200 members…I should conclude I was out of my place if I had spent twelve months at a place and did not leave it tangibly, unmistakably, visibly better than I found it.”…1877, (after closing nine station with 600 plus members which, Booth felt, should never have been opened)… “If we find we have made a mistake and taken a stand which is not likely to be spiritually remunerative—in which results do not promise to answer to the toil and sacrifice called for—let us have the courage to confess our mistake, and withdraw for more congenial and productive fields of labor”…1891, “We tried various methods, and those that did not answer we unhesitatingly threw overboard and adopted something else.”
If an entire congregation decided to—as individuals—get physically fit, the diet and exercise regime for each member would vary according to their current state of fitness. A “one-size fits all” prescription would be ineffective. It is the same with individual churches (corps).
With that in mind, the Corps Evaluation was originally designed to help an individual corps self-diagnose those things hindering its growth. It was built around principles that have been proven to stand the test of time. Having done thus, and isolated obstacles to growth, then to strategize ways of removing those obstacles giving the best results for expenditure of available energy. Is it an effective tool?
Like all tools, that will depend on its proper use.