Say what?

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by Terry Camsey, Major – 

One grave error we can make in trying to reach out to others lies in not realizing that the message given is not necessarily the message received.

For example, from our (inside the Army) perspective, the uniform identifies us as committed Christians. The outsider’s interpretation may not coincide. To be sure, many recognize us in uniform as belonging to The Salvation Army. If, however, we are not perceived by outsiders as a church (or even as a Christian organization) but, rather, as a well-respected social service provider, then that is what the uniform represents to that outsider.

The danger is when we take recognition of the uniform as evidence of our visibility as members of the universal Christian church without checking perceptions. And perceptions are truth in the eye of the beholder. If many outside the movement do not equate our uniform with committed Christianity (and, if it is important to us that they do), then we need to do something to clarify the message we want them to receive through our uniform wearing.

Some years ago, the Western Territory retained some marketing specialists to conduct a series of focus groups with the baby boomer segment of the population, a generation we felt was important to reach with the gospel. The facilitator was not Army, but Army representatives were able to view the sessions behind a one-way mirror. Participants knew we were there, but only as sponsors of the study who remained unidentified until sessions were concluded. Basically, our goal was to determine what kind of church and church programs they were likely to respond to if ever they did go to church.

I remember one young man with a puzzled expression on his face when he became aware we were sponsors of the study. After a moment or two, you could see the light dawning on his face. “Oh!” he said, “I have just realized that by ‘salvation’ you mean conversion to faith. I always thought it meant ‘succor’ and that you were an organization that went around coming to the aid of people in need!” So even our name may not be as clear to others as it is to Salvationists.

What I am getting around to is that, in any communication with the unchurched public, we need to make sure that the message we think we sent is the same one the receiver understands. Pushing through a pamphlet like “The Four Spiritual Laws” can be a waste of time if, right at the start of the dialog, the unsaved person says he doesn’t believe in God. At that point the immediate challenge is to convince him that God is real and alive. When this has been accepted, we can press on with arguing the remainder of the case.

I was in a supermarket a few months ago and was impressed by a very large poster that set out the company’s commitment to its customers. It promised to fulfill a variety of things, each one that would be perceived as a benefit by the customers. It got me thinking about signs that we post outside our corps. By and large, they tend to be a list of meetings, activities and times. A kind of menu, but written in a foreign language using terms like “holiness meeting,” and “salvation meeting,” the meaning of which may be very clear to us, but not necessarily to those outside the fold.

What if we developed signs that addressed the interests, concerns and curiosities of those we seek to reach, signs couched in terms of benefits they would gain by attending. Perhaps something like this:


At this place of Christian worship,we promise to:

• Welcome every guest warmly

• Share teaching that encourages and helps you deal with the challenges you face every day

• Speak a “non-churchy” language that you can clearly understand

• Offer you friendship and acceptance as a member of our worshiping family

• Pray for any specific needs you have

• Use music and songs that are upbeat, inspirational and of excellent quality

• Share practical teaching to help you deal with problems that arise in your day to day life

On behalf of all the congregation

Not only would it encourage people to try us, it would challenge us to keep our promise!
(Ah well, it’s just a thought…)

On the Corner

On the Corner

Quite a Person – my mom by Robert Docter –  She was born with the

FOCUS – Leap of faith

FOCUS – Leap of faith

by Amanda Reardon, Captain –  The Reardon family will never forget this

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