by Terry Camsey, Major –
My good friend Lt. Colonel Don McDougald recently sent me an article published in REV magazine (November/December 2003) about treatment of people who visit church for the first time. To those who have studied the subject for many years, the article reiterates principles that have been shared in many other publications and seminars under the general heading of “user friendliness.”
For some reason, however, it struck a faint chord way back in my memory. It was the sharing of experiences by a new Salvationist, who described the challenges she faced in trying to penetrate the fellowship at one corps. Those experiences not only challenged her, but should also challenge all corps serious about attracting, winning and folding the lost into their congregation. Brenda (“last name withheld to protect the identity of the innnocent,” as they say) shared the following:
• They teach man-made rules as if they were God-given rules.
• I have had to fight through a crush; it’s not been pleasant. It’s been painful and would have been easy to give up.
• Communication of words (jargon) is difficult in The Salvation Army…as is the “shorthand.” You sit there and switch off.
• I used to think those announcements were for “them” (bandsmen and songsters) and that we, the congregation, were a separate group.
• People experience closed groups and go out through the back door…there’s nowhere else to go.
• Uniform is a barrier. If those in uniform made a point of sitting next to a new person and interpreting, it would help. The Salvation Army has been ”speaking in tongues for years” but has not provided interpreters.
• Bandsmen who will not sing anything not published by The Salvation Army…their hearts are in the editorial department, certainly not in heaven!
•What does a new person think when a bandsman will not sing “Jesus, the name of the Lord” just because it hasn’t been published by The Salvation Army?
• As a recruiting sergeant now, I have the job to keep new people…they see more than you think.
• The census board is like ”introspective nepotism,” with people born into the “brotherhood.” One can only get on to the census board by being “family.” When Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet” he had this corps in mind… two warring families. They fight at the census board, putting their family first. The head of the board is not the commanding officer… it’s the head of the family. If a position comes up, they will find something in that person’s past to discredit them as a non-family member.
• I was made recruiting sergeant because no member of the family wanted to do it.
• In the final analysis, it will hurt to change, but we hurt God most of all by refusing entry to people who would seek him.”
Yes, Brenda made it, despite a “Teflon coated” congregation, because she was strong enough—and committed enough—to stand her ground. But, how many others, one wonders, have been lost to that corps?
New people are like an infusion of fresh blood to a hemorrhaging corps body. Those “bodies” rejecting such sustenance have selected their own ultimate future. New people are possibly the most valuable evangelistic resource any corps has, because they are probably the most knowledgeable about the constituency you strive to reach.
All planning groups should consult them if strategies are to be optimally effective. But, be aware, that once they have (one hopes) been assimilated into the congregation, the tendency is to forsake old friends for new ones made at the corps. This can happen within as short a time as six months! Corps would be wise to take advantage of their knowledge before this unique resource is lost.
There’s certainly no place for Teflon troopers (exclusionary congregations) in this Army.