Territorial Survey Results Reported
Over 90 percent Participation Reveals
Unified and Diverse Opinions
By J. David Schmidt & Associates –
An old African proverb says: “Nothing happens unless people talk.” Well, in the spring of this year, the entire Western Territory of The Salvation Army was given an opportunity to talk. And most of you did!
The results are in! They’re exciting … there’s much to learn from your comments … and territorial leaders have begun to wrestle with the findings.
The survey, distributed in April, went to the more than 325 corps in our territory and was translated into languages other than English. The response was overwhelming! By the cut-off date, 7,267 corps attenders from 295 different corps returned their surveys (an exceptionally high return, in our experience). More than 500 officers and leaders also completed a special leader’s survey.
Because so many thousands of people participated from nearly every corps, leaders have strong confidence in the findings. Without question, the opinions and experiences are a true representation of the entire territory.
Program Secretary Lt. Col. Raymond Peacock said, “We had specific objectives going into this effort. We wanted to get a better picture of the people who attend the corps across the territory. We were interested in their level of involvement and commitment to the Army, their spiritual vitality, their attitudes and opinions about corps ministries and programs, and how they felt about Mission 2000.
“But more importantly,” added Peacock, “we wanted to understand the issues people are facing in their corps so both their divisions and the territorial headquarters can better serve them in their pursuit of spiritual vitality. This survey has given us a rich and objective picture of local corps, which we haven’t had for some time in the territory. More importantly, the findings will help steer leadership’s thinking and the development of a territorial-wide vision in the months to come.”
So what did the 7,267 corps attendees and the 514 officers and leaders say? The results are exciting, intriguing, and some are sobering.
Who did the talking?
The 7, 267 corps attendees were very representative of the territory with all age and ethnic groups responding in strong numbers.
- Nearly one-third (30%) were Baby Busters under the age of 34. Baby Boomers, age 34-52, made up 37% of the respondents. Builders, those age 53 and up, made up 37% of those who responded.
- Women slightly outnumbered men 56% to 44%.
- While the majority (57%) of the respondents were Caucasian, the survey showed that within the last ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of Salvationists in the West from Asian or Southeast Asian, Hispanic, African-American, Native American, or Pacific Island descent.
- Interestingly enough, only 31% of those who responded had a parent who was involved in the Salvation Army in the past. Increasingly, the Army in the Western Territory is not made up of second and third generation Salvationists.
- Singles make up 27% of the corps attendees, with married folks comprising 48%, and one-quarter being divorced, separated or widowed.
The vast majority of the corps in every division participated in Survey Sunday, so leaders can be sure that nearly every corner of the West was well represented in the findings. So what did they say?
There was much in the survey to rejoice about!
First, it is clear that The Salvation Army has been effective in challenging its attendees to come to Christ or make a deeper commitment. A full one-third were not involved in any church prior to attending their corps. In fact, 57% either met the Lord or rededicated their life through The Salvation Army. Only 39% of those answering were Christian before attending corps programs.
Second, most appear to be growing spiritually and to be sharing their faith with others. Half said they have their ups and downs, but they feel like they’re growing spiritually. Another 34% are fulfilled right now in their walk with Christ. A full three-quarters said that they had shared their faith with another person who did not know Christ in the past three months. Two-thirds said they could claim that they had experienced sanctification or were in the process of becoming more holy.
This is good news about the spiritual vitality at the very heart of the territory. It demonstrates that past evangelistic efforts have been effective, and that a sizeable portion of the Territory is not “stuck” spiritually.
Third, respondents feel at home in their corps and value the spiritual and personal support. When respondents were asked what they appreciated most about their corps, the top five answers were:
- I have grown spiritually (39%)
- I feel loved and accepted here (33%)
- the caring people (32%)
- it has given me a place to serve (28%)
- the Army helps many people in need (25%)
Fourth, the overwhelming majority of Salvationists are engaged and connected to their corps through their service and giving. Seven out of ten are currently serving in some way in their corps, and 86% are giving financially to support their corps. The vast majority (87%) would be willing to give financially to support a new program or outreach at their corps if it would help their corps grow or be more effective.
“Twinkling Lights” What Do They Mean?
The survey probed various attitudes and opinions Salvationists had regarding corps life and their own spiritual vitality. Here, a number of significant and interesting findings were noted related to worship and outreach. Below are a few of the “twinkling lights”–findings that will require further probing and definitive action.
1. Worship preferences depend on the attendee’s age.
When Salvationists were asked what they would like to see more of at their corps worship meetings, the top three answers given were: special music, testimonies, and congregational singing. But as much of our other church research has shown, a person’s preferred worship style depends on his or her age.
As the chart shows, there are significant differences between Baby Busters under age 34, Baby Boomers, and Builders. For example, the use of items such as drama, more special music, and contemporary choruses were preferred by younger attendees … while those over 53 like their worship to include songsters, brass bands, and congregational singing.
It is clear that one of the challenges facing every corps in the years to come will be how to reconcile the various preferences each age group has in worship.
2. Outreach events and how to do evangelism is also age related.
When Salvationists were asked to pick three events from a dozen or so to which they would be most likely to invite an unsaved friend, the top three preferences were: an event that is a blend of contemporary music, drama and an evangelistic message (41%), a Sunday morning service (40%), and a concert of contemporary Christian music with vocalists, drums, guitars, etc. (38%). Again, different age groups prefer different approaches.
* As we might guess, respondents 52 and under would rather bring an unsaved friend to a concert of contemporary Christian or to events that feature contemporary music, drama, and an evangelistic message.
* Respondents over the age of 53 tended to prefer Sunday morning services and concerts by a traditional Army band.
What this means is that corps can no longer offer just one type of evangelistic outreach. Each corps will have to understand its Salvationists and their unchurched friends and relatives to develop just the right evangelistic expression for that setting.
3. The increased evangelistic activity in the past seven years was evident, and these new believers show a lot of ethnic diversity.
It is interesting to note how long Salvationists have known Christ. Over one-quarter of those polled have been Christians less than seven years. This high percentage of new converts indicates a strong evangelistic activity in the territory in recent years. But this is somewhat tempered by the fact that 41% have been a Christian for over 25 years.
As was mentioned earlier, new believers represent greater ethnic diversity than long-term believers. Three-fourths (72%) of the believers who have been Christians over 25 years are Caucasian, while about 36% of those who have been believers less than seven years are Caucasian. So just as the larger population represented in the territory has become more ethnically diverse, so has The Salvation Army in the last decade.
4. Most attendees are not regular Bible readers, but over 40% are seeking help in deepening their spiritual roots.
When it comes to the spiritual life of Salvationists in the West, the picture is somewhat mixed. About 45% of the corps attendees who returned their survey claimed to have read their Bible more than five times in the last seven days. However a similar percentage (38%) read their Bible two times or less or didn’t recall picking up their Bible outside of corps meetings in the previous week. Fully 56% said they wanted help in their spiritual life in learning how to walk daily with God. Half want to learn how to pray more effectively, and 42% requested help in learning how to study the Bible. Additionally, there is strong interest in knowing how to make their faith relevant to daily struggles such as becoming more disciplined, parenting, overcoming life-controlling problems, etc.
5. One-third have not found a place to serve with their corps.
Unfortunately, a third of the Salvationists are not involved in any way in serving in their corps, and 23 % either don’t give or give only occasionally to support the life of their corps financially.
6. Trends impacting corps have common themes
Regardless of where they live in the territory, many of the same problems are impacting communities. When Salvationists were asked which of the trends were affecting their ministry, the top six issues corps across the territory were strikingly similar:
- drugs and alcohol (61%)
- broken families and divorce (55%)
- crime and concerns about safety (47%)
- youth gangs (43%)
- moral decline (42%)
- unemployment (41%)
How can corps want to reach out to their communities, in light of these issues and growing ethnic diversity? When asked which of several ministry opportunities would best be received in their community, the top four items were:
- a Bible study for people with life-controlling problems
- open a teen recreational center or run teen programs
- offer English as a Second Language classes (ESL)
- host job skills training or a job fair.
Ouch! — That Hurts!
Not all the news in the survey was encouraging or represented tremendous opportunities for ministry and growth. Clearly, the territory faces some critical issues.
Ouch #1: We need more and better trained leaders. Three-quarters (78%) of the officers expressed a need for more training on how to be an effective leader. Where specifically do they need help to hone their skills? The primary areas where they desire more skills are in building other leaders, developing their own personal leadership potential, and disciple-making. Over half of the officers said one of their corps’ top two priorities in the coming year is building corps leaders.
Ouch #2: Some leaders are hurting. For the most part, the majority of the officers and leaders are feeling affirmed, firedup, encouraged, hopeful, driven by vision, and spiritually growing. But there is a small segment who feel discouraged and burned out. About one in five corps officers and leaders are at a spot in their ministry where they are sensing a real need for a fresh touch from God.
Ouch #3: Not all corps are growing. The typical corps surveyed is small, with no more than 45 in Sunday meetings. Some are larger and growing, and these corps show some common characteristics when compared with corps that are static or declining. For example:
- Growing corps tend to be newer and larger.
- Growing corps tend to have a vision in place and to be reaching out through strong community advertising about programs that really matter to people.
- Growing corps are more likely to have a strategy for reaching social service clients than non-growing corps.
- Growing corps are more likely to be offering discipleship training, and to be moving new people into leadership positions.
Ouch #4: Are we a church or a social service agency?
Yet the obstacles to growth in many corps are real. Four themes rose to the top when leaders were asked to isolate obstacles to growth in their corps. They included facility restraints, a lack of well-trained or consistent leadership, community perceptions, and spiritual issues within the corps.
On this issue of community perception, it is significant that two-thirds of all the respondents believed that the biggest obstacle to their corps’ growth is that people in the community think that they are a social service agency–not a church. This is not news to most. Over the past several decades social service ministry and corps ministry have become increasingly separate–a far cry from the roots of The Salvation Army and the Founder’s vision. The challenge facing every corps is to develop a seamless approach to the mission of The Salvation Army so that corps and social service ministry are totally aligned.
The tension is this–Most corps touch many hundreds, maybe thousands of lives each year through social services. But not all of our corps are intentional in sharing the gospel with social service clients. While, on one hand, 52% of the Salvationists surveyed said that their corps had a program for reaching out to social service clients, the rest weren’t sure or said their corps had no such strategy. Officers, on the other hand, did not answer the same way. Approximately 80% said their corps does have an outreach program to social service clients, while 21% said they did not.
No doubt the reality lies somewhere between these two impressions. Wherever the truth may be, if there is even one corps in the territory that is not intentional in reaching social service clients with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is one corps too many.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The results of this survey will continue to serve leadership in the months to come and will be an invaluable help to the recently-appointed Guiding Coalition that will be meeting throughout the next year. One of the tasks of this Guiding Coalition, which is made up of representatives from across the territory, is to compile vision statements developed by each corps. Throughout the fall, meetings and rallies in each division will provide an opportunity for people in every corps to talk as they work through a Vision Discovery Kit. The end result will be framing a vision for ministry in the territory in the year 2000 and beyond.
It goes without saying that surveys such as this one have little or no impact in ministries when leaders choose to ignore the results and set the results on the shelf. We are confident that this won’t happen in the Western Territory, since the survey results will impact decisions regarding future programs in the months to come.
Commissioner David Edwards said, “We went into this survey research process with the desire not to take a sample of the territory, but to do a census. The fact that over 7,267 Salvationists and over 500 officers participated tells me that we accomplished our objective. We are taking the results of this survey very seriously, and I can assure the territory that in the days to come, these findings will help us make some strategic decisions. Our goal would be that every service that the divisions and the territory provide for the local corps will truly help them achieve the spiritual vitality that God desires for their ministry efforts.”
Click below to view a selection of graphs based on survey results