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The conch phenomenon

Body Builder

by Major Terry CamseyIf you think about it, a map is useless unless you have two vital pieces of information. The first is that you have to know where you presently are. The second is that you must know where you are going…where you want to get to.

The value of a map is that, once these two points have been established, your route has been planned and mode of travel determined, then…no matter if the road is flooded…or if suddenly closed due to snow…you can easily plan and pursue an alternative way to your destination. It helps, of course, if everyone sharing transportation wants to go to the same destination!

Planning for healthy growth, whether of individual corps (or denominations…or of any business or organization, Christian or secular) similarly necessitates knowing what you are supposed to be doing (purpose), where you want to get to (vision), and where you are relative to your destination. Again, once known, the route marked on the map (strategic plan) can be changed as necessary to keep you moving in the right direction.

Booth knew that. He, as a young 36-year-old, ex-Methodist minister discovered his destiny (destination) while conducting a series of services in a tent on a disused burial ground in Whitechapel, London, England. Writing later of that experience he said:

“When I saw those masses of poor people, so many of them evidently without God or hope…I walked home and said to my wife, ‘Oh Kate, I have found my destiny. These are the people for whose salvation I have been longing all these years.’…and there and then in my soul I offered up myself…to this great work. ‘Those people shall be our people, and they shall have our God for their God.’”

That recognition of needs, coupled with a sense of purpose, in turn led to Booth’s vision. Said Booth:

“The day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of London, I made up my mind that God would have all of William Booth there was.”

That vision was shared with the mission workers so that there was absolutely no confusion as to what both the purpose and vision of the mission was. Further clarity came in 1878 when an inspired change of name released the creativity of the early Salvationists. This led to development of new, more effective strategies to achieve purpose and move in the direction of vision. Now General, John Larsson, points out (in his book, How Your Corps Can Grow) how, following 13 years of slow growth as The Christian Mission, adoption of this new metaphor resulted in a dramatic surge of growth…much having to do with expansion through the planting of new corps.

Booth, albeit it possibly unconsciously, had adopted what is now seen to be a major Church Growth principle: Agreement on a common purpose that is conveyed effectively to all members. Note the phrase “common purpose” that suggests all were in agreement! We saw this in the early church that was, as we are told several times in the Book of Acts, “of one accord.”

Sadly, despite efforts over a number of years to help corps clarify their local mission and vision, few congregation members can articulate these and, possibly, even fewer know what the plan is for getting from “here” to “there!” There can be lots of “busy work” with various sections/activities pursuing their own goals. It reminds me of the “conch phenomenon”!

They tell me that, in the Hawaiian Islands, fishermen used to catch conch and put them in the boat. By the end of the day, however, after exposure to the sun they were ruined. The fishermen found that, if they tied the conch together in a group and dumped them over the side of the boat, they could go off elsewhere and come back later to find the conch had not moved at all. Each was pulling against the others in a different direction and the result was no movement at all!


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