by Terry Camsey, Major –
I love the television ad that is airing these days. It shows a guy in a hotel room speaking to the front desk clerk. He asks for a wake-up call and is surprised—if not shocked—when she says, “I’ll give you a wake-up call. You could have saved $75 if you had booked this room through xxxxx.com! How’s that for a wake-up call?”
I felt a little that way in reading Lt. Colonel Moulton’s recent article on “Growing healthy congregations” (New Frontier March 12, 2004). Statistics have always fascinated me since they lead to questions that demand answers, if we are to continually improve our ministry. One of the things I love to do is to graph statistics, because changes of direction (even plateaus) are much more obvious and invite the question, “What happened?” Why did the graph suddenly spike up? Why did it suddenly start to decline? Why is this situation static?”
If not too long an interval has passed, this can be helpful to a corps because reasons for such changes can be identified—thus enabling a corps to do more of what works and less of what does not. The latter being particularly critical these days when there is only so much human energy being made available. St. Paul admonishes us not to “beat the air”…in other words, to work smarter.
Elizabeth Swift Brengle (quoted in Major Allen Satterlee’s Notable Quotables) says this about statistics:
“The Salvation Army has a vital interest in religious statistics, in a way both practical and broad; it is concerned to know how many saints and how many sinners there are in any given area of town or country with a view to converting the latter into the former as speedily as possible, and it keeps in mind always, as a stimulus to hastened effort, the growing population in those states which we Christians call hell and heaven.”
A primary statistic for the Army is, then, the one that relates to our “bottom line.” Souls won, enrolled (baptized being a symbol of identification with the church), and discipled.
Now, I’ll tell you what it was about Lt. Colonel Moulton’s article that was a re-awakening call for me. It relates to something that has worried me for many years.
Let me share the statistic first and chat a little about it after. The year 2003, we are told, saw 1,284,983 “people served and cases opened in the territory.” Over the same period, 32,553 total seekers were recorded. That’s 2.5% of people served and cases opened (that’s, presumably, seekers reported from all locations and points of service.)
William Booth (in In Darkest England and the Way Out) states, “I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek salvation of the body.” In another quote from the same book, he says, “I propose to go straight for these sinking classes, and in doing so shall continue to aim at the heart. If we help the man it is in order to change him.”
He’s affirming God’s purpose in sending his Son…that whosoever believeth on him should have a roof over their heads? Should have food in their bellies? Should have clothing to cover them? No…that they might have eternal life, the other perceived by Booth as being, “primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul.”
In the mid-eighties (1980s), the territory as part of its “Grow In The Strength of The Lord” initiative tried to encourage corps to get clients to accept Christ and link up with a corps or church. One officer wrote to me at that time and said, “This is all pie in the sky!” I am not sure that Booth would have shared that sentiment. And—like the salesmen who went to Africa and phoned home, one saying, “It’s impossible, no one here wears shoes,” and the other, “The sky’s the limit, no one here wears shoes…yet!”—I guess it’s all a matter of what we see (or not).
I find it’s helpful once in a while to re-examine why we do what we do…to identify Booth’s purpose, and see how well we are accomplishing it.
Sometimes it can result in a wake-up call.