by Terry Camsey, Major –
Do you think that the Army is coming to the end of a glorious 128-year history? Or, if we count from when we started to call ourselves The Salvation Army, 141 years? Or do you think we stand on the threshold of an even more glorious future? Are our best days behind us, or ahead of us? Be careful how you answer, because what you see is what you get!
I was thumbing through one of my files last week and came across an article that was published in Salvationist in April of 1986—almost twenty years ago. In it Salvationist questioned a top international leader: Of what kind of Army will the new General assume command?
It should be explained that this was the concluding article of a series and Salvationist was probing about the Army in Europe. It had already been said (in previous articles apparently) that outside of Europe the Army was growing. The response included the following comments:
“We are in a very different cultural climate. We must face the fact that, with all Christians, we are being challenged by the cold hand of secularism. Apparently this is not a time of revival in the church. In Europe as a whole our evangelistic work is diminishing, albeit Salvationists are still faithful and ready to witness. However, I think we have to resist a little the constant emphasis we place on numbers and statistics.”
So, do you think we must accept that our Army will never be as big as once it was? asked Salvationist.
“I always think that acceptance is a good place to start,” was the reply. “[I] have to accept that the days of the crowds are past; our impact is not as strong as it used to be. We must accept this.”
I ask again whether you feel our best days as an Army are behind or ahead?
That depends very much, I feel, on the level of our faith and our courage in turning that faith into action. The disciples, after being commanded by the rulers of the people and elders of Israel not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus, prayed for boldness to speak the word of God and were rewarded with great power when they did so. It seems that the power of God is released when we step out in faith. At that very moment the power is given. Faith in action is the releasing mechanism.
Regarding the comment about the Army outside of Europe growing, I believe that, too, needs to be put in context. Just as in the human body, the most rapid physical growth takes place in our earlier years rather than our later years, it seems to me (and statistical analysis seems to bear this out) that the Army’s most rapid growth in every territory took place in the first 30 years of commencement of the work. This seems to bear out C. Peter Wagner’s statement that planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic strategy under the sun. We certainly proved that point during MISSION2000 when, without newly planted corps, the territory would have been in decline like most, if not all, of the Western-world territories.
From 1987-2000, we in USA West saw (in figures reported to NHQ) increases of: 63% in corps; 43% in senior soldiers; 77% in adherents; 23% in junior soldiers; 19% in Sunday School attendance; and 65% in Sunday morning (holiness) meeting attendance. Attendance at Sunday evening (salvation) meetings fell 30%, reflecting either cultural changes or, more likely, loss of focus for this meeting and a blurring of purpose for what originally were, respectively, holiness and salvation meetings.
So, again, are the Army’s best years behind or before us?
Do we “have to accept that the days of the crowds are past; our impact is not as strong as it used to be”?
Do we have to accept that this is not a time of revival in the church? If it is not, why are some churches growing and others not?
What will your answer be?