AN OUTWARD-LOOKING CORPS
William Booth said a corps (Salvation Army church) is ‘a band of people united together to attack and Christianise an entire town or neighbourhood.’ That’s still a good description as long as we interpret it for the twenty-first century! In the previous article I used the first letter of the word ‘corps’ to say it needs to be ‘connected’. Now I’m using the second letter and thinking of the need to be ‘outward-looking’ if a corps is to be fit for mission.
Booth wrote: ‘When an officer receives an appointment from head-quarters, it is not contemplated that he shall deal merely with those who are already gathered within the walls of certain buildings, or with those who are already enrolled in our ranks, or with those who may be induced to come inside them; but it is intended that he shall be an Apostle of the Gospel to all those who live around’. You can’t get more outward-looking than that! But what does it mean for today?
- Be focussed on the world out there.
That’s not to say that internal matters don’t matter, but that even these need to have an outward focus. For example, do our seating arrangements suit newcomers, is our use of terminology easily understood, is our weekly programme accessible? Not only that, but do we prepare our members to live out their faith at work and at home?
- Be aware of the needs of our communities.
Do we know what the real issues are that people around us face? One of the characteristics of a healthy church (according to the Natural Church Development concept) is need-orientated evangelism. But before this can be effective we need to know the needs. Community surveys are an excellent way of finding out.
- Be programmed to release not to restrict.
Do we expect our members to be busy in corps-based activities or can we allow them time to build relationships with people outside the corps? Having time to be a Christian friend or neighbour to someone is what really counts. And, as well as having activities in our buildings, how about encouraging our members to join other groups, such as a running club or a book club, so they can be a Christian influence there.
- Be open and available to the community.
We can be outward-looking by allowing our buildings to be used by community groups. Some may say this restricts what we can do with our own buildings, but this might be what God is calling us to do with our buildings – to make them a community asset and offer a ministry of hospitality.
These are just a few ways we can look out and reach out. It’s not easy to have such a commitment to those outside our walls, but it’s what The Salvation Army was created for.
Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland