Well the big weekend is over. The Salvation Army in Australia is now one territory, and judging by the events that happened over the weekend, you could be given to thinking that everything was rosy, and the future of The Salvation Army in Australia is great and that this weekend is a once off event and now that it’s over we can go off and live our own lives.
But if you think that, then you are mightily mistaken.
On Friday, as part of the Mission Intentions conference, I attended a workshop by Captain Dr Jason Davies-Kildea, entitled “Exploring Faith in 21st Century Australia.” In it, he pointed out in plain figures the situation that The Salvation Army in Australia is facing.
In the 21st century alone, we have lost 1/3rd of our church membership, a trend that began in the 1980s.
The only two categories of membership that are growing are employees and retired officers, which will outnumber active officers within five years.
The only reason The Salvation Army is decreasing faster than the Christian church is because we haven’t had an increase in members migrating to Australia from another country.
Up until 2011, the age ranges leaving The Salvation Army was in its peak between the ages of 16-31, when they were able to start speaking for themselves instead of their parents speaking their faith. Between 2011 and 2016, that age range was much more pronounced, extending up to people in their 60s and 70s.
Over the weekend, as I caught up with various officers, and heard testimonies of their ministry journey, I heard stories of officers who were trying their hardest, but were getting worn down by the daily grind, slowly eroding away their desire to serve God, prompting them to ask if officership was still worth it.
Tonight, my wife and I were looking through a book containing sessional photos of officers from the Training College in Melbourne, and lamented over how many had left officership before reaching retirement.
These are things that many of us within The Salvation Army know – maybe implicitly, but never actually said out loud.
The reality is that if we don’t address these things, then The Salvation Army will continue on its path towards self-implosion.
However, things aren’t all doom and gloom. The Australia One transition process has produced many great things that have allowed us to position ourselves to make the changes necessary to reverse this trend.
One of these great things is our vision statement:
Wherever there is hardship or injustice,
Salvos will live, love and fight
to transform Australia one life at a time
with the love of Jesus.
As I reflected upon all that I had experienced and heard over the weekend, I kept coming back to this vision. In another session, I heard Major Colin Elkington share his evangelism process, where he helps one person, offers to pray with them, and then in time, they ask to know more, so he would teach them more.
It’s really that simple. And the focus of our vision statement is transforming one life at a time with the love of Jesus.
If our whole forces focussed on transforming one life at a time, by offering to focus on them, to pray with them, to being open to journeying with them and showing them more when they ask for it, then we can turn this trend around. If we were all able to transform one life a year our forces could double in a year. Even if it was doubling every two or four years, it would still be a turn around for the better.
And if our whole forces – soldiers, adherants, and officers – were focussing and doing this, then I believe that the drain on officers would significantly reduce. If every corps officer knew and trusted that their corps was actively focussing on transforming one life each, then they would be released to focus their efforts onto one life themselves, instead of feeling stretched to transform 10, 20 or 30 lives each, depending on the size of their corps.
If we take this vision seriously, then we will see a transformed Australia, and a transformed Army. However, we won’t see that if we focus on things like “What a great weekend ‘Still Others’ was” and “Isn’t the Army doing so many great things”, without also posing the difficult questions such as “Why are our young people leaving the Army”, and “Why aren’t lives being transformed?”
We need all people, because this is far more important than a single weekend. This is a lifestyle – a lifestyle that will go on for weeks, and months, and years, and decades. We need to be in this for the long slog, because it is so important. Wherever there is hardship or injustice, we will live, love and fight alongside others to transform Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus.
May we all be encouraged by this weekend, strengthened and fortified to head into the field, and not be satisfied by sitting on our laurels – but by getting on our knees, and getting out in the world and transform one life.
Find that life – focus on them, pray for them, pray with them, and and journey with them. Christ is calling you – go with Christ and transform their life.
What are your thoughts? What has been your experience and your reflections from the weekend? What have you taken away? Feel free to share in the comments.