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Nov17Thu10 ways to revive a dying corps. November 17, 2016 by Captain Scott Strissel
When I wrote a post called “10 Things That Will Kill Your Corps,” it seemed to strike a nerve—it was shared more than 500 times on social media. Perhaps the next question is, “How can we revive a dying corps?” Every corps has its own particular challenges, and I don't claim to know everything about corps growth, but I have observed a few things that work. Much of this depends on prayer, hard work and cultivating a strong team. There are no shortcuts or easy answers, but here's what I've learned:
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
- Organic Fellowship
When corps members linger after the holiness meeting, when they connect with each other throughout the week, when fellowship doesn't end with the benediction and the exit sign—these are the ties that bind us together in unity and love. When this organic fellowship takes place, corps members are more likely to support and encourage one another, to live life together.
- Outward Mission
The corps is not simply a building in which programs take place; we should never be satisfied with just meeting the needs of those who attend. We are part of God's mission and should be constantly engaging our community for Christ. What this looks like from corps to corps will vary, because every community has different needs. This outward mission needs the whole corps, not just the officers.
- Inward Discipleship
We revive a dying corps by deepening our roots as soldiers. We need mature Christians to shepherd and mentor younger Christians. The best discipleship takes place when we journey side by side in holy living, holding one another accountable in resistance to sin.
- Lead With, Not Over
There are times when our corps need strong leaders to communicate the vision and guide the conversation for healthy Christian fellowship, but if those leaders are power hungry, it's time to step aside and let someone else lead. When leadership is shared (the purpose of a corps council or ministry board), not only is the burden lightened, it enables innovation. When we limit leadership to officers, we limit growth. Develop leaders by letting them learn through trial and error. Trust others. Invest in others. Don't be afraid to fail.
Taking calculated risks is vital to success. What happens when the attempt fails? Don't give up, don't stop trying—adjust and renegotiate. Our ministries will look different from region to region, but we must be willing to change. Sometimes this flexibility must happen at the divisional or territorial level, and sometimes this flexibility is needed by our corps and its membership. Too often, we are afraid to change. But remember the tongue-in-cheek definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Be flexible in your goals and plans. Ask the hard questions and explore every possibility. Even once-vital programs can sometimes become obsolete and need to be sacrificed for the sake of your corps' future.
- Longer Officer Appointments
Church—or ministry—growth can take seven years or more. How can soldiers and adherents invest in their leaders' vision if they will be gone in three years? When they leave, another officer moves in and the vision can often change. Longer appointments can provide stability and a sustainable way forward. Of course, this requires approval and support from the divisional and territorial level, and there are many variables at work—such as, are the officers a good fit? Can this corps afford their family? Do we need their skills elsewhere? Today, many divisions and territories are seeing the benefit of longer appointments. We need corps officers to see the benefit, too, and stay focused where they are, not peer over the fence at a potential appointment.
- Shared Vision and Mission
I can't emphasize enough that growth depends on investing in soldiers and adherents. As previously mentioned, shared vision is necessary to weather transitions. When a corps officer changes appointment, you need a strong group that knows what needs to be done to provide stability and structure. Talk about your vision. Keep it at the forefront of everything you do.
- Dependence on God, Not Dollar Signs
There is a temptation to worry more about where the next source of funding will come from to pay the bills, than how God is going to provide. Yes, we work hard to secure funding, but be careful that finances don't become your measure of success. Financially-secure corps can become spiritual graveyards, too. There are different ways a corps can die, and worshipping wealth can be one of them. Don't focus solely on what you have or need. Remember the One who sustains us and will provide what we need, when we need it. Yes, pray about tithing. Yes, pray about grants and funding sources, but don't let them hamstring what you can and can't do for the Lord in your community. Even those with limited financial resources can do wonders for the kingdom.
- Learn and Understand Your Community
How many times have you heard, “Oh, I didn't know The Salvation Army had worship services!” Could it be that we don't get out of our buildings enough? Are we so insulated that we don't see our community with the right lenses anymore? If we are to meet human needs in Jesus' name, we have to understand what those needs are. Get out of your building. Study your neighbourhood. Find out what the issues are. Talk to the people you serve. It's not about being seen, but as we do these things, we will be seen. To revive our dying corps, we have to continually explore the shifting needs and wounds of our community. Remember—what may have worked in one corps might not be what your corps needs. As a team—local officers, soldiers, adherents, friends—study your community, look for needs that aren't being met, and then meet them.
- Passionate Teaching and Holiness (Grow, then Go!)
Some might not be the most elegant of preachers, but what's important is being willing to preach on the difficult topics, to understand our corps and help them grow spiritually. I fear that sometimes our members are still in the kiddie pool of faith. We will never wade deeper without being challenged. We have to continually live, speak and teach holiness. This is vital to sustaining our corps members from the inside out. Without holiness, we run the risk of becoming another social service club that does good work and hangs out on Sunday mornings. It has to go deeper than that! We have to keep each other accountable in spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit doesn't want us to remain static. When we do, corps death will surely follow. Get out of the kiddie pool. Don't be afraid to ask difficult questions. Seek Christ in all you do. Then—go!
These are just 10 ways to revitalize a dying corps—there are others. What would you add to the list? Let's continue this conversation together.
Captain Scott Strissel is the corps officer at Evansville Corps and Community Center in Indiana. He is an active blogger and contributor for the purpose of encouraging and challenging the Salvation Army world. Read his blog at pastorsponderings.org.