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Jun29FriMultiplying corps through small seeds of community engagement and big vision. June 29, 2018 by James Watson
Across the Canada and Bermuda Territory, God is at work in our communities. As The Salvation Army, we are part of his mission to redeem and restore all of creation. The corps ministries department is encouraging Salvationists to respond to God’s initiative through a new strategy for corps planting called Multiply.
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At her New Year Address in January, Commissioner Susan McMillan, territorial commander, spoke about the territory’s commitment to the strategic priority of the gospel and transformation, and announced that an increase in funding would be available to plant new corps.
“Our corps are vital to the mission of The Salvation Army— they’re the building blocks,” she says. “Through our corps, a dedicated workforce continues to be developed to share the love of Jesus Christ, meet human needs and be a transforming influence in the communities of our world. Our goal going forward is to plant three new corps every year.”
Corps planting can take place in many ways. Small groups, outposts, second congregations; through a social services unit, from a mother corps and pioneering a new corps are all possible options, each with its own variations as we respond to unique and changing communities.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? —Isaiah 43:19The following stories are a glimpse into four corps plants currently underway. They vary in approach, but what’s common to all of them is discipleship. Faithful ministry over many years of service has created connections and opened doors to explore starting a new community of faith. This is similar to Jesus’ approach to discipleship, where he gathered people together around his teaching, but also empowered them for his mission, sent them out and then reflected on what they had learned from their experiences (see Luke 10:1-24 as one example).
Our hope for Multiply is to enhance our ability to perceive when new things are springing forth, to look for what God is doing in our communities and join him.
Winnipeg North End, Prairie Division
In recent years, divisional leaders have discerned a need for The Salvation Army in Winnipeg’s North End, a part of the city that has been without a corps since 1976. “It’s an area of extreme poverty, with low graduation rates, low employment, gang activity and opioid abuse,” says Lieutenant Mark Young, who lives on the edge of the North End and is spearheading the Army’s work there. “But there are people becoming serious about dealing with these issues. We have young advocates rising up, such as Michael Champagne, who started ‘Meet me at the Bell Tower,’ a regular gathering of neighbours who want to make a difference.”
The neighbourhood is currently undergoing urban revitalization. Within just a couple of blocks, there is gang graffiti on the side streets and community education and business development agencies on Selkirk Avenue.
Lieutenant Young is working with a small planning group to develop the plant in partnership with their neighbours and other community agencies. They are honing their “guiding ideas” to allow them to articulate who they are to the community. “We have had some excellent discussion, and also some training on how to have conversations within the community, to find out what people would like to see happen and how they see The Salvation Army fitting into their community,” says Lieutenant Young.
Medicine Hat, Alberta and Northern Territories Division
Majors Murray and Annetta Jaster, corps officers at Medicine Hat Community Church, noticed that as people ate together and participated in programs at the Army’s downtown resource centre, they were forming spiritual community. They came up with a plan to encourage more spiritual development, inviting Ian and Deanna Scott, who are now lieutenants, to build relationships in the downtown area.
When the Scotts were moved to another appointment, Major Annetta Jaster took on the role of planter. As relationships continued to deepen, they started worship services at the centre. Today, more than 50 people attend.
“On Christmas Eve they experienced family in a way that some of them had missed for many years,” says Major Annetta Jaster. They used candles as a central focus to encourage everyone to shift from darkness to light. “Grieving the past and finding a way to let it go, that was very moving.”
The new corps brings together people from many different social settings—those who live in supportive housing along with business people. Every Sunday, there are people seeking God at their own pace, in their own way. Their ministry continues to develop with guitar lessons and Bible studies during the week.
Calgary, Alberta and Northern Territories Division
The Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre in Calgary is a remarkable place of ministry. They have intentionally created an environment that is both relational and spiritual. During a tour of the main building, it is obvious that the programs are highly relational and offer opportunities for conversation and spiritual support. The weekly calendar includes discipleship classes and “Messy Church.”
When leaders in the division identified the need to nurture the spiritual community that was forming, they appointed Lieutenant Connie Cristall, who has a background in corps planting and has served in a variety of corps roles for the past eight years.
Lieutenant Cristall is building relationships in the community and partnering with the staff of the centre. An upcoming Alpha course will include a diverse collection of people, including newcomers to Canada, some from addictions treatment and some from the community. Lieutenant Cristall has been discovering that social justice is a common interest for everyone. Café talks on human trafficking and creating winter emergency packs are starting points for working and talking together.
“The Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre has been doing such a good job of connecting with the community that there are people who identify Messy Church as ‘their church’—even before the plant has officially started,” she says.
West Kelowna, British Columbia Division
Kelowna Community Church has created a vibrant community ministry. Their work across the lake in West Kelowna includes an integrated thrift store and community life centre. This investment has created an opportunity for further development of ministry.
Lieutenants Robert and Jennifer Henson were appointed this past summer and have been building relationships with the corps, thrift store staff, volunteers and customers, community partners and their new neighbours.
“We were appointed as corps officers of a plant, but we have, in a way, stepped into a tent-making position as we engage the community and family services ministry in our community,” says Lieutenant Jennifer Henson. “Through this, we have been able to grow relationships in a variety of contexts, such as providing spiritual and emotional care at the thrift store and community life centre, and with parents at the hockey rink. From there we experiment, through trial and error, with how to create opportunities and communities of belonging, for people to encounter Jesus and truly be his disciples.”
Smaller and Longer
The Multiply strategy represents a shift in how we encourage the development of new things—we are thinking bigger by thinking smaller and longer.
We think it is possible to multiply new things by starting small, and developing in organic, possibly incremental ways. In the past, new corps often grew as outposts, with soldiers providing leadership for a local ministry and officers providing supervision. We would love to encourage the multiplication of new initiatives that are spiritual and relational. When big vision develops from small seeds of community engagement, it can lead to sustainable development, because it is emerging out of the fruitfulness of local faithfulness.
We also want to encourage a longer view on how plants take shape. Relationships take time to develop. We are shifting our focus from a five-year start-up plan to a 10-year developmental pathway. This allows us to acknowledge the slower steps many people are taking toward faith, and challenges us to think through sustained involvement in the community. From a financial perspective, there may need to be years of relationship-building and discipleship before external funding (through grants or donations) is used to support the next phases of development. Finding ways to accomplish “tent-making,” where people involved in leading the new initiative will also have work in the community (through current Salvation Army roles or other creative partnerships), can further increase community contact and enhance the sustainability of mission.
Dr. James Watson is a corps health and planting consultant in the corps ministries department.
Are You a Church Planter?
Whether you are discerning a call to start a new congregation, planning the process or need support, the corps ministries department has resources available.
Discerning a call to start a new congregation is primarily spiritual discernment. How has God been pointing you in this direction? An in-depth assessment of behavioural competency is available.
Coaching is a standard resource for corps planting. Coaches are available to meet on a regular basis with planters in person or via the web to clarify issues and work out future steps in the planting journey.
Church plant design shops are conducted in partnership with the New Leaf Network using a “flipped classroom” approach to training. Video sessions are discussed with the coach in advance of a two-day, face-to-face boot camp experience with other planters. Online videos of the main sessions allow planters to work through the issues with their team according to their own timeframe.
The Multiply Network (for dreamers, encouragers and planters) is a regular video conference for planters to discuss the issues facing them and receive prayer support. Discussions and presentations are also planned to address themes that have been raised by planters. Anyone who is exploring planting or wants to encourage and pray for planters is invited to join the network.
Church Planting Canada is a broad-based Canadian network of planters and those who catalyze planting. The congress takes place every two years and features Canadian and international voices tackling a broad range of issues in contemporary society, as well as essentials for planting among diverse communities. For more information, visit churchplantingcanada.ca.
Community research can give you a bird’s-eye view of the people around you (demographics) or a good reason to ask people questions (through surveys, interviews, focus groups, etc.). The Salvation Army has access to census data and expertise in survey design. Think carefully about what might be accomplished by asking some strategic questions, talk to a few people with a bit of experience and connect with some people in your community. A guide for church-based community research is currently available through Outreach Canada (outreach.ca) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (evangelicalfellowship.ca).
For more information visit salvationist.ca/multiply or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature photo: © Chet_W/iStock.com