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Salvation Army Fellowship: Are We Losing It?

Are we losing the importance of Salvation Army fellowship? Attendances at large events are dwindling, yet we need to meet together regularly.

Salvation Army Fellowship

This month (September 2018) has seen a flurry of events where Salvationists have met together to worship and enjoy Salvation Army fellowship. Last weekend (23 September) saw the welcome to the 21st General of The Salvation Army, General Brian Peddle and Commissioner Rosalie Peddle at William Booth College in London. This Sunday (30 September) The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland will be welcoming their new territorial leaders, Commissioners Anthony and Gillian Cotterill at the Regent Hall in London. This year alone we have also shared Salvation Army fellowship as we said Farewell to our retired General, General André Cox and Commissioner Silvia Cox and welcomed the High Council to elect our new General. We have had Symphony Sounds (the successor to the old Music Leaders’ Councils Festival), the Youth Makes Music and Territorial Music School and SAFE (Salvation Army Fellowship of Endeavour) final festivals and Commissioning of the Messengers of the Gospel cadets, amongst other events.

Dwindling Attendances

I have attended large Salvation Army gatherings for many years, from international events such as congresses (including Boundless 2015 in London), to territorial events (like Symphony Sounds) and divisional events (such as Welcome to New Officers) and so on. With one or two exceptions, I have noticed over the years that attendance at these events has dwindled.

Some Reasons

I am sure there are some practical reasons why that might be the case. Certainly, The Salvation Army is smaller and older than when I first started attending these events in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Many of the events I have listed are live streamed, meaning there is no need to attend the event in person.

I understand that costs can be prohibitive. Most tickets to territorial or international events are carefully priced, and I would suggest are often less than the cost of a cinema ticket these days, but travel costs (and sometimes accommodation costs) have to be added. But I can attend most large gatherings for the cost of, for example, a premiership football match, and attendances have dwindled at free events too, so cost cannot be the only reason.

A Symptom of Individualism?

I wonder if the lack of attendance at large Salvation Army events is a symptom of the individualism found in western culture in particular? Society in general seems to be losing the importance of community. Do we simply reflect this? Gail and I attended Symphony Sounds in Birmingham in June. I really enjoyed the music I heard during that day, but what I enjoyed even more was the Salvation Army fellowship that surrounded the whole event. I was able to catch up with Salvationists I hadn’t seen for a while, and that brings an important sense of community and fellowship. It reminded me why we should make the effort to meet up when we can.

The Importance of Salvation Army Fellowship

So let me give you five reasons why we should meet for Salvation Army fellowship in large gatherings as often as we can:

Fuel for Faith

Meeting fellow Salvationists will fuel your faith. Being present with other Salvationists at a large event encourages us to listen and engage with what we see and hear, whether it’s music, creative arts or God’s Word. We miss out on these means of grace if we are not present. But being with fellow Salvationists who are also eager to fuel their faith from what they see and hear can encourage us to do the same.

To Hear God’s Word in a Salvation Army Context

It is easy to access sermons from popular speakers from around the globe, and these can be helpful in our Christian journey. But for the Salvationist, nothing replaces the opportunity to hear Salvation Army preachers expound God’s Word to The Salvation Army in particular, and to apply it to our corporate life together. Whether it’s your Divisional Commander, territorial leader or the General, there is something important about hearing our leaders preach into our unique context.

The Power of Personal Connection

This year, I think I have been to at least five large Salvation Army gatherings. They were all different, but for me, they had at least one thing in common: I came away from all of them encouraged and energised by the power of personally connecting with fellow Salvationists. There is an energy in the room of gathered Salvationists that cannot be experienced anywhere else. I have been moved by worshipping together with other Salvationists. I have felt the collective stirring amongst us as the Holy Spirit has prompted and prodded us through God’s Word. I have laughed. I have eaten, and drunk copious amounts of tea. And I have been blessed.

A Sense of Accountability and Support

When we gather together in Salvation Army fellowship in a large gathering, we are reminded we are not alone. Whatever our local context, it is good to remember that there are other Salvationists around the country or in the world who face the same joys and challenges as we do. We are reminded there are millions of Salvationists out there that we can rely on for help and strength to obey God’s purposes, sometimes practically, but oftentimes through prayer.

Corporate Discipleship

Gathering together in large events helps Salvationists to grow together as Jesus’ disciples. When The Salvation Army family hears the General preach (or when your territory hears your territorial leader preach, or your division hears your DC preach) then it begins conversations about what was said and how we should apply it. This leads to spiritual growth as we wrestle with God’s Word together.

So Gather!

So the next time you see a poster on your corps noticeboard, or see an advert in The Salvationist, or get invited to a Facebook Event for one of these large gatherings, rather than dismissing it, why not think about going? Let’s not lose the benefits of Salvation Army fellowship. See you there!

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2 thoughts on “Salvation Army Fellowship: Are We Losing It?”

  1. Corporate fellowship is vital but rare. The only ‘Divisional’ events we have had over the past four years have been the annual Good Friday meetings. Held at the central corps in the centre of the city which offers no parking free, indeed it is also in the ‘food’ hub of the city, so from 11am-midnight, there are rarely any parking (paid) spots available, is just that little too far from the railway station for the wobbly or disabled to walk and steps to negotiate to get into and out of the hall. The last General who visited (Gowans) was hosted in another church’s auditorium and I am ashamed to say we, so few people came that they could not fill even half the hall!
    Perhaps, along with the ‘laziness’ of being able to stream meetings, we have also become corps-centric. There was a time when this was so in our corps – if it didn’t happen there, it didn’t happen and it was only through those of us who had relatives and friends in other corps that we found out about the ‘rest of the world’. The announcement for the General’s visit was simply ‘The General…….er…..Gowans…..will be in the city at…..next Thursday at 7pm.’ Nothing more, no thought of taking the corps bus. If we were Romans and the General was the Pope, we’d all be breaking our necks to see him and hear his message
    Each corps is different, has to address and adjust to different things – I get that – but this leads us open to a form of isolation which has the potential to become unhealthy and insular.
    So what can the ordinary soldier do? I would love the opportunity of arranging and event, perhaps for seniors, that would bring them together to talk, sing and fellowship, but my offers and requests fall on deaf ears. It is too expensive, will take too much effort, there is no guaranteeing that people will come, etc. What a mindset!
    I think we need to gather to encourage each other, to strengthen our ties with other corps, and to actually find out what is happening in our Divisions and, indeed, around the Territory.
    Thank you for your thought-provoking messages. God bless you.

    1. As you rightly point out, Susette, there are a number of reasons. We are more time poor than we used to be (when I was a lawyer, I often used to finish in the office around 7pm, meaning the idea of getting to a weeknight divisional event was impossible). Some (and I speak from experience, especially larger corps) are more corps-centric as you describe. And there is some apathy in promoting corporate fellowship and worship events.

      But I wonder if the pandemic might change that? I am aware of a number of Salvationists from other corps who tune into our online worship each week, and I have had the privilege of watching three or four corps’ content each week too. Maybe that will remind us there is a Salvation Army world beyond our door steps? It may have forced us to become less insular.

      Maybe you could organise an online event first? If you could get hundreds of people watching that would blow any responses about expense, effort and whether people will come out of the water! Just a thought!

      Thanks for engaging and for your encouragement.

      In Christ. Rob

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