William Booth’s Four Keys to Church Growth

William Booth in 1884
William Booth in 1884

In 1880 William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, was invited to speak at the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in the UK.

This was a generous invitation since it was well known that he had left Methodism to begin a more rigorous evangelistic ministry. Although he had been operating independently for several years, his organisation had only formally adopted the name The Salvation Army three years earlier.

During his message to the conference he explained the impulse that created his evangelism and church-planting movement and gave four keys to their continued success.

A Gospel emphasis that drew non-believers and leaders to the work
‘I was told that ninety-five in every hundred of the population of our larger towns and cities never crossed the threshold of any place of worship, and I thought, ‘Cannot something be done to reach these people with the Gospel?’

Fifteen years ago I thus fell in love with the great crowds of people who seemed to be out of the pale of all Christian Churches. It seemed to me that if we could get them to think about Hell they would be certain to want to turn from it. If we could get them to think about Heaven they would want to go there. If we could get them to think about Christ they would want to rush to His open arms.

I resolved to try, and ‘The Salvation Army’ is the outcome of that resolution. In August, 1877, we had 26 Stations. We have now, in 1880, 162. In 1877, we had 35 Evangelists. We have now 285 Evangelists, or, as we now call them, Officers, and in many instances they have the largest audiences in the towns where they are at work.

We have got all those Officers without any promise or guarantee of salary, and without any assurance that when they reach the railway station to which they book they will find anybody in the town to sympathise with them. The bulk would cheerfully and gladly go anywhere.’

Key #1 The Gospel to the needy
‘If asked to explain our methods, I would say: Firstly, we do not fish in other people’s waters, or try to set up a rival sect. Out of the gutters we pick up our converts, and if there be one man worse than another our Officers rejoice the most over the case of that man.

When a man gets saved, no matter how low he is, he rises immediately. His wife gets his coat from the pawn-shop, and if she cannot get him a shirt she buys him a paper front, and he gets his head up, and is soon unable to see the hole of the pit from which he has been digged, and would like to convert our rough [meeting place] into a chapel, and make things respectable. That is not our plan. We are moral scavengers, netting the very sewers. We want all we can get, but we want the lowest of the low.’

Key #2 Contextualisation and flexibility
‘Secondly. We get at these people by adapting our measures.
There is a most bitter prejudice, amongst the lower classes, against churches and chapels. I am sorry for this; I did not create it, but it is the fact. They will not go into a church or chapel; but they will go into a theatre or warehouse, and therefore we use these places.

In one of our villages we use the pawnshop, and they gave it the name of ‘The Salvation Pawnshop,’ and many souls were saved there.

Let me say that I am not the inventor of all the strange terms that are used in The Army. I did not invent the term ‘Hallelujah Lassies.’ When I first heard of it I was somewhat shocked; but telegram after telegram brought me word that no buildings would contain the people who came to hear the Hallelujah Lassies. Rough, uncouth fellows liked the term. One had a lassie at home, another went to hear them because he used to call his wife ‘Lassie’ before he was married. My end was gained, and I was satisfied.’

Key #3 Getting new believers involved immediately in evangelism
‘Thirdly. We set the converts to work.
As soon as a man gets saved we put him up to say so, and in this testimony lies much of the power of our work.

One of our lassies was holding a meeting in a large town the other day when a conceited fellow came up to her saying, ‘What does an ignorant girl like you know about religion? I know more than you do. I can say the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.’ ‘Oh, but,’ she replied, ‘I can say more than that. I can say the Lord has saved my soul in English.”
[This comment caused loud laughter and cheering in the meeting]

Key #4 Hard work
‘Lastly, we succeed by dint of hard work. I tell my people that hard work and holiness will succeed anywhere.’[i]

Booth as a multi-site church leader
If Booth’s Salvation Army ‘stations’ in London alone were considered congregations of a multi-site church we would be celebrating him as the pastor of the largest protestant church in the 19th century.

That, of course, wasn’t his goal. He was determined to see more stations planted and more of those outside the orbit of the church’s influence coming into a relationship with God and a transformed life.

Getting the gospel to those who need it; being flexible in our strategies; including new converts in evangelism; working hard to keep moving forward into the mission.

Of course, more than these four principles were necessary to form a church-planting movement. And more than these are necessary for growing a healthy church. But how are you applying these four in your setting?

More next time…
For the first part of the story of the Salvation Army click here
©2016 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) p.76-78

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2 thoughts on “William Booth’s Four Keys to Church Growth

  1. Andy June 4, 2016 / 12:51 pm

    Whilst I have heard about William booth I hadnt read about him this is really interesting. And sadly the image you paint of the interplay between church and society then is like today, at least in my part of the U.K.

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