The Phenomenal Growth of the Salvation Army

The Phenomenal Growth of the Salvation Army

William Booth in 1905, receiving the Freedom of the City of London

There were many outstanding features of the Salvation Army that challenge every church-planter and church-planting movement:

Firstly, they were unashamedly committed to preaching the gospel, as raw, as clear, as directly as possible. They preached for conversion. They preached repentance and faith in Christ in language that was easily understood.

Secondly, they were obsessively active in each of their locations. They wouldn’t accept a place as being ‘hard’ or ‘resistant’. They developed techniques that attracted people to the gospel message; whether musical or theatrical, even gimmicky. They were determined to get a hearing amongst those in their respective mission fields.

Thirdly, they were not afraid of reaching the poorest, and those who might be considered ‘forsaken’ by society at large. This evangelistic impulse led to an incredible number of social ministries for which the Salvation Army today is largely known.

Fourthly, they trained huge numbers of very young leaders and sent them into new areas to open Salvation Army ‘Corps’.

Fifthly, their prayer meetings, and even their Sunday meetings were marked by spiritual power. They were dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit and didn’t shy away from what may appear to outsiders as overt displays of emotion.

Phenomenal Growth
As a result of these (and other) factors, the Salvation Army grew at a phenomenal rate.
Norris Magnuson writes,

William Booth commanded fewer than 100 British Isles stations in 1878, but two decades later his world-wide organization numbered about 3500 posts, and by 1904 there were more than 7000. Though the founder died in 1912, rapid growth continued; 4600 new corps came into being during the thirteen years immediately following his death. This long-term expansion drew repeated praise from such leaders of American social Christianity as Josiah Strong and Charles Stetzle. The former, writing in the early 1890s, declared that the Army’s ‘amazing success,’ which would have been ‘phenomenal in any class of society,’ was in fact more amazing because it had occurred among those whom the churches had ‘conspicuously failed to reach.’

Throughout the era before World War I, neither William Booth nor his Army lost the fervor for evangelism that had driven the founder into the slums of East London. If anything, it increased across the years. ‘Souls! Souls! Souls!’ was the headline in one issue of the War Cry, and those words and spirit were everywhere in evidence. George Railton, in an article written during his brief foray in America, declared that ‘this willingness to sever ourselves, if needs be, from the whole world, in order to save somebody,’ to ‘plunge down to the very depths of human contempt,’ was ‘the essence of the life of Jesus Christ.’ [i]

As I read such reports from the Christianity of yesterday, I am convinced I should be, by the grace of God, doing more to serve others today.

How about you?

©2017 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Norris Magnuson, Salvation in the Slums – Evangelical Social Work, 1865-1920 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House), p.6

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