8 June 2022

How do we make local mission flourish?

Lieutenant Wan Gi Lee

Lieutenant Wan Gi Lee speaking to homeless people
Lieutenant Wan Gi Lee speaks to people outside St Albans Corps
Lieutenant Wan Gi Lee considers the challenge of church growth.

In recent days I have been observing a debate about church growth and the way forward with great interest. The topic is not new to us at all, but what is striking and different is its bold vision with numerical targets.

Last summer the Church of England announced a plan for 10,000 new churches over the next decade. We are in a pandemic that has caused a decrease in attendance at Sunday worship. How, then, could this ambitious vision have been proposed?

We in The Salvation Army are also looking for a way forward in God as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. This is being made concrete under the slogan ‘local mission flourishing’. Many divisional forums and discussions are taking place, along with prayers for discernment. In navigating this important missional objective, I believe there are things we can reflect on from the Church of England’s project.

Changing perspective

First, mission flourishing is about a change of perspective, especially on leadership at a local level. There are many corps that have no officers. In those corps, however, there are people with potential and gifts to lead the congregation. We need to recognise them and motivate them to use their gifts for the Kingdom.

This change of perspective lies at the heart of the Church of England’s plan for 10,000 new churches, as it suggests a growth model that empowers lay leadership.

Empowering people

Empowering God’s people in each corps setting is an inevitable task for local mission. For this, I suggest something called ‘personal missional initiative talk’ as a practical way to engage with gifted people.

We have been doing this at St Albans Corps over the past year and we are starting to gather its fruits. We have carried out one-to-one talks with people over a coffee, gently pulling out their strengths and gifts in order to bring their own missional initiatives forward for the corps and the community.

One example is our recently launched Marijuana Addiction Support Group. We started the initiative after talking with a corps member who had struggled greatly with this addiction. As he became free from it by the grace of the Lord, we recognised his wound and compassion as God’s given potential. Following several months of ongoing talks and prayers for discernment, he responded to this initiative and organised the community mission in our corps. It is now widely open to all in the community, especially those who are struggling with addiction. The mission is well received and growing.

This is an example of how God uses his people from all walks of life. God used someone’s wound in the past to help them respond to suffering people with greater empathy and compassion.

Two white coffee cups
St Albans Corps is holding 'personal missional initiative talks', where members of the congregation consider their gifts and calling

Gifts and potentials don’t need to be glamorous. The challenge for us is whether we can recognise such wounds as divine gifts so that they can be used for the Kingdom. ‘Nothing is wasted in God’s economy,’ says Tony Horsfall in Attentive to God.

Our personal missional initiative talks are also bearing fruit in homelessness mission, prayer ministry, preaching and ecumenical dialogues, as people in the congregation have responded with what they can offer to God and the community.

Without rediscovering people’s potential, local mission cannot be fruitful. Officers come and go but empowered people in the corps will still be there. I believe motivating and supporting local leaders through using this kind of personal missional initiative talk is crucial to making local mission flourish.

Wider partnerships

Another important task is to develop wider partnerships with other groups. During the pandemic the need to care for homeless friends and people in poverty has been growing continually in our community. To respond to this need we prayed for a local partnership and God opened a new door, allowing us to form a good relationship with a homelessness help group.

Over the past year that group’s input has transformed our corps life. Five days a week they cook and serve hot meals for people experiencing homelessness, while corps members provide additional practical and pastoral help. On average, 20 people are served daily. Over the past eight months, about 3,500 evening meals have been provided.

This community mission has brought many people together, from service users to volunteers and prayerful supporters. Our corps might be small, but our God is not. To make our mission flourish, we need to actively explore Kingdom partnerships to respond to the needs of vulnerable people.

One Church, one Spirit

There is, however, a danger of dichotomy in using the slogan ‘local mission flourishing’. Local mission is part of the holistic mission of God. The ‘you do the mission and we support’ approach is not mutually engaging. Of course, we welcome and appreciate such support but there are things to do at other levels as well.

People don’t see the Church as local. Their local church is the universal Church. If there is any scandal in the Church it puts many people off and local churches bear the brunt. Local missions cannot flourish without continuous repentance and renewal as a universal Church. We can’t expect people to trust us if we are not willing to confess and address wrongs done in the past and the present.

We can’t expect young people to come to our churches if we don’t address justice issues in our society. If we fail to aspire to be a prophetic voice for God as a Church, then our local mission will be limited in terms of meaningful engagement with wider society and our impact on it.

The apostle Paul writes: ‘There is one body and one Spirit ... one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:4–6). Our local mission should be an expression of this oneness, finding unity in God beyond differences and inequalities in our ever-divided society.

  • This article was originally published in Salvationist magazine on 29 January 2022.

Written by

A photo of Wan Gi Lee in Salvation Army uniform

Lieutenant Wan Gi Lee

Corps Officers, St Albans

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