NEWS | Anne Lim
Tuesday 20 October 2015
Church Army is on the hunt for “unlikely leaders”: it is gearing up for a restart with a new name and a new mission.
Two years ago the evangelistic organisation that came to Australia in 1932 had exhausted its funds and was close to collapse.
It had sold its College of Evangelism and used up all its resources on trying to find innovative ways to train evangelists for full-time ministry in Anglican churches.
From a peak in the 1980s, when there were about 80 Church Army trained full-time evangelists working in Anglican churches across the country, it had fallen victim to sociological shifts that meant few churches could afford to hire an evangelist.
“Things have moved forward very quickly and Church Army has had to leapfrog to catch up,” says Conrad Parsons, who is working two days a week as CEO funded by a grant from a philanthropic trust.
“The leapfrog is that we’ve given up the idea of training full-time workers. That was what was killing us.
“What we’re now saying is that if our gift to the church is we know how to find unlikely leaders who are gifted as evangelists and give them a good start, then they don’t have to find full-time paid professional ministry, but we just need to help them use their gift to strengthen the church.”
So from next month the Church Army will roll out a series of pilot seminars across the country aimed at finding the next generation of evangelists, giving them a good start and connecting them to each other in community so they can continue to grow and disciple.
The aim is to identify 300 new evangelists over the next two to three years, provide seminars to excite them about evangelism and equip them in practical ways then link them into a network.
“The ingredient that we bring is we find a different type of leader than would normally be found by the church and we know how to give them a good start,” Conrad says.
Conrad, a former Church Army captain, was brought in on the strength of his track record of helping rebuild Christian organisations that have lost their way.
He worked for the Uniting Church, redesigning their mission projects in NSW and ACT, but he says his biggest challenge was rebooting Youth for Christ, of which he was CEO for four years.
“That’s what I do – I help people take the next step. Church Army helped me to get started, gave me a good start and so now I’m helping Church Army have a restart.”
Conrad went to CA’s College of Evangelism in 1986 and was commissioned into CA at the end of 1987.
In one of his periods away from CA, he worked in London to set up a group called Local Context, which located evangelists around the world, delivered training and set them up in a network.
“Some of those evangelists are now raising up other evangelists, who are contacting us and working with us now so that we can raise up other evangelists,” he says
The original vision of Church Army, founded in 1882 in Britain by Wilson Carlile of the Church of England, was to reach the “the least, the last and the lost” and then train them to minister to their peers.
“Church Army’s heritage was not Christians helping poor people; it was the gospel coming and making sense among the poor people and then the poor people reaching other poor people,” Conrad explains.
“The least, the last and the lost were given as a gift to the body of Christ. We were able to see them have a personal faith and grow as disciples into the toughest places. That was the gift of Church Army to the body of Christ.
In 1932, a missional team came to Perth at the invitation of the Church of England, and went into the field, working with immigrants, isolated people, women and Aboriginal people.
“We had a way of helping Aborigines disciple other Aborigines, so we have a rich heritage of Aboriginal evangelists. That’s the same principle. It was never one group doing it to another group but finding evangelists in every group and then giving them a good start so they can be the ones who bring new life to the people they care about around them.”
Now, with a new name to be announced next February, Church Army is working on its redesign across denominations, including collaborating with the Brethren Church in Victoria and Tasmania.
“We need a new banner that makes sense to younger evangelists that we’re going to invest in rather than patch them to the old branding,” says Conrad.
It has appointed a network coordinator to build relationships and networks.
It is also developing a pilot intern programme at Kihilla Retreat, its conference centre in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. And it has sunk what was left of its money into developing training modules.
“But the first step is to find the evangelists and that’s why we’re running pilot seminars in as many locations as we can over the next couple of months to try and flush out a few more. We expect to do six to 12 seminars next year in different regions.”
Conrad believes the target of 300 new evangelists is reasonable.
“These gifts are more prevalent than we think,” he says.
“We’re confident that the Lord still gives evangelists to his church and we can find them and give them a good start.”
In England, Church Army has hundreds of paid evangelists working across the country and each Church of England diocese is opening up training centres to which Church Army provides the content and expertise.
Conrad says Church Army is a bigger name in Britain than the Salvation Army, and is working ecumenically with the Methodist Church.
“The respect that people have here for the Salvation Army, they have for Church Army.”
In Australia, Church Army abandoned its uniform in the late 90s but the organisation still has a uniform in some countries. Church Army exists in Jamaica, Denmark, Canada, Barbados, the US, the UK, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji and also Africa.
Here in Australia, Conrad believes the rebranded organisation will “move forward in a big way and we’ll find a new leader – like a fresh horse to commit to the next five years.
“That’s the way I work. I dig the ground, redesign it, sort the mess out, get it going in the right direction, strengthen it, increase the resources and then hand it over to the right leader for the next stage.”