Innovative Salvation Army
by Lieutenant Peter
An interesting story is told of a business called
Western Union who were a very, very profitable
business in the mid-to-late 1800s, within the
telecommunications industry. They were the leading business
offering telegraphy to the world. Everything seemed sweet.
Everything seemed stable. Until they were confronted with what
is today labelled as a 'new-market disruptive innovation'.
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
Talk about a disruption to a stable, profitable business! Bell had just created a revolutionary product
that would transform the telecommunications industry. The
question left begging was would Western
Union profit from this amazing innovation?
Alexander Graham Bell offered the patents of his technology to
Western Union for just $100,000 (equivalent to
$1.8 million today). You would think such amazing technology
would be snapped up by Western Union.
They knocked Bell
back on purchasing his patents. Why would they invest in this
idea? I mean they already had a very lucrative business;
coordinating the use of the telegraph! Western Union president, William Orton said regarding the
telephone, 'What use could this company make of an electric
Alexander Graham Bell, the famous inventor of the telephone
pursued his new technology, and in 1878 the first telephone
company popped up in New Haven, Connecticut.
By 1900, the number of people who had purchased telephones
from Bell's original invention
reached 1 million. All of sudden, you could sense the
reactions of the business people of
Western Union. Only one word comes to mind...
It was an innovation that shook the world, and they were not a
part of it.
This story got my heart beating, and my palms sweaty. You can
see the correlation between The Salvation Army and
with his telephone and subsequent new business AT&T. Both
organisations have 1878 as a significant year where innovation
was booming, and rapid growth was the order of the day. While
Bell was changing telecommunication habits, the Booth family
and their counterparts were spreading the gospel throughout
England and into many parts of the world, all the while
recruiting soldiers and planting hundreds of corps and
Then my mind flipped over to today. I wondered when God would
bring a holy revolution once again, and whether we would find
ourselves acting like Alexander Graham Bell and the early
Salvationists; embracing change, encouraging adaptation and
reaching for new heights. Or would we look back in 20 years,
and realize we acted like Western Union;
unwilling to support new ideas and new methods?
Chapter three of Catherine Booth’s
is all about this idea of adaptation. She says:
I have read this afternoon that the law of adaptation is the
only law laid down in the New Testament with respect to modes
and measures. I challenge anybody to find me any other. While
the Gospel message is laid down with unerring exactness, we
are left at perfect freedom to adapt our measures and modes of
bringing it to bear upon men to the circumstances, times, and
conditions in which we live—free as air. 'I became all things
to all men.’
You have to say with all confidence that Catherine Booth and
the newly formed Salvation Army lived and breathed adaptation.
Remember the Match Stick factory, the Doughnut Girls in the
World War I, or the using of dance halls for the preaching of
the gospel. They were willing to embrace innovative methods
for the advancement of the gospel message, and in a sense The
Salvation Army was a ‘market disruption’ to the established
church of the day.
Are we willing to have that sense of disruption, as God does
something new and vibrant amongst us?
I am currently serving in a small corps in the northern parts
of Australia, and
over the last few months our corps worship attendance has
doubled. New families are searching out the relevancy of
Jesus, and there is disruption! Long serving soldiers are
confronted with new families, new spiritual experiences, new
demands on leadership, and new discipleship challenges. The
question I ask them goes something like this, 'Is your passion
for the lost greater than the discomfort you feel with all
I believe God is promising to bless the future of The
Salvation Army. I have great dreams of 2 million soldiers and
100,000 officers, of cutting edge social justice impact and a
spreading of Holy Spirit fire to over 200 countries and
provinces (Acts 2:17). The question is not whether Jesus wants
to do a new thing in our Army (Is 43:19), the question is
rather, are we ready to ask for it, pray for it, believe for
it, work hard for it and then embrace it?
Lt. Peter Brookshaw regularly blogs at