Are we on the verge of a crisis?
It was pointed out to me recently that there are fewer and fewer musicians in The Salvation Army than 15 - 20 years ago. It's a complicated scenario, but I would like to suggest one contributing factor to this. I suggest that this is the collateral damage of the Worship Wars. I don't need to describe to you what happened during the 90s in particular when whatever was "old" was considered "bad" and so abandoned for the "new and relevant" worship and mission tools. Part of what has been lost, or is being lost in the vast majority of corps is brass bands. Now, I don't want to open up old wounds, nor "take sides" in a dead debate from last century. That's not my agenda here. I just want to highlight what we lost when we abandoned banding on a large scale in The Army.
One thing that banding did very well for a very long period of time was train younger musicians. Once you hit about the age of 6 or 7 you were either handed a cornet (valued somewhere in the vicinity of $1000 each mind you) if you were a boy (generally) or a timbrel if you were a girl (generally). You joined the "Junior Band" or the "Junior Timbrels" and quite often there was someone to tutor you one on one, particularly in those early days. Is it any wonder when you consider the decades that this process continued for that we churned out some of the best brass musicians in the world (My own grandfather was Australian Champion on the Euphonium at one stage).
When we decided that brass bands were no longer relevant, not only did we discard the band itself, we also discarded this process of developing the next generation. What do the replacements to banding (worship teams) do in its place? Nothing but hope that parents spend $40 - $50 a week for 10 years for their child to "maybe" become good enough on the piano, guitar or drums to get a go in the music team. I have not seen anywhere (yet) where young children are being giving the skills in music that will support worship in The Salvation Army into the future.
This, I believe is just one example of a much bigger problem. You see, one of the fundamental philosophical shifts in the period surrounding the Worship Wars was the belief that if you "got the parents" you would "get the children". We got this dead wrong. Consider these raw statistics from The Salvation Army Year Books from 2000 and 2010 in the Australia Eastern Territory (the weak of stomach may want to turn away at this point).
Active Officers 603 520 (-17%)
Senior Soldiers 11,193 8,698 (-23%)
Junior Soldiers 1,397 490 (-65%)
What pool do our Officers come from? From Senior Soldiers of course. And what pool do we gain most of our Senior Soldiers from? From Junior Soldiers. Now if Whitney Houston was correct and the children are our future, it's looking pretty bleak.
What are our options here?
- We need to invest in developing good quality resources for children's ministry - Junior Soldiers, Corps Cadets, Sunday School, Music classes/lessons etc. Call it what you want, but we need these resources now. We need to expand the pool from which our future leaders are fished from. One of my lecturers once said that he thought every Sunday School teacher should have a PhD in theology. Probably a little bit of an overkill, but it does emphasise the importance of this point.
- In the mean time, we need to be taking some serious, albeit calculated, risks. The other reality of the stats above is that the Active Officers are mostly heading towards retirement. In the next 5 - 10 years most of those in senior leadership now will retire. We need to consider more seriously now who we appoint to some of those middle leadership positions in our territory. Years of service are a great addition to the resume but they will become a luxury that only few will have. We will need to look at other credentials when it comes to advancing leaders towards senior positions. They will need experience in those middle leadership positions, but they need to be given it now in order to be ready for when that large number of officers retire.
- Investing in eduction in general will remain critical, and in fact should expand. The worst thing we can do is a knee-jerk, panic ridden reaction. Yes, these stats are scary, but we need to think long term. The 6 and 7 year-olds of today will be our cadets in 15 years time. We need to think of them in that way, and start teaching them accordingly (whilst still being age appropriate, of course). There is no quick fix here, and education must be a major part of the solution.
Clearly this is a complicated situation. I would love your comments on this.