Army Archives

Open-Air Evangelism

How are you reaching the least, the last and the lost in your community? by Captain Charles Smith
Photo via The Salvation Army National Archives

It was August of 1865 when the Founder commenced his first evangelistic campaign at the old Quaker burial ground on Mile End waste in Whitechapel, preaching in a canvas tent. It was under that tent that Booth saw in every direction, “multitudes totally ignorant of the gospel, and given up to all kinds of wickedness.” Then he said, “This was the list of those that I saw: infidels, drunkards, thieves, harlots, gamblers, blasphemers and pleasure-seekers” (“East London Evangelist,” October 1868).

It was over the course of the next six weeks, under the tent, that sinners were received, backsliders were restored, and saints were revived. There was a true spark of revival that came from the center to its circumference under the tent in London. 

It is interesting to note that from the early beginnings of The Salvation Army, whether through the open air, a tent or even a tabernacle, many of our heroes of holiness blazed a fiery trail for the multitudes to hear the gospel. What are we doing with the tools that we have? We have several ways to spread the gospel and even more so than early Salvationists did in their day. We have our social services, emergency shelters, emergency disaster services, but also the internet! We can take our literature to the prisons, to the nursing homes, to the hospitals, but it is still through the human touch that we need to share the message of Christ. To think it all started in The Salvation Army with William accepting the call to go preach to the masses, wherever they are. How are you reaching the least, the last and the lost in your community? For William Booth, it began with a tent. 

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