WARNING…Dear Salvation Army, We Are Losing Our Young People!!

"Pasadena Tab Youth Chorus at IHQ"
“Pasadena Tab Youth Chorus at IHQ”

It is a common scenario: An Officer family moves into an inner-city or even rural appointment and finds little to no adult role models that they can trust to instruct their children. In a similar situation a married couple joins the Army corps to serve and to help but also finds little by way of adult, spiritually mature, role models to guide their children while at the corps.

Yes, it is a parent’s job to train their children up (Prov 22:6) but are we lacking strong, spiritually mature leaders within our corps today to assist in this? Is it detrimental to children of Officers as well as families coming into corps who encounter this problem? Where have all of the godly Local Officers and Saintly Sunday School/Corps Cadet teachers gone? Admittedly many of them have been promoted to glory after decades of faithful service…but the question remains why aren’t others stepping up to lead? Where have all the saints gone in our corps?

I have heard from a number of faithful local officers as well as Corps & Divisional Officers who share this sentiment. What are doing wrong? Why are we losing so many pillars only to have no one to take their place?

edification

Edification of our Youth:
We mustn’t neglect this portion of our ministry! As an Army, we are losing young people in droves as they become young adults because there is little keeping them at our corps. This is one of the biggest threats facing our modern Army world. Who will step up to lead them? Who will hold them to godly standards? How can we stave off such a tremendous loss?

We need strong local officers! We need discipled leaders! We cannot settle for warm bodies in Sunday School classes solely because they “show up”. This is an epic crisis. It might not be felt currently in some of the larger metro corps where leadership is in abundance, but drive a few miles away to one of the younger supporting corps or further out into some of the rural communities and this crisis will become more and more evident.

An extension of this crisis begins to reveal itself in local officers, who are spiritually mature, who are there to help serve, who have children at the corps and are beginning to question if, perhaps, it is time to find another ministry to belong to because the edification of the youth (and specifically their children) is sadly vacant due to the lack of leaders.

soldiers1

Are we doing something wrong?
Have we lost a step?
Can we recover from this?

Solutions:
It is certainly not my intention to criticize or direct any blame without attempting to offer some kind of solution or corrective steps. I will be the first to admit that I do not have all of the answers here, but I do want to begin asking these very important questions. What I do know is that if something isn’t done to help local officer families and Officer families, a large portion of the next generation will be lost to the Army…and it has already begun.

truth

We have territorial and even divisional events to send our children to, but coming home to a corps that lacks the kind of leaders our children are seeing at the divisional or territorial level can be debilitating and discouraging. It is rather telling of the quality of leaders we may have when we have to employ our teenagers to teach a class because none of the adults are equipped or mature enough to handle this responsibility.

Solutions

Solution #1 Discipleship, Discipleship, Discipleship!
For years we have done our corps a disservice by not adequately discipling our adults and youth properly. Jesus instructed and lived out model discipleship to His followers. Officers and currently leaders need to continually think of who will replace them when they are gone…who will follow in their footsteps? Who will carry on the legacy? Who can WE train up? We must invest our time in those who need to grow and have the potential to become leaders so that future generations will have someone to look up to and emulate within the corps setting.

Solution #2 Divisional and Territorial Support
A few years ago the Eastern Michigan Division created a program called “The Ambassadors Program”. What this program did was take young adults and send them out into corps that needed young leaders and role models within their youth programs. They helped conduct lessons, tutored young people during after school, played sports with them in gymnasiums, in essence they became mobile young adult disciples and role models. We need more mobile young adult discipleship programs that are sent out into these frontline ministries and rural corps to help with the mission! We need to consider such opportunities as a two-fold solution. (1) The young people being sent (Ambassador or Disciple what ever you call it) are learning how to become strong(er) leaders of our Army by actively participating in ministry as a divisional missionary! They learn through hands-on training and it is a trial by fire. (2) The youth that these Ambassadors/Disciples are instructing and taking under their wing begin to see active and loving leaders who are committed to the Lord and have a passion for what they do! This is the kinds of role models our young people in problematic corps (where leadership is vacant) need.

There are probably many more solutions out there to help with this crisis. My hope is that in writing this and sharing my frustration and fear others will begin to offer ideas and share further solutions. We are losing our youth in the Army. We can probably all share in the blame. Beyond the “blame game”, however, we need to get up, we need to mobilize and begin developing leadership networks to help properly instruct our youth once again so that we do not lose another generation and their parents who are currently testing the waters of other ministries.

Something else for the Army world to ponder today.

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18 Comments

  1. While I agree with the identification of the problem, here is another aspect that you may not have considered. Our current corps has sent 3 couples to training college in the last 5 years. While it is great that the Army has all those new officers, it has decimated our local leadership. Ours is not a large corps and this is a real problem. Balancing the needs of the local corps vs. the Army in general is an ongoing challenge.

    1. I agree Steve. It appears that with THQ over-emphasizing the need for officers it has taken away several quality leaders. I was intent on going into training until I was faced with a health matter I needed to sort out prior. During this time God has shown me the value of my local leadership. As of this moment I’m no longer considering CFOT because I think I could do a greater work at my local corps. Sadly that is not the case everywhere.

      I will also say this. I know of several families who were chased away from a corps because of accusations of not helping and leading. Another family was turned away from a corps because of the officers. Several people my age have left corps because they lack insightful, quality teaching on Sunday morning that seems to be given from a script. Those young adults were leaders in the corps too!

      If you aren’t feeding your flock properly then they will starve and die.

      1. Another point to ponder is single officership. Some days with the lack of leadership already at an all time low upon arrival a single officer can become discouraged rapidly because of several issues distinctly related to being single.. I consistently make use of every available local leader and develop every person who even shows a spark of interest in knowing Jesus. The discipleship has to begin with our love for God…being on fire for Him rubs off. But what happens when the administrative element overwhelms the ministry we are called by God to provide. Sheer exhaustion causes even the most spiritually imbued soul to drop into bed with a faint, “I love You God, please give me rest so I can do better tomorrow.” Fortunately my Corps has many youth and as they begin to get old enough to lead, the few mature lay leaders we have are discipling them every chance we get.
        I make it a priority to provide meat rather than milk but there have been a few times in my short ministry that a script was all I could manage. Somehow even on those days the Holy Spirit of God opens and convicts hearts, evident in conversations following service.
        I really have no great solutions since we lack Officers on the field but I love Scott’s idea of Divisional young adults being sent to outlying corps and rural areas to help lead. We actually had some OC (young adults) who moved here but they had no desire to get involved with our youth ministry and church. It wasn’t relevant enough (more young adults) and they chose not to help make it so. Without other young adults already involved we are in a catch 22 to draw more young adults through the doors. With ardent prayer I still see evidence that God hears my plea to bring who He knows will grow His church and is answering. This is not through any power or great wisdom on my part but purely because God is who He is and will show off when we seek Him humbly and diligently! Plugging away and keeping the peace!

    2. If loosing three couples over 5 years is decimating your corps, I really do think you need to focus on discipleship!! Surely raising up just ONE couple a year who can add to your local leadership and help build your corps is not too much to ask?

      This must be the number one goal of every Leadership team/Corps Council/Pastoral Care Council – to raise up disciples!?

  2. I was fortunate enough to have some Godly men mentor, guide, and direct me to “enlisting” and grow me, walk with me. Just talk to me and listen to my concerns, and fears…..it took time. It took effort on their part. I wasn’t easy to minister to when I first started attending my local Corps. I also was at a point where if I could just ministered to, I could be convinced that my life was better with Christ than without. A few of these men, in my short time of being a Salvationist are now already in Glory.

    I now lead, our Corps Cub Scout program that we charter from the Boy Scouts of America for the past three years.

    Some of this problem is the kids of soldiers and Officers. As a “youth leader” you are not allowed to really correct them on anything without getting an earful from the Officers, or the Soldiers about their childrens’ behavior. Since they are the Officer, they know it all. Since they are a soldier and have “been here longer than you” some seem to think and view the Cub Scout program I run as “a baby-sitting service” to drop their kids at while they go to Home League, or to just get their kids out of the house for a few hours. They take the programs for granted, they want Godly men to step up and run them…and the burnout rate is high because from what I mentioned above…..you as a youth leader are not allowed to even correct their childrens’ behavior in a Godly manner.

    What is really sad for me is, and I pray to Christ earnestly for guidance is this. Many of the other boys in my Cub Scout Pack who are from the local neighborhood, who don’t even know the Savior have better manners, better attitudes and a better outlook. What does this say about us???? They like the program, while children from our own flock view it is “mom / dad is making me go” and “I’ll do what I want, I won’t get in trouble for anything I say or how I treat the youth leader”

    These kids grow up, see us Salvitonist adults as spineless, weak, and able to be easily manipulated……they get into college, or “the real world” and see that how we lived is something they don’t want to be. They are overwhelmed and allured by what the “kingdom of satan” has to offer, and the alternative we gave them growing up was “be holy, say a prayer now and then, and you get to do fun activities with your youth group with zero accountability”

    They view us as hypocrites, lost, deluded, and we didn’t tell them the truth. We sheltered them. We turned our cheek to sin. No bolts of lightening struck anyone, and “everyone else out there ” seems to be okay without our “rules” and “God said” quotes so it’s just easier to go that direction. We don’t prepare them for a life of Holiness. We have fun activities, little study and paltry verses that can’t answer questions and hold up to the assault of the world.

    In The Salvation Army, we have such an amazing and unique opportunity with the lost and broken today. We have a great story to tell, and share. Good youth leaders need to be allowed to LEAD. When I spend more time doing “internal army paperwork” and “number of attendees” and of course the issue of “money” (which there is never enough of). I have to go through so many “youth protections” which are redundant and countless filling out of paperwork, many of our youth programs turn into “cookie cutter” routine, and my free time COULD be better spent by feeding the homeless, going into bars with the “War Cry” in Uniform, on the street talking to the lost about the Good News……..

    Godly men and women leaders need to be ministered to, and uplifted and prayed for…not just a note in the bulletin…but a full-on KNEE DRILL! Leaders need to be fed, and potential leaders need to be groomed TO lead.

    This is going to take all of us, no matter how large or small our Corps. It is going to take a change of heart, and YES a lot of time…but who are we following first???????? That is the question that must be tackled.

  3. It does depend very much on the area you live and worship in, I know this. I grew up in a very vibrant and corps bursting with young people. Too many bad decisions and not challenging and guiding those that wanted to run the corps their way rather than Gods way led to many drifting away. Sadly they were allowed to do this with no one coming alongside to speak to them.
    I myself came to the point that I didn’t wish to bring my family in this situation But I left to join a church where the prayer life and community were very important. If someone stepped out of line were gently counselled and guided through scripture. Where we were encouraged to meet with other churches in the city to work together.
    This church has outgrown it’s building and is looking at extending. Where there is a waiting list for children’s groups but at the same time elderly feel valued.
    And what is the difference??
    It’s a church who put prayer and their vision for community first. The young within the church and community are valued and catered for. They regularly meet up together, with church leadership and others in the city in order that they support and instruct each other in Christian ways.
    I loved my Salvation Army, Christian upbringing and enjoyed territorial and divisional events but looking back and seeing what is going on now I do feel that this is one area that may not have helped. As an organisation young need to mix with those in the area churches so that when they go into the wider world they still have those Christian connections to encourage and guide them.
    This posting was started concerned about lack of youth and new leaders?
    If this is a Christian problem why are organisations such as DNA, YWAM and DTS overflowing with youth doing leadership training for other churches?

  4. This really is not an Army exclusive issue. Take YWAM for instance as Cat has mentioned. It has a staff of 18000 in 180 countries at 1100 locations. Broken down, the average of this is 6 locations in each country and 16 staff for each of those locations… if you break that further down into the standard age groups (5-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, 16-18, 19-29) that’s 2.6 leaders per age group and that does not even count the 30 and up ministries they are a part of). That is not a lot of leaders… what makes it different is that they are YOUTH FOCUSED.and therefore all of their resources go to that one ministry. Most churches have some youth leadership (often unpaid), but do not devote their entire resources to one cause. Good for YWAM, but let’s not overstate their statistical impact compared to other churches… but as with anything, it is not the result of one thing. consider the following:

    1. Churches, especially in North America and Europe, have done poorly in the area of Discipleship as eluded to above. Current pastors, staff and lay leaders have had little to no mentorship prior to their roles as leaders and have basically learned on the job. They pass this mentality down to the youth, and the lack of intentional modeling and mentoring leaves youth to figure it out, and many just give up. Churches that take youth ministry and discipleship seriously tend to have more success. Pastors that are overwhelmed with responsibility are not able to provide this, and denominations that invest little resources into youth (i.e. underpay for an unqualified youth pastor and provide youth pastors little resources because that’s how youth ministries have always been done) reap what they sow.

    2. Youth today are not interested in the class-room approach to discipleship/mentoring that is part of the evangelical/public education heritage. Making faith and discipleship a class room activity is not only a disincentive, but it often strikes youth today as hypocritical when they hear the way one should live and watch as adults do so many things in contradiction to their teaching. In addition, youth want to be acknowledged as part of their own faith journey. Today’s youth have strong opinions about faith and culture and will not be told ‘how it’s done’… they want partnership that includes all types of learning styles, not authoritarian teaching.

    3. It is hard for adults to comprehend that authority has shifted- authoritarian is no longer valid for most youth, especially when the example (as stated above) is contradictory to the teaching. Many adults of the Boomer generation have very weak faiths due to issues related to their own cultural revolution in the 60’s & 70’s… and this has replicated to the following generations. With this said, youth who are engaged in Christianity are finding no strong solid adults of faith to example after, and those who are are usually too busy to give their time to mentorship (at least, I hope that’s why- otherwise, we just don’t have any strong people of faith). Youth are looking for partners in faith who acknowledge their contribution to faith as well as that of others. They are willing to learn from you, if you are willing to learn from them. Adults are no longer hold the corner on what genuine faith looks like, and who blames them… I know some youth who are more mature in their faith than their youth leaders. This tension creates division and causes adults to withdraw and youth to go elsewhere.

    4. The class room approach is dead… the face of church is changing. More churches are moving back to cells or home-based models that develop community and authentic relationships where accountability and vulnerability are more than just an adjective used to make the group feel good about themselves. The youth know this and flock to it where they can find it. The draw is not the casual nature of church in someone’s house, but that they genuinely connect on an inter-generational level with people of faith who are struggling with faith but consistently living out their journey together with others.

    This may have been a little long and a little (…lot) direct…. but we have to acknowledge there’s a lot to be done. Time to not only challenge our youth, but challenge ourselves as ministry leaders… to not only do better, but to want the best… not the best we can offer, but the best that the Lord desires. If we don’t embrace and commit to it, how can we expect those little eyes and hands who watch us day in and day out to want it either.

    grace and peace.

  5. For me, as someone who’s new to the Salvation Army (found my job on craigslist) sometimes I really struggle with all the extra culture that goes along with the SA. Sometimes I feel like I’m discipling kids more into the SA than into Jesus which is such a dangerous thing especially with this generation. Most teens/20’s are looking more for an experience than just a set of rules.

  6. I dont usually comment on things like this, but Becca I think that you are onto something I am disturbed by what the Salvation Army has become. We are bound by what we think Is “Salvation Army”, but not by the innovation, vision and mission of our founder and making sure that we are a movement that is working in the power of the Holy Spirit. We talk alot about being a holiness movement (what does that mean), Too much Army stuff takes over. We have to be prepared to move in order to connect with the societies that we minister in and to. Often we are an Army that wants to look like something from the 80’s etc because that is when it worked. Oh how we as people have changed and how much have our societies changed. We need to stop being so programmed and working in silo’s and create a new sense of what discipleship is all about (Journeying with People). Creating faith communities that are built on a strong culture of family and relationships and being together. Oh yes we do need to be active and that will come as people meet and be driven by the passion that we should have for the lost and those from our marginalised communities. Can I dare say how “White middle to upper class” we have we become on a whole How perfect our uniforms are, how perfect our music sctions can be, We spend millions on events etc. Often pays to be a hertitage kid – then you fit better. People will stay when they find their place of belonging. Our Young people will stay when they know they have a purpose, that we are trusting them with the present as well as the future and allowing them to create an Army that will see souls saved and discipled made. I beleive they are up for the challenge. Our greatest challenge is to trust God that he knows what he is doing. Oh I wonder how different we might need to look and yes, still be the Salvation Army because it comes from the heart. I am not Salvation Army because of the uniform, because I am an officer, but because at a young age my family was saved into the Salvation Army and from a very young age God placed a calling on my life. Let’s create an Army that allows our losts generations to re-connect not with an era, but with our mission. It has the potential to change the world.

    1. You really touched on something I was just thinking about. Most of the churches that are really thriving/growing have a clear precise vision that people really buy into. One of the best examples of this is Perry Noble with Newspring. He fully believes and constantly tells people that part of the mission of their church is to reach 100,000 people. Many corps (I feel so weird using that word) have specific visions, which change based on the officers put there, but to me the SA tends to be more about maintaining rather than casting a clear compelling vision that really moves hearts.

  7. I dislike that I sound so negative, but studies of churches have shown that they do not change until the money starts to dry up, and often by that time it’s to late to fix anything.

  8. There are others ways to engage with young people to guide them as they develop and question their own beliefs and faith. Not too preach at them but to offer friendship, support and guidance both morally and spiritually, to encourage their own development and growth in a society that isn’t always kind, good or caring but to teach these young people that they can be kind, good and caring….. Sunday schools are sadly a past meeting place for young children and young adults but as more and more youth clubs are closing for you people to go and socialise and meet others maybe The Salvation Army should develop and train more youth workers to facilitate new social groups that can develop a programme of up to date activities and hobbies and crafts and sports that can also include the young people’s spiritual development to enable them to make choices about their faith and beliefs whether that is eventually as a young army soldier or not it would be a huge impact on a young persons life….. I was raised by parents who did not attend church regularly but took us to our local Sunday school and this taught me so much about myself and others and gave me a platform to develop and grow, my faith is stronger now than ever, I am not in uniform nor do I attend Army services regularly but when I do attend it saddens me greatly that there are very few young people there…..

  9. I personally feel that we have gotten to comfortable on the inside of our building. I am a soldier and to see my 17 year old son refusing to come to church because it’s boring hurts me dearly as I walk out the door. But that is not the only needs unfortunately there are others along with this there needs to be retraining for officers who have been in the field for so long that it might have become second nature and every place they go to is different dynamics some being better and others being worse. It all starts at leadership I wonder how many times William booth was in his office. We have to start coming down and into the local churches and seeing some if the place the officers and pastors are serving and asking the question how can we help.

  10. The “cult” issue is a very real danger to which we must be alert. I’ve never heard the Methodists sing, “Bless our Methodism” or the Assemblies of God sing, “Bless our Assemblies.” I’m not new to The Salvation Army. I’m a fourth generation Salvationist, steeped in Salvation Army heritage and tradition. And it saddens me when we focus more on our traditional roots than on the work of Jesus Christ or the work of the Holy Spirit. We can be more focussed on proper uniform wearing than one’s discipleship with Christ. And dare I write this? As officers, we’re often “graded” more heavily by headquarters on the number of meetings and events we hold than the numbers of sinners brought int sainthood, retained and discipled. We (officers – at least the corps officers I know) are so overwhelmed with “agency stuff” hat we have precious little time left to focus on the most important stuff of making, discipling, and growing saints.

    Please don’t misunderstand me: our social work is important, even crucial to who we are. But here’s the question: Are we content to be a great social service agency and a mediocre church, or do we want to be great Kingdom builders? I can hear some say we can be both. To that I ask, “are we?” And if the honest answer is “no,” then I (we) need to ask “what do we need to change?”

  11. Don’t know who will possibly even see this – I have pondered this for years and have had some answers develop. 1) think of old saints- did they not have children? grandchildren?
    the answer yes 2) where are they today when not involved or better yet why not there? 3) were they trained as they should go as the Bible says? 4) many were but the world has had a direct influence in the past 50 years through public schools, evolution-foolishness and the lack of belief in the Bible as the true inspired word of God. What is very alarming is I find myself almost standing alone as I stand on God’s word as truth and relevant for today- not just in part, not just in bits and pieces but from the first word- In, to the last word- Amen.
    When we do not believe in this fully you must realize that bright folks of any age begin to say well then this book is not relevant -I’ll just pick and choose and with business of schedules taking much time out for God or church activity become very optional

  12. I worked for TSA for a number of years and married someone from a SA family (5 or 6 generations). I agree completely with the comments that indicate the Army seems to focus on pushing Salvationism vs. Christianity. From the terminology used, to the songs sung, to the uniforms it does appear ‘cultish’ to an outsider. The times we have visited Sunday school it comes across as being very exclusive to Army kids. Even after visiting family for one Sunday my kids asked my husband about 5 or 6 terms used that they did not understand, again, all focused on Salvationist culture. This really adds an additional barrier to inviting friends to church or to camp. In fact, my husband said that growing up he never invited school friends to camp. Whereas I invited friends from school to my church camp every summer.

  13. I have to agree with many of the comments. Especially with Becca’s mention of indoctrination. Our main issue is when we became more concerned with saving the Army than with simply saving people for Christ. As Rob mentioned: This is not solely an Army issue. Young adults want to be a part of a movement, not a part of a church. We should not have arguements about tradition, uniform, music or anything else within our ranks. The simple answer should always be that if it hinders your ministry, do not keep doing it.
    On this note it should be pointed out that we have never really had a good way of bridging between young child-like faith and mature adult Christian living. Maybe it was not as needed as it is today but the reality is here all the same. Congrats on graduating Jr Church where we have fun learning about Jesus…now you should become a Corps Cadet and sit in a pew for the entire Sunday morning service. I encourage giving those teenagers responsibility over younger classes because that may be the first significant faith step they will be given.
    Lastly, it might help by leaps and bounds if it were made obvious that soldiers were valued on a larger scale. I’ve sat through too many Divisional events where the subtle message at the end felt very much like “These people on the stage for FOF call are ones that really matter.” In fact, the last Territorial event I attended saw every Officer asked to stand up, then any current cadets in training to join them, then the accepted candidates to join them and finally the FOF members. It was then said that we should all look around at the future of the Army. Thank you for the Christian slap in the face as I look around the room at soldiers who are somehow less because we “didn’t hear the call”. These things do not go unnoticed and if I were a young adult just coming to the Army and not thinking Officership was in my future I would check out quickly for the simple truth that I don’t want to join something that immediately promises un or under-appreciation.

  14. I am a former Salvationist 4th generation. I even served as an Envoy with 3 appointments. My opinion is simple (maybe too simple). Some of the Army has forgotten to build the Kingdom of God and focus on building the Ranks. I wonder what would happen if instead of watering down the Corps Cadet lessons and focus on in-depth Biblical discipleship.

    I do love the Salvation Army, but there has been a lost of the first love.

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