Dear Salvation Army – 5 Reasons New People Leave The Corps

Every church struggles with keeping members.  Jesus never said anything about filling chairs in a church building but He did say a few things about making more disciples.  Every church, from time to time, struggles to find its place in the community.  Needs have to be met.  Souls have to be sought.  A ministry niche’ has to be cultivated.  What is your corps’ niche’?  I don’t mean some sort of lure or hook to pull people in.  What I do mean is this:  who is your corps targeting to minister to?  What do your services look like?  Are they geared for a multi-generational audience?  If we follow the instructions of Paul and become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22) what does that look like in our corps today?  What happens when our corps must make crucial decisions to change and adapt for the sake of becoming all things to all people (for the purpose of sharing Christ) because presently they are not?  Can this change take place?  How do we adapt?  What sort of steps are required?  How can we prevent new people from leaving and keep them coming back and getting involved in our ministries? leaving 

Here is a list of 5 reasons new people leave the corps.  This isn’t the end all and be all of lists, it is just a primer to an often more complicated topic.  I am sure as you read this list there will be more that come to your mind.  The intent of this article is to help us figure out why some are leaving our corps and how we can stave off this decrease in fellowship.  I do not want to make this point and emphasize only numeric success by any means, but it is the purpose of this article to help us see why some are leaving our corps after only a few visits.  Perhaps we can change our corps’ perspective on things and how we engage with one another as well as with new people.  

5 Reasons New People Leave The Corps

1. Felt Unwelcome
It seems so obvious and yet visitors to our corps for the first time need to be shown friendliness.  They would like for people to remember their names after telling it to a few people.  Generally they do not want to stand up and be recognized as a “new visitor”, but they would like a few people to talk to them and to show an interest in who they are.  The feeling of being unwelcome in a corps should be the last feeling one should get in our buildings.  After all, we are here to minister to the whosoever…right? 

2. Lack of Fellowship
Personally I love it when, after the service, people just seem to linger and talk.  It is a sign that people generally care for one another.  It is also a sign that there is real fellowship going on among the corps’ soldiery.  When the corps is unbalanced and there is division instead of unity visitors can sense it.  I’m not talking about some sort of “sixth sense” here, it is just obvious in certain types of body language that something is off about the fellowship…or lack thereof.  New people want to feel a sense of belonging to something.  A place for them to fit in.  They would like the chance, at times, to go out for coffee or lunch together following a service.  But if real fellowship is not taking place in the corps and instead division is causing quick exits after services, you can be sure new people will attempt to find the exit very quickly too.  

3. No Ministry Geared for Their Generation
We serve many generations in our corps.  There has to be a balance and in so keeping with the idea of the Apostle Paul we must attempt to “be all things to all people” in how we proactively minister.  If you have thirty young adults in your congregation there ought to be something specific to reach them at a deeper level somewhere during the week.  If you have a primarily senior corps and only a hand full of teens make sure you have something for both the majority of seniors as well as the teens.  When a new comer visits our corps is there something for them to become engaged in?  What keeps them coming back?  I don’t mean to say that we bribe them, but do we have relevant applicable ministries that they can not only serve in but be spiritually fed by?  

4. Army Lingo Not Explained
Sunday announcement: “next week the DC will be here to install the YPSM, oh and don’t forget about DYB coming up shortly in preparation for Youth Councils.”  No offense but I knew what that announcement was about, you probably did too but that new person sitting in the back pew who is barely catching on to how we Army folk worship has no clue what we’re talking about.  This doesn’t mean that we have to stop the announcements and/or explain everything but perhaps we could be a little helpful to new people and clue them in once in a while.  Hearing foreign terminology in a new place can be intimidating and a new comer can begin to feel like an outsider who doesn’t really belong and is not wanted.  It is very easy to get into army lingo in services and bible studies and forget that some new people won’t have a clue to what we are saying without taking the time the properly explain or have someone there to help as these terms are being shared.  

5. Members feared new visitors
It sounds dumb, but it’s true.  Some corps members do not like change, and change can come in many different forms even in the form of new people.  Some corps members will complain that we need “new blood” in our corps and yet when that “new blood” walks through that door they treat them with as much disdain as a new worship song being sung for the first time.  Change is hard, and yet how can we keep new people coming back if members are afraid of change – even for the good?  Education needs to take place.  Some corps members may not even know they are acting this way towards new people.  It intimidates some corps members.  Perhaps some even feel that they might lose power because a new person seems more energetic, charismatic and even more educated.  These intimidated corps members begin to show outward, yet subtle aggression towards these new comers, and the new person won’t have a clue why they suddenly feel a sense of hostility.  Change, even with new members, can suddenly cause fear and unfriendliness to occur.

Beware:
Be sensitive to the needs of new people.  We don’t have to cater solely to them, but we ought to make our worship spaces available and friendly so that all are welcomed – the new and the not so new.  Beware of possibly hurdles new people might have to jump in order to “fit in”.  Find a new place to worship isn’t easy, especially if this new person as NEVER worshiped in a church in their lives and this is their first attempt.  We are the body of Christ and as we extend His love to new people may we display to them and each other genuine love, compassion and grace.  May our fellowship be so sweet that we linger in each other’s company.  May we seek to minister to all people.  Finally, may we be open to change and, with the grace of God, usher in new soldiers for this mighty work!

Something more for our army to ponder today!  

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14 Comments

  1. This is very true we have it in my corp . New people do not come back because of the gossiping go on the bickering between soldiers the favoritism with the officer and certain soldiers. Evens we lost was that use to come because of it. And it does not mater evens when we get new officers it the same thing over again. We can pray on it and soldiers say the same thing over again. I am a soldier and I would leave but I am hear to learn about God . I do not go to church for someone else other then God. God Bless U!!!!!

  2. thanx for adresssing this issue…not only new people are leaving also long time serving members are too..some of the reasons being of groups…thre are rich pple in our church and they socialize wth reach same with middle class and the poor will feel isolated………two) same case committed by different people on same choir but will be ruled differently the other one will be demoted and un uniformed whilst the other wl be warned only….when leading services,same faces wl do that instead of picking randomly so everyone wl get a chance to be known and shows what he or she is talented of……..if a richman sing a song everyone wl stand up sing and dance but a low class sang we just sit hum fo two seconds then ts off…..and the list goes on and on and on as for nw let me break

  3. My response isn’t totally in concert with the title of Captain Strissel’s ponderings, but the theme is similar.

    Today I attended an Army meeting, by invitation. Such invitations are so rare that I gladly accepted. With some minor trepidation and a bit of controlled excitement, I entered the building. My thoughts about The Army are positive and I treasure the wonderful memories of growing up within the ranks and serving briefly as an Officer in what seems like a previous lifetime ago. The Army’s music is ever with me, resplendent on all my electronic devices in my home and car. My cherished Song Book has always been an aid to devotion and I hold high the theological underpinnings of The Salvation Army.

    Entering the Citadel (which today I learned they call “the church”), there was a mixture of familiarity and unfamiliarity. Mostly the latter.

    In many ways it felt like returning to the scene of the crime.

    I wanted to slip in unnoticed, blend in without being recognised, and absorb the surroundings, the ambience and the memories.

    I took my seat (now known as “the pew”) next to my friend, and waited for the meeting (“church”) to begin.

    There was a sign on the overhead projection that said “Welcome to church”.

    I struggled to accept this new terminology. It seemed a juxtaposition to blend the jargon of the churches with the concept of an Army. It felt like it had watered down the Army spirit of vigour and fighting against the wages of sin. It’s a bit like “We’ll be half Army and half churchy”. I don’t think it works.

    There was no doubt that God was honoured in today’s worship, albeit everything was very well planned and ordered, but seriously lacking spontaneity. It was very serious. I’d lay money that the format is the same every Sunday.

    I am reflecting upon the form and aids to worship. There were no song books. No Army songs. No timbrels. No bright singing. No flag waving. No Hallelujahs.

    The Corps Officers sat in the front row of the congregation, and raced up on to the platform each time they had a segment to lead. It was almost comical. I’ve never seen this happen before. A visitor to the Corps possibly wouldn’t even have known who the Corps Officers were, if they didn’t understand epaulette trimmings.

    With one exception, I did not know any of the songs. From my peripheral vision, it didn’t appear that a lot of other people knew them all that well either. Eyes were glued to an overhead projection screen and the hesitancy between verses was clear, as it was open to the surprise element as to whether the next verse would change key or tempo. Eyes quickly diverted to the leader for the cue. By the time the songs were finished, I was just getting the hang of them, particularly as all the songs bore stark similarity to one another. What was very apparent was that the congregation wasn’t singing with gusto and gay abandon, as one would if they were singing “He’s the same today as yesterday”. Even the band seemed awkward in their accompaniment of these unusual melodies.

    The Songster brigade sang a lovely piece, unfamiliar to me, but it reminded me of a church choir, not an evangelical Army espousing its call to arms.

    I actually didn’t feel all that comfortable. It didn’t feel like “coming home”. Things had changed. The scene of the crime had been tampered with.

    I concentrated on worship, and came away from the meeting feeling blessed from that aspect. The Corps Officers were polished, friendly, good communicators, and they radiated their Christian experience. The guest speaker, a retired Officer and academic, was extraordinary. After the meeting, I overhead a number of the comrades talking about the wonderful sermon.

    But during the body of the meeting, if I’d closed my eyes and not seen the uniforms, I could have been in the Uniting Church or the Anglicans or Hillsong.

    Where was The Army?

    It had morphed into another denomination, so diluted, that it was unrecognisable.

    I know I’ve been away a long time, so to turn up now was quite a culture shock. I looked around the congregation and saw soldiers and Officers whom I’d known way back, and I wondered what they thought about this new staid style of worship. Had it snuck up on them like paint drying?

    Where was the vigour, the fervour, the enthusiasm, the spontaneity, the joy, the brightness, the uniqueness, the attractiveness and the music that was The Army I had known and loved for so long?

    Women were only in part uniform. No hats. Further dilution, this time of standards. Despite what some people say, there is nothing wrong with “looking sharp” in uniform. It is NOT more important than the reason for worshipping and community service, but that isn’t sufficient reason to leave part of the uniform at home. The Commanding Officers and other Locals and participants were all addressed by their Christian names. It sounded quite odd and lacking in respect for leadership.

    Please don’t post a comment telling me that worship is “not about the trappings” but about relationship with God and growth in grace and spiritual experience, and that we are the “Church” of God. I know that.

    But forgive me if I have an expectation of coming away from worship buzzing with joy and making a mental list of friends whom I would want to invite next Sunday to experience a vibrant expression of Christianity.

    I’m afraid I am not particularly excited about this “new” style of worship that’s allegedly relevant to the present age and “appealing to young people”. I’ve read articles about The Army “needing to change to suit the times” … but is this the best they can do? Most of the young people I know are into rap, hip hop and metal. Who is providing a church family for them? We had the guitars and Kumbaya tempo back in the 60s and 70s. Today’s “relevant” and “slow” music doesn’t seem much more than a modification of that earlier era, but with much more technical prowess. The majority of the congregation I observed today were over 50. Many of these comrades I had known to be die hard Salvationists. A little additional knowledge and insight tells me that they weren’t all that thrilled with the abandonment of The Army’s unique and peculiar worship style and music.

    The Army has the best music, the best talent and the best heritage to produce Sunday meetings that are uniquely Salvation Army, replete with engaging and joyful form and function. Why aren’t they capitalising on that richness?

    Here’s one onlooker who has made some observations, and yes, it’s only my opinion. But doesn’t my opinion count? For what it’s worth, I know my opinion is shared by many other people, some within the ranks, some without. For those within, what’s with the complacency of acceptance of the dilution and the half-hearted “Army”?

    It’s all about joy. Inward and outward.

    Bring back the days where the band opened the meeting with “Joyous Experience”. It might surprise The Army that people actually like it.

    1. Typical Army, more focus on religious ceremony and “this is how we do things” than if people are directed to God for repentance. “Where is the Army”? Who cares? Salvation is not based on the army and it’s useless redderick

  4. I actually disagree with the Doctor. I was a fifth generation Salvationist and even attended the William Booth College for a while. But although I do enjoy song of the age old music, of both band and songsters my recent experience was quite the opposite to the Doctor’s.
    The Corps I visited is now know as a community centre and by Salvation Army standards has a large congregation. I was welcomed at the door by a firm hand shake but looked down upon as I no longer wear a uniform as I no longer am a Salvationist. The service was pleasant enough but the format was very structured one better known as a song sandwich. The songs were mostly from the song book and so old that only the over 65’s really knew the tune. The younger folks – of which were quite a number struggled so singing was not enjoyable. The sons gets sang an unknown piece and a bit of key although the band were quite good.
    There was a light tea afterwards but as visitors we were not included by any of the corps folks who sat in huddles together. I stood for a long while with a cup of tea in my hand as people passed me by.
    Ironically this corps had been my home for many years, and although I have some friends there I felt very much out of place, very much a stranger. If this is how people are being treated of cause they are going to leave and find a more welcoming community to belong to. I did and I am now very happy, I am greeted by name, by the welcome stewards and the vicar. I no longer stand alone with a cup of tea. I am greeted by others with a hug. But more than that, each service is unique in its worship and message. There is no song sandwich, each generation is catered for from those still in their parents arms to those who have seen many years pass. Is this church growing? Oh yes it is with each passing week, Sunday services can see over 300 in attendance, church’s like the one I now attend who look at what they can do for their community rather than what the community can do for the church. They are not hung up on what clothes you put on your back but how your heart is with God, and being there to help find your way.
    The Salvation Army needs to stop being so internal looking and go outside and look at what’s happening in their neighbourhoods and communities until they do, corps will continue to shrink and close, whilst other denominations grow.

  5. I’m heartened that S Jefferys took time to reply. I respect his position to disagree with me. Ed King, on the other hand, agreed with me “100%”. It is, after all, about our respective experiences and observations.

    Captain Strissel should be applauded for his initiative in his Pastor’s Ponderings. He writes with grace and a gentle spirit, not of contention, but of sincere regard for the things that matter.

    I think his Ponderings should be mandatory reading for Officers and Soldiers. It sounds to me like the Captain is in touch with the realities.

    People respond to him because they CARE. I sometimes ask myself “Why do I care so much? Why am I so troubled that The Army has become so watered down and sombre?” I guess it’s because I have so many precious memories of inviting non-churched friends and acquaintances to a meeting and seeing the light bulb go on in their heads and witness the joy as they discovered Christ and His message of saving grace, in a wonderfully alive and magnetic environment, and become fiery soldiers and officers. All good stuff for the Kingdom.

    I recently gave blood. The nurse looked at me quizzically and said “Your blood is a funny colour… a bit purple … like a paint mixture of red, yellow and blue!”. I smiled, but in my head I said “It IS red, yellow and blue”.

    That’s why I care.

    S Jefferys made some valid points in his response, in relation to not feeling the comradeship offered after the meeting. I had decided not to mention my experience in my previous post, but I’ll add it here. On Sunday, after the meeting, I was standing with the guest Officer who had come to preach. Someone walked up to us, and my Officer friend and I looked up and smiled at him, in unison. The gentleman made eye contact with my Officer-friend, shook his hand and invited him to come and have a cup of tea. After their brief conversation, the man left, and I patted myself down, glanced down my body, and with a wink, said to my friend “Can you see me? Am I invisible?”. I could see the humour in this and I tend not to take it personally. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice. I am very sure that the man did not intend to ignore me. He just didn’t think.

    I am only one person and I don’t believe for a moment that what I think matters much. But if all the “ones” did some serious thinking together, some great insights could be revealed. It would be good if the hierarchy noticed and sent out a Minute with the Pastor’s Ponderings attachment.

  6. I can tell you why I left after attending The Salvation Army for many years. It became a chore to go. I hated having to wear a uniform and pantyhose. It felt so uncomfortable. I felt pressured to do the stereotypical “women’s work” in the church such as watch children and teach junior soldiers when I wanted to do other activities in the church. I felt that because I was a single women it was assumed that I would want to spend all of my time with children. Everything was so traditional. I found a new church that I love!! I feel excited to go every Sunday. I love the music and the preaching. You do not have to dress up. They have these wonderful “life groups” so you can get to know the other members of the church. This church has grown by 39% in one year! I feel welcomed and I have never seen so many people my age go to church before. They are actively involved with the community and many, many, people are happy to volunteer and be involved. My personal opinion is that if The Salvation Army doesn’t give up some of these rigid traditional rules that they follow, they will die out. And I am not talking about the compromising the Bible. Stop being so obsessed with members of the congregation wearing a uniform and abstaining from drinking. Younger generations can’t wrap their heads around that.

    1. I have only just come across this article today and on the whole I agree completely with all of the sentiments expressed. I am a still a soldier, hanging on by the fingernails so to speak. The corps that I attend is part of the Natural Church Development movement, is growing and is also generally vibrant. So why am I struggling to remain in this church. Partly due to my work. I am a night worker and the only activity available to me is Sunday morning worship. Another reason is lack of challenging Christian teaching on the platform during the meeting. It is generally so diluted and quite often now based upon 1 or 2 verses of the Bible. When I started attending 20 or so years ago the teaching was clearly Bible-based.
      A growing church does not mean that it is a church being touched by God. It merely means that it is a church fulfilling the needs of the people that are attending that church. At my corps the attitude is that we are being blessed by God because we are growing. I have recently been attending a much smaller evangelical church and the atmosphere during worship is so often so holy and reverential that we all just sit in silence and let everything just wash over us. God is truly present in these meetings.
      Maybe it is time that all corps and churches asked God whether He is blessing them or they are merely blessing themselves.

  7. Wow… all these replies have to do with programming, song choice, church name and how it affects the person attending. Not one of you have mentioned how the “church” is reaching the poor, the unloved, the “least of these”.

    Maybe if those attending the traditional church stopped worrying about what they are getting out of it or how it makes them feel and started REALLY caring for those people around them (not just saying they do), then people may not leave the church in such large numbers as they would be doing what Jesus really called them to do. New people would also see the body of Christ “being Christ” not bickering over music, seat choice, bandmaster etc….

    Just a thought.

  8. Lots of “bold talk” and little action is why many devout, energetic, and set apart folks are leaving The Salvation Army, especially men. Men who love the Army want ACTION. They are tired of committee upon committee, ANOTHER Bible Study and zero boots on the ground……..and when action is called for…it’s safe, sanitized, and made into something it isn’t (for example, a few months back the men at my Corps instead of having a Bible Study……..wiped down the kettles to get them ready for the Christmas appeal and it was made into some ‘amazing ministry’ by the Officer and STAFF in the office). The Officers behaving like a CEO / CFO instead of a man of God. Any input is squelched, and a very calvalier attitude in the offices, training college and Officer Coprs of themselves looking at each other and saying “Are we doing a good job?” and the reply from the fellow staff, and Officer Corps replying “Yes, we are doing a good job!”

    Also, I recently got an email from someone in a ‘district office’ who is an Officer telling us that we are a “numbers first and numbers driven organization”

    As a Salvation Army Soldier who is a man, and single….don’t you DARE ever cross a woman in the Corps whose family has been in the Army for many generations. The gossip and backlash will be ferocious.

    Yup, time to start thinking about looking for another church.

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