Dear Salvation Army, Is This Mission Drift?…

It has happened in numerous conversations.
There has been the lament of decisions made, and the ripples that flow from those decisions moving outward growing ever larger and larger.
Could it be that in some places in our Army world that we are experiencing a floundering of our mission?  How can we recognize this mission drift in our ministries and in the larger army?

Perhaps the first question we should ask ourselves is this:  What is our mission as an Army?  Have we strayed from that mission?  And if the answer is ‘yes’, then perhaps we have indeed become castaways on mission drift.

I read a fascinating article recently from The Gospel Coalition by Matt Smethurst, he was interviewing authors Peter Greer and Christ Horst who wrote the book Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches.  In this interview, Smethurst asked Greer and Horst “Why is “mission drift” such a problem for well-intentioned Christian ministries and charitable trusts?”
Their answer really hit home with perhaps some of the issues our Army faces currently.  Here is what Greer and Horst had to say:

Through our research we confirmed that mission drift is a pressing challenge for every faith-based organization. The zeal and beliefs of the founders are insufficient safeguards. There is no immunity, no matter how concrete your mission statement is. Or how passionate your leaders are. Or how much you believe it could never happen to you.

Relatively minor decisions, when compounded by time, lead organizations to an entirely different purpose and identity.

boatDid you catch that?
Mission Drift is a challenge for EVERY faith-based organization…and I believe we are facing this imminent threat every day within our Army.  We are not immune.  We are not above this danger.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the chief danger in our Salvation Army today is mission drift within social programs, recreational programs and all other would be programs that are become increasingly devoid of any spiritual emphasis or initiative.  We have become professional outsourcers and imagined “the lost” would come banging down our doors on Sunday…yet they aren’t and our corps are dying…and we are riding wave after wave of mission drift.

When asked about money, Greer and Horst had this to say:

Q: How does money tend to factor into the mission drift equation?

Through hundreds of hours of interviews with Christian leaders of organizations of all varieties, donor influence was identified time and again as a leading cause of drift. With almost any donation there are “strings attached.” In some instances donors—often corporate donors or government funders—will place prohibitions about how overtly Christian an organization’s work can be. Historically this restriction was perhaps most evidenced in Andrew Carnegie’s university funding, which disallowed “sectarian institutions” from receiving funding. Many colleges—including Brown and Dartmouth—cut ties with their founding Christian denominations to be eligible to receive Carnegie’s millions.

Has money played a part of our possible mission drift in the Salvation Army?
I would say if it hasn’t, then the temptation has surely been there…and some may even rationalize “well, we will figure out a ‘work-around’ for our mission to continue as we accept these monies…” and yet the funds come and the implementation of missional, intentional Christ-centered programming gets tossed or put on the back-burner because regulations and guidelines must be followed.  Is this danger truly happening to our Army?  Is it subtle and sometimes unnoticeable?   All it takes are small, seemingly innocuous decision to take place in order for the drift to start.  Could it be happening in your corps?  Your Division?  Your Territory?

I certainly do not want to paint a doom and gloom, “let’s second guess every decision being made” – type of conversation.  But I am pondering whether we have already begun to drift away from our primary purpose for being an Army?  Later on in the interview, Greer and Horst said this, and I believe this describes my fear of mission drift in our army:

We chose the word drift intentionally. It has the image of slowly, silently, and with little fanfare carrying you away to a new destination. It’s not dramatic, and yet anyone who’s spent time on a boat of any size knows it happens.

It’s clichéd, but the moments of greatest temptation occur when you least expect it. We’ve felt the tug of secularization most when we’ve been enjoying seasons of growth. It’s so easy for success to cloud drift. But it’s always there. As Christian leaders, we must daily commit ourselves to protecting and celebrating what matters most in the institutions God has entrusted to us.

So here is my pondering to you, Dear Army:  How do we even notice mission drift when it happens in our big Army?  And secondly, how do we course correct if our Army is Titanic and it takes all of us to turn the ship around?  Can this be done?  What are some of the indicators of mission drift that you see?  Would loss of constituents be an indicator?  Would leadership disconnect be another?  Would program not missionally based also sound alarms?  What kinds of safe-guards can we put into place to help us avoid this trap?  How might we course correct?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, comments and concerns.
Something more for our Army to ponder today.

Smethurst, M. (2014, March 10).  The subtle danger of mission drift. The gospel coalition.
Retrieved from

*Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions written here are not necessarily the thoughts and opinions of The Salvation Army.  Reader discretion is advised.*


6 thoughts on “Dear Salvation Army, Is This Mission Drift?…

Add yours

  1. Had a conversation with fellow Christians in my home town today and this was the worry expressed by all. For some reason we are not making an impact on today’s society. Old churches empty by the week, no young people coming on a Sunday. How will it look in 5/10 years? I think small home groups will replace empty churches

  2. If we are people of “The Book” the we we be aware of Matt 24:12, 2 Thess 2:3, 1 Tim. 4:1-3, 2 Tim 4: 3-4 and Rev 3:14-22 we will see that the times that we live in are days of apostasy. So then my friends we should understand that the calling away of the church is imminent. So we should be very aware of our need to Proclaim the gospel, preserve the gospel and live it in the light of eternity. Yes, there is a great falling away in the church which encompasses the Salvation Army. The way that apostacy gets hold is to water down the gospel, accept counsel and money from the world and governments and use non-Christians to do our work. There you have it. Separate the social work from the gospel proclomation and there you have it.

  3. Have read Mission Drift – Totally agree, it is creeping up on The Salvation Army as well as many other churches. In fact mission drift amongst Christian-based welfare agencies was the subject of my PhD thesis and I had the same findings as Greer and Horst.

  4. For anyone who doesn’t know “if” the Army is drifting, here’s the way you find out: discover what was our mission and go immediately to live your life that way; your superiors will come down on you quickly – and if you did that radical living and witnessing in uniform, they will come even more quickly.
    For anyone who has not run into trouble with your superiors, you [and I should have said WE] should repent and do the same as I advised the above people.
    The second step will be to listen humbly to your [I mean OUR] superiors and if they convince us that we are making some mistakes, let us correct them – but be sure they are the mistakes and not strangling the true mission. The process will repeat itself until we finally go too far and the Army will marginalize us, and to keep true to our mission we will have to go it alone, change our flag and clothing, but go at it as if we were under orders from William Booth.
    In a book about the history of the YMCA which I read over half-a-century ago, at one point the author said: If you want to know what the YMCA was like 50 years ago, look at The Salvation Army today.
    I wonder how soon someone will be able to describe TSA by saying if you want to know what TSA was like 50 years ago . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: