I’ve been doing some research on Millennials…I happen to have two living in my home.
More and more I see young people reaching a certain age in our corps, perhaps around 16 – 18 and then they simply vanish from our doors. They might reappear from time to time, but they never stay. It saddens me to see The Salvation Army (and most North American denominations) experience this. I felt led to explore this topic, not with any agenda other than trying to understand why we are losing such an important generation…a generation that will one day run our Army. What I found was alarming, and I simply want to transplant some of these findings on The Salvation Army in the hopes that we can recognize and perhaps help stave the exodus of an entire generation. I also want to firmly acknowledge that not every Millennial falls into these category, but a majority of those who leave our corps and its ministries perhaps might have the following reasons for doing so, (whether true or assumed truth by the one doing the leaving).
4 Reasons The Salvation Army Is Losing Millennials:
- “God Can Be Found Elsewhere”
In a 2015 Barna study, nearly 39% of Millennials believed that God could be found elsewhere and one did not have to attend church in order to find Him. This is troubling in that our Corps ought to be a place where God is very real and present. Is He in your corps? How can we impress upon our young people that God might not be tied specifically to our corps halls but to sacrificial living? Perhaps it has to begin by living that belief out. I wish to applaud those in my life who became that example for me. Many wonderful officers and soldiers displayed their holy living through their kindness, grace and love. Perhaps we need less rhetoric and cliche mottos and more evidence of belief in those mottos being poured out into our lives and spilling itself out into our communities. No, God can certainly be found elsewhere, but is He evident in us?
- Millennials Can Spot Fakes
We’ve all seen the televangelist on TV with the gleaming porcelin teeth and the empty messages of prosperity and joy without ever mentioning godly principles, character and sin. There is a deep longing amongst millennials for the return of the sacred to our churches and corps. The message of wearing a uniform as our only testimony to an inward change is not enough, we must enact that change and live it out. This is of course true for every generation, and the necessity for Holiness in our movement is vital for all. Thus, when we talk a big game but nothing ever materializes or happens millennials will spot the phoniness and run for the exits. We can dress the part, we can say all the “hallelujahs” and “fire a volleys” until we are blue in the face, but if none of it translates into Holy living, you can bet that sort of fakery will be seen and once seen very hard to recover from.
What Millennials want in its officers and soldiers are people who are real, people who are genuine. They want to see real people struggling with real stuff and not hiding or pretending everything is fine. This is extremely vulnerable for both sides: to admit that though we live out holiness we still encounter hardships, doubt and fear. Soldiers, be real…don’t put on masks, don’t lie when things are not going well. Live Holiness out even when the ugliness of life can be seen.
- Hypocrites In Uniforms
Coupled with spotting fakes, Millennials are repulsed by hypocrites who preach one thing but live another way. The “do as I say, not as I do” motto needs to die not only in the Church but in our Army as well. If it exists, stamp it out, address it, don’t let it fester and lead to the spiritual death of your corps body. I have heard of corps (years ago) who had bandsmen who would dress up in their uniforms just to perform in the band and as soon as their part in the service was complete they would rush out the back door and leave – what kind of witness is that to our young people? Millennials have also seen moral failures in society, and perhaps even in the Salvation Army. Divorce rates have been on the rise and half of millennials will be coming from either one parent households or having split their time in two homes. Some have witnessed the effects of moral failure first hand in family members and most deeply desire to change that narrative in their own lives.
Other instances could involve Officers and soldiers forming intentional or unintentional private/exclusive groups in the corps, and fail to include others seeking fellowship. Perhaps some have experienced mean people in the pews of our corps and wondered to themselves “is this what The Salvation Army is all about?”
I will guarantee that #3 rubs many of us the wrong way – good, because it ought to. We should never be perceived as hypocrites in uniform. If we aren’t inclusive of people from all walks of life, then we really have no place being an army of Salvation. All are welcome into our services in order to experience the love of God.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:1-5
- Lack of Ownership
Millennials want to belong to something great.
They believe in charity, giving and helping people in need. There is a real passion to serve within causes that matter and make a difference. When we emphasize world services – they want to contribute and help out in tangible ways. When we do not allow them to participate because they are young, do “don’t know anything” we are essentially closing the doors to their future in the Army. Millennials want to have an invested interest in the Army – but how can we empower them and raise they up to lead? There needs to come a point, and perhaps in some places this is already happening , that we not only invest in the younger generations as an Army, but we allow them to take leadership positions in our corps and relinquish our grips on some roles of authority and allow them to help. When we grant a genuine investment piece for our youth, they will have a sense of belonging and a deeper desire to serve and to be use – because they will be making difference.
These are just four reasons the Salvation Army is losing millennials. I fully acknowledge that churches in other denominations are facing the same crisis. But for just a moment, let me ask you – What is the Army doing to ensure the next generation doesn’t flee its ranks? What can be done? More importantly, what are YOU doing? Because our Army is only as strong as its members are proactively engaged in its mission.
We don’t need to spruce up our worship bands, or make sure we have attractive looking corps or programs, what Millennials (and non-millennials) are looking for is a warm, inviting place to belong – is YOUR Corps that place?
Something more for our Army to ponder today.
For more reading on this topic check out these links:
2015 Barna Study: “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church”
5 Things Millennials Wish Church Would Be
*Disclaimer: The Views and Opinions of the writer of this blog are not necessarily the views and opinions of The Salvation Army. Reader discretion is advised.”