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
How Does the Church Reach Millennials? Hint: It’s Not Flashing Lights or Rock Band Worship
*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.”
Some valuable insights here in this article – I feel that the main one being about how we divide ourselves. Having a bubble, whether it be band, or home league, or mission development, or corps council. Many people in our corps float between these bubbles – the CSM that plays in the band and sits on the council, but where does that leave those that are new to faith, who see these things as ‘restricted areas’?
I maintain that the answer is to give people responsibility, and not to concern ourselves with experience at the outset. mentor them up alongside those with the experience and when they are ready, let them fly. Encourage them, support their ideas, show how valued they are, and show them what a difference they can make. And try to encourage those currently in positions to consider their calling too. I’ve seen people hang on for dear life to their positions for fifty or sixty years, and viciously defend themselves against those encroaching on their territory in the name of tradition.
That’s not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but to remind that for people to stay, they must know that they have a stake in the future.
I see one of the main problems in the UK is that young people of 18yrs or so go off to University and do not return to home town and loose touch with church or Army.
I returned to the Army five/six years ago. became a soldier 18 months ago, but am becoming more and more frustrated to the point of leaving. I have made various suggestions when I am prompted by the Spirit and yet nothing seems to happen. I have taken the stance that I have done my bit, it is now on the shoulders of those who make the decisions, they are the ones who will have to answer for there actions or lack of them.
I was brought up in the army my father being a second generation salvationist and was 101% Army and God. The Sunday before he died he was at the Army, it was part of his living had been a cub leader, songster leader and finally CSM. I left the army when I was 23 and went to a pentecostal church, but still had and carried the fire within me and was never far from rolling up sleaves and getting involved.
Today I see many saints working hard for the army, but not many young people, it is a church wide problem. It seams too easy today for the young to be distracted, I don’t know if it is lack of discipline, media, computers, pc games etc or just poor teaching at home or in the church. I have three sons none of whom attend church although they went dedicated in church and attended church/sunday school/youthclub. I also have nephews and a niece who attended sunday school at the Army, but none attend anywhere now.
How often do we pray for our young people? they need God’s protection and direction.
We need to be inspired and encourage by God to do all we can seven days a week and not do as you like six days of the week, but Sundays please keep free?
This applies wider than just the millennials, many baby boomers have stuck with it through a sense of loyalty and tradition, now they have been worn down to the point of giving up. They see through all the autocracy and bluster, and also share in part responsibility for the millennials frustration.
We have often heard the saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”; however we have to ask ourselves have we kept the bathwater and lost the baby?
I am the son of Salvationists, who brought me up in the ways of the Lord… But when I turned 21, that was me.
I have experienced first hand, being shunned, because i smoked, even today with family who are Salvation Army Officers, i get it in the neck, and basically shunned by them. If that is my only vice, God my Father knows me and my wrongdoings, but yet He ACCEPTS me for who I am. Therefore, i am no longer a Salvationist, but rather go to a church that accepts me as i am. Yes they have spoken to me about my smoking, but they don’t shun me because of it.
My father, Henry also smoked and was a loyal Salvationist also left the Salvation Army because if the same thing.
I was in the Army for 20 years, i left 4 years ago to attend a different church. Since then i have discovered my identity in Christ, i am a daughter of the king, i am a saint. I am an heir of Christ.
I have learnt to live life with Kingdom Culture values: Honour, Authenticity, Generosity, Faith and Freedom. I have learnt to recognise lies that i am believing and how to demolish strongholds that are stopping me from being free to live a life of faith. I have learnt to read declarations over myself and to speak biblical truths into my life.
This is what i missed out on at the army and i believe that this will make a difference not just to the young people of the corps but the corps as a whole.
I was brought up in a salvationist home and was a soldier until October 2012. I was told by the officer that after leading the youth for a few years they wouldn’t make me CYS as my husband was only an adherent and was not a salvationist as did not wear a uniform. Therefore we were not good examples of christians or positive salvationist role models to the kids. It was all about uniform! Our christian faith, and discipleship journey were discounted as not important. Its all about what you wear on Sundays. After hours of heartache we left the Army and now go to a lively Pentecostal church. We’ve been shunned by a few people but we’ve grown so much in faith and biblical teaching which was sadly lacking at my home corps. We understand more about spiritual warfare and declaring Gods word over our lives. We know leaving was the best thing we ever did. The Army needs to up the biblical teaching, and understand that Adherency is sometimes better for youth goìng off to Uni rather than full soldiership. Some kids don’t want to make promises they may not be able to keep, and then the guilt keeps them away from the Army doors and a God who loves them despite any failings.
Born and raised Army, officer for 30+ years. The exodus is not new for millennials. Gowans/Larson “Take Over Bid” expresses similar issues decades ago. While life in general is more complicated. now, the reasons for leaving are still pretty much the same: questioning their personal belief system while growing up they were in their parents’ or another adult’s faith; not feeling a place or responsibility as a part of the church family; discounted or rejected for ‘sowing wild oats’ of growing up; rejected for minuscule issues; corps officer or corps leaders holding to tradition rather than being Christ-like and living by the Word; feeling put down, degraded, devalued; corps officers who administer by “my way or the highway” attitude. We will continue to experience this exodus until these issues are changed. Many good Bible-based churches in the US are experiencing growth in 20-30 year olds.
Not wanting to make this response into a book, I’ll stop.
Good Article or Ponder .
I was raised Army in the sixties. A small Corp and unfortunately not a great place for a Solo Parent wirh six kids to bring up. Lack of compassion by most .. and a focus on external behaviour rather than the change required in the heart .
That being said I sincerely thank God for some of the foundation I received. As some have said I chose to leave at 16 and got involved with drugs and the Hippy Movement .The Lord was gracious and I found myself in a Pentecostal Church where there was less expectation and more love.
Another thing to consider is the Model of the Army is no longer relevant to the unchurched. I am not trying to be mean.But the rules and regulations are superfluous to christian living. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is ( rules) ; no liberty !