Dear Salvation Army, Why We Should Get Rid of “Church”…

The primary purpose for our founders in creating The Salvation Army was to be a Lighthouse, a beacon to the lost.  We were founded to help the lost, the drowning the marginalized in society…those who were not welcome in Church.  We are a holiness movement, and our origin story is all about gap ministry.   We go to places that the Church has forgotten or, in some cases, refused to go.
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Why then do we make it such a focus to emulate or replicate the Church?
I do not wish to disparage any church but as a practice, many times Church (big C) gets it wrong.  The Salvation Army was created to be a “door-opener”  – a ministry in which people felt comfortable with, where lives were being touched because the physical needs were met first.  But over time, I feel that we started looking around at the explosive growth of churches and mega churches and longed to be like them…when our mission and vision is nothing like them.   It’s like this:  We are all a member of the Body of Christ, some are the hands, some are the feet…but what happens when the hands look over and see the feet and they begin to try and act like feet?  What happens is we have a polarizing body that is not functioning as it was intended to function.  This is what I believe has become our downfall as an Army.  We were called to be the hands of Christ to the unchurched, to the depraved, to the marginalized of society…but we are trying to act and look like another ministry.

Getting Rid of “Church”
1.  Stop labeling “Worship” only what we do with music…
worshipWe need to rid ourselves of the Church of the worship of music!
Worship is so much more than music on Sunday mornings.  Worship is not just your praise band or your brass band and special music.  Worship IS holistic and it encompasses every aspect of who we are as Soldiers of this Army, just as Holiness is our aim in every facet of life!  Worship is the response to God’s wondrous love for us.  We worship in the van as we pick up people for Holiness meeting.  We worship as we go to midweek bible study or other such programs.  We worship as we clean the corps bathrooms (this might sound funny, but we once had a blind janitor who could be heard singing hymns of praise while he clean the toilets and washed walls – he taught me a lot about worship).  brass

2.  Stop thinking Church as only what we do on Sunday…
This notion of “Church” really should be eliminated so that we can get on with going for souls and going for the worst!  Church is NOT what we do on Sundays!  We worship the Lord on our Sunday Sabbath day.  We collectively get together on this day and sing, pray, encourage one another and hear a message…but Church is not only a Sunday thing.  We we have this mindset that Sunday is separate from the rest of the week, and that “Church” should only occur on Sunday then we have lost our mission as an Army.  Getting rid of this notion of “Church” will open up the possibilities that our Soup Kitchen days, and our Food Pantry days, and our youth program days…IS ALL MINISTRY!!  Every facet of these vital “soup, soap, salvation” elements is another opportunity to share Christ, disciple lives and encourage the downtrodden.  This is what Church should’ve been…and what we ought to strive to BE.    Your congregation is NOT Sunday, but everyday – everyone who comes to your corps, who receives services, who asks for help, They are your congregation!

3.  Create Community Not Programs!
programsWe as an Army are so good at creating programs.
We have programs for everything – we even have programs for programs.
It is not the Army’s mission to create more programs, it is our mission to create community and save souls in Jesus’ name!  When we aren’t engaging our community with the elements we are using, perhaps it’s time to rid ourselves of the Church of Programs!!
Programs can become our Church and we are so caught up in our program bubbles that we cannot see what families and individuals are truly in need of.  We think, we’ll just start a new program to reach them, when in reality what every person craves is a place to belong and to find encouragement and feel that they are a member of the community.

4.  Create an Environment of Ownership!own
Lieutenants, Captains, Majors & perhaps a few Colonels & Commissioners – We must stop trying to run everything ourselves.  Stop micromanaging.  The Army, at times, worships at the Church of the Micromanagers and we must rid ourselves of this Church!!  What we do by micromanaging is create a corps of dependency.  By this I mean is the attitude or belief becomes “since the Officer runs keyeverything, we can sit back and watch since they don’t need me anyway.”  If you have doers in your corps, they will quickly become frustrated and perhaps seek somewhere else that they will be used.  Stop micromanaging and start delegating leadership and other duties to others in your corps!  Begin to create the environment of ownership.

Do you remember what Jesus did when they were facing a mass feeding problem of about 5,000+ people?  He didn’t immediately take charge, instead he went to his disciples and said, “feed these people”.  Of course the disciples were in shock and did not know how to proceed, the cost was too high and they only had five loaves and two fish.  But do you remember what Jesus did with their effort?  He multiplied it.  

In a very real sense, the Holy Spirit will do that in our corps too when there is an investment and ownership by others.  We as officers and leaders have to relinquish our drive for perfection and our grip on authority and allow others to be discipled and in turn they will own their shared portions of responsibility.

I know there is much more to cover on this topic.
What other Churches do we worship at that we should rid ourselves of?
We are a gap ministry, a safe harbor for hurting people to come and find a home.
The Salvation Army needs to rid itself of Church so that it can fully embrace its Holiness as a Movement of Christ.

Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
What do you think?  Tell us by commenting, offering your thoughts and opinions.

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*Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions expressed here are the thoughts and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect that of The Salvation Army.  Reader discretion is advised.* 

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32 Comments

  1. “A center for worship, fellowship & service” was long used & understood. Difficulty & some embarrassment rose when community leaders, as well as life-long soldiers, presented the following challenge.
    “We know the significance of a ‘St Paul’s Lutheran Church’ or a ‘Our Savior’s Methodist Church’, but who are we honoring/worshipping at a ‘Kroc Church’?”
    I’ve suggested & utilized “Grace Chapel at The Salvation Army.”

  2. Leadership run everything including organizational culture.
    Leaders are facilitators and empower the laity to fulfill thier calling; they serve the congregation. See Eph 4:11 …
    Lastly Jesus sent out an empowered people.
    From my experience christian/church life… churches that do this flourish others that don’t … wither up and become lifeless .

  3. If ‘church’ is good enough for God it’s good enough for me.we are part of a body that I have no desire to be segregated from.
    There is no perfection while we’re here.
    We are stronger when we respect each other and encourage each other and work together.
    I am a salvationist- but we did not invent compassion- God did.

  4. Some good thoughts here! Some I have heard or been in conversation about before. How do we get them in the right conversations?

    I would also add disconnecting from the “stats’ race. This seems to be a big focus lately.

  5. Agreed, if things don’t change their will be no Salvation Army in 20 years. It now has become all about Money and Numbers.

    1. One part bout “money and numbers” that we must give more attention to pertains to transparency, stewardship and integrity. For example – consider the theme of you mail appeal, on-line solicitations and other media “asks”. Almost ALL of them pertain to social services, Christmas or camp.

      Now look at your expenditures. Even discounting indirect costs, does the donor intent match-up with your expenditures? I am not talking about the tiny print on the mailing that says we are not limited by donor intent – but what they REASONABLY thought they were giving to?

  6. I mean to cause absolutely no offence by this. I was brought up in the SA and I have family who have been/still are Salvation Army ministers.

    I feel that the SA is not always relevant for younger people. About 5% of my peers from church still attend a church or the Salvation Army, the rest have drifted away. Brass bands, uniforms, tambourines are just not what many young people are into nowadays. I can see that a vibrant, lively church like the one I go to would not be some people’s preference, particularly the majority of the very elderly perhaps (although we do have a wide range of ages represented across our congregations). I do love that the SA seems to cater for the needs of older people quite well e.g. Home league programmes.

    Also, I don’t think people understand what the uniform means and it can be intimidating walking into a church with uniformed individuals and may result in people feeling not part of something and a bit excluded. I love the fact that at my church which is a non-denominational church you can serve in a wide range of teams e.g. Hosting, kids, worship band, home team, production, prison and community outreach teams and not have to be in uniform to permit you to be part of it. I love that we prioritise connect/house groups and really getting to know God’s word above having band and songster practice. Also building relationships with other believers and sharing fellowship with them is so important. On a weekly basis. I also love that the teams we serve on are a fantastic way for leaders to be developed and for servanthood to be lived out. I love that in every service without an exception…we have an altar call so that people have the opportunity to respond to the love of Jesus. We have so many events such as ‘Movie may’ where we make the church like a Cinema, give everyone popcorn etc and use short movie clips to give a biblical message that is really relevant to daily life. We have had over 100 new people attending church through this alone in one month. We spend ages pursuing excellence in the fine details e.g. spending 45mins every Sunday setting up our kid’s church rooms and praying out loud and boldly prior to welcoming the kids.

    I also love that we Support ourselves financially and also financially support external projects or church plants. This has only been possible by us developing a church culture which places importance on the biblical principle of tithing. It’s not acceptable or right for the Salvation Army to fundraise or collect money from the public for it to be spent on maintaining the church. It says in the bible that where money is our heart will be also. It’s through prioritising and honouring God with our finances (giving the first 10% of our income) that we will see fruit & God does more than we can imagine. It’s not the public’s job to pay for SA officer’s salaries or for the maintenance of SA church buildings. It’s OUR God-given vision to see the salvation of our cities and counties and country so it starts with us and what we want to see God do. WE need to back that with our finances!

    Also, it says in the bible believe and be baptised. I still fail to understand why the SA do not do baptisms. It’s what Jesus commands us to do 🙂 and enrolment as a junior or senior soldier is not an equivalent to baptism!

    Thank you for raising these areas for discussion within the article. It is really healthy to question why we do things the way we do.

    I think in an overall response to the article, first and foremost we need to remain immersed in biblical truth. Firstly, if you are saying the Salvation Army shouldn’t be a church then what is it? Either the SA would be a faith-based organisation/charity and the believers would do church elsewhere?? Or the SA continues to be a church and I really think that there is so much to be learned from the churches that are seeing hundreds of people being saved, people’s lives being transformed through their relationship with Jesus and the support of their church community and those pioneering in ministry (e.g. Brian & Bobbie Houston).

    The church Is Christ’s body, we should all be united on the foundations of what faith in Jesus is all about. I love the Soup, Soap and salvation thing and I believe 100% that the order of that is spot on! If we don’t serve the needy, they won’t listen to us professing faith because we haven’t been Jesus’ hands and feet to them. But, what is most important is that we are constantly being discipled and seriously consider what the bible says on a load of important topics.

    What about sex before marriage? I know a load of people in the SA co-ha biting and I used to be one of them! So I’m not judging. But through subsequently attending a church where they talk openly about these things, I realised that that’s not what God wanted for my life. Let’s revisit what the bible says about sexual immorality. Our lives will be so enriched as a result.

    What does the bible say about financial integrity? What does the bible say about mental health? What does it say about marriage? The amount of marriage breakdowns and affairs I knew of in the SA compared to those that have occurred in other church’s is incomparable! Again, my family were caught up in an this. So I’m not judging. Intensive marriage prep is so important, as well as strong teaching and a church culture that supports and promotes healthy and LIFELONG marriages e.g. Practical advice and techniques for communication and co-existing with another person. Infidelity is of this world and we shouldn’t be brushing these things under the carpet anymore. God’s wants us to have Christ-centred, fulfilled, wonderful marriages 🙂 ! God wants so much for us, He wants the absolute best for each of us.

    Having spent 18 years attending the SA I can say that these massive issues have not been talked about anywhere near enough.

    No church is perfect, in any way!! But my heart longs to see the SA carefully consider the things I’ve mentioned and others, so that it becomes a stronger, ever-Christ-centred faith movement and experiences expansion and growth like never before. It is such a shame that soooooo many that I know have drifted away from church because some of the things mentioned above.

    I do not want this to be judgemental, although I know it comes across that way! I have not by any means got these things sussed, but these are my observations and if even a few things are challenged as a result of me sharing these thoughts I will be overjoyed.

    1. Fantastic – almost word for word the response I was formulating.

      I applaud the sentiment of the article (‘Religion’ is not the way to God), but not the language (Church is, and always has been God’s Plan A – the Bride of Christ.).

      The Salvation Army as a corporate body does a lot of good, but in terms of creating meaningful, personal relationships with God, teaching us to rely on Him rather than our own strength, and worshipping Him rather than promote our own talent, TSA is sadly falling fast behind. And that’s the reason why I, and so many others, left TSA to find a spiritual home in a church that supports that way of living for God.

      Lastly, to those who say (and members of my own family are no different) ‘why don’t you stay and change it from the inside rather than leave and compound the problem?’ There’s not enough of an appetite to change, either at a local or a decision-maker level, and perhaps the best thing for TSA is for it to lose a generation or two, before coming to the realisation that it can and will only survive once the Holy Spirit is prioritised above the band, songsters, uniform, traditions, status etc.

  7. Having just left the ranks of The Salvation Army myself, for some of the very reasons mentioned in this excellent article, I would also add that, rather than be an ‘army’ it has indeed become a ‘church’. Scripture tells us to ‘go into the world & make disciples’, whereas, in my own personal experience, the world has instead, been allowed to come in & almost take over the chuck.
    We are called to make disciples & shepherd the sheep…not entertain sheep & goats!

    1. I was saying in my post that the church I attend supports itself financially through tithing. As it should be. It’s wrong that the public pay for buildings for others to go to church in. When people give to the Salvation Army, they think that it all goes to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. That is not the case for a large proportion of the money that is collected. It’s the same as me saying a school of children want to go to a theme park for the day, I will collect money from the public and say it’s to pay for uniform that they can’t afford because they are from poor families and then you go and spend it on something that should be funded internally.

  8. When we called our worship centers “Corps” (before the 1970’s) the Army in the USA had been growing and our schools for officers training were full. The Founder and other early leaders strongly warned against the Army trying to become a church — which there already were too many of. Over the last 50 years we’ve built bigger and bigger facilities but have failed to fill half the seats. Unlike the corps of the past, when the buildings were used 4 and 5 weeknights, we now crowd the few programs that remain into 1 or 2 nights. We now have 60% fewer youth local officers. We’ve moved many corps to the suburbs and away from those who used to be attracted to our meetings and were the main source of our continued growth.

    Unlike an earlier poster suggested, we don’t financially support ourselves — the public does for the most part — except for a handful of corps. We don’t pay for our own buildings — the public does. Churches have to do those things. Tithing and strong cartridge-giving are generally lacking and rarely mentioned in Army meetings, perhaps because we don’t rely too much on internal support.

    Corps councils look good on paper, but few meet on a regular basis or have good attendance. Decisions are made elsewhere.

    I’ve met at length with more than 700 officers at all levels as part of the 502 community needs assessment and planning studies I’ve conducted for the Army nationwide. I’ve also done very extensive research on SA statistics covering the past 85 years. I’m not expressing a personal opinion so much as sharing a researcher’s observations — based on more than 15,000 personal interviews and 25,000 mailed and Web-based questionnaire surveys.

    The simple fact is that, as we have tried more and more to emulate other churches we have lost our way and many of our members, while failing to gain sufficient newcomers to replace those who decided what they were experiencing was not for them and moved on.

    We have fewer (and smaller) bands, corps cadet brigades, cradle rolls, guards, sunbeams, etc. We are an aging organization. Even the average age of our CFOT cadets is much, much higher compared with 60 years ago. We have to bring hundreds of retired officers out of pasture just to “hold on” in corps without officers.

    Show me a successful church (not “mega”) that, when a member is absent for several weeks, the pastor doesn’t do a home visit. In fact, he/she spends a lot of time in visitation. My 45 years of studying the Army has revealed that visitation is a “lost art”. In many corps, when we see that someone has been missing for awhile (if we even notice), we just shrug our shoulders — unless they are a bandsman or songster.

    My studies have clearly shown that the majority of corps officers are members of a civic club (Rotary, etc.) and regularly attend, while few attend local ministerial association meetings.

    The point is that we are keen on using the terms “church”, “pastor”, etc., but our actions reveal something else. Meanwhile, as a unique branch of the “Christian” church we have abandoned much of what accounted for our incredible growth in our first 50 years in the USA. It’s not rocket science.

  9. There was a point in Salvation Army development that it was much more in alignment with the concept of being an Order, rather than a Church. Some would say that in our most effective expression, we still are.

  10. I agree with some of the things being said here. The Salvation Army has become split into two things, a welfare organisation and a church. We run our welfare programs and expect that those programs will fill our churches and local corps have forgotten how to reach out into the community themselves.

    Here in Australia we are starting to see one program in particular starting to change that. We have a “Just brass” program where we employ someone to provide free brass lessons at primary schools during the week and on Friday afternoon after school buses are run to pick them all up, bring them to the corps and have several bands of varying ability doing practices. We have concerts at the end of term and some get up and play solos. It’s getting huge numbers everywhere and it’s bringing new families into the corps.
    It’s not a program that will solve all the problems but it’s a great start.
    We need to stop worrying about administration so much and just get out and do things. Get officers out from behind desks at dhq and thq, they’re not officers to be stuck behind a desk. Get properly qualified people to do that stuff.

    There’s a famous speech in Australian football history by john Kennedy. I think the last part of it really applies to the Salvation Army.
    “Do. Don’t think, Mick, don’t hope. Do. At least you can come off and say, ‘I did this, I shepherded, I played on. At least I did something for the sake of the side. Do. Act. Don’t think, act. Eye on the ball. The contest is still the same. You must win the ball to win the match. And more than that, when you win the ball you must cooperate with fellas coming past. And you must be desperate enough to stick with me and do it. The crowd might laugh. It might go wrong. I’m game enough to tell you to do it. Are you game enough to back me up? Are you game enough, Scotty, to back me up on that?”

    Do. Act. We can’t expect people will just rock up, we have to go and get them.

  11. I have went through a program for SA and as that program freed me from my demons. Aside from paying the light bill there wasnt a single person wearing a blue suit that did anything to help me. There was staff that helped me greatly but know blue suits. Matter a fault I don’t even think they knew my name for four months. Don’t get me wrong I know this isnt the case everywhere with all SA. But I have seen some down right scandals take place by blue suits.

    Now I am a employee and I have never been treated so poorly with a company. I have been in mangerment most of my life and have a masters. Yet I am treated as if I didn’t complete 3rd grade. Zero respect. I struggle to support my family and pay my bills. Because the wage is so poor. I make %50 less then others in other company’s doing them same thing. I mean the raises that we recived…….
    .15 cents for a year. LOL when one store alone made 1.7 million in a year. Should be ashamed SA may helps ppl yes but if you work for them and you don’t have a blue suit on you really get to see behind the curtain.

    As for Church time to get with the times. As Christian you may to ace other won’t but you only help those that are willing to do everything the SA way. Lastly the bible says not to boost or brag so way so many picture o. Social media of praying over ppl and such?

    For those in the SA that truly don’t judge and are real Christian you do a amazing tname thank you. The rest of you (you know who you are) you give the SA a bad name.

  12. In recent times my family has left the salvos because we were not going to stand by a church who believe they are above the law. After they supported someone in jail who was wrongfully convicted and then acquitted by the supreme court the salvos treated this person as guilty and made someone who was marginalised feel worthless. This came in the form of a courier delivered letter from high up. When they should have been supportive they weren’t. They showed their true colours that day.

  13. There are and have been some absolutely horrible people in the ranks. That’s a reality of every denomination though. Don’t throw the SA under the bus because of what some horrible individuals do while wearing its uniform.

  14. I cannot agree with all that said in this article, although there are elements here which clearly strike a chord, (or a raw nerve) with some people. As someone who is relatively new to the SA, I find that my local Corps. ( I rarely refer to it as a Church) fulfills everything that I need in a religious organisation. In addition it enables me to play music, give a helping hand to others through involvement in the Community Support Program and interact with like minded people of all ages. It does however require a degree of self discipline to put the SA first and be there as often as I can both on Sundays and at other times. What you personally get out of it is what you make it. I really have to say I do love being a part of it!

    1. Kevin, I’m so glad that you are happy attending the SA as your church! I’d be careful not to think of Christianity as a religion, but a faith. It’s ALL about a personal relationship with Jesus rather than religious laws and rules to abide by 🙂 and just remembering that it’s not the commitment to the SA as an organisation that is priority, it’s a commitment to serving God, worshipping and praising Him and that can be done anywhere!! 🙂

  15. I think the Army of old needed to change to be relevant to modern society. Yes of course we still must care for the needy but have we been caught up in administrative red tape and government regulations?
    Being a teacher I know the concerns most teachers have is that having to complete so much paperwork and keep so many records, we don’t have time to teach. I wonder has the Army been caught up in these types of issues? My Mum is 95 and the oldest living soldier on the corps roll and apart from one or two soldiers who visit her, I can’t remember the last time any corps officer visited her just to pray and minister to her. I think this is very sad when someone who so faithfully served in a number of roles at a corps for over 90 years has virtually been forgotten. I doubt the current officer would even know her. They still gladly accept her weekly tything but can not find the time to visit her occasionally. I know corps officers are busy people but you would think they could find time to visit such a long serving soldier.

  16. The church is not bad. The church is the body of Christ, made up of the people of Christ. In fact the Army needs to get back to reaching people were they (The people) are. Yes that changes with the community the corp is in, changes with time. I was raised on the Army and still love and respect what they do.
    I agreed with about 90 % what said here. Officers can’t run everything. Good lacol leadership is needed in any church. I hope and pray the Army
    can make changes they need to and they continue the good works in faith they do to reach the unchurched. God bless the Army!

  17. Reading this, really encourages those of us escaping Churchianity…. it is a lonely road we must travel, but with our eyes put on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can follow on that narrow path that leads to Him, God bless….

    1. Hi Pedro,

      Could you please explain what you mean by escaping Churchianity?

      The bible clearly states in Ephesians 4:12 ‘their responsibility is to equip God’s people to build up the church, the body of Christ’. The church is the vehicle designed by God to reach those yet to encounter Him. It’s through the church that we unite with others of the same faith in the love for our Jesus and where we can find accountability, discipleship, fellowship, Biblical teaching and so on. We are one body, I wonder why would you would want to escape that?

      If it’s because of offence that has been caused to you within church, then I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before that happens to anyone who attends a church or any gathering of humans.

      1. I meant Church with capital c as an organization, which is different of the one true church which Jesus is coming for….

    1. Exactly! I think some read the title and didn’t actually read the article. It’s not about “Church” it’s about elements that we have almost elevated to worship status and have labeled it “church”

  18. the SA still does more for family services and people in crisis then any other religious community that I know of. It is an organization that I will continue to give to and even if some money goes to a church I’m ok with that. That church still supports the community!

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