This January, we launched a survey to ask young adults about life and The Salvation Army. More than 400 from across the territory responded, sharing insights on their needs, desire to lead and preferred future for our movement. In a companion article in this issue, Ben Riche expands what it means for us to be a welcoming and inclusive church, drawing from the survey and his own experiences as a Salvationist.

In a conversation with Lt-Colonel David Kelly of the U.S.A. Eastern Territory, he shared, “With millennials poised to take over leadership of The Salvation Army in the next decade, the loss of this generation is our greatest risk—more than finance or property.” Although risk is inherent in change, the status quo poses a bigger threat.

Most of us share similar dreams for the Army as the millennial generation, but it is our response to change that divides us. Our aging Army has a high tolerance for the status quo, while younger generations refuse to be passive observers hoping for change someday. They are as eager for change as they are to lead the change today.

Most of the survey respondents identified as members of The Salvation Army. Two-thirds volunteer on a consistent basis, and 45 percent of that group serve in our community ministries directly or through fundraising. The survey offered insight into what resonates with these adults and how we might engage them in the life and work of The Salvation Army. Three themes emerged: mission, leadership and relationship.
We don’t want to only run errands or stand on kettles. We want to lead in a movement that transforms lives.
“We want to be involved and live out our faith in practical ways,” said one response. “Sometimes the Army feels too Army-centred,” said another. These emerging leaders shared that they want to belong to a church that preaches—in both word and deed—the transforming power of God’s love, works for justice and recognizes the global nature of our discipleship.

Those who responded to the survey are loud in challenging our Army to embrace change and abandon what isn’t effective or relevant in 2021. Many shared their affinity with the vision of our founders, William and Catherine Booth, to reach the least, the last and the lost, and feel we are a shadow of that vision. Composer and bandmaster Bill Himes phrases it like this: “The Salvation Army does not exist for [itself]. It exists for others.”

When we asked what one thing the respondents would like people to know about adults under 38, we heard: “We have good ideas and we know what we’re doing,” and “We don’t want to only run errands or stand on kettles. We want to lead in a movement that transforms lives; mine and those we serve.” If we want to engage this generation, we need to ready them for leadership, release control and be open to the reality that we have capable adults in our church with strong voices and servant hearts. Think of Jesus and his disciples. These were relatively unqualified people, but with the investment of teaching and experience, they started a global movement. The rewards of engaging this generation will far outweigh any risk we can presume may exist.

Relationship, defined as the desire to experience authenticity in church and community, eclipsed all other responses in the survey. “Lots of people go to church just because their family and friends attend, but they lack a deeper connection. We can’t make that connection for them— all we can do is love them like Christ and give them purpose and reason to attend.”

When asked about a preferred future, they offered: “I want to belong to a church that is inclusive, cares and loves everyone, values me, inspires me to love God and others more, is accepting of me and is real.” How can we bring that vision to life? What does being real look like for you? Ben Riche will invite us to consider what it means to be that church in his article but let me leave you with this: “Church is about supporting each other to follow Jesus, and that can and should be done everywhere and in whatever clothing we have on.”

There is risk involved in change, but the greater risk is holding a defensive posture. We asked to hear from this generation and it is our responsibility to listen. May God give us the courage to act.

Major Rick Zelinsky is the millennial project officer.

Illustration: muchomor/iStock via Getty Images Plus


On Monday, July 5, 2021, Eliabeth Vickery said:

Having spent many years as a youth leader, I know that my way would not be appealing today. It is a much faster moving time, with so many changes, You, the younger genaration of leaders need to be as forward moving today as I needed to be as I was then, I pray for wisdom for today.


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