I thought I might also take a stab at the question the Central Territory Youth Department put out a few weeks ago. You can find the original articles in part one and part two. The question that is raised is: “Why are young people leaving the Salvation Army?”
I’d like to tackle this without too many generalities, so I’ll try to take this from a personal perspective: “Why would I, David Witthoff, ever leave the Salvation Army?” Sounds weird to even say it. But of course, the thought has crossed my mind on occasion. I don’t anticipate the following list will have much order anyways, so here we go:
1. I certainly agree with Matt Aho’s observation of the power distribution in the Salvation Army. I’ve felt on many occasions the total lack of authority or ability to change or improve various facets of our programs, corps, events, culture, etc. I’ve said this before, but we say we believe in a priesthood of all believers, but it sure seems in practice that “some are more priestly than others.”
If I might apply some concepts from my previous post, “The Idiot-Preacher,” this deficit of power from the soldiers and members of the church is an aspect of “stupidifying,” as the author Crawford writes. By giving most of the decision making power to a certain “class,” the cognitive effort required to maintain a church community, even the creative opportunity to build a community center and church in it’s own way, is vacated from the minds of the laypeople. If that’s not the scandal of the Salvationist mind, I’m not sure what is.
All that to say, it’s terribly disheartening to perform many roles and fulfill functions, and only rarely be able to innovate.
2. I think young people leave when there aren’t a lot of young people left. I like the Army, and I plan to stick with it, but having been at two corps now where I was the only, or one of a few between 20-50 years old, it can be incredibly disheartening. I find also that when the officers in these corps are unwise, they often overburden and burnout the few 20-30 somethings they have left (not my experience, thankfully).
3. Unfulfilled expectations will be my last point. Growing up my group heard time and again how we were going to be the “next generation” of Salvation Army leaders. Opportunity and open doors seemed promised, but, similarly to point #1, we didn’t go to Training en masse, and so many of us can’t be part of the next generation of leaders. So please, just disciple kids, don’t try and make them all leaders.
In summary, I end with a warning-quote from author Clay Shirky: “…if you pretend to offer an outlet for [intrinsic] motivations, while slotting people into a scripted experience, they may well revolt.”
Just remember that young adults are pretty flakey, so “revolt” in their case is probably just saying “meh” and walking out the door.