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What's wrong with The Salvation Army - The Bad


The comments on these pages are (somewhat obviously) directed toward other members and leaders of The Salvation Army in the hope they they will stimulate thought, discussion, and possibly even change. If you are not associated with The Salvation Army this material is likely to be less useful and/or interesting.

Census Boards Unused

From my perspective, having served in eight corps under 16 corps officers over the past 52 years, there is one large failure that accounts for much of the difficulties I've seen. In all my experience I have not seen a single quarterly Census Board (now Pastoral Care Council) meeting. I have participated in many annual census meetings, always in connection with the annual corps review, and seldom conducted in the manner described in the Orders and Regulations.

Why would I say that this seemingly peripheral issue is the largest failure? When I was a young and very enthusiastic soldier I decided that I wanted to learn more about The Salvation Army. I ordered for my personal library one copy of each of the various Orders and Regulations that the Trade Department had available: O&R for Soldiers, O&R for Officers, for Corps Officers, for Local Officers, Home League, Secretaries and Treasurers, Bands and Songster Brigades, Work Among Young People in the USA, Census Boards, Corps Councils, League of Mercy, and probably others that I've now forgotten. I read them all. I thought about how the Army is designed to operate, admired the flexibility of the design to support tiny corps with a dozen members as well as corps with hundreds of soldiers, decided that the Army's plan is consistent with scriptural teaching about how the church should operate. And I realized that at the center of it all was the Census Board. It includes all the key local officers and is accountable to ensure that visitors and others new to the Army's influence are welcomed and encouraged and shepherded until they became converts and recruits and soldiers and local officers. If the Census Board is doing its job the rest of the corps will thrive. I did not see, until much later, how poorly we adhere to the plan set out in the O&R.

Over the years I've discussed this idea with a few officers and friends, but I now judge that one of my great failures is that I have not communicated this information broadly enough or forcefully enough to effect change, nor even serious discussion and evaluation. I have worked as a staff member at various corps enough to know that if my finance report didn't arrive at DHQ by the appointed day there would be a telephone call from DHQ that day asking where it was; if statistics were reported late or were incomplete there was a prompt call from DHQ to correct the problem. I am not aware of even one follow-up from the D.C. regarding a delayed or missing quarterly Census Board minutes. It is possible that my experience is not representative of the majority of corps officers and Divisional Commanders, but the few discussions I have had with others about this issue support my assessment of the situation.

Handling Objections

Would it really make a dramatic difference if each D.C. insisted on reviewing the quarterly Census Board minutes for each corps in the division? I believe it would.

Wouldn't it just create more paperwork and administrative trivia both for corps leadership and for divisional staff? Yes, but trivia is not a good description here, for two reasons: first, the reporting process is more than a few dozen numbers or check-boxes on a form, it requires narrative descriptions of the actions taken to disciple individual corps constituents; and second, the task being reported upon is not a peripheral issue, it is at the very core of the corps' purpose and mission.

If this is such a good plan, why was it (apparently) abandoned? I fear it will require someone much older than me and with much broader experience than mine to answer that. I suspect that a big part of the answer lies in "the tyranny of the urgent". It does require more time and effort both to prepare and to review a narrative report. It is easier and quicker to deal with numbers so we rely on statistical and financial reports (which are both good tools) to replace the more detailed and valuable quarterly minutes. The numeric reports can show us that a problem exists, analysis of the minutes should provide the detail needed to diagnose and correct the underlying problems.

Is it realistic to expect your average corps officer and D.C. to use this more difficult and time consuming process? Won't it require more skill and more time than is generally available? The skills required are teachable and could be included in CFOT curricula, officers continuing education materials, and sessions during Officers Councils. The time problem could be reduced by effective use of technology that wasn't available when the O&R were written -- the corps management software could make the process both faster and more robust.

We don't expect people to live up to their commitments.

One of the distinctive features of The Salvation Army during its early periods of growth was an expectation that each convert would become actively engaged in the "Salvation War". The eager zeal of new converts was harnessed immediately to accomplish two purposes. First, to separate converts from their old patterns of living and immerse them in Christian fellowship, fostering their spiritual growth and increasing the likelihood that they would become strong, mature Christians. Second, to provide the "muscle power" necessary to keep the organization growing and organized.

Converts were immediately assigned to the care of local officers and encouraged to participate in various Corps activities, especially the Recruits classes. As they became soldiers they were placed immediately in some assignment -- look at all the various local officer positions provided for in the O&R (oops... Orders and Regulations, for non-Salvationists who may try to follow this); things like songbook sergeants, flag sergeants, orderly sergeants, etc., etc. Some of these tasks may seem trivial or quaint now, and in our modern setting we would certainly modify them.

What seems to be lacking in our modern Army, in my judgment, is the expectation that Soldiers will actually take the commitments of the [Articles of War] seriously. We have allowed life at the Corps to become, like many other churches (and indeed like much of our society in general), a spectator sport. Our people expect us to entertain them, teach them, provide for their needs; but do not expect to contribute much to the process. Ought we to insist that when our people promise to "spend all the time, strength, money and influence I can in supporting and carrying on the Salvation war" they actively do something about that commitment? Perhaps we might ask them which local officer position they would like to train for at the same time they sign the [Articles of War].

Or even more revolutionary: the Census Board might work with the recruit to identify gifts, talents, interests, needs for development, etc. and negotiate a "Practical Plan of Service" so the new soldier will already have a specific plan of their part of "supporting and carrying on the Salvation war" when they are enrolled. This is similar in some ways to the process the U.S. military uses in its recruiting offices to help new enlistees select a MOS (Military Occupational Specialty?).


As with any organization which includes more than a dozen or so people and has existed for more than a few months, The Salvation Army has developed a bureaucracy which seems to have a life of its own, at least in the sense that it tends to preserve itself by breeding more bureaucrats. An inherent tendency of bureaucracies is that they are resistant to change. These things are true, but they are not totally bad. A group of hundreds of thousands of people (like The Salvation Army) would be useless without some organization and controls.

I would never advocate that we abandon our military form of government or most other features of our organization (see the page [What's Right With The Salvation Army]). Rather I would like to urge our leaders to continuously examine our regulations (not necessarily the O&R) and requirements, our departments, and our programs -- constantly seeking those which can be eliminated or reduced. I would also encourage them to maintain an appreciation of entrepreneurial spirit and allow the flexibility to experiment with program adaptations to meet changing needs. Incidentally, General Rader, during his tenure as Western U.S. Territorial Commander, made significant progress in this regard. Unfortunately his dreams and vision got gummed up a bit as they were implemented through the bureaucracy, but there was still good progress.

Variability of appointed leaders.

God in His marvelous wisdom created each one of us as individuals. We are not machines which respond exactly the same way given the same inputs. One officer I know suggested that we might do well to emulate the various fast food franchises by standardizing all our programs and requiring our leaders to implement the programs as they were designed with no variations. This is a very effective way of making and delivering hamburgers, and the idea certainly has some merit for some aspects of our operations.

Just as God did not create all Corps Officers equal, He did not create all Corps, or Soldiers, or communities equal. There is a great deal of variety among our ranks, both commissioned and laypersons.

So, what's the problem? As Corps Officers are transferred into and out of Corps each has their own set of skills, talents, dreams, and visions. They each relate best to different groups of constituents. The problem is most often manifested when a Corps Officer farewells. Some (usually not all, or even most) of the people he developed effective discipling relationships with may drift away. This should not happen but it does. If Christ desires that not even one should perish we must do something to prevent this.

The most effective solution may be to ensure that the Census Board is functioning properly. This will ensure that discipling relationships are built among local officers and are not dependent primarily upon the Corps Officer. The Census Board is the group of local lay leaders who will continue beyond the tenure of the C.O. They are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that every visitor is followed up and given the opportunity to make a decision for Christ; that every convert is helped to grow spiritually and encouraged to accept the responsibilities of soldiership; and that every soldier is effectively ministered to and used effectively in ministry.

Lack of long-term planning and follow-up on local level.

Related to the previous discussion of variability of appointed leaders is the consequent changes in focus and direction. While I am generally opposed to increasing the number of requirements, regulations, and programs, I think a strong argument can be built demonstrating the need of a mechanism for creating long-term stability in plans.

I propose that each corps (not Corps Officer) develop a five-year plan for all major aspects of Corps programs and operations. The plan would be updated annually, probably as part of the Corps review process, and the details submitted to DHQ. DHQ's primary responsibility would not be to approve the five-year plan, rather to act as its custodian and guarantor. As new Corps officers are appointed and begin to implement their personalized (and quite possibly God-inspired) vision it would be incorporated into and perhaps limited by the existing five-year plan. Any proposals for major changes in programs or major purchases would be compared to plan as the various boards and councils (Divisional Finance Board, Program Planning Council, Advisory Board, Corps Council, etc.) consider them.

This would not require the formation of any new board or council or the appointment of any additional personnel. It would require that appropriate forms be designed and, most difficult, that our leaders (at all levels) be trained in effective planning and appropriate use of the forms. It is my observation that a common weakness throughout the Army is that we do not effectively communicate the WHYs of our programs and regulations. We do a fairly good job of communicating WHAT must be done. Many of us are content to do as we are told without asking about why, and that makes good soldiers who can salute and go and do it. But planning is not a mechanical process which can be standardized (like the hamburgers) and be carried out by machines or trained monkeys. It is a process which requires analytic judgment and creativity. Most of us have not been trained to do that, if anything our training tends to lead us to salute and go do it.

Can we realistically hope to train enough of our local officers and commissioned officers to become effective planners. I believe that we can! If you do too, perhaps we can work together to make it happen.

Expectation that the community will support all expenses.

Leaders who "do programs" without a vision or understanding of their purpose and how they fit into the broader plan.

Separation (sometimes antagonism) between Corps and recovery programs, social services, and other programs.

© Copyright 1996, 2019 - James Card

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