How do we attract people to the Army?

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by Donald Bell, Lt. Colonel – 

George Barna, in his September 2, 2003, newsletter shared, “The United States is dominated by small churches, with the average church attracting less than 90 adults on a typical weekend.” The reason: “Small churches struggle to grow because of the people they attract.” You can discover more on these findings by going to

This information makes me contemplate what kind of people The Salvation Army attracts. I thought, “What attracted me to the Army?” My grandparents, Lt. Colonel and Mrs. James Bell, introduced me to the Army as a young person. They retired the year I was born, and at least once a year we traveled to Redondo Beach to visit with them. These visits usually involved an Army meeting. On occasion, we would attend Commissioning in San Francisco. As a young person, I must confess I thought those tone poems played by the band would never end. I am grateful now for composers like Major Terry Camsey, who testified recently that he writes music for the lady in the back row.

My family did not attend the Army, but I remember as a very young boy, the call to officership, following an appointment service and a stirring in my heart to answer that call and go forward. Not seeing any other children move, I thought I should remain seated. A few years later, my parents sent me to a community service camp at Redwood Glen, and I found Jesus as my Savior. It took another 11 years, however, before I started attending the Army in Spokane, Washington. I would have to say that camp is what attracted me to the Army. If you were to ask my wife what attracted her to the Army, you would quickly learn about the Girl Guard program.

We recently had the pleasure of sitting under the ministry of General John Gowans (R) at the Territorial Headquarters Officers’ Councils at Camp Mt. Crags. The General reminded us that in this Army, we believe in the priesthood of all believers, with each of us having a responsibility to attract others to the Army. He challenged us to explore ways to win others to the Lord and the Army. It reminded me of a challenge I gave while serving as the corps officer in Long Beach. At that time, I challenged the soldiers to win one person to Christ and the Army that year. If we all accepted that goal, the Army would double each year.

Well then, how do we attract people to the Army? I ask that you think about this and expand on the list.

First, we need to live a life that attracts others to Christ. Perhaps your family, fellow employees, and classmates would see something in you that would make them ask about what is different in your life. People are very open to hearing about the Army. How many times have I heard of our soldiers’ frustration, when they tell people they attend The Salvation Army church. You can let this be a negative, or you can take advantage of this wide open door of evangelism to share your personal testimony and tell what the Army is all about.

Second, let’s visit those who come to our corps for any reason. I shall never forget the welcome Hugh Sutherland gave my wife and me when we were installed as Santa Monica corps officers in 1980. Hugh reminded us that the most important quality was not our education, or how well we spoke, but if we loved the people. How better to demonstrate that love than to visit people in their homes. I challenge every corps to use visitation teams to go to the homes of our soldiers, friends and social service clients, and invite them to the corps. Visit those who have come to worship with us on Sunday; visit the seniors living in our Silvercrest residences; visit the young people who attend day and residential camps. Remember General John Gowans’ challenge, “People Matter Most.”

Third, use the traditional Salvation Army outreach programs (Guards and Sunbeams, Adventure Corps, Vacation Bible school, day camp, resident camp, youth drop-in centers, Home League, men’s clubs, and senior drop-in centers) to invite people to become committed to your corps worship programs. New ideas and curriculum are helping in this regard as well. SONday’SCOOL is a great success in the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division, in building Sunday school and corps attendance.

Fourth, determine what the unmet needs are in your community, and build small groups around these needs to attract new people. Have you thought about new mothers’ classes (we call this Cradle Roll), groups performing random acts of kindness, exercise classes, nutrition classes, budgeting classes, after-school tutoring, computer labs for children and adults, and scrapbooking? People with common interests like to come together. I have recently learned that a large pet supply chain is offering new pet owners’ classes. We could do that as well. The list is as long as your imagination and the needs of your community.

Fifth, get involved in our extensive social service programs. Simple acts of kindness will lead to a willingness to accept invitations to the corps. Get involved in ARC chapels and programs. Offer Bible study and educational programs in our Silvercrest residences. The new territorial Silvercrest management team is working hard to develop program and outreach to our 3,000 seniors in residence next to our corps buildings. Volunteer your time in senior nutrition programs, shelter programs, and other social service ministry. Think how the Army would grow if 10% of the clients who came through our doors last Christmas started attending the Army. That would be 5,000 young people in Phoenix alone.

Finally, build on the traditional corps groups, including the band, songsters, worship teams, Y.P. singing company, and corps cadets. Last year, I had the privilege of attending my home corps in Spokane. I was delighted to see a large group of college students having lunch together in the fireside room after morning worship. I asked about the group and was informed that this was the corps cadets and their friends…yes, college-age corps cadets inviting their friends to be a part of this great Salvation Army leadership training program. At the Long Beach Corps, the bandmaster is reaching out to a group of musicians who enjoy playing brass music. They meet weekly, and from this group, people are attending the corps. You may have seen their ad in New Frontier.

As we begin this New Year, don’t forget my challenge. Attract someone to the Army, win them for the Lord, and encourage them to join the Army. If we each win one, the Army will double, and God’s kingdom will expand. Do your part.

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