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Salvation Army: Recapture the Mentality of Our Founders

If The Salvation Army is going to avoid free fall, it must recapture the mentality of its founders, William and Catherine Booth.

Our Founder’s Mentality

The Salvation Army must recapture their insurgent’s mission, the sense of deep personal responsibility they instilled in their soldiers and their obsession with the front line.

The Founder’s Mentality and The Salvation Army

I have just started reading Chris Zook and James Allen’s book, The Founder’s Mentality (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016) as part of Michael Hyatt’s LeaderBooks service (which I thoroughly recommend!). The book is based around research into the difference between business success and failure. But as I read the Introduction a few days ago, I was immediately struck by how their analysis applies to The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army in Crisis

Zook and Allen identify three “crises” in a company’s life: overload, stall-out and free fall. I am sure The Salvation Army’s founders experienced overload in the first heady years of our existence. There was a certain amount of internal dysfunction and losses of external momentum as The Salvation Army scaled rapidly, firstly in the United Kingdom and then across the world.

The second crisis, stall out, appears to have occurred from 1929 onwards, according to the records. The Salvation Army experiences a sudden slowdown, which can be attributed to the layers of organisational complexity that occurs as a result of rapid growth. This bureaucracy dilutes the clear mission that once gave The Salvation Army its focus and energy. The stark warning from Zook and Allen is that “most companies that stall out never fully recover” (p.3).

Whether The Salvation Army has entered the third crisis – free fall – may depend on your point of view, and whether you are pessimistic or optimistic. A company (and in my view, a movement like The Salvation Army) is in free fall when it has stopped growing and its organisational model suddenly no longer seems viable. Worryingly, according to Zook and Allen: “It can’t identify the root causes of the crisis, and it doesn’t know what levers to pull to escape it” (p.3).

How the Founders Got It Right

But Zook and Allen have something positive for us: their insights suggest that most organisations that achieve sustainable growth share “a common set of motivating attitudes and behaviours that can usually be traced back to a bold, ambitious founder who got it right the first time around” (p.3). I hope that definition of a founder resonates with Salvationists! Successful organisations consider themselves insurgents, waging war against their industry; they possess a clear sense of mission and focus that everyone in the organisation can understand and relate to; they foster deep feelings of responsibility in their employees and they abhor complexity, bureaucracy and anything that gets in the way of the clean execution of strategy. They are obsessed with details and celebrate those on the front line. Zook and Allen call this The Founder’s Mentality.

I long for that mentality in The Salvation Army. William and Catherine Booth did consider themselves insurgents, both in challenging the churches of the day and in invading communities that felt disengaged from religion. They possessed a clear sense of mission and focus that everyone could understand (“win the world for Jesus” isn’t a difficult concept!). They did engender a sense of deep responsibility in their soldiers. How else did Salvationists have the courage to stand up to persecution and face death and imprisonment for their faith? They abhorred complexity and bureaucracy that got in the way of executing their strategy. One of the main reasons for adopting a military model of organisation was that the early Salvationists were fed up with committees and saw the advantages of speed and efficiency in placing decision-making in one person’s hands. And the Booth’s had an obsession with the front line.

My prayer is The Salvation Army will learn to continually use the founder’s mentality as the touchstone for everything we do.

Look out for more insights as I continue through the book!

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3 thoughts on “Salvation Army: Recapture the Mentality of Our Founders”

  1. I consider that our founders mentality was generated by the fire power of God’s Holy Spirit.

    He sought not so much to generate numbers into this new movement but more rather to establish the Kingdom of God.
    Our founder was like Paul the apostle who sowed the seed so to speak and Appolus who watered the plant…but God gave the increase.

    1. Thank you John for the reminder of the Spirit’s role in this. My argument would be that as The Salvation Army matures, we can be guilty of losing the energy of insurgency, lose the focus on mission, give up personal responsibility for that mission and allow the Movement to become so complex and bureaucratic that we frustrate the work the Holy Spirit can do through us.

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