What Is the Salvation Army?

Home,Home & Family
March 2, 2012

Inside the charity best known for ringing bells at Christmas

The Salvation Army is more than just red kettles and bell ringers at Christmas. It is an international charitable organization originally founded in England by William Booth. The Salvation Army was founded as and continues to be an “evangelical organization dedicated to bringing people into a meaningful relationship with God through Christ,” according to its website.

History. It began with William Booth preaching the gospel to the poor and destitute on the streets of London in 1852. Along with his wife Catherine, he took his ministry to the people, shunning the traditional church ministries. His first converts to Christianity were prostitutes, thieves, drunks and gamblers. His ministry continued to grow, and by 1874, he had 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists. They became known as the “Hallelujah Army.” In 1878, Booth officially penned the name “Salvation Army.”

Membership. Between 1881 and 1885, the Salvation Army converted 250,000 people to Christianity. The ministry spread to the United States via Lt. Eliza Shirley, who held the first American Salvation Army meeting in Philadelphia. Today the Salvation Army has posts throughout the world and a membership that includes more than 5,000 officers and more than four million volunteers, reports Ministry Watch.

Programs. In the United States, the Salvation Army helps millions every year through various programs and ministries. Some programs include housing for the homeless and in need, youth camps for low-income families and adult day care centers for the elderly. The Salvation Army manages 119 Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs) in the United States. These centers are in-residence programs where individuals can develop necessary life skills after suffering personal challenges. Other programs include the Salvation Army’s music program, anti-pornography campaign and its disaster relief program.

Funds. In 2011, the Salvation Army raised $147.6 million through its Red Kettle Campaign. These funds help support the organization's many charitable programs. Other funding for its various programs and outreach campaigns are funded through donations and monies earned through sales from the Salvation Army Thrift Stores. More than 1,600 Salvation Army Thrift Stores are located throughout the United States.

Largest donation. Joan Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, donated $90 million to the Salvation Army in 1998 for the building of a community center in San Diego, Calif. The massive center spans 12 acres and features a gymnasium, theater, ice arena, library, computer lab and three pools, plus a school for visual and performing arts. Mrs. Kroc died in 2003 and left $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army. This is the largest donation the organization has ever received. This money will fund another 26 Kroc Community Centers throughout the United States.