Skip to content

September 07 - Church Army - Making history, bringing hope

Mark Russell, Church Army’s Chief Executive looks back on the legacy of 125 years of sharing faith through words and action

I was talking to a young homeless man called Matt on the streets of London recently. He is only 20 years old, and has been homeless for two years.

We spent time over a coffee, and had a wonderful conversation about Jesus. I asked him: “What was the most important thing the Church could do today?”  He replied: “Bring hope to people”.

Matt and I then prayed together. I was profoundly moved by this, and have been struck deeply by his words.

Our challenge is to bring hope to people. Martin Luther King put it like this: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving.”

Church Army believes in hope. Hope for life, hope for heaven, hope in Christ.  It is a fantastic message for our world of fear, uncertainty and angst.  We have a hope!

The Bible says we need to be prepared to “give a reason for the hope that you have”(1 Peter 3:15). The problem is this verse assumes someone has asked us a question, and today few people in our society seem to want to ask the Church a question. 

We are thrilled to be a partner with Hope08, which is an exciting opportunity for churches and Christians across the land to unite in sharing Christ's love with our nation.

If you haven’t done so already, check out for more information on this amazing opportunity to bring long-term and lasting change by following Jesus’ example of word and action in mission.

I am so excited about the new things God is going to do among us and I know Inspire will be encouraging you to play an active role in Hope 08 in your community.

But in looking at the challenges we face today and looking forward to the future, it is important to reflect on the past. Church Army is 125 years old this November and it is such a privilege to be leading this society in such a significant year.

Any organisation that gets to this age should ask: why are we here? And at the heart of that question is, why did we start? What was the wrong that the founder saw and wanted to fix? We need to keep our eye on the ball and never lose the power of the Spirit or the reason for which we first set out.

In the late 19th century Wilson Carlile saw a Church that seemed more interested in itself than the millions of people in the land who had real needs. Spiritual needs, emotional needs, but often physical needs. They were hungry, homeless and desolate.

Carlile saw a Church that was disengaged with many people, and was out of touch. He wanted the Church to do more to share faith through words and action by mobilising ordinary people to share the good news of the Gospel.

I don't think the factors that motivated Carlile to found Church Army have gone away. There is still homelessness, poverty, deprivation of soul and body, and immense pain. Church Army still has a job to do.

Mission, outreach and meeting the needs of people are in our very DNA. We will aim to raise up more evangelists and challenge the Church to be more relevant, more real and more hopeful.

The challenge is massive, but God's love is more than able to deliver.

Anniversaries provide an opportunity to look back and thank God for our legacy. Wilson Carlile inspires me with his vision, his leadership, his heart and his love for God and people.

The day before my commissioning service, I stood at the memorial to Carlile in St Paul’s Cathedral and his plaque read: “A man greatly beloved, who loved and served all, especially those thought most unlovable”. What a tribute!

Carlile was a visionary, and we today are the inheritors of that great vision, and are called to live it out in our generation.

The supreme act of evangelism is the Cross of Christ - a sacrifice with compelling attraction. All evangelism is a mirror of that quality of sacrifice.

The history of Church Army is a testimony to the fact that when people make sacrifices for the Gospel great things happen. Wilson Carlile himself, his sister Marie, the early soldiers in the slums of London, the leaders of the soup vans in two World wars, the founders of mission vans and hostels, those who set up sister societies across the world – right down to the present day – all of them could have chosen easier ways and could have been commended for it. But they heard a call, they followed and were faithful.

I feel excited, thrilled and so up for the challenge ahead as together we build on the phenomenal legacy of Wilson Carlile, to move forward and see the Church and nation changed.

Carlile was accused once of wanting to turn the Church upside down. He replied: “Not upside down – inside out!” My prayer is that Church Army will help turn the Church inside out, to see the Church become more and more mission-shaped, more real, more welcoming, more relevant, and I hope more fun.

  • Mark Russell is Chief Executive of Church Army. To support the work of Church Army call 020 8309 3519. To find our more about Church Army's history check out

Get more inspiring reading

To find back issues of the INSPIRE mini-mag - seasonal and themed issues - go to