Back in the fourth century, the Roman Empire was nearing its end, and Christianity was 300 years old. The Christians were taking Jesus' command to love their neighbours so seriously that they set up welfare measures such as food distribution, orphanages, hospitals and prison visiting. The thing that amazed the rest of society was that these programs were open to all.
Emperor Julian wanted to limit the influence of these "atheists" (as he called them, because they didn't believe in the pagan gods) so he offered government funding for pagan temples to set up a similar welfare system. He wrote to a priest: "the Christians' compassion towards strangers, their care of the graves of the dead and the pretended piety of their lives .... have done most to increase this atheism .... [they] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us"
Sociologist Rodney Stark has studied the sociological factors behind the rise of Christianity, and concludes that social welfare and more compassionate treatment of women and children were two of the main reasons. "... the ultimate factor in the rise of Christianity .... Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues - that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful ..... This was revolutionary stuff."
I'd so much like to see history repeat - Christians recognised more for their compassion and service than so many less worthy things. The Salvation Army seem to have the right idea, but history presents a big challenge to most of Christendom.