Monday, March 18, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Saint Kitts and Nevis

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Saint Kitts and Nevis. The Church has maintained a presence on the islands since 1985 although there is only one official branch at present. Membership growth has been essentially stagnant for more than a decade. There were 211 members in the country as of year-end 2017. See below for the Future Prospects section of the article:

Attempted mission outreach expansion in the 2000s only endured for half a decade before coming to a close in 2010 and produced mixed results, as only one official congregation remains, member activity rates remain low, and local priesthood leadership is extremely limited. Efforts to establish a self-sufficient congregation in Nevis continue to be frustrated due to low receptivity, few active members, and priesthood leaders who move away from the island. The consistent assignment of a senior missionary couple may address these issues without compromising the limited self-sufficiency developed in Basseterre. However, local members will need to take responsibility for finding, teaching, and preparing prospective members for baptism and lifelong discipleship for real growth to be achieved.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Antigua and Barbuda

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Antigua and Barbuda. Little has appeared to change for the Church in Antigua and Barbuda since we first published the almanac in 2013. The Church organized its first and only branch in the country in 1985. There were 237 members in the country as of year-end 2017. See below for the future prospects section of the article:

With a small population and few mission outreach resources dedicated, Antigua and Barbuda has demonstrated consistent but slow membership growth in recent years. Infrequent interaction with international Church leaders and reliance on local members to operate the Church have facilitated moderate member activity rates and self-reliance. Growth in the number of active members and local leadership development may lead to the organization of a second congregation on Antigua over the medium term.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Potential New Temples - March 2019 Edition

I have updated my temple prediction map in preparation for General Conference in April. Data used to identify likely locations for future temples include the number of stakes and districts, the number of wards and branches, age of the oldest stake, trends in church growth, distance to the nearest temple, number of endowment sessions scheduled at the nearest temple, and member and missionary reports regarding member activity, temple attendance, and convert retention.

With this most recent edition of my temple prediction map, I have added another category of potential new temples that may be announced. There are now "likely temples to be announced" and "less likely temples to be announced." I made this distinction as there are some locations that appear likely to have small temples announced given recent trends in temple announcements. Most of the less likely temples to be announced would be small temples that would service membership who live in remote areas where the Church appears capable of supporting a small temple. I have added 34 potential less-likely-to-be-announced temples to the map. I also added five additional likely new temples to be announced to the map since October 2018. These locations include:
  • Angeles, Philippines
  • Cape Coast, Ghana
  • Heber City, Utah
  • Kampala Uganda
  • Pachuca, Mexico
The Church announced 19 new temples during 2018. This is the second most temples ever announced in a single year after 1998 when there were 27 new temples announced. As a result, it is unclear whether the Church will announce additional temples in the upcoming General Conference given there were so many new temples announced last year. Also, there are a large number of planned temples (22) that have yet to have groundbreakings announced. As a result, the Church may delay additional temple announcements until more planned temples begin construction. Nevertheless, the Church has had a trend of accelerating temple construction in recent years. See below for my top 10 picks for the most likely temple announcements:
  • Benin City, Nigeria
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Freetown, Sierra Leone 
  • Monrovia, Liberia
  • Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
  • Ribeirão Preto, Brazil
  • Rogers, Arkansas 
  • Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  • Tacoma, Washington 
  • West Valley City, Utah
Red squares on the map below are temples which are in operation, under construction, or officially announced. Yellow squares are likely potential new temples that may be announced in the near future. Blue circles are less likely potential new temples that may be announced in the near future. As part of the semi-annual tradition, your predictions for new temple announcements are appreciated and encouraged.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Dominica

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Dominica. Dominica is one of the most recently reached nations in the Caribbean as the first branch was organized in 2007. Approximately one hundred converts joined the Church during the first few years that full-time missionaries were assigned to the island. There were three branches in the late 2000s, but two of the three branches closed in 2010. Stagnant growth has occurred in Dominica in the 2010s. Only 74,000 people live in the country. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The outlook for Church growth appears mixed in the coming years as the Church has experienced stagnant membership growth for several consecutive years and no progress has occurred with the opening of additional branches outside of Portsmouth. With a small population that is distant from mission headquarters in Puerto Rico, there appears to be little indication of any noticeable increase in mission resources that may be allocated to Dominica to fuel growth. A member-missionary and church planting approach to proselytism will be required for additional advances in national outreach due to the island’s tiny population and limited missionary resources in the region. Leadership development and increases in active membership may result in the reorganization of the Roseau Branch in the years to come.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Membership Growth in Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire

The Church published an article yesterday that provides some up-to-date membership figures for several West African nations. It appears that these membership figures are as of year-end 2018. Membership was reported for the following nations:
  • Nigeria (more than 177,000) - likely increase of at least 13,300, or 8.1%
  • Ghana (nearly 84,000) - likely increase of approximately 5,500-6,000, or 7.0-7.5%
  • Cote d'Ivoire (nearly 49,000) - likely increase of approximately 5,000, or 11.4%
These preliminary membership data suggest that membership growth rates have remained steady since year-end 2016 for Ghana (annual membership growth of 7.6% in 2017) and Cote d'Ivoire (annual membership growth of 10.9% in 2017), but that the Church in Nigeria has experienced a slight acceleration in membership growth rates (8.1% in 2018 versus 7.1% in 2017). However, annual membership growth rates in Nigeria have ranged from 7-10% since 2013.

The Church also reported 621,000 members in Africa, which appears to be a figure from year-end 2018. There were 578,944 members in Africa as of year-end 2017. This indicates that there has been a net increase of 42,000 members on the continent, or 7.26%. It is likely that church membership likely increased by approximately 10% in West Africa and 5-7% in the remainder of Africa given historical trends in the past decade.

Updated Country Profile - Guadeloupe

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Guadeloupe. The Church has made good progress with local leadership development although the total number of members in the islands remains less than 600. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

Moderate-to-low levels of receptivity, commensurate congregational and membership growth during the 2000s, an adequately-sized missionary force to service the population, and developed local leadership in many areas suggest a more positive outlook for future growth in the coming years compared to other islands in the Lesser Antilles with strong ties to Western Europe. The late establishment of the Church on Guadeloupe resulted in Latter-day Saints missing the window of opportunity in which the population was most receptive to missionary outreach. The closure of four congregations in the early 2010s may discourage the creation of more member groups or branches until established branches become large enough to divide. Greater numbers of local members serving full-time missions, the establishment of additional congregations, and efficiently utilizing limited missionary resources will be necessary to continue church growth into the 2020s and maintain and increase current levels of self-sufficiency.

Friday, March 1, 2019

February 2019 Monthly Newsletter

Click here to access our February 2019 newsletter for cumorah.com.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Martinique

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Martinique. Martinique is an overseas department of France and has one of the lowest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population in the Western Hemisphere. As of year-end 2017, one in 1,676 was a Latter-day Saint. The Church operates only one official branch on the island even though the population is close to 400,000 people. Prospects for future growth appear bleak given the success of other proselytism-focused groups with disciplining most of the receptive population into their denominations, and the influence of Western secularism on society. Here is the Future Prospects section of the article:

Emigration of converts to metropolitan France, limited missionary resources dedicated to Martinique, struggles to establish a second branch, and the tiny church membership are the primary obstacles preventing greater church growth for Latter-day Saints. The establishment of the Church on Martinique occurred many years after other missionary-oriented Christians arrived, and these denominations had already developed a strong community base and shepherded much of the receptive population into their congregations. Dissuading members from emigrating, increasing the number of active members in established congregations, and augmenting the number of local members serving full-time missions will be required to achieve greater church growth in the coming years. Towns between Fort de France and Trinité present some of the greatest opportunities to form member groups and explore prospects for the expansion of missionary activity.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Urgent Need to Reform the Missionary Program

Since 2012, I have collected surveys from returned missionaries about their missions and from ordinary members about their congregations. Analysis of these survey data has been conducted to examine the growth of the Church and the missionary program in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As of this morning, I have obtained 3,428 responses to the returned missionary survey in English, French, and Spanish, and 3,407 responses to the member survey in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. These nearly 7,000 responses have provided invaluable data in regards to the convert retention, member activity, proselytism, cultural conditions, leadership development, and factors that have hampered or accelerated growth in nearly every country where the Church has an official presence.

The results of these surveys revealed significant variability among missions and congregations in regards to church growth trends and the success of the missionary program. Some missions report high numbers of converts and high convert retention rates of these converts one year after baptism. However, others report low numbers of convert baptisms and low convert retention rates. Nevertheless, it appears that in most missions of the Church there are significant problems with the success of the missionary program despite repeated efforts to make it more effective. This has been evident in official statistics released by the Church, which reveal that most recently in 2017 membership growth rates dropped to their lowest levels since 1937,  the number of convert baptisms reached a 30-year low in 2017, congregational growth rates consistently lag behind membership growth rates, and the ratio of converts baptized per missionary has dropped from 6-8 converts baptized per missionary a year in the 1970s and 1980s to 3.5 converts baptized per missionary most recently in 2017.

The following are frequent concerns noted by members and returned missionaries that have appeared to be counterproductive to the success of the missionary program to achieve "real growth" in the Church (e.g. consistent increases in active membership, better quality leadership, expansion of the Church into new areas, etc.). I want to emphasize that these factors are not present everywhere in the Church, but occur in most locations. There are likely additional factors that I may have missed, but I have included the most prominent ones I found. All this information has been achieved through my own research and study and does not contain data from unauthorized sources.

CURRENT CONCERNS WITH THE MISSIONARY PROGRAM

A Negative Relationship between Full-time Missionaries and Local Members/Church Leaders
Returned missionaries in many areas of the world complain that there is a distrusting, negative relationship between full-time missionaries and local members. Reasons for this relationship include past negative examples of full-time missionaries who served in an area, skepticism about the motivation of full-time missionaries' member-missionary efforts (e.g. focus on reaching a goal vs. genuine care and concern for the individual), the belief that missionary work is the full-time missionaries' responsibility, a lack of interest, and a disconnect between mission leadership and local church leadership. As a result, nearly all respondents to the returned missionary survey indicated that there is usually only a few individuals or families in most congregations who provide regular assistance with finding and teaching prospective members, whereas the remainder of members stand as idle observers or even obstacles to bringing and non-members to Church.

High-pressured, Salesmen-like Approaches Designed to Reach Arbitrary Baptismal Goal Quotas
This has stood as a longstanding problem in the Church that was first observed on a widespread scale in the British Isles during the late 1950s/early 1960s. The strategy to minimally prepare prospective converts for baptism appeared to first begin here and was implemented in many other areas of the world thereafter. Prior to this shift, it was common in some places in the world to have prospective members attend church for months or even years before baptism, such as in southern Brazil in the late 1950s. The reason the Church has implemented this strategy on such a widespread scale has appeared because it can provide fast results that appear impressive on paper. However, this approach is alarming in regards to not only its ineffectiveness to achieve long-term, sustainable growth, but most importantly its ethical implications when the enthusiasm of new converts is turned to ashes if there is no post-baptismal support. Even worse, reports from returned missionaries within the past decade continue to indicate instances, albeit less frequent than in previous decades, of mission leadership providing an external incentive for full-time missionaries to reach a baptismal goal such as going out to eat at a nice restaurant or a special vacation to an area within the mission. This type of strategy is manipulative and exploitative of both young missionaries and potential converts as it provides secondary gain to the missionaries. Quick-baptism tactics appear to be the primary reason the Church struggles with abysmal member activity rates in most of Latin America and the Philippines. The paragraph below is from the Missiology Encyclopedia entry on www.cumorah.com for "Quick Baptism Tactics" and summarizes the harm to the Church and its new converts by rushing baptismal preparation and objectifying converts.

The intention of rushing poorly-prepared converts into baptisms deserves serious criticism by mission leaders and full-time missionaries. This practice not only does violence to the sacred nature of the ordinance and lessens the significance of the long-term commitment to follow Christ and remain active in the Church, but results in the Church achieving only a small portion of its potential growth. Many converts baptized do not have friends among members of their assigned congregations prior to receiving missionary lessons and were rushed into baptism before any solid friendships were developed. Oftentimes these converts exhibit greater trust and socialization with full-time missionaries rather than ordinary members. The vast majority of converts baptized in locations where quick-baptismal tactics are employed do not remain active a year after their baptism and accumulate over months, years, and decades on church records. Returned missionaries in some missions have reported convert retention rates as low as 10-15% one year after baptism. Mission leaders enact quick-baptismal tactics in many locations with high receptivity to the Church but where there is little cultural emphasis on regular church attendance, participation in church responsibilities, and meaningful, daily religious practice on an individual or family level. Consequently the development of these attitudes and habits depends on the Church. The brief and at times shallow depth of conversion and commitment to fulfill gospel-related duties and follow church teachings results in many never developing daily and weekly habits of individual and collective religiosity. 

The Missionary Dinner Program
This program continues to be widespread despite previous statements from Church leaders who advise against it, such as President Ezra Taft Benson in 1975 when he spoke to new mission presidents (see quote #8). The criticism of this program is best worded by David Stewart in his monumental work Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work.

The missionary dinner program neutralizes missionaries by taking them off the street during prime finding and teaching time when families are home. Even when dinner visits are brief, missionary travel time ensures that member dinners consume considerable proselyting time each evening. There is no evidence that wards with missionary dinner programs generate more referrals than those without them, and many wards have experienced a revitalization of member-missionary work when dinner programs were terminated. Members of many other faiths are far more likely than Latter-day Saints to share their beliefs with others, yet rarely if ever have denominational missionaries in their homes.

Poor Relations between the Church and Local Religious Groups
The Church, especially its missionaries, are often viewed negatively in many, if not most, countries of the world. Reasons for this negative relationship significantly vary by location. For example, in Western and Central Europe full-time missionaries are frequently misidentified as Jehovah's Witnesses and full-time missionaries. As a result, much of the hostility and avoidance of the general population to the Church's missionaries in these nations is due to societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses and not necessary to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is confused with other religious groups such as Satanists, Amish Mennonites, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Mormon Fundamental Polygamists in many other countries. There are also instances when full-time missionaries are believed to be under-cover government employees who conduct espionage operations. Misinformation and disinformation appear the primary root of these challenges, although high-pressured proselytism tactics in some nations have also appeared to give the Church a negative reputation. Returned missionaries report that local religious leaders often spread negative misinformation about the Church to their congregants in an effort to try to inoculate them from Latter-day Saint proselytism efforts.

Inconsistent Implementation of Church Policies regarding Missionary Work
The Church could have the best program that strives to be consistent with the doctrine taught in the scriptures, but the program will do not good if it is not appropriately and consistently implemented. The Church has sought in recent years to retool its missionary program through efforts such as Preach My Gospel and the Hastening of the Work of Salvation. However, these efforts have generally yielded mixed results on a global scale. For example, even after the implementation of Preach My Gospel it remained common place for converts to be baptized after attending church only twice even though the manual states that an investigator should attend church at least "several" times (see page 204). Furthermore, many, if not most, members report that they have not heard of the Hastening of the Work of Salvation initiative or that this emphasis has not been implemented in their ward, branch, or group. Thus, any future efforts to reform the missionary program in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will likely experience problems with its implementation.

Conservative Interpretation and Implementation of the Centers of Strength Policy
Almost invariably, returned missionaries report good receptivity and significant growth when new branches or member groups are opened in lesser-reached neighborhoods or cities where no previous Church presence operated. However, the incidence of the Church opening additional cities and towns to missionary work is surprisingly rare. Typically the Church only regularly opens previously unreached cities and towns in more receptive areas such as West Africa and Brazil. Moreover, the Church has strongly relied on full-time missionaries to open new congregations in previously unreached areas. Consequently, the speed and breadth of the expansion of the Church into new areas has been correlated to the number of full-time missionaries serving worldwide. Moreover, the Church continues to assign the vast majority of its full-time missionary manpower to locations where the most members live. The logic in this approach is for full-time missionaries to be assigned where there are local members to support them with referral for people to teach and provide long-term fellowshipping and support. For a comprehensive review of the centers of strength policy and its impact on Church growth trends, click here.

Generalization of Teaching Resources and Approaches
The Church has the struggle to maintain a uniform program for its worldwide missionary program, but also adapt the program to individual cultural conditions. Returned missionaries report that these challenges are especially apparent in missions where most do not have a background in Western Christianity. As a result, missionaries often struggle to have the adequate resources and skills to tailor teaching to the religious background of nonreligious, non-Western Christians (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Egyptian Coptic), Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and animist individuals.

Negative/Inappropriate Mission Culture
I have received some accounts from returned missionaries about the social interactions between full-time missionaries. Although the purpose of my surveying efforts has been to collect information about church-growth and proselytism-related data, some respondents have provided additional information about concerns with mission culture. Specifically, there are concerns with bullying and missionaries who break significant rules, which results in challenges with trust, unity, and providing missionaries with a positive life experience.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Given these concerns, I believe the following recommendations would be useful to consider in regards to future changes to the missionary program that could have a significant impact on its effectiveness. Although there have been significant organizational or policy changes in many other areas of the Church since President Russell M. Nelson began to preside over the Church in early 2018, only relatively minor changes have thus far occurred to the missionary program such as in regards to the attire for sister missionaries, the sending of missionary calls electronically, the determination of missionaries to serve proselytizing vs. service missions, and permitting missionaries to call home to family weekly. I believe that there will be significant changes made in the coming months and years, and I hope that perhaps some of these changes may include the following:
  • Increase the Duration of Training for Missionaries at Missionary Training Centers (MTCs). Many of the challenges noted above can be addressed through better equipping new full-time missionaries with better teaching skills, social skills, and spiritual preparation. I believe the greatest deficits or needs are in regards to people skills, emotional and social maturity, and developing genuine love and care for those who missionaries teach. With younger people serving full-time missions who may have never lived away from home, there needs to be more training and help in areas where they may lack life experience. Emphasis on psycho-education regarding bullying and how to handle situations when a fellow missionary is disobedient such as conflict resolution strategies would be helpful to equip missionaries with the training to better handle these situations in the field. Follow-up training should occur in the field as well to make sure these tactics are effectively implemented.
  • Discontinue Use of Baptismal Goals. The cons to baptismal goals have appeared to outweigh the pros given concerns noted above with rushed prebaptismal preparation and objectifying converts. Replacement of the primary focus from baptismal goals to other metrics such as church attendance for both hours of church, daily scripture study and prayer, and number of friends/family who attend a lesson may provide some improvements to convert retention and member activity by targeting behaviors more closely related to genuine conversion.
  • Reduce Disconnect Between Local Church Leaders and Mission Leadership - Have Bishops/Branch Presidents Extend Baptism Invitation to Prospective Converts. One of the biggest challenges with the missionary program is that there are two organizational systems that are at least partially focused on the same goal (missionary work) but that these systems struggle to communicate and collaborate with one another. It may be effective in some areas of the world to have bishop and branch presidents be responsible for full-time missionaries instead of, or in addition to, mission presidents to help reduce this disconnect and better empower local leaders to utilize resources at their disposal. Lastly, the local church leader extending the commitment to be baptized may be more appropriate than full-time missionaries as the local church leader will be ultimately responsible for the new member should they chose to join the Church.
  • The Calling of "Planter Families" to Expand Outreach. This is a church growth strategy employed by other religious groups that may have some relevance for the Church to expand into unreached areas. The Church can call a member family to relocate to a city where there is no Church presence and start a new congregation from scratch. The Church already utilizes this strategy to expand its presence around the world, although the current and past strategy has relied on fortuitous events for this to occur instead of assigning families to move to expand the Church. This method would require care to select appropriate families that are stable and have adequate flexibility in employment to relocate in order to minimize potential harm and make this approach effective.
  • Create a Member-Missionary Manual.  The Church has made many statements in recent years and decades that member-missionary work is the key to growth. However, the Church only has a full-time missionary manual that does not generalize to ordinary members in many aspects such as learning mission language. The development of a manual that provides instruction on methods to teach other basic Gospel principles, appropriately handle rejection, and ideas for casually sharing the Gospel with others could significant improve the confidence of members and reduce fear. Limitations to Preach My Gospel are noted on page xi: 
    • "Preach My Gospel" is for the full-time missionaries of the Church. However, the principles and doctrines taught herein are also applicable to ward missionaries and leaders as they seek to build the Lord's kingdom. Frequent study of this manual will enable them to fulfill their responsibilities as member missionaries and will foster unity with the full-time missionaries." 
  • Use of Special Events Designed to Attract Local Community Members and Leaders. One consistent finding across returned missionary surveys is that musical firesides or other types of special community events sponsored by the Church have been effective to improve relations with the Church and community and religious leaders, and find interested individuals who later join the Church, especially in secular nations. Regular special events that promote family history, art, music, theater, and team sports may be effective to address concerns with misinformation and disinformation about the Church.
  • Development of Teaching Resources for Specific Religious Groups and Cultures. The development of teaching guides that educate members and missionaries with accurate information about other religious groups, and provides methods to adapt teaching skills to present the Latter-day Saint Gospel message in a relevant manner, appears warranted.
  • Widespread Implementation of Cottage Meetings - Discontinue Missionary Dinner Appointments with Members. Cottage meetings are a highly effective method to provide a low-pressure, informal environment that presents a brief lesson and opportunities for prospective members or inactive members to socialize with members. Replacing missionary dinner appointments with cottage meetings that are organized by the members (not the missionaries) would be an effective approach to engaging local members in missionary work. See below for a description of cottage meetings from David Stewart's book,  Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work.
    A cottage meeting is an informal gospel-based meeting held in a member's home with nonmembers present. Cottage meetings are not a substitute for investigators attending church, but they represent a valuable supplement that facilitates the consistent achievement of vital teaching and fellowshipping tasks that are at times difficult to accomplish by more traditional methods. I find that investigators and new members have consistently given excellent reviews to cottage meetings held in member homes. More significantly, I have found a much higher return rate for investigators who attended both church and cottage meetings than those who attended church meetings alone. Cottage meetings have also played an essential role in laying the foundation for the church in some new areas and nations, including the Russian Far East area, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. 
    In conjunction with regular church attendance, cottage meetings are typically able to foster a higher degree of enthusiasm for the gospel in investigators than attendance at church meetings alone. This is because the problems with many conventional church meetings -- the unpredictability of talks, lessons not specifically tailored to investigators, and inconsistent fellowshipping -- are almost entirely eliminated in the setting of cottage meetings. Investigators enjoy cottage meetings because they are attractive, relevant, and appealing. Cottage meetings are held weekly on a specific night (other than Monday) in a member's home with predictable teachers and consistent interaction. Quality fellowshipping in cottage meetings is almost inevitable, and the relationships that develop are much stronger than those developed in Sunday meetings by a greeting or a handshake in the hall. All this is achieved while simultaneously reaching multiple people within a limited time. 
    Following are some specific principles and practices that I have found to be helpful in conducting cottage meetings. Others may have found different approaches to be effective in their area. Individuals are encouraged to try different approaches and discover what works best for them. 
    1. Audience. In addition to the members who will lead the discussion, new members, investigators being currently taught by the missionaries, and a pair of missionaries are invited each week.  
    2. Topic. The goal of cottage meetings is to help the attendees become better people and establish essential gospel habits. Some of the things we focus on include daily personal or family Book of Mormon reading, weekly church attendance, full Sabbath day observance, consistent personal and family prayer, the Word of Wisdom, and family history work. We also address some fundamental doctrinal topics including prophets, the Holy Ghost, the apostasy and restoration, divine authority, and families. If the investigators understand doctrinal issues but are not reading scriptures and attending church, our teaching has failed. Lessons are scripture-based, and questions are answered from the scriptures when possible. 
    3. Timing. Respecting the time and other obligations of investigators is vital, and the lesson should always end before the spirit leaves. We keep our meetings relatively brief so that they can be relevant and powerful. In this way, the investigators are eager to come back for more instead of regretting that their whole evening was soaked up. We aim for sixty minutes and never allow cottage meetings to go past ninety minutes, including time for refreshments and socializing. The purpose of cottage meetings is not to provide detailed doctrinal discourses, but to furnish a simple lesson, provide fellowshipping, address questions and concerns, and demonstrate the gospel in action in the home. 
    4. Relevance. Lessons involve frequent feedback and interaction with participants and are never lectures. The lesson plan must be flexible and meet investigator needs. If the investigators have multiple questions on topics that are more important to them than the lesson, address those questions and topics instead. One must always keep in mind the goal of giving investigators practical teachings that will make their lives better. I will briefly answer questions on tangential or deep doctrinal issues (but to the listener's satisfaction) before leading the discussion back on topic. If you find yourself facing a question you do not know the answer to, tell the questioner that you will have an answer the next week. 
    5. Consistency. Cottage meetings are most effective when held in the same place at the same time every week. The missionaries know that they are welcome to bring anyone they are currently teaching. The new members and investigators who have attended once know that we will be looking for them the next week. Tuesdays or Thursdays have worked the best for us because Monday is family home evening, Wednesday is our ward activity night with scouts and mutual, and Friday and Saturday are inconvenient for most people for social reasons. When cottage meetings are not held consistently or are held in unpredictable locations, it is difficult to achieve a regular turnout. 
    6. Relaxed atmosphere. Everyone should be involved. Ask open-ended questions, and avoid manipulative or leading queries. 
    7. Refreshments at the end. We find this to be a productive time when investigators will open up even more and share things that they might not share even in the small group setting.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Temple Attendance Trends

I have received dozens of reports over the last couple of months that there have been significant increases in temple attendance in many temples around the world. It appears that the most significant increases have occurred in Utah although I have received reports from temples in places like Australia where there have also been significant increases in attendance. These trends appear augmented by changes at the beginning of the new year but appeared to begin in the latter portion of 2018.

I would like your feedback in terms of what you have seen in your temple. Has there been any changes in temple attendance that you have observed? Please comment.