Sunday, November 21, 2010

LDS Church Planting in Ghana

The growth of the LDS Church often lags behind other missionary-minded Christian denominations in most countries for several reasons, including greater pre-baptismal preparation and more effective member-missionary programs exhibited by other churches. Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses each have been much more effective than Latter-day Saints in beginning new congregations, expanding national outreach, and developing self-sustaining local leadership. Latter-day Saints have traditionally relied on full-time missionaries from countries with a strong LDS presence like the United States and Peru to perform these tasks, resulting in limited LDS resources in fledgling countries with a small or inadequate native full-time missionary force. The failure of many countries to develop self-sustaining LDS leadership, a full-time missionary force, and effective member-missionary programs has greatly contributed to the slowdown in LDS growth experienced over the past decade.

In the past year, there have been several positive developments which indicate that the LDS Church is beginning to be more flexible and dynamic with the allocation of full-time missionaries and opening of new areas to the Church. To illustrate this recent finding, full-time missionaries report that the Africa West Area Presidency, the two Ghana mission presidencies, and local Priesthood leaders have approved and are carrying out an aggressive church planting paradigm in Ghana. In 2009 alone, 21 new wards and branches were created; a 21% increase. In 2010 however, the LDS Church has only organized one new independent congregation, but has increased and will greatly increase the number of dependent branches and groups.

The Church placed full-time missionaries Sunyani in the early fall of 2010 - the most northern city in Ghana to ever have a Church presence - but there remains no independent ward or branch in the area. Six full-time missionaries and one senior couple serve in Sunyani, where three LDS congregations meet as groups, worshiping in large missionary apartments where church meetings are held. The church-planting approach has been so successful in Sunyani that it will be applied in Kumasi - the second largest metropolitan area in Ghana. At present Kumasi has 10 LDS congregations meeting in eight meetinghouses. Over the six months, the Church will open an additional 14 meetinghouses in large missionary apartments in the Kumasi area that will meet as dependent branches or groups, bringing the total of mission outreach centers in Kumasi to 22. With so many meetinghouse locations, most the population will be able to walk to church without traveling inordinate distances.

As a researcher of the growth of the LDS Church for several years, I applaud the decision by area and mission leaders to use these church planting paradigms as they often increase member activity rates, expand national outreach, and oftentimes lead to self-sustainable growth. Similar approaches have been recently implemented in Mozambique, Madagascar, and Burundi. However, full-time missionaries remain central to LDS Church planting approaches, which restricts the vision and application of church planting due to the plateauing numbers of full-time missionaries serving worldwide over the past decade. Nonetheless, careful planning in the assignment of limited full-time missionaries combined with strong local member involvement may reduce the stagnant growth of full-time missionary numbers and boaster indigenous full-time missionary forces internationally.


Ryan said...

It seems that on the temples site, a district was dissolved in Australia and the branches became wards in the Nambour Australia Stake, renamed the Sunshine Coast Australia Stake.

Rolf said...

If investigators do not show the fruits of the sprit, which is repentance, they are not a true convert, and will in almost all cases become inactive. I have been active in the church in Utah, New York, Norway, England, Sweden and Italy – I have seen time and time again that we are not properly organized in regards to missionary work. We are told in the scriptures to preach repentance and them baptize, not baptize and then hope they will repent. We are also told in the scriptures to learn from the best books – when it comes to missionary work and how it should be organize we should study the Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses they are showing the way and the fruits. I think we are too focused on the “rite of passage” for the missionary and less on the lasting fruits of their labours. If we focus on true conversions, we will develop local leadership that can expand church planting. We need to get away from the short sightedness that we experience in our missionary work – one way of doing this is to transfer the responsibility of interviewing potential converts to the local priesthood leaders. They are more interested in long term growth than a quick fix – I also think that it would take away the pressure on the mission presidents and their missionaries to focus on short term numbers. We should work hard and God will give the growth. I feel that the different programs in the church are truly wonderful and that others can look to us and learn – the only exception to this, is the way we organize the Lords missionary work. I hope we will become better stewards in this great work soon. Thanks for a great site and I also enjoy, keep up the Lords work.

Erik said...

Amen Rolf! I too believe that letting the local Priesthood leader interview converts before baptism would help retention. On my mission in Denmark I heard some missionaries argue against this idea because local Priesthood leaders might be unwilling to allow the baptism of those investigators who were likely illegal immigrants (the Church itself does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants when it comes to baptism). Perhaps. But I still think the benefits of local Priesthood control of that process far outweighs the cost and would lead to better retention and long-term growth. I think you are also right this would take away pressure from the missionaries and allow them to focus on working hard without thinking so much about the numbers.

I do think an awareness of the need for more effective missionary work is spreading throughout the Church - and that and this blog is helping that come about. I think as we collectively learn how we can do better directions will eventually come from church leadership leading to a more effective organization. I hope that will signal the day when the Church will grow more solidly (with much better retention rates) and rapidly than ever before.

Erik said...

One more comment:

Personally, I think the traditional requirement for investigators to meet with the missionaries prior to baptism is quite peculiar. As members we have covenanted to be witnesses of Christ so I see no reason why members should not take a greater portion of responsibility in teaching the missionary lessons than what we currently are doing. I find it peculiar that even in areas like Utah, where more than half the population are members, investigators still need to specifically meet with the missionaries before they are baptized. Why not let the members do this?? We all have Preach My Gospel available to do so. If we allowed the members to teach the missionary lessons in areas where the Church is well established, that would allow us to consolidate missions or lower the number of missionaries sent to such areas so they could be sent to other areas of the world with greater needs for church expansion and outreach.

I understand one reason for letting things remain as they are: missionaries are specifically taught how to teach and do missionary work, in the MTC, whereas members are not. I guess that makes them more "professional" somehow, more equipped to do what needs to be done. BUT I find this argument weak for at least three reasons: (1) most, or nearly most, current church members were themselves trained as missionaries in the MTC. (2) Decades ago, missionaries went directly to their mission without such MTC training. (3) Members are given authority, from their baptismal covenant, to testify of Christ at all times, in all places, etc.

It seems to me that the current missionary program distrusts allowing the general members to take greater charge (or perhaps distrusts their willingness to take charge) -- but I also think the wider membership needs to take more charge of the missionary work for their own spiritual growth, and to grow the Church, spiritually as well as temporally.

Somehow, we need to move the Lord's Church fully out of the desert - come forth fully from the obscurity of the wilderness. We're not a 19th century isolated Utah church anymore. We don't need to be specifically called to go out into the world and gather people to the Rocky Mountains where we cease doing missionary work because we're all members anyways. The worldwide missionary program should be updated to meet current needs -- we should update ourselves individually as well. Most members now live in areas with majority non-LDS populations. There is no longer any need to stop doing missionary work when we finish our missions. The time to harvest is now, through the end of our lives. We need church structures and organization to encourage life-long missionary work - something it currently does not do well enough.

Margalho said...

Please, let's keep in mind that this church is led by Christ, and that His Apostles and Prophets guide His work on Earth.

The mission president holds the keys for baptism and confirmation.

The best we could do, as member missionaries now, is giving referrals, doing our work as home teachers (btw, how many referrals have you provided to the missionaries lately? let's keep up with the good work)

This is way better than criticizing. Action.

I love to see how the church grows. I marvel when I see the change in people's lives, I changed a lot myself...

You can teach the principles of the gospel to your friends/foes and introduce them to the missionaries! What a marvelous gift! And don't forget that we are all missionaries!

So, being a critic myself, I beg you - I served as a missionary myself and unfortunately I had to deal with a lot of silly criticism myself - I beseech you, cease the critics, and let's get to work. Together. Let us bear witness of Christ and invite people to come unto Him! It is our duty to find people for the missionaries to teach and baptize! It is our duty to be better citizens, to be better fathers, sons, members of the church in our wards or branches!

I know that the Church is true, I know that if the work is established the way it is, it's because this is the will of the Lord...His ways are wiser than our logical conclusions...

Please, let the missionaries do their work and let's do ours.

Erik said...

Margelho, I intended no criticism of the Lord's Church or of His appointed church leaders. I have as strong a testimony as do you that this is the Lord's Church, guided by Him through prophets and apostles who lead us today. But I also recognize that Jesus works with us line upon line, precept upon precept, according to our understanding and according to what we are ready for - at all levels of church leadership and membership. I am strongly inspired by the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley in my own interests in, and efforts for, missionary work. President Hinckley himself has acknowledged that the missionary program is not as effective as it should be. In a June 26, 1998 MTC devotional he said the following:

"You go out much better prepared. I think you do a better job than we did. You know more about it. I'm grateful for that. I hope this improvement will continue until we have learned how to really speak to the world. I'm satisfied that if we knew how to convey our message, at least twice as many people would come into the Church. We have not learned the ability to really tell people about the Church. Someday we will be better at it than we are today. In the meantime, we do the very best that we can." (Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley Volume 1, page 435)

I believe that raising the bar and Preach My Gospel was a significant turning point for missionary work in our dispensation and the beginning of further changes that are yet to come as we, collectively as well as from the leadership level, learn how to better do missionary work. I don't believe that the status quo is necessarily the "will of the Lord" - rather, I believe, with President Hinckley, that the way we as a Church present the Gospel to people can be further improved.

Margalho said...

I totally agree with you! So, let's go out there and work to achieve those results!

We are living a great moment. The new Duty to God program, the new church manuals, I think we have a lot to do.

Work. There is no better solution!