Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Missionary Training Center to Open in Mexico City This Summer

Yesterday the Church announced that it would open a new missionary training center (MTC) in Mexico City at the location of its current Benemerito de las Americas high school.  The Church currently operates a MTC in Mexico City that offers a two-week program for native Spanish speakers assigned to serve in one of the Church's 26 Mexican missions.  The church high school is scheduled to close this June to make way for the new Mexico City MTC.  Once opened, the new MTC will have capacity to house native and nonnative missionaries destined for missionaries in Spanish-speaking Central and South America.  Local members report that the new MTC may house as many as 1,500 missionaries a month whereas the current Mexico City MTC appears to presently house only a couple hundred missionaries a month.

It is unfortunate that the Church will have to close its high school in Mexico City - a facility that international church leaders have acknowledged has had a significant impact on Mexican Latter-day Saints.  The founding and continued operation of church schools is closely related to the degree of self-sufficiency of the Church in a country and the establishment of LDS community.  For example, the Church continues to operate schools, colleges, and universities in the United States, Tonga, Kiribati, and a few other nations.  The Church has achieved some of its most pervasive growth in these nations after the establishment of these institutions.  The decision to close the church high school continues the trend of church school closures that was initiated following the introduction of the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) approximately a decade ago.

The significantly expanded size of the Mexico City MTC provides exciting opportunities for church growth in Mexico that have been largely undeveloped.  For example, a large MTC may have sufficient resources to instruct some missionaries in Amerindian languages commonly spoken in Mexico such as Maya, Tzotzil, and Nahuatl if instructors can be located and mission and area leaders collaborate to designate some missionaries as speaking indigenous languages.  Full-time missionaries report that the Mexico Area Presidency has advised mission presidents to discourage door-to-door proselytism and instead focus on reactivation and member work.  The Church initiated a similar change in the Philippines approximately a year ago and has experienced widespread changes in convert retention rates and sacrament meeting attendance increases.  The decision to change proselytism tactics in Mexico is interesting as it occurred shortly before the announcement of relocating and expanding the Mexico City MTC to become the Church's second largest and the introduction of a similar program in the Philippines.  This may point to improved inter-area communication and consultation regarding missionary approaches that are more effective to achieve "real growth." 

The Church in Mexico has unfortunately experienced sluggish growth over the past couple years as the number of wards and branches has declined.  For example, last year the Church discontinued two stakes in Guadalajara and discontinued approximately a dozen wards and branches in the city.  Success in reversing this concerning trend will hinge on greater member participation in missionary work, opening additional locations to missionary work, initiating ethnic-specific proselytism efforts among Amerindian peoples such as the Tarahumara and Nahuatl, maintaining reasonably high convert baptismal standards, and utilizing a church planting approach rather than a church-splitting approach to growth.

25 comments:

Grant Emery said...

What is meant by a "church planting approach" and a "church splitting approach" to Church growth?

Matt said...

A church planting approach starts small by organizing groups and branches often in lesser-reached areas within wards. For example, the Church regularly uses church planting strategies in Africa and opens small units to spur growth. A church splitting approach does not organize new units until there are a sufficient number of active members that becomes overwhelming for one unit to service. Oftentimes wards never reach this number due to distance and other issues and ward splits often carry socialization problems.

Scott Shipley said...

Do you think this new MTC will be operated along with the current one? (2 MTCs in Mexico) Or will the Church close the current one once the new one opens?

christian avila said...

I think the Church will close it. There is not need for two MTCs here, since one of them will be of massive proportions.

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Mike Johnson said...

I would submit that the difference between church planting and church splitting, when it comes to LDS congregations, is not so much a what is a preferred strategy, but rather determined by member density. When you have few members in a large area, it makes sense to create small branches or groups. When you have a higher density area, with a few hundred active members living in a few square miles, it makes since to organize them into a ward.

Our ward has over 300 attending each each week all living in a 2 square mile area of Virginia. It is getting very large in numbers and the ward is to be split soon. It would be silly to try to have 10 30-person groups, one on every street or two. It is far better to have the 90+ YM/YW program we currently have. Or the 45+ program when the ward splits.

I have been in large and small wards and large and small branches. I would much rather be in a larger ward than a very small branch. Different dynamics at play. The church has a template for a ward that works best with 100-300 attending. Outside of that range, it doesn't work as well.

Church planting is a protestant term and generally means a minister or priest makes an effort to hold services at least occasionally at some distance from his/her congregation in an effort to get a new local church started. Reports I have read suggest that the very large or mega churches do best in church planting.

In the LDS church, we talk about dividing or splitting a ward or a branch. In protestant writing they talk about multiplying a new church. Each time they begin to bounce off an apparent ceiling in size, they have a decision to change the dynamics to fit what is required for a larger congregation or multiply off another church.

Matt said...

I agree with you Mike that "splitting" is the LDS term whereas "church planting" is a traditionally Protestant term. The density of LDS membership definitely is a strong predictor to the size of congregations as, like you indicated, it makes more sense to have larger wards than to have large numbers of small branches within the same geographical area if long distance to the nearest meetinghouse is not an issue.

What I am getting at here is that there is a definite difference in philosophy for outreach expansion with splitting versus "planting." For instance, the Church has actively opened new groups and branches in lesser-reached areas with the expectation for growth to occur such as in Sunyani, Ghana; Lome, Togo; Honiara, Solomon Islands; and Kigali, Rwanda. Church leaders have recently observed that the rate of growth dramatically increases when multiple groups or branches open at the same time rather than waiting for preexisting units to reach an arbitrary number of active members to split.

I guess I good example to illustrate this point would be in Ghana. The Church has had a branch in Ho for over a decade yet there remains only one branch in this city. To the contrary, the Church organized four groups when it opened the city of Sunyani a couple years ago and today has four branches and a district.

There have been few instances of church planting in Latin America within recent years as there has been an emphasis on units gaining enough active members to split to create new units. Although this method seems to work well in many areas of the United States, there are long-term bonuses for starting units from scratch as the Church forms a new local LDS community, reactivation efforts are frequently more successful, and larger numbers of converts join the Church. Furthermore, the failure of a group to mature into a branch or ward is much less detrimental on church growth than consolidating a ward or branch as there were likely not enough converts baptized for the group to continue operating.

Having sufficient socialization opportunities is definitely important for the Church to keep its members active and attracting others into the Church. However, it is often a delicate balance of whether to create units with abundant resources and priesthood manpower or to organize several smaller units that reduce travel times and more thoroughly saturate a location with LDS missionary resources. For instance, in Eastern Europe the Church has experienced disastrous consequences in some cities as the number of units has consolidated from as many as four to as few as one today and scores of active members are lost in the reshuffle aimed to create units or a unit with more active members. Perhaps it is just the reality that some locations will just never become large units and that church programs and proselytism efforts should be tailored to meet these needs and conditions. The Church has frequently held regional conferences and other special events to try to mitigate these challenges such as in Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, and Central and Eastern Europe.

I believe there are significant opportunities to accelerate growth and revamp outreach expansion efforts if the emphasis is placed on creating branches in lesser-reached areas of wards with the plan to make these units into wards one day rather that waiting for these units to reach enough active members (200+) to divide. The number of branches has steadily declined in Mexico City as the Church has not organized any new branches within the agglomeration but has had many reach ward status within the past five years.

Jason Jackson said...

I've noticed that church news is releasing new mission president bios at the rate of 14/week, up from 7/week last year. While part of this is likely editor's choice, it reinforces a substantial increase in the number of missions this summer.

Jason Jackson said...
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Grant Emery said...

Speaking of Church growth in different parts of the world, I was a missionary in Paris and still feel passionate about helping Church growth, particularly in Western Europe. I know this probably isn't he right venue for this, but does anyone know where I could turn to see what I can do from a distance to help the work there? Analyzing is fun, but I want to make a difference.

Mike Johnson said...

Grant Emory, there are a lot of ways for "distance proselytizing," including starting a blog and writing about how the gospel helps you in your life. Another thing would be respond to online articles about the church in the same way. Finally, you could make an "I am a Mormon" video and see if the Mormon channel one youtube would take it.

Mike Johnson said...

Thanks, Matt, for your detailed and thoughtful response. I know you have spent a great deal of time looking at successful and less successful missionary work over the years. And I greatly appreciate your efforts and insights. This discussion raises an issue I have long thought about and don't claim to have a complete answer.

While the difference between a small and large ward might only be 2 or 3 to 1 at most, the difference between a small and large branch might be 10 to 1. Thus, a branch may be the size of a ward or may be tiny. Wards and stakes, because they tend to have a relatively tight numbers of active members, are good indicators of growth. But, numbers of branches don't really tell us much about growth, except in large aggregates.

It is possible that a district of 4 branches has a total of 100 active members, while a single branch could have a 100 active members. Of course, it could be the other way around and the district could have four branches of 100 active members each and the single branch could have 15-20 active members. In the mentioned Ghana cases, the former is more likely. Three groups become branches in October 2011 and with a fourth branch created in the summer of 2012, suggesting tiny branches, perhaps of no more than 15-20 each, with not many more than 2 active Melchizedek Priesthood holders. If they had more, they likely would have become branches earlier when they crossed the minimum threshold. The Sunyani district, created in May 2012, may simply have a single district president at the district level. On the other hand, the Ho branch had over 100 branch members recently involved in a service project (http://www.lds.org/church/news/saints-across-africa-participate-in-sixth-annual-mormon-helping-hands-project). True, the branch was created in 2005 and thus has been around for seven and a half years, but it probably started out as a tiny branch of 15-20 as well, maybe smaller if the criteria for a branch were less then.

So, I wonder if the district of four probably tiny branches has as many active members as the single branch, but probably not. Both cities are about the same size (80,000 to 95,000) and both are also district and regional capitals in Ghana. The large branch and the district of four probably tiny branches are each at a considerable distance from the nearest congregations. The Ho Branch is part of a 3-branch district that extends along a road for a considerable distance. The Sunyani district is also at a considerable distance from the nearest congregations, in this case in a stake. They are respectively the frontier in terms of LDS outreach in Ghana.

I do wonder in terms of growth and potential for the future which is better--a large branch of more than 100 active members or a district of four tiny branches likely of 15-20 each. Sunyani is noted for large population growth recently due to favorable economic conditions, suggesting that it is possible that members are moving out there as part of a larger migration trend.

All I am really saying is that the decision about which of one large branch or several small branches is better for long term growth both numerically and in experience and strength of testimony could depend on geography and density of members. More importantly, it depends on the inspiration received by the authorities creating the units.

Tony Child said...

Get ready for a new temple to be announced in Mexico City- next to the new MTC....The Benemerito Mexico City Temple. There is plenty of space where the baseball field and track are at present.

Matt said...

Thanks for the correction Mike; I thought for some reason that the Ho Branch was organized in the early 2000s.

I think you are right about the importance of revelation in these matters. You make a good case about whether the approximately 200 active members in the Ho Branch (the most recent number I have from missionary reports I have received) in one branch is better than the approximately 200 active members in the Sunyani Ghana District (again, from my most recent reports I have received). My point of church splitting versus planting rests on the rate of growth. For example, the number of active members in Sunyani and Ho are nearly the same at present yet the first branch in Ho was organized five years before the first missionaries arrived in Sunyani. I think the role of revelation for determining whether having four branches of 25 active members versus one branch of 100 active members is especially important in locations with low receptivity and leadership development problems such as Eastern Europe.

We have also seen tremendous success in a more "church planting" approach in Kumasi and Accra. Mission leader applied what has been colloquially termed "the Sunyani model" not only to spur growth but to reduce travel times. A few missionary reports indicated as many as 15 groups were started in Kumasi 18 months ago, facilitating the number of wards and branches in the stake doubling within just a two year period as groups grew. However, I imagine that there were several groups that never made it and have since been closed as this approach does not always guarantee growth. The success of starting small units really depends on the commitment of local members and leaders to share the gospel and the receptivity of the population as these small units turn into branches and later wards.

I have enjoyed this discussion!

Matt said...

Fascinating prediction Tony. I think once we start seeing stakes splitting in Mexico City and we get out of this recent period of stagnant congregational growth that a second temple in Mexico City seems quite likely. Perhaps other cities in Latin America may get a second temple such as Lima, Peru.

Mike Johnson said...

In the same link on my earlier post about more than a hundred Ho Branch members participating in a service project, I note that 91 members of the Sunyani District participated in their own service project in the day of service. The article mentioned the district's first counselor, so it is more than a just a president.

Mike Johnson said...

Matt, I have enjoyed the discussion as well. Thanks for the information about the actual number of active members in each case, about 200 in either the branch or in the district. I could only guess based on limited data available.

I do agree that travel time is an issue. 20 miles might not be a big deal when you drive everywhere, but it can be a big detriment if that has to be done by bus or if people are used to walking. Creating new groups or branches closer to the people is a good idea.

When I was 2, my family moved to Elkhart, Indiana, which was then a small dependent branch of the South Bend Ward. My father, while in graduate school at BYU, had been a counselor in the bishopric, and he was almost immediately called as branch president and it became a independent branch. Sometimes, just one active family headed by a faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holder willing to serve can make a lot of difference. We lived there for four years and my father became the first bishop of the Elkart Ward. Now, we always had church in South Bend anyway and this was before the consolidated schedule, so Dad would go in early and Mom would take the kids to Sunday School. We would then go to a public park and have a picnic and then go back to Sacrament Meeting. So, even though we were a dependent branch of the South Bend Ward, we still needed to drive all the way to South Bend for Church services. Of course, primary and YM/YW and Relief Society met during the week, I believe in Elkhart.

I wonder if members are being asked (called) to move to new areas to be a core for each group, or if it is just missionaries moving out there. And if there are migration patterns taking members to a new area, that helps a lot as well.

Mike Johnson said...

One more thought about the varied size of branches. This thought probably comes because my son and I went on a "Ten Commandments" scout hike in Fredericksburg, VA. I love going to these each year, even if it is often cold. We visit five churches/synagogues, where each gets two commandments to talk to the scouts about and also talk a little about their church. The priest from the Catholic church in Fredericksburg stated that there were 15,000 parishioners in his parish. I have known parishes with only 10-20 parishioners and others that are much larger. I did wonder how more than a small fraction could attend the 5 masses each weekend. If branches are all over the map in terms of size, Catholic parishes and protestant churches are as well. There were 2500 members of the United Methodist Church we went to, but our ward in a normal sacrament meeting would not have fit in their sanctuary and they had no overflow. They do hold four services each weekend, but that wouldn't even accommodate half of their members. A congregation in Catholic or Protestant traditions can vary from a small handful to thousands, a much bigger range than LDS branches have.

Mike Johnson said...

Tony, do you know how far the school/new MTC is from the temple?

The missionaries at the MTC will be encouraged to attend the temple, but if it is too far away, then I would agree, the Church would want one closer. Besides if 1000 or more missionaries are at the MTC at any given time, then I would think the Church would want a temple close.

Of the 15 current (and two closed) MTCs, all are in cities with a temple. The Provo and São Paulo, Brazil MTCs are adjacent to temples. I don't know, but imagine that all are close to a temple, so that missionaries in training can go to the temple each week.

Downtownchrisbrown said...

According to google maps it is about a 30min drive (22km) from the new MTC location to the temple

Mike Johnson said...

Thank you, Chris Brown.

Looking at the 15 MTCs and taking their addresses from http://www.lds.org/locations/missionary-training-centers?lang=eng

and temple addresses from http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/temples/

Ten of the 15 MTCs are adjacent or very close to a temple. Several have essentially the same address. In most cases, when I googled the MTC address, the temple showed up right there as well.

The five at some distance are:

Auckland, New Zealand: 109 km, 1:23

Accra, Ghana: 28.8 km, 32 mins

Johannesburg, South Africa: 18.8 km, 30 mins

Lima, Peru: 5.1 km, 13 mins

Guatemala City Guatemala: 2 km walk

Distances and times are from google maps. All but the last are driving. I switched to walking for Guatemala City, because it was some distance on round about by road, but looked within relatively easy walking distance.

The Mexico City MTC is currently 63m from the temple--by addresses along the street.

So, would the Church build a temple to be adjacent to the new MTC?

Perhaps, that seems to be the preference, but the distance to the temple is consistent with those in Accra and Johannesburg and substantially less than in New Zealand.

Mike Johnson said...

The decision about whether a temple will be built probably depends on the extent the Mexico City temple is being used and possibly on the idea that this would be the second largest MTC.

25 to 75 sessions a week (depending on number of ordnance rooms and the design flow) by 50 to 100 capacity per session, means 1250 to 7500 patrons per week capacity. If 1000 missionaries go once a week, it could justify a temple.

But, that would have to be compared with the extra hour or so each week for the transit and the use of vehicles to have them go to the existing temple.

Tony Child said...

Also Accra and Johannesburg does not have the population base of members and population in general for future growth the Mexico City has. agree that it depends on the Mexico City temple usage and it is one of the church's largest temple in square footage. But that has not stopped the LA CA temple district from being subdivided.
I believe on one of Matt's future temple prospects, it had another in Mexico City, this would just accelerate that goal.

MLewis82 said...

Mike Johnson asked "if members are being asked (called) to move to new areas to be a core for each group, or if it is just missionaries moving out there." It was very common in Samoa back in the day (40+ years ago) to do just that. Branch presidents were frequently called to come in from other areas to provide priesthood leadership until the local group was strong enough on its own. Now the units in Samoa are some of the strongest in the world, and I believe it was the first country to be entirely covered by stakes (i.e. mission branches no longer required, though some stake branches continued).

The Shingu branch in Japan (in which I served) was a 3 hour train ride from the nearest other church unit. For much of its history the missionaries served as the branch presidency, but shortly after I left (circa Nov 2002) the mission president asked a brother from the Tanabe branch to start making the trip every week to serve as the branch president. This is probably the exception, but it definitely happens.

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