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.