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.


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 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.


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.


Unknown said...

I find it concerning that there's no mention of our Institutes of Religion in your discussion and recommendations. Currently specific to the U.S. and Canada, if we want to grow the church in an organic, sustained and accelerated manner, members of the church from outside the inter-mountain west need to stop gathering to the mountains to attend college. When such members do this, they most often meet and marry people from disparate 'other' places, then settle in either 3rd places or back in an area where one of the spouses is an outsider. In-laws don't get to know each other, there's a lack of familial support, the husbands and/or wives yearn for a "return" home and - most importantly - a much greater degree of difficulty arises ingratiating and impacting the local community. Specific to this discussion - it's harder for them to do effective missionary work.

Done time and time again, with an emphasis from the Q12 that it is a direction we should follow (and a much greater investment of marketing/building/remodeling/scholarship funds and efforts), we will build our church organically in a much more holistic manner. Certainly much more so than any set of cottage meetings or change to the full-time missionary effort. In my opinion, it's the #1 key in growing our church, far above any of your recommendations. and if there is disagreement that it is the "best" way - it certainly deserves at least a significant bullet point on your list.

Indeed - we already have a stellar and historical example of this type of sitaution in action regarding our church community. Utah. A boy growing up in Salt Lake City who meets a girl from Springville at BYU and settles in Sandy finds this situation completely the norm.

Let's invest in our future by investing in our institute programs, urging with both our voices and our wallets our college-age students to stay and attend college in their home regions. Indeed, this investment should absolutely extend to the financial side of the house. The church needs to be building new institutes, remodeling old ones and spending a much greater time marketing them to members. Alumni, regionally-based members and the church community as a whole should be setting up endowments and scholarships in conjunction with their regional institutes to defray the higher cost of attending universities more expensive than BYU and similar. (Wyoming Latter-day Saints have already figured this out, funding a long-standing endowment for Wyoming Saints who want to attend the University of Wyoming.) We need these types of programs in spades, at least around America and Canada.

This is how we best grow the church moving forward. This is where the conversation should center. Thanks.

Christopher Nicholson said...

As a branch president in upstate New York, my father complained more than once about the missionaries baptizing people without consulting him at all and then making the new members his problem. We had a few college students who joined as they were fellowshipped by other college students, and then moved away to somewhere they could actually get a decent job. Other than that we mostly had older people joining and almost immediately going inactive. That was the main source of my father's frustration. A lot of them seemed to be mentally handicapped and lonely because those were the type of people the missionaries could find while everyone else was at work. But there was also a situation where a teenage member's girlfriend attended for a few months, got baptized, and immediately stopped attending. I didn't understand that at all.

Elder Pearson of the Seventy spoke at the FairMormon conference last August. Apparently there's a huge, hitherto unaddressed problem with investigators Googling the Church and losing interest because of anti websites. Members themselves are also entitled to real answers, but investigators especially cannot be expected to just "have faith" and ignore what they read on the internet. The Church needs to be even more proactive than the last few years in combatting misinformation and taking control of its own narrative.

A couple years ago the ward missionaries in my YSA ward received permission to use "The Power of Everyday Missionaries" by Clayton Christensen as a lesson manual. I've heard a lot of good things about that book and it seemed to have a lot of good content. For me personally, I struggle a lot in social situations and I'm far more comfortable sharing the gospel online. I have a website that includes my testimony and frequently discusses LDS culture, doctrine, and history (including "controversial" topics). The biggest challenge is catering to both my LDS friends without insulting their intelligence, and my non-LDS friends without confusing the heck out of them. I know some people have been affected positively by my website, but I'm not aware of anyone who's been baptized, so sometimes I feel like I'm just wasting my effort and talking to a void, and it makes me want to not try anymore.

About a year and a half ago I got a close friend back home in New York to meet the missionaries and get a Book of Mormon, and she started reading it and commented that "it's obviously a translation", and then she was so busy with work and raising kids that she stopped reading it and I couldn't get her to continue. I send her conference talks and articles about the Church periodically and she expresses appreciation but that's it. I especially wish she could embrace the gospel because she's lost a sister to suicide and a daughter and a niece to miscarriages, and I wish she could have the comfort of the knowledge of eternal families. I haven't brought that up or pressed the issue much though because I don't want to appear as though I'm exploiting her tragedy for selfish reasons. I don't know how I can ever be an effective member-missionary if it takes this much work to reach one person, while most people don't even express the openness toward the Church that she has.

Christopher Nicholson said...

Unknown, I can certainly see your point about not coming to Utah for college, but if I had stayed in my home region there would be a maximum of three YSA women for me to date. The institute program consisted of five or six YSAs meeting at a member's house once a week. Coming out west for EFY with thousands of youth was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and probably saved my testimony when I ran into anti websites a month later), and being in a YSA ward is a kind of experience I never could have dreamed of while growing up with a dozen other youth at church who didn't want to be there. Of course, I'm also from a more rural and economically depressed area than most, so there were no decent colleges or job prospects anyway. After I went away to college my whole family ended up fleeing the state. I did choose USU over BYU, and USU actually has a decent chunk of mostly non-member students from every inhabited continent of the world, which in theory provides a plethora of missionary opportunities. In particular I've gotten to know several people from India and love their culture. Whether Hindu, Catholic, LDS, or atheist, they're among the kindest people I've ever met, and they don't share the Western taboo against discussing religion. I never dreamed I would have this experience in Utah. I will be here for the foreseeable future, but I don't plan on staying forever. I just have no idea where I will go. I agree that church members shouldn't all flock to Utah and it makes me feel like a hypocrite, but I certainly understand the craving for a larger community of Saints and especially marriage prospects.

Christopher Nicholson said...

Sorry for all the comments, but I was going to put this in my previous comment and totally forgot. There should be a way to edit. Anyway, I was going to say that while there are many missionary opportunities here at USU in theory, I've observed a huge problem of LDS students and non-LDS students clustering in separate social circles. I don't think there's any bigotry or judgmentalism involved, but people just naturally gravitate to like-minded individuals and then we end up with de facto segregation. It doesn't help that most of the LDS students are white Americans and most of the non-white or non-American students are not LDS. I see a few conversions among the latter group every year, but I think we could be doing much, much more. Once I observed that somebody invited four Korean friends to an institute dance, and they were good sports but it was awkward for them because they don't have dances like that in their home country, and I didn't see anybody befriend or talk to them besides myself and the person who brought them. I just think there's a huge systemic problem with church members in highly LDS areas not being able to reach out beyond their own social circles and comfort zones to include everybody.

MainTour said...

When I was ward mission leader four years ago, I was disappointed that I did not have any training manual or guidebook to "best practices". Now I've been heavily involved in scouting and there my social circle goes way outside of the church now. I talk with many non-members about my church and beliefs several times a week.

Just like Christopher said above - I'm surprised there has not been a greater push for American saints to participate in new social circles outside of the home and church. Clearly we have a lot to offer. (13th A.O.F.)

David Todd said...

I disagree with many of the sentiments by unknown. I think it is no longer the culture inside or outside of the church for people to remain in their communities near their family their whole lives. I grew up outside of the mountain west and applied to several great universities, all hundreds or thousands of miles from home. All of my nonmember friends did the same. In the end, I chose to come to BYU, and I dont think this was a bad thing. These strong YSA wards help build future church leaders and strong eternal marriages. Eventually, I will move out of Utah and take what I learned here with me. Besides, I have had two roommates and several friends get baptized out here and still remotely share the gospel with people all the time.

As for this post- I found it very enlightening and I agree with the suggestions made.

James Anderson said...

Elder Holland or someone apparently reiterated what President Lee, Elder McConkie, and others have said that the various nations are the gathering places for members in them. That could be extended down to the state/province and even city level.

Elder Andersen has said twice now that temples in the land mean that there will be covenant-keeping members in those same lands when the second coming occurs. Those two occasions were the groundbreakings at Kinshasa and Abidjan.

Joel said...

How about putting missionaries in one place for a 2 years instead of moving them around every 3 - 6 months? Why throw away all of the knowledge about the area and all of the working relationships you have carefully forged every few months?

It will make missions a lot more full for the missionaries, but it should be a lot more effective.

Joel said...

I meant it will make missions a lot more dull.

John Pack Lambert said...

I think the cottage meetings idea is a great one. Do you think it is appropriate to suggest in my branch that we try a cottage meeting.

Eduardo said...

Joel: yeah, developing relationships a longer period of time for some missionaries might be more productivw for converts. But regular members ought to befriend these "friends" more often, and that potential convert should be ingrained into wards regardless of the full time elders or sisters.
There are all these types of obstacles cited in this blog post.
Some of my favorite converts in Concepcion Pedro de Valdivia Ward went less active despite overcoming some or most of the detractors listed. The family Irribarra might have experienced some significant prejudice due to class (socio-economic) factors. Some of our baptisms may have been hurried, too. Maybe some needed more attendance prior to joining. One named Miriam, a young single mother, and another named Mario, a ten year old with a brother who was a member, and his mother less active.
Elder Greene was a bully in Hawaii about 2014, from West Valley, I think. He seemed to be not the only one there. Elder Hill was so bothered by him he came home after the first six weeks when that mission president did not switch him out by the next transfer. Worst bullying case I have ever heard of among our missionaries.

Michael Worley said...

This post made me initially feel self-conscious, as I don't routinely bring individuals into the church. And, based in Utah County, my experience is not uncommon. I think President Oaks talk on missionary work is a good model.

I also have some faith in the centers of strength approach. I think the church recognizes it does not have the resources to go everywhere yet, so it is trying to build strength so areas like Nigeria can grow rapidly without American man-power leading the charge.

Eduardo said...

Other than these tactics, techniques, and policies that hinder people from joining our faith, there are more fundamental reasons, in my opinion, that people do not join more often. In no particular order:

1. People have more reasons to be secular, not believing in a living God.
2. People doubt the legitimacy of modern prophets, especially things they research about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
3. People question the veracity and historicity of the Book of Mormon.
4.People find it hard to pay ten percent of their income, and donate substantial amounts of time to a faith that they do not buy into.
5. People like coffee, and tobacco, and alcohol.
6. People are stuck in their ways.
7. Political, linguistic, social, and economic barriers.

Despite all those, the Restoration is happening!
Get on the bus. Jesus is King.

Paul said...

Over the past several years, I've noticed that male missionaries need help in social and emotional manners. I have observed that many, not all, need to be more mature. Many still act like teenagers. I would hope that mission presidents have ongoing discussion and training regarding speaking properly, pronouncing their words clearly and using correct grammar. A little "yes, sir and yes mam" always helps. Shoes need to be polished, hair needs to be neatly trimmed and clothes need to be clean. First impressions count.

Ohhappydane33 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Pack Lambert said...

I doubt it would help to leave missionaries in one place their entire mission. The biggest problem would be companionship issues. The mission president here in Detroit has of late seemed to tend to leave missionaries in one place longer than some in the past.

I think putting the responsibility to invite people to be baptized on bishops and branch presidents would be very helpful.

I still think that a cottage meeting plan would be the most effrective.

Over and over we are told it is best to have people taught by the missionaries in members homes. I hope to actually see this happen more.

John Pack Lambert said...

Where I serve missionaries seem to assume 3 times to Church is always enough for baptism. I think there needs to be a move away from meeting a bare minimum and actual evidence of a desire to regularly attend before baptism.

A bigger reason to delay baptism even than that is probably tobacco use. I had a companion who quit less than a week before his baptism and used this as evidence that long delays were not needed. However in my experience people will relapse, and it is probably best if we reach out and help the people overcome tobacco use before baptism.

James Anderson said...

There are key indicators that all missionaries report, two years ago they went from was it 9, to four, and what those are should be in the updated Preach My Gospel that was released last year. Most of us may not have the printed version yet, but the new version has been online for months now. We need to look at those things now as well in terms of missionary effectiveness.

Cottage meetings were more common in the 70s and 80s, where they fell off the radar is not known to at least me.

MeaganT said...

I remember going on splits with a Sister Missionary to visit a friend that I had given a Book of Mormon to well over a decade ago. Boy she was mad that I wasn't pushing the gospel on my friend any more than just providing the book and answering questions--I knew my friend better than she did.

I bring this up because in the past I thought that if the church wasn't implementing your ideas it's because it wasn't His will. Then I heard someone talking about troubles getting a temple to operate--it wasn't because it was the will of God to shut down temple work. That and comments lately from President Nelson about how revelation relies on good information, and looking at how major changes happened in the past, first they were wary/unaware until someone pointed out (FILL IN THE BLANK)--I think you've got some good points. I've heard the general rule of thumb is things implemented today were decided on 5 years ago but had to undergo testing in areas--some recent changes President Monson probably knew about.

I hope you're not getting disaffected, a lot of your wording seems a little worrying. This lull in growth is a good thing because it forces us to clean things out and test things out--the fruits of this era could take time. I'm still a fan of the theory that if the secular world isn't interested in religion in general that it provides the biggest barrier to missionary work--there are people who have walked right up to the missionaries knowing full well this church is true and only taking the discussions because they have to. Studying the growth of the church would be unnecessary (and boring) if the stone rolling down the mountain was supposed to be a straight clean drop--so cheer up!

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

"Use of Special Events Designed to Attract Local Community Members and Leaders"

I know the brethren have their good reasons, but I wonder why some of the smaller temples that are being renovated aren't having public open houses to go along with the rededications. It just kind of seems like a missed opportunity for the local communities to get involved and interested.

Also, do we ever do the cultural celebrations anymore before dedications? To me, they seemed like good opportunities for the youth of those areas to get connected to one another and participate in a very memorable, faith-and-talent-promoting event. Youth devotionals are fine, but if I was asked whether to invite an investigator or inactive to participate in a fun celebration of my faith's history or a long sit-down lecture, I'm pretty sure I know which one I'd choose.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

As far as missionary program reforms go, here's an article that I read recently (that I may have found in the comments on this blog), that I thought had some interesting insights.

What occurred to me from reading this article is that missionary work will now be more of a family effort, rather than an individual or companionship effort. Each companionship will have both of their families to draw on for support and experience and help with approaching their investigator's situations in a way that was more limited before. It's almost as if the whole family is being called on the mission now (at least in a support capacity).

Paul said...

The Savannah, Georgia (USA) stake has reportedly been divided and the new Hilton Head, South Carolina, Stake has been created.

William P said...

The United Nations recognises 241 countries and territories the Restored Church is present in 176 countries and territories. The Jehovah's Witnesses are present in 240 countries and territories most of the bulk membership of 8.5 million witnesses are preachers/missionaries. The witnesses only count those on the membership records who are active preaching.

There are over 16million Latter day Saints the church counts on membership records those who are children over 8, inactive, disfellowshipped (non exed) and those deceased who haven't had contact with the church for many years. The witnesses don't include any of this in their count the Restored Church has a big issue with counting these people its all inflation.

The witnesses have a much more active and vigorous missionary program the Latterday Saints have around 70,000 missionaries the Witnesses around 8million. The Seventh Day Adventist founded in 1863 has already surpassed the Latter Day Saints in numbers with almost 21million members the Witnesses founded in the 1870's will be the next faith to exceed the numbers of the Latter day Saints. The Adventist can claim a weekly attendance of over 25 million and spread across 202 nations.

We were legally founded in 1830 we are older than these two churches are.
I'm sorry but as an active Latter day Saint even I can plainly see growth is not a strong point of our church as is purported to be. The Witnesses and Adventist are present in many more nations than us which shows our centre of strength model is all an illusion. The church needs to get off its high horse and humbly follow the lead of these churches and adopt the same practises of part time member missionaries and as the Adventist do invest in a high number of public Christian based schools, hospitals and medical centres all around the world.

God doesn't just sit in heaven and inspire the Restored Church he inspires all sincere and righteous people of all religions even the non christian. Clearly God is working through these two churches and providing services to people across the globe that the Latter day Saints can't at this moment for whatever reasons. I really do hope the Latterday Saint missionary programs mature in the future and become something greater like these churches.

Marvin Marroquin said...

Unkown, please consider that the JWs yearly commemoration (the most important meeting in the year) has an average attendance of 19M people worldwide but they report a publishers peak of abroun 8 Millions, so the JWs reguklar attendance is 3 about 40-45 % of its adherents.

Please note the JWs are declining, they are selling hundreds of Kingdom Halls, they have been sued for millions of dollars due to sex abuse scandals, they have been banned in Russia, they operate illegaly in many countries, the success they have is that people are looking for other options.
SDA have a lot of success due to they build hospitals and schools. Evangelics now accept SDAs because they are trinitarian.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

Whether or not the church itself builds more small colleges or large institutions around the world, SVU is a good example of members taking the initiative and making a school that has similar standards to the official church-run schools.

Some of my friends have opted to study out there rather than in Idaho or Utah because of that option, and I wonder how much impact the presence of the students there influenced the announcement for the new Virginia temple.

Ohhappydane33 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnathan Reese Whiting said...


I appreciate your enthusiasm for building new church institutions around the world, but I disagree with you on a few points. While I agree that it's surprising that Matt didn't mention Institute of Religion in this post, he has mentioned the growth and enrollment of institute and seminary in each of his Reaching the Nations country profiles.

I agree that it would be nice to have more church colleges, high schools, or even hospitals around the world, but it's a bit pretentious to say it is the "#1" key to growing the church, as Matt and others have shown through their research on this post that there are many factors involved, not dismissing reform to the missionary program and practices, and the general attitudes toward sharing the gospel that many members of the church have.

I think it's a gross generalization to say that members who meet and marry someone from "other" places while at college is always a detriment to church growth. I have known some instances where it's a problem. A Brazilian women out in one of the branches of my mission in Kentucky/Indiana married a white American man and struggled, because she barely knew English and was extremely homesick. However, a Czech member I knew in another branch (who had married an American woman) was a great asset to the ward. He helped considerably with missionary work and new member discussions, hosted a foreign exchange student non-member in his house (and brought her to church regularly), and had served as the branch president of the small branch for a number of years. My current nextdoor neighbors here in Ogden are also a mixed nationality couple. She's ethnic Tongan from New Zealand, and he's a white Utahn. They met on their mission in Virginia. He's been the Elders Quorum President and they are quite active in their callings. They both have gotten to know their in-laws and recently returned from a trip to New Zealand to see her family again. She even recently led a Facebook campaign to improve our local park. So, the idea that she has had "a much greater degree of difficulty ingratiating and impacting the local community" falls flat in her case. There are other examples from my friends and family I could give (both positive and negative) of people intermarrying from disparate areas, but in my experience their impact and family support has been mostly positive, or at least a mixed bag, rather than the claim that marrying an outsider is always detrimental to the church.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...


I can relate to @Christopher Nicholson's comment also, that I and many members are "from rural and economically depressed areas, so there were no decent colleges or job prospects anyway." Growing up in Montana, I longed to go to a prestigious school that had programs that fit me, find a good career, find a righteous wife, and help my family get out of the poverty we'd been struggling with for years. While Missoula, Montana has a good percentage of members and a good institute program (which I attended), I really didn't want to complete my education at an extremely liberal college like the University of Montana (even though I did also take a couple of semesters there). I'm glad that others of my friends decided to stay, but I always wanted to get out of the small-town podunk scene and see what else the world had to offer. And there are many other members who feel the same way, and we can't fault them for wanting to improve their dating or educational or spiritual or financial situations when the resources just don't exist yet in the place they grew up.

I agree with you that it would be nice to improve and branch out the church's educational system (including scholarships at non church-run schools), and it's sad when they decide to close places like the Church College of New Zealand or Benemérito de las Américas. But it's a generalization to say that that is the only thing we should focus on to grow the church, or to say it's the answer for everyone's individual situation. Some people can migrate and prosper and be a great benefit to the church and their communities in their new areas.

Eduardo said...

Thanks, Ohhappy. Contribution noted.
Each Church has its strengths and weaknesses.
The biggest strengths of the Church of Jesus Christ are: covenants and ordinances, priesthood, scriptures, tithing, fasts and offerings, temples, family history, unique true doctrine and revelation.
Other faiths of all shapes and sizes have great things to offer, and we should collaborate with and celebrate and to a degree emulate them.
When people see and understand the depth and scope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Fullness and Plenitude of His Kingdom, then things work out.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

Since I like sharing lists and links that are relevant to the discussion, here's a link with a list of current and former church educational institutions:

I agree with you, @Unknown, that it would be nice to see this list much longer, particularly with more church primary and secondary schools (like we currently have in the Pacific islands) in places like Africa, along with more Institutes of Religion. A BYU Africa might be nice someday, too.

Anonymous said...

A great thing about cottage meetings is that you can hold them without leadership approval (in my opinion, that may even be the best part). Imagine how much good we can do when we are anxiously engaged in good, informal causes independent from the Church, but consistent with the Gospel.

Ohhappydane33 said...

The likelihood of the Church opening new schools and colleges beyond Seminary/Institute that include secular programs and fields of study is slim to none. If anything, by all accounts, the Church would seemingly like to get out of the costly education business. The universities and secondary schools that continue to exist today are products of bygone eras and I don't see the Church reversing course on this matter.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the Church will eventually expand BYU into other parts of the world, and away from the entirely U.S.-based system (BYU Jerusalem doesn't count). Right now, it is getting more and more difficult for students from North America to be admitted to any CES school. Having small Church-run universities in places like West Africa, India, or East Asia would allow many more students receive both a secular and a religious education. I also think that it would help younger members of the Church stay in the vicinity of where they are from (at least their home continents), marry there within the Church, and eventually raise strong families.

I wouldn't rule out that the Brethren think this way.

Ohhappydane33 said...

Don't get your hopes up Pascal. As someone who spent years at BYU as both a student and employee, all anecdotal evidence suggested that BYU alone is an outsized expenditure of tithing funds. I cannot imagine new Church schools being created in this day and age. The fact that the newest one was created 60 years ago (BYUH?) speaks volumes that the Church is not interested in opening new schools and has recently closed one in New Zealand, correct? I think the best bet is for more BYU outreach via classes online like BYUI pathways.

Anonymous said...

I cherish your experience at BYU (I admit I have very little, except for getting admitted there after my Mission - I never ended up going though). And yes, running a university costs money. But I believe it's way worth it, even financially, in the long term. This is less pronounced in the U.S., but in many other parts of the world, the gap in income (and hence tithing) between university graduates and those without a diploma is vast. Graduating sizable numbers of members who then stay in their home countries would probably multiply
- not just increase - the tithing base in those countries long-term.

Pathways also struggles a lot with in-depth teaching of subjects, since it is more of a general education program at the associates level. Becoming a doctor or lawyer or engineer isn't really an option with Pathways and won't be for a long time, probably. But I believe that this is where BYU as an institution excels the most (teaching advanced subjects at the highest level, with bigger-picture Gospel application).

Again, it is all educated guessing, but I believe that in the long run, the financial math can work itself out.

I have a vast amount of other things and insights to share in regard to the suggestions Matt has made here. I will do that tomorrow.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

Correct, Ohhappydane33, the Church College of New Zealand was closed in 2009.

Ohhappydane33 said...

Though I do admit that BYUI's recent evolution into a 4 year university along with its enrollment expansion was significant. However, I think this is an anomaly that is not likely to happen again. Is BYUI's expansion pretty much done now? I don't know.

William P said...

The church closed the Church College of New Zealand as it was then claimed that the desire of the brethren was to focus on areas of the world such as the 3rd world where quality education is lacking.

This list was also shared here earlier all Latter day Saint CES schools worldwide. Currently 16 elementary, middle school and high schools 15 in the Pacific Islands.

I don't believe it is a tithing issue with the CES schools if it were so it would be fair to shut all BYU campuses to save big money the church could use elsewhere. Education is a business venture isn't it? We all know the church corps have billions of dollars from business investment.

The Catholics and Adventists have thousands of schools and universities the world over it wouldn't hurt our church to invest in a few hundred schools. Plus with the closing of the NZ school that was the belief that the brethren wished to help the 3rd world with education. We have seen the start of this with the many schools in the Pacific area many were opened from the 1980's onwards and are fairly new. We can at least expect this pattern of opening schools to happen elsewhere in the world or at least we know the headquarters in SLC are using this-pacific area as a trial run.

Unknown said...

The institution in New Zealand was high school level. BYU Pathway International is a new venture internationally. Whether this will lead to an actual campus in West Africa is hard to say.

Unknown said...

The Church used to operate more schools in Latin America but has closed all of them. I had a friend who was from Mexico who had gone to all LDS schools.

Education as the Church runs it always costs more money to operate than is collected by tuition.

BYU has a role of scholarly engagement and providing experts. BYU Idaho has embraced a broad educational mission and BYU Hawaii has unique functions connected to reaching the greater Pacific basin.

It is true other Churches iperate far more colleges and universities. Some of this is driven by needing seminaries to educate clergy, but in at least catholicism the seminaries are totally seperate from colleges and universities. Catholivism is worldwide about 100 times bigger, but this does not equate to the overall difference in number of schools.

That said the amount to which Catholic schools adhere to teachings of the Church varies largely. Speaking in favor of man/woman marriage in class brings down professorial wrath at some for example.

Anonymous said...

Matt- I appreciate your assessment and suggestions. I generally agree with what you have suggested.
One minor tweak I would suggest is rather than lengthening the time spent at the MTC, I would expand the mission prep program to help missionaries transition from their normal routine to full-time missionary service. For example, a mandatory online training could be made available to those who have received mission calls but have not yet begun their missionary service. Typically, there are several weeks/months between a missionary receiving their call and when they enter the MTC, so I think this is feasible. I know not everyone in the world has Internet access, but computers at family history centers could be made available for this purpose. The online training could standardized for certain topics such as depression/anxiety/other mental disorders, bullying, proper decorum, concerning scenarios, reporting crimes/major sins committed by companions, coping with losing loved ones while on the mission, supporting family members with health scares while you are away, resolving past sins, etc. but also include area/mission-specific training related for those who have received their mission call. The area/mission-specific training could discuss local customs/cultures, adapting Preach My Gospel to specific religious backgrounds, relaying concerns of local leadership regarding missionary approaches, providing suggestions to address certain points of emphasis of those areas/missions, provide an informal introduction to mission presidents and their spouses to foster a closer relationship between new missionaries and their leaders, etc. The online tool could also be used to allow those with mission calls to communicate with others with mission calls to the same mission (this could help missionaries develop relationships so they don't got home after 1-2 weeks at the MTC).
Personally, I feel it is unrealistic to expect all 18-19 year olds to be fully prepared for a mission the day the enter the MTC regardless of any training provided. However, the more that can be done to improve that transition to full time missionary activity, the easier it will be for these kids to adjust. If successful, this could even be expanded to provide help resources to missionaries in the field that may not feel comfortable discussing certain concerns directly with mission presidents or companions (i.e. an anonymous chat feature to provide emotional support for missionaries). Obviously there are legitimate medical reasons for a missionary to return home early, but my heart hurts whenever a missionary comes home early for non-medical reasons (or faked "medical reasons" that I've seen missionaries use to try to get an honorable release) and I wonder how the system failed them. I think that missionary program may work for the 99% but worry about the 1% that it doesn't work out for and analogize that to Jesus' teaching of leaving the 99 for the 1. I wonder if we really practice what we preach when it comes to giving missionaries the resources they need to be successful.

James G. Stokes said...

Just a correction here: The Church last established a secondary institution in February of 2017, when the BYU-Idaho's PathwayConnect program was upgraded to an individual institution of higher education that is now known as BYU-Pathway Worldwide. Clark S. Gilbert, who had been serving as President of BYU-Idaho, was brought on to be the first President of the new higher-education program based in Salt Lake.

Matt makes some great points in his comments and analysis relating to the missionary program. For the rest of us who are not recognized Church growth experts, we may all have our own theories about ways in which any Church program should be changed or could be altered to be more effective. And that's the great thing about being able to think, reason, and conclude such things for ourselves. At the same time, for those of us who are not experts in the fields about which we express our opinions, most of us are likely operating on very incomplete information. I know that my view of the Church's missionary program may be missing the vital factor of my not having served a full-time mission away from home. So my thoughts on the subject are mainly informed by the opinions of others who have so served, along with what I can safely conclude through personal research.

That said, AFAIK, no one commenting on this thread is privy to the discussions going on at Church headquarters. What we do know is that any change coming from Church headquarters has been reportedly "under study", review, or consideration for various periods of times ranging from months to years. So perhaps the Church has something in the works that could feasibly fix any or all of the problems Matt observed as occurring in the current missionary program.

We have seen that occur recently, with the Church having confirmed that some missionaries were part of a "pilot program" to see if allowing more frequent personal contact with family members would be beneficial before that programmatic and policy change was officially announced earlier this month. I for one prefer to assume that the Brethren are aware of the issues and any ramifications of changes being considered, and will unroll them when the time is right. That has proven to be the case in the past, and I am sure it will continue to be so.

Either way, I have a feeling that the problems that exist in the missionary program wouldn't be so much of a factor if all of us (myself included and especially) took more initiative to fill our roles as member missionaries. If missionaries were able to be full-time teachers rather than full-time finders, some of the dysfunctional disconnect between members, Church leaders, and missionaries would likely not be as much of a problem. But that is merely an observation from my own very imperfect (and perhaps incomplete) perspective.

Turning to other matters, for any who are interested, I have published two new posts on my blog this week, one of which allowed me to share my updated more specific estimates for known temple events in the near future, while the other was published to pass along my reworked list of potential locations which seem to have the greatest likelihood of having a temple announced during the April General Conference. With my thanks to Matt for allowing me to do so, I am posting the address of my blog for any who would like to read and comment on theses posts. My thanks again to you all.

OC Surfer said...

In California and in other culturally diverse areas, there needs much more awareness and outreach to ALL the different ethnic and language groups. Some areas have 25-50 different languages spoken. Yet church leaders seem to think a token Spanish-speaking branch gets the job done on the diversity department. It doesn't.

The call to "preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people" often requires looking within the boundaries of your own ward or stake. In culturally diverse areas, if there is not enough members for separate language branches, multiple Sunday School Classes taught in their language in the local English speaking Ward needs to happen as one approach to help them feel more included, and know the Church is not a church just for "white people" (which you hear a lot in California).

missed the resurrection said...

Did the rapture already occur and I missed it? I should say, has the resurrection already occurred and I missed it? The article states:

The Missionary Dinner Program
This program continues to be widespread despite previous statements from Church leaders who advise against it, such as President David O. McKay in 1975 when he spoke to new mission presidents (see quote #8).

I was a senior in high school when President McKay passed away in January of 1970. I stood in a very long line to say my final farewell to the man who was my own great-grandfather's missionary companion in Scotland. I am somewhat perplexed, however, to think that although he passed away in 1970, he still felt up to speaking to new mission presidents 5 years after his own death! What a man! (You don't suppose the wrong President of the Church was quoted here, do you?)

Matt said...

Thank you for catching that. I looked up the quote and I forgot to update it with the correct president of the church when I was writing. That was Ezra Taft Benson who said this. Thank you for pointing this out!

Ben H said...

I've been home from my mission for 30 years. I am now a senior leader in one of the more famous fraternal organizations. Here are some insights I have from serving in both.

Don't put all of the blame on the missionaries or the ward or the branch. Many wards, and this is not only a Utah problem, are "clique-ish". Even if all of the problems you mentioned were addressed in the way that you think they should, there would still be retention issues. Some ward families are simply closed to outsiders. It is difficult for those with even the strongest testimonies to get integrated into these wards. How this must be for new converts.

If you focus on the missionary, the convert baptisms will come, even it it is not a goal. But there is still the transition to the ward family that is a problem.

I was always under the impression that if lots of convert baptisms were really the goal, we would never send out young missionaries. They simply do not have the life experience to be the most effective ambassadors of the gospel. Back in the day, we used to ask mature men to leave their families and careers to serve missions. Today, this is not really practical. Ward-based missionary program, when properly run, are the most effective ways to win converts to the gospel.

This mission age is 18 for young men. If missionaries do not go on a mission right after high school, they and their families become pariahs. This is really the first thing that needs to change. Some young men will be better served by waiting and there should be no ostracizing if they decide to wait.

James G. Stokes said...

Ben, your comment points to something that has been said here, both by Matt in this post, and by others who have commented. If there is too much pressure placed on individuals to serve missions, or on currently-serving missionaries to find and baptize at a quota, the worth of the soul tends to be cast by the wayside in favor of expedience or too much of a focus on numbers rather than true conversion and preparation to change, and to affect change in the lives of those both serving a mission and prospective converts to the Church. And I can speak in reference to this subject from somewhat of a personal perspective. Due to lifelong health issues, a full-time mission was not possible for me. Rather than ostracizing me or causing me to feel unworthy, my ward and stake families, and fellow missionaries in the Welfare Services program and fellow temple workers made me feel welcome, and recognized that I was rendering the best degree of service which I was able to achieve.

But I also have experience with the other side of things as well. We live in a ward where some apartments, trailer courts, and other non-permanent housing causes a high degree of turnover. As a result, the more permanent residences within the ward house the "core families" of our current ward, which causes some isolation feelings for those of us in less permanent housing arrangements. It seems to be easy for people who have known each other for a while to band together, even at the risk of isolating outsiders. And that shouldn't be the case, but it is.

I have previously lived in wards without a high degree of turnover, and nearly everyone knew everyone else, and thus easily mobilized to give help as help was needed. So perhaps the problem is dual-pronged, not just in terms of the missionary program, but in the Church in general. And prophets and apostles have been pretty clear on how they feel about such practices. That is one of many reasons why I am glad the Lord will judge each individual based on their circumstances, on the understanding that there are two sides to every situation. I think that as individuals, many of us (including and especially myself) keep getting hung up too much on our own perspectives and perceptions of situation, and don't give nearly as much consideration to the other side of any such coins. As with everything else in my life, there is certainly room for personal improvement there. Thank you for your insights.

Unknown said...

Preach My Gospel was rewritten about 6 months ago. Most of the changes were minimal, but the section that states that Preach My Gospel is for missionaries has been changed to "Preach My Gospel is as much for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as it is for the full time missionaries of the Church." (Preach My Gospel, "Introduction", Page xii, "Use By Church Members", Lines 1-2)

Whizzbang said...

I live in the Winnipeg Canada Stake. Here cottage meetings either were poorly attended or they had crazy members holding them and converts went off the rails. We have a dismal baptismal rate and retention. Probably the biggest reason is distance. It's too far to the chapels, people need rides, can't take the bus due to no money for it or won't due to it takes an hour to get to church and who wants to wait outside in the freezing winter waiting for a bus twice a sunday for just a two hour meeting? it's just not practical. The High Councilor over missionary work is inactive and sometimes attends the Catholic Church-if he does attend a church. WMLs, are not holding their correlation meetings as often as they should, which the missionaries need to relay information but they can't if the WML isn't interested in doing the calling.Our last baptism, the WML didn't attend and didn't know it was happening, so the elders were running around organizing things and the WML didn't care. One WML physically challenged an elder here a few years ago. One current one, that ward had and continues to have horrendous problems, but they release the WML for awhile, the new guy does nothing so this guy gets recalled. He's awful, immature and a also bully. No wonder missionaries hate serving in that ward. The leadership here is , generally speaking, have short memories. The Stake RS Pres. was exed some years ago for homosexual activities, a man commited suicide because of her actions. She has these "revelations" she is uncomfortably attached to the sisters and she , as one member said, "is draped all over them and won't let go" She had a "revelation" that one of the sister missionaries will be hers for eternity and then told all the RS sisters. Now that sister missionary is married, but can you imagine if this old lady Stake RS President told her? I feel for the missionaries serving here, it's the Church providing the stumbling blocks and it's totally unecessary

James G. Stokes said...

Whizzbang, if what you are saying about Winnipeg is true, then its' not "the Church" that is "providing stumbling blocks", but corrupt leaders in your area who are not practicing what they are supposed to be preaching. If something like this is going on, that's indicative of an organizational problem somewhere along the line. I'd encourage you to go to the highest authority you can find in your area and point out what you have observed. Sounds like several members and leaders in your area are participating in apostate practices contrary to Church policy. And if that is the case, then those leaders need to be removed from their places, whatever it might take to enable that to occur. When a situation goes south in the Church such as you have described above, the Lord tells us in Doctrine and Covenants 101:81-101. If your ward and stake leaders aren't abiding by Church policy, those leaders (and proof of their actions) need to be reported to the area leaders (either area seventies or the area presidency. It appears that Winnipeg falls under the North America Central Area, which is overseen by Elders Wilford W. Andersen, S. Gifford Nielsen, and Brian K. Taylor, under the direction of at least one (but perhaps two member(s) of the Presidency of the Seventy, who in turn report to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Lord has been very clear about not looking "upon sin with the least degree of allowance", so I'd urge you to take an active role in getting these problems resolved through whatever channels it takes. May the Lord bless you in your efforts to do so.

Whizzbang said...

I have told various people but it went nowhere, I got laughter or something like "oh that's crazy ahhhahhaha!" and the brush off, honestly at this point for some situations they deserve what they get and low baptismal numbers is a consequence. Our average sacrament attendance is 30% and 53% of endowed members have a recommend. The people that can do the Church here are middle class, have vehicles or don't mind waiting for the bus. One problem we have here is 3/6 bishops in the city have never served in a Bishopric before, 1 was in a branch presidency years ago for a short while and one I don't think has but he is a new move in so that ward is suffering. My Mom's ward didn't have tithing settlement, they got this phone call in February about tithing. The Stake President, is a great guy and I genuinely feel for him. He has to clean up a lot of stuff from the last Stake President and he has never served in a Stake Presidency before and was only a bishop for 18 months, so not a lot of church leadership experience and dealing with previous nonsense, it's tough, plus the Temple and he has a lot of kids, I feel for him. They aren't from here but moved in. A lot of stuff people make decisions and don't have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. it's easy to do something if you know you'll move outta here when you're done your calling

James G. Stokes said...

Whizzbang, it is not enough to tell "various people". If the bishop isn't taking it seriously, the stake president needs to be told. If the stake president does nothing, then this needs to go to the area seventy over the cluster of stakes to which your ward and stake belongs. In the unlikely event that goes nowhere, you need to reach out to the area presidency. I haven't met any of the current members of the North America Central Area presidency, but no general authority that I know of would in good conscience shrug off or laugh at a report of this nature. And in the event the area presidency did, then the apostles would take it seriously.

So unless you've gone all the way up that chain to report this, then of course no one would take this seriously. It's easy for local leaders to shrug off behavior that may be seen as typical for areas or the individuals living therein. But the conduct you describe falls under the textbook definition of apostasy, and if the leader on the highest level to whom you have reached out so far does nothing about it, you need to go to the next person on that chain. I cannot see the apostles or any of the Idaho Area Presidency laughing this off.

If the new stake leadership is cleaning up a mess left by the prior stake presidency, things may work out in time. But the Lord has made it clear that any leaders who are in violation of the gospel standards to which they should be adhering need to be removed from their place, whatever it might take to make that happen. Even if this matter has to go all the way up to the First Presidency, there should be someone within that chain of command who wouldn't just laugh it off.

The choice about what to do is, of course, ultimately yours. But the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, and there is a fine and clear line between acceptable conduct for any Church leader and conduct which would disqualify them in the eyes of God as unworthy to retain/continue serving in those positions, and which would, if unchecked, be grounds for Church disciplinary action. And I am sure there are others in your ward/stake who feel the same way you do about the misconduct of such leaders, and whom you could use to support any further action that may be needed. If you decide to use further methods to resolve this, may the Lord bless you in that process.

Eduardo said...

Whizzbang, I feel for you. Hang in there and know that this Church has a lot of cool, rational, caring people.
I hope things get better around Winnipeg and everywhere in Canada.

Whizzbang said...

Thank you! !!!!

Ben H said...

Last week, my wife's niece visited her stake president with the intention of completing her mission paper work. The stake president told her that he was instructed to have the sisters wait until after General Conference. I do not know why, nor did the stake president. It seems that a major announcement regarding missionary work may be in the works.

Bot said...

Missionaries need to realize that the Temple is central to the Restored Church of Jesus Christ:

The Restored Church of Jesus Christ believes in the Christianity of the New Testament era. Catholics and Protestants believe in Fourth Century Creedal Christianity. Here are the beliefs of Christians of the New Testament era:
1. Baptism by immersion by the father (who has the authority) of the family
2. Lay, married clergy 1st Timothy 3:2
3. Baptism by proxy for deceased ancestors 1 Corinthians 15:29
4. God and Jesus organized the world, rather than creatio ex nihilo.
5. Belief in a tripartite anthropomorphic Godhead, as witnessed by the Apostle Stephen. Acts 7: 55-56
6. Belief in theosis (that faithful Christians can acquire god-like attributes). All early Christian leaders believed in theosis.
7. Belief in God’s Plan of Salvation, given by Jesus Christ to the Apostles during the 40 days after His Resurrection. (Sophia Jesu Christi)
8. Belief in sacred esoteric ordinances which allow faithful Christians to ascend to the highest heaven. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, administered these ordinances until 350 AD. (Catechetical Lectures 20 and 23).
9. Belief in Eternal Marriage, as recorded in the Book of the Apostle Philip. 70:20
Temples teach of 3), 4), 5), 6), 7), 8), and 9)
Which is the true Christianity? New Testament or Creedal?

Pat Dyson said...

I have been concerned with the lack of success of the missionary programme in England for many years. When I was the senior seventies quorum president in my stake I implemented (as far as my limited authority would allow) many of the ideas that you discuss above. I was severely criticised by some of my leaders for some of these ideas but a number have been adopted by the church. However the very worst element of the missionary teaching programme still exists. It is the conditional baptismal challenge. The 'investigator' is asked "If you come to know that the church is true will you be baptised?" What is supposed to be the answer to that question? Either, of course I will, or no I am the sort of person that has such disrespect for deity that even if I come to know the restored gospel is true I will still refuse to be part of it. So it is an insulting single answer question but worse is to follow because the missionary will now produce his planner to actually schedule this phantom baptism. I know of no device that can be so effective in convincing anyone with an iota of self respect that they need to get rid of the missionaries as soon as English courtesy will permit. I have sat through this process many times but the worst are when the persons being taught are accompanied by their friend who has referred them to the missionaries. I have seen this bitter experience drive the referee from the church and I know of a number who would never again risk handing their friends over to the missionaries. It is a sad situation because we have many lovely and intelligent missionaries but they are handicapped by this programme.

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The main problem is that fundamental truth claims of the church don't hold up to scrutiny. Secularism, atheism and the rise of the "nones" is increasing in the developed world. Almost all religions (esp. in the west), are facing a decline in growth. For the church to stay relevant (if it even wants to do so), would be to become more inclusive and community driven and less dogmatic and pushing the "one-true-church" mentality. Removing the dinner program so missionaries can do more proselyting will only create a more negative association as missionaries knock on doors of people who are eating dinner or watching Netflix. I honestly don't know how the church can grow with current world trends.

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