Best practices in reactivation

January 5, 2005 | 30 comments
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I recently discovered that the number of active elders in my Oakland, Calif., quorum comprises less than ten percent of the entire population of elders and prospective elders living in the ward boundaries. Even accounting for move outs whose records were never updated (and I believe that an effort was made to go through the list two years ago so it’s semi-up-to-date), there are a lot of inactive (actually, I believe “less active” is the preferred term at the moment) men living within our ward boundaries.

This situation is also probably not that unusual for an urban ward. This may be a gross generalization, but I would guess that the Bay Area attracts quite a few young Mormons for whom church activity is not a priority.

Our quorum is hopefully about to begin a more focused reactivation effort, and I would love to draw on the collective experience and wisdom of the Bloggernacle. What are the best practices in reactivation you’ve been part of or observed?

I admit that my track record is pathetic. A few years ago I was assigned a couple that no one had had any contact with. There was no phone number. Judging by their address, I figured them for a young professional couple so I sent a Christmas card with my e-mail address. I forget what I wrote, but I tried to come off all casual and sophisticated.

I never heard from them and never bothered to follow up.

So here’s what I’d like help with specifically:

1. What is the best way to organize such an effort? The standard practice seems to be to divvy up the list among home teaching companions and ask them to check out the situation. Is that the most effective way of doing things?

2. Is there an especially effective way to make first contact? What are some effective, novel or easy ways of presenting oneself? I have a difficult time phoning people I don’t know. Anyone have tips on what to say in those first few sentences of conversation or what to leave on a voice mail?

3. If a family/individual agrees to a visit, what’s should you do at the first visit?

4. What do you do with people who don’t mind occasional contact with the church, but aren’t interested in full activity? Is there good way to keep the relationship steady and alive?

5. How do you finesse a return to Sunday services? I imagine that it can be very difficult for an inactive member to come out to church after so long away. What makes that experience better?

Finally, I’d very much appreciate any of you who have been inactive and returned or who have worked closely with someone who has reactivated to share your personal narratives (if you feel comfortable doing so). I find the details and inspiration that comes from such narratives is often much more motivating and useful than general tips and exhortations.

Thanks.

NOTE: I find the whole language we use to refer to this population and the efforts made to reach out to them incredibly awkward. And yet the euphemistic approach is even worse. Anybody have terminology that they are comfortable with?

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30 Responses to Best practices in reactivation

  1. William Morris on January 5, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    Sorry about that. For some reason when I used the excerpt field, it didn’t automatically put the teaser code in the body of the post like it did with my first post. It should be fixed now.

  2. Kaimi on January 5, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    William,

    That’s because it didn’t do that with your first post either — I noticed the post showing up on the front page, and fixed it. :)

    To split up the post, you just click the “More” button once, where you want the break to be.

  3. Charles on January 5, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    If at all possible don’t over whelm the current EQ. Try not to have more than 2 inactives per HT companionship. See if you can send any general “Happy New Year here’s our new meeting time” letters to identify addresses that will give return mail.

    I think the first visit should be introductory. You might not even want to talk to much about church other than meeting times and locations. Ask questions and get to know the people and thier families. If your demographic is like ours, most of the families are part memeber families. Find out what thier spouses do and are interested in.

    I would start with inviting them to activities but always make them welcome for Church. Picnics, BBQs, ice cream socials, Enrichment nights are all good starters. The more people they get to know the more likely they are to come back and feel less comfortable.

    One of my companionships invites all of thier families over for dinner to get to know them, one on one.

    When people are standoffish I send the missionaries over for follow ups to see whats up. People are more likely to tell them and it gives a second set of faces. Then the EQ can go by for a third set of faces. I feel like I could go on and on, but I’ll let someone else have a go at it.

  4. William Morris on January 5, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    Got it. Thanks, Kaimi.

  5. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Sincere friendship goes a long way. I haven’t had a lot of luck with reactivating people myself. I had a hometeaching companion once who seemed to know how to kid, joke, cajole a person into attending Church, without being overly pushy or a jerk. I admired that. He has a gift for working with people that I would like to have. He’s such a sincere big-hearted guy that he’s able to influence people.

  6. Rosalynde Welch on January 5, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    I wonder whether reactivation (and proselyting in general) will become more difficult as advertising becomes more aggressive: I heard a report on NPR recently on “ad burnout,” a growing suspicion among consumers of intrusive, tricky or merely raucous advertising, which in turn forces advertisers to promote in new (and more insidious?) fields. This is related in some ways to the growing sense (baseless, I think) that “privacy” is in peril: the greatly-reviled telemarketer stands as the hated symbol of intrusive hawking. In this context, I wonder whether the efforts of missionaries and home/visiting teachers to convert and reactivate will suffer in a heightened culture of offense and privacy.

  7. Rusty on January 5, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    My wife’s parents moved to Arkansas as inactives. Who knows how the ward got their names but they sent home teachers to visit. They didn’t want anything to do with the Church, but her dad allowed them to come back to visit. After four years of visits (her mother softened to the visits) she realized the importance of raising her children in the Church returned with her children. Her father still has never been a part of the Church, but all four kids have strong testimonies and are active. I can only imagine the visits over those four years and I’m pretty sure they didn’t always consist of gospel-related topics. These brothers were friends, there was (and still is) a lot of trust there.

  8. William Morris on January 5, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    Charles:

    Thanks. That’s a good start.

    Rosalynde:

    Interesting observation.What it suggest to me is that friends and family members are going to need to become more involved in missionary/reactivation efforts. It would be cool if the Church could come up with some sort of system to help enable that — and one that utilizes technology in an effective way. At the same time, it seems like an administrative nightmare.

    I do believe that it oftten happens on an informal basis. I’m sure bishops get calls all the time from parents who would like the ward/branch to “work on” their son or daughter.

    danithew:

    Yeah, I must admit that I’m worried that a big part of it is how effective one’s personality is. I too am one of those who can’t do the whole personable but pushy thing. On the other hand, if my mission is a good test, I’m pretty good at working with the quiet, skeptical types.

    Rusty:

    Thanks. And, you know, I’ve heard about several members who came from inactive families where the efforts of the ward to involve the children (with the parents blessing or at least tolerance) made all the difference.

  9. Kristine on January 5, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    William, my husband is EQP in our ward, and about once a quarter they use quorum time to just try and find out what’s going on with names on the list–they divide the quorum (all 6 or 8 of them) into pairs, and each team gets two or three names and addresses. So far, I don’t think anybody has come back to church, but a couple of people have agreed to have home teachers, and they’ve been able to confirm that several people have moved out. Also, there are a couple of guys in the quorum who really don’t mind “cold-calling” people that no one has heard from in a long time, and they’re good at making that initial contact, so instead of a regular hometeaching assignment, Steve gives them several names to track down every month.

  10. Ivan Wolfe on January 5, 2005 at 5:45 pm

    Most reactivation is over a long period of time. My father, for example, while never an overly gregarious person, always made his hometeaching visits every month and was courteous. He tried to give some spiritual message, but if all the family wanted to do was shoot the breeze, he shot the breeze until they were comfortable enough with him to start accepting more gospel centered conversations. Most of his families were inactive – but over a period of two decades, most of them were reactivated – (but it took 12 to 20 years to do so).

    However, try not to overwhelm the EQ. I’ve been in wards where I have had 4 – 6 families on my route – and all inactive. It doesn’t make it easy or particularly rewarding.

  11. Geoff B on January 5, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    William, the EQ and the HP in my ward had a video delivery activity on a Tuesday night before Christmas where we visited about 40 inactives. Several of them came back to church over the holidays. I would suggest that you gather the EQ, YM and the HP (use the PEC meeting to coordinate) and suggest that every elder, young man and high priest in the ward meet at the church on a Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Assign four inactives to each couple of people. We were able to get about 12 companionships, but most wards should do better than this. Ask each couple to go to each house and hand out a flier with this year’s new meeting times. If they are there, chat with them. If not, just leave the flier. Then, get the HPGL and the EQP together and see if they need to revise the home teaching list based on the new information you have gathered. Oakland, CA is similar to where I live in terms of demographics. I am from a large urban ward in Miami with a lot of movement in and out of the ward. We’re lucky to get 40 percent home teaching on any given month. But if we stay in touch with inactives we have had luck in reactivating some of them occasionally.

    BTW, use the elders if you have any in your ward.

  12. Chad Too on January 5, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    A suggestion from one in the middle of the same thing: Initally send a letter from the Bishopric that tells the less-active person that the Bishopric are concerned about him/her/them and that introduces that members from the ward will be making a visit over the next few weeks to get to know them better.

    Why via letter? That way you get verification from the postal service that the address is good before using up valuable member-time driving across town just to knock on a door that no longer houses the family you seek. If you get a “no longer at this address” returned letter, you know the info is bad and you can send the member to the Address Unknown department in SLC which will research to find the family (note: this is not merely getting them off your records; there’s a bishopric somewhere else that doesn’t realize there’s a less-active family living in their boundaries because the records are languishing on your ward’s computer).

    If you get a notice of a forwarding address, you now have better info. Your members can visit the new address instead of wasting time at the old one, and if the new address is out of your boundaries, you know where to send the record info.

    If the letter doesn’t bounce, then you have a pretty good guess that the address is good and the less-active person at least has a heads-up that something is coming. We left the letter vague enough (“in the next few weeks”) that there was no specific time someone could deliberately not be home.

    All this for the low, low price of 37-cents per less-active family.

  13. gunner on January 5, 2005 at 10:48 pm

    You need to be careful that the people you are attempting to reactivate do not see this as a “increase the numbers/bodies in EQ” program. Most have gone inactive for numerous reasons and a one size fits all program does not work.

    If all of a sudden they are swarmed with people they may pull back and your actions could be counter productive. I have found that most people who were reactivated, were done so through the HT program and not a “reactivation program”.

  14. Charles on January 6, 2005 at 9:41 am

    We lost a new family by overwhelming them. They were friends with one other family in our ward. They had taken the discussions from missionaries in another ward and when our boundaries changed they were in ours. The primary, RS and EQ were visited with them at least once. They were assigned HT and VT and were both given assignements with those groups. They felt there was too much expected too soon and they weren’t ready.

    Its important not to overwhelm the families we are serving as well as those who are serving them.

  15. William Morris on January 6, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    This is all great stuff. I’m definitely taking notes.

    Thanks.

  16. Graham on January 6, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    When I was the EQP (I’m not any more), one of the first bits of advice I was given by the Stake Presidency about Home Teaching and Reactivation was along the lines of Ivan’s closing comment. Do not set people up for failure. If you assign someone only inactives, it won’t be very rewarding, and the chances of them being successful are slim. If they have several active families and then one or two inactives, they are far more likely to try to contact the inactives. We didn’t have much success in helping people come back, but we cleaned up the records, and at least knew who these people were (when I became EQP we had a list of 30+ people that no one knew anything about).
    Don’t forget to get the Bishopric involved. There isn’t much they need to do, but they need to be interested in your results and care about the people. If they seem disinterested, then you’ll only be able to help these inactives so much.

  17. Rick M on January 6, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    I would recommend prayerfully reading as a presidency the book “Counseling with Our Councils” by M. Russell Ballard. As a young inexperienced EQ president in my last ward I was introduced to this by a great Bishop. Though the implementation was far from perfect, it made a huge difference. That, and really trying to teach and live the doctrine taught in Benson’s “To the Home Teachers of the Church” talk. Home teaching is the key. Counseling with home teachers in “home teaching interviews” (different than a PPI) is part of it. Elder Packer taught that teaching doctrine affects behavior more than focusing on behavior. We all need to understand the doctrine of home teaching better. It is in the handbook, in Benson’s talk, but rarely implemented fully or at all across the church. Ballard’s book really helped, particularly the chapter that talks about the EQ president sending two home teachers “on a mission.” I still struggle with understanding and living the doctrine of home teaching fully, but am working on it. I really recommend you read Ballards book ($10) and Benson’s talk if you haven’t recently. Best wishes in your worthy cause!

  18. William Morris on January 6, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Graham:

    Yes, your point about not setting people up for failure resonates with me.

    ASIDE: Our list is significantly more than 30.

    Rick:

    Thanks. That makes sense. If it’s only all about procedure then that isn’t going to work.

    And to pull from some of the excellent advice above, it seems as if building a relationship and bringing the spirit into the home are the two best things one can do (and being patient about the process). Harping on church attendence won’t work.

  19. Daylan Darby on January 6, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    Wife always active. I’d been inactive for ten years. Attended baptism of my son. While others visited I became bored, so sat at the piano and quietly played a few songs. Two weeks later I was asked to be the primary pianist – said ok, but wouldn’t lie if the kids asked questions about my (non)activity. For 12 months my wife brought the kids and herself to Sacrament and I showed up an hour later for the Primary block. Angel primary children softened my heart – returned to full activity almost 8 years ago. I’ve been in 4 wards since then – been primary pianst for 8 of the last 9 years.

    I don’t want to discourage you from attempting the EQ duty of HT, but listen to the spirit – somebody in the Kent 3rd ward listened

  20. NFlanders on January 6, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    If I may comment from the other side, I am an inactive Elder who has somehow landed on the member list of the local ward after 6 years of inactivity and several moves. Of all things, a member showed up at my apartment a few months ago and told me I was assigned to be his home teaching companion. He was very nice and amiable and seemed to be as uncomfortable as I was about the situation.
    Everyone is inactive for their own reasons, so I can’t comment for everyone, but I think I would respond best to a low-key, low-pressure approach. I have been tempted to stop by the chuch on Sunday morning but I am not looking for full activity. I know if I did show up, they would give me a calling the next week and I really don’t want that. I would recommend a slow and steady approach, with minimal formal commitments.

  21. Rick M on January 6, 2005 at 9:04 pm

    You are exactly right William. It is not about “doing your home teaching” but about tapping into the power of revelation. The Spirit can teach us what to do but we must seek and follow. The doctrine of counselling together to know the Lord’s will is a powerful one and a key to our efforts to help others.

  22. Geoff Johnston on January 6, 2005 at 9:24 pm

    NFlanders,

    Nice input. If only we could get the same kind of understanding of all members who are not attending! Of course few or none of us who are trying to contact those who aren’t attending have any idea what we’re doing. Understanding the reasons someone chooses not be active in the church is a difficult thing, but getting that knowledge is certainly the key to 1) knowing who even has a chance of coming back, and 2) how to approach that brother or sister without freaking them out.

    BTW — In your case, why not make this new companion of your shield? If you told him that you might be interested in attending an occasional sacrament meeting but don’t want any pressure or callings or anything I can guarantee that you would get your wish from all of the ward leadership. There are plenty of sacrament-meeting-only members in the church and that is preferable to the ward (and the Lord) than not attending at all. (And if someone tries to give you a calling before you want one just say no — that happens all the time too.)

  23. gst on January 7, 2005 at 11:23 am

    The letter we sent said something along the lines of “We’re a new bishopric and would like to meet all of the families in the ward.â€?. We included a postage-paid return card which they could mark “we accept your invitation and will see you in church,â€? “stop by for a visit,â€? or fill out a space for “otherâ€? comments. Of about 150 letters, about 20 were bounced back as bad addresses, and 30 return post cards were sent. Most of those postcards were requests to not be visited. For what it’s worth.

  24. William Morris on January 7, 2005 at 11:58 am

    Daylan and NFlanders:

    I appreciate that you are willing to tell your stories. Stories are important with this kind of thing, imo.

    ———–
    gst:

    So did the other 100 get visited? Who did the visiting?

  25. Eric on January 7, 2005 at 10:13 pm

    I was inactive for a few months after our branch president put out the word that nobody in the branch was to serve us but the branch presidency, who then “shunned” us in the Amish sense. My wife is still inactive. After my last meeting with him, I vowed I would not go back to church unless sombody invited me. After about four months, somebody did, in another branch. We have since had our records transferred to the new branch. The secret was that somebody cared, and not just for numbers. I told anybody who asked that I could be loved back into activity, but I would not be bullied.

  26. Mike Heninger on January 10, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    I think I have some unique qualifications to provide a different perspective on this question. First I have been an Elder’s Quorum President twice and did not find much success in reactivation in spite of enormous effort. Second, without going into detail that would hijack this thread, my wife and teenage children are seriously considering the option of attending another church.

    Funny thing about the LDS religion, when people leave our church we assume something is wrong with them and they need to repent. We don’t always think that way about other things. For example K-mart is going broke and Wal-mart is booming. Don’t we assume Wal-mart must be doing something right and K-mart is not? What will happen if the managers of K-mart assume that there must be something wrong with their customers for leaving them? How will they be able to make the changes needed to thrive? I realize this is less than a perfect analogy, and religion is not the same as selling assorted household items, but I hope you get the point.

    I believe in a “Field of Dreams ” approach to reactivation. If you build a really good friendly genuinely spiritual (don’t ask me to define it) ward, then I think it will automatically draw people to it. And if your ward is crappy, to say it bluntly, then even when you manage to drag a few people back, they will not stay for long.The church really is no bigger than your ward. Just having a financial affiliation with the apostles and prophets far away in Salt Lake won’t amount to a hill of hen poop if the ward is ineffective.

    Shaming and laying guilt on active members because they don’t measure up is common but very counter-productive; I have overused it as a ward leader in the past to my regret. I can not define what constitutes this, but I know it when I feel it. (I might be doing it right now, sorry). How can we expect people to do better when we make them feel worse?

    I would suggest that you put your focus where you are guaranteed to make a difference, and that is on the people sitting there right in front of you every week.They are listening. Strengthen those who have made the effort to show up, first and foremost. More worship and praise. More material straight from the New Testament and the best parts of the Book of Mormon. Wasn’t there some old Jewish saying about washing the inside of the cup instead of the outside, and sombody else borrowed it and made it famous? Who was that anyway? In my ward, we need to improve the talks in Sacrament meeting and the lessons in Sunday school. We need better music and better activities. We need service projects that directly benefit those out in the community, not of our faith. We have got to do better with things like Scouting and Primary and Young Women’s programs. I can’t do all of this, even if I was a Bishop with the talents of a young Tommy Monson. But I can make my gospel doctrine class that I teach the best it can be. Forgive me when I am home studying instead of chasing down the addresses of inactives.

    If we have a ward like mine with usually less than 200 attending Sacrament meeting, baptising 20 or 30 a year but never seeming to grow, and somewhere between 600 and 1000 names on the list (depending on how aggressive the clerks have been), then how could these hundreds of people all have various problems and the few of us still active in church be squeaky clean and our ward be near perfect? This is absurd! We need a better understanding of who comes to church and why this revolving door of inactivity and reactivation. We applaud having one of the faster growing churches, but we also have one of the worst retention problems.

    A crucial revelation came to me when I realized that the inactives of the future are sitting right there in church today. Rare is the missionary who has ever baptised a person that they did not think had a good chance of becoming a stalwart member. Another obvious realization is that it is far easier and (much more likely to actually work) to keep people active in the first place than to reactivate them. Duh. Finally, people have their freedom. You can not force or trick someone into changing their religious convictions and that is what drives people in or out of church in the final analysis. You might do everything exactly right and still no one responds because they don’t want to and for no other reason.

    Our stake has spent the last few years on the “name, number and know program.” The entire focus seems to have been on getting the entire Priesthood to do what the Ward clerk traditionally did. A few (not me) have worked hard whittling the long and embarassing lists down, and we have some stories of bringing folks back (no one that I know). The percentages are all up because the denominators are lower but I doubt that the actual numbers of people doing positive things (like attending church, tithing, etc) has increased. Our leaders appear (to me from the perspective of the back row) to have neglected the rest of us who come, and maybe not every week. The other aspects of my ward have deteriorated to the point that I don’t feel the Spirit there at all and I really don’t want to be there. I’m actually glad (and I can’t believe that I am feeling this way but it is the raw truth) when I have to work or when I camp over the weekend with our non-LDS Scout troop. Most of our few Mormon youth including mine are acting up in all sorts of the usual ways and they certainly don’t like coming to church. I feel like we are driving them away.

    Young people are flexible and outgoing. They are always attending the perceived fun activities of their friends with little consideration of which church or other institution is sponcering it. Almost any teenager will come to a church activity simpy when one of their friends asks them. Getting youth to come the second time depends entirely on how good the first experience was. Good programs will not only keep our own youth, but can’t help not drawing others in from the larger community. And this without artificial missionary-minded planning and direction from ward leadership, or the shaming tactics that I once perfected as a ward leader. When a ward (far from the Mormon strongholds in the West) habitually has few if any young spontaneous non-member visitors, then I would submit to you that the ward has a serious problem. If you don’t have several non-LDS youth coming to your ward activities, then you need to start fixing the problems within your ward before you go out and try and drag back those who have left.

    When we bring our various non-member friends to church, which we often do, the first thing they notice and comment about is that the music sounds like a funeral. No one really sings with feeling, they just sing real slow but also like they want the song to end. The talks range from deathly boring to mildly kooky to embarassing to the point of deep regrets for ever bringing a friend. Then teachers get up and say things like: I recieved a phone call last night at around 11pm asking me to teach this lesson and I haven’t prepared much (message-I have nothing to say). They pass out lists of 10 inactives to go shag down this next week and almost give one to our non-member visitor. Then our non-members friends take us to their church which seems really good, and members of my family ask me why we can’t switch to a decent church. Just what are we future inactives suppose to repent of in this scenario?

    If we don’t make our own wards better, then the best advice I can give to you from my personal experience is this: For heavens sake, never never let any member of your family set one foot in the door of another church, or talk to any non-members or inactives. They might honestly compare and see how we are doing. And keep them so busy that they never have time to stop and think, let alone pray and worship.

  27. Geoff Johnston on January 10, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    Mike,

    Nice post — lots to chew on here. And you picked a good time to threadjack since the posting had subsided on this one anyway.

    Let me suggest a scripture that might support some of your thoughts and possibly pose a problem with others:

    And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
    Alma 31:5

    This seems to strongly support your assertion that “If you build a really good friendly genuinely spiritual (don’t ask me to define it) ward, then I think it will automatically draw people to it.� People join or remain part of the church because the have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If they know they will be well fed spiritually at their ward they will flock to it. Have you ever been in a ward with a great Gospel Doctrine teacher? (Maybe you fit that description). In such wards the Sunday School presidency doesn’t have to troll the halls cajoling hordes of members to go to SS, and the class doesn’t routinely start 10 minutes late because of stragglers – people rush to the class. Mormons want the truth of God and they will go where they know they can find it.

    The bigger issue surrounding re-activation is retention. Clearly, preventing inactivity is easier than undoing inactivity. Preventing is best achieved via “nourish(ment) by the good word of God�. I’m reminded of the quote attributed to Thoreau: “There are thousands hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root�.

    But if this is true it seems to fly in the face of some of your later comments. I get the impression that you complain that the activities for the youth are not fun enough, the ward organist stinks, and ward leadership is a bit oblivious and overworked at times. Isn’t fixing those things hacking at the branches instead of still striking at the root?

    I taught early morning seminary for a couple of years and by most traditional measures my class wasn’t fun. I never brought in food, I rarely played any games with them (the rare exceptions surrounded scripture mastery), my visual aids consisted of my drawings on the chalkboard, and we didn’t bring in fun songs. I taught the class like I taught gospel doctrine – meaning every day we pulled out the scriptures and I turned the doctrinal fire hose on to my full capacity. And did I mention I was teaching the freshmen class? The result: I never lost a student and one year we started with 18 and ended with 19 after adding one inactive girl (who was invited by another student). Sure we joked around plenty, but we really had our fun because of “the virtue of the word of God�.

    Let me suggest that the virtue of the word of God is also our best tool with our own testimonies and those of our family as well. The programs and fun factor of our wards may completely stink, but as Lehi learned, the true word of God is extremely sweet and if we can teach the gospel with great power it will greatly help can help to de-emphasize the organizational shortcomings.

    I think the Lord will be very forgiving of us if our programs and activities don’t always match up to other churches around. I doubt He will be so tolerant if we don’t teach the Gospel with much greater true spiritual power than any other organization in the world.

  28. Mike Heninger on January 11, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    I have to agree with everything Geoff says. I think my family feels that the churches around us are teaching the gospel with so much greater true(?) spiritual power and that is why they are considering a switch. It is a subjective call, hard to prove or measure.

    That is why I beg the reactivation committees to focus on what they are doing during their meetings and activities.

  29. Geoff Johnston on January 11, 2005 at 8:10 pm

    Mike,

    I know you might not be back to read this, but… Aren’t you the gospel doctrine teacher? Doesn’t the teaching with true (as opposed to pseudo or artificially-generated) spiritual power start with you? Why look to others to preach with power to you as a family? Why not determine as a family to lift and strengthen the ward yourselves?

    I know that might a tall order, and there are probably lots of other factors you haven’t (and shouldn’t) share here, but it sounds like the situation is getting serious enough to start asking yourselves these kind of tough questions…

  30. Mike Heninger on January 13, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    Geoff:

    Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate them at this point. Again we are on the same page. This is what I have been trying to do for the last twenty years.

    I do the best I can as a gospel teacher, but I encounter several obstacles.

    First is the lesson manuel. I am not a professional educator, not that well trained in Mormon studies and I really need a good manuel. I can’t describe it very clearly but it seems to me that the more I depart from the manuel the better it goes. I have been told in the clearest terms not to depart from the manuel. I have noted that everyone in my ward pretends to follow the manuel and yet when the end of the lesson arrives, they have covered no more than a sentence or two from it. Perhaps the best way to kill our current leson manuels would be to actually use them for awhile. I have thought about trying to dig up one of those old Lowell Bennion manuels which I have been told were really good and trying to modernize it. Or else to find a good Protestant manuel and Mormonize it. Which won’t work for the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants. I have been strictly forbidden from doing any of this.

    Second are my own personal perceptions and limitations. What I try to do is follow the scripture text as best as I can and not bring my personal opionions into it. When we went through the Bible, I was almost miraculously lead to lots of interesting and informative material from sources like Harpers Bible commentary, Raymond Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament , Ebersham, even the NIV introductory remarks, etc. I spent 10 or 20 hours a week reading, which mostly was for my own interest and benefit. I would select a few of the better ideas, then try and teach by the Spirit. Sometimes I could go back from these outside sources and find similar material hidden in forgotten Ensign articles and then use them as sources. Generally I teach with what I think is a sort Socratic method; I read a few verses and present some ideas or context about them, and then ask the class provocative questions. I never set myself up as an authority and try to avoid lecturing which is not easy. I purposely make little mistakes that I know the sharper members will catch and correct, to reinforce that I am not the final source of truth or even a very good one. I want to drive the class on their own quest.

    I have been rebuked repeatedly by several, including an old Temple President and especially his wife and I undoubtedly have driven some of the more Iron-Rod types into the foyer, which I regret because it is their class too. But we now have two classes and they can go to the other one. Some people quietly come up and thank me. A few of the older people say I teach “the old time way” whatever that means and they like it. The Temple President eventually “understood what I was up to” and told me that he had gotten to like me after his wife went to the other class and that I had driven him to study the Scriptures unlike he had done for years. But attendance is small and more people are in the foyer than in class and I feel like a failure, mostly.

    Third is that the class is very transient and I never know more than 20% of the students. Lowell Bennion claimed that he didn’t teach lessons, he taught students. But to teach them you have to know something about them. We have so many people moving in and out and we have so few ward activities where we actually talk to each other. It is hard to get to know someone staring at the back of their head in Sacrament meeting. I wonder if what is going on out in the foyer isn’t the better part. Before being given this calling, I had a sort of ad hoc class going in the foyer, talking about various subjects and I actually did some preparation and research for it. One time the Stake President cruised by and told us all to get into class and I jokingly informed him he was interrupting my class and then asked him to at least give us a closing prayer. He didn’t laugh.

    Last but not least, success at church is 90% showing up. I work every fourth weekend and really can’t change that situation. My son is in a non-LDS Scout troop and because of the terrible traffic we really can’t get out of the city on Friday night. So we tend to camp over Saturaday night. It is a big active troop of 60 boys, nearly half in high school. Since I have a great tolerance for heat, cold, insects and fatigue, and I am not overweight, I end up on the front lines of these responsibilities. And I would not want it any other way, I love Scouting. This absence is part of the price my family pays when we have too few kids in a ward to have a functional Scout troop. Finally we travel twice a year to visit our families in Utah and I probably miss 4 or 5 weeks for that. So adding it up, that is about 30 out of 52 weeks in a year that I have to get a substitute.

    Lift and Strengthen the Ward…

    What my wife and I are coming to realize is that we have a personal agenda we feel has been given to us by the Lord that does not match that of those in charge of our ward. We and the ward have fundamentally different visions of what constitutes “up” and “strong.” This was painfully obvious when I was the Elder’s Q. President and we have ignored it since I was released several years ago. We have tried to quietly work within the system and realize that the “lower” callings are actually the most important. We have tried to have callings teaching our own kids. My wife recently volunteered to be the Primary song leader after they couldn’t keep one and is trying to make the experience better for our 11 year old boy in middle school who is treated like a sunbeam. Our direction we feel is more Christ centered, more self sufficent, less reliant on rules and manuels, more activities, more appreciation for other churches and borrowing things from them, more inclusive of non-member friends, etc. Most would agree with the overall picture of this agenda but the practical way we go about it is different. This inevitably leads to conflict. Our ward has ineffective mechanisms for resolving conflict; generally there simply are not any disputes, end of discussion, just get over it. As adults we can deal with it.

    But when you throw teenagers into the mix, it is not simple. Our efforts to lift the ward in a different direction, though sincere and well intended, have created a toxic environment for our children. I could go on for pages describing specific events. Bottom line, my kids are very well behaved and excellent students at school, in scouting (both boy and girl), sports and music. But they hate church, hate is not too strong of a word, and they revolt at the control and bleakness there. They have been bored to tears, kicked out repeatedly for acting up, and had their intelligence insulted and their curiosity squelched. A couple of these conflicts have exploded into a crisis that came close to physical violence of adults against my kids, who can dish it out too and are not respectful of adults who do not respect them. My kids are far from innocent of wrong doing in this, but it is difficult to understand why they act up so badly, only at church.

    Geoff might be right about something else, not being back. My wife told me last night, and we have talked about this several times before, but she seems to have reached a decision and is trying to bring me around to it. She wants out. Not excommunicated, but perhaps a very long vacation far away from this church. I have been awake all last night thinking about this.

    She has a strong testimony of Christ and reads the Bible every day and prays all the time. She is a good person. She has some problems with Joseph Smith and she has always found the Temple Ceremony to be creepy, so we don’t go very often. I disagree with the way Home Teaching is done. I find as much inspiration in Sunstone and Dialogue magazine as in the Ensign, even though I think that as much as half of both is probably garbage. We were raised Mormon, have our individual opinions and have previously accepted enough of the gospel teachings to go along with it generally. Now she wants to find a decent Christ centered church that knows how to support parents in teaching the gospel to children without alienating them or having to beat them into submission. She sees this being done all around us in other churches, but not at ours.

    The last time the Bishop and I talked about problems in my family, he had two pieces of advise. First: Forgiveness which is the essence of the gospel, (but how to forgive when the offenses are repeated and intensified with little hope of stopping and voluntary?) Second: You have to force your kids to keep going to church even when they refuse. He didn’t mention forcing wives.

    I agree that our ward has some serious problems. I am not ready to give up. I agree that there is a high likelihood that the problems will persist and not get better. Next week, I go camping and the week after is Stake Conference, when wife will typically want to do something else. In three weeks she will have either solidified her choice or maybe I will win another chance, it is hard to say. I am faced with the dilemna of splitting the family, me against everyone else, or going along with her. Any advice here?

    (Jewish people claim that the mother has far more influence over the religious ideas of the children than the father. That is why you have to be born to a Jewish woman and not just be the child of a Jewish man to be considered Jewish).

    As far as the reactivators go, they need to know that for my wife, last week might have been the last time she sets foot in this church for a long time. If our leaders had known that, they might not have let the drivel that was dished up for Sacrament meeting pass so lightly. They might have assigned topics more directly related to Christ, instead of obedience and temple attendance, which degenerated into a travel log bragging about grand children and having them in the next life. This is not comforting or fair to the adult children of parents who are not active. My daughter started making sarcastic (but right on target) comments out loud that reflected my wife’s thoughts. When a person sitting in front of them turned around and told my daughter to hush up, she said pretty loudly, ” You tell him (speaker) to shut up, he has run 20 minutes over!”

    So has this response, sorry.

    Maybe everyone else likes our ward just the way it is, they say so every testimony meeting. Maybe most of you reading this think we are already so apostate and want to show us to the door, don’t let it hit you in the pants. (So much for reactivation). And if so then we have little common ground. I was at work so I really can’t say how good/bad it was last week. But my wife was so revolted and the kids were acting up so bad that they all left after the first hour. And this is not even in the top ten worst Sundays we have experenced in the last couple years. This is not about two lousy Sacrament meeting talks and rowdy teenagers, it is about the overall experience, social and spiritual, of the past several years. And it has been anything but sweet and joyful.

    I debated posting this. Please if you know anyone in my ward, try and refrain from telling them about this sketchy summary and give me the space I sorely need to try and convince my family to give the church another chance. And thanks again to Geoff.

WELCOME

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