How the Other Half Preaches

November 9, 2008 | 59 comments
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A pool in our area had a free admission day this summer and I’m nothing if not cheap so there we were. Imagine the delighted looks on my kids’ faces when they saw not only a FREE pool, but FREE inflatable bouncers, FREE snowcones, FREE hot dogs, FREE chips, and FREE games with prizes.

All brought to you courtesy of your friends at Crosspoint Church, who were there in their matching t-shirts. They were all friendly but they did not say anything church-y. They just passed out snowcones and thanked us for coming out. They didn’t even say anything about the little basket containing very professional-looking cards with a time and location on them.

My kids bounced until they almost got re-acquainted with their hot dogs while I thought about missionary work.

Fifty years ago, we sent out LDS missionaries who were dressed as the most respected members of society; who were the ages of people who were settling down to mortgages, children, and jobs; who were as educated as, on average, most of the people they met; who met people where they were (i.e., at home). Today, we send out LDS missionaries dressed like parking lot attendants; who are the ages of people who still live with their own parents, who hook up but don’t even date, and who probably don’t work; who are not as educated as, on average, most of the people they meet; and who spend their time knocking on doors that lead to empty houses (soccer practice tonight). The people that today’s missionaries do meet and teach are more often than not the kind who have difficulty integrating into a ward. The people with the same socio-economic profile as your average ward member would not let the missionaries in their home. If they were home. Which they are not.

You’ve got to hand it to those Crosspointers. They set up shop where the likely candidates are: the people who think that Saturday morning is a good time to hit a free swimming pool with the kids are the kind of people who are most likely to be in a pew on Sunday. They are also not the kind of people interested in an aggressive approach, but they might (and many of them did) pick up a little card with a location and a time on it.

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59 Responses to How the Other Half Preaches

  1. queuno on November 9, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    We split our ward today, and realigned a neighboring ward (creating three out of 2). In the process, 2 new bishoprics were called. The new bishops are in their late 30s, maybe 40s. Our stake president, who has lived here almost 20 years, commented on how orderly our process is. It’s inspired. There is no politicking. There is no recruitment. Our stake president wept openly as he talked about the process serving with our outgoing bishop and the process of calling the new bishops. And the Spirit was there.

    I think our Church will survive.

  2. Julie M. Smith on November 9, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    queuno, the issue isn’t whether the church will survive. Of that I have no doubt.

    The issue is: given the vast cultural changes that have happened over the last two generations, could we be doing more (or: doing it differently) to bring people into the kingdom?

  3. Kevin Barney on November 9, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Great observations, Julie.

  4. Ryan Lambert on November 9, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    I think that the Church is addressing the issues you are raising. We are encouraged to invite our nonmember friends to our activities. I am the Scoutmaster in my ward and frequently the boys will invite their friends to go on our outings or to come to our weekly activities. I agree that it is tough for the missionaries to meet certain demographics, but that is why we are constantly asked to provide references.

    My ward sponsors an annual Christmas music festival that features performances by community choirs and groups from other community churches every year. Most of the people there are not members, and the event is run much like the swimming activity you mentioned.

    I agree that much more could be done on the local ward level to promote these types of activities, but don\’t think that there is any reason to change or modify the general missionary program.

  5. norm on November 9, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    ahhh yes. i remember learning all of these things in the first two weeks of my mission — and then being bullied and coerced and spiritually threatened into believing that the Brethren know exactly the best way to do things and that the reason we weren’t successful was X [not enough faith in our leaders?] Y [not enough personal worthiness?] or Z [not enough prayer/humility/love/language ability/etc.].

    our missionary program may be the most inefficient (to the end of converting outsiders, anyway) and wasteful endeavor on earth. maybe that’s an overstatement — but our unwillingness to change the fuller shoe brush model is pretty, uh, amazing (?). Or maybe embarrassing should be the right word. If missionaries were talents, the Lord of the vineyard would be taking ours and giving them to somebody else who knew how to use them.

  6. Ugly Mahana on November 9, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    I agree that relying on the missionary force as presently constituted to provide the bulk of missionary activity and missionary referrals will lead to less missionary success than in times past. However, while the Church may need a corporate facelift, I do not think that changing the composition of the full-time missionary force will prevent the decline. With Julie, I think that we must focus on method, not on messengers. As previous generations before us have shown, the Kingdom of God will grow when we, as individual members, are anxiously engaged and apply ourselves to the work without being commanded in all things. Some persons will have more success than others, and, eventually, a new normative approach will emerge. Curiously, I think that is what the Brethren are calling for as well, with renewed emphasis on member missionary work, and increased tools for us to use. Now, if I could only figure out what I should do in this regard. (Hides head as hypocrite even while hitting knees to pray for faith to overcome pride masked as baseless fears.)

  7. Julie M. Smith on November 9, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Ryan, that was exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about.

    norm, I’m sorry that your circumstances have left you feeling that way.

  8. Gabrielle on November 9, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I’ve often thought about the fact that, were I not born into an LDS family, there is very little chance I’d give missionaries the time of day on my doorstep. Sad, but true. And I can’t help but feel uncomfortable whenever we get the “missionary” lessons at church. Many of the suggestions given to us on how to be better member missionaries are absolutely not my style. I think it is incredibly important that traditional missionary work continue (just as important to the young men and women who go serve as it is for the people they teach, I think), and I’m *very* glad the church no longer calls grown men with wives and children to go serve missions. But I think there is a lot of room for other, low-pressure, missionary efforts.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on November 9, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Julie, I love this post. I agree.

    I think we CAN include all the internet methods being employed to be updates in missionary work. Mormon.org does have a live chat. It seems those manning the stations are missionaries, are they not?

    Since my kids were part of the recording for the youth New Year’s DVD last week, I’ve been thinking about blogging a similar thing about updates to our youth programs. I think this DVD is a step in that direction.

  10. Chris on November 9, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Julie, great observations.

    One part of the Helen Whitney documentary that stood out to me was the man in New Orleans who, after seeing how the Mormons cleaned up his neighborhood, calls the missionaries family and will have them over any time. I would imagine there are many others who have experienced the service of the \”Mormon Helping Hands\” who feel the exact same way. Why doesn\’t the church model the missionary program after the peace core? Have young adults volunteer two years of their time doing service in communities all over the world. You could also develop a system where, when a natural disaster strikes, a thousand or so of these missionaries could descend on a community to help the clean up efforts. When there there isn\’t a pressing need, the missionaires could teach school, rebuild houses, help farm in third world countries, etc. They could even use some of the evening or Sunday time to visit the homes of people that would like to learn more. Maybe, they could even put on a carnival or two in local communities like the post mentioned.

    Anyway, I realize that there would be some kinks to work out but I think that a missionary program which is modeled more after the peace core than after selling security systems would probably yield more goodwill to the church and more converts in the long run.

  11. Jeremy on November 9, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Interesting observations. I couldn\’t agree with you more, however, you may have overlooked the most important part of proselytizing. Missionaries may be dressed appropriately for the occasion, they may be in the obvious place where potential candidates may be found, and they may be well-versed in the scriptures and able to discourse on any topic. However, if the Lord does not send the prepared individuals to the missionaries, all the changes in the world will not help.

    I don\’t think the Lord will punish the honest seekers of truth simply because the truth-bearers are a little behind on their tracting techniques. If the Lord has prepared an individual to hear and accept the Gospel, I have complete faith that the individual will be home at 10am on a weekday for some odd reason. The missionaries will find them, or they will find the missionaries.

    We are dealing with the Lord\’s Church here, the institution that has been cut out of the mountain without hands and is constantly rolling forth until it will fill the entire earth. You may be right that some of our tactics may need some refining, but I doubt that the Lord\’s elect will have any trouble finding the missionaries when the time is right.

  12. Chris on November 9, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Correction: Peace Corps = Peace Core

  13. queuno on November 10, 2008 at 12:15 am

    The issue is: given the vast cultural changes that have happened over the last two generations, could we be doing more (or: doing it differently) to bring people into the kingdom?

    I realize now I typed about half my intended comment on my way out the door.

    I believe, and I think my stake president was trying to make the point, that the beauty and the strength of the Church are that we are led by an inspired prophet and that our local leaders are led by revelation, and that this is more powerful than the games and soda. We have had in our midst a very popular church in recent years that really knows how to pack ‘em in. Our SP has repeatedly made the point over the years that we need to be targeting those that are pure in heart, and that what will bring them isn’t fun and games and an expansive ward budget, but the pure love of Christ.

    Could changing missionary attire have anything to do with that? Perhaps. I know when I was in Chile, there were a few occasions we dressed down, but that was due to security concerns more than an effort to attract a different audience. I don’t think it had any effect. (In fact, I think the white-shirt-name-tag-bike is really a brand image at this point, and we might risk more by changing than by abandoning it. Have we ever driven away someone really suited for the Church with missionary attire?)

    I think there are ways we can modernize … but the risk is that modernization goes too far and instead of focusing on the delivery we start trying to modernize the message. Sometimes, there’s power in the limited musical instruments and dressing up.

    I do think tracting is dead and buried in the US as an effective tactic. So let’s kill it off. We’ve known it’s been an ineffective tactic for at least 30 years (seriously, I knew tracting was a waste of time when I was a deacon). So let’s focus on gathering families together for an FHE and inviting the missionaries…

    (That said … I loved going to a friend’s church’s barbecue over the summer. Nice teeshirts. Good DJ. Barbecue was great. The kids liked the bounce houses, the slides, and the jousting. Not sure I learned a single thing about the doctrines or what they believe, except that they are Christian and read from the Bible.)

  14. kristine N on November 10, 2008 at 1:19 am

    Chris–I’d have considered serving a mission like the one you describe. I’m not at all interested in proselyting, but serving a community is something that would, first, interest me, and second, seems like a far more effective way to introduce people to the gospel.

  15. Clark on November 10, 2008 at 2:17 am

    I do think some significant rethinking of our missionary program is in order. I have no idea what it ought be however.

    That said, what you describe reminds me uncomfortably of the baseball baptism scandals of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Not something I’d want to see repeated.

  16. Clark on November 10, 2008 at 2:17 am

    I do think some significant rethinking of our missionary program is in order. I have no idea what it ought be however.

    That said, what you describe reminds me uncomfortably of the baseball baptism scandals of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Not something I’d want to see repeated.

  17. Chris on November 10, 2008 at 2:25 am

    This post resonated with me because of my experiences as a missionary in Argentina. We inevitably found ourselves preaching to the socio-economic classes that were least like the actual ward members – meaning they were also least likely to remain active. This wasn’t necessarily on purpose, we just had greater success finding these folks at home. If we ever did venture into the other neighborhoods, we were always met with failure. Either nobody was home or they just didn’t open their doors. I think you’re right – tracting to people with actual lives is extremely “less effective” (or menos eficaz, to those Spanish speakers) in the words of the venerable Missionary Guide. Maybe that’s why members have been asked to get more involved with missionary work, eh? :-)

  18. Wesley on November 10, 2008 at 2:27 am

    I work in the health and fitness industry. In the past, when the industry was newer and attempting to become more mainstream, the sales force was largely fitness professionals. They could answer any training questions because they had years of experience and education. Many were former athletes. Most were the best the industry had to offer.

    Nowadays, the in-gym sales force are all young, post-college (usually w/ no degree) or non-college kids who usually are sloppy and untactful, but excel in talking the talk. The health and fitness industry is more of a gold mine than it ever was before. We rely on our impressive facilities, brand recognition, accessibility of information from those seeking it on the internet, and the zeal and fervor of the satisfied guests referring their friends and family in an effort to either spread the benefits of fitness or find themselves an exercise partner.

    We used to rely on the sales force – now we rely on the facilities, our members, our presence, and those seeking health and fitness. Our approach has changed – needed to change. We provide more for our member today than we ever have before – and they’re even paying less than they did 25 years ago! (What other products or services can you say that about?) Our members, our facilities, and the benefits of health are now the selling points – the testaments – to why someone should get a gym membership.

    I won’t insult you all by drawing the obvious comparisons to missionary work.

    Not only has the onus of missionary work fallen on the members more than it ever has before, but it’s the best approach (mainly for the reasons Julie aptly pointed out). Her anecdote would be a sad one – if, in fact, the Lord were relying mainly (or even largely) on our full-time missionaries.

  19. Katie M. on November 10, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Excellent observations. We receive very few converts into our ward each year and the majority of the ones who do join up are not only not of a similar socio-economic background as the ward, but are quite often, to be blunt, a little off mentally. They often are unemployed and do not have cars. We of course should be actively recruiting the “least of these,” but most of these converts go inactive and if they do stay active, they are unable to take on significant callings.

    I think one of the most effective ways we can boost missionary work is by improving our services. While most members seem to have a very defensive reaction to tinkering with our current formula, something must be done. There can be a balance struck between some modernizing measures and going willy nilly down the path to faith-o-tainment. As it currently stands, we are lucky to have one non-member attend sacrament meeting each week. I cannot see how having ONE visitor per week can be seen as healthy for a church. In our attempt to attract only the pure in heart, we seem to attract very few at all. When Jesus taught, he attracted all types. Some were sincere and some were simply curious to learn more. Part of what other churches have going for them is that people may drop in and observe and than leave without being accosted. While formerly it may have been true that it was helpful to mob a visitor, these days people want some space to be able to comfortably take in what is happening without making a commitment. We have to be able to attract people with varying levels of interest. Not only will it be good for missionary work, it will be good for members who will have to up their game when they know its not just the same familiar faces that are watching them speak.

  20. Paul S. on November 10, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Without meaning to sound bitter: I wholeheartedly agree with #19 – I really think that Sacrament Meeting is one of our most effective anti-missionary tools. Now, I’m not saying that Sacrament Meeting is terrible (we had a very spirit-filled Sacrament meeting in my Ward today) – it’s just that Sacrament Meeting is just not very worshipful: unprepared (or just ill-prepared) leaders, badly performed music, and a focus on the spoken word rather than the actual Sacrament. Also, the talks generally are not focused on Christ or the Gospel, but rather on some Gospel-related subject. To outsiders, Sacrament Meeting is really strange, overly informal, and lacking in the elements of worship that they might be familiar with from other denominations, and especially lacking in a sense of Christ-centeredness (I don’t think that’s a word, but I hope it conveys my meaning!) I personally think that if we improved the worship experience, it would improve the spirituality of the members, encouraging greater member missionary work, resulting in members not being quite so reluctant to invite friends/neighbors to Sacrament Meeting.

    I’m not really sure how to make this happen, but a start would be to improve the music. I don’t mean jettisoning our traditional hymnody, I mean that we need to improve the presentation of our music, both hymn-singing and special musical numbers. I think that a lot of people don’t realize this, but the main reason our congregational singing tends to be so lackluster is because most Ward organists are so unknowledgeable about the organ that their playing actually serves to discourage singing – a good deal of training would improve this dramatically. Mediocrity has become the standard in our church music, and mediocrity is not a Godly attribute! The other thing which we need to do is somehow (and I’ll admit I don’t know quite how to achieve this) emphasize the Sacrament more. An average Ward will spend 15-20 minutes on the Sacrament, then 25-30 minutes on talks. I don’t know: maybe a few minutes less talking? Perhaps move the Sacrament to the end of the meeting? I’m not sure what would help, but as it is, the Sacrament usually feels more like a part of the business portion of the meeting, rather than an act of worship.

    Again, I don’t mean to sound bitter, I just honestly feel that improving the quality of the worship experience in Sacrament Meeting would really help improve missionary efforts.

  21. Rameumptom on November 10, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Why are we focusing on 19 year old missionaries here? That is NOT the LDS Missionary program. If we were to study the Preach My Gospel, we’d see that the primary responsibility for full time missionaries is to TEACH, not find.

    The members have the responsibility to find and prepare people to be taught by the full time missionaries. If a ward isn’t having pool parties to invite people to, it isn’t the fault of the General Authorities or the full time missionaries. It is the ward’s problem for leaving the work in the hands of 19 year olds, rather than doing it themselves.

    I agree that a Fuller brush man effort is inefficient, but when the members are neglecting their responsibility, or are even more ineffective and inefficient than the elders are, what other options are there? They knock on doors because that’s what is left for them to do.

    I recall on my mission in South America where we had the members busy with preparing and referring their friends. We averaged 30 discussions a week, often more. Our mission president had to encourage us to try and spend an hour a day catching the people on the sides of the road, to give them a chance to hear and believe.

    On the Church level, many changes have occurred. Videos, web sites and commercials have been used to reach out to others. These do bring in many people who are curious, or at least seek to have a question answered.

    But it isn’t the local Crosspoint Church, where it can reach down into local areas and do what each locality needs. That is where local leaders and members need to step up to the plate.

    Perhaps it is time the wards and stakes were to review how they are doing things, and make some changes?

  22. Kaimi Wenger on November 10, 2008 at 11:07 am

    “Fifty years ago, we sent out LDS missionaries who were dressed as the most respected members of society; who were the ages of people who were settling down to mortgages, children, and jobs; who were as educated as, on average, most of the people they met; who met people where they were (i.e., at home). Today, we send out LDS missionaries dressed like parking lot attendants; who are the ages of people who still live with their own parents, who hook up but don’t even date, and who probably don’t work; who are not as educated as, on average, most of the people they meet; and who spend their time knocking on doors that lead to empty houses (soccer practice tonight). The people that today’s missionaries do meet and teach are more often than not the kind who have difficulty integrating into a ward. The people with the same socio-economic profile as your average ward member would not let the missionaries in their home. If they were home. Which they are not.”

    Very good observations, Julie. That sounds spot-on.

  23. Eugene V. Debs on November 10, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Low socioeconomic status does not necessarily predict that someone will not make a good member of the Church. Indeed, in rural areas in the United States where church members are less than .5 % of the population, wards and branches tend to cover entire counties, multiple school districts, and be quite economically diverse–wealthy entreprenurs and members of the lumpenproletariat often sit next to each other in sacrament meeting. Indeed, many of these units would collapse without the low SES members who faithfully attend. It is not a problem per se that missionaries are teaching poor people. What does that hymn say about going to the poor like our Captain of old?

    The problem is that missionaries a) feel great pressure to baptize people quickly and b) cannot be stopped from baptizing people who are clearly not ready. Zealous missionaries serving in a unit I lived in once baptized a man who died of a heroin overdose three days after the service. Many members told the Branch President about this man’s addiction, but he was powerless to stop the baptism. The poor man who overdosed had been to church twice. The solution is to empower Bishops and Branch Presidents to slow missionaries down and place holds on problematic baptism. This would hurt baptism numbers, but would do wonders for rention numbers and home teaching numbers.

  24. Mark B. on November 10, 2008 at 11:20 am

    They often are unemployed and do not have cars.

    I don’t have a car. Does that mean that I should not bother being a member of the church? Or that I’m likely to be unreliable, or useless in the building of the kingdom? :-)

    All those things may in fact be true, but they have little to do with my not owning a car.

  25. Jerry on November 10, 2008 at 11:35 am

    I recall from my mission that once we got in people would always ask do I have to dress like you? I always said no but today we all must look like missionaries or we stand out like a sore thumb in church.

    I agree with mos the things mentioned here as stumbling stones of missionary progress the dress, music, and general tone at sacrament meetings are all right out of the 40s and 50s. But that is also when much of our top leadership became GAs. That is what they know and love. I like a lot of the hmns but most of them we sing today I have no experience with and they are not much more than a solo by our chorister. The LDS church really is a church out of the 50s and loosing ground to evangelicals, Seventh day Adventists, Jehovahs Witnesses and others.

    Here is a website that is dedicated to talking about this very issue http://cumorah.com/ this site shows how the Seventh Day Adventists have caught and passed the LDS church in actual numbers and growth even though 40 years ago they were much smaller.

  26. Ellis on November 10, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    It sounds to me like Julie just happened upon an event that was low key. I’ve been to holiday, read Christmas, services at community churches where the sell is harder than it is at any of our church services or anything the missionaries do. But, it isn’t really possible for that at a swimming pool hence the professional looking cards.

    The leadership has been telling us for 50 years that knocking on doors is not an efficient way to contact people and that member referrals is. 50 years ago the were sending 21 year olds. That was when a person reached the age of consent and could drink, vote and marry. Women could go when they were 23. Before 1960 they began sending 19 year olds.

    My FIL went of on a mission and left his wife after a couple of months of marriage right after WWII. There was no mortgage until after college and some years of a low paying teaching career.

    Our missionaries have their problems. But, the Fuller Brush man? Who today knows what a Fuller Brush man looked like, or even what one was? They look more like FBI Agents than salesmen. They look more like what a representative of any church might look. And, in-spite of them and their short comings and the sort comings of the members the church continues to grow. Maybe there is something else at work here.

  27. Geoff B on November 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Julie, in my last calling I was the high councilman responsible for missionary work in our stake. We spent a lot of time looking at baptismal figures, ie, how do you bring a convert from a slight knowledge of the church to a decision to get baptized. Tracting is the LEAST effective method. The most effective method is when Church members invite nonmembers to Church and to activities. So, in the sense that a free pool day gets people exposed to the church, it’s not a bad thing as long as it is followed up by fellowshipping. My guess would be that the cost-benefit of a free pool day is not worth it. It would be interesting to look at the numbers of people who decided to attend the Crosspoint church because of the free pool day, and then how many are still attending six months later and a year later. My guess is that the number is extremely small.

  28. Bro. Jones on November 10, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    #27 I see your point, but like #19 and #20, I am sufficiently cynical about the quality of our meetings that I’m reluctant to invite visitors. I did have a visitor come with me once who felt the Spirit, but others’ reactions have ranged from “put off” to “bored.” I’m not saying we need electric guitars and lasers in Sacrament Meeting, but if a typical visitor’s reaction can be summed up as “bored,” what’s up with us?

  29. Roland on November 10, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Julie – another point from the other side is their Sunday Dress Code.
    It seems like people dress a lot more casual at other churches.
    That would make new people feel more comfortable.

    How often do we get investigators that show up in t-shirts and jeans?

  30. Tom Rod on November 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    As someone from the aforementioned demographics who wasn’t born in the Church, I must say that the comments here are quite intriguing. However, what I feel the pool-play-party approach does is get a lot of “baseball” converts, where kids come play baseball (or any other sport) and whatnot, whereupon the children are told that “to play you gotta get dunked real quick.” I heard rumors of this approach occurring in my international mission, but never put in the effort to substantiate those rumors. Either way, baseball converts make poor converts, to say the least!

  31. Julie M. Smith on November 10, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Tom Rod and others,

    I think the difference is that “baseball baptisms” were all about the children, but what I saw was aimed at families as units. Also, there was no pressure at all where we were.

  32. Kingsley on November 10, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Bro. Jones, what’s up with your friends. I’m also interested to find out (a) what caused your friend to feel the Spirit, was it a specific moment or meeting or the experience overall, (b) did they tell you they felt the Spirit in those exact words, and (c), if not, what words, and (d) what do you mean by “felt [or feeling] the Spirit,” i.e. what sort of feeling is it, and (e) is it strong enough to penetrate torpor etc. without any effort on the part of the torpid, and (f), if so, what context or activity (in your experience) usually generates such a feeling, and (g), if not, what might the Church do to encourage the torpid to make an effort, short of stirring up anti-torpor feelings such as excitement, anger, joy, etc., which, in the case of (g), might prove just as impenetrable to the Spirit.

  33. Kingsley on November 10, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    (h) might prove. damn torpor

  34. Kingsley on November 10, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    No, I was correct originally. damn everything

  35. Adam Greenwood on November 10, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    I’m of two minds about this. Getting folks attention is good. But what if you’re getting the attention of folks who look at church as sort of a utility for helping with child-raising. The Church isn’t just something you attend, its something you join.

  36. quin on November 10, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    I enjoyed all of the comments. I couple of questions and thoughts came to mind while I read.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is to go to all the world, but nowhere in that gospel does it say that it will be understood or accepted by everyone in the world. If the end goal of missionary work was to convert the entire world-then focusing on the number of converts to our Church, vs the converts to other Churches, would not only make perfect sense, it would most surely be giving the Brethren nightmares. But the end goal of missionary work is NOT to convert the entire world-it is to OFFER the gospel and baptism into the Lord’s Kingdom to the entire world.

    Conversion is a process, not an event, and the likelihood that ANY newly baptized members are deeply and totally converted is minimal, much less ALL of them. We can love and fellowship and welcome and befriend people-but we cannot convert people. That process takes place when a willing and repentant heart is acted upon by the Holy Ghost.

    The Church really has no other option than sending out door to door missionaries until two situations cease to exist-
    1)Neighborhoods where there are no LDS members living at all
    2)Neighborhoods where there are no LDS members living who are willing to live the gospel principle “every member a missionary” and replace the full time missionaries.

    http://www.lds.org/pa/display/0,17884,6729-1,00.html

    As noted in the lds.org link above- In 2002, the Brethren announced that Bishops and ward members were being given more responsibility regarding missionary work and developed a system of reporting and accountability between Stakes, Wards and the local full-time Mission President. Each ward’s priesthood executive committee, assisted by the ward council, develops a “ward mission plan” and under the direction of the Bishop, implements that plan.

    The Lord has commanded every member to share the gospel (see D&C 88:81).
    If we are absent from the process, do we have a right to complain about how the system is forced to operate in our absence?

    It seems that many think our services lack something, but have no idea what. Our current ward organist is really struggling with her calling, but we all love her and she is really trying so it gives us all a chance to bear her burden with her and to remember what the love and acceptance of the Savior really means. But in the past 20 years and 5 other wards I’ve lived in, the organist has always been skilled and the music has always been well done. Musical numbers and programs have been deeply spiritual and done by either adequate or spectacular talent, and I don’t recall ever visiting another ward where the music was below standard either.

    The topics for Sacrament meeting talks are assigned under the direction and inspiration of each presiding Bishopric (and sometimes even Stake Presidency), and I believe that my Bishop listens to the Lord regarding what our ward (or even one specific individual) needs to hear. There are times when I feel that I don’t need a particular message, but I am not the sole attendee and so I cannot assume that no one else does either. Often I find that I DID need that message, I just didn’t realize or want to admit that I did. I certainly don’t think my desire to be entertained or intellectually stimulated is more important than someone else’s desire to have a prayer answered or to have a particular gospel principle reinforced.

    Elder Nelson said. “We bring a broken heart and a contrite spirit to our sacrament meeting. It is the highlight of our Sabbath-day observance”. If my heart is broken and my spirit is truly contrite, my thoughts are not directed outwards towards anyone else. They are directed inward towards my unworthiness and weakness, and upward towards the Savior, His amazing and selfless sacrifice for my sins and His unfailing love for me.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the Lord wants us to attend as “audience” members, I think He wants us to attend as participants in the body and love of Christ. The covenants I renew each week remind me that if I fulfill my end, the result is the ability to have His Spirit with me ALWAYS, so no matter where I am or what I am doing, if I cannot feel the Spirit, it is either because I’m not inviting it to be with me, or I’m not currently worthy to have it at all.

    I also keep Raymond Takashi Swenson’s poem about the Sacrament in my scriptures and I read it almost every week while the bread and water are passed to make sure I have the proper perspective. With his permission-I’d love to repost it here again or ask him to do so!!

  37. quin on November 10, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    ROFL Kingsley!

  38. Alison Moore Smith on November 10, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    #20
    but a start would be to improve the music. I don’t mean jettisoning our traditional hymnody, I mean that we need to improve the presentation of our music, both hymn-singing and special musical numbers.

    Wow. I completely agree. But I would jettison the “traditional hymnody.” Most of the hymns bore me to tears. I try to switch between soprano, alto, and tenor, just to stay awake. My sister’s in the MoTab and wants me to join. I tell her, “No way. I want to be in Gladys Knight’s choir.”

    What was is GK said to President Hinckley at the priesthood anniversary special? Something like, “I love the gospel with all my heart, but the music is so boring.” Amen, sister.

    But we should probably consider that our church, our speakers, our music directors, organists, and soloists are volunteers. In Florida I was “hired” (I wouldn’t accept payment) about once every other month to sing in a non-denominational church. It’s easier to get great performances when you hire professional musicians, rather than try to beg someone in the ward to scratch out a hymn on the violin they haven’t played since high school graduation. (That would also be me.)

    Love the comment in #21. Tis true that the missionaries would mostly be teaching if we were doing our jobs.

    Sorry to go on so long, but #26 rang true for me as well. I was invited to a friend’s Christmas pageant a few years ago. She gave us all free tickets. It was great–fun music (both a secular and a sacred part of the program), great band, fabulous costuming, live animals on stage. The whole shebang.

    Then the preacher started praying unexpectedly, then stopped, then started again, then stopped, then asked us all to come up and accept Jesus. And while we were busy trying to bow and unbow our heads appropriately, ushers ran down each aisle and blocked both sides of each pew, holding purple velvet donation bags. Playing the part of the village idiots, we hadn’t brought so much as a quarter. There we sat–my husband, my (then-) three kids, two more LDS kids, and I–without anything to put in the bags and no way to escape.

  39. Jerry on November 10, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I really do believe we put people off by requiring things that are eternal in nature. White shirts, ties, having a high councilman speak, and other things do not help us attract new people. We have way to many rules like no visual aids in sacrament. If children make a sound get them out. Other churches that want a quiet meeting separate the adults from the children.

    We are not growing at a very strong rate. From the yearly numbers in the Ensign in the last 5 years we show 1,473K increase in members this gives around 875 new people for each new ward and branch formed. I don’t know of any wards that big. Who cares if they get babtized when so few stay.

    I do think the meetings do little to inspire activity among our current members let alone new ones. Lets start by getting rid of white shirts, more hymns, 1 speaker and 50 minut sacrament meetings.

  40. SRas on November 10, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    What is most impressive about this post is that you haven’t revealed anything new. This is from Elder Bednar in April Conference of this year

    ” But ultimately it is my responsibility and your responsibility to find people for the missionaries to teach. Missionaries are full-time teachers; you and I are full-time finders. And you and I as lifelong missionaries should not be praying for the full-time missionaries to do our work!”

    We as members can invite non-members to our homes, or to the pool, or whatever. I don’t think any of the brethren would argue that missionaries going door to door is ineffective; remember the list of effective proselyting tools in the White Handbook – yeah, contacting and door-to-door were near the bottom of the list. The Church doesn’t need to change its structure or programs – the members need to change the culture of wanting to be commanded in all things.

  41. Tom D on November 10, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    I’d rather not see the return of “baseball baptisms”, but maybe that is what’s needed in some places and at some times.

  42. Katie M. on November 10, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    “There are times when I feel that I don’t need a particular message, but I am not the sole attendee and so I cannot assume that no one else does either. Often I find that I DID need that message, I just didn’t realize or want to admit that I did. I certainly don’t think my desire to be entertained or intellectually stimulated is more important than someone else’s desire to have a prayer answered or to have a particular gospel principle reinforced.”

    This line of argument, often brought up to defend our lackluster talks and Sunday School lessons had never held much weight with me. Is it really healthy that our lessons are a form of Russian roulette where one or two people get spiritually fed each week while the rest of the congregation remains spiritually parched? Shall I wait my turn (every 6 months?) to get something out of the meetings? Ideally our talks and lessons would be of the quality that some people would be particularly touched and the rest would also be nourished. Instead I look around and see the majority of people either in a comatose state or fighting to keep their children silent.

  43. Razorfish on November 10, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    This is an interesting post because it asks an important question: how can we make missionary work more effective?

    We recently had our stake presidency meet with our bishopric to discuss this very issue. Apparently, the “Brethren” were concerned with declining baptismal rates in the United States. The real growth rate (new baptisms less name removal) was flat to negative in large portions of the U.S.

    Then a comparison was made between the highest baptising wards (more than 6 baptisms per year per ward), and the lower baptising wards (1-2 per year per ward). A correlation was made to describe what higher baptizing wards had in common compared to lower baptizing wards in terms of habits, missionary activities, and ward leadership characteristics.

    While there were some interesting “key predictive indicators” between the high and low baptising wards, generally, the same missionary model was used (not any of the outside the box thinking like a pool party was used). In short, the Powerpoint slides from the Stake Presidency helped teach local members how to use the current toolbox better, but not adding any new “powertools” to the mix.

    I think more substantive changes could better address the declining missionary baptism rate in North America. There does appear to be a polarization going on in society. With issues such as Prop 8, and Romney’s presidential run, how the Church is being framed from a PR standpoint needs some help. Prop 8 (while important to the Church’s identity) seems to paint Mormon’s as intolerant from a non-member’s perspective. I see the Church needing to correct its somewhat damaged PR image that has been exposed by some of the ugly bigotry we saw during the past year in in the public square as reported by various media sources. The fact that most non-member’s seem to have a better impression of a Mormon after they “meet” a real Mormon, speaks to this public relations deficit.

  44. Razorfish on November 10, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    This is an interesting post because it asks an important question: how can we make missionary work more effective?

    We recently had our stake presidency meet with our bishopric to discuss this very issue. Apparently, the “Brethren” were concerned with declining baptismal rates in the United States. The real growth rate (new baptisms less name removal) was flat to negative in large portions of the U.S.

    Then a comparison was made between the highest baptising wards (more than 6 baptisms per year per ward), and the lower baptising wards (1-2 per year per ward). A correlation was made to describe what higher baptizing wards had in common compared to lower baptizing wards in terms of habits, missionary activities, and ward leadership characteristics.

    While there were some interesting “key predictive indicators” between the high and low baptising wards, generally, the same missionary model was used (not any of the outside the box thinking like a pool party was used). In short, the Powerpoint slides from the Stake Presidency helped teach local members how to use the current toolbox better, but not adding any new “powertools” to the mix.

    I think more substantive changes could better address the declining missionary baptism rate in North America. There does appear to be a polarization going on in society. With issues such as Prop 8, and Romney’s presidential run, how the Church is being framed from a PR standpoint needs some help. Prop 8 (while important to the Church’s identity) seems to paint Mormon’s as intolerant from a non-member’s perspective. I see the Church needing to correct its somewhat damaged PR image that has been exposed by some of the ugly bigotry we saw during the past year in in the public square as reported by various media sources. The fact that most non-member’s seem to have a better impression of a Mormon after they “meet” a real Mormon, speaks to this public relations deficit.

  45. queuno on November 11, 2008 at 12:26 am

    My initial reaction to #39 is that I really don’t care about increasing our numbers, if it removes or lessens an eternal/spiritual component of our meetings.

    We’re not about numbers. We’re not the stock market, constantly looking for new blood.
    .
    Well-run sacrament meetings, full of the spirit and interested members, are tremendously inspiring and are spiritually nourishing. Yes, these meetings do exist.

  46. queuno on November 11, 2008 at 12:30 am

    (And I believe that well-run, “traditional”-minded sacrament meetings as we have them, will do more to grow the Church, than a casual atmosphere.)

  47. LiberalSlayer on November 11, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Rather than eliminating HC speakers, would it be possible to get them to deliver relevant, and interesting topics to both member and non-member?
    Instead of eliminating clothing that shows respect for God (e.i., white shirts) why need teach all people respect for others irrespective of how they dress.
    I’d love to hear more hymns, but could we get another couple hundred hymns in the hymnbook, please?

  48. Matt W. on November 11, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Julie, I have heard from general authorities that they are aware that proselyting is less effective than it was 50 years ago here in the states and in Europe.

    BUT
    My wife served a mission in Italy and is a professional singer and had several concerts there as proselyting efforts and had 0 converts from these efforts. All her converts were won via proselyting efforts.

    I, on the other hand, served in the philippines, and basically had all I could handle in going from member to member and completintterg families and baptising relatives and friends.

    I would love to see some events better taken advantage of here locally. Too many people I know think it would be tacky for the church to have even a marquee out front saying when to come to church, much less anything more extravagent.

  49. UKAnn on November 11, 2008 at 5:09 am

    #30 “baseball converts make poor converts”. I’m sorry you feel that way. I was a baseball convert in 1964 and have given a lifetime of church service in many Stake and Ward leadership positions and love the gospel. Another friend who was a baseball convert is now serving as our Stake RS President, another one is serving in the Temple. Interestingly enough someone who had studied the trend said that the retention rate for baseball baptisms was as good as any other way of bringing souls to the gospel.

    Of course it all wasn’t good – I remember a distant cousin playing baseball who handed his father a baptism slip and said if you don’t sign this I can’t play baseball – dad just signed it. Also the day I was baptised I was one of 14 young teenagers being baptised – I’m the only one still active. I don’t know what the answer is – but for me a big thank-you to baseball baptisms!

  50. Alison Moore Smith on November 11, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Instead of eliminating clothing that shows respect for God (e.i., white shirts)

    God sent a rainbow as a sign of his promise. I think we can do the same with shirt color. Along with jettisoning the hymnal, I’m all for jettisoning the white shirt thing. And while we’re at it, add some sequins.

  51. tjk on November 11, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    talk about full circle ideas—-getting people to serve—when the concept of the Peace Corps was being talked about in Wash. d.c. years ago——-the founders come to SLC to look at our missionary program—the church was very happy to help– anybody hear of our service missionary program in the church today –we get in the mail from our stake a very long list of places with needs—and there are a lot of people (older people) going out to serve

  52. don on November 11, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    As soon as we get this problem solved, maybe we can figure out how to improve member retention.

  53. don on November 11, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    As soon as we get this problem solved, maybe we can deal with member retention.

  54. Mark N. on November 11, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    could we get another couple hundred hymns in the hymnbook, please?

    Out of the three hundred plus hymns in the hymnbook, it would be interesting to play “Name That Hymn” and find out what the success rate would be when picking hymns completely at random out of the entire book. I’m guessing it would be a small number.

    They used to have a “hymn practice” time during Sunday School opening exercises, but I guess that went away about the same time the Church Patriarch position went bye-bye, so there isn’t much effort devoted to learning unknown hymns these days. I guess it’s kind of frowned upon to pick unknown hymns for Sacrament Meeting, so we avoid having the chorister doing a solo with a few mumbles from the congregation for accompaniment.

  55. Kent G. Budge on November 13, 2008 at 11:48 am

    “All brought to you courtesy of your friends at Crosspoint Church, who were there in their matching t-shirts. They were all friendly but they did not say anything church-y. They just passed out snowcones and thanked us for coming out. They didn’t even say anything about the little basket containing very professional-looking cards with a time and location on them.”

    That sounds a lot like how my ward runs its annual Independence Day celebration.

    The observations about tracting don’t seem terribly original or timely. When I was a full-time missionary, twenty-five years ago, it was widely and openly acknowledged that tracting was what we did to kill time between member referrals and teaching appointments. We all knew that networking was what brought in new members, or at least new members who stayed active.

    Other observations are based on a view of missionary work as it operates in North American and Europe. I’m not sure the average missionary in Guatemala is less well-educated than the people he is visiting. I seem to recall something about the Lord using the weak and simple things of the earth to do His work. Not to mention inviting the poor, the lame, the blind, and the deaf to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Young urban professionals aren’t mentioned, though I’m guessing they’d be welcome too.

    I suppose we could wait until our young men have graduated from college. After all, everyone but Mormons seem to understand that a man cannot preach unless he has been trained for the ministry. But that would only reinforce the lamentable trend towards later marriage and childbearing among our young adults.

    I know! Let’s start sending out retired couples as missionaries! The Brethren could give several talks in Conference to encourage every couple in the Church to prepare for a full-time mission when they retire! … Wait … we already did that … So what’s this nonsense about

    “The issue is: given the vast cultural changes that have happened over the last two generations, could we be doing more (or: doing it differently) to bring people into the kingdom?”

    Already been answered. For some time now.

  56. mike on November 13, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Fascinating discussion.

    My family has probably brought more than half of the non-LDS visitors who have ever visited our ward in the last 12 years. I would say that in our hay day at least 2 or 3 times a month we brought non-LDS friends to church. Often they were children and /or their parents of people our children knew. (This all stopped about 3 years ago.) Most are polite and don’t come back. Or parents politely ask that we not take their children to church anymore. Once in a while we have a friend who is close enough that they actually tell us why they are not impressed. No secret; they say our music is lousy, our speakers trite and boring, and we don’t have very good programs (“ministeries”) for youth, all the usual reasons listed above. Seldom do people even care about the kinds of information that ties anti-Mormons shorts into knots.

    Aside from every other consideration, the biggest barrier to missionary work in my ward is what goes on Sunday morning at 9:00 am. Don’t lay this on the shoulders of the rank and file members, it is the leaders who determine what we do, especially in this top-down Priesthood authority based church. Our people are anything if not blindly obedient to their leaders to the best of their abilities.

    On a side note, my secret to getting people to attend church with me almost every second week is to offer to attend their church with them first out of general interest. When you show genuine interest in them, they will respond in a similar manner, out of politeness if nothing else. And you will learn from your own experience just how bad things are at what some of my non-LDS friends refer to as “the true but crummy church.” (Be careful Julie, you are 1/4 the way out right now and don’t even know it.)

    None of these people we brought to church ever joined and few even wanted to talk to the young guys in white shirts and Mr. Mac suits. One lady, recently divorced and looking for a new path in life was going back to school and happened to be talking a class in rhetoric. We suggested that as her final class project, she take a couple of missionary lessons and analyse them. She took several lessons but never had her heart lit on fire and did not convert. One other family had one missionary lesson with the same results. Not one intact family with children has joined our ward in 20 years and retention is under 10% at one year. Our best converts, God bless them, are mostly immigrants with poor social networks and economic hardships.

    (I believe I have described the following before on this blog, I’m not sure.) During these same 12 years another church, which draws 98% of its members from within the cavernous boundaries of our ward, exhibited remarkable growth. Their congregation went from about 1700 members to 6000-7000 members. Almost all of this growth was young families with middle to upper middle incomes who moved into this area because of the apparent good schools. Some were from other churches, many were not recently churched since leaving home to go to college and a few were never churched. More than one of these new families of converts was looking for a church and we had brought them to our ward before they joined this other church. Whether we want to pretend it is or not, we are in direct competition for converts with other churches. In this part of the vineyard we are loosing horrendously.

    My wife teaches at the pre-school of this other church that has grown so much and is close friends with some of the key people in this church. They have carefully studied this growth to determine its source. Here are their results:

    1. Preschool 60%
    2. Sports programs 30%
    3. Boy Scout troop 5%

    The preschool is excellent with a long waiting list and has about 100 children. The sports programs include 500-800 kids in about 6 sports, and the scout troop is about 80 strong with a log scout hut worth about $200,000 donated by a wealthy church member. I would imagine less than 10% of these participants in these programs are members when they start. (In fact, I coached soccer three times for them and I was supposed to call on a child to offer a prayer and deliver a cute little moralistic Biblical message prepared by the minister).

    We have a nice building sitting empty almost all day almost every day and our LDS daughters have a great reputation for being the best nannies. We have the largest patch of grass in the area without little kids running around on it attempting some sport every Sat morning. We are supposed to be the best when it comes to scouting.

    Another key function of this rapidly growing church, harder to measure, is their Wed family night at the church. I have attended these and they are very nice and include a spagetti dinner for $3 (or $10 for the entire family) and various Bible classes, adult exercise/sports programs, music lessons, support groups of every variety, etc. It is like having a ward party for MIA every week and something else to do that interests every member of the family. I think this church has about 60-80 ministeries, and although difficult to equate, a typical small LDS ward here probably has the equivocal of about 6 ministeries.

    People don’t care about theology any more, at least not at first. The story about angels and gold plates is meaningless and sounds dubious. They don’t think they want or need a Prophet to guide their decisions. They are looking for a country club church with nice programs for their kids. But it is more insidious than that; many of them start with the preschool or the sports and then Wed night becomes a regular event for them. Soon they check out a Sunday sermon or two. They feel good and it is sort of like wholesome entertainment with lots of nice people as friends. At some point, perhaps during a crisis, I really believe most experience a sincere spiritual conversion and this is followed by their baptism. They usually remain loyal to the church long after their children go off to college. Their best friends in the golden years are their fellow church members.

    My Mormonness, especially our esoteric theology (which I tend to believe), is an enormous barrier for me or I would feel strong tides tugging me to join their community. We have so much in common and I don’t have that many close friends in my ward. They are close to what I imagined as a fully functional top-of-the-line ward when I was young and naive. I really have to not think very hard to, with all seriousness, continue to believe in LDS exclusiveness. To think that this is “the one and only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” seems terribly laughable in light of my experiences with other churches.

  57. Adam Greenwood on November 13, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Maybe you should be inviting your friends to service projects.

  58. Zero on November 15, 2008 at 12:36 am

    “To think that this is “the one and only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” seems terribly laughable in light of my experiences with other churches”

    One of the toughest paradoxes is accepting the “one and only true Church” mantra and reconciling the ultra tiny statistical minority LDS members represent compared to the world at large. Nephi saw our times and lamented that the saints would be throughout the world, but that their numbers would be small.

    Mentally, I punt on this issue and believe a vast majority of noble and god fearing people will join the Church in the after life. Likewise, many luke warm, or non-commital Mormons, will receive a lesser glory. I have to believe that there must be a staggering amount of people who will accept the gospel on the other side of the veil. I suppose many are kept from the truth because they don’t know where to find it; and because we are such ineffective tools in the hands of the Almighty.

  59. mike on November 17, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Zero,

    I totally agree with you and at some level I have to punt.

    I have done some calculations and I believe that at least 99.999% of people in the Celestial Kingdom will not have been Mormons in this life. I think of it as sort of like one of those long lunch lines at school. The lunch food is the celestial glories and we are the hungry students. We Mormons just happen to be in the front of the line and get to eat before the bells of death ring and we get to wait on some of the tables sooner than others.

    I wonder if God doesn’t somehow know what is best for each of us and that he has created churches and various religions that are best for the people who are in them. That solves one paradox, but introduces another one. Is it morally justified to convert a person from a really good country club church into a lame dysfunctional LDS ward? If you are not saving them from the fires of hell, where is the motivation to save them? What if a close member of your family wants to leave the “true but crummy” church and join a “better” church? I guess if the Lord wants them in the club, he can easily keep them there.

    The Book of Mormon view is very much a heaven and hell perspective that is not far from some Protestant views. The DC 76, also known as The Vision introduces the Three Kingdoms and the idea that almost all go to a Kingdom of Glory. One quote I have heard is that if we were to realize the glory of the lowest Kingdom we might be inclined to kill ourselves to get there. This is viewed by Calvinists as too close to universalism, which was not uncommon in the time of Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon discusses it and rejects the most extreme form of it, for example with Alma teaching his son Coriantion, in Alma 41. But I wonder if we have moved back away a little ways from an original modified universalism towards the traditional Protestant view.

    At another level, I strongly believe that we can learn much from other churches. Our exclusiveness leads to isolation and to a form of pride and a moral superiority complex that actually hinders our missionary efforts and stagnates our church.

    For example, If I was the Bishop, I would call together the few musicians in the ward and charge them with attending the best Protestant services in the area for a short period of time as sort of like spies. They would approach this with an open mind and with humility and prayer. Then in some form of ongoing counsel meetings I would look seriously at pushing the limits in my ward as far as I could in the direction recommended by the music committee. Music is so important, it is so visible, and it is so crappy in my ward. But it would not be the only item on my agenda. I acknowledge that there would be risks and we might lose some people to these churches. I suppose those of you who have been Bishops can judge how long I would last, probably not very long.