Church Growth: Zero

Peggy Stack has a very interesting article in the Salt Lake Tribune today that confirms what some keen observers have been suggesting online for a few years now: The Mormon Church is being outstripped in growth by other faiths, and is struggling to maintain converts.

One study, conducted in 2001, showed that the Church was losing members as fast as it was gaining them; in other words, no growth whatsoever. Other studies aren’t quite as cynical, but do show Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists beating Mormonism in growth, but more significantly, walloping us in retention.

My two questions: First, what accounts for this? Why can’t we keep members? Are we too lenient in our rules for letting people join? Second, and more interesting to me, what will the reaction of Church members be? We stake a lot of our pride on being #1 — will this news be brushed aside as somehow inaccurate or unworthy of our attention? Or will it be taken seriously and will steps be taken to correct any perceived problems?

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    There have been some interesting discussion over at LDS-PHIL lately, touching on some of this.

    My inclination, when I ponder this question, is to think of anything and everything that has ever irked me about being a Mormon, and then project it onto the membership or investigator pool at large, so as to validate my concerns and be able to say “See, I told you so.” However, to be perfectly honest, I really have no idea why we’re experiencing decreased growth. My own issues need not necessarily correspond with anyone else’s reality.

    That said, someone at LDS-PHIL (Clark Goble?) wondered whether investigators’ and members’ increased access to information (via the internet) and the Church’s failure to fully exploit that medium might play an explanatory role here. I’m not sure I buy it, but it is an interesting idea. I’m one of the many souls who became disillusioned (though not to the point of leaving, or even full inactivity) after (and even during) my mission when I delved into LDS history and felt betrayed by what I saw as whitewashing by the institutional church. I’m not interested right now in debating the political and philosophical issues entailed in that subject, but I do believe my experiences are not unique, and I can see how such disillusionment could take place on a mass scale, now that the obscurities of Mormon history are just a mouse-click away.

    Aaron B

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Clarification: I’m not trying to reduce the issue of decreased Church growth to what I said in my previous comment. That’s just one possible explanation of many.

    Aaron B

  3. The 2001 study was for the U.S., and in that study the 7th day adventists and JW’s are also quite flat. It is overseas where those groups are growing (or claim to be) very rapidly.

    Possibly this slowdown is the natural result of such quick conversion over the last couple decades. Most periods of growth are followed by harvesting periods where lots members leave.

    Regardless, I don’t imagine that any of these numbers are unknown to the CHurch leaders. They have been reformulating missionary work and so forth for several years now. The key to growth and retention is member involvement (which was not always there in the many baptisms that never turn into active members). Without that, I don’t imagine retention will ever look good.

  4. In the international church, nominal growth has really always vastly outstripped actual growth (the distinction I’m interested in here is members on the books vs. people who actually think of themselves as members). Over the last year, I’ve run into a lot of anecdotal indications that the church is actually shrinking in terms of attendance and self-identification in some Latin American countries: wards with attendance of 20 people a week or so, consolidations of previously divided stakes, etc. The same is true back home in our region of the San Francisco Bay Area. Obviously, these things are counterbalanced by some places where the church is genuinely growing.

    There was a piece about this in Dialogue recently, using census numbers to compare Chilean and Brazilian official membership with self-identification. As I remember it, the answer was that about 30% of those on the books think of themselves as members. This statistic is evidently much higher in the US.

    My opinion, based on nothing more substantial than typical tea-leaf-reading, is that there was a decision made a few decades back to concentrate on baptism rather than on retention–hence the streamlined missionary discussions, etc. In the last few years, there seems to have been a realization of some of the negative consequences of baptizing and then immediately losing track of millions of people. This has led to policies such as the famous raising of the bar and the increased emphasis on missionary retention and reactivation efforts. But while these new efforts haven’t yet produced any results, they have reduced proselytizing efforts at the margin–probably accounting for the moderate fall-off in convert baptism rates per capita.

    Okay, enough poorly-documented rambling.

  5. I think it’s interesting that this post went up at the same time the “Mormons’ New True Believers” article went up on the sidebar. We are slow to change and reflect society. For the most part this is good, but in the instance of clearly repudiatin racism, I think it hurts us.

  6. From my own experience of being literally afraid of physically going to church, I think for a lot of people who leave it’s because of how badly they’re treated by fellow church members. Last year I was in a situation where behavior of certain other Mormons was so extreme that it resulted in criminal proceedings, and yet I was given absolutely no support by members of the church or my local leaders. I don’t think ill of the Church as a whole for what happened, but I think it’s indicative of a growing trend of socially accepted unChristlike behavior. That’s awfully hard to tolerate coming from people who profess to accept the pure love of Christ and who have covenanted to live by Christ’s higher laws. And while we should all know that just because someone’s a Mormon doesn’t mean they’re perfect, it should mean they at least know better and should be trying a bit harder. Like the saying goes, the church is true, but the people aren’t. Unfortunately it can be hard to participate when other members go out of their way to be ugly to their spiritual brothers and sisters. The Spirit can’t dwell in unclean places, and even a church building can be made unclean when those who occupy it are vicious, deceitful, and downright dangerous. I know this probably isn’t the number one reason for membership loss, but I think it’s a major contributing factor.

  7. Nate Oman says:

    I have to admit that I am suspicious of Aaron’s account of the decrease in Church growth. I think that the issues that he points out are very real, and I certainly wish that we were less defensive about discussing our history and doctrine. However, there is something very intellectual-centric about these arguments that makes me suspicious. I would suspect that other demographic factors are at work, eg we have largely exhausted the demographic from which we were drawing converts, the ratio of experienced to inexperienced members diminishes the effectiveness of local units at some point, etc.

    From what I see, the Brethren seem very much aware of and concerned about the faltering of growth, ie the new missionary program, ubiquitous emphasis on retention, etc. I suspect that what we are seeing is a cycle that the Church goes through. We have certainly had periods of explosive growth followed by periods of relative “stagnation” in the past.

  8. danithew says:

    I’ve been reading a book by Sayyid Qutb, titled Milestones. He was an influential thinker and writer who was eventually hanged by the Egyptian government (in 1966) — basically because he was teaching people to rise up against the evil non-Islamic governments. Today some people trace al-Qaeda and their philosophy back to Sayyid Qutb. What does this have to do with this thread? Well, Qutb expresses rather strong opinions about the forces and means that that are required for the growth of religion. In Milestones he writes:

    “It would be naive to assume that a call is raised to free the whole of humankind throughout the earth, and it is confined to preaching and exposition.” (page 63)

    Qutb is rather directly stating here and in his book that war is also a needed means to spread the word of God — at least from the Islamic perspective of history.

    That made me pause and think a little bit. I’m not sure that we are “naive” as Qutb states, just because we rely primarily (perhaps solely) on missionary work and births for church growth. My view and I think the view of many Mormons has been that sometimes the Lord has to step in and make dramatic changes in a country or a culture so that missionaries can come into the country and teach the people. It isn’t that we don’t believe that other forces can play a role in making missionary work possible — but we don’t ourselves don’t take it upon ourselves to use means other than persuasion. I’m grateful for that.

    But if we want to look at a fast-growing group we should forget about comparing our size/growth to that of other Christian groups or the Jewish people. There is another comparison that gives us a better perspective of how far we still have to go. Today I read a statistic about the Muslim minority in India, which numbers approximately 130 million people. In addition to that, Muslims constitute a majority of the population in 53 countries and about 1/5th of the population of the world.

    Suddenly 12 million seems like a drop in the bucket. I do think we are growing. I think temples are a fairly new indicator of growth and progress as well. I believe it is temples that represent the strongest move for retention in the Church and perhaps an attraction for new members as well.

    By the way, the data I wrote down about the size of Muslim populations gets repeated at least a few times in a book by Bassam Tibi, titled “The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder.”

  9. A number of non-Christian denominations are growing much faster than the Latter-day Saint church. For details, listen to the second presentation, by Gerald McDermott, in the following Worlds of Joseph Smith session: http://broadcast.lds.org/JosephSmithBroadcast/5_wofjs.mp3

  10. alamojag says:

    While I am saddened to read Heather’s comments, I also understand them. My wife and I were driven from the branch where we reside, and had no difficulty getting approval to have our records moved to another branch. My wife still is afraid to go to church, and will not even go grocery shopping without me for fear of running into the people who hounded her out of activity. That is the main reason I am taking a job in a new state that in many ways is a step down professionally. Our new branch president is understanding, but no matter how much healing he can help with, the vicious rumor-mongering people will still be there.

    It does not help that the worst of the lot was recently made the district relief society president. That this is possible is one of the reasons the church is not growing in our little corner of the world.

  11. danithew says:

    Heather, I was sad to read your comment. We regularly hear the teaching that people need to be prepared to endure imperfect people in order to attend church. Every time that point comes up my wife feels a need to add that members could do more to be sensitive and not offend people. We need to be wiser as a people.

  12. Alamojag- are you sure about that? Where are the scars?

    No offense, but I am tired of seeing the good Latter-day Saints in Alamogordo, NM slandered time and time again. That the Church is not growing probably has little to do with the little situation which you have created for yourself in your “little corner of the world.”

    In answer to Brother Hatch’s question, I think we are too lenient in letting people join, and that over the last 2 or 3 decades there has been too much pressure to baptize- almost in a businesslike way of seeing a baptism as the fungible unit for measuring the value of missionary work.

  13. D. Fletcher says:

    “I think we are too lenient in letting people join.”

    I find this just hilarious. So, we’re an elite church of perfect people, eh? Only the master race need apply.

  14. Aaron Brown says:

    Heather, I’m intrigued. If you don’t mind me asking (and maybe you do), what exactly happened to you in your ward? I’ve got buckets of criticism to offer about lots of wards I’ve been in, but I’ve never quite been around dangerous experiences like the one you appear to be alluding to.

    Aaron B

  15. Now, now, D.

    You must know I did not mean it that way. I simply mean that with so much focus on baptisms over the last several decades, we have forgotten somewhat (though recently President Hinckley has been good at reminding us) that we are dealing with PEOPLE here, not numbers. And real people may need more preparation to live gospel principles than we have in the past allowed them before pushing them into the waters of baptism.

  16. -“I think we are too lenient in letting people join.”
    -” So, we’re an elite church of perfect people, eh?”

    I agree that we are too lenient, but I don’t think that making the bar a little higher will turn us into elitists. The problem seems to be that missionaries push people who aren’t ready or who aren’t really into it to get baptized. I saw it all the time on my mission. We were allowed (and encouraged) to baptize people who had been to church once and who weren’t really showing signs that they understood the seriousness of the commitment they were making. Others had only been off cigarettes or alcohol for only a week and fell away almost immediately when they had their first relapse. I wish I had used better judgment and allowed my investigators to progress at their own rate and be baptized when and if they really wanted to make a commitment.

  17. Julie in Austin says:

    I was curious for a non-bloggernacle take on the ‘we baptize people too soon’ position, so in a very delicate way, I brought up the issue with the elders when they were over for dinner. The response: complete lack of concern. “It’s the members’ responsibility to fellowship them and keep them active. Our only job is to get them baptized.” I’m still not sure how I feel about this.

  18. Julie, I remember being told on my mission by one of the Seventy that there was no such thing as an unprepared baptism. Missionaries were in the business of baptizing people–and we should never decide not to baptize someone. (I suppose it wasn’t an option to wait; the only two alternatives discussed in the talk were to baptize now or to refuse baptism.)

    Then we blamed the (few) members for not doing their home teaching.

    Our mission only tracked activity rates for a month after baptism–but, by the one-month mark, only about 25% of our converts were still attending. The Caribbean, which includes my mission, has a reputation for especially low retention and activity rates, so this is probably anomalous. But such low percentages certainly do suggest systematic problems with the missionary and retention system there.

  19. John Mansfield says:

    Concerning retention, I have sometimes wondered about Jesus’ parable about the sower who went forth to sow. When he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up. Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth. When the sun was up, they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up, and choked them. But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. He didn’t say so explicitly with this parable, but with many he would say “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.” At which point in this description does baptism come?

  20. Aaron Brown says:

    Nicole, Julie in Austen,

    I have pretty strong views on the subjects you mention. At the risk of shamelessly promoting my own writings, I would refer you to this prior thread of mine:

    http://rameumptom.blogspot.com/2004/10/perils-of-setting-baptismal-goals.html

    In particular, check out my discussion with “Hmmmm” in the comments section.

    Aaron B

  21. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s growth.

    Seriously, comparison with other churches may be instructive in some ways, but I don’t see why it should impact our self-image. In our efforts to motivate each other I wonder if we haven’t set some unrealistic expectations. My take on it is that there is a natural ebb and flow to these things–much of it out of our control. We are reminded that silence in testimony meeting is not a bad thing. Why can’t it be so for church growth?

  22. danithew says:

    There is no question that the quality of missionary work can make a significant difference in retention. There are numerous things that can be done on the missionary side of things to make a difference. Here are three basics:

    1. When women and children are taught, is a significant effort made to include the father/husband in the process — even to give him a major influence in the setting of appointments? Or ask the same question in another way: What percentage of baptisms in a mission are adult males? If it is substantially lower than 25%, there could be a serious problem.

    2. Do missionaries follow up on Book of Mormon reading assignments or do they just plow ahead with discussions regardless of what the investigators are doing or not doing? Anytime an assigned chapter hasn’t been read, missionaries should drop the discussion and read the chapter with the investigators.

    3. Have investigators attended church at least twice before they are baptized?

    It is amazing (at least in some missions) how easy it is to baptize women and children (without the participation of husbands and fathers) who have never read a chapter of the Book of Mormon and never attended church. Unless missionaries make a special effort to require that all these things happen, there are numerous factors that can lead a new baptism to fall into almost immediate inactivity.

  23. Danithew, your three points are interesting ones. In my mission (the one that lost 75% of baptized members by the end of one month), all three of these points were mission rules. The mission rules required repeated efforts to teach husbands as well as wives and children, the mission rules required verified Book of Mormon reading before baptism, and the mission rules required two consecutive weeks of church attendance before baptism. Obviously, these rules might have kept our retention rates from being even lower than they were (hard to imagine, really), but it’s equally obvious that these kinds of ideas just didn’t make anywhere near enough of a difference.

    Fixing this is probably going to require quite a lot of tinkering with the system. It’s promising to see that adjustments are underway.

    I sometimes wonder also, thinking in marketing language, if part of the recent trends might have to do with an overexposure of our brand in the religious marketplace…

  24. Two weeks of church attendance should be the minimum for people who can’t wait to get into the font–the Alma the Younger upon conversion types. For normal people, it seems to me like a pattern or habit of attendance should be established first.

  25. Excellent post. Tweaking the missionary and HT programs won’t help. Our culture has to change. The fact that we still distinguish between who’s to teach an investigator or a reactivate a member, when a good Shepard would view both as essentially the same activity, says a lot about how screwed up we are. Until our LDS culture views the church as a hospital for sinners, retention will always be a major problem. “Raising the bar” is an example of the problem. Even minor issues like a WofW relapse make people uncomfortable to attend our church, when church attendance should be a positive experience regardless of one’s state of obedience. It’s easy for Satan to pick off new and weak saints with his message of discouragement the way we down play Christ’s message of hope and negate his atonement. Flat to negative growth is a very serious issue. Empires that stop expanding quickly splinter and collapse.

    My advice to the apostles: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Then you can look up and find a way out.

  26. lyle stamps says:

    Why do we care again how fast others are growing? Maybe some take pride in the Stark, et al. predictions of fast growth & mega status; but I can’t really think of any I know offhand.

    I’m also unsure whether the presence of “unclean” vessels in any given LDS Chapel is going to cause the Spirit to depart. If so, we might as well all stop going.

    To easy to get in? To hard to keep? If it is so easy to get people baptised…why aren’t there more? If its so hard to keep people going, why do they start in the first place?

    Rather than talking about statistics, maybe we should each decide to talk with 1 investigator and 1 new member this coming Sunday and/or call/visit them during the week in order to answer these questions. Perhaps anecdotal, personal evidence is more important than statistically significant causal factors?

  27. convert says:

    Here’s a question: where are all these converts coming from, and are they aware of the expectations that will be placed on them once they are members?

    Some converts later grumble about not being told of the *historical* issues with the church, but for others the sting is from not knowing about all the social expectations of the church, especially if they come from other churches where little is required of them. Comparatively speaking, the LDS church requires far more of its membership who also serves as a lay clergy: talks, testimonies, lessons, callings–all of these can intimidate new members, even to the point of staying away once they know what they’re in for.

    When a prospective member only goes to church once or twice (if that) before being baptized, that’s not enough time to get a true picture of what being Mormon is like.

    Some who come from other church traditions are not used to the level of scrutiny and intimacy that is expected in the LDS church. From recommend interviews where questions about underwear and sex are de rigeur, to HT/VT programs, there is not much privacy once one becomes LDS. This is also not apparent as soon as one is baptized.

    These are just a few reasons new converts fade away.

  28. Prudence McPrude says:

    My theory is that God is withdrawing his Spirit from the Church, ever since we displeased him by abandoning polygamy, giving the Blacks the priesthood, and promoting two-piece garments.

  29. Personally I found it funny how the Trib article came up a few days after the M* discussion of it. Clearly people here aren’t reading it. (grin) Of course I posted the M* article because I found the LDS-Phil discussion so interesting.

  30. alamojag says:

    Carpe,

    The “good people of Alamogordo”? It is, and was, well known that my wife has a mental illness. What happened was a result and a symptom of that mental illness. What happened was not in any way her fault–if anybody’s it was mine. I could have handled the situation differently, and I accepted church discipline because of it.

    But I’ll tell you about the scars that few in Alamogordo (next to none in the church) bothered to see. As soon as things came to a head, she was institutionalized for nearly two weeks. A few weeks after her release, she had oral surgery. Did the home teachers come to give a blessing? No. Did the visiting teachers bother to call? No.

    The week before Thanksgiving, she had double surgery: carpal tunnel on her right hand and reoncstructive surgery on her right ankle. The district president promised her that the church would show how they felt about her after that surgery. That Sunday morning, she got up, got dressed, and straightened up the living room. Did the home teachers come or call? No. Did the visiting teachers come or call? No. Did any of the branch presidency come or call? No. Did any of the relief society come or call? No. Did anybody from the church come or call? No. That was the last day for months that she got dressed unless she was going to another doctor’s appointment.

    In January, she had carpal tunnel on her other hand. Same questions, same answers. In February, she had a D&F and had two cysts removed from her ovaries. Same questions, same answers. In March, she had a total hysterectomy. Same questions, similar answers. The relief society president from the new branch visited because the district president told her to. The relief society president in the branch where we live did not visit, even though I begged her to did not, because the branch president told her not to.

    At the next April General Conference, several speakers, including President Hinkley, specifically cited the scripture that talks about visitng the sick, those in prison, etc., doing unto “the least of these, my brethren”. When my wife saw that, knowing that the branch president forbad the relief society president from visiting, understood that she is worse than “the least of these,” and had to be institutionalized again. I knew she was in a bad way, and called the branch president for a blessing. That was Monday night. She was hospitalized Tuesday afternoon. We finally got somebody to give her a blessing on Saturday.

    About two weeks after she was released this time, her mother died. Because (in part) of the same overwhelming response from the church, she was institutionalized for a total of seven weeks. The month she went in we had our first home teachers in over a year.

    Her father died in May. The only response we got from the church was a card, after I asked the branch president to send her one. Her brothers and sisters came home to cards, flowers, and meals.

    We are now starting our third year since she has anybody even pretend to visit teach. In that time, the only female member of the church who has darkened our door has been her sister.

    Yeah, the “good people of Alamogordo.”

    I have lots of missionary opportunities at work, since I have diplomas from BYU in my office, and I was born and raised in Salt Lake. Of course the question always comes up, “Are you a Mormon?” I answer yes and change the subject. I don’t want others to experience the same things we have here. The gospel is supposed to include love, charity, and forgiveness. But for some reason, the “good people in Alamogordo” believe that the atonement doesn’t apply to someone with mental illnesses.

    You hear lots of complaints about bigotry against gays, lesbians, and feminists, but you haven’t seen anything until you see the reaction to a mental disability. It really is the last acceptable prejudice.

  31. alamojag says:

    Carpe,

    You know who I am. Who are you, and what do you know, or what do you think you know?

    I suspect it wasn’t directly from anybody who really does know our situation. It is easy to attack me behind a screen name. I can show you medical documentation, bills, or my tax return from last year showing our medical expenses. All you have is ugly rumors.

  32. Lyle, I think you know enough social science methodology to know the problems with trying to draw general conclusions from anecdotes. Statistical data is inherently a better place to start because it actually represents the population and is unlikely to be driven by anomalous individuals. Furthermore, there’s a serious selectivity problem involved in talking with investigators and new members that we can find at church. These, after all, are the folks who are interested in attending–whereas our discussion is primarily about those who are not attending. So we’d get the wrong kinds of people and we might not get the right insights.

    The church has in the past, and most likely will continue in the future, to conduct quiet local experiments with changes in meeting format, missionary program, home teaching, and so forth. (One experiment I’m jealous of: some stakes in Chile evidently tried a two-hour block, with Sunday School and priesthood/Relief Society alternating in the non-Sacrament Meeting slot.) I assume that these experiments are evaluated using retention, activity, and baptism statistics–because one rarely hears reports of the General Authorities conducting in-depth interviews in areas with experimental programs. Besides, the relevant statistics kind of naturally flow into Salt Lake, anyway–never to return to the rest of the world…

  33. “2. Do missionaries follow up on Book of Mormon reading assignments or do they just plow ahead with discussions regardless of what the investigators are doing or not doing? Anytime an assigned chapter hasn’t been read, missionaries should drop the discussion and read the chapter with the investigators.” (quoting danithew)

    Doesn’t this send the message that if you don’t keep your commitment, some nice person from the church will come to you and hold your hand and do it alongside you? For lonely people who love for missionaries to keep them company, that’s a wonderful reward for failing to keep their commitments. They get at least 12 pre-baptism visits now instead of a measly 6, just by “forgetting” to read the assignment every time.

    However, once the forgetful non-reader joins the church, and is called to be, say, Primary teacher, what happens if s/he doesn’t prepare the assigned lesson? The Primary President can’t drop Primary and come to the house and prepare the lesson with the new teacher. The Primary President can, however, ask for the slack teacher to be released.

    New members rarely get *more* visits or *more* positive attention when they try their “what happens if I don’t keep my commitments?” tricks on the members. The established members tend to view such people as slackers who are wasting others’ time and aren’t serious about the church. This is shocking and disappointing to former investigators who got used to the “good missionary” response to slackitude; i.e., solicitous hand-holding.

    “3. Have investigators attended church at least twice before they are baptized?”

    How about adding… and it doesn’t count if the missionaries were instrumental in the logistics. How about investigators getting to and from church at least twice, either (1) on their own or (2) with transportation arranged/provided by a local member with no prompting from the missionaries.

  34. I’ve been keeping track of stake creations (as reported in the church news) for the last several months because I find it interesting. Numbers of stakes seems to be a reasonable metric for tracking effective growth over the long run, since creating a stake takes certain numbers of active priesthood holders. A couple of years ago the number of stakes actually went down as the church consolidated many stakes, especially in the Phillipines and Chile. (The number of stakes in Chile went down by more than 1/3, if I remember right!) Some disaffected/anti types crowed about this, but I think it was largely just a correction from the overcreation of stakes in the late 90’s and not some harbinger of doom. Since then stakes have resumed growing at a slow but steady pace.

    So far this year, the church has reported creating 20 new stakes: 6 in the mountain west, 1 elsewhere in North America, 10 in Latin America, and 3 in Africa. Notably there have been zero stakes created on the Eurasian landmass where the majority of the world’s population lives.

  35. Why has the growth stopped. If you are looking for one answer you will not find it. It is based on many small things.
    The fact that people are brought into the church to fast. While wrapped in the loving arms of the missionaries and ward, as investigators all are, they feel at home. Then BANG. The ward and missionaries turn to the next subject and all of that warmth and love goes away. Then they see the tight social groups, the BIC’s who are socially better then them, the RM’s who get the callings while the prole converts get to clean up after them. The people who acted so spiritual when they were inverstigating turn out to be back biters.

    so many harsh realities and truths hit them that they do not just leave..They flee.

    The problem is not the missionary program. The problem is the people in the church. Weed out the 10 percent that have no spirit and are the weeds in the garden and the rest will bloom.

    SLC needs to clean house in the member rolls. Not the inactives. No. They need to clean out the poisonous actives.

  36. alamojag says:

    gunner,

    In many ways, I agree with you. In the second ward my wife and I were in (in Las Vegas, NV), when we complained to the bishop that we felt excluded, he just nodded his head and confessed that he wasn’t on the “A” list either. There were really three wards there: the long-time members, the military, and everybody else. I was comforted to know that the bishop saw and regretted it as much as I did.

    The next Las Vegas ward we were in was the best stateside unit we were in. Not sure why, but the saints in that ward were Saints.

    We loved both our wards in Albuquerque.

    The Servicemans’ Branch in Korea was the nearest the Celestial Kingdom we have found.

    The Utah ward was clique-ey. It was the one I grew up in, so I was okay, but my wife was completely ignored.

    I think part of Microsoft’s success comes from the fact that every year they fire the bottom 5 per cent. Maybe the church could do a similar weeding.

  37. Before trying to find out why “growth has stopped” we should stop to ask whether it has really stopped at all. Certainly growth as measured by baptisms has slowed, but not stopped. Likewise growth as measured by number of stakes. Whether growth as measured by attendence has stopped or even slowed I don’t think we can say unless someone here has a spy inside the church office building. The ARIS study on self-identification does show slow growth in the USA, but not zero growth.

  38. danithew says:

    Roasted Tomatoes, I observed how those three basics I talked about earlier made a major difference in investigator retention in my mission. I would have expected that they would make a difference in many missions. But I’m sure different contexts present different challenges. The real emphasis I think should be on investigators performing those tasks that will lead to them gaining a testimony. From what I witnessed, reading and understanding the Book of Mormon was a major deciding factor. Yes, sometimes it meant that the missionaries would meet with the investigators as many as twelve times. But still, that is not only reading the Book of Mormon chapters but discussion of what those chapters are saying and meaning. It often means that the missionaries get past the initial required chapters and that the investigator actually starts to read the Book of Mormon for himself or herself. It is hard to read and discuss the Book of Mormon to that degree and not gain some measure of feeling for its worth.

  39. jjohnsen says:

    “The church has in the past, and most likely will continue in the future, to conduct quiet local experiments with changes in meeting format, missionary program, home teaching, and so forth. (One experiment I’m jealous of: some stakes in Chile evidently tried a two-hour block, with Sunday School and priesthood/Relief Society alternating in the non-Sacrament Meeting slot.)”

    I know 3 couples with young children that would instantly become more active if this became real churchwide. Until nursury age the choice usually comes down to take the child to class and ruin everyone elses experience, or keep the child out in the hall and ruin your own.

    “In many ways, I agree with you. In the second ward my wife and I were in (in Las Vegas, NV), when we complained to the bishop that we felt excluded, he just nodded his head and confessed that he wasn’t on the “A” list either. There were really three wards there: the long-time members, the military, and everybody else. I was comforted to know that the bishop saw and regretted it as much as I did.”

    I’ve lived in 5 wards (not including my mission) and they’ve all had three tiers of members. It only takes a month or so to figure out what tier you’ve been assigned too.

  40. If you are familiar with the reality TV show 30 Days, don’t you think it would be an interesting episode to see a non-member participate in an LDS ward for 30 days, similar to the show they did on a Christian man spending a month living in a Muslim community?

  41. My solutions for increasing converts are:

    -The Church needs to be able to adapt better to different cultures and the modern age, especially as it pertains to music. I know if our hymns were more upbeat and joyful, I would enjoy church a million times more. Church needs to seem more like happy worship than solemn and stale motions. How about a little clapping? Just a little. Please?

    -Build crying rooms in chapels. We are one of the few churches who have babies and adults sitting together. Having just moved from the singles ward to the adult ward, the difference is amazing. The cacophony of children screaming makes worship concentration quite difficult. I know visitors who were quite disconcerted by the noise.

    -Give women the Aaronic priesthood and make a two year mission a requirement for them too. This would double the missionary force.

    -Why not increase the burden of missionary work on members instead of the missionaries. The JW’s are committed enough to their faith to go door to door tracting as laymen. Instead of home teaching active members who would rather not be bothered with the visit, we should change the requirement to having to go tracting an hour a month.

    -Finally I agree with Steve EM that church has to become a place where sinners feel more comfortable. Sinner flocked to Jesus, and yet flee from the modern church. Our church does a great job of converting the already “golden”-those pretty much already living a good life, but not as good a job of attracting the more down and out. Other Christian churches I investigated before joining this one did a much better job at this. There were former skater punks, and Harley dudes, and drug addicts, ect who had changed their life around for Jesus. And while these kind of people occasionally do convert to the LDS faith, I think it happens far less often.

  42. Sometimes I think difficult (or even obnoxious) members are just another one of the trials that Heavenly Fathers gives us.

    I have to remind myself that there are no real training courses to be a home-teacher, an EQ pres, a RS pres, a Bishop, a Stake President. Sure, there are a few training sessions, but precious few. There is no certification procedure. As soon as an adult male joins, BOOM, he’s put out there as a junior home teaching companion, and his vision of home teaching depends largely on his senior companion.

    Same with missionaries. Two weeks at the MTC is nothing. A lot depends on who trains them.

    Sure, the callings you go through are supposed to help you for future, more responsible, callings. But the main training method of most callings in the church is being thrown into the deep end, and told to swim.

  43. >I know if our hymns were more upbeat and joyful.

    Privately suggest to the bishop that the chorister/pianist pick up the tempo. Some do tend to drag.

    >Build crying rooms

    One of the goals is to get kids programmed for being in sacrament meetings *with* family. Families with loud children should sit near the back doors of the chapel. Hopefully people w/o kids avoid those seats so the families with small children can be near the door.

    If parents don’t take yelling kids out, privately complain to your bishop. Bishops, as most married people, have the ability to tune out yelling kids. Bishops can forget that people without kids don’t have that ability.

    >Give women the Aaronic priesthood and make a two year mission a requirement

    I’m all for that. :-) The elders quorum would then have only half the home-teaching load. Missionary service for women could be emphasized more. But, it ain’t gonna happen.

    >Why not increase the burden of missionary work on members instead of the missionaries.

    That’s been emphasized more and more over the last 20 years. Where you been?

    >we should change the requirement to having to go tracting an hour a month

    Why wait for a requirement? Just do it. You already have a ward mission leader who should coordinate. If not, do it on your own. Start with your neighbors. Get some Bibles and Books of Mormon, as well as tracts. Write your phone # and name in the BoM. Write the chapel address and meeting times. Write your testimony.

    >… attracting the more down and out. There were former skater punks, and Harley dudes, and drug addicts, ect who had changed their life around for Jesus.

    Look in the inner city wards. Plenty of down-and-outers and former whatevers in the inner city. Many of them turn around, rise up in life, and they are now your neighbors in your suburb wards.

  44. John Mansfield says:

    “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” 1 Cor. 3:7-8

    I was a stake missionary in a Baltimore ward that experienced 74 convert baptisms one year. The year before wasn’t like that and neither was the year after, and I couldn’t see anything the ward was doing different or better in that one astonishing year. It seemed that the Spirit was working on people to bring them into the Church and we were along for the ride. A couple years later most of those converts weren’t participating with the Church, and I wondered about that, too. Those who fell away had attended the Gospel Essentials class several weeks before baptism and had remained active for some number of months. They had been in my home, the bishop’s home, and many others. The only answer I have is that it is a broad path that leads to destruction, and that’s the route most take.

    We read the scriptures about white fields ready to harvest as though they refer to the entire globe from 1830 into perpetuity. I suspect they really were about a particular time and place, hence the urgency to act then and there. I believe such harvests will continue to ripen and we won’t control when or where.

  45. John Mansfield says:

    … one rarely hears reports of the General Authorities conducting in-depth interviews in areas with experimental programs.” –Roasted Tomatoes

    Here’s one for you. A woman told me that one of her assignments as a missionary was to a unit in Alabama that had unusually good retention. She said General Authorities visited the unit several times trying to understand why it was working so well. I received this story first hand; unfortunately you get it second hand.

    It later made me think of this passage in Helaman: “And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance. And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.”

  46. There are difficult, ie obnoxious, or strange people in every ward. I thought we’d gotten rid of our two, but two more moved in. I’ve decided it’s an act of God.

    I lived in a ward that was unkind, insensitive, and extremely cliquish. It was a good lesson for me. They do exist, it’s not in everyone’s head.

    But mostly, people are just trying to survive, albeit in sometimes dyfunctional ways. Mormon, non-mormon, it’s all about survival. IMHO

  47. I know of one stake created in Europe, that hasn’t made the Church news yet: the Rome Italy Stake, organized in May by Elder Russell M. Nelson.

    I find the Church Almanac more useful than the Church News for tracking stakes by state and country. That’s because it comes out often enough (every year, as often as the total number of stakes is announced) and it lists the stakes dissolved as well as the stakes created.

    One thing to consider with stakes and wards created/dissolved is that a couple of years ago the Brethren came out with minimum numbers of active, tithe-paying Melchizedek Priesthood for each. They have also said that simply reaching those thresholds (as well as the minimum number of members) alone is not enough to divide or upgrade. It has to be demonstrated that the unit would stay above those numbers as well.

    So when a stake gets dissolved, or a district gets divided off from a stake, I see it as more of a lateral move than a step backward.

  48. MegaEagle says:

    alamojag,

    I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but did you call your home teachers and ask for help? Did you go out of your way to help them serve you and your wife in that situation? Your postings are a really extensive list of things people didn’t do for you. How pathetic is that?
    A long time ago, I decided that every time I feel alienated from the Church in general and my ward in particular (which has been too often, unfortunately), I would make it a point to seek out someone who feels more alienated than I do, and try to make them feel welcome and included. It works every time, and I’ve had great experiences and managed to stay in the Church, even though I can rarely last through the entire three hour block due to chronic boredom.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, why don’t you grow a pair and take it upon yourself to be an agent of the kind of positive change you would like to see in your area, instead of defining your church experience by other people’s failures?

  49. alamojag says:

    MegaEagle,

    Thank you for asking relevant questions. Yes, through all this time we asked and even begged our leaders for home teachers. We were told that they were assigned, but we were not told who they were. We were cut off from any other contact with other members of the branch; the branch president forbad anybody but the branch presidency to contact us. Shortly after her first release from the hospital, my wife called the sister who coordinates meals for the missionaries. We weren’t even permitted to feed the missionaries! Because of my discipline, I was not able to participate at all in any church function. The branch president basically told me I was to sit in a corner and think about what a bad boy I was. What am I supposed to do when the branch president forbids contact with any of the members? It was only two weeks ago that the new branch president told me I could volunteer in classes and encouraged me to be anything other than the unwanted observer sitting in the corner.

    Because of the overt hostility, my wife’s counselors think she’s incredibly stupid to even consider going back to ANY church, let alone the LDS church. She would come back and even try to be active if she were given a calling, any calling. There is also her physical health–because everything hit her so hard and so fast, she just can’t be active for more than a couple of hours at a time.

    In the new branch, I accompany the choir. We practice every week, and I have played for several performances. When the normal organist is out of town, I have played the organ for sacrament meeting; I also regularly play the piano for priesthood, and have played the piano for several baptisms. We have attended viewings of members in the old branch who have died–that way we can still pay our respects and avoid the crowds we know will be at the funeral. One of her girls whom she taught as a Young Woman was recently convicted at at court-martial on base here. Her parents told us we were the only people, in or out of the church, who asked them if there were anything we could do for them. The other couple from the church who were there to support the young woman asked my wife how we were able to transfer our records, since they wanted to, too.

    There really ARE good people in Alamogordo, so thanks also for giving me the chance to mention them, too. Once the right people finally heard about our not being home taught, one brother volunteered, and has only missed one month in over a year now–because he was in Europe. He came over and helped weed-whack my backyard. Another brother drove with me to pick up the car from the impound lot where the police took it when they tracked her down before one of her institutionalizations. People still don’t talk to me much in this branch, but this time I think it is because they have other things on their minds, not because they are snubbing me. People in church either makes friends through their children or their callings, and we have neither. I don’t feel unwelcome in this branch, it just doesn’t feel like home.

    A few people ask about her in church. But NOT the relief society president or any of her counselors. For the first year we were attending the branch, she would tell me in sacrament meeting that she was my wife’s visiting teacher, and that she would call her the next week. Still waiting for that call several months later. The branch president assigned somebody else, who has at least called. In all, probably most of the people here are sincerely trying, but the haters and rumor-mongers are in positions of leadership, and most people follow that example.

    We had another LDS member in our office (just militarily transferred to Korea). He and his wife took out their endowments the week before they left. We talked several times about the upcoming experience, and I encouraged him and congratulated him on this next step in their lives, and I told him about military-style garments that are khaki-colored so they can be worn with the utility uniform. It has not been very long since I decided that, just because other people don’t live the gospel, doesn’t mean that I can’t, or at least try to.

  50. Tom Manney says:

    I’ve read a lot of suggestions about how we’re not doing enough. Sometimes we do too much.

    There is a capable, hard-working, intelligent father and husband who recently joined the Church in my ward, and subsequently his two young sons and his wife were baptized. They have been members about a year now, and they are semi-active. Some of that may be for health reasons (the wife has MS), but for the most part it is because he doesn’t see the all-important need to be there every Sunday. He has told ward leaders that he finds all the well-intentioned attention (somebody’s visiting his house every week, and often more than once) annoying and unnecessary. My ward of overachievers is so focused on keeping this family active that they are coming on way too strong. I’ve got an elders quorum president breathing down my neck to visit and call and call some more and visit again. I just want to let the guy be. Give him some space.

    For that matter, I wish the ward would give me a little more breathing room. If I miss church due to a bad morning with my fibromyalgia, I’ve got that elders quorum president banging down my door after church. I’m unshowered and in my pyjamas, and I don’t want to be entertaining guests. It’s not the end of the world if I miss one Sunday. I don’t want attention. I just want to be treated like I’m normal and everything is okay, because I am normal and everything is okay.

  51. Funny that nobody (of the ones I read) mentioned the religious product that they decided to reject. Couldn’t be a problem with that, now could there?

  52. alamojag says:

    Very clever, Darren. From studies I have heard about (okay, this is second-hand), belief isn’t always the problem; living it is. Standards are high, and not everybody call live them. As has been mentioned above, acceptance of those who struggle is more rare than it should be. There are many who shun fellow saints who are different from them. It can be race, social class, political positions, sexual orientation, family size, level of faithfulness, etc. I have been told of a bishop who threatened to call the police and tell them one of his young men was harassing his wife if the boy showed up to a youth activity wearing an earring. It’s not the content of what the Church teaches; it’s how the members live or don’t live it.

  53. Smothered says:

    I can’t stand going to church and being smothered by “caring” people who drown me in questions about my family and personal life. My experiences are personal–I’ll open up and share what I want, when I want, and with whom I want. And I go to church for my own benefit, not so others can check up on gossip and offer unsolicited advice.

    I SINCERELY LOVE THE GOSPEL, but I desperately wish I could attend church like any other Christian–ANONYMOUSLY.

  54. I agree with Tom Maney about the overcaring of memebers. I was hounded constantly by the Elder’s quoram president, the different members of the bishopric, and others about my inactive brother. I explained his situation to them several times that he was just not interested in the Church anymore, but I guess they had faith that if they only talked to him he would have a desire to change and then he could be ordained an Elder and then they could put in on their report. They didn’t even ask me how I felt about my brother’s inactivity. I felt like I was being overlooked in the whole process despite the fact that he was my brother and I lived with him. I’ve never been so mad in my entire life. I felt like I wasn’t be listned to at all. They same thing happened with my non-member dad growing up. My dad has supported my family in all our church activity only on the condition that we don’t pressure him with our beliefs. Everytime our family would get new hometeachers, they’re always wanting to meet my dad and talk to him, but my dad doesn’t want anything to do with them because he knows the only reason they want to be his friend is to get him to come to church. They don’t understand why my dad wouldn’t want to talk to them. Here’s a clue: your wearing a shirt and tie, you’ve got the scriptures and a copy of the Ensign, and you’re coming to share a gospel message, plus you’re assigned to us and wouldn’t have any interest in my dad if you weren’t.

  55. In comment #27 by convert, he asks:
    Here’s a question: where are all these converts coming from, and are they aware of the expectations that will be placed on them once they are members?

    I think that part of the retention problem may also be where the converts are coming from. Have you ever noticed that most of the new converts are relatively poor compared with the long-time members? At least that is the way it is in our ward. Over the years that I have been a member of the Church, since 1963, I’ve noticed a growing difference between the rich and the poor, not only in the Church but in the greater American culture. I speculate that at some point, these differences become so great that the two groups are not comfortable socializing with one another.

    In our ward, almost all of the new converts rent. But most of the active members own their own homes. The new members have old used cars that need body work. The active members have new or late model automobiles that are dent free. The new members work at low paying jobs. Often they are unemployed, only occasionally employed, or employed in minimum wage jobs. The active members have good, year-around jobs that pay relatively well. The new members live in small places, and are unable to invite large groups of fellow ward members for dinner or other socializing in their homes. The active members live in much larger homes that they often use to entertain. In Fast Meetings the new, poorer members aren’t able to regale the congregation with faith promoting stories about their latest travels. They haven’t been anywhere. The active members, on the other hand, have often just returned from some exciting family vacation, attended temples, and gone to family reunions. The new members can’t even afford to attend college in many cases, while much of the conversation of the active members revolves around their experiences when they were at BYU or other universities, or perhaps the adventures of their children who are off to college.

    At what point do these economic differences become a stumbling block to retention? In our materialist society, where every TV commercial shows someone living the “good life,” usually enjoying some expensive product that many of us cannot afford, won’t hanging out with those “rich Mormons” just make a new convert feel poor? I know that many well-to-do Mormon families make no distinctions based upon these economic differences, but how sensitive to the feelings of the poor are we being when we drive BMWs and new Toyota Land Cruisers to Church? Do we really need a five bedroom home and a large yard when many of our fellow ward members cannot afford anything bigger than a two bedroom apartment for their whole family? My wife and I have a nice new car, lots of expensive electronic gadgets, and an expensive waterfront condo with a view. But many of our new members can’t live as well as we do, and many of the other ward leaders live much, much better still. In fact, some of their children who are still in their early twenties have much nicer homes and cars and so forth. How is this going to make those new members feel? When we invite them to spend a day with us on our boat, are they going to feel right when they cannot reciprocate because they don’t have a boat or any prospects of getting one anytime soon?

    I think that growing differences between the rich and the poor in our country might be a factor in the rentention problem no matter how hard we try to be friendly at Church. I haven’t seen many affluent families joining lately in our ward. Our missionaries baptize primarily the poor, and most of the time they stop coming to Church. This might be one of the reasons. Perhaps if the rest of us lived more modestly, the poor would feel more comfortable among us.

  56. Aaron Brown says:

    Wow! A comment by John Redelfs that I actually agree with! Well said.

    Aaron B

  57. John,

    Good to hear about the stake created in Rome. Than makes 3 in Europe since the beginning of 2004(and none in Asia, I believe).

    I agree the church almanac is much better, but it only comes out once a year and it costs money! I also agree that slow stake creation lately may be more a result of changes in policies and not slowed underlying growth.

  58. Did anyone else catch the difficulty of being a leader in the church by comparing 49, 50, and 53? Some members want lots and lots of attention, others want very little, and rarely do people tell you straight-out which one of these people they are. It’s usually not until you’ve offended someone that they’ll make that clear, and at that point it’s usually with the same sort of incredulous how-did-you-not-already-know-that? tone I get from my wife when I’ve angered her somehow but don’t yet know what it is I’ve done. It’s frequently an impossible standard.

    More germane to the subject at hand, however, I will tell you that my MP instituted a month long (with consecutive weeks) attendence requirement before baptism. Our baptism numbers dropped, but our retention was in the high 80%, so that even with far fewer baptisms, we retained more people. Not many mission presidents are willing to go that route, however; I think it really helped that our MP was also the regional church authority–his responsibility was both for baptisms and rentention.

    (Alamojag, your story seems a little one-sided. Perhaps you could tell us all why it is that the BP forbade VTs in the first place? Can you fill us in on the BP’s side of the story from an objective point of view? There seems to be more going on than just unprovoked insensitivity.)

  59. You got that right, jimbob.

    But I’m not saying much else about that, because I am sure that alamojag is trying very hard to overcome certain things now. I admire his efforts. The only reason I even jumped on Alamojag in the first place was because I was tired of him constantly bagging on people who I admire and respect in Alamogordo, NM, and with whom I have had the privilege of rubbing shoulders in rendering church service (and who were horribly slandered both here through various posts and in Alamogordo through “anonymous”letters by Alamojag).

    Some things probably could have been handled a little differently, and I probably would have handled things just a tad differently- perhaps with more understanding and compassion. But given the challenges of that particular situation I don’t think one can really fault the way things were (and continue to be) handled. A small branch only has so many resources, and when those resources are taxed to the limit to help members feigning illness, caution must be exercised in future dealings with those members.

    The current insensitivity was not unprovoked, though granted it may be a bit overboard. It is more an abundance of caution with limited physical and emotional resources than insensitivity, in my opinion and for what its worth, and reasonable minds may disagree with that.

  60. GreenEggz says:

    Carpe and jimbob, thanks for the reminder that there’s always more than one side to difficult situations.

    Jeff Lindsay, a former bishop, has an interesting article on mental health:

    http://www.jefflindsay.com/blogs/mental-health.shtml

  61. “I think part of Microsoft’s success comes from the fact that every year they fire the bottom 5 per cent. Maybe the church could do a similar weeding.”

    Yes, like the good shepherd, who abandoned not only the one, but four others too, in the interest of the ninety and five.

    Let’s not give any powerpoint-addled leaders the idea that they need to take Microsoft as their model any more than they already have.

    Another parable suggests letting both wheat and tares “grow together until the harvest”, “lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”

    I agree that it must be very difficult for leaders to guess who needs a lot of attention and who needs a little breathing space.

  62. Tom Manney says:

    John,

    I know your scenario is absolutely correct because I have seen it happening to a recent convert I got to know through BCC. Class differences made all the other differences painfully obvious.

    jimbob,

    Fair enough. I’ve never disputed being a church leader isn’t an impossible errand.

  63. alamojag says:

    Carpe,

    Thanks for your moderating your comments. I’m not saying that I wasn’t surprised by the intitial reaction; in retrospect, I’m not sure what I expected. I was, however, totally unprepared for the harshness, and the fact that in many circles it continues unabated. D&C 121 teaches to “reprove with sharpness”, but to show love afterward so the reproved person does not “esteem thee his enemy.” We got the reproval, but there is very little evidence that I shouldn’t esteem most of the people here as my enemy.

  64. alamojag says:

    and Carpe,

    It isn’t slander if it is true. I have not said anything outside of my experience. If you’ve got a problem with me, say it to my face. I know Bill was being sarcastic, but the Savior did abandon the ninety-nine for the one. We feel like the kid with cooties on the playground; everybody is afraid to touch us for fear they will get them too.

  65. jimbob #58 — thanks for concisely pointing out that we can’t read each others’ minds. Hard to know what people need. I think part of it is sometimes we are not willing to be “the poor” and accept help from others.

    alamojag, I feel for you in your struggles. Mental illness is not something I understand, and this misunderstanding probably often leads to the kind of behavior you’ve described (whether objectively true or not, the Greeks said “that which we perceive as real is real in its consequences”). Thanks for making me aware of another struggle so I can try to be understanding if the need arises. I am sorry you’ve faced such a daunting burden. I can’t imagine how hard your trials must be.

    Economic differences have to make a difference, to paraphrase D&C — we can’t be equal in spiritual things when we are unequal in temporal things. Thanks for drawing attention to this, John Redelfs. I really appreciate your comments.

  66. lyle stamps says:

    Hm…perhaps an answer that hasn’t been discussed yet: folks leave because they never had a testimony of the gospel to begin with; and retention would go up if folks just read their scriptures and prayed more and didn’t fall back into previous vices. Hm…

  67. zeezrom says:

    In the Church we tend to treat missionary work and retention work as distinct issues with different parts of the Church responsible for each. However, I wonder if there is not a negative feedback going on between the two.

    As noted in #58, the more prepared a new member is for Church activity the more likely it is that they will remain active. However, requiring more committment of an investigator before baptism (attendance at meetings for a month, observance of the WoW for weeks instead of days, etc.) seems to decrease the number of baptisms. For this reason the full-time missionary operation (and it would seem Salt Lake) resist increasing the requirements for baptism to a level where new members might get some real concept of what is expected of a practicing Latter-day Saint before agreeing to be baptized. Consequently, there is low retention among new members but high baptism numbers.

    However, after a period of time, a negative feedback kicks in. We’ve all heard repeatedly the studies that show that converts who are introduced to the Church by members have a greater likelihood of both being baptized and staying active. Also, new active converts are the most fruitful source of these member missionary referrals. However, when new members quickly become inactive, this best source of new growth is lost. Thus, the lax requirements for baptism result in high baptism numbers in the near term, but over the long term the resulting low retention rates cut off the best source of long term growth.

    This phenomenon is shown by and helps explain the discrepancies between our numbers and those for the JWs and Adventists. Both the JWs and Adventists have much stricter requirements for new members than we do (or at least they enforce their requirements more strictly). My understanding is that JWs have to be their equivalent of active (inlcuding putting in lots of proselyting time) for a year before they are baptized. Adventists’ dietary prohibitions go far beyond the WoW. For a long time, we racked up equivalent or better growth numbers than those other new religious groups. However, they are now reaping the benefits of having stricter standards for new members as their better prepared and screened converts have been retained over the years to provide an ever-increasing source of new converts. We in turn are now reaping the consequences of wasting this resource over the years by bringing ill-preprared people into the Church too quickly in our lust for high baptism numbers.

    Another factor is our reliance on foreign missionairies in contrast to the JWs’ and Adventists’ much greater use of local members in their proselyting. I have policy recommendations on how to adjust that in the context of our traditional missionary program, but this post has burned enough webwaves for now.

  68. Doug Evans says:

    It is interesting to hear of reports of the decline in growth of the Church that some of you have mentioned. You might all find it interesting to investigate the reasons why the convert retention ratio in the Sacramento, California region is now being maitained at 95%. What they are accomplishing there is by looking outside the box while remaining within Church principles and guidelines. Learning and implementing what they have done is now spreading quickly to other areas of the Church including to the Seattle area and to the Vancouver B.C. area. I first learned about this from President Wizer of the Seattle Temple in an ordinance worker meeting, where he added his strong suggestion that we have much to learn about working in the Church and we should consider the California solution with similar strong efforts in our home wards and stakes.

  69. JA Benson says:

    Doug,
    I am interested to hear what sorts of retention ideas work. Could you tell us some of them?
    Thanks

  70. alamojag says:

    Daniel,

    Thanks, but I was really looking more to vent than looking for sympathy. Everybody has their own struggles. Am I hurt because of the way we were and are treated? Yes. But what hurts more is the idea that, to many people it didn’t matter how we felt. To them, it’s okay that there has been no visiting teaching for two whole in spite of our repeated requests, it’s okay that our records were moved from one branch because ours refused to serve. There are some people who treated us badly becaue they simply got caught up in the situation. There are some who continue to treat us badly because that is who they are. And, unfortunately, many of those are in leadership positions. Hence my criticism of the church here. As long as people with no forgiveness in their hearts are in leadership positions, the church will continue to fail to grow here.

  71. alamojag says:

    Carpe, JimBob et al:

    To give you an objective point of view would require some background information on my wife and her situation. My wife suffers from effects of severe ongoing childhood physical, mental and sexual abuse. Her main abusers were otherwise “perfect Mormon men” starting with a family member, and one of them was her bishop, with abuse happening in his office with threats of taking away her families food orders if she did not comply. Her abuse went deeper than I am willing to go into here but I will tell you she developed Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities), PTSD and several other mental illnesses because of this. She has been non-active for extended periods of our marriage. Because of this abuse we were only able to carry a pregnancy full term once, and that baby died 2 days after birth.

    When we moved to our area Branch President (BP) A was called. He came to the house several times and visited with my wife and I and upon hearing her story told her perhaps it was better for her to remain a stay at home Mormon. BP B was called and at first seemed to follow BP A’s advice for her. Fate intervened and I was called to a position in the Priesthood Group Presidency. One of the other members asked my wife and I over to Christmas dinner that year. She was very reluctant to go, as Christmas is the day our son died. I however was tired of being alone and hoped that if I held my ground about going she would follow suit. We went and something magical happened, we became fast friends with the group of people that were there. The wife of the “inviter” got to know my wife and her talents and soon a calling to be the Relief Society Enrichment Night Teacher was given. Thus causing my wife to have to meet BP B for the first time. For never before having gone to an Enrichment Night, my wife thrived in that calling and was soon given more, she was the newsletter editor, and was also asked to help with the upcoming road show, being called to that with another sister, who also became fast friends.

    As these relationships blossomed, unfortunately the effects of the abuse began to rise, and her DID became more active. She was breaking all the other “parts” of her rules. They did not like Mormon chapels, Mormon men or any thing Mormon. She eventually went to BP B for help. He started working with her and her parts. He got some of them to believe they were good, and didn’t need the destructive behaviors they employed, like cutting and other self-injuries. They firmly believed they were doing their duty and yes BP B spent a lot of time with her. During this time LDS Social Services in Salt Lake referred us to an “expert” in DID who was also Mormon. The problem is he was in Orem…we went there several times but BP B felt that the trips did more harm than good and told us that he felt God would lead him in how to deal with my wife and her parts. Some time around now she was called to be in the YW presidency. It took her many weeks to come to terms with this calling, and finally accepted. Her friend from the road show was YW president and she had support from “the group” as we came to call them. She at this point also trusted more people and let a few of them in on some of what had happened to her and why at times she left sacrament meeting crying. She served in this capacity for a year when her friend was released. She was then put back in with another group of women and served 2 more years remaining very active in the church. It was she that provided the Wednesday activity and she started her lesson for the next month as soon as she was done teaching. She learned to love the girls and finally learned to not choke on the phrase “I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father who loves me and I love Him”, as that was against everything she was taught.

    She would have ups and downs but always was there for the girls. She learned to trust BP B with all her heart and had many spiritually growing experiences with him. Then came the day we found out she was pregnant. She approached BP B with her fears. I unfortunately had a TDY to go on. Because of her pregnancy she could not go with me. During this time an alter of hers took over and became very destructive. Somehow my wife found her way up the mountains to some friends’ house. They called members of “the group” to come help them because she was not herself, basically catatonic and then had angry spurts. When they came up to retrieve her they talked about taking her to the hospital, which is one of the things she feared most, as she had been to several inpatient units that were not useful and she usually came out of with several prescriptions that basically left her drooling and catatonic. Another alter took hold at this point and she became more lucid and herself and several of “the group” took this as a “sign” she was faking her DID. They did their best to spread this news around the District. From that point forward things went downhill.

    My wife asked BP B for a blessing to help her with her fears of the pregnancy. He pronounced a beautiful blessing with the promise that this pregnancy would go full term and the baby we wanted so desperately would be a joy to our lives. I had another TDY and this time decided to drive and take my wife with me so that if another part took over it would be me alone that would have the burden of dealing with her. While we were gone BP B was released. She was not allowed a final meeting, she did not get to say her thanks by raising her hand, it was a devastating loss. 3 weeks later my wife lost the baby. She went in to talk to BP C mainly to ask what he would require for her to get a temple recommend as that was what BP B and she had been working on before he was released, but on entering his office she was told “I am not going to let this thing of yours eat me alive the way it did BP B”

    On reviewing the ultra sound pictures the doctor told us that there were suspicious looking growths on her ovaries. He sent us for a needle biopsy which came back “undetermined”. He told us she needed to have the growths removed and that he feared they would be cancerous. She shared this information with what she thought were her friends, the reaction was one of shared concern and after what had unfortunately been a “drought” of concern for her since the mountain incident, I saw an opportunity and as one of her parts had come into control and believed she had cancer, I let her go on believing that and supported her in this belief. I know–stupid, uncharacteristic, and desperate. But during the midst of all this my father had died unexpectedly and there had not even been a note of sympathy from any of our “group” or other friends. All this came to light when I took my wife away, for what was to be “cancer treatment”…when we came back people had come into our house cleaned it, and replaced an old drier. They spent time with my wife and some asked to see her scars. There were none. My only excuse is that I was not thinking clearly, and I acted in a manner that in retrospect was very deceptive. And I am sorry and have been dealt with through church discipline, although there are some that think I got off light.

    My wife’s bleeding from the miscarriage never stopped and she was forced to have a complete hysterectomy. During this time she developed a serious complication from the surgery called an ilias. Because of all the surgeries and life events that were real she also developed a deep depression that caused her to take a serious attempt at her life. It did not help that everyone she had finally learned to trust was ostracizing her. She was hospitalized and given a series of 12 ECT (electro shock) treatments because no cocktail of medicine they gave her would work. The doctors talked about committing her to the state hospital. This is the time I talked about before when I begged to get her a blessing. No one in our district would come, it was while she was in the treatment center that I was finally able to convince two full time missionaries to come and bless my wife. She did not know them and it took much convincing on my part to get her to believe they were not there to hurt her. This has all been capped off by both of her parents dying in the last year with no support from anyone in the church.

    I will leave it there, as I am sure this is a lot to digest. Carpe I am sure will disagree with some of what I wrote, but these are the main events that caused BP C to allow no one to contact us but him. After telling the District President for months that we were being helped and Home and Visiting taught, he finally admitted that what we had been saying was true and we had no HT’s or VT’s coming to our house. It was then that our records were moved to the branch I now attend alone. My wife is now attempting to meet with BP D of the new Branch…she has not been given VT’s here either…the Relief Society said she was her VT but has never followed through on any of the calls she promised she would make.

    Carpe, you talk about us “stretching the resources of the branch”. What about all the things my wife did for the branch when she was active, and the things I did when I was allowed to? These events were only over a month at most. Yes it was wrong; yes I lied, but what about the Saviors call to “Love one another”. In focusing on the “feigned” illness as you put it, the branch completely ignored all the real illnesses and operations she was having. Was that right? It saddens me that the church here only sees my wife now as a liar, and not the teacher and active member of the branch when a priesthood leader was working with her and using his power of discernment to help her be well. As to her DID being real or not she spent 9 weeks at a hospital for DID patients. The doctors there know who has it and who is faking, the man who is in many was world renowned for his work with DID, Dr Colin Ross, took an interest in her and treated her while she was there, he said hers was one of the most convincing and interesting cases he had seen. That BP B was able to work with her and keep her stable for so long was amazing to him. That she was still alive amazed him further. I knew that it was the priesthood and BP B’s commitment to her. It was BP B that made the decisions on whether he felt he could and should work with her, and I thank him for doing so, it was the best years of her life and I firmly believe that had BP C acted at all with any kindness when she came to him to get guidance, we would not be in the situation we are now. No amount of medication or hospitalization has ever given her what BP B did. She takes 23 different prescriptions now and many nights I come home to find her hiding in her closet. Not at all the outgoing, loving person maybe you met Carpe. Was all that time BP B spent with her wasted? I hope and pray not, I hope that as we move she will find the peace in anonymity of a new ward, and can draw back on some of the truths and strengths he gave her. She is terrified of this happening again, she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and blames herself entirely for what happened, even though I have tried as her counselors have to make her see the stresses of all the losses made her retreat back into a form that I then took advantage of. I can only beg her to believe that I love her and am sorry, but she still blames herself, even giving BP D a letter asking to have her name removed so she could be sure of never causing the same situation to occur. Is this the answer Carpe?

    Carpe, you also talk of “anonymous” letters that I wrote. I did not write anything anonymously and have no idea who did. The anonymous letters attacked my wife and her best friend, the YW President for troubles she had had in her life. Talk about slander…all I can do now Carpe is hope that someday this Branch and District can get past all this and learn to forgive. Maybe our leaving will help. I am sorry and I do ask for forgiveness from all of you and I hope this helps you to see things a little differently from our side.

    Sorry for the long post

  72. GreenEggz says:

    Alamojag:
    Thanks for sharing more of you and your wife’s background. Your story rings true because a friend of mine married someone who suffered severe sexual abuse as a child, and it can lead to severe mental problems as an adult. His wife had 3 children from a previous marriage. She was not multiple personality, but she had married an abuser (as many abused girls grow up to do) who in turn abused her and their children (her emotionally/violently and their daughter sexually). My friend knew a little, but not the whole story when he married her.

    Extreme mental/emotional disorders, and how to handle them are just outside of the experience and abilities of the average person. Even “BP B” had to use spiritual gifts to help counsel and deal with your wife.

    Cut the members of that old branch some slack, and forgive them for not knowing how to deal with your wife’s issues. She was just more than they could handle, regardless of how much love and charity they had. You’re used to living with her, and can deal with it, but most people can’t.

    When we don’t understand the background and emotional problems of people, we often dismiss their behavior as a scam or wicked, and don’t realize that such behavior is a product of real internal problems that in turn were caused by real events or conditions of the past. That isn’t to excuse or rationalize bad behavior, but it helps to understand someone in order to have charitable feelings towards them.

    We often see discrepancies as lies because we don’t understand the situation or history or intents of the person, or the true scope of the question or the answer. Most people don’t understand the differences in perception that abuse victims or the mentally ill have. Most people don’t understand that symptoms of mental illness come and go, wax and wane, just like medical conditions. They expect the sufferer’s condition to remain constant, go in one direction, or at least not cycle back and forth.

    When someone in a wheelchair has a good day, and can walk once in a while, many people jump to the conclusion that the person doesn’t really need one.

  73. Most of the commenters here seem to blame the baptized and the baptizers, but take no responsibility for themselves. This is not the Lord’s program. I agree with Heather, gunner, and even Steve EM.

    Julie in Austin, it’s very important that the Elders not be the key fellowshippers in a ward. First of all, the missionaries are transient, so that they quickly become a moving target. Second, new members need fellowship from peers who can grow with them, and the missionaries will always be (more or less) about 20 years old. Third, new members need to give and receive edification at worship services, and this will be very difficult for them to do if their primary contact is the missionaries.

    I was recently at a small get together where it was being discussed that a member of our bishopric had just been called to be the seminary teacher but hadn’t been released from the bishopric. Everyone agreed that it was a safe bet that he’d be released before the start of the school year. A few people soon playfully began calling odds on who would be called next. When evaluating the candidates, people said things like, “Oh, he’s a good one. He’s white. He’s wealthy. He’s from Utah.” This was meant as a joke, but the sad thing is that there’s an awful lot of truth in it, and several of the preceding comments bear this out.

    One of the women who presides over an auxiliary in our ward has let it be known that she does not want women who work to be in her presidency. This kind of thing is offensive to working women, even if they have no desire to be in an auxiliary presidency (and most don’t), because of what it says about their potential value to the church.

    Let me just qualify this by saying that the leaders in my ward do a great job, and whatever shortcomings they have are far outweighed by their strengths. Nor am I any less guilty when it comes to reflexively thinking that well-to-do, long-standing Mormons are typically the right people for the job. I am pointing out that this reflex is a weakness and a stumbling block. Several commenters have noted that we need to involve our investigators more, but this means more than HT, VT, and Sunday fellowship. This means enfranchising them in God’s Kingdom by assigning them to serve in important capacities.

  74. Some of the micro-managing, rule-bound and narrow-minded practices, coupled with the recent assaults on the validity of the BoM, via Simon Southerton seem to have reignited skepticism and underlying doubts in many peopole. The security of having the “true gospel answers” may be under attack by the facts which continue to come to light, exposing some of the fallacies that for the majority of unread members were never understood. The feeling of having an answer, right or wrong, brings comfort and closed-mindedness to many; it is only shaken by looking outside the “sanctioned” body of knowledge for truth, however it presents itself.

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