So I’m getting ready for church Sunday morning and I get a call from the ward mission leader. He tells me that the stake has set up a new uniform system for handling splits. They want guys to have a designated day during the month (say, second Tuesday), and to split-off with the missionaries every month on that evening. There will be an alternates list for those months where the brother is traveling or otherwise cannot make it. The idea is to do splits every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week of every month.
I said to put me on the alternates list. (The poor WML sounded frustrated and said, “OK, but I might have to come back to you, because we’re getting an awful lot of alternates!”) My excuse was that I always try to avoid fixed weeknight commitments. I’m a lawyer practicing in a big city with a long commute, and it is very stressful to me to feel as though I have to get home by a certain time on a given day.
But to be honest, that wasn’t the real reason I was less than enthusiastic about this new proposal. I just don’t agree that this is a wise commitment of limited resources in our ward. This is a massive commitment of man hours on a one-size-fits-all basis that doesn’t make any sense for our particular situation. First of all, our ward is very small, the smallest in the stake. We simply don’t have the manpower to manage this massive build-up of split-offs. Further, I happen to know from feeding the elders dinner recently that they don’t have any teaching pool at all right now. So it’s not like they need to split up to teach all of those discussions to their many investigators. I’m sure they’re dreading this, because not even they have enough productive work to do, and now they’re supposed to split up and babysit men from the ward three nights a week? I would have hated that on my mission. As I told my wife, 2 x 0 still equals 0.
They could take the men tracting, I guess. For better or for worse, I don’t think that’s going to fly very long if they try to do that. Most likely they’ll visit members’ homes, but we’re already supposed to be doing that–it’s called “home teaching.”
We like to pretend that the missionaries are really, really busy doing lots of productive work. I think we’re deceiving ourselves. What are they supposed to do during the mornings and afternoons? These days, where most couples both work, hardly anyone is home. And in the case of the occasional house where a housewife is there, our mission’s rules don’t allow the elders to enter the home unchaperoned. (This isn’t a rule I had on my mission in the late 70s.) The only really productive proselying time they have is the evenings and weekends, but tracting is of very limited effectiveness, and personally I think the loss of goodwill it engenders isn’t worth the marginal benefits of the occasional convert that comes that way.
Since there are so many wasted hours in the day, I think we should greatly increase the number of community service hours our missionaries are allowed to undertake. In our mission they used to be allowed to do 20 per week, but then that was cut down to five (or maybe zero, I forget) because the baptism statistics were so bad. But eliminating community service isn’t going to magically increase baptisms. Instead of zero or five, or even twenty, I would say let them do up to 40 hours of community service a week. Instead of walking around accomplishing nothing, they might as well do some good in the community, build goodwill for the Church (which will eventually provide an indirect benefit to the proselying effort), and feel good about what they are doing with their time.
What have your experiences with splits been, on both the mission and civilian side? Have they been productive or a waste of time? And what do you think of my proposal for increasing community service efforts among our full time missionaries?