Splits

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?

Comments

  1. Kevin,

    I have always been a strong advocate of increasing community service among missionaries (using the same logic you point to no less!). Having too much service recorded every month was a risk I was willing to take (what are the consequences for breaking that mission rule again? Less blessings? yeah, whatever). In my case, I think “too much” was anything over four or five.

    And it’s so easy because there is so much to be done: park clean up, soup kitchens, orphanage work, computer teaching, etc.

    By the way, isn’t “splits” on the Church’s vocabulary blacklist nowadays? What’s the word they’re using now? Just curious if anyone knows.

  2. I hear the term “exchanges” now. I’ve also heard “team-ups” a few times.

  3. Kevin, I agree with you. Doing missionary splits has never seemed productive, for me or for the missionaries. It is more like spiritual cod liver oil, we swallow it because we assume the unverified good effects outweigh the unpleasant taste.

    In our mission splits have even less relevance now. There is a new rule that prohibits the missionaries from working separately. So the “split” becomes me and both missionaries. Even more unwieldy and less productive.

    But a reprieve was given a few months ago. We have sister missionaries in the ward! No splits and no guilt.

  4. Mark IV says:

    The approved term in my area is *team-ups*.

    Kevin, my stake has done something much like what you describe. Every Sunday we get reminded who is supposed to go with the missionaries on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. My turn only comes every three or four months, so it doesn’t seem too burdensome, but it sounds like I live in a bigger ward than you.

    I have only been on one real teaching team-up. The other times we have just visited part-member families and inactive folks. The bright side is that people who are neglected by their hometeachers sometimes get visited.

  5. I remember in one Guatemala ward where we served there were functioning ward missionaries and we got 2x the work done. Of course from what I’ve heard, missionary work in Guatemala can be a little easier than in other places.

    I think splits are best done when the missionaries have actual appointments to go to.

    I am currently a ward mission leader in NYC and what I see as a problem is the lack of local referrals. There are people in the ward who give referrals, but they are usually for people who live outside the ward boundaries. What I think members need to do, more than going on splits, is to befriend their neighbors.

  6. Seth R. says:

    I told the guy co-ordinating splits that I would go, as long as I wasn’t going tracting with the missionaries.

    I said that if they had teaching appointments, fine. But they didn’t need to waste my time making contacts. They can do that on their own time.

    I have no problem turning down splits if I feel the missionaries aren’t going to use my time effectively.

  7. Exchanges! That’s the word! Team-ups is a new one for me, though. Any idea why “splits” got such a bad rap?

  8. In our small (attendance-wise) ward, a significant number of people on our records have not been visited ever, nor their presense verified. Of those whom we have verified, a significant number do not have home teachers (we don’t have sufficient active brethren for that). And of those assigned home teachers, a significant number are rarely visited.

    In the last fifteen years, a couple of ward mission leaders have taken the tact of asking full-time missionaries (or assigning ward missionaries) to visit members whose records we have, whose presence has not been verified, or who have not been assigned home teachers, or who are rarely visited. The particular focus has been on members who do not attend or where some members of the household are of a different (or no) religion.

    That is not the way our current ward mission program operates, but I do think it is a good use of resources (and indeed helped to bring some long time nonattenders back to Church and sometimes family members into the baptismal waters).

  9. Paul Mortensen says:

    BobC, that word would be “team-ups,” at least in the Midwest.

    I served my mission speaking Spanish in LA around the time of the RK riots and I found splits to be quite productive so long as the accompanying member followed my lead. Once in a while a lay companion would pipe up with some gospel doctrine an investigator was not prepared to assimilate (i.e. calling and election made sure) and it would blow up in our faces but that was the exception rather than the rule. In my mission, we truly had a great deal of work to do among the Latinos and member help was needed and appreciated in every area in which I served.

    However, as a lay member I must admit that the vast majority of the splits in which I have participated have be colossally inefficient. I go at least once a month (I’m a member of a small branch) and over the last year I’ve yet to have a missionary take me to a non-member or part-member family to teach. I’ve done some porch “hello”s and that’s about it.

    I think the level of community service should be determined by the companionship. If a companionship chooses to spend 40 hours each week working in a local soup kitchen then let them do that or if they want to spend that 40 hours tracting then let them do that. It may even change from month to month for the same companionship. If there’s not much formal teaching to be done I would much rather see missionaries spend time generating more social capital by participating in service projects than working to be despised as much as Jehova’s Witnesses for knocking on doors.

  10. In our ward, the elders quorum is responsible to come up with one person the second Tuesday of each month. It works out fairly well. I don’t know if it’s resulted in anything though.

  11. Amen, Kevin. Amen.

  12. Kevin,

    In principle, I agree completely with your suggestion regarding community service by missionaries. In my mission, the morning and the early afternoon were simply tests of individual endurance and commitment. Missionaries were rarely able to schedule a teaching appointment before 6:00 pm and contacting early in the day was almost always fruitless. Furthermore, the Carribean sun was at full heat from about 10:00 until about 4:00; walking around aimlessly in that kind of weather requires real devotion.

    However, community service efforts in my mission were no great thing, either. Mission rules forbade service efforts that weren’t publicly visible; no helping out at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc. Our service was required to have “potential proselytizing effectiveness.” So we could clean up garbage on streets or, um… Well… Actually, most missionaries did service either by cleaning up garbage on streets or by not doing it.

    In some places, service opportunities are plentiful and obvious to missionaries. But other places–including those where the need is greatest–the possibilities for service may not be easy for 19-year-old U.S. Americans to spot. Some real leadership would be necessary for a dramatically expanded service component of missionary work to be successful.

    Unfortunately, in my experience to date, the missionary program has much better management than it has leadership. But that’s another discussion…

  13. I think that the missionary program is in desperate need of reevaluation and restructuring. Raising the bar and revamping the discussions aren’t enough; I personally don’t believe that unworthy missionaries or outdated lesson materials were or are responsible for the declining convert baptisms. I think we need to take a step back and rethink what it means to “serve a mission.”

    On my mission in Hong Kong, the activity that consumed the most missionary time was street contacting, which was always baffling to me, because it was so unproductive in terms of teaching opportunities and baptisms. Yet the most respected missionaries were those who were on the streets from dawn till dusk, banging their heads against an effective brick wall, with very little to show for it. Years of aggressive street contacting in Hong Kong has definitely damaged the Church’s public image; Chinese baptisms are far fewer now than they were in decades past. It would literally take years to change public opinion regarding the Church.

    I agree that substantially increasing the allowance for public service hours would have a significant impact on how missionaries and the Church are perceived, without having a negative impact on baptism numbers. Although we may not see immediate results, I believe that the eventual result would be more positive feelings toward the Church and more open doors. It would also probably improve missionary morale, as they’d be involved in meaningful work, without the fear that they’re just being annoying.

    I also believe that it’s unreasonable to demand more baptisms in areas where the Church is not mature, and where retention and activity are serious problems. Rather than knocking on doors in search of more future inactives, missionaries could be engaged in searching out lost sheep, reactivation, and strengthening and training local membership. They could serve in ward/branch callings, with a focus on training the local membership in how the Church functions, eventually turning over the reins to locals. I don’t see how we can expect the Lord to provide us with qualified baptismal candidates when the Church is not sufficiently functional to provide for the spiritual welfare of new members.

    I had this realization while serving in Macau, a small city (well, it only had half a million residents) in Southern China. Missionaries have been free to proselyte there since the late 70′s, yet by the time I served there (in 2003), there were still only three struggling branches: one English-speaking, one Cantonese-speaking, and one Mandarin-speaking, two of which branches were presided over by full-time missionaries. Since that time, the Mandarin and Cantonese branches have been combined. There were over a thousand inactives in the area, hundreds of which were lost sheep. Yet the majority of our activities were still focused on bringing new converts into the Church. While serving as zone leader in the area, I tried to shift the focus from baptisms to strengthening local membership. I was surprised at how unenthusiastically the idea was received by the missionaries. Apparently walking around aimlessly on the streets all day was more appealing. About 3 weeks after I tried to implement a member-focused program, I was transferred back to HK, and the program essentially died.

  14. So RT, a lack of leadership and outdated mission rules are the problem?

    At least one of those could easily be changed. And as far as leadership goes… if, uh, the leader of the mission (read Mission President) was leading rather than coming up with additions to arbitrary rule sets, then perhaps leadership down in the ranks wouldn’t be needed as much?

    In other words, having a mission president focused more on service and less on arbitrary rules would be all that it would take. Of course, the “all it would take” in this case may be asking for too much…

  15. John Mansfield says:

    Interesting tying of two separable concepts by the theme that missionaries aren’t all that busy. In briefest terms, I am against splits and against community service, too.

    One of the few splits over the past dozen years that felt purposeful, was when an appointment fell through and the missionary started tracting the neighborhood and challenged me to do some door approaches. Most splits start with the question, “Do you have any home teaching families that need to be visited?” and go downhill from there. They’re also seldom splits because the other quorum member usually fails to show up. If only I could lend my car to the missionaries and have them drop me off at home until they’re done with it.

    Community service seems so defeatist, though. Missionary service that atheists will smile at. Who’s converting who with that? Proselyting, communicating precepts through words is work, and having a handy surrogate activity to blanket not doing it is problematic. Members are already under the delusion that their “example” shining to the world is all it takes to spread the gospel. Missionaries don’t need to join in.

  16. When I was a missionary, I loathed having members come with me on splits for several reasons. One, I think having another dude there in a white shirt and tie can make the family or individual uncomfortable. Two, members would often say crazy things in the middle of discussions which would only raise a million doubts that would take weeks to resolve or even cause an investigator to lose interest. Three, I hated having to work around members’ schedules. Four, members were often uncomfortable being in a missionary discussion, thus adding awkwardness and tension. Five, as mentioned by others, appointments fell all the time. I hated having some civilian with me when that happened. Even if the bother wanted to track, I would think of something else to do. Members are just often awkward and weird and I didn’t want to scare off any potential investigators because some brother is socially inept.

    My philosophy during my mission was to be as low key as possible in a ward. The only thing I thought members were good for were befriending investigators and recent converts. Instead of asking for splits from the Bishopric , I would ask that he would encourage members to invite investigators to ward activities, dinners, outings, ect. That I always seemed more effective.

  17. Eric Russell says:

    I hated community service even more than I hated tracting. Most of the time we were doing some form of “service” that was hardly necessary at all just so we could write down the requisite number of service hours.

    I agree that the concept of missionaries doing community service is good in concept, but not so much in reality. More often than not, it entails a very limited visibility. Even when it does provide some visibility, does it really do that much? I mean, Catholic nuns are doing good all over the place all the time, are people actually running to join the Catholic church because of it?

  18. John,

    Wow, I honestly haven’t heard the missionary-community-service-is-defeatist argument before. Intriguing, but what if we’re already defeated (which I think it could be argued that we are with our already problematic missionary program)?

    In other words, proselyting isn’t working very well. That’s what’s currently happening. And I don’t understand how community service is really a disguise for Mormon complacency. Perhaps if it is, we’d get more help with it if we encouraged it. What do we have to loose? Our already declining growth rate?

    Oh, and one way has what most would consider a very healthy byproduct. If you go a day with only door slams, what’s left over? If you go a day with community service and don’t convert anyone, however…

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    The real world experience with community service is very interesting to me, because when I served my mission there was no such thing as community service. I would have loved to be able to do those sorts of things instead of just wasting so much of my time. So it’s interesting to learn that well intentioned efforts at community service had their own problems.

    Although, I think that if the mission wouldn’t let you serve in a hospital or wherever just because it wasn’t sufficiently visible to the public, perhaps we should reread the teachings of the Savior on doing good just to be seen of men. (grin)

  20. Great post Kevin, I agree with what you said. Ditto Steve M #13.

    The theory that the “customer will buy whatever we produce” is a long outdated concept in business, but one that the Church still seems to employ in its missionary efforts. The missionary program sends out the missionaries to make forced sales on Model T’s, and they can’t understand why anyone would want it in any colour other than black.

    Personal initiative of the few that do have inovative ideas are frowned upon the majority of other missionaries, which leads to additional frustration.

    The scenario outlined here by Kevin is a case in point. The missionaries do not have enough to keep themselves busy, let alone others in the ward, so the logical conclusion is to institute a program that conscripts members into the field and magically make things happen.

    Its seems that logically the missionaries should a) be asked if they need help, b) asked what kind of help would be most effective, and c) if the missionaries themselves have any ideas of things they would like to do to stay productive.

    I remember once on my mission our ZL was going companion by companion asking for a commitment for more hours spent tracting. Each companionship grudgingly said yes, even thought they knew it was a waste of time. When the ZL got to me I said “no”. He asked why and I said it was a huge waste of time and I could contact people in other ways that would be more effective. He spent several minutes trying to get me to agree but I wouldn’t give in, which frustrated him (nothing against the ZL he was just doing his job as he had been instructed).

    The following month our companionship had more than double the number of contacts/discussions than the rest of the zone. Our secret? We were in a town of 6,000 people. On Friday night the whole town went to watch the High School football game. We would go as well and make contacts throughout the stands with members, inactives, and non-members alike and set up appointments for the entire week to come in one shot.

    We out taught and out baptised, but we were still perceived as “rebels”. Apparently if we had done more tracting and been less productive it would have been better for us. I found this frustrating.

    “However, community service efforts in my mission were no great thing, either. Mission rules forbade service efforts that weren’t publicly visible; no helping out at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc. Our service was required to have “potential proselytizing effectiveness.” So we could clean up garbage on streets or, um… Well… Actually, most missionaries did service either by cleaning up garbage on streets or by not doing it.”

    This comment blows my mind. I echo the calls for increased community service by our missionaries, publicly visible or not.

  21. Last Lemming says:

    I noticed that our mission began pushing for an extra night of “exchanges” each week right about the time that gas prices went through the roof. I suspect that a good chunk of the motivation was to shift transportation costs on to the members.

    As for community service, perhaps mission presidents need to be involved in selecting specific long-term projects that missionaries could be involved in. Personally, I think the Church should consider sending young couples on open-ended service missions to countries where the Church’s image is not already well established. They would be permitted to earn a living doing something that both the mission president and the host government considered productive. Ammon did not have a predetermined release date, did he? Nor did he worry about providing material comfort to an unworthy government.

  22. wakarusa says:

    I agree that the concept of missionaries doing community service is good in concept, but not so much in reality. More often than not, it entails a very limited visibility. Even when it does provide some visibility, does it really do that much? I mean, Catholic nuns are doing good all over the place all the time, are people actually running to join the Catholic church because of it?

    Uh. Yeah, if you can’t perform service to get noticed, why bother?

    (sarcasm mode off)

    Kevin, don’t worry, like many new church programs, this one will most likely disappear within 6 months.

  23. Darth_Bill says:

    As a member of the same stake as KB, I have to echo his concerns.

    I personally don’t see how it would work but I’ve had to withdrawl from a lot of church activities. I work during the day and my wife works at night and we have three younger children. No spare time for church things, sorry.

    I know I would have killed for the opportunity for CS during my mission. To this day, I don’t see how effective I was on my mission. I rarely felt I was helping anyone except on those rare times I actually had an investigator. Guess I just don’t have that “preacher” gene.

  24. Can anyone explain to me why those called to full-time missions should spend more of their time on community service than other members of the Church? Is it just a feeling that the proselyting they are called to do isn’t worthwhile, so they should shift to an activity that has some value?

  25. In defense of splits, missionary work is a numbers game. The more people you contact and invite to be baptized, the more people will be baptized. Splits are scheduled to occur during the most productive hours (in the evenings) so even if there are no teaching appointments, being able to double the number of contacts during tracting should pay off in the end. No?

  26. Eric Russell says:

    “Uh. Yeah, if you can’t perform service to get noticed, why bother?”

    Because the point of a proselytizing mission is to proselytize. Missionaries are called to preach the gospel, to bring people to Christ. During a full time mission, anything that detracts from that mission is curtailed – including many other worthy and important works.

  27. Can anyone explain to me why those called to full-time missions should spend more of their time on community service than other members of the Church? Is it just a feeling that the proselyting they are called to do isn’t worthwhile, so they should shift to an activity that has some value?

    Yes. And its not so much that the should do more community service, but that they have the option of choosing it. Tracting, street contacting and member referrals are the primary methods of obtaining contacts for teaching. However, their effectiveness varies greatly from mission to mission. The problem is that in missions where those methods don’t work no adjustment or alternatives are offered.

    I think it would also help those missionaries who are not well spoken, well read, or otherwise less strong in gospel knowlege but still have a strong testimony to feel like they are making a contribution. Missionaries who fall into this category are often marginalized, but community service may give them an outlet to feel useful.

  28. “Personally, I think the Church should consider sending young couples on open-ended service missions to countries where the Church’s image is not already well established. They would be permitted to earn a living doing something that both the mission president and the host government considered productive.”

    Fantastic idea!

  29. John,

    I think it’s more that the proselyting has too much of an exclusivity claim. My mission rules dictated 4-5 hours of weekly service, others here have mentioned having even less.

    I don’t think that those of us advocating community service think it should jump from 0-60 hours overnight and that proselyting should be ditched (well, at least, I’m not advocating that).

    But how hard would it be for, say, 20 hours a week to be community service? Proselyting wouldn’t really take that big of a hit. Teaching appointments could still take precedence, and as it has been illustrated in a previous comment, finding techniques could be improved to eliminate the need of traditional and ultimately unproductive contacting methods.

  30. And what Talon said.

  31. Eric,

    I see proselyting as a means and not an end (like you stated: “the point of a proselytizing mission is to proselytize”).

    Proselyting for proselyting’s sake shouldn’t be the point of a mission, I don’t think.

  32. Eric Russell says:

    Bob, agreed. Poor word choice on my part. I meant “convert” or better yet, “strengthen the church.”

  33. I took the discussions a few years ago, and I went through four sets of missionaries. When our bishop referred me to the first set, he told them I was a sure thing (which I was). I knew all the answers to their questions; I did as they asked, I bore them my testimony repeatedly, and I finished every discussion with the statement that as I already planned to be baptized, I’d like to set as early a date as possible for my jump in the font.

    The first three companionships wouldn’t do it. They wouldn’t even finish a discussion in one meeting. They drew it out further every time we met. I finally had to ask our bishop to complain to the mission president.

    The last set, a couple of sisters, explained in not so many words that it was almost impossible to find investigators, or even vaguely receptive contacts, in our area. Our ward hardly ever had convert baptisms. The first three sets of missionaries had been drawing their time with me out for the sake of having some sort of affirming experience on a regular basis.

    Their time would have been better used in reading to the blind, ministering to the homeless, or teaching the illiterate than in postponing my baptism. With more service time, they’d certainly have had an easier time finding investigators because they would have many more natural opportunities to meet people than they have today. I think member referrals would also be much more effective if they involved taking a potential contact to participate in a service project which allowed for introduction to the missionaries. It would provide a venue in which such introductions are normal and it might more easily lead to comfortable conversations.

  34. Improving finding and contacting techniques seems like a separable issue from community service unless you are considering the community service as a finding and contacting technique. Some commenters have denounced that sort of service as unchristian. I doubt any of us feel we have a dozen hours a week to give to the community on a regular basis, so I can’t see piling that responsibility onto the missionaries, too.

    I will agree with the notion that missionary companionships should figure out the right use of their time be themselves with guidance from leaders and not fiat and quotas.

    “I think it would also help those missionaries who are not well spoken, well read, or otherwise less strong in gospel knowlege but still have a strong testimony to feel like they are making a contribution. Missionaries who fall into this category are often marginalized, but community service may give them an outlet to feel useful.”–Talon

    This is too true for the Church as a whole. The only Church assignment my father ever filled was work at the bishops’ storehouse, which he devoted much time to after he retired. We don’t make enough use in the Church of people who aren’t teachers or organizers.

  35. “It would provide a venue in which such introductions are normal and it might more easily lead to comfortable conversations.”

    There are a dozens of members for every missionary who can perform this sort of task. A missionary shouldn’t just be just one more member who happens to think a lot about sharing the gospel with the people he is around.

  36. John,

    I don’t advocate service for the sake of contacts. It’s simply much more useful to a community than fruitless tracting; it is a clear communication of the pure love of Christ, beneficial to everyone involved. It will also, serendipitously, allow missionaries to meet people in a more normalized social situation.

  37. The problem is that proselyting by the current popular means (tracting, street contacting, etc.) isn’t working like we want it to. Convert baptisms are still dropping, and most of those who are baptized end up inactive a few months later. Revamping the discussions isn’t going to change this. Refusing missionary service to those who have fornicated isn’t going to change this. We actually have to change the way we look at missionary work in order to see significant results.

    I personally feel that it would be beneficial to broaden our perception of what constitutes missionary work. Service is missionary work. Reactivation is missionary work. Training local leadership is missionary work. Teaching English, running an employment center, and working in the temple are forms of missionary work.

    By broadening the definition of missionary service, we can simultaneously strengthen the Church in struggling areas, increase retention, serve the local people, improve the Church’s image, and hopefully bring some converts into the Church.

    I think that this more liberal approach would also allow for a greater missionary contingency in countries that are hesitant to allow traditional proselyting missionaries in.

  38. Improving finding and contacting techniques seems like a separable issue from community service unless you are considering the community service as a finding and contacting technique.

    This was the point I was trying to get across, CS as a contacting technique, as a replacement for unproductive methods.

    Scenario #1: I knock on person X’s door out of the blue, halfway through my approach X slams door in my face.

    Scenario #2: I spend 20 hours building a home with Habitat for Humanity with person X, and we get to talking…..

  39. Great comments all around. I only wish action could happen more easily within this context rather than our current setup of smart, wishful thinking people with no means to implement any changes in the missionary program.

  40. I’m ward mission leader in my ward here in Orange County. The corresponding mission no longer allows missionaries to do “splits” except in narrow circumstances. I think that’s fine, though I think that sending members with two missionaries can overwhelm investigators. I feel like we’re ganging up on them.

    One, I think having another dude there in a white shirt and tie can make the family or individual uncomfortable.

    This is one reason I don’t wear a white shirt or tie when I accompany the missionaries. Also, I don’t want the investigator to think that I’m asking them to join my white-shirt-and-tie cult. (Another reason is that I’m usually not wearing one to work, and I only get dressed once a day.)

    One thing I wish I had done on my mission (ten years ago) was look for or create oppotunities to preach publicly (but not in church). I don’t think I ever did it. Does anybody do this anymore? I don’t know if it would be effective, but it would be fun.

    Community service in my mission was 4 hours a week hacking at weeds with a machete in a rehabilitation clinic. Not only was it not an effective way to convert people, it wasn’t even an effective way to eliminate weeds. But I tend to agree with those that argue for greater latitude for service projects for missionaries. If done properly, the worst case scenario is that you’ve done someone a helpful service, though short of teaching them the Restored Gospel. Not so bad.

  41. Costanza says:

    Over the four years that I have been in my ward a number of different approaches to splits have been taken. First the bishop tried the old strong-arm by instructing the EQP to tell us that we had to sign up for these because they were a “priesthood responsibility” and were “not voluntary.” Many of us pointed out that in facts, 1) almost anything in the church could be crammed under the rubric of “priesthood responsibility” and the category is therefore less than compelling and 2) Technically, everything is voluntary, but in order to make their point work they would have to offer an “or else” with some teeth. Would persons who did not sign up be denied temple recs? No. Would there be any sanctions? No. The problem that many of us had had nothing to do with splits and everything to do with the Gestapo approach that struck even the most conservative among us as a bit out of step with D&C 121: 37.

    Next came the soft touch. We had a lesson about how much the missionaries needed help. That worked initially, but it fizzled when we discovered that the missionaries didn;t need help because, as in Kevin’s ward, they had no one to teach.

    Approach three: Do the splits and provide people for the missionaries to teach. No comment needed on how well that went over.

    Approach four: You went with the missionaries but you didn’t split up, you just went along with them for the evening. That was a little strange because it seemed to defeat the purpose of the entire project.

    Current approach: I don’t know. The issue hasn’t been raised in six months or more. Maybe they have given up?

  42. Two thoughts, First let me tackle splits.

    In my mission we tried to get splits every night of the week (except monday). This was the prime time of our productivity. They helped us to cover 2-3 teaching appts per evening. Divide and conquer aside, having the members there formed a bridge to activity (not as good in some case) and sometimes an innoculation into the craziness of members. Having these teaching appts helped get the ward fired up about missionary work.

    Splits also helped us to get in places we never could have. Most active members on misison had at least 1-4 inactive families on their home teaching routes, most with non-members as a part of the family. Nothing like a “hey have you met the new missionary” etc. We brought the spirit to a home that wasn’t there before and helped the fellowshipping.

    Splits also brought us very useful “intel” as to members of the ward, ie which houses were DNC (which we would sometimes conveniently forget), which houses had a partmember family, etc.

    SPlits provided very healthy time apart from your companion!

    Splits shared the burden of missionary work and provided an opportunity for members to participate where they might not otherwise have been.

    As far as community service, i think it is a good idea. I can’t imagine an “in public” rule, but I could see it coming about from some less than valiant missionaries classifying something inappropriate as “Service”. Most rules on the mission come about this way.
    On my mission We were to do scheduled service 4 hours a week (we preffered pday eve service), sometimes in the hospital (yea free food!) sometimes in schools, in soup kitchens etc. Then if we saw a need we would volunteer to help wherever we were (i raked a lot of leaves and mowed a lot of grass in my suit and tie!). This was genuinely useful, but has two problems. 1st the potential distraction of missionaries from the work they are there to do (spread the gospel), and 2nd those who only associate with the missionaries for their service. I had one or two of these, and while I didn’t mind, I could see this being a problem (I remember reading the Slate message board re the use of missionaries for free labor) that sucks the short time missionaries have. It is certainly a balance that should be sought.

  43. There are a dozens of members for every missionary who can perform this sort of task. A missionary shouldn’t just be just one more member who happens to think a lot about sharing the gospel with the people he is around.

    No, of course not. But according to many of my non-member friends, the current door-to-door salesman model gives potential investigators the willies. It makes us seem like some sort of weird pyramid scheme, or at least so profoundly Other that our message is ignored. I think we can make the conversion of souls to God the entire purpose of missionary work without acting like Fuller Brush representatives, and allowing our missionaries to participate directly in the life of their communities is a good way to do that.

  44. cadams says:

    I hear a lot of negative comments about missionary leadership. Almost like it’s been made out to seem like missionaries are like those Iranian boys they sent as human waves to clear mine fields, to prepare the way for soldiers to cross. You know – if we make missionaries tract 60 hours a week, they won’t get anywhere but at least they’ll learn character.

    I thought a lot of this was corrected when missionaries began to be taught to be guided more by the Spirit. If they feel like tracting, they tract; if they feel like doing service projects, they serve. They do whatever they feel like doing; I think it’s that simple.

    By the way, I didn’t get a negative impression about my MPs, although they both were diametrically different from each other. One was a letter to the law type leader; the other broke a few rules trying to follow the spirit of the law. Personally I liked both approaches. And I felt my mission was the best organization, and the one best designed to bring out the individual best of each person, of any organization I’ve ever participated in.

  45. jjohnsen says:

    One thing I wish I had done on my mission (ten years ago) was look for or create oppotunities to preach publicly (but not in church). I don’t think I ever did it. Does anybody do this anymore? I don’t know if it would be effective, but it would be fun.

    We decided to try once after reading about early elders in the U.K. We set up in an outdoor mall and started to sing hymns while one elder went through the crowd asking for people to stop and listen to a message. We got a bunch of contacts, but the MP asked us to stop after a member told him we looked foolish.

    Two of the people I baptised were a result of service. We were working on a less-actives garden one day. Her extended family came to visit, and after talking to us while we worked, a couple of them asked to hear the discussions.

    I’m guessing if I calculated the amount of time spent on service, and the amount of time I spent tracting, service was a more productive way to bring people into the church (we were only allowed to do 2 hours of service a week).

  46. We decided to try once after reading about early elders in the U.K. We set up in an outdoor mall and started to sing hymns while one elder went through the crowd asking for people to stop and listen to a message. We got a bunch of contacts, but the MP asked us to stop after a member told him we looked foolish.

    I don’t think you can create a Hyde Park environment where one doesn’t exist. But I do think that there are speaking opportunities of which missionaries don’t take advantage because they aren’t particularly PR savvy. They should be able to wrangle an appearance on a public access cable show, panel, or lecture to a comparative religion class at the local college at least a couple of times during a two-year mission. Though they should double-check to make sure that they are not unwitting dupes of Ali G!

  47. Porter says:

    I have always beleived that the missionary program is about more than just building the Church’s statistics, it is also about building young men and women to lead the church — and it is certainly fairly successful at the latter. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that is correct, what kind of leaders do we want to build?

    If we promote tracting for the sake of tracting (regardless of efficacy), baptising for the sake of making the mission president’s statistics look good, and de-emphasize serving the needy, what kind of leaders are we building?!

    Community service teaches our future leaders to love their fellow man, and to become more like Christ. Those are the kind of skills I want to see in those who will be leading the church someday.

    The current program teaches people to be good door-to-door salesmen, and rewards those who are able to pad their statistics the most effectively. Is it any wonder that Utah County is the multi-level marketing capital of the world?

  48. A friend who is not a member of our church told me somewhat apologetically the other day that our missionaries had come by, and she had not let them in. She felt bad for two young kids, obviously tired, and working hard, but realitically, in this day and age, how many people are just going to let a pair of strangers in the house? And how many people are going to want to just drop what they’re doing and let them in? It’s a totally impractical way to try to reach people. People already know who the missionaries are, and they don’t want to be bothered. Why keep making the poor kids do it? Community service would be much better, if it were true service. And the clothing. I know that many members think that we’re projecting a great image through the white shirt and tie stuff, but really I think that we’re projecting “I am strange, and perhaps stuck in the 1950s.”

    Anybody doing the Family History Kits as a missionary tool? The missionaries are supposed to get contacts to fill out a card with three generations of information about their family on it, then members of the ward do family history research for them, and it’s presented back in a notebook to the contact, with information about why we do family history, and what we believe. There are a few problems with this. Many people are justifiably concerned about just handing out their private identity information. Lots of other folks just don’t know the information, so they write down guesses, and that makes it really hard to do the kits for them. (That’s my calling right now.) Also, we’re supposed to work from online sources only– well, a lot of the kits I’ve been given to do are people whose ancestors emigrated from eastern Europe in the 20s and 30s. There are very few online resources for that– and it’s a let down to give them back the book with basically not much more than I started with. And even though we were told that 90% of the people who received a notebook had later joined the church, in our ward, it’s been about 5%, in other words, 1 of the 20 or so people who have received a kit. (I questioned that 90% stat in the information meeting, and was assured it was a miraculous truth. I said that I didn’t think you could get 90% of church members to join the church again, let alone 90% of any group of investigators. That’s why I don’t get the A-list callings, I guess.)

  49. 33 — I appreciate your comments and perspective. It saddens me any time the Program gets in the way of leading souls to Christ (you know, the purpose of the Church and, one would think, the Program too).

    Kevin — In your situation, I think I would agree with you. In my situation, things are quite a lot different. Our ward has been slowly building a pattern of adult convert baptisms with retention, and our full-time missionaries are getting lots of teaching appointments to the point that we don’t have enough time to teach new member discussions to the new members. I’m a ward missionary, and I’m doing splits every other week (one night a week is ward missionary splits, and another is for the EQ/HP). I’ve suggested we do a third night of splits that is the EQ/HP with the ward missionaries to teach new member discussions as needed until we’re caught up, and it hasn’t taken off yet.

    When I was first called (back in October), I did splits every week to do new member discussions with a family — we never did get all the way through them, and I went off that rotation after several months. My splits companion didn’t enjoy doing splits with the EQ/HP because they frequently no-showed, and frequently whined, and he couldn’t plan two teaching appointments around them, so it was pretty much an annoying waste of his time.

    I would like to see this be more about leading souls to the Savior and sharing the Gospel because of the love we have for God and our neighbors, and a lot less about Program and check lists. But I’m weird that way.

  50. Jonathan Green says:

    Kevin, my apologies in advance, but…

    You’re being asked to go out with the missionaries once a month? The horror, the horror… Quick, pass the smelling salts!

    Seriously, I was asked to do the same thing a couple years ago. My reaction was a lot like yours, but eventually I gave in and said yes, because there just isn’t a good excuse for an RM to say no. Worried about wasting time? The solution is to call the elders the night before and see if they actually have appointments. I ended up going on a couple splits that were good experiences for all concerned. Give it a whirl some time, it might be fun.

    As an aside, the Church actually has people who conduct studies of organizational effectiveness, including missionary effectiveness. I don’t know how many people are so employed, but I do know someone who’s investigated the characteristics of effective mission presidents, for example. I’d guess that the relative effectiveness of tracting vs. service hours has been studied a few times by now by people with access to lots of data, but unfortunately not by anyone who feels inclined to leak confidential reports to friendly neighborhood bloggers.

  51. Oh, and Kevin — I’d skip to the honest part. Have a straight conversation with the WML and tell him what you’re thinking about this. It might give him something to take back to a meeting that might lead to some sanity in your program.

  52. georgeD says:

    Why is the stake dictating this? Do you share full time missionaries across units?

  53. cadams #44 said:

    I thought a lot of this was corrected when missionaries began to be taught to be guided more by the Spirit. If they feel like tracting, they tract; if they feel like doing service projects, they serve. They do whatever they feel like doing; I think it’s that simple.

    After reading the “Preach My Gospel” book and talking with missionaries in several different missions, it seems to me that this statement conveys a sense of much greater freedom and self-determination than in fact exists in much of the current missionary program. Missions still have regulations stipulating minimum (and in some cases maximum) hours of service, tracting, and so forth. These regulations used to be called “goals”; they are now called “standards of excellence.” But all missionaries are still expected to meet them.

    Furthermore, most missions still have rules specifying a daily and weekly schedule in which to accomplish these prespecified hours of work. In other words, missionaries mostly don’t do what they feel like doing; instead, they do what the rule book says to do. That’s not new, but it hasn’t really changed, either.

  54. Jared E. says:

    This is a really interesting thread, I’ve really enjoyed everyone’s comments. Now for my two cents:

    I’m a ward missionary in my ward and for a while was in charge of setting up splits for the Elders Quorum. I really tried for about three months to get things going, until finally the full time missionaries told me that they really weren’t interested in splits. In this mission, they are to always teach discussions together, and splitting up is an inconvenience, funny huh?

    I would like to make a comment on the whole ‘raising the bar’. Not allowing young men who have made mistakes to serve missions I think is a great mistake. Many of the finest missionaries in my mission had troubled pasts, and most of the worst missionaries didn’t. I think if the leadership of the Church think that basing a perspective missionaries performance on his past deeds they are sadly mistaken. Granted the above is a generalization, but i my experience it is true.

    The real problem with current missionary work is that missionaries aren’t taught how to present the gospel effectively. The whole first year of my mission was pretty much wasted time, it wasn’t until I read a few things that really taught me how to teach the gospel that I was effective. The second year of my mission was amazing compared to the first. The last two months of my mission I baptized every Sunday, and for an english speaking elder in my mission, that is rare. It wasn’t anything about me that changed, I just finally learned how to talk to people about the gospel.

    Oh, and I guess in the interest of disclosure, I am one of those who would not have been allowed to serve a mission, so I guess I’m biased.

  55. Seth R. says:

    Jared E.

    I don’t think I would have made the cut either and my missionary service was, more or less, OK. It certainly was a great thing for me.

    But I still agree with raising the bar.

  56. annegb says:

    Kevin, I agree with you completely. I think it’s common sense.

  57. Jonathan Green,

    I have to disagree.

    It doesn’t make much sense to presume that current policies are always based on sound research, even when we know people who may have been involved. We have no access to the reports, which is too bad; it would be fun to read them. I’m aware that we employ people to evaluate these things (and I’m glad of it), but the quality of their evaluations depends on everything from their theoretical orientations to the accuracy of the data they recieve to their own status as stakeholders in current policies. Most important, to my mind, is the fact that missionaries and MPs are under heavy pressure to perform, and that’s likely to bias their self-reports, albeit accidentally.

    As any extant research is unavailable, we can neither assess its quality nor confirm its existence. This is the perfect opportunity, then, for a pleasant brainstorming session on ways to increase missionary productivity.

    On the other hand, your advice for handling the splits is excellent. Gloriously reasonable, even.

  58. Carlton says:

    Does anyone know if “raising the bar” is applied to the young women wanting to serve missions?

  59. Jonathan Green says:

    SV, I don’t assume any of those things, and I agree we’re in no position to judge the reliability of research we have no access to, and I think brainstorming is perfectly fine.

    But discussions of the missionary program invariably end up littered with gloom-and-doom chest-beating, wondering why the men in the Church Office Building don’t realize how the missionary program could be saved, if only they would listen to harebrained schemes concocted on the Internet. I’m all for concocting harebrained schemes, but less enthusiastic about gloom-and-doom.

  60. “…gloom-and-doom chest-beating, wondering why the men in the Church Office Building don’t realize…but [I'm] less enthusiastic about gloom-and-doom.”

    First of all, perhaps we could use some women in the Church Office Building (the funny thing is that I’m not really trying to correct your word usage)?

    And your speech on gloom-and-doom is probably just as exaggerated as mine on members hiding behind untouchable-apostle-status for their reasoning of lying to themselves with outdated fastest-growing-Church quotes while, in actuality, our Church growth rate declines steadily.

    But blogging is all about the exaggerated views of the world. Thus, we’re bound to talk past each other even if there is a part of me that understand gloom-and-doom while there’s likely a part of you that understands untouchable-apostle-status.

  61. I like the IDEA of more service, but I hate the way most missionaries go about it: seeing what members they could “help” and then eat with. It was my thing as a missionary to set up an actual community weekly service in each of the areas in which I worked. It seems like the elders in my branch are forever “moving” someone or weeding. It’s not bad stuff to do, just not the greatest use of their time.

    I would extend that to the church at large: when I am in charge of service projects we serve in the community, not just each other.

  62. Jonathan,

    Okay, just so long as you’re not knocking the concoction of hare-brained schemes. It’s one of my favorite activities, and I’ll defend it to the death.

  63. …discussions of the missionary program invariably end up littered with gloom-and-doom chest-beating…

    Jonathan, let me briefly note that the doom-and-gloom is separable from the belief that we on the internet know how to solve the problem. A doom-and-gloom orientation toward the missionary program is probably justifiable on the publicly available facts. Our convert numbers are gradually falling, and our retention rates continue to be incredibly low. The overall net growth rate of the church during the Hinckley years is not public but can be estimated on the basis of available information, and it seems to be in the neighborhood of a few percentage points above or below zero. The missionary program is a vast investment of time, money, and human effort; the evidence that it’s producing a growth rate of about zero seems gloomy to me.

    How to solve this is, of course, a different question. But raising the bar evidently hasn’t solved it, and we’ll see over the next little bit if the new discussions solved it–but the early evidence isn’t positive.

  64. Kevin Barney says:

    Wonderful comments all around. Thanks for sharing, everyone.

    Based on this conversation, I have several thoughts on developments I would like to see:

    1. There isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all model. Flexibility needs to be present to allow for variations in local conditions.

    2. Community service projects would probably need to be approved by the MP or someone acting on his behalf. We don’t want missionaries picking their own (lame) projects and ending up weeding members’ gardens. The projects should be more along the lines of what the Peace Corps would do: homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, literacy teaching, hospices, nursing homes, etc.

    3. Proselyting activities should be focused on times when people are actually home and they therefore can be effective (EG in most domestic U.S. missions, that will be late afternoons, evenings and weekends). There should be an emphasis on effective strategies in lieu of statistical make work. The high school football game was a great example of this!

    4. I would like to see far, far less emphasis on raw baptism statistics as the measuring stick for success. We need to change the model so that success is the development of active and committed members, not mere names added to a list. The Church has actually made some good movement in this direction, but in my view much more needs to be done.

    5. I would like to see the Church care far, far less about whiz bang manifest destiny double digit growth numbers. Trying to prop up the numbers leads to all sorts of ridiculousness, like the huge dead letter office of lost names in SLC, making it extremely difficult for people to remove their names from the rolls, etc. At this point I think we would be better served by some consolidation rather than just blindly adding names to the roster, most of whom never attend church again. That process ultimately weakens the Church, not strengthens it.

  65. Jared E. says:

    Kevin,

    I agree with everything you listed. I especially agree with your #2. I’ve often thought that it is a shame our churches sit empty so much of the time; allowing elders and sisters to use of the building during the day to dispense humanitarian aid to the poor would make so much sense. I think it would also help the general membership, by allowing them to do some real service for nonmembers.

    As far as #4 and #5 go, good luck with that. The church is a bureaucracy, and numbers is the way bureaucracies measure success. The president of the church needs something to point to and say, ‘look at how successful we are’. I don’t think you’re asking too much, I just don’t think we’ll ever see that kind of change.

  66. Comment #63 was not me, unfortunately. RT didn’t notice that I’d used his computer last night.

  67. Steve Evans says:

    S.V., I noticed that comment 63 lacked flair and panache.

  68. Kevin Barney says:

    Jared E., I think you’re right.

  69. Steve E.,

    It did, didn’t it?

  70. John Taber says:

    I think splits are best done when the missionaries have actual appointments to go to.

    The problem is when missionaries assume that the schedule will be filled all the time. I was in one ward that tried to do “exchanges” four nights a week, plus Saturday afternoons. The ward mission leader would berate us if he couldn’t fill a hole in the schedule, e.g. “You’re either doing the Lord’s work or you’re not”; “We appreciate what you do, but you don’t do enough.”

    The bishop eventually replaced that ward mission leader, but at the same time committed the ward to 55 convert baptisms for the following year. The new ward mission leader would say that goal was on our heads, etc. I got called all the time to help out, because I was single and lived closer to one set of elders than any other active member. That once included being called 9:30 pm Thursday to be told I was filling a slot on Friday.

    That was a few years ago. My current ward’s mission leader has at times exhibited similar zeal but things seem to have calmed down as of late. (Hopefully, there won’t be another “30-day fast” anytime soon.)

    However, the sister missionaries tried calling my wife two or three Saturday nights in a row in March to ask her drive them around before Sunday meetings the next morning. (They were running low on miles, etc.) I’ve told this bishop about that, and it’s stopped. I’ve also told him that it is very possible for member missionary work to get out of hand.

    That ties in to my other concern, of members getting berated for not attending the temple enough. (Which the temple president here did at stake conference a couple of weeks ago.) It seems to be that “Proclaim the Gospel” and “Redeem the Dead” get beaten to death, while “Perfect the Saints” gets ignored (unless it’s something marginal like Scouting or Seminary that gets overemphasized).

    I know in the ward with a five-day-a-week split schedule, home teaching suffered. And while they baptized fairly often, none of the new converts made it to the temple for the first time. That to me falls under “Perfect the Saints”.

    As for “raising the bar”: I would have had to at least wait had the current guidelines been in place when I was getting ready to go. But I would have been a better missionary. President Hinckley said at a leadership broadcast a few years ago that the problems a missionary has going in only get compounded. That certainly happened to me. Anyone who crossed paths with me at BYU after my mission (1994-1996) could probably vouch for how much of a wreck I was then.

    I’m not too concerned with the recently depressed convert baptism numbers. My take on what President Hinckley has said about that is that he and the other Brethren care more about quality than quantity. From what I observed on my mission, real growth and stability don’t happen at the local level until the children of converts come back from their missions and can provide solid leadership.

  71. The church is paying lip service to “quality not quantity” but the reality is they are still pushing the numbers. We were just chastised by Elder Ballard in our stake for our low convert stats. Even this Preach My Gospel “change” is nothing new. It’s very reminiscent of what they did in the mid 80s. It’s a shame.

    When I first heard about “raising the bar” i thought “this is a mistake.” Then when I thought about it, I thought maybe they were trying to make it less of a stigma for those who didn’t serve. Now it seems like my initial impression was correct. It has been a tactical error on the church’s part and the result has been fewer missionaries. It will be difficult for them to reverse this trend, I think.

  72. Re #58 (sister missionaries) — I don’t think they’re too concerned about it. Mostly because many bishops are still trying to dissuade sisters from going on missions.

    My wife served, but she had to initiate the discussion with her (SLC) bishop. Our 9-year-old daughter talks about serving. We’ll see how that goes.

    Most young women are being told, “don’t go if you have marriage prospects”, but in many cases in our ward, the 21-year-old single college students either don’t have any prospects, have vastly overinflated views on what is a prospect, or just want to graduate and start working.

    The wife and I think that’s unfortunate, since by and large, sisters are better than elders.

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