Mission Restructuring

I’m learning about a lot of missions that are being restructured this summer. At first a lot of these were in Europe, but then I found out that our missions here where I live (Chicago North and South) are being collapsed, and to the south of me Peoria is dissolving, to be absorbed into St. Louis and Des Moines. Sydney North and South are also collapsing into a single mission.

So now I’m curious about this. First, what other mission changes have you learned of? Let’s pool our collective knowledge to make a pretty good catalog of upcoming changes. Is your own mission where you served one of them? Does that kind of change bother you as an RM? How will this effect future missionary reunions? And why such massive reorganization? Is it a function of the economy, a reallocation of limited resources to where they will be more effective, a lack of missionaries or MPs, a recognition that certain areas don’t give adequate bang for the buck, or what? What are your theories?

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    In the cases where missions are collapsing, my understanding is that which mission a missionary will end up in will be determined by where they are in June before the new MPs come out.

  2. My brother is serving in Seoul West right now and he says the two Seoul missions will be merged into one.

  3. Interesting. I served I’m Chicago from 90-92 BEFORE it was split to north and south. Wonder if the collapse will put it back like it was before??

  4. John Scherer says:

    The Harrisbug PA mission was collapsed this past summer and divided among the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh missions. I have an emotional attachment to the mission- I was baptised there, but I always did think that three missions in PA was a bit much.

  5. Ireland and Scotland combining into one Mission. England itself will surely collapse a couple but haven’t heard anything about that personally.

  6. My mother is in Australia and and her mission (Melbourne West) is being combined with Melbourne.

    This blog has kept track of Mission changes quite extensively.

    http://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/

    Looks like a new mission in Guatemala, which I know will interest more than a few of the Bloggernacle regulars.

  7. Yet Another John says:

    My son was called to the Oakland CA mission and shortly after he entered the MTC it was announced that the San Francisco CA mission was closing and most of it went to Oakland. Some parts went to the mission just to the north and some parts went to the south. My son said it was due to the high cost of maintaining the mission in San Francisco but I wonder if a little bit of it had to with Prop 8!

  8. Italy, Catania is being folded into the Rome mission, so that there will be only two missions in Italy. As a Catania alum, I’m a little sad that nobody will be called to my mission — except, of course, every time Called to Serve is shown.

    Apparently, there’s talk of organizing a new stake in Sicily. My sense is that as more stakes are popping up in the country, fewer members are in need of a mission president as a local priesthood leader. And let’s face it, the proselyting work was probably never robust enough to justify the four missions Italy had when I was in the field.

  9. When we lived in Taiwan, we saw three missions reduced to two last year. And our number of missionaries in our mission in SE Michigan is falling, as well. We hear (from the mission presidents) that fewer missionaries are available (a demographic shift as well as the effect of “raising the bar), driving fewer missionaries in some missions and readjusting of some mission boundaries.

  10. The Church News just put this out

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/gallery/58775/New-missions-10-announced-in-seven-areas.html

    Pretty exciting stuff!

  11. Jason, that makes me a little sad as well. When I was in Catania there were four Italian missions. I never would have guessed they’d go down to two.

  12. Cincinnati is also being collapsed this summer, half going north and half going south (according to the missionaries there).

  13. If I remember correctly my mission Hamburg Germany was merged 6 or 7 years ago with Dusseldorf.

    I think we are going to see more of this in the future as the church gears up to start sending missionaries into China. Right now the Area leadership is trying to shift more of the work to the ward levels. I believe Elder James Perry is spearheading this effort in my area. Once a quarter the WML and Bishop go to a meeting presided by him and they are also reporting results to him.

    The Pacific Northwest may be a testbed for this new program (not the first time this has happened). Its been going on for about 2 years now, so it wouldn’t surprise me if similar programs are happening in other areas by now.

  14. Yet Another John, my younger bother is also serving in the Oakland San Francisco mission. The merger happened about 6 months in for him.

    I just hear from some missionaries that they are combining parts of the Cherry Hill NJ mission with the Philadelphia mission.

  15. My guess is that more missionaries (resources) are being sent to South America.

  16. Wow, if Cincinnati is being collapsed, that leaves Cleveland as the only mission in Ohio…

  17. Nevermind. There’s a Columbus mission. I had thought that had collapsed years ago, but I was thinking of Akron.

  18. Is there a Columbus Ohio Mission? I wonder if Canada will be affected any? Although we just got the Edmonton Mission a few years ago and I could see them merging the two Toronto Missions and possibly go back to one mission in Alberta

  19. I got home in 1990 and my mission, England Coventry Mission, was renamed and split up. In modern terms I served in three current missions.

  20. It will be interesting to see if this is a “restructuring” to get ready for growth in China, etc., or if it is a “reflection” of the slowing pace of missionary work.

    An interesting post would be to have people try to predict the number of converts / missionaries / etc. for April conference, with maybe a (virtual) prize for the winner. It would be interesting to see if people are optimistic and think that the past decade or two was a low “blip”, or if others are realistic, or if others were pessimistic and think that recent trends downward are going to continue.

  21. cantinflas says:

    I get the feeling that it’s a bang for the buck type of thing. The missionaries in the previously mentioned Cherry Hill, NJ mission knew about the forthcoming change as early as last May or June, and their impression was that it was related to number of baptisms and that more missionaries would be called to higher baptizing missions and less missionaries to the less productive missions.

  22. I’m also a Catania RM and am surprised at how sad I feel about the mission being dissolved.

    My dad was recently talking with a member of the 70, and Brother 70 was saying that because of the huge developments in technology in recent years, they are re-thinking the entire missionary program. He seemed to say that sending missionaries out is becoming old- fashioned and they are trying to come up with a new approach. (Sorry for the he-said, he-said…I couldn’t help it.)

    Maybe these mission changes are steps in that direction, but what do I know.

  23. My son is in Japan and he says that it looks like two of the missions there will be merging. The number of missionaries has dropped alot in his mission since he has been there – from about 90 to 60 I think.

  24. Also, in my opinion:

    I think we would be much better off with humanitarian missions. We should have the missionaries spend their days helping people in rural areas, inner cities, third world countries, etc. This will inevitably lead to discussions about why they are there. They can teach discussions as needed in evenings, or even have member missionaries (ward missionaries) teach them. I think this would be a great service our Church could do for the world. I also think it would be a much better experience for our young men and women.

  25. It is interesting to see that the Korea Seoul missions will merge. I was there when they split. I had spent all my time prior to the split in the area that became Korea Seoul West, and wound up in the Korea Seoul mission.

  26. I wonder if the economic downturn has caused a sharp decline in the number of mission presidents (and to a lesser extent, senior missionary couples) available. Most of those are men who have done well and now have ample resources to retire early-ish and do the MP thing. With everyone’s stock portfolios and real estate values hitting the toilet, that might be the difference between being able to stop working and not.

  27. Mike S (24) – I agree entirely with what you say. The more integrated our missionaries are in communities and doing good will inevitably lead to a natural flow. In England at present there is little relationship with missionaries and the general public. The hard nosed English, I feel, struggle to relate to two young American kids in a shirt and tie with a side parting and limited life experience. We are too cynical!

  28. I wouldn’t be surprised for some merging in the Eastern US. When I served in DC from 03 – 05, our number of missionaries dropped from like 190 to 130, likely due to the raising of the bar.

    Also, of the 15 missions grouped together in the “Eastern US Area” (or however they categorized it), all but 2 or 3 were drastically decreasing in baptisms.

  29. “Sydney North and South are also collapsing into a single mission.”

    One thing my companion and I were assigned to do on my mission was to analyse population densities and draw up plans for the splitting of the Australia Sydney Mission into North and South. After it was split (I was home by then) I felt a little sad, even though it was split where we recommended! My brother was then called to Sydney North.

    So, out with the “new” and in with the old!

    Interestingly, a whole heap of records for the “Australia Mission” were stored at my old mission home, and one P-Day my companion and I had a bit of a browse. Imagine my surprise to find, amongst a miriad of interesting facts about familiar names from home, records of my father’s baptism and the file on the missionary that baptised him – hair colour, height, interests, employment before mission etc! WWho knows where all that ended up when the mission office moved!

  30. I served in Ireland 02-04. I would be surprised if they collapsed it with another mission, simply because of the geographical neatness of the Ireland.

    However, while I was there, the number of missionaries halved. I have heard that two major factors influencing missionary distribution is the number of baptisms and the number of missionaries you send out in an area. both are low in the Ireland and the UK and therefore those missionaries are being re-distributed.

    I think that the raising the bar could account for some drop, but the major shift happened along time ago (when total number went from 63,000? to 50,000?). That shift clearly does not account for 50% drop I saw.

  31. It is interesting to see that the Korea Seoul missions will merge. I was there when they split. I had spent all my time prior to the split in the area that became Korea Seoul West, and wound up in the Korea Seoul mission.

    CS Eric, when were you there? When I was in Seoul West, from 1988 to 1990, the distinction between the two Seoul missions seemed very well established. The Han River made a natural dividing line.

  32. I’m not sure a low number of baptisms is the main factor. I was in Frankfurt in 2001, right before the mission just north of us dissolved and half of it integrated with our mission–and I’m fairly certain our mission had the highest number of baptisms in Europe at that time. (One specific ward I was in had 25 in just one year). Had it been a baptisms thing, I don’t think they would have enlarged the geographic size of our mission (thus decreasing the number of missionaries per ward or branch).
    I think they got rid of missions in Europe (and probably elsewhere) because it makes little sense to have six missionaries in a tiny branch or eight in a ward. Especially when there are wards elsewhere with no missionaries.

  33. “and to the south of me Peoria is dissolving”

    I lived in the Peoria, Ill mission for a little bit. According to the missionaries it was one fo the lowest baptizing missions in the world, similar to Europe. Apparently the mission average was to go home with around 5 baptisms.

    I think a lot of this has to do with the workload of MP’s dealing with districts and branches. Thinking back to my mission, The Guatemala Central Mission which is being split, the MP not only had to oversee 180 or so missionaries, but also 10 districts and 40 branches.

  34. Steve G. For the record, It was the Dusseldorf mission that was closed, 1/3 was absorbed by Hamburg, and 2/3 was absorbed by Frankfurt. The apparent news is that hamburg is being closed, but I don’t know who is absorbing it.

    I live in the Peoria mission, hadn’t heard of it’s closing yet.

  35. Cameron (10):

    So the Church is dissolving 14 missions and adding 10 missions. That’s really interesting. But it totally implodes any ideas about the recession or build up for China or India…

  36. “I wonder if the economic downturn has caused a sharp decline in the number of mission presidents (and to a lesser extent, senior missionary couples) available.”

    Seniors maybe. But I doubt MP’s. It’s not a volunteer mission, it’s a calling. Thus I doubt people are turning down MP callings because of financial reasons.

    My MP was far from wealthy (retired Air Force). The Church picks up most of the tab for MP’s anyway.

  37. Yay for the new Retalhuleu, Guatemala mission!! It was my first zone and one of my favorite cities in all of Guat! Joy, baby. Joy.

  38. Hamburg is being closed? How’s that going to work? Half to Frankfurt and half to whatever German mission is to the east?
    Wow. Half the German missions dissolved in just ten years.

  39. “Yay for the new Retalhuleu, Guatemala mission!!”

    Can you really imagine a Mission HQ being in Reu, though? I’m surprised they didn’t put two missions in Xela.

  40. RAF,

    The Seoul missions split in 1979, pretty much the half way point for my mission. 30 years later, and Han In Sang is still the best Gospel Doctrine teacher I ever had.

  41. “I think we would be much better off with humanitarian missions.”

    AMEN!!!!

  42. Antonio Parr says:

    SLO Sapo – the Church’s imminent expansion to a fourth mission — caring for the poor — may open up the door to a broader emphasis on humanitarian work.

    Let’s hope.

  43. Taiwan closed down one of their rural missions several months back (sorry I don’t know which) and combined it with Taipei.

  44. I don’t think it’s a financial issue. The Church has spent tens of millions in the past 2 months on real estate purchases in downtown SLC. And this is in addition to the estimated $3 billion they’re spending on a mall. They could always use their “business income” on humanitarian needs/Church missions instead of using it to make even more money if that was the issue.

  45. Removing missionaries from rural areas of the eastern United States makes sense. There isn’t that much for the missionaries serving in small towns in, say, heavily Catholic Pennsylvania or heavily Lutheran Wisconsin to do, and one or more low-demand units in a stake could be served by a centrally located companionship with a car. Members’ boyfriends/husbands/wives/relatives/etc/etc could still be taught when they are ready, but there would be far fewer of the problematic baptisms that often plague small isolated units. Yes, we’re all children of God, but when missionaries are baptizing heroin addicts who die from overdoses before they can be confirmed (a true but admittedly worst-case anecdote) are we really doing any good in the world?

  46. Re: 17

    I wouldn’t be surprised with the merging of the Alberta missions. Or missionaries cover three wards, compared to just covering ours a few years ago. The down side to combining the missions is it would end up being a huge mission taking in all of Alberta, and the two eastern territories.

  47. re.46

    Right eh, hadn’t thought of that. How is Alberta doing for baptisms? I heard that the Vancouver Mission is doing really well. I live in Winnipeg and we have the lowest retention in the Central Area, we cover all of Manitoba and Sask. as far as I know and northern Ontario and Northern Minnesota. The Winnipeg boundaries are all messed up and transportation is a recurring problem. 4 wards that are struggling for baptisms and retention meet in two buildings but people with cars live close to them and those that don’t live far, far, away and lots of social problems and buses aren’t the best-plus you have a few that think that taking teh bus on sunday is breaking the Sabbath…

  48. My brother is serving in Spain. They are consolidating 4 missions down to 3 there. The letter that the mission president sent out gave to main reasons why:

    1. Stake and ward leaders have taken on more responsibility for missionary work. Quote: The stake presidents and bishops in Spain have taken on that new responsibility in a very effective way, so that even with the reduction in full-time missionaries, the work of baptizing worthy converts has increased dramatically.

    2. There are fewer missionaries in the world overall. Quote:
    [T]he number of missionaries worldwide and the number of missionaries serving in Spain has been decreasing. This decrease is driven largely by a reduction in the number of 18 and 19 year olds in the population throughout North America and Europe. A year ago we had 140 missionaries in the Spain Barcelona Mission; today we have 100 and we are scheduled to have 90 later this year. Other missions are going through similar reductions. Overall, the number of missionaries serving in Spain will be less than 300 this year. This is a dramatic decrease from several years ago when we had nearly 800 missionaries in five missions in Spain.

    My husband went to a training last weekend on young men, and was told that in addition to there being less missionaries going out than before, 8% of missionaries come back early (double the 4% who used to come back). The biggest reasons are that the boys going out don’t know how to work and they are homesick.

  49. Mike Parker says:

    The Utah Provo mission is being split, with the southern portion becoming the new Utah St George mission.

    As a PA-Harrisbug alum (1988–90), I’m sad to hear she’s gone.

  50. re: 47

    I’m not sure what the baptisms are like in the Calgary Mission, where I live. I haven’t heard a report given for awhile. Elder Bednar is visiting our stake next month; perhaps he might tell us.

  51. A number of posters here have suggested that “raising the bar” contributed to the decrease in the number of missionaries serving. I wonder if this is really and causally true?

    Regarding mission re-alignments, there is probably a necessity for these to happen all the time — not just for reasons of numbers and resources, but also for reasons of flexibility. We don’t want to become a church heavily burdened with traditions or institutions that become “holy” in their own right — when this happens, it becomes increasingly difficult for church leaders to manage and make changes as needed over time for fear of offending members who have become overly attached to the tradition or institution. So I’m in favor of changing things sometimes just to preserve long-term flexibility and to remind us that (1) temporary traditions and institutions only need to last as long as a need for such exists; and (2) it is the duty of leaders to make decisions over time, even decisions of change, and our duty to sustain such.

  52. “A number of posters here have suggested that “raising the bar” contributed to the decrease in the number of missionaries serving. I wonder if this is really and causally true?”

    “Raising the Bar” wasn’t just a spiritual qualifier, it was physical as well. If you’ve had any serious medical or emotional problems or have weight issues, you’re probably not going to be allowed to go.

  53. #51: Re: raising the bar and its relationship to the decrease in the number of missionaries.

    I don’t know that anyone can specifically PROVE a causal relationship. However, if you look at the number of missionaries called each year, there was an immediate drop around the time of the “raising the bar”, from which the Church hasn’t recovered. There was the theory that while there would be fewer missionaries, they would be “higher quality”. If you divide the number of converts by the number of missionaries, this hasn’t happened.

    I have seen a number of extremely good and hard-working YM come home from missions, certainly more than when I went. These are kids who woke up early for sports practice, were student government leaders, went to seminary, etc. The majority come home for “anxiety” reasons.

    My personal opinion based on talking to them and reflecting on my own mission is that there is an extreme focus on exacting obedience. Any little failing gets magnified in the young man’s mind. And the underlying implication, regardless of lip service otherwise, is that if the work isn’t going forward, it is because the missionary isn’t working hard enough.

    Two thoughts:

    1) Perhaps it’s a problem with the “product” and not the “salesman”. There is increasing information, both good and bad, about the Church out there. There are societal changes. There is a focus on trivial things that define Mormonism – ie. no wine, white shirts, etc. – in the minds of the world, as opposed to a focus on Christ. Putting blame on the missionaries, implicitly or explicitly, for this is necessarily going to cause anxiety.

    2) To me, there is an even more important component of missions than actually converting people. True converts will find the gospel anyway, and the vast majority who stay active come through the members anyway, and not through any efforts of the missionaries. The most important part of missions is the missionary. This should be a time for a young person, at an extremely important part of their lives, to truly give service to the world around them. If someone is having some issues, we should still let them go. Some of the best missionaries in my mission were ones who wouldn’t have made it out there today – yet they caught the vision and had great success.

    I still think we should change the whole focus to actually helping people – ie. humanitarian missions – as opposed to having culturally incongruent people walking around in white shirts attempting to “convert” them. Let all youth go, baring any MAJOR problems. Let them go for 1-2 years. Let them wear normal clothes, appropriate for the area they are in. Let them dig wells and teach English. Let them build schools. Let them volunteer in AIDS clinics. Let them truly go around the world and do charitable works.

    From this, we would get:
    – A MUCH better image in the world of the church, as an organization that cares
    – A MUCH better experience for our youth, teaching them the value of serving their fellowman
    – A MUCH better foundation for our future Church leaders
    – And I would be that we’d have MUCH better success – as the current model obviously no longer works.

    Sorry this got so long. It’s just something close to my heart. I have worked with many fine YM. The ones who come home from missions have a VERY difficult time. Given the cultural expectations of a mission in the LDS Church, it’s something from which they will probably never fully recover. Something that should be a highlight of their lives has instead destroyed a part of them.

  54. I was once working in the student union building at Utah State, running a floor buffer between 2 and 6 AM. They had a counseling center in the basement, and I remember seeing a schedule for group therapy classes specifically for missionaries who went home early.

    I remember thinking at that time that you could indeed get seriously messed up from that. Two of my brothers came home early (one hit by a drunk driver, one with serious anxiety issues), and they’ve both had more than their share of problems. We’ve had such a tendency to treat a mission as a rite of passage – pre-mission, you’re an irresponsible hormonal kid who can’t manage money, drives too fast, and chases girls around. Post mission, you’re regarded as a man, capable of moving out, getting married, finding a career, serving in a leadership calling, etc.

    I know I baptized a lot more people by helping them move than I ever did by knocking on doors. But, I tried on a regular basis to do things that I thought might be a good story later on. I can talk about lecturing to a Comparative Regions class at a private womens college, serving as a chaplain at a world-famous hospital, and a few other things my mission president probably wouldn’t have approved of. But tracting? Missionaries are out finding the very people to teach that are targeted by daytime TV ads about “Get your degree! Start that career!” and “Have you been hurt in an accident? Floyd Remora got me $2 million!” And then they wonder why the member missionary and retention efforts are so weak.

  55. Moniker Challenged says:

    #53 Yeah!

  56. Kim #50, I have a friend recently returned from his Calgary mission and he had a lot of baptisms.

  57. Mike S (53):
    I think in the 20 years since I served my mission the Church has placed more emphasis on missionaries serving in their communities.

    I like your ideas. The main trouble that I see is that the type of mission you describe seems quite unstructured, which could become very difficult to manage. Whatever faults it may have, the expectations are very clear with the current program.

  58. 51, 53 re: raising the bar

    While I do not know how “raising the bar” affected the decrease in the number of missionaries, I can tell you that before that talk by Elder Ballard was given in October 2002, several missions (inlcuding my own) were consolidated in 2001 in anticipation of a change in demographics: there simply were not going to be as many 19-21-yr-old young men in the church over the next 10 years. At least part of it (if not most of it) had nothing to do with “raising the bar.”

  59. More accurately, there was a spike in the number of missionaries as the children of the baby boom generation were called to serve, and we are now on the other end of that spike.

  60. #59: As I mentioned, it is difficult to prove a causal relationship and there may certainly be demographics in play as you mention.

    Looking at what data I have available:

    – From 1978 to 2002, the number of missionaries grew from 15,860 called in 1978, to 36,196 called in 2002 (obviously the number of missionaries actually out is greater, as missions are 18-24 months – this is just the number CALLED in that year).

    – The number of members also grew during these years, from around 4.1 million to 11.7 million

    – Calculating for each year, the number of missionaries called each year was between 0.30-0.36% of the Church’s membership, and this number stayed very consistent throughout this 25 year time.

    – In 2003, the number of missionaries called per number of members dropped to 0.25%, or a drop of nearly 20% in a single year.

    – Since 2003, the percentage has continued to drop, now down to 0.23%.

    – The actual impact of this is also likely higher. As another person posted above, the number of missionaries who return home early from their missions has nearly doubled.

    So, there may certainly be some demographics at work. If you have data to support age demographics as a cause for the decline in missionaries, I would love to add it to my files. But, while not CAUSAL, there is certainly a very strong CORRELATION between “raising the bar” and the decline in missionary work.

  61. #57: Jim

    While it does seem to be a bit more unstructured, the Peace Corps and many other organizations seem to do just fine getting young people to help communities around the world. I’m sure we could figure out a way.

  62. My Stake President in the Chicago area told me that besides the demographic issue the church is reducing the number of missionaries from areas where they don’t send out as many as they should.

    My stake sends out 10% of all YM on missions. I was told that the U.S. church sends out 40%. So, our area will lose many missionaries and have our mission combined with the south mission.

  63. “My Stake President in the Chicago area told me that besides the demographic issue the church is reducing the number of missionaries from areas where they don’t send out as many as they should.”

    Its like you’re being punished or something! the missionary work will have to be taken up by the members but in a general sense if members, wherever, can’t or don’t or whatever prepare enough youth for missions then what makes the leaders think we can bring people into the Church. Its like we don’t do well with those we have but we are expected to do better withones we don’t have yet.

  64. Antonio Parr says:

    For those of you who live outside of the Utah/Idaho corridor, are any of you seeing new converts joing the Church? I believe that our Ward had a total of 2 convert baptisms for 2009. We rarely have investigators, and, when we do, they are never families or even married couples. This would be perplexing at any time, but is even moreso given the current economic struggles that are sending many previously unchurched people to churches and synagogues looking for spiritual strength.

    I am hoping that the experience in my ward and stake is the exception and not the rule. What are the rest of you experiencing?

  65. 2009 was the biggest year for convert baps in the history of our stake. Several times we had 25 plus baptisms stake wide in a month.

  66. Antonio,

    Not sure why you asked for response outside of Utah/Idaho. I stake would be lucky to get 2 baptisms per year while I was on my mission in Utah, let alone wards getting 2 per year.

  67. RE 64: Our ward (Pacific NW) had 48 convert baptisms in 2009, including a few couples, two families, three teens, and a whole slew of 9 and 10 years olds with no parental support. So far this year, there have been 6. Two more baptisms tonight, ages 10 and 11, with no family in sight. As primary president, it makes me cranky… how much hope of staying active in the Church does a kid have, with no family support, no transportation, not even HTs or VTs?! I think out of all those baptized last year, less than 10 have every more been seen.

    A young friend serving in Seoul Korea West mission said this week that his mission will be absorbed, partly in March, the rest in July, as you already know. He indicated the reason they were told is because other areas just need the missionary force more, “such as Africa, where they baptize thousands! But I bet I will remember my converts’ names longer.”

  68. Antonio, my parents’ Stake in Florida was just split off from two other stakes. According to them, so many people are being baptized that both retention and stable growth (i.e. finding capable leadership) are a problem.

  69. Antonio Parr says:

    bbell, Deb and Ben – Glad to hear of your experiences (although condolences to Deb!), and perplexed as to why my Eastern US ward/stake have such struggles with growth.

  70. Ron Madson says:

    I was a counselor to two mission presidents not that long ago. My suggestion–shift missionaries from heavy internet access countries to far less or not internet access countries—while there is still a chance to control the narrative…

  71. #70: Ron

    This brings up a very good point about what you are implying. Shouldn’t the strength of our message be enough, especially when confirmed by the spirit? Is our message fragile enough that we have to “control the narrative” by hiding unsavory parts? Shouldn’t someone joining the Church be well informed, warts and all, before making such a life changing decision?

    If I was buying a car, I wouldn’t just listen to the sales pitch from Toyota. I would also look at reviews from people who have had the car. I would look at the good reviews. I would look at the bad reviews. I would look at the service record of the car. I would then decide if I wanted to buy the car. Granted, there are always going to be people who are swept up in the emotion of the moment and buy the car because of the salesman, but that’s not me. And I would argue that the people who buy purely on emotion are the ones who are more likely to find problems with the car later as opposed to someone who already knows about everything.

    Isn’t religion much more important than a car?

  72. Antonio, My experience is similar to Ben S’s parents. I live in PA, just north of Philly. Our small, mostly Spanish speaking, branch had approx 60 baptisms in 2008. It completely overwhelmed the unit. Many of those baptisms were lost, either due to lack of attention, or because they weren’t true converts (that MP was very numbers focused).

    At one point in the height of baptisms we had 5 sets of missionaries in our relatively small area. While a larger ward to the South of us had no missionaries. So much of it really is left up to the MP. When we got a new MP – those things changed and we are now retaining converts.

    Missionaries do much good here that couldn’t be done otherwise. They’ve tracted out areas that members might never venture into, and found long lost members who couldn’t find the church when they moved. But that’s in the state with the lowest per capita members.

  73. If Mike S is correct, then “raising the bar” appears to be enormously counter-productive. That is, not only is the number of missionaries per members dropping precipitously, but also the number returning home from missions early — which the “raising the bar” was supposed ameliorate. Moreover, the fact that the number dropped precipitously in 2003 just after “raising the bar” appears to be an explanation for the drop in the number of missionaries. I’d say, looking at this data, that “raising the bar” has been a mistake of mammoth proportions.

    I think another causal effect is that missionaries no longer get a “farewell.” This of course is conjecture, but the kids I’ve spoken to mention how unappreciated missionaries are by the Church. They get much recognition when they leave — and their parents don’t get to speak as a general rule. They get to give a talk on a talk. When they return home it is the same talk-on-a-talk again. I’ve seen many, many occasions where a returning missionaries got 5 minutes because s/he had to make room for a high councilor to finish. That is a level of lack of appreciation for 2 years of service that is just staggering in my view.

  74. In 2003 Spring Stake Conference we had Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Pres. of the 70 come here and he indicated that they anticipated the number of missionaries would drop but it was due to low birthrates

  75. Antonio Parr says:

    Lurker:

    Threadjack!

    Talks on talks are downright painful, even moreso when used as a substitute for a missionary’s experiences.

    As for the loss of a farewell and homecoming — what a sad development! 19 year olds who forsake being 19 should be recognized for the magnitude of their sacrifice. And 21 year olds who return from having given their entire lives in service of the Church should be recognized by the Church that they have just served.

    I realize that in some wards these activities could consume every Sacrament meeting. Not so “back East” or in most other States outside of Utah/Idaho.

  76. #74:
    Here are the percentages of church membership called on a mission in any given year.

    1990 – 0.34
    1991 – 0.31
    1992 – 0.34
    1993 – 0.33
    1994 – 0.31
    1995 – 0.31
    1996 – 0.32
    1997 – 0.33
    1998 – 0.32
    1999 – 0.32
    2000 – 0.31
    2001 – 0.30
    2002 – 0.31
    2002 – 0.31
    2003 – 0.25
    2004 – 0.24
    2005 – 0.24
    2006 – 0.24
    2007 – 0.23%

    Looking at the numbers back since 1990 (and they are generally the same back to 1978 and earlier, I just left them off for the sake of brevity), the percentage of membership called on a mission was fairly steady year to year. Then there is a sudden jump in a single year.

    There are one of 2 possible explanations:

    1) The number of missionaries dropped because of “low birthrates” implying that all the Church members in 1983 suddenly decided to have 20-25% less children from that exact year forward, thus dropping the number of missionaries 19 years later, or,

    2) “Raising the bar” had an impact since it was at the same time.

    One of those seems more logical to me, but that’s just conjecture.

  77. My brother went out in 1991 and in those days anyone, and I mean anyone in our Stake could go! So it could be they were shipping out more missionaries then, then they were after that and realizing that maybe missionaries who drink and have a smoking problem aren’t ready to be a missionary just yet. So it could be the case in the early 1990’s that more were going, that today wouldn’t have gotten through, and then a different case in 2003 that less were going because of lower birthrates. I mean what is it now like 1/3 of 1/3 actually serve a mission and then 2/3 of single guys after 25 are inactive, something like that

  78. I think the low number of missionaries per member is due to about 6 million Mormons who will never provide a missionary (???).
    You can not compare the Peace Corps with missionaries. The Peace Corps would take about 2% of Mormon missionaries (???).
    When I was in North Dakota as a missionary (60s), we had “Work Missionaries”. They had far different rules to follow doing their “Service Job”, than we did, (as does the Peace Corps). Are Mormons ready for that?

  79. # 78 Bob, you serve in the North Central States Mission? You ever make it to Winnipeg?

  80. “Are Mormons ready for that?”

    Yeah, I think they are. As described in other posts, the current approach with predominately proselyting missions seems to be growing less and less productive and more and more dysfunctional.

    I have three sons who served missions. The oldest had a pretty decent proselyting experience and seemed to grow from it. The next oldest had a poor proselyting experience but had an MP who allowed him and his companion to do unpaid service work for ranchers for months at a time. He also seemed to grow from the overall experience. The third son had an absolutely miserable proselyting experience and actually regressed spiritually during his two years. He finished honorably, reported his service, and promptly went deeply inactive.

    Accurate or not, the experiences of my three sons reflect in my mind a microcosm of the direction our missionary program seems to be headed.

  81. “Sydney North and South are also collapsing into a single mission”

    Finnally! That splitting of Sydney into two missions was probably the dumbest thing the church ever did down here. Investigators would end up moving across the street and they then had to start over again with new missionaries. Plus, for example, the south mission has Cantonese language missionaries but they aren’t allowed to teach those Chinese who live across this imaginary line boarder in the north mission even though its the same city and sometimes the same extended family.

    Seems that the church is doing the same across the world now with a ‘one city one mission’ policy. It should make the work more efficient. They could also do with even less missionaries based on the amount of work they do here.

  82. #64 Antonio “For those of you who live outside of the Utah/Idaho corridor, are any of you seeing new converts joing the Church?”

    Yes but the bulk of it, seems to me, to be from immigrate communities (the many many that now live in Sydney), pacific islanders are probably the biggest group of baptisms.

    I personally see very few traditional anglo white Australians. Actually I can only remember one family going back to 2000 odd, but they are no longer active. There are though a decent number of anglo YSA getting baptized. But all this is anecdotal off course.

  83. #79: I take the 5th on going into Canada.
    I spent a year near the Canadian Border, in Haver, Glagow, and Minot ND. I had been in the Maines, so I got ‘duty’ near the SAC bases.
    #80; I agree on pure ‘proselyting missions’ having problems. I am just not sure what ‘service missions’ are possible for today’s Mormon missionary (???). The Peace Corps likes skilled people, even college grads. how many Mormon missionaries know anything about medicine, house building, or setting up computer systems in a village, etc.?

  84. Re: 80

    For the record, the Canada Calgary Mission has apparently discontinued door-to-door tracting.

  85. Ron Madson says:

    #70/ Mike S.
    I couldn’t agree more. I interviewed approximately 20 “special exceptions” baptismal candidates a month for over four years in our mission. Also met with dozens who had difficult questions. The age of google/information was changing the dialogue/questions. Missionaries would teach a first lesson and then that night the investigators would google. My very good friend and his family joined, we attended together the temple monthly for about two years. Seemed golden. They googled–it all unravelled–they felt betrayed. There were questions/concerns they had which to this day I cannot honestly answer with a positive spin. I still question to this day whether I should have addressed the issues he had to begin with or early on. IMO we haven’t honestly faced our history yet and had the John the Baptist epiphany of “I must decrease that He might increase” as it pertain to past and present prophets/leaders. Until we do we have a hard sell IMO among the “internet ploughboys”….

  86. #85: I agree with you. However, I must add the Church has a VERY large internet footprint. But seems to be addressing mostly itself(?)
    (Except for the Blogs).

  87. This mission collapsing seems to have been going on for a while, at least in Europe. At one point were there not five or more missions in each of Italy and Germany? To be down to two now indicates that there were previous mission dissolutions.

    I know that at points in the past there were as many as four missions in French-speaking Europe which went down to two long before this current round of mission dissolutions. That is not counting the missionnairies in French-speaking Belgium. These are tacked on to the Dutch mission, surely a mission alignment whose stupidity rivals the weird division of metro areas such as recently ended in Sydney as per #81.

    The challenge of missionary work is that you have to decide what part of your message you are going to start with. Up through the 1980s I believe the opening message was to highlight distinctives, Restoration and Book of Mormon. Certainly didn’t work in every situation and was kind of in-your-face, but at least it stood out and also made the missionary feel that he/she had something special to say.

    Then we shifted to a more mellow Jesus and family message, which just doesn’t sound all that different from other religions. As I understand the statistics, baptisms and retention began flat-lining in the 1990s, long before the “raising the bar” strategy and changing demographics significantly cut the number of missionnairies. My view is that that was due in part to going all soft and milquetoast on the message.

    A major shift in focus to service is a chance to change that. While it is true that other religions do service, few are as powerful as asking for a two-year commitment from everyone to do it. And the Peace Corps is not the model. There are lots of programs where just college and high school students do very well as tutors, relief workers, workers on LDC aid projects, etc. Plus I’m sure that the missioaniries would not be sent out as itinerants looking for projects. I’m sure there would be organization (that’s what Mormons do) and institutional guidance and support.

    Seems to me that a service in the day/proselyte at night mission offers way more opportunities to integrate with the community. It could also cut down on the great evil of numbers-obsessed MPs. it would also help the missionairies be more integrated with local church units by involving them with the missionaries’ projects. Oh, and having more service oriented callings offers more church service possibilities to activate semi-active members, involve new members still unfamiliar with the “inside-baseball” ways of many church callings, and reach out to friendly non-members, but that’s another topic.

  88. #86–Yes, well said and true—“addressing itself” and serving itself

    #87–great idea to turn to day time service/ preach at night. rings true.

    I personally believe that the “church of God” and the “kingdom of God” are two distinct entities. The former is a means to the end—the Kingdom of God. Speaking of that latter day kingdom, the BOM quoting Isaiah states “for more are the children of the desolate then the married wife” ie, more will come from east, west, north, south to enter that kingdom that were not of covenant then those that were—in the end. A “church”–any church even if founded by God (think His church at his first coming) that spends more time, focus, energy, monies even, on promoting itself (the church) more than just plain “cast your bread on the water” type christianity will find 17,000 converts in Russia compared to hundreds of thousands of other christian faith that started at the same time who were more focused on exercising day to day christianity—(A novel christian idea to have every dollar collected plowed right back into humanitarian service rather then trying to build a portfolio)
    So, just simply become the kingdom and the light and “they will come” in droves—to the Light–not the church necessarily. Therefore, to the extent we reflect that light we are His church–to the extent we are exclusive (dietary laws (never intended to be a commandment), rules, “you better accept our creed/dogma/orthodoxy) or perpetually anxious about “our” image or everyone towing the line both within and without or allocating resources to our PR/image/or great and spacious edifices then we are still His church but not His kingdom.

  89. They are combining, and I think it’s great, for our territory in Europe, at least, where we don’t have so many people. Right now we have two missions in our city. It means that we have double presidencies, callings, activities, and there are just not enough people or time. We had branches combined, too.

  90. Alex T. Valencic says:

    Concerning the speculation regarding why the number of missionaries is lower…

    When I entered the MTC in 2002, they told us that demographic projections for the number of men in the Church of missionary-age would be decreasing rapidly over the next few years. Nobody really knows why this is the case – it just is. In my ward, we have two or three young men in each Aaronic Priesthood quorum. My ward had, until just recently, more Young Women’s leaders than Young Women. The same is true across the stake. While “raising the bar” has also contributed to fewer missionaries serving, by and large, the cause for the decrease is purely demographic.

    Concerning the OP in general…

    I, too, live in the Peoria mission, and was talking to a friend about this last night. She pointed out that, before the Peoria mission was formed in 1983, where I live now (in Champaign) was part of the St. Louis mission and where my parents live (near Peoria) was part of the Des Moines Iowa, so we are just reverting to the mission organisations pre-1983.

    She also said it makes sense to combine, as the Peoria mission has a lot of small rural communities, and folks in small rural communities are very resistant to change, which leads to fewer baptisms (even though our ward, comprised most of the small rural communities to the west of Champaign, did have 5 baptisms last year). If we end up with fewer missionaries covering larger areas, it will reduce the tendency of having areas that are over-tracted.

  91. Just saw that my mission, Zurich Switzerland, was being combined with the Munich (and parts of Frankfurt) mission. When I saw this, I was honestly disappointed. It’s similar to the feeling when your parents move away from your childhood home…it’s still there but will never be the same, somehow.

    This will also probably be a big blow to the morale of the members, who recently stepped up and intervened to keep the mission home at its present location overlooking Zurich. It was a beautiful, stately place that I imagine was a major source of pride for the Swiss members, who, even though the Church has been in Switzerland for 150+ years, struggle for public legitimacy (as with most of Europe).

    To the mission combination specifically, I pity the poor office missionaries who have to deal with the visa issues from Munich into all of the separate Swiss Cantons, which are very independent, both culturally and politically/administratively (far more than any U.S. state) Being an (usually) American Mormon never put the mission office in good standing when dealing with visa issues…now that they’ll be calling from Munich, those Swiss officials will be that much less eager to work. Good luck with that, Alpine German Speaking missionaries!

  92. #90: Alex

    You state: “While “raising the bar” has also contributed to fewer missionaries serving, by and large, the cause for the decrease is purely demographic.”

    Did you look at post #74? This is actual data, not hearsay or someone said… The percentage of members called on a mission was consistently flat until the year after the “raising the bar” policy. There was an immediate drop of 20-25% in a SINGLE YEAR. It has then remained nearly flat at a lower level since that time.

    How do you explain that “purely” on the basis of demographics as you claim? In order for your claim to be true, Church members must have decided in 1983 to all have 20-25% less children that SINGLE year and from then on…

  93. Antonio Parr – This might be a little threadjack but I also live on the east coast of the US and my ward seems to be a little like yours in terms of numbers. We have had about 10 baptisms in the last 5 years. Unfortunately, all of those members are now inactive. My observations (and these are only my observations) are that two specific ideas may contribute greatly to the problem. Our ward really is worried about numbers and there is a lot of pressure to get investigators and members. But we also have a problem of belief – in the sense that if someone has problems, it is due to lack of faith… so if you are a member, slowing weakness or problems is a problem. So service is cheerfully given to investigators, but they are immediately cut off as soon as they are baptized. If you move into the ward and need serve, you will pretty much not get it. This is a belief problems that most of the members of my ward have and so members work really hard to hide the fact that they are not perfect. This attitude has been spread to a lot of people in our area so investigators are hard to find because many people in our area consider Mormons to be hypocritical and non service oriented and non christian because we focus so much on money and Joseph Smith. Another problem that we have is that so many members of our ward are poor and so we do not have a lot of money to help when it is needed. So both money and service are lacking.

    I would love the idea of a few of us getting together online or in person to work on ideas to try and change some of these factors. I would love to be part of the solution instead of a statistic to the failure! My stake president is working to change things, but he is aware that situations like these need many workers and not just a few lecturers.

    So Antonio, does your ward share any of these characteristics or do you have any other ideas why baptism and retention might be low in our areas?

  94. #93: Sonia:

    You state: “… many people in our area consider Mormons to be hypocritical and non service oriented and non christian because we focus so much on money and Joseph Smith…”

    Perhaps it’s from the top down. As a Church, we have given around $270 million in cash donations for humanitarian needs over 25+ years, or around $15 million per year. Just in the past few months, the Church’s business arm has spent tens of millions on real estate purchases in downtown SLC. And that doesn’t include the estimated $3 BILLION cost of the mall they are building. And even including non-cash, in-kind donations, we’ve still only given $1 billion in the past 25 years, or 1/3 the cost of the mall.

  95. #92: Mike, Don’t get caught up in the numbers. One could also say it was do to the 2003 starting of a war in Iraq that made less available 19 year olds (?)

  96. (#94) Mike S – I think in a way you might be right as Salt Lake doesn’t spend as money on humanitarian things as I think they could (be careful who you say that to though… I mentioned that to a cousin once a few months ago and the venom that came in my direction was pretty harsh indeed) But I have lived in other areas that were very much less disfunctional towards each other and people in general. I have thought from talking with a few other relatives in New England that my ward is ‘exceptional’ only to the degree that it goes overboard on some ideas. Otherwise it is fairly typical for New England. I guess I would really like to do something about it. i am working on helping to train my stake to deal with people with ‘differences’ a little more humanly… but I know as a woman, I have no power in the church. Only working with others and especially priesthood holders can I hope to make change. So looking from the top down isn’t helpful in that regard as I will never have the opportunity to be near the top at any level at all… But the money thing is a gripe for me as i am providing the training people and money for my stake. I do think it must be easier for the stake to provide the money than get it from a family with no job and a disabled family member… but now I’m just whining :) which won’t help at all.

  97. Mike S.: I think that you’re being uncharitable with the regarding its charity. The new mall has been an economic boon to SLC and to the workforce — especially the blue collar construction workers. It was necessary to revitalize SLC and will pay the community dividends for decades to come. Not all charity has to be handouts.

    But I agree that raising the bar appears to be just a bad idea and the consequences appear to be undeniable. However, perhaps the fact that respect for the US plummeted in 2003 due to the invasion of Iraq could have some small part of the explanation as well. Like you the numbers suggest correlation and not causation.

  98. #97:

    I agree that the mall is going to help revitalize downtown SLC. I also agree that the mall has helped provide jobs, etc. That is essentially the essence of trickle-down economics – the rich people spend money therefore providing more jobs to others. Using your same argument, all of the millionaires and billionaires in this country are being charitable when they spend their money, providing “blue collar” workers with jobs that they otherwise might not have.

    I suppose the question (with no right or wrong answer) is whether mall development, etc. is more a role of churches or of businesses.

    My comment was meant more in response to the public’s impression of the Church as focused on money and not service. We can argue between us as to the economic benefits of a mall, but at the end of the day, image is everything. When a Church is spending billions on malls and other real estate purchases, yet only $10-20 million a year on actual humanitarian needs, it doesn’t do much for the general public’s impression that it is just a rich church focused on money.

  99. Here in Lagos, Nigeria we had 2 missions until last summer, when they dissolved one of them. One mission president, who had been called for 2 years but just here for one, was sent home. They were (surprisingly enough) disappointed to leave. The other president, called for 2 years, was just extended to serve 3 years. I haven’t heard an official reason, but several conjectures for the mission closing. One was the difficulty of getting quality missionaries to serve here. They only call Africans to missions here in Nigeria (well, once there was a Tongan here). It’s too dangerous for white foreigners. The bar seems to be much lower for missionaries here than in the US, but it’s still difficult to keep the number of missionaries up to sustain two missions. And they are trying to concentrate missionaries in areas where they expect growth, rather than spreading out their efforts so much. In any event, they continue to baptize lots of converts here. Some stick around, many we don’t see very much — like pretty much everywhere else.

  100. #95: Bob

    I also agree that numbers themselves are meaningless in general. The whole point of even including them in this post is as they relate to Mission Restructuring. It is fairly obvious that in the recent years, missionary work is down. There are fewer converts. There are fewer missionaries. There are missions consolidating. The question is why?

    As with anything, there are potentially internal causes as well as external causes. I think it is important to distinguish between these, as internal causes can potentially be changed.

    An example from my profession: I replace ACLs (among other things). Several years ago, there was a great new way to do them, using Gore-Tex as a graft. Things initially appeared great, with lots of benefits. They then started to fail at a higher rate. Initial responses were: maybe people are more active and the graft is fine, maybe we’re just seeing more people getting ACLs done so there will be more failures, etc. When the actual numbers were looked at, however, it became apparent that the change to Gore-Tex was a bad idea. Now, no one uses Gore-Tex.

    As a church, one of our goals is to spread the gospel, otherwise what is the point of the missionary program? There is an obvious change in the success rate, number of missionaries, etc. The issue is the same as with ACLs. Is this something we have control over, or is it something extrinsic.?

    Some people say that the significant drop in number of missionaries in a single year is due to birthrates, the Iraq war, etc., pretty much anything extrinsic – thereby implying that we are doing everything right. At the same time, no one has shown any data to support any of this. If someone had a demographic breakdown by age showing a drop off, or if there was data to support that 10,000 YM joined the military in a single year who otherwise would have gone on a mission (as there’s no draft), then the arguments would have more weight.

    My only point has been that there is a very high correlation between the “raising the bar” program and the drop in missionary work. I’m not saying this is good or bad. Perhaps the Church leadership values having “better” missionaries more than converts. Or perhaps, like in ACLs, it was something that seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect wasn’t so good. I just don’t see anyone “going back” on the idea like would happen in medicine, because it doesn’t seem decisions are made by data or information.

  101. Mike, you’re beginning to take over this thread, and your comments all point the same way- The Church is all about money and image, and makes decisions completely in the dark. Or at least, it seems that way to you.

    You’ve provided some very basic data and made some reductionist claims.

    Since we’re throwing around weasel words, your comments seem very negative and cynical to me. Just FYI.

  102. GatoraideMomma says:

    In the eastern US we have seen waves of “kiddy dips” where the missionaries needing numbers find kids without parental support over the decades. In our stake lately it has been kids of inactive member families we see being sought out and taught by the missionaries, who after maybe coming out once or twice at ages 10-12 or so and get baptized and are never seen again. Some of the parents aren’t active but are “okay ” with having them baptized. Maybe they enjoyed the elders’ or sisters’ attention for a spell. One convert family with a teen who does not come ouot to church and still smokes says the missionaries keep setting baptismal dates for him. How about setting a “come to church on Sunday date” for starters?

    Some churches are happy to have folks saved and numbered in the flock whether the folks attend or not or hold to a standard of behavior. Our church wants committed folks who will attend and serve and give of themselves, their time, their talents, their money. It’s a huge commitment and thoughtful folks arent exactly over running us to get in on message. For starters that 3 hour commitment on Sundays is a major obstacle.

  103. Ron Madson says:

    #100 & #101

    Seeing a problem or concern (rapidly decreasing numbers in first world countries outside of the US and flattening in US) prompted this whole thread. Now what? I think Mike S. appeal to identifying facts/data does not merit an ad hominen attack such as “weasel words” or being “negative.” Apparently Mike S is a surgeon. I have been a litigator (like many on these boards) —now in my fourth decade. Facts are stubborn things. Invariably any form of “intrinsic” evaluation statements rather then the mantra of the “world is obviously evil” and can’t handle our message leads to “internal ad hominen” attacks on these boards. When I was a counselor to a mission president in a states side mission I was attending a special meeting with stake presidents in our city along with a GA. The topic was missionary trends. OUr mission had traditionally baptized 75 to 200 converts a month for years. It had dropped to about 35 to 50 for a period of months—as it was in other bordering missions. The GA gave us a quote from President Hinckley which stated: “Don’t let anyone tell you that we are not succeeding in missionary work.” I made the fatal mistake of asking, “well exactly how do we define succeeding.” He had no fact or data based measurement nor even a general answer. The GA face got real red, and after the meeting lectured me about challenging that general statement. A letter was sent out disinviting counselors to mission presidents to these meetings in the future. Message sent–negativity or self-examination not allowed when it comes to this work.

    Alma 4: 10 states:

    “….and the wickedness of the church was a great astumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.”

    Read verses 2 through 9 for some insight. Looking inward is not a bad idea. But note that those in the church wanted to persecute those that did not believe the narratives or suggested that something was wrong within…..

    I don’t think Mike S is saying that the “Church is ALL about money and image” Where did he say that? This church has many, many, and I believe most sincere, humble, faithful that serve and give and give. But I can guarantee you that the image out there is mixed at best for a host of reasons. Obtaining faith in the “church” is becoming increasingly problematic for honest investigators of our faith in first world countries—

  104. Actually I think that I need to apologize to Ron Madson and Mike S. I am the one who made the comment that people in my area see the church as all about money. I am so sorry that it came down to pretty mean spirited words. I meant the words in good intent- I do not believe that the church is money grubbing or misusing funds nor do I believe that the church is all about Joseph Smith and ignoring service. I wouldn’t be willing to be a believing member if those statements were true. I made those statements because that is the perception in my area of investigators and new members who leave the church. That is a problem that I see with missionaries being able to find investigators and retain members in my area. They were observations I have made through conversations with others inside and outside of the church and I truly did not mean to make any so upset that they became insulting. I’m really, really sorry.

  105. #103

    What the heck! Who was the GA that did that? Sounds like he was insecure or something, or what I have seen in previous Church lessons, people have it all figured out what they want to say and ask for opinion but stick with their pre conceived ideas. Just a odd teaching moment or “technique” for sure!

  106. Robert Boylan says:

    Rico (no. 30),

    Ireland _is_ being changed to become part of the Scotland mission, alas, neatness of Ireland notwithstanding. The number of missionaries will be cut from about 80 to around 50/60, with the possibility that some units here in Ireland not having missionaries whatsoever.

    Robert Boylan

  107. #106
    What kind of effect do you think that will have on the members and work there? I would imagine that your part of the world needs missionaries more so then Utah!

  108. Robert Boylan says:

    Cameron (no. 106),

    The work here is very, very slow and retention is *very* poor (in my current branch, about 20%), and baptisms that result in long-term members is uber-rare, alas. Such a cut in numbers will significantly hit Ireland, though I do hope I am wrong. Only time can tell.

  109. #108

    I do hope things turn around for you and your country! What do you think they need? I live in Canada and baptisms and retention is way down, generally aorund here, and so it seems people go into panic mode almost. It seems that when there is this hype about low numbers and bad this and bad that there is spurts of baptisms that don’t typically go anywhere and thus re-creating the problem. Consistency is better then intensity. I feel for the fairly New Mission President, he has his job cut out for him for sure.

  110. Where I live, the issue of reduction of missions, and missionaries, would seem to be associated with the problem we have with church membership figures in general. Wards have been combined, and need to be again.

    Whereas, 25-35 years ago, our Stake Conferences filled the auditorium to overflowing, and we had to have two sessions on Sunday in order to accommodate the number who attended, we now have a half-filled building, and a single conference session.

    We simply have much less members than we used to. Whether this is due to a reduction of family size, or the economy, or less converts, or the internet, or a general loss of interest in things religious, or whatever, the drop in membership in our heavily populated area is simply an undeniable fact.

    In my opinion, calling members “un-supportive” of church leaders because this loss is openly mentioned is not conducive to identifying contributing factors which might be able to be mitigated by those at the higher level of leadership.

    For instance, IMO, less financial drain demanded of active members, and less demand for their time spent on church activities, would result in two welcome, positive changes.

  111. As I recall (others please help), the military was very dismayed by the poor relationship it found out it had with college students during the Vietnam War. It made a big change by requiring anyone wishing to raise above Captain, to return to school and get some kind of MA degree to bond with the students. It took years, but seemed to work.
    This was a big change for them. I am not sure what the Church needs to do for a ‘Mission– mission’ change? Maybe they are doing it?

  112. #101: Ben

    I’m sorry if I implied any weasel words or anything else. I’m also sorry if you feel negative about what I said. Personally, I don’t really take offense at anything you may or may not have said. At the end of the day, it’s just some pixels on a screen.

    In my training and profession, facts are reality. Something works, or something doesn’t work. There is a better way to do something, or not. People’s lives and limbs are literally at risk. Every day, I could literally kill someone or permanently maim them. It doesn’t matter if I really like something I do, if the data doesn’t support it, I don’t do it. And even if I have done something for years, if someone has a better way, I change.

    In my comments, I have basically given data. I have pointed out the drop in numbers. I have shown an association (NOT causation) with changes in policies. I have asked for data suggesting any other possible causes, but no one seems to actually offer anything besides attacks. I’ve just given data. People may interpret the drop in numbers as negative, but it is reality.

    In regards to a post about the image of the church about money, I also gave facts. It is a fact that we are spending $3 billion on a mall, whereas the cash value of our humanitarian donations is around $15-20 million per year. Even adding in-kind donations, we still give about $40 million per year. Again, this may be seen as a positive thing, or it may be seen as a negative, but it is reality as well.

    I think there has been a lot of frustration expressed in this post about numbers going down. There are fewer members, there are fewer missionaries, there are fewer converts, etc. In my profession, I heal. I would love to be able to “heal” this. To treat something, however, you first have to make a diagnosis. Unless we can come up with potential reasons for the drop, we can’t really fix it. And platitudes like “it really is going well” or “it’s just demographics” or “it’s probably the war in Iraq” just don’t work for me.

  113. I am convinced that the drop is largely attributable to falling birthrates.

    I am not aware of any published figures showing number of U.S. members by birth cohorts. When our eldest applied to BYU in 1998, however, she was sent a booklet from BYU that showed the numbers of LDS youth turning 18 in each year 1998 through around 2002 or 2003. My recollection is that the number turning 18 would peak around 2000 or 2001, and that by the time our third daughter applied (2004) the number turning 18 would be significantly less than in 2000 (around 20% less).

    While I cannot find LDS birth cohorts in the U.S., this site shows the number of new children of record in the Church dropping from 120,000 in 1983 to 98,000 in 1984 (around 20%), and staying at that level for many years. http://www.mormoninformation.com/stats.htm

    Given the 20% drop in births in the mid 1980s, it is not surprising that the number of missionaries would drop a similar amount 19 or 20 years later.

    As far as why the drop in birthrate in the mid-1980s–that was the time that President Hinckley started clearly preaching that the number of children was up to the parents and a private matter, which reduced the cultural pressure (as well as rhetorical top-down pressure) to have as many children as a couple could as soon as they could. http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6902 BYU Devotional 20 September 1983 (“Much has been said on this campus about birth control. I like to think of the positive side of the equation, of the meaning and sanctity of life, of the purpose of this estate in our eternal journey, of the need for the experiences of mortal life under the great plan of God our Father, of the joy that is to be found only where there are children in the home, of the blessings that come of good posterity. When I think of these values and see them taught and observed, then I am willing to leave the question of numbers to the man and the woman and the Lord.”) Is it coincidence that after this BYU devotional, the LDS birthrate apparently dropped 20%? Perhaps it is.

  114. I served in Provo from 2006 to 2008. To be completely honest, the RM’s in my group think it’s kind of weird, but we are completely ecstatic! A number of us have expected this to happen for a while now.

    The old boundaries of the Provo mission included the Provo mission, the Saint George mission, and the Utah section of the Farmington mission. The pace of the work has increased there by over 50% in the past 4 years. With such a high increase in the work and a large area covered, it was going to be best to split it. To explain why it’s being split the way it is, the region covering the Provo mission and the region covering the Saint George mission produce an equal amount of work and likely would contain close to the same number of areas. The areas in the Saint George mission are a lot larger in size than the ones in the Provo Mission, though, so the size of the Saint George mission would be much larger.

  115. Jonathan Green says:

    Mike S., if, as you say, “It is a fact that … the cash value of our humanitarian donations is around $15-20 million per year,” then you should have no problem citing a source, right?

  116. #115 Jonathan

    No problem at all as it’s on the Church’s own web site, and looking at the numbers more closely, I actually exaggerated and the actual cash value is lower:

    http://www.providentliving.org/welfare/pdf/WelfareFactSheet.pdf

    Under facts, from 1985-2008 there are 2 numbers:
    Cash donations: $282.3 million (or $12.8 million annually in actual cash outlay)
    Material assistance: $833.6 million (or $37.9 million annually in in-kind donations)

    Either way, the amount of cash spent on the $3 billion mall is 10x the cash amount of humanitarian aid over 22 years, and if you add them together, the mall is nearly 3x the cost. In the past few months, they’ve spent ten’s of thousands on real estate in downtown SLC.

    So, my source is the Church itself…

  117. Sorry, it should be tens of millions on real estate. The sources for that are often quotes on the side blogs here, and can be found in the SL Tribune or the Deseret News, also a Church owned source. I could look up exact article references if you’d like.

  118. I find it interesting too that the Church is building an addition to the Provo MTC, I wonder what the rationale is behind that move when the amount of missionaries is down

  119. Jonathan Green says:

    Mike S., thanks for pointing out your source. You realize that you’re comparing the per-year donations to the cumulative cost of the City Creek Center project, right? Also, the NY Times calls it a $1 billion project. How did it get up to $3 billion? And, finally, you realize that the economics of humanitarian aid are not quite the same as the economics of financing urban redevelopment, right?

  120. It’s a fairly reliable source for Church related items: Deseret News

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705341784/Salt-Lake-City-high-rise-is-ready-for-occupancy-on-Main.html

    “City Creek Reserve is spending more than $1 million a day on construction, and the project ultimately will cost around $3 billion, said Chris Redgrave, a KSL executive who also chairs the Salt Lake Chamber’s Can-Do Coalition, which is looking for ways to jump-start the downtown economy”

    I also agree that the economics are different. The whole point started when someone suggested that the Church is known more for money/business as opposed to humanitarian things. People can argue whatever they want as to economics or what the best use for money is or whatever, but no one can argue with the numbers – all from Church sources.

    I would suggest, however, that if the Church wants to be known for humanitarian issues rather than business issues, that they should spend at least as much on humanitarian things as they do on buildings, real estate, investments, etc.

  121. Also, it wasn’t “per-year” donations. If you add ALL 22 years of humanitarian cash AND in-kind donations it is still equal to 1/3 the cost of a shopping mall. And if you compare cash to cash, ALL 22 YEARS of cash is $280 million, or one-tenth the $3 billion cost of the mall.

  122. Jonathan Green says:

    Mike S., from the article you cited, note that the development is “in partnership with Detroit-area retail developer Taubman Centers Inc.” Without knowing how the deal is structured, you can’t say that the church is spending $3 billion.

    If you agree that the economics are different, then you should see that you’re comparing unlike things, right? Donating $5 million to disaster relief helps a bunch of people, and then the money is gone. If done wisely, the urban redevelopment employs a bunch of people, and is revenue-neutral or better, so that you can keep going with your humanitarian projects.

  123. I agree with you the the economics are different. My only point is that the Church potentially has a bad image as being focused on money. A poster above brought it up. The cover of Time magazine several years ago was “Mormons Inc”. It seems to be a fairly common impression. Economics and logic aside, if the Church doesn’t want to convey that impression, perhaps buying tens of millions of dollars in real estate and attaching itself to billion dollar mall projects isn’t the best thing. Unfortunately, impression is reality.

  124. VRy interesting to read it :P

  125. In support of comments by #113 DavidH, I took the liberty of graphing those statistics.

    (I’m not sure if posting images here in the comments section is ok or even if I’m doing it right, so I’d appreciate a moderator stepping in to fix it if necessary.)

  126. Looks like it didn’t like my html, so here is the link to the image:

  127. GatoraideMomma says:

    **If the missions that members now serve were primarily humanitarian and true service oriented The Church’s image would reflect that both in REAL TIME visibility and statistics of all kind including the dollar value/cost to the individuals. No doubt there would be a lot of church as well as local news releases and the members in the wards and stakes also get involved and more excited to have something concrete to do. Do your missionary work as we’re often mandated is not concrete enough for most of our members to get wrapped up in doing.

  128. GatoraideMomma says:

    #113 David H reported in 1980:
    “As far as why the drop in birthrate in the mid-1980s–that was the time that President Hinckley started clearly preaching that the number of children was up to the parents and a private matter, which reduced the cultural pressure (as well as rhetorical top-down pressure) to have as many children as a couple could as soon as they could. http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6902

    This is also the time when states began to require car seats and restraints for children limiting how many children you could transport safely. In the 1970s I remember members putting 5-6 kids in a car that today would hold 2-3 car seats max. I’ve heard folks in our ward say we can’t afford another child until we can afford a larger van or SUV.

  129. #126:
    Interesting graph. Thanks for putting that up.

  130. Thanks, DavidH and Steve G. for getting more solid data for the demographic information. I based my statements on 1) information given to us in the MTC from General Authorities in 2002 and 2) my own limited observations.

    My youngest sister was born in 1994. In that year, there was no nursery in our ward, nor had there been for a long time. She is still in that ward, and there was a definite gap in regards to the number of youth older than her. I have discussed this issue with friends from many parts of the United States, and they had all reported the same thing: there was a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s where there just did not seem to be as many children born as compared to the previous decades. It seems that Steve G’s graph demonstrates this.

    I am in no way trying to say that raising the bar has not also contributed to the lower number of full-time missionaries. I think that the restrictions placed on physical worthiness (for lack of a better word) were probably a larger contributor to the decline than those placed on spiritual worthiness. I met a family on my mission that had four boys, all preparing for missions. The three oldest were all disqualified because of health issues. The young men in this family represented a third of the young men in their ward. So of the twelve, three were unable to serve, despite a desire to do so. That was a 25% decline from the time when all the young men were able to go.

  131. “If Mike S is correct, then “raising the bar” appears to be enormously counter-productive.”

    This seems to be predicated on the narrow definition of “productive” being just numbers of baptisms, missionaries, and missions.

    I think a lot of it had to do with wanting to avoid problems in the mission that are painful to those involved, involve legal expense, involve medical expense, etc. Alex’s anecdotes about physically (and I’ll add a bunch of mental/emotional cases I know about) speak to this.

    I know of many cases of missionaries destroying property (their apartment, their car), committing immorality with locals, having emotional/mental breakdowns of every conceivable variety (I mention this because “raising the bar” included screening for psychological conditions), breaking laws, and various other mischief and mayhem. Avoiding these kinds of scenarios and the heartbreak, expense, lost testimonies, etc, are a “productive” outcome, and might be worth it even if it results in fewer baptisms.

    Two caveats: (1) I have no idea if this was the (or the main) reason for “raising the bar,” just speculating. (2) I really have no idea if “raising the bar” has materially impacted the incidence of such. Of course nobody would expect it to be eliminated, and I know for a fact it hasn’t been.

  132. Wow! Very interesting to read the comments. I served in Madrid, Spain and members there have told me they are consolidating the Bilbao mission. There used to be 5 missions in Spain, now they’re down to 3.

    It does break my heart a little – mostly because I know it breaks the hearts of the members there. They get frustrated because they feel it should be the other way around.

  133. In one of my favourite articles in the Ensign, Feb 2007, Elder Clayton M. Christensen now a former AA70, wrote, “We’ve raised the bar to improve our missionary work. But this doesn’t solve the underlying problem, that we’re preparing only a small fraction of the young people on our membership rolls to become committed, courageous missionaries.Why are we not doing better in this crucial area? One reason may be that the focus of many parents and youth leaders is to help our youth find their lives. Too often we define strong youth programs as those with a large “critical mass” of youth, well-planned activities, and opportunities for Latter-day Saint friendships. These are good things to have. But while we work so hard to provide enriching experiences for our youth, we sometimes deny them the most important opportunity of all—the chance to lose their lives for the sake of the gospel”.

    I hope he becomes a Mission President or a General Authority someday!

  134. I was looking back through the comment and noticed #76 by MikeS had numbers that roughly correlated with my graph numbers. I didn’t see where MikeS gave us a source for the numbers but when you graph them next to the percentage of member records 19 years earlier, the graphs look quite similar. See the link below for side by side comparison.

  135. #134: The source for the numbers was just a compilation of the annual numbers in April conference.

    Thank you for the graph. I’d never seen the data that way. It actually correlates quite nicely and I agree demographics do play an important role.

    Thanks

  136. Seattle_Boy says:

    I was in the Hamburg Mission in the mid-1990s and I am sad to see it combined with the Berlin Mission. There has been a mission headquartered in Hamburg for a very, very long time.
    However, I am not surprised to a consolidation of European missions. It seems like responsible resource management. It’s better to combine a few well established missions in Germany so that new missions can be opened in areas that really need the missionary support.

  137. Great blog. The church will always have PR issues due primarily to our bold statement of the restored gospel in the latter days. Being peculiar keeps us on our toes. The financial criticism will be with us to the end no matter what. The Church’s humanitarian efforts are nothing short of remarkable considering our size and the volunteer force. We are still in Indonesia after others have left, building houses, donating boats and wheel chairs. We are vaccinating in Africa, and we are in Haiti. Our Bishops quietly and confidentially help people in every branch and ward in the Church with food, clothing and shelter, on a regular basis, particularly in these difficult economic times. I served as a stake president of a city stake and I have seen the numbers, they would give most critics pause. We don’t discuss these dollars but trust me they add up. The dollar amount going to humanitarian aid will will rise as membership rises worldwide but it will never be enough to solve all the suffering. However, there is a greater risk in this world than a famine of food, its the famine of the spirit. Too many suffer spiritually and emotionally never hearing (in this life) of the healing power of the Atonement with its eternal reach and blessings to heal the wounded soul. The missions are being consolidated to keep our missionaries productive in areas where the work is growing and strong.

  138. I know that we are led by a modern Prophet of God, and leaders who receive guidance and revelation to help us to live better lives. I know that as we follow the Prophet we will be blessed. I will no speculate on the reasons the Prophet does what he does, but instead I will prayerfully seek for confirmation through the Holy Ghost that it is the will of God. I have sustained the Prophet, and will therefor follow him and encourage others to do the same. The facts, as I see them, are simple to understand. I do not have a need to see something else beyond what was reported in the news and in the Church News on the issue. Some missions were consolidated, some new missions were added. Prior to this action the Church had 52,000 plus missionaries and 348 missions. After it is completed in July we will still have 52,000 plus missionaries and 340 missions. A mission is nothing more than an administrative office. For whatever reason, the Prophet has decided to administer the 52,000 plus missionaries differently than in the past, in an effort to bring the Restored Gospel to more people with the available resources. Just because the mission office may have changed, the missionary work has not stopped. Speculation and rumor will always bring people down, so it is better to seek out and report the facts.

  139. @David Bresnahan – Well said.

  140. Steve Evans says:

    Facts are always simple to understand when we refuse to analyze them out of a misguided sense of devotion.

  141. Antonio Parr says:

    Well, now that we have 138, I guess Steve can now close this and all other threads on bycommonconsent.com . . .

    It was a good run while it lasted . . .

  142. I would like to respond specifically to the comments that “raising the bar” may have been a failure, or a misconceived idea.
    One issue I have with the stock-holder ownership style economy that we live in is that if things don’t pan out in 2-3 quarters – they must be a bad idea. I feel a bit of this is going on here. Raising the bar might have painful short-term consequences: decreased missionary calls and service, decreased baptisms, etc. But it is a bit soon to judge possible long-term effects. Hopefully in light of the bar being higher, it might encourage the younger youth to live to the higher needs: chastity, temperance, and even health/weight issues. Perhaps we should give this program more than 5 years before we judge it to be a failure, since it hopefully inspires a paradigm shift in missionary preparation – and that type of thing takes time.

    All of that in addition to Cynthia’s comments in 131 which I whole-heartedly agree with. Its amazing the amount of spiritual damage a wayward missionary can do in a ward/area.

    I’m not saying I have a testimony of “raising the bar”, perhaps it was a mistake. But give it some time to pan out before we start stating figures as cold-hard facts and proof of failure.

  143. Latter-day Guy says:

    “The facts, as I see them, are simple to understand.”

    Besides which, understanding them is not really necessary, is it? Ours is “not to reason why,” and all that.

    “I do not have a need to see something else beyond what was reported in the news and in the Church News on the issue.”

    Scientology Rule = FAIL

  144. Antonio Parr says:

    I am not wise enough to know the nuances behind “raising the bar.” I assume that there is inspiration behind the decision. That being said, one of the sad byproducts of this policy is a growing generation of LDS “lost boys”, i.e., 19+ year olds who were barred from serving LDS missions and who, as a result, become socially ostracized, declared off-limits to LDS young women, and who lose meaningful fellowship with the Saints. I have personally witnessed this on several occasions, and have grave concerns about the social stigma that accompanies the failure of a young man to be called to serve a mission.

  145. 144 – and perhaps those lost boys will be able to find a nice mate among the many 30yr old single women who are forced to look for a match among the non-LDS but would rather love to marry in the temple.
    Change can be a painful process, and I’m not trying to minimize the struggles of those that you refer to, but you can’t really dictate policy for a (insert number that you feel is real here)-million member organization based on the possible consequences of a minority of the members. Those are downsides, but possibly the upsides outweigh and more time is needed IMO to tell.

  146. Antonio Parr says:

    Perhaps a way to resolve the issue is by removing the social stigma associated with not serving a proselytizing mission. Let “worthy” young men who genuinely feel called to be preachers of the word go on proselytizing missions, and offer/allow other valid service opportunities for those who do not feel inclined to be preachers of the word (or who are refused mission calls because of past transgressions), but who nevertheless love and wish to serve the Church. It just seems a shame to stigmatize a 19 year old, whose life has barely started, and who is still trying to learn how to stand.

    (Several non-LDS friends/family members have expressed dismay over the apparent practice of disallowing young men who have transgressed to serve missions, even if they are repentant. Such a practice seems to suggest that once sins are scarlet, they are always scarlet, snowstorms be damned.)

  147. Antonio Parr says:

    (Nothing in my prior post is intended to be unsupportive of LDS Missions. My life has been blessed immeasurably as both a recipient of missionary work and as a missionary.)

  148. (Several non-LDS friends/family members have expressed dismay over the apparent practice of disallowing young men who have transgressed to serve missions, even if they are repentant. Such a practice seems to suggest that once sins are scarlet, they are always scarlet, snowstorms be damned.)

    Agreed, but on the other hand, sometimes certain problems take a very long time to fully recover from, and do we want those kids out in the mission field?

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