It is perhaps well known that we sometimes use language that isn’t readily comprehended by those outside of our faith. Some of that results from anachronism. For example, while some other Christians during the Second Great Awakening called the Lord’s Supper “the Sacrament” and called sacraments “ordinances” they generally outgrew the practice while we kept the terms. So too with words like “proselyting,” though now I think it is generally viewed as incorrect (proselytize is the correct verb). One curious example of Mormon vocabulary is the verb “to tract,” by which we mean to knock on people’s doors in order to proselytize.
Back in the day though, we actually meant to go out and leave religious tracts with people, after which the missionaries would return for a follow-up conversation. In the early twentieth century, the Church started sending young people on missions. It is clear that Church leaders were perennially frustrated with the lack of competency of these new adepts, however, their preferred evangalists—married dudes—were becoming harder and harder to come by. Long before the Church centralized mission training, a couple of regional mission presidents created a number of Missionary handbooks, perhaps to compensate.
These handbooks are invaluable resources for documenting not only missionary life, but several aspects of the lived religion. In one volume that was used in the 1930s, which I was lucky enough to acquire, I found a wonderful bit of miscellanea. The following image is a report sheet apparently used by the missionaries in Minnesota during this period:
The Missionary Guide associated with it includes several example patterns of effective tracting:
I’m not sure when the term fully lost the connotation of actually using tracts. Perhaps it was Mr. Brown. [Editorial addition: Readers should also check out Edje Jetter’s excellent post at the JI on this topic as well.]