When I first moved to this area, the EQP extended a call to me to be the Executive Secretary over HTing. And I was all prepared to turn him down flat; no way did I want to get sucked into that morass. But he had anticipated my reaction, and told me he had just come from Stake leadership training, in which they had authorized contact by any method necessary. While in-home visits by two HTers still constituted the gold standard, casual visits in other locations, phone calls, letters (this was a little bit pre-email, I think) would all count. So with that qualification I accepted the call. And of course we had 100% home teaching every month. Whoever hadn’t been visited (very broadly defined) by the last week, I’d just send letters to them to make sure everyone was covered.
Relations with the other wards in the stake were a little bit awkward after that. I would get one of two reactions. Some people were in awe that we managed to do 100% every month, and others were more skeptical and simply assumed we were gaming the system. Of course, none of these other wards had bothered to attend the Stake leadership training to learn the new protocol the Stake had endorsed, so they were still mired in the old way of doing things.
And you know, as a result of that experience, I became deeply skeptical of HTing “statistics.” To me it seemed obvious that they were utterly meaningless. Unless there is a consistent standard applied across all reporting bodies, how can you compare them? The numbers are apples and oranges. There is no uniform standard for what “counts” as a visit. And there is no uniform standard for what constitutes the denominator; are “do not contact” lists included (in which event 100% ought to be impossible) or are they excluded, for example?
I heard a story once about Elder Oaks visiting the Saints in Japan. And they were expressing how difficult it is to do actual in-home visits in that country and culture, and they petitioned for him to allow telephone calls to count. And, at least as I heard it, Elder Oaks’ response was basically “Why do you care whether it counts or not? Why not go ahead and make the calls and not worry about whether it ‘counts’?” I could understand the point he was making, but it struck me as short sighted. It’s the Church as an institution that insists on making this a numbers game, and yet fails to give meaningful guidance as to how to measure those numbers.
We are extremely loathe to want to “count” anything that falls even one jot short of the fairyland ideal of two priesthood hlolders, with an appointment made well in advance, the whole family present, the TV turned off, a message from the Ensign given, closing with prayer, etc. We don’t want to count more informal contact, and so as a result that more informal contact that would be more likely to actually happen doesn’t happen. We can’t make such a big deal out of the numbers on the one hand and then complain when elders will only make any effort at all if it is going to “count.”
So let me tell you another story. My sister and her then husband had moved from the midwest to New Jersey, and they were deeply unhappy there. They didn’t know anybody, and the culture was different from the friendly midwest whence they came. She was so unhappy and lonely there that she did the unthinkable; she found out who the bishop was and she sent him a letter actually requesting home teachers. She had not been actively engaged in Church for years, and so for her to actually ask for HTers meant she was pretty desperate.
Surely, you’re thinking, the HTers came riding in on a white charger to save the day. They didn’t have to do the perfect visit; a phone call would have gotten the ball rolling. But no, no home teachers ever showed up. The only communication they got was a form letter from the ward asking them to contribute to some fund (and part of their problem was a lack of adequate finances).
I only learned of this years later. To me it represented the last gasp chance she would ever have to have kindly feelings towards the Church. It was an opportunity lost.
So I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we should try caring more about the people than about the numbers. But without the pressure for numbers, would any HTing even happen at all, I wonder? But if the numbers are essentially meaningless statistically, shouldn’t we modify things to actually encourage some sort of watchcare among our people? I’m interested to hear what y’all think about this subject.