Toward a More Productive, Fulfilling, and Successful Missionary Program

A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare.

The Special Broadcast

The topic of the Special Broadcast was of interest to many because of President Monson’s October 2012 announcement in General Conference of the recent decision to change the policy governing the age at which men and women could choose to commence missionary service — women now having the option of beginning their 18 month missionary service at 19 instead of 21 and men having the option of choosing to begin their 2 year missions at 18 rather than 19.[1]

As a result, the numbers of missionaries serving dramatically increased virtually overnight, and many expected that a similarly dramatic shift in the approach to missionary work would eventually result to accommodate these far greater numbers of serving missionaries in an otherwise unchanged missionary environment (no necessarily greater interest in the message by people in the various missions whose ranks of missionaries were greatly increased; no change in approach used to teach the Gospel — still based on the guidebook Preach My Gospel published nearly ten years previously, etc.). I think that many thought that the June 23, 2013 worldwide leadership training would be an occasion for an unveiling of new or different approaches to missionary work arising from the age policy change and the greater number of serving missionaries. (Shortly before the broadcast, I wrote about my guesses as to what might be discussed at the unusual worldwide broadcast.)

A spiritual thought by the Nickelback generation for the Nickelback generation (source: http://tinyurl.com/nrzucx6)

A spiritual thought by the nickelback generation for the nickelback generation (source: http://tinyurl.com/nrzucx6)

In the broadcast, Elder Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles introduced one change in which missionaries would now be allowed and encouraged to employ Facebook as a means of advancing missionary work in their missions. The contours of this were uncertain and the initial implementation has been problematic on certain levels, as observed by J. Stapley with the benefit of a few months’ implementation of missionaries working on Facebook. To summarize, some missionaries had been going into Mormon related Facebook groups (including the angsty-type of Mormon-themed Facebook groups focused on often contentious discussions of controversial issues) and leaving essentially boilerplate spam announcements or Gospel-y invitations to learn more about the Church. To me, this seemed unsustainable and not effective as a missionary approach or an effective missionary use of Facebook, not to mention a breach of simple etiquette.[2] Frankly, the approach taken by the missionaries who created the “spiritual thought” pictured above, as can be seen at their Facebook page linked in the caption below the picture, also does not seem particularly effective or desirable, though this approach does seem more respectful in not invading others’ Facebook space uninvited and without a substantive basis rooted in the purpose of specific Facebook groups.

Keeping More Missionaries “Busy”

More recently, I have heard several reports of mission presidents in different missions getting word out to members in their missions (in one case through a letter sent to be read in all congregations, including in all auxiliaries such as Primary) that there are so many more missionaries in the mission that they do not have enough people to teach and therefore requesting the members to have missionaries in their homes every single evening to teach principles of the Gospel to the members’ families in order to give the missionaries experience teaching. My heart goes out to such missionaries. I hope and pray that they are led to those whom the Lord has prepared to hear the message of the Gospel so that they feel that they are fulfilling their calling as missionaries to preach the Gospel to nonmembers rather than to member families.

In contemplating this problem — of having significantly larger numbers of missionaries in otherwise unaltered missionary circumstances, including in missions with the same mission boundaries and rules, etc. — it has occurred to me that a shift in our perspective about these missionaries’ day-to-day work activities could drastically change the success of their missions, both in terms of the number of people they are able to influence (and convert) through the Gospel and their own personal fulfillment serving as representatives of the Lord. I made suggestions along these lines about six months ago and in light of the current difficulties faced by our missionary force, have decided to summarize them once again here and flesh them out a little.

“Army” of Righteousness: A Worldwide Missionary Force with an Added Focus

The following list contains what I think would be the most effective way to adjust the missionary program to accommodate the greater number of missionaries, both enriching the experience for them and providing greater benefit to the communities where they are assigned (and, I firmly believe, resulting in a greater number of baptisms of committed converts worldwide):

  • The description of the missionary program is updated to bring it in line with the updated “Fourth Mission of the Church” — caring for the poor and needy. The primary focus of missionary work and the missionary program remains specifically to preach the Gospel but formal recognition is given to this updated mission of the Church more generally.
  • Reflecting the incorporation of this “Fourth Mission of the Church” into the formal missionary program, missionaries spend daytime hours primarily involved in full time service in activities and venues that provide permanent, reliable succor to the poor and needy worldwide, not limited to one-off and randomly identified service projects like painting a certain person’s house or helping to clean the Church one Saturday.
  • To execute this new approach, companionships in missions worldwide are placed with locally strong and established charities as permanent volunteer workers. For example, some will work on Habitat for Humanity crews, others with the Salvation Army in homeless shelters, others with Red Cross or Red Crescent, OxFam, or other disaster relief organizations. Some companionships will be nested in national or supra-national organizations around the world focused on providing clean water, vaccinations, clean-up, or other charitable services. Some will work as volunteer support staff for Doctors without Borders, Operation Smile, or other such services. Some will support the work of microlending organizations aggregated through and represented by such services as Kiva, Five Talents, or other similar organizations. In each case, it will be within the discretion of the local mission president to place these companionships into such organizations in the various cities and towns scattered across each individual mission, wherever missionaries are stationed.
  • This organized, institutionalized service will be the missionaries’ “job” on business days from approx. 9am to 5pm, i.e. during normal working hours for the society at large in which they are serving. (This is often known as the “dead time” for many or most missionaries anyway because of the fact that these are working hours for the people to whom they would like to preach the Gospel.) Their focus during these business hours will be to serve in these capacities as directed by mission leaders without ulterior motive of winning converts but rather service for the sake of the service itself based on the inherent dignity of those receiving the service, in specific fulfillment of the “Fourth Mission of the Church”.
  • For this full-time charitable service, missionaries (both men and women) will wear a uniform consisting of a clean and tidy polo shirt with Church logo on it and khaki shorts or trousers, possibly tidy jeans, context permitting.
  • At 5:00 pm (or whenever the local mission president has designated that this “workday” as permanent volunteer staff in the various charitable organizations and institutions should end, maybe 3:00 pm or 4:00 pm in some cases), missionaries then make full use of the traditional “prime proselyting time” to find and teach investigators the Gospel using Preach My Gospel and other traditional methods of missionary work (including tracting, if necessary where there are not enough member referrals or referrals generated as a natural consequence of the many relationships created by the missionaries in their daily workday service). Ideally, as has always been the case, the missionaries’ efforts during this prime proselyting time following their daily charitable service as permanent volunteer staff in local charities, will focus on the teaching part of proselytizing.
  • Missionaries might be required to put on the “traditional” missionary uniform of white shirt, tie, and dress slacks for men and “Sunday clothes” for women at the discretion of the local mission president during this prime proselyting time. Either way, traditional name tags will still be worn during the tracting hours from 5 pm to 10 pm (“prime proselyting time” would be extended in most areas to 10 pm as part of this change).
  • My conviction is that through their behavior and Christian living in their work for the charities, they will be able to build relationships of trust with local ward members and others in the community so that those members trust the missionaries enough to help them find people to teach during their allotted teaching time each day.
  • P-Day will be a weekday so that missionaries can spend the full day Saturday finding and teaching people about the Gospel. Sunday will be devoted to Church and having a real day of rest, teaching occasionally if “the ox is in the mire” and an investigator has not been able to schedule a different time, but in the main NOT proselytizing.
  • The result of this adjustment to the missionary program, in an ideal situation, will be that missionaries gain the experience of working a full time job for various charities during their two years or 18 months in full time missionary service (though the job will only be four days a week instead of five because one of the weekdays is P-Day). I am convinced that they will also teach just as much as missionaries have traditionally done (and probably much more because of their new ability to build genuine relationships in the broader community through their work as permanent volunteer staff for local charities). This adjustment has the added benefit of eliminating almost entirely the innumerable “blank” hours of ineffective tracting that have been a central part of most missions since the late nineteenth century[3], at least.

* * *

We all want our missionaries to work as effectively as possible in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for their missions to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically uplifting for them personally as well. Under the suggested adjustment to the missionary program summarized above, charitable service will be systematized on a mission by mission basis in an effort to incorporate the “Fourth Mission of the Church” formally into the mission program. Under this system, the missionaries will form a corps of reliable charitable volunteer workers in the charities in which they are embedded. This will be a reliable corps because the positions themselves will be permanent, even though an individual missionary is of course transferred out of the area after a few months of service — the replacement missionary then takes the leaving missionary’s place in that position on the volunteer staff of the charity.

It is amazing to think how helpful such a permanent, reliable corps of volunteer staff workers could be for such charities worldwide. They would have virtuous boots on the ground in areas around the globe, young men and women whose sole purpose is to serve their fellow man as a way to glorify and serve God, and to bring people to Jesus Christ through the much deeper relationships they are able to build with people through such real, authentic, and meaningful interaction (as opposed to the sometimes relatively artificial interactions that result from mere door approaches or street contacts).

Because charities will be able to rely on obtaining volunteer workers from the Church, they will be able to expand their reach and serve more of the poor and needy. The missionaries will bring Christian values and LDS resourcefulness, work-ethic, and even standards into those organizations merely by virtue of their presence there. And the local communities will benefit greatly. Zion will begin to form in innumerable places around the globe. And missionary success will surely be far greater, and missions will be far more fulfilling for the missionaries as well, under such conditions.

—————

[1] As I discussed previously, and as President Monson explained in detail, the October 2012 announcement streamlined Church policy on missionary age, bringing North America and the rest of the world into harmony with the change in policy that had been implemented in numerous other countries, primarily in Europe, over the previous years. President Monson noted that “[f]or some time the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have allowed young men from certain countries to serve at the age of 18 when they are worthy, able, have graduated from high school, and have expressed a sincere desire to serve. This has been a country-specific policy and has allowed thousands of young men to serve honorable missions and also fulfill required military obligations and educational opportunities.”

This change in policy had been necessary in those European and other countries where it was implemented (like the Uk, Germany, etc.) in years preceding the October 2012 general announcement because the US-centric policy of allowing men to serve missions at 19, when applied in those countries with different educational systems and expectations, had effectively caused an entire generation — possibly two full generations — of Latter-day Saints in those countries to need to choose definitively between serving a mission and obtaining a university education. As a result, the number of Latter-day Saints in “the professions” in those countries as a percentage of their overall population or as a percentage of the total LDS population in those countries was drastically lower compared to the United States, where the 19 year old mission policy was at home because it was a smooth process to graduate from high school, attend one year of university, and then defer university attendance for the mission period and return to resume studies after completing missionary service.

The universal application of the change in policy was announced from the very beginning as an “option” rather than as a new mandatory age. President Monson stated that “I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available” (emphasis added). This was reiterated by Elder Nelson and remains the Church’s position as described on its website.

Nevertheless, the policy change does not appear to have been received in this light by Church members who immediately appear to have defaulted to 18 as the new “mandatory” 19 (though 19 also was not previously mandatory) for men.

[2] I mentioned at the time that

this approach of spamming Mormon themed Facebook groups with a boilerplate post is extremely unsustainable. If every missionary did that, it would shut down Mormonism on Facebook. How could Mormon themed Facebook groups possibly endure for their various different intended purposes (many of which are to foster discussion about niche topics, like environmentalism/earth stewardship, for example) if thousands of missionaries begin trolling the groups under the guise of their new mandate to bring their missionary work to Facebook? It goes without saying that such trolling would be happening independently of the trolling of all other missionaries half a world away.

Traditionally, a missionary would have been unable to venture outside of his mission and proselytize in a neighboring mission. This facilitated an orderly approach to the work. A London missionary was not allowed to venture south of the Thames to begin knocking doors in the London south mission, though he or she might live in a neighboring area a short walk away.

But now a missionary in a mission in California can post such a boilerplate in any Mormon-themed Facebook group (or, presumably, in any Facebook group at all) but so can a missionary in Texas, or New York, Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, or Hawaii (i.e., anywhere in the world).

My guess is that some guiding principles will soon be implemented to prevent this — at least I hope so. For one thing, why should random missionaries come into a Facebook group with a specific focus and begin proselytizing. At the very least, it does not seem to accord with common standards of etiquette or politeness.

I think the intention of allowing missionaries on Facebook was so that they could friend members of their local ward to which they are currently assigned and then start to interject themselves into discussions between those members and their vast networks of friends. That alone invites some anxiety and contemplation about whether such interaction between missionaries and a member’s Facebook friends is actually going to be a positive encounter, especially considering the types of substantive discussions that are often occurring on Facebook, often about politics and current-event type news stories. But this new approach of spamming random Mormon-themed Facebook groups is of even greater concern.

We all want the Church to be able to present itself in the best light possible and as effectively as possible. I have serious concerns about whether this particular approach does either. In fact, I am worried that it could set us back significantly in the image we are presenting and in our ability to interest a wide range of people in our message about the Restored Gospel.

[3] See J. Stapley’s contemplation of some of the possible origins of this problem in the transition from nineteenth-century to the modern approach to missionary work:

The itinerant preacher who went door to door was a staple of antebellum and rural postbellum American culture. I think the Southern States Mission in the late 19th century is really an interesting case study. All the missionaries labored in the rural areas, because they could still do the old things (travel without purse or scrip, and be welcomed or at least find places to eat and sleep). There was essentially no missionary work in the cities, because they didn’t know what to do there (you had to pay for food and lodging). Then they decided to change how they proselytized and found great success in the cities, but it require abandoning the dominant mode of evangelization. I think we are at a similar point, but we haven’t found the new methodology. The problem is compounded by the reality of the mission boom. We have too many missionaries to do anything constructive with them under the standard program. It is a crisis and church leaders know it. It has sucked up the budget and everyone is trying to figure out what to do. It is the biggest logistical, budgetary, and perhaps spiritual problem we have right now, and all the general leaders are talking about it because they want to find a solution. This trickles down to local areas; however because the pressure trickles down, but no solutions, local leaders are left holding the ball.

Comments

  1. I could not feel more enthusiastic about this idea. My boys will be of age to start heading out on missions in about 7 years, and I truly hope by then they’ve got all the kinks worked out on a program like this. The biggest benefits I see include: 1) missionaries having genuine reasons to feel great about the time they spend on their missions regardless of who does or does not accept the gospel, 2) being able to include missionary service on a resume in a positive way that doesn’t make everyone squirm and wonder about legal issues, 3) the world at large slowly starting to see a Mormon missionary and think positive things instead of locking their doors and drawing the blinds, 4) people thinking about the church in general as the church that sends out all those remarkable, clean, wonderful young people to improve communities around the world, 5) networking with people worldwide who run and serve in the organizations that help the poor, who certainly are among the most wonderful and inspiring people anywhere and who will enrich the lives of missionaries and the church everywhere. And I think the effect on teaching opportunities would be incredible.

  2. Last Lemming says:

    I generally like the ideas presented here, but I think 9-to-5 charity work is a bit ambitious. I don’t see how the number of missionaries we have working out of our building could be kept busy within their districts. The local charities are not really hurting for volunteers. My son’s “community inclusion” program volunteers at the local food bank twice a month. I don’t know how productive they are, but I would hate to have them lose that opportunity because the Mormon missionaries have already taken care of everything. Could missionaries volunteer at my son’s program? When all of the staff members show up, the missionaries would be spinning their wheels. They might be useful as subs, but that doesn’t fit the 9-to-5 model.

    Where they are needed is in other communities, and that means commuting like the rest of us. Which means spending prime contacting time on a bus. Can we get charities to go along with 6-hour-a-day volunteers? If so, great. But I don’t see 8 hour days as compatible with contacting.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    This is excellent, John. Thanks.

  4. “but I think 9-to-5 charity work is a bit ambitious . . . Can we get charities to go along with 6-hour-a-day volunteers?”

    Absolutely, Last Lemming. Note that the original post takes this possibility into account: “At 5:00 pm (or whenever the local mission president has designated that this “workday” as permanent volunteer staff in the various charitable organizations and institutions should end, maybe 3:00 pm or 4:00 pm in some cases)”

    Imagine even a four hour workday as permanent volunteer staff in well-established local charities. 9 am to 1 pm and the missionaries go home for lunch, suit up, then head out for hours of knocking doors, just like in the “good old days.” Isn’t four hours of work each day as permanent, reliable volunteer staff in local charities that are actively contributing to welfare and improvement in local communities already infinitely better than the status quo?

  5. // Standing ovation. //

  6. I once volunteered 4 hours a week at a homeless shelter for about 2 years straight. During that time I came to see how the homeless shelter found our work extremely valuable, and the work of the endless stream of one-time group volunteer work (youth group’s annual soup kitchen duty, etc) much less useful. At times it almost seemed that the main benefit of having those one-time groups was as a kind of PR program for voters who having seen the place and people in person might someday be less inclined to vote to discontinue funding to the shelter. The problem is that recurring, reliable volunteers are darned difficult to come by. The value of this kind of workforce to charities is really beyond words. It would be transformative for communities.

  7. Please have the Missionary Department look at this and please send it to the apostles in charge.

    I think one of Gina’s points is key. In Utah, serving a mission is understood and valued by the wider society. In the rest of the world it looks like you spent two years being a religious maniac and consequently returned missionaries feel the need to massage their CVs somewhat to explain it to universities and employers. This is a shame. On the other hand, community service by young people is universally appreciated.

    **For the sake of the international church and not Utah (for once), please make missions more like this.**

    And in case it is not clear: John is not suggesting we stop doing “missionary work.” Actually, we would probably end up doing more and of better quality.

  8. “And in case it is not clear: John is not suggesting we stop doing ‘missionary work.’ Actually, we would probably end up doing more and of better quality.”

    Bingo. This is such an important point, Ronan. Note that the original post says “The primary focus of missionary work and the missionary program remains specifically to preach the Gospel,” and that after putting in the daily service as permanent volunteer staff at local charities, the “missionaries then make full use of the traditional ‘prime proselyting time’ to find and teach investigators the Gospel using Preach My Gospel and other traditional methods of missionary work.”

  9. The church has a pilot service program linked to a website (justserve.org) which, if eventually implemented worldwide, would more than double the number of service hours per week for all missionaries. In line with the new counsel to members to not rely on the church for one-off service projects (but rather to take the initiative and look for ways to serve non-members in their communities) the service of the missionaries involved in this pilot program is, as I understand, primarily with established local non-LDS charities. The website exists as a way of connecting local church members to community service opportunities–something like the 211 volunteer website, though I’m guessing that the church is more selective than is 211 in the service options they list on the website. The idea is similar to yours: as both members and missionaries are seen in the community giving more visible service on a more consistent basis, people will naturally want to know more about the church.

  10. I truly believe that through such reliable service, the missionaries would fare better in the places they are assigned, being able to integrate much more naturally into the life of each such community and become known in various circles as individuals and as disciples of Jesus Christ. The teaching opportunities and the ability to influence people to come unto Christ, including through convert baptism, would increase dramatically as a natural consequence. The missionaries would fulfill their calling as specially called and set apart representatives of the Lord by teaching and baptizing as much or more than ever.

  11. LastLemming, It is a fair point that there are some suburban areas where some commuting might be in order to maximize usefulness of the volunteer workforce. It depends on local area. That said, often need exists closer than we realize.

  12. “the service of the missionaries involved in this pilot program is, as I understand, primarily with established local non-LDS charities”

    Marie, thank you for this — if this is true, it is a huge step forward, though it still seems to fall short of achieving what is envisioned in this post: a measure of reliability for local charities — that they can rely on a more or less permanent supply of volunteer workers and can base their logistical and strategic decisions on that reliance, thus allowing them to expand and become far more effective than they currently are.

    It is also key to this post that the missionaries are embedded in this manner within non-LDS charities. This would be the Church coming out of obscurity, not insisting on being in “control” of all of the service that the missionaries would be doing (though there would still be a meaningful level of indirect control because it would be the job of the local mission presidencies to find and embed their missionary companionships into these charities).

    Also, Last Lemming, one other thought, I very much doubt that it would be extremely difficult for mission presidencies to find these opportunities to get their missionary companionships working as permanent volunteer staff in local charities. There is so much need an opportunity out there that it is mind-boggling.

  13. Fowles, another benefit of this program would be a life-long service and philanthropy orientation in our people. Observe how returned missionaries hold a special place for their mission area in their hearts–often cherishing food, language, and customs from that place for the rest of their lives. Imagine a returned missionary cohort who have similar fondness for vaccination or clean water or literacy or whatever program they specifically spent time on as a missionary.

  14. Frankly I like the idea of mixing it up and even having missionaries be involved with charities, but I do think there should be a focus on digital methods as well e.g. this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouZPAZ0Fki8.

    Some of todays youth are wildly clever and adept at using social media to share things in a way that is unlike anything the church is familiar or even comfortable with. Whether it’s parody videos, missionaries rapping to their own gospel lyrics, writing a meaningful blog post or engaging in productive/meaningful creation of content on various. All of it has its place, but none of it starts even gets rolling in 6 weeks. Missionaries as a whole have the numbers to set trending topics on Twitter and Google+.

    Missionaries need to be able to get to know fellow missionaries, understand each others strengths and be allowed to collaborate on approved projects of an unlimited nature when their strengths compliment one another. They should be furnished with the tools they need, whether it’s a good Mic, video editing software or what have you.

    The point is, I think 8 hours of manual labor for a charity is overkill and wastes the talents many missionaries have. Those talents may be in multi media, writing, sports, trade skills or many other things. Those talents should be USED, not set aside to atrophy for 2 years.

  15. “Imagine a returned missionary cohort who have similar fondness for vaccination or clean water or literacy or whatever program they specifically spent time on as a missionary.”

    Amazing Cynthia. It makes my heart skip a beat.

    The only thing that could have improved my mission to East Germany (which I loved) would have been if in each new area in addition to knocking doors and teaching investigators I could have worked 4-6 hours a day in a “permanent job” as volunteer staff in a local charity, really digging in and doing that work (not going to work for 2 hours per week in a local handicapped home or raking leaves in the local zoo and checking that off as our required “service”), serving the people, thereby seeing how their society functions from the inside (and not as a perpetual outsider, as we American youth were in our roaming around the areas, knocking on doors and stopping people on their rushed commutes into their jobs), how the systems work, and how Germans live and work when you get to know them on a professional level — which is something about which I didn’t get a very good understanding until much later when I was a lawyer working in and with German law firms and clients.

  16. A Christlike and common sense approach to missionary work? It’s not gonna happen. It is nice to dream though.

  17. Jed, that video is fine and your proposal to allow specifically-talented missionaries to do things like that, including support resources, is fine. But I don’t think we need all however-many-tens-of-thousands of missionaries all making musical youtube videos–the usefulness saturates much more quickly than the need for community volunteers saturates. And not all missionaries have those talents. Agreed that we should take advantage when they do though.

    There was an extremely gifted violinist missionary in our ward a couple years ago. He added so much to our ward’s Christmas Sunday service, and ward Christmas party (both of which are advertised to the community and serve as missionary opportunities). Families loved to have him to their houses (often with non-members over too) to bring the sweet spirit that music does. Unfortunately, all this had to be done somewhat surreptitiously–he was not supposed to be playing violin and had not been allowed to bring a violin on his mission. Instead, members loaned him their violins for each performance. Things like this could most definitely stand to be loosened.

  18. If by the church “insisting on being in ‘control'” you mean the limited number of service partners listed on the website, that website is just meant as a way of helping members find worthy service opportunities in their areas–not as a limiting list of possibilities. And I don’t know the relationship of the missionaries to the website–it may only be intended for the regular members–but I do understand that service patterns for both members and missionaries are being changed in the areas trying the pilot program, that the missionaries in the program are to serve much more than before, and that that service is to be with non-LDS groups. I would imagine that the missionaries, over whom the church has more control, would be serving consistently with certain trusted local groups. Perhaps those listed on the website, and perhaps others. But I don’t know. If you know a missionary or member in Denver or Dallas, you should ask them if they know more about it.

  19. Marie, what I meant by that was that if this idea in the original post is going to work, the Church is going to have to be fine with missionaries embedded in local charities doing the work instructed by those charities, and not by the mission president or Church directly. So, the missionaries do what their managers at Habitat for Humanity say. Not a controversial point by any measure, but sometimes in our Church culture, such common sense notions can end up being spun as problematic.

  20. I live in an area that is piloting the justserve.org program. It is pretty much as Marie describes, although anyone – member or not – can register on the site and put up a service opportunity. The idea and I understand it is that any family or YW group or Elders Quorum or whoever is looking for a service project can go onto the site and find one in the community, then let the missionaries know and they could stop by and help too. It is a great idea! I was super excited!! The reality is, however, that as Cynthia L. notes above, most of the opportunities for service listed on the site are the same as ever – organizations need people that are willing to be trained and consistent and volunteer four+ hours a week. So in my observations so far it hasn’t really changed anything in the same way that a real commitment from the mission presidents to have volunteers/missionaries there for 10-30 hours a week would change things.

  21. Yes, the justserve.org “clearinghouse” approach to service is an absolutely fantastic idea — I think this is a better tool for getting members involved in service in local communities than for helping missionaries become permanent volunteer staff at well-established and respected local charities or institutions.

  22. I see. I don’t know how long they serve with a given charity, but as I understand it, the idea is that they are regular volunteers with those organizations (i.e., not micromanaged by the mission president in their service), though I’m sure the church would reserve the right for the mission president to cut ties with a charity at any time.

  23. Sorry. Didn’t see Gina’s posting before I responded.

  24. As part of my missionary service I spent 4 hours per week in structured, dedicated service. I spent time in nursing homes, school classrooms, hospitals and adult day care facilities. Missionaries were required to find service opportunities in the communities they were assigned. We never taught anyone we served with or for. It was great fun for us, I remember looking forward to our weekly service appointments.

    One problem that might be encountered is if the charity requires background checks, or TB tests for each volunteer. That was a hurdle we had to jump in many instances. I would think training would be an issue as well–missionaries are transferred often and it might be a challenge to be constantly training a new employee.

    I like this idea, I think it would be far better than the service missionaries in my area are currently performing, which is to ask those they teach or meet if there is anything they can do. I see them doing far less service because of this.

  25. sidebottom says:

    A few issues I see with this:
    (1) Missionaries are hardly ‘permanent, reliable volunteer staff’. Their capacity to do charitable service would be routinely interrupted by transfers, P-day, zone conference, and district meeting. It also seems counterproductive for missionaries to turn down daytime teaching opportunities (shift workers, retail employees, students) because they have to go to work. I’d say that missionaries might be reliable for four mornings a week (9am-1pm, as above), but the charities they serve would still need to accept some uncertainty in their availability.
    (2) There are plenty of areas where charitable organizations have no sustained local presence. I served in remote rural areas that didn’t have a humane society or hospital within a hundred miles much less a Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity project.

  26. this would be so amazing

    all of the logistics wouldn’t be easy or perfect, and certainly it would be adaptable per area of the world and opportunities available, for instance if there isn’t an official organization to associate with – local branches and wards would have the task of finding community projects for them (DH’s aunt & uncle are in kenya and they often go to help harvest gardens, rebuild roofs, etc.)

    . . . but I’ve heard some missionaries currently sitting at a table on a sidewalk 6 hours a day. so . . .

  27. my last comment being is that if we are struggling in missionary work we follow the example of ammon and serve. most people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

  28. Antonio Parr says:

    It is hard to argue against putting young people in a position to live in such a way that the Savior can one day truthfully say of them “when I was hungry, you fed me; when I was naked, you clothed me; when I was lonely, or in prison, you visited me …”

    That being said, the administrative challenge of putting boots on the ground is easier said than done. That being said, who among us would not wish to see our young adult children engaged in intensive humanitarian service?

  29. Antonio, it is ambitious and would require a lot of work in the initial implementation. But I think the change would be dramatic, both in the effectiveness and success of each missionary’s mission, and in the broader community’s views of Mormons and our missionary effort. (Oh yeah, and I think that each missionary’s mission will be even much more meaningful as a coming of age and as a reservoir of Gospel knowledge and experience for the rest of their lives than it is or has been up until now, and that has been formidable — at least that has been the wonderful and lasting after-effect of my mission in my own life.)

  30. Sidebottom, was there a soup kitchen or a Catholic parish with a kindergarten or homeless shelter?

  31. We have a post coming at BCC that sets out some of the ways one could organise this.

    Tangentially, I do wish Mormon culture would be accepting of different routes for service by young people before they embark on their careers. A mission is one, obviously, but there’s also Peace Corps-types programmes (VSO in the UK) and military service. All should “count” as serving the Lord honourably. Some people just aren’t in a position to proselytise at 18/19.

  32. I can only speak for my local area, but I do frequent many charity shops (and volunteer at one as well), so I hear a bit of scuttlebutt from time to time. The local missionaries are viewed by long-time volunteers and their coordinators as unreliable, because transfers inevitably disrupt any ability to make long-term volunteering commitments under the current mission system. They come in all happy to work, stay a month to three (*maybe* longer depending on the companions and the transfer schedule), then they disappear. Then a year or two later a new pair show up again and the pattern repeats. Don’t get me wrong, the help is always appreciated, but steady help is always better than what looks (from an outside point of view) like patchy, unreliable help. Non-members don’t know anything about transfers, or how the missionary system works – they only know that the Mormon elders/sisters disappear after a while. This post is saying things I’ve been saying for a long time (in fact, I had a long conversation about this just last night), and I’m glad to see there are some pilot programs toying with this idea. We have a vast workforce ready to do good. Yes, the gospel is important, but I can’t see how showing true goodwill and honest charity can do anything but HELP to share the gospel.

  33. My thoughts exactly, (Mine weren’t nearly as well put, however)

  34. Yes, Melissa, the reliability aspect of this suggestion is absolutely key. When one missionary is transferred, the replacement takes that missionary’s place on the permanent volunteer staff of the charity. It wouldn’t take long for charities to have two such positions designated to be filled by the Mormon Corps, not by specific individuals but rather by whichever missionaries happen to be in the area at the time. This would also be centralized by the mission office, i.e. the Mission President will have been initially involved in placing the missionaries in the organizations and then keep a board at the mission office keeping track of these permanent positions and which missionaries are filling them (easy enough because it will just be the companionship currently serving in the area).

  35. John, I like your idea. I believe using the morning hours for service would work. As a slightly related example, when I was a missionary I served in the mission office for several months. We worked in the office from 8am to around 4pm, then we went out and did “normal” missionary work until 9:30pm. In my experience, we had as many investigators, teaching appointments, and baptisms that we had in the field.

    I think there would be some issues we’d have to work out, for example, Sister Z. knew Excel and Word, but she was transferred and her replacement doesn’t share that skill. Some charities will have jobs that can be done by anyone, but we won’t be able to always promise a certain set of skills/talents for those charities that need them.

    The other main issue relates to the ever-present missionary rules… what happens when a charity office is staffed by two women (men)? Two elders (sisters) can’t be alone with two women (men), regardless of the non-missionaries’ ages. Same issue comes into play when giving/receive rides, working with children (i.e., literacy projects), missionary use of non-mission vehicles, etc.

    These are not insurmountable issues, but would require us to jump certain cultural hurdles and tweak some of our organizational practices, and may preclude us from serving in certain circumstances.

  36. Coffinberry says:

    I’m in a Just Serve pilot area, too. It really does help missionaries and other members get more involved in service. We just endured a major disaster here, and for weeks on end missionaries were out serving that 9-5 type way discussed above. They’re still putting in bucketloads of hours (as are many members). The catch with Just Serve, and a but that will have to be fixed I”m sure, is how to coordinate with other service organizations in the face of disasters. But that’s a disaster themed problem.

  37. Here’s an unappreciated way that I think this type of change would make an even bigger difference in the quality (and quantity) of missionary work performed. As most people know, the missionaries (as instructed) never miss an opportunity to harangue local members for referrals. We are consistently taught as members that teaching is the missionaries’ responsibility, but finding people to teach is the responsibility of the members. In terms of a rational division of labor, this makes NO sense. I live in a suburban area and work in a large metropolitan downtown. I spend upwards of 10 hours a day either at my job or commuting to and from my job. Due to the placement of my ward within the mission, most of the people that I commute with and work with, not only do not live in my ward, they don’t even live in my mission. The remainder of my waking hours are spent giving quality time to my wife and kids. My neighbors have much the same kind of schedule. We all live the stereotypical type of isolated suburban life. On the other hand, we have missionaries, whose ONLY job for 8-10 each day is to find people to teach. Not only is that the sole thing they are asked to do, its the only thing they are allowed to do. I’m the last person to say that tracting is a good use of a missionary’s time, but how about sitting around waiting for members to drop referrals in your lap? The reason this intersects with the OP is that, upon implementing this sort of shift, the request by missionaries for me to find people to teach instantly becomes more compelling and credible. The essence of it is: “We work ___ hours at a [insert community service opportunity here] each day. If you don’t find people for us to teach, we won’t be able to teach anybody.” By shifting the opportunities off the missionaries, you are able to shift responsibility to the members. It certainly does not give me more time to do missionary work (which is its own obstacle, and one which the Church alone certainly cannot solve) but it will impress upon me more strongly the urgency and necessity of my own efforts.

  38. We accomplished this on my mission – we’re talking 20+ years ago – in certain towns where I served. We regularly worked 2-4 hours a day at least 3 times a week in the local food bank where we helped sort, stock, prepare packages, and deliver boxes of food to families. It was not overseen by the Mission President, the AP’s or the Zone leaders. As I recall, we were simply asked to account for our time and service to the community was encouraged by our Mission President.

    I know that my brother-in-law experienced a very different kind of mission out in Oakland among various refugee populations from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. There his companionship had responsibility to serve the community by working with refugees and teaching them all the skills they would need to acclimate to their new life in the US. The primary focus was service, any teaching opportunities were natural outgrowths of the service.

    We’ve done things like this in limited fashions where it made sense. There’s no reason why it could not be done globally.

  39. The other main issue relates to the ever-present missionary rules… what happens when a charity office is staffed by two women (men)? Two elders (sisters) can’t be alone with two women (men), regardless of the non-missionaries’ ages. Same issue comes into play when giving/receive rides, working with children (i.e., literacy projects), missionary use of non-mission vehicles, etc.

    I would hope common sense would take over and those would simply fall by the wayside as inhibiting the true work of the Gospel.

  40. The essence of it is: “We work ___ hours at a [insert community service opportunity here] each day. If you don’t find people for us to teach, we won’t be able to teach anybody.”

    Oh, AHLDuke, I certainly hope they would never say that! This charitable service should never become an excuse for fulltime missionaries to guilt local members into giving them names of friends and colleagues to teach. Rather, I would think and hope the opposite would happen: working these regular shifts in the charities would make the missionaries into much more “regular people” in local communities and they would naturally develop their own networks and contacts and have a much larger teaching pool by virtue of that. In addition, their Christian service in the charities would hopefully enlarge their souls so that such an approach of guilting members into giving them referrals would not even cross their minds and, as a result, local members would naturally trust them more and voluntarily begin working more closely together with them during the prime proselyting time to set up teaching appointments in their homes of investigators the missionaries have found or giving the missionaries referrals of new people to teach.

  41. I would feel far more comfortable referring friends to the missionaries if they had a reputation for community service. At the moment, we are just known for invading people’s personal space.

  42. If a change like this was adopted, do you think it would have a positive effect on a returning missionary’s willingness to do home/visiting teaching?

  43. john f.: I also hope that the missionaries would never come right out and try and strong-arm the members that way. All I hope it accomplishes is that when they do ask for referrals, in the same way that missionaries always have (or in a better way, as you hope for), the plea for members to take more responsibility for finding people becomes more credible and reasonable in light of the relative opportunities that both groups have.

  44. I like the general idea of scaling up community service for missionaries, and I’m glad you’re really pushing it, John. I would love to hear the perspective of a former mission president or someone in the mission department, because I’m sure there are many logistical hurdles that are invisible to us on the outside. Physical safety comes to mind: there’s recently been a high profile case where a missionary was doing community service in Idaho and suffered a traumatic brain injury (and has made a wonderful recovery, thank goodness). I wonder how we would determine which charities are most effective and appropriate. I also wonder about the delicate political diplomacy necessary to partner on such a large scale with other organizations — the church’s controversial relationships with BSA comes to mind. Furthermore, I wonder how the notion of “community service” translates in international contexts — certainly the third world is accustomed to well-meaning Westerners doing non-profit work of that sort, but what about Asia? You’ve laid out the basic idea so well, I’d love to see it fleshed out with answers of this sort.

  45. sidebottom says:

    @johnf – not anything close. It was about five thousand people spread out more or less evenly over several hundred square miles of farmland. I assume the local churches did some sort of charity work but not enough to justify two full-time employees. We filled our service ours by helping ranchers feed their cattle.

  46. Oh yes, Rosalynde, there would certainly be a lot of work in the ramp-up of such an adjustment. The question, I suppose, is whether it would be worth it to provide such an enriching, meaningful experience to our missionaries. With 14-16 missionaries per ward in some places because of the increased numbers, I am hearing stories of missionaries sitting in chapels with nothing to do. I certainly hope they are only rumors but if they are true, I can’t imagine such mission experience being particularly beneficial to the missionaries themselves.

  47. John, I’ll simply add my applause to Cynthia’s standing ovation. This is a vision of missionary service I would be thrilled with and truly desire for my own young children.

    It also fits perfectly with a wonderful quote from Richard Bushman. Bushman wrote in his diary about writing to Elder Holland after Holland wrote to congratulate him on “Rough Stone Rolling”. The 2006 diary entry is quoted in “On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary”:

    “…I wrote to Elder Holland about a rough patch ahead as animosity to religion keeps growing. I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ. Instead of speaking triumphantly of the gospel sweeping the earth, could we think of ourselves as the leaven in the lump, standing for righteousness and serving others? I wish we had a long record of kindness and friendship to fall back on, with less stress on proselyting. Then when the storms break around us, we would have friends to turn to.

    “Our covenant with God is to bless the people of the earth. That should be our motto. Establishing Zion does not mean sweeping vast masses of people onto our membership records but creating a people of God dedicated to blessing others. Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship, and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve.”

  48. “Establishing Zion does not mean sweeping vast masses of people onto our membership records but creating a people of God dedicated to blessing others.”

    I really love that — thanks for sharing it!

  49. sidebottom says:

    Also, consider that most charities are organized to be minimally reliant on sustained volunteer work. Habitat for Humanity might organize a group of volunteers for a short-term build project, but they rely on a small paid core staff to run day-to-day operations. The same is true for disaster relief and international health organizations, who need burst capacity more than an extra set of hands in the office. Soup kitchens or shelters may have more consistent needs, but then we need to consider whether our volunteer efforts are replacing otherwise paid positions (which seems counter to the notion of helping the poor).

  50. I volunteer with several charities in my community, and I know that plenty of charities–at least throughout the U.S. and Europe–have consistent needs but can’t afford to hire the extra help.

    This would be a fantastic opportunity, if it’s ever implemented. But I’m afraid church members and leaders have romanticized the tracting missionary so much that anything that takes away from the endless hours of tracting would be (falsely) seen as an attack on missionary work itself.

  51. I’m definitely in favor of more community service by church members, be they missionaries or civilians, but the missionaries need to have enough flexibility in their schedules to teach when the teach-ees have time to be taught, so I don’t see a strict 8-5 (or 8-3 or even 8-1) M-F service schedule being feasible in many places. Also, I know from my own sporadic volunteering efforts that volunteers are not just interchangeable warm bodies. If missionaries are going to provide consistent, reliable service for existing organizations, they can’t be transferred every month or three.

    I think in some missions, it will make more sense for missionaries to continue the traditional proselytizing/tracting/whatever, while other missions with more workable opportunities for service would have more service-oriented missionaries. At this point I just applaud anyone thinking outside the box.

    However, I remain firmly against any uniform requiring a polo shirt. I hate polo shirts.

  52. While having the full time missionaries do more organized community service certainly would help in some ways, and I believe produce great benefits, it is also no substitute for getting our members to be less insular and more involved with our neighbors and communities. I know from my experience as ward mission leader over the last 10 months that getting member referrals is difficult, but when we get them, they are generally of high quality. Tracting produces lots of drive-by investigators that drop out after a couple of weeks, normally, or baptisms that don’t stick (about 50% in our ward over the last ten years, in my estimate).

    Service is the one area where not only missionaries, but members, could be best employed in meeting non-members in a neutral setting where normal relationships can develop. The two key elements in our ward mission plan are built around getting members more involved in community service, to which we have had limited success; and in creating more friendly non-threatening activities and events so we can invite non-members to come interact with us.

    So far, we have raised money via car washes to help fund postage for a “support the troops” care package program run by our local VFW post, and then helped with sorting and packaging those items for mailing to front line troops in Afghanistan. We’ve gotten great press from the veteran who runs this program for the VFW in emails to his posts’ email list of hundreds of individuals. However, most of those on that list do not live in our ward area, so while it is good, it doesn’t help our local missionaries who are desperately trying to fill their weekly quotas of lessons taught, church tours, and other quantitatively measurable activities. It is also likely to be a program that is winding down as we disengage in Afghanistan.

    As to the second goal, our missionary committee has become the de-facto ward activities committee, sponsoring and planning such things as our ward’s Halloween party, an upcoming chili cook-off, and each month a pot luck dinner at 5PM at our building on Fast Sunday We are getting only limited response in terms of invitations to these things, but we are hoping that over time, it will produce some results for us.

  53. On my mission 13 years ago, we did 4 hours of “service” per week. At the time my mission allowed for those 4 hours to be spent providing “service” at a local charity, usually something like Oxfam or other local charity shop. The time was mostly spent in the back of these stores sorting and cleaning clothing or other crap that people donated. Rarely were we used to be in the front of the stores as cashiers or placing product. In every area that I served for the first year of my mission had some sort of relationship with a charity shop, and it was THE BIGGEST WASTE OF TIME. It was awful. This wasn’t “service.” It was a way to not be knocking doors for 4/80 hours a week.

    I would have loved to have had more opportunity to provide a real service to people. Even a real service to a worthy organization. But working in a thrift store is not the answer.

  54. Our stake tried to get members more involved with service a few years ago by volunteering each ward to serve at a shelter. But my wife was YW president, I was a scout leader, and between demanding callings, sports teams, school, seminary, youth firesides, campouts, leadership meetings, ward council meetings, bishops storehouse assignments, temple sealing assignments, temple cleaning assignments, chapel cleaning assignments, temple Christmas decorating assignments, DI assignments, and just trying to be together as a family at home once in a while it didn’t fly in our house. If you want me to be a regular volunteer start paring back on what you ask the members to do.

  55. John – This is an idea that I have been advocating for several years now, although I believe the LDS church should go a few steps further and allow for young people to choose (1) a “humanitarian service-only” (no proselyting or teaching) option, and (2) how long they wish to serve, within a range of something like 6 to 24 months. I believe these additional options would result in a larger “army” and higher contentment among “missionaries” and their families. I would also remove the blanket restriction against communicating with family members and friends “back home”.

    As for a lot of the handwringing I see in the commentary above about logistical challenges, liabilities and risks, if the LDS church would devote 25% of the significant time and money it currently expends addressing logistical challenges, liabilities and risks of a full-time, nearly worldwide proselyting army, I am sure it would find satisfactory solutions.

    Although historically many changes in church policy and structure have in fact resulted from grass roots suggestions, I worry that the top leadership of the LDS church is probably not inclined to admit to this fact or to take kindly to suggestions from the pews. For the sake of the rising generations, I hope I am wrong and the leadership will not be so proud as to not give this idea the strongest possible consideration just because it came from “below” and not “above”.

  56. “I’m afraid church members and leaders have romanticized the tracting missionary so much that anything that takes away from the endless hours of tracting would be (falsely) seen as an attack on missionary work itself.”

    Fwiw, I don’t know of a single church leader or member that fits the description above, although I am sure there is a small percentage. I think nearly everyone wants something that works – and I think most people would welcome any change that they could believe might work. I also think nearly every missionary who has served would love less tracting – unless s/he served in a mission where tracting worked really well. That happens occasionally, but it happens less and less than was the case decades ago.

    I would love fewer meetings and more service, and I think substituting service at least once a month for the weekly youth meetings would be a great place to start.

  57. John Harrison says:

    We need to acknowledge that the boom is temporary. While the number of sisters serving will likely stay higher than baseline because going at 21 was relatively awkward for a number of reasons, the number of Elders serving is simply a trick of doubling up for a year. Starting this fall the number of total missionaries will begin to decline and 18 months from now we will again have fewer than 60,000 missionaries in the field.

    While none of the breathless news articles celebrating the sudden increase in the number of missionaries has mentioned this fact, I have to believe that the leadership of the Church isn’t stupid and they understand exactly why the numbers spiked (though less than one might expect) and know that they’ll go right back down.

    Because of this I doubt that the Church is going to make serious changes to the missionary program simply due to the numbers. The numbers will start dropping this fall.

    That said the sheer boredom of missionary work is the best kept secret of the Church. I spent about a year serving in the mission office. It was great. I had productive work to do during the day, and could proselyte in the evening, when proselyting was productive. I thought that Elders that claimed to want out of the office in order to be “real missionaries again” were either insane or lying.

    Giving missionaries productive service work to do during the day would have a huge number of benefits. It would make the mission less stressful mentally and emotionally, ease companionship tensions, keep missionaries out of trouble (and a lot of missionaries got into trouble) and provide real service.

    Wandering the streets for hours on end doesn’t do anybody any good. We love to claim that it is wonderful, but the fact it that’s a lie, and we’d be better off without it.

  58. aRJ, dont you think many of these changes would be worthwhile regardless of whether the number of missionaries is sustained? The trajectory of tracting success isn’t very positive.

  59. And the brethren could consider individual qualifications that are already included in the missionary application process to make a decision about where to serve (a musician might be sent to teach music at a struggling school—or might be assigned to something unrelated to music to broaden his or her horizons). I can’t say how much I wish I had been able to help kids in Taiwan learn English or music. It makes my heart ache that I felt I couldn’t perform Christlike teaching during those dead hours, instead wasting time on proselygambling—tracting, calling the “dead stack,” contacting. Service is never a gamble.

  60. Steve,

    I apologize for the length of my comment. If you manage to make it to the second half of it you’ll see that I think that these changes would wonderful. I’ve been advocating them myself for years. But if you try to make the large number of missionaries now in the field the rationale for the change you need to understand that CHQ knows it is temporary.

  61. Meldrum the Less says:

    This warms my heart! Is it really going to happen? I can scarcely believe it. Even if only 20% of the suggestions given above actually transpire it would be cause for celebration. I especially agree with the very last paragraph of the OP, we could be at a watershed time in our missionary service.

    i also agree that the surge is only temporary. in fact it is less than I expected. When the age was lowered I expected 50,000 Elders to grow to 75,000 over the next year or perhaps more from contagious enthusiasm. I expected the Sisters to perhaps match the numbers of Elders or even exceed them (young women exceed young men in early morning seminary attendance and in single’s ward participation) which would drive our force to about 120,000 to 150,000 full-time missionaries or more. The 80,000 reported in the news is disappointing but definitely an appreciated improvement.

    The point, that even if the higher numbers are not sustained changes such as more service could still be made, has another perspective. Before the surge the proportion of our young men serving missions was falling and the total number was somewhat maintained by increases in senior missionaries. But with the economy (in the US and elsewhere) requiring more and more people to have to work longer before retirement and settling for far less retirement, this is not going to work much longer.

    The most important reason to make these changes has nothing to do with numbers like 50,000 or 80,000 or 150,000. Missionary service must be viewed by more young men and women as meaningful service, enough to make the sacrifices required. If this does not happen the numbers will dwindle.

    What I see in my ward so far is not good. Previously 2 missionaries were not busy. Now we have 18 at last count and they seem to be falling over themselves with almost nothing to do. They are not doing anything differently except perhaps less tracting and more messing around on a computer. Their message is the same, their tactics are the same, their meager audience is the same. The results, not surprizingly, are the same, not much success. Baptisms might be up a little but we are not converting families or very many people who will remain with us for very long. The revolving door spins a bit faster. The young LDS men in high school are torn; between the romanticized glory of being a missionary fed them from birth, and the reality of seeing what these 18 poor missionaries are (not) doing day after day. There has also been no sign of slackening of any of the straight jacket rules. So far the more things change the more they stay the same.

    One thing will change. The tendency for romance between 19 year old men and 21 year old women is not great. This same low tendency will not hold between 18 and 19 year olds. Especially when they serve in close o equal numbers. We must not be surprised by a small increase in these sort of scandals. Since few if any sisters will have access to contraception (and boys that age seldom even think about them) and at their worst these affairs will be completely spontaneous, we must not be too shocked by a few pregnancies.

    If this chapter of our missionary service is not closed, i predict the following: somewhat fewer Elders serving, maybe in the 40,000 range accompanied by more Sisters, perhaps in the 20,000 to 30,000 range with the result of a somewhat larger missionary force. If only limited superficial changes are made in what they do, the the results will be the same; some slow real growth and continued spinning of the revolving door.

  62. My bad. Tl;dr you’re probably right.

  63. There are so many reasons why this is a great idea. I love that the church would be building relationships and making allies with people running and volunteering at the programs. I love that missionaries would see opportunities where greater help is needed and could invite members and non-members they meet to join them in service. I love that missionaries will interact with good people who they can get to know, love and respect without worrying about whether they accept or reject the message. I love that missionaries will come home with a desire to be involved in their community. I love Brother Bushman’s vision for the church. This would be a big step in that direction.

  64. Meldrum, even the Church’s estimates topped out at a possible 90,000, with a settling point of around 70,000. Unrealistic expectations always are disappointing.

  65. I am a ward mission leader here in a Canadian mission. Simply put we have too many missionaries on the wards that at least for me we don’t know what to do with them. I have them doing service but at the same time in 2013 we had 2 baptisms and 3 missionaries go home early. If we want service we want contacts to come from it, some times the elders have been taken advantage of when doing service i.e. clean their house to teach but then they aren’t there to teach them. the two big problems I see is 1) What to do with them and I love, love, love these elders and sisters and want a great mission experience for them, I really, really do, 2) The Bishopric in our ward frankly suck-They consistently turn down ideas for how to improve the work, the are SO rigid and unyielding and the missionaries have been complaining about them since I came into this calling 2 years ago and honestly I gave up defending them a year ago, they can fall on their own swords. The Bishop, who does all the ward council’s jobs and when things go awry blames us for it, has been on the High Council since the 80’s but he knows almost nothing about doctrine and church procedure, I am dumbstruck. So, my mind is wide open for ideas

  66. I can only draw from my own mission experience of (mumble…mumble…) years ago in Brazil. Looking at my Franklin Planner pages from those days I can say that I did very little of any real benefit before 4:00 in the afternoon. My prime “teaching” hours were between 6:00 and 10:00 PM.

    Yes. I did routinely violate the White Bible commandment to be in the house and asleep by 10:00 PM. Feel free to virtually flog me for my past transgressions.

    Even way back then everybody knew the biggest waste of time any missionary could engage in was tracting. Some felt it was a required rite of passage. I did not nor did I require it of any other missionary over whom I had stewardship. Most of the best people I ever found to teach I met performing service of one form or another.

    D&C 90:11 states that “it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The gospel is more than knocking doors and handing out pamphlets. It’s more than a white shirt and tie or a brightly colored blouse and skirt. Maybe, just maybe, a child of God can “hear the fullness of the gospel” someplace other than across the living room coffee table.

    My 2 cents.

  67. Rosalynde–wouldn’t it be fairly easy for the Church to work up some contract for charities to sign in exchange for free labor? Peace Corps, and I would guess Amricorps, have such agreements. These contracts could stipulate certain work conditions or activities deemed safe or allowed for these two free young reliable warm bodies. Also, the contract or meetings setting up these relationships could emphasize the transient nature of the missionary life, warnng that time invested in training volunteers may not be the best time spent. I understand your concern about becoming entangled with certain organizations: likely the Church could make some general guidelines, maybe based on mission statements from large organizations, deciding if they align with Church goals, but mostly, I would hope that the local leaders could make decisions about the best places to use these resources. I do think that managing these relationships could become something like a full-time job for a member of the mission presidency. I would hope that missionaries who feel that they have an unsafe or underutilized position would comminucate with the MP and local organization to make the situation better, or perhaps sever the relationship.

  68. concern about becoming entangled with certain organizations

    This, in my opinion, is a major feature and not a bug in relation to embedding our missionaries in well established, stable, and effective charitable organizations and institutions. This is about service to others based solely on their own inherent dignity, not about ideological purity and setting up litmus tests for which charities “deserve” to have Mormon missionaries helping them. Of course it is prudent to establish general guidelines but other than that, I think that the discretion of local mission presidents is enough of a gate to settle the companionships in “appropriate” charities. We need to start trusting the discretion of our members, especially those called and set apart as mission presidents.

  69. I am a long-time lurker who has stepped out of the shadows because my son is on a mission in Orange County, CA. He is happy to be there but he simply doesn’t have enough to do. He comes from a rural area where he served in YM building fences, splitting firewood, working at the food bank, really helping in a tangible way. But now he is knocking on doors and filling time. I seriously wonder if a Peace Corps stint would have been better than a mission. I just love the ideas proposed in this post.

  70. Daniel Jensen says:

    From the side of someone who has directed a nonprofit I a very hesitant toward this idea. We had missionaries volunteer at our facility. They did a great job and were not permitted to wear tags or proslyte, but even so, many patrons knew they were LDS missionaries and were uncomfortable with that. Ultimately we had to cut ties. I like the idea of increased service, but working close to full time at one organization is overkill.

  71. I like the ideas here, however places like Peace Corps require a degree to enter. Other organizations need trained people, not teenagers with few skills. Untrained volunteers get in the way of productivity. Is there way to give missionaries skills that would be valuable in the world of humanitarian organizations?

  72. “…many patrons knew they were LDS missionaries and were uncomfortable with that.”

    Why were they uncomfortable with that? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the idea of LDS missionaries as aggressive proselytizers, would it? The very fact that individuals are uncomfortable working with LDS missionaries indicates that we have an image problem. John F’s proposal is one major way to fix that.

  73. I’m in total agreement with the OP; I would have loved to have had the chance to give more real humanitarian service on my mission, and would love for my children to do the same.

    John:
    This is about service to others based solely on their own inherent dignity, not about ideological purity and setting up litmus tests for which charities “deserve” to have Mormon missionaries helping them. Of course it is prudent to establish general guidelines but other than that, I think that the discretion of local mission presidents is enough of a gate to settle the companionships in “appropriate” charities. We need to start trusting the discretion of our members, especially those called and set apart as mission presidents.

    I’d be somewhere between mildly annoyed and mighty pissed if that humanitarian service took the form of filling care packages for American soldiers deployed somewhere they shouldn’t be, or manning phones for anti-gay marriage campaigns, or something else that someone with authority could justify as “service to the community”.

  74. The Other Clark says:

    Missionary baptisms are down right now. Both in baptisms per companionship and in absolute numbers. I don’t know if this is the best approach, but it’s got to be better than what’s happening now.

    Or they can re-emphasize that 18 is a OPTION, really an EXCEPTION to the 19 year old norm. In my area I think that lowering the age has decreased the quality of elder, who now has zero experience living on his own, cooking on his own, etc.

  75. Yes, because heaven forfend we should send care packages to the poor sops who are at the mercy of wrongheaded leaders.

    For what it’s worth, service hours were part of our goals when I served. We were encouraged to fill our free time with such service as much as possible. And that was years ago. I have a hard time taking this conversation as anything more than one more attempt to grab the helm from the steerage.

    It is SO easy to think you know best when your feet are firmly planted on the deck and not in the crow’s nest.

  76. @the other clark-I can attest to the maturity level. This past year has been a mess in this Canadian Mission. It seemed that every other week missionaries were going home, the APs would tell me they would get 25 new people within a week they’d get frantic phone calls and then about 3-5 would go home within a short period of time after that, Missionaries were flooding the market. I have so much more to say about that. I know 2 elders came to our ward in the summer of 2012 from a distant branch, the MP and his wife lived in our ward. Their branch complained about the 2 elders personal hygiene, manners, social skills, cleaning, cooking etc. They had to learn all that stuff here in a crash course.

  77. Sorry, this is incorrect and I need to be bold. Missionaries are charged to bring people unto christ, through faith, repentance, baptism and enduring to the end. Church missionary department doesn’t need your help, sir. Missions change peoples lives – getting rejected by those who aren’t ready is one of the ways to learn stripes – You honestly think there time is well spent building tract houses and condos and rubbing shoulders with high schoolers who just wanted a good volunteer experience? This isn’t the PEACE Corps! This is the gospel!!!!! No way in H-E-L-L is my future missionary going to serve a mission under false pretenses. Don’t waste your time or the missionary department’s time – They report directly to the First presidency and are much more qualified (especially spiritually) for this plan. You think they were “surprised” about the announcement? This is the true church – it’s a church of order, and all things are done in wisdom and order. True, there are many who will have to adjust for a while with tight areas and fewer appointments, but the Lord is hastening work. Missionaries teaching members will not be the norm in the future. I honestly laughed out loud when you said they should partner with the Red Cross. I’m not heartless, people need help including the poor but remember, the gospel takes the slums out of people. Wards and stakes can handle diasaster efforts – missionaries need to teach teach teach teach.

  78. Another thought occurred to me. It’s actually the members’ job to be involved in humanitarian aid. If there is a problem with not enough LDS involved in community service, the onus rests squarely on our shoulders.

  79. SilverRain: “To support the troops is to accept a particular idea of the American role in the world. It also forces us to pretend that it is a country legitimately interested in equality for all its citizens. Too much evidence to the contrary makes it impossible to accept such an assumption.”
    As far as I’m aware, there is no draft for the US military. I hope missionaries would be spared awkward the awkward situation of getting out of humanitarian service that violated their conscience. I hope we never fill boxes for Chinese soldiers stationed in Tibet.

  80. The Other Clark says:

    Missionaries are being sent home in unprecendented numbers, but not necessarily because they’re super unprepared. It just that the system is SO overloaded right now, that small infractions or health issues that would have required a week in Utah to fix are now grounds for a “don’t bother coming back” letter.

    It’s a big enough issue that the Church ™ has launched support groups, websites, and other resources for this huge sent-home-early group. See the Trib’s story here: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/57219005-80/mission-missionaries-early-says.html.csp

  81. J. Stapley says:

    Holier-than-though much, Spencer? Look, we all hear agree that missionaries are charged to preach the gospel. If you don’t think that there are ways to improve the missionary efforts of the Church, that is fine. No need to freak out here about it.

  82. “Another thought occurred to me. It’s actually the members’ job to be involved in humanitarian aid. If there is a problem with not enough LDS involved in community service, the onus rests squarely on our shoulders.”

    And the main reason we’re not in the community serving is because our organizational structure drains hours away from the family, so what little time we have we stay home with our family. Thus as I lived in Virginia (rural western, I was the only member my coworkers had met) I had many members in my ward who told me they do not know one non-member. They’re the only member in their neighborhood and yet our organization fills our time and meets our social/service needs. For example, instead of enrichment or playgroup, the RS could say: for activity this week we’ll be meeting with the local Moms group (there are lots of grassroots-community based groups of this kind). All of a sudden our Mormon Moms are taking dinners to non-mormon moms and making friends and socializing (now we have a greater pool of referrals).

    Also, the church helps the poor by asking us to write checks. It’s super-efficient. But it rarely changes our hearts towards said poor or allows every member to experience the Christlike empathy that develops when serving one on one. The onus is on us, but catch 22 above, we spend most of our discretionary hours serving fellow mormons.

    As part of Pew Research Forum’s exhaustive study about Mormonism the past few years comes this result:

    But it is important to keep in mind — and this was noted, but I want to reinforce this — that the vast majority of the volunteering that we find among the Mormon population is actually for the maintenance of the church itself. Now that’s obviously good for the LDS Church. It’s how the LDS Church is able to do all the various things that it does. It’s how it runs the youth programs; it’s how it runs its welfare program; it’s how the administration of the church on the local level is run……

    But I also wanted to note that this sort of social capital that gets built within a religious community is in some respects a double-edged sword because the social networks that are formed among Mormons means that they are bonding with members of their own faith, but arguably at the expense of not bridging to those of other faiths.

  83. I dunno, Spencer. Tending sheep and horses all day worked out pretty well for me. Political correctness would dictate that chopping arms off might not fly these days, however.

  84. Romni, the folks doing those care packages for the soldiers were ward members, not missionaries. No one’s conscience was violated, and politics were left at the door in rubbing shoulders with non members in our community. As to the effects of that effort, let me quote from one of the emails sent by the VFW member who runs this program:

    “WOW WOW WOW !!!!!!!I What a fantastic weekend. Our good friends from the Mormon church…responded like they had been doing [this] all their lives. I am sure most of them have been doing some sort of public service since they were small children… When you think of it we have a different type of program.. There is no formal training program because how do you train people to be nice. Our job is made very easy by the people who volunteered to help us. They already possess all the qualifications needed to be successful in our program. It is amazing while there is a wide range of ages involved in the people who help us they all have the same thing in common. Each of them already possesses certain skills there is no training course for. The skills they bring with them are a heart of gold and caring for other people.

    When we have non-members responding to our service efforts like this, it can’t help but make missionary work easier when someone from the church, missionary or member, talks to one of the recipients of an email like this.

  85. Just a couple quick comments from the front lines here in NJ.

    1) Missionaries aren’t that good at making things happen on their own. Our ward covers 25+ small communities spread out over 400 square miles. For the past year I’ve been trying to get them to do 2-3 hours of service each day in one of the communities, followed by afternoon invitations to a weekly cottage meeting in the same community. The missionaries haven’t been able to set these up, and need members to do that for them. We just called another assistant ward mission leader to set these up for the missionaries.

    2) Missionary training seems to be out of whack. They have less time in the MTC. They have additional training now that they get in the field, and they study for 3 hours a day now (not leaving the apartment until 11am) but I’m always wondering what they are really getting trained to do, because they really struggle with all aspects of missionary work.

    3) Car mileage policies may be getting in the way sometimes. Mileage limitations are keeping missionaries from getting to appointments. They even have a one-day-a-week car fast where driving is not allowed. I’m guessing this keeps the mileage low on the mission cars for resale. But it is a pain in our ward that is 35 miles long (as the crow flies). Keeping the missionaries working in one town all day rather than driving all over the ward and back is one way to get around this, and I think brilliant, but we have struggled with that (see #1).

    4) People don’t want what we are selling. There are so many bad marriages and broken homes in our area that the missionaries find our family friendly message a real turnoff for white folks (though still a solid topic for our Hispanic population). Our perceived anti-gay message is losing maybe half our “good” investigators. Joseph Smith and gold plates sounds crazy. We need some better marketing, and not just “look how cool and/or normal I am, I’m a Mormon”.

    5) Facebook and social media should be winners for us, but we need a better handle on messages that will resonate with people (see #4) and an SEO strategy to help all those people from all those denominations out there who are just kept from us because they a) don’t know where to find it or b) already think the Mormons don’t have it. We are looking at shooting some 3 minute videos introducing us to locals in our communities here with some locally resonant themes and an invitation to our local cottage meetings (our church services are 30+ minute drives away from most of our ward, and another hard sell for those just starting to investigate, or don’t have transportation).

  86. Sorry Kevin, I didn’t read closely enough to see that it was members, not missionaries. I’m glad that those who chose to participate had a good experience, and some in the community have better feelings toward the Church.
    I love the idea of intensive, organized, structured, more permanent humanitarian service for full-time missionaries. The point remains that there may be times when missionaries will come into a situation where the humanitarian service they are assigned is not in line with their personal beliefs.

  87. Rhett Johnson says:

    We’re kind of doing this already in our stake. Under the direction of the stake RS and with the support of the mission president, every ward in our stake is calling someone (whether male or female, they report to the stake RS) to connect the missionaries with regular, community-based humanitarian service assignments. Mission president has authorized 10 hours per week but is open to 20 if enough good opportunities emerge/are identified. The missionaries (we have several in our ward) are just getting going with their new assignments, and the members are also being encouraged to volunteer with the same organizations. It’s going to be pretty cool.

  88. robf, thank you for that perspective!

    Rhett, that sounds great!

  89. “And the main reason we’re not in the community serving is because our organizational structure drains hours away from the family, so what little time we have we stay home with our family.”

    I’m sorry, Kristine, but really? Your excuse is “sorry, I can’t serve in the community because I have to sit at home with my family because Church takes just so much of my time”? If you want to serve, you will find a way. And if you don’t find a way, you have no right to demand that others fill the lack you’re busy making excuses for. A part of me regrets my bluntness, but I am in this moment utterly sick of hearing people whine and complain about how the Church doesn’t do enough to fulfill their ideals. If you’re spending all your free time taking your family to serve in the local soup kitchen, making care packages for Africa, donating time to the Red Cross or YWCA, then I would be much less annoyed. But this thread is, at best, armchair quarterbacking.

    The wards are run by the members. If you want the ward to organize more service projects, it is up to you to agitate for that in your ward. If you want to serve in the community, put on your grown-up pants and start prioritizing your time. All of us who can afford internet access have the same amount of time given to us, similar opportunities to serve in the way we see best. It is up to us how to use it. But going around complaining about how others aren’t doing enough is nothing more than a sop to a guilty conscience.

    If the people who are here complaining had the least clue how much the Church does in the community at all levels from worldwide to neighborhood, they’d blush at a realization of their own hubris. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not getting done. Millions of Church members worldwide spend their free time going out and doing rather than kvetching on the internet. I haven’t seen one single suggestion on this thread that couldn’t be enacted by a member in his/her own ward.

    Now I’m taking my blunter-and-crankier-than-usual behind out of this thread.

  90. I have a friend who was on one of the last missions to serve without purse or script. I believe it was in Montana or Nebraska. Their task was basically to stay alive while preaching. They would work with the ranch and farm workers so they could spend lunch hours preaching. They would stay with friendly folks and members on a rotating basis. I guess we could not really do this today, could we, working manual labor in return for the chance to preach?

    I did a little of that sort of thing on my mission. I worked many days picking grapes during the wine harvest for people who needed help but had no money to pay workers. I picked sugar beets by hand, once, under the same circumstances. I do not know how many converts were made, but I enjoyed the heck out of those days in October amid the grapevines.

  91. that time spent in the fields does sound kind of nice, RW!

  92. The church was true before we had Sunday School, Primary, YM/YW, seminary, institute, MTCs, and Relief Society (and even 12 Apostles). It is also true in our current pre-Missionary 2.0 program days. But I’m guessing Missionary 2.0 will come the same way most other successful church programs do–by inspiration and innovation at the local level.

    So to the extent that that any ideas here resonate with you, and you are in a position to wield influence in your ward council, then by all means go for it. And perhaps get additional revelations that may well be the seeds of Missionary 2.0.

    As always, not all things will work in all places, but if you can find something that really works, you can be assure that other leaders in similar settings will want to know about it and try it themselves! So, Lengthen your Stride! Quicken your Pace! Raise the Bar! Hasten the Work!

  93. SilverRain, I have to say I agree with you. Thanks for speaking up.

  94. Saying that missionaries could be more involved in performing service does not preclude members from performing service of their own. Wouldn’t it be great if both occurred?

  95. SilverRain – I hope your still hanging around and didn’t leave the thread, it’s okay to be cantankerous sometimes.

    I must not have communicated my message sufficiently, I’ll try to be more succinct. Organizationally (mission/church/ward-wide) the church does very little community service (comparatively). This is a fact compiled and published by researchers (Pew). Community service and interfaith outreach enrich missionary efforts – we can’t add to our investigator pool with cold contacts. They must be people we have relationships/friendships with if a referral is to do any good. Both missionaries and ward members would enrich their lives and their missionary success by enacting these steps.

    I’ve lived in 5 states and moved 17 times in 13 years of marriage. I’m a young whippersnapper but living inside and outside of Zion gives me a *little* perspective of the comfort zones members live in. In every state the majority of members serve each other very much. Their friends are mostly members. And yes when both members of the marriage are serving in presidencies, (or going to night school or full time jobs) in addition to scouts, and YW, and planning/presidency mtgs, etc – it is a fact that it is more difficult to do local service.

    This is all good – but the combination of increased community service could also bless our missionary efforts, why not get a little structure and get the institution to enrich our own personal efforts?

    I certainly am not saying that “Boo, I don’t get to serve in my community because my church isn’t making me! So let’s have the missionaries do it to absolve me of my responsibility.” (I actually do serve as a volunteer in my community, my newest venture serving on the Board of the local Library Foundation.)

  96. Bottom line- If that light on the hill top shines as it should, our missionary program would be highly successful all around the world. That we question it’s success is a testimony that we need to be shining more brightly. So look into the mirror!

  97. If we have more missionaries than are needed for missionary work, maybe we should call fewer missionaries.

    I object to forced service hours by high school students as a graduation requirement. I don’t have a problem with a mission president suggesting service, but I can’t endorse making all missionaries do half-time service work. I prefer for it to be voluntary.

  98. I’m curious, Kristine A, why you are so insistent that the community service hours need to be so high among our members.

    Is community service the greatest virtue in life?

    Perhaps people need to make a living, attend school, have hobbies, grow gardens, read books, write books, play games, paint pictures, interact with each other, (those with young children) read to or cook with their children, write blogs, do family history research, sit down and watch a movie, go water skiing, fix the plumbing, paint a room, go on a hike, ride a bike, vote, debate politics, run for public office, attend school board meetings, go on dates, collect rocks and minerals, hold a quilting bee, go bowling, work in the temple, prepare lessons for Sunday School, help organize Trek or Girl’s Camp or Scout Camp, serve as a merit badge counselor, go rock climbing, call or send a note to a friend … you get the idea. The possibilities are endless, and none of these would show up in a count of institutionally-organized community service hours as you’re defining the concept.

    Back to the proposal in the original post about having missionaries do more community service: I grew up with that idea, since my father, looking back on his missionary experience, would sometimes express the wish that he had been able to do more hands-on service.

    And I must say that the service opportunities on my mission, including working with severely handicapped children, were some of the highlights of those nineteen months of my life.

  99. I’m in a Rocky Mountain state. In our ward, we’ve had a pair of missionaries all last year. They’ve managed one convert (a heavily disabled fellow). The ward missionary leader constantly makes pitches. The local non-Mormons are tired of the constant doorknocking. This is ridiculously ineffective. . .

  100. Meldrum the Less says:

    My efforts to get the ward to serve in the community:

    I like to backpack and camp. I have been known to get the scout troop I work with to do service projects for the Forest Service. Often it is a lot of spinning of wheels while not much gets done, but sometimes it works. One of the rangers mentioned a group I might be interested in joining called Team Conasauga. These people are hardy, dedicated naturalists and outdoorsmen and women; some retired from working for decades for the forest service. I went camping with them and we hiked into a rugged remote area to do trail maintenance. I liked their attitude and approach and have gone with them a couple more times.

    I mentioned this in passing to a young guy in our bishopric and he thought it would be a great ward activity. I made a flyer and one announcement. Many of the volunteers were the temple worker crew who were not even close to physically fit enough to do this and it would have been a serious danger to their health and it was hard to tell them they shouldn’t come. The bishop told me he was withdrawing his reluctant approval for my service project and honestly I had to agree with him.

    But I did get a handful of younger guys in the ward who are pretty transient to come on one of the work days as friends, not a church activity. They have not lived here long enough to know about opportunities like this and probably would get lost driving around on the dirt roads in the mountains. It would be possible but very hard for them, to do this on their own. (Last month I went alone and I couldn’t find where the team was camping until the next morning and ended up camping alone with this crazy family who were hunting bears with bows. (These dudes would make Duck Dynasty look pretty suburban).

    Here is a picture of us. (Not the bear hunters.)

    http://www.teamconasauga.org/

    All 5 of the people in this picture currently featured first on their web page just happen to be LDS. (The team changes this picture often.) Some of the people in the picture have moved and others have new babies or pregnant wives now in need of their support. Another expedition in the near future seems unlikely. But I want to try again and will have to start over and do it from scratch.

    The team needs consistent predictable volunteers and they are not getting any younger. They will resemble our temple workers pretty soon. Do you think the mission president would let me take some of his missionaries camping outside mission boundaries on a project like this? Would they have the skills and the equipment to survive?

    Doing community service is not as easy as it sounds. It is hard to organize. People do have other responsibilities including ward callings that make it more difficult. Kristine and SilverRain are both right, even though they appear to be of contrary opinions.

  101. Great post, John. Thanks for articulating this alternative so clearly. I really like it!

  102. Kristine, thanks for your charitable response. I was simply too cantankerous for polite company yesterday. *L* Or even for BCC. ;)

    From what I have personally seen, I’m quite skeptical of the claim that the Church doesn’t do much community service “organizationally.” The Church works humanitarian miracles on a regular basis. I’ve lived in about 25 houses in my lifetime all across the northwestern hemisphere. Until my current house, the longest I’ve ever lived in one place was three years. And that was only once. I’ve been around the block a few times. One thing I’ve learned is that you have the power to change things in your area. That is part of what makes the structure of the Church so beautiful. The microcosm of a ward and stake allow people to make a real difference in their communities.

    I don’t doubt that you are right to a point. SOME wards and stakes have a culture and climate that is very insular. They would be well benefitted by reaching out more. Goodness, I’ve been bitten by that particular attitude in my own ward. But nothing is stopping you from urging local leadership to do more, to be more involved. And nothing is stopping you from doing what you feel is important. If you feel humanitarian aid at the Red Cross is more important than teaching Activity Days to preteen girls, than nothing is stopping you from doing that.

    But as a large institution, the Church is unparalleled for efficiency, value per dollar, and changing people’s lives. Countries from around the world come to the Church to find out how they do things. The U.S. Government sends delegations to study the way the Church runs its welfare, PEF, DI, Bishop’s Storehouses, etc. The Church has vast numbers of service missionaries who are sent around the world to teach medical procedures, dig wells, found schools, study economic and agricultural practices to teach better food production. BYU has studies going on around the globe to improve living conditions in third-world countries. Even proselyting missionaries are expected to put in service hours every week (though those aren’t always things that could be counted as “humanitarian service” on a broad scale. Generally, they are helping individuals in the neighborhood. I cleaned up more filth as a missionary than I do as a mom.)

    So when people complain that the Church isn’t doing enough, I have a very hard time taking it seriously. I’m more likely to take that as an ignorance and lack of engagement from the complainers than a true lack in LDS efforts. Ask your bishop what efforts your ward has going on right now and how you can serve. I’m willing to bet that in most cases, there are ongoing needs in your ward you’ve not even heard about.

  103. An excellent idea, especially in the US and other culturally similar countries. But what about the countries that don’t have local charities or organizations where the missionaries can serve? This wouldn’t have worked very well in my mission (Argentina)–at least not if we needed to rely on an organization to do charity. I suppose other charitable services are an option, but those can be harder to come by than you’d think. Maybe the missionaries can start charities in the areas that are lacking?

  104. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you, Silver Rain, for your post. You are correct — the Church’s emphasis on service and its efficieny in reaching out is a thing of stunning beauty. It is one of the things that I love most about being a Latter-Day Saint.

    That being said, members and missionaries may be able to expand our opportunities for meaningful service, and a dialogue such as the one began with the OP is a good thing. Service extended outside of our LDS family allows us to both let our light shine so that others might more easily glorify God (something that our Lord specifically prescribed), while at the same time benefitting from the synergy that often comes when distinct groups come together for a noble cause (which allows our members to both bless and be blessed).

    Here’s hoping (and praying) that our missionaries in the field (and those waiting in the wings) will find joy in their service to others, and that they will be instruments of lasting peace in the hands of Jesus Christ.

    .

  105. “That being said, members and missionaries may be able to expand our opportunities for meaningful service…”

    With this, I do not disagree. My beef comes when it turns into a “the Church can do more” because such a thread turn hinders constructive discussion on how we as members can do better. (And in this sense, missionaries are no different except for the amount of time/energy available to them.)

    I think far to often, those of us who revel in online pontification forget that the Church is run by members. Even those in the “upper echelons” (a term I loathe in this application) are merely members who have been called to a heavier responsibility than most of us have been.

  106. J. Stapley – I resent the “holier than thou” but I’ll disregard it for the purpose of staying on topic. This post really irritates me and I mean really. How long ago did we hear this game changing announcement in General Conference? Hint: Not that long ago. We need to trust that the church has a rollout plan, and frankly, this is the classic satirical “modest proposal” – I honestly thought it was a joke. Seeing the “Oks” and “head nods” in this comments section agreeing to the author’s plan REALLY worries me. You only get 2 years to be a LICENSCED AUTHORIZED representative of the Lord, and if you want to do a study abroad or build a garden you can do that, but not on the Lord’s time. There is a reason that missionaries give a few hours of service each week….Because they are SUPPOSED to be teaching the rest of the time. Remember Dallin H. Oak’s analogy of the fishermen who fiddled with his fishing pole, bait and other equipment and didn’t leave his rod in the water the whole day? The point of that story was how much time is already being wasted by missionaries, and how there is no substitute for going out and finding people to teach. It’s a mindset change – I’m only 26 but I can already see 18 and 19 year old missionaries who think that they are “entitled” to teaching appointments. (Darn millenials! hehe) – Sorry, it takes long days in the rain, a lot of “No”s and patience, but it’s all worth it in the end.

  107. The Other Clark says:

    Spencer, I disagree with the assertion that hours spent in service would be less effective than hours spent tracting. I also disagree with your assumption that the Church has a rollout plan. (Frankly, I think they were overwhelmed by the response, and have been playing catch-up ever since.)

    That said, I agree with your observation about missionaries who think they are entitled to teaching appointments, and it’s the members job to do all the finding. I see that attitude in my area of the world, and it’s driving a wedge between the members and the FT missionaries.

  108. The Other Clark – I hope you don’t interpret “teaching lessons” as tracting. Out of my two year mission, I maybe spent two days “knocking” (in my case “clapping”) on doors. There are always more effective ways to teach, and member referrals, church office referrals, area book finds, have all been effective ways to find people to teach. I won’t argue that tracting door to door is more effective than service (though, if you ask to perform service to those who you tract/teach, I wager that is more effective than painting homes so the church looks ‘good’ to the community). There are several chapters in Preach My Gospel that talk about this – especially working with the ward council, members and less active members. Can’t we resort to this instead of sponsored community service with corporate giants like the Red Cross? If anything, missionaries could be looking/serving less active members, but to suggest they build houses and work a “normal” 9-5 volunteer job is just ludicrous frankly.

  109. “There are always more effective ways to teach”

    Such as by spending at least 4 hours per day in permanent, reliable service positions, strengthening local communities and getting to know people in the day-to-day back and forth of real life.

    My belief is that an adjustment like this will lead to the missionaries teaching more people than ever and that more of those people whom the missionaries teach will choose to be baptized. The main focus of these missionaries’ missions will still be on preaching the Gospel. This kind of service just becomes a part of that overall effort.

    I see a lot of potential to an approach like this. I understand from your comments that you disagree. So, that’s that. We disagree.

  110. Sigh. Anon here. says:

    So, Spencer, what you’re saying is that you’re willing to disregard the scriptural model of missionary work in favor of your own experience and cherry-picked lines from Preach My Gospel?

    Okay. I’m sure we’re all delighted that you had a great missionary experience. Good for you.

    But you might want to think twice before assuming every other missionary had or will have a similar experience.

    Matters of personality and location and agency will play into others’ missionary experiences, so humility is a great characteristic to bring to a discussion like this. Any discussion, actually.

    And constantly hammering home the message that members need to do missionary work? That can be hard on a ward. Just by chance, a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a sister in the ward. She reminded me that several years back, the former bishop of our ward was so interested in “growing the ward” that several times a month the topic was missionary work. It got really old really fast. The members of the ward were going through a particularly hard time: one death after another, severe illness, hospitalizations, divorces, abuse, family members in prison, and job loss after job loss. At one point I looked at my husband and asked him if any family in the ward wasn’t dealing with a major crisis. We reviewed the ward list and it turned out that every. single. family we knew had at least one major ongoing crisis.

    And several times a month church meetings were a harangue about missionary work. The ward needed to hear words of comfort and cheer and support, not once again about how we were failing in our duty to spread the gospel. The sister I was talking to recently mentioned that until very recently she still flinched when the topic of missionary work came up, and I was glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one still recovering from that reaction five years later.

    So, get the missionaries out there. Get them busy, keep them working in ways that will introduce their influence into the community. And if that includes many hours of community service (keep thinking Ammon and the sheep), especially if it reduces the burden on an already-heavily burdened ward like mine, I’d be happy to suggest about a dozen places our local missionaries could serve in the community, all of which would be more than happy to have the help.

  111. I’m curious, where are people located who have 16-18 missionaries assigned to a Ward? It can’t possibly be Utah or the Western Mormon enclaves. Out on the East Coast and in the Midwest we never see more than 2-3 companionships assigned even with the surge.

  112. The Other Clark says:

    Spencer, I interpret “teaching lessons” as teaching lessons. The expectation that members or the WML can keep a companionship’s schedule full of meaningful gospel teaching lessons from 10 am- 9pm is unrealistic, IMO. That’s where the idea in the OP to give meaningful christian service in the less productive hours comes in. Given the choice between service and cold calling/street contacting/tracting, I’d take service any day of the week. Because those finding methods are only marginally more effective than staying in the apartment.

  113. J. Stapley says:

    Spencer, the degree of your irritation is, I submit, not particularly important. One of the reasons Mormons can have a poor public image is because some don’t know how to have a disagreement without coming off as self-righteous blowhards. We are open to disagreement here, but we don’t really have much tolerance for poor behavior. Think of it like a dinner party.

    I had a fairly successful mission in France, by institutional measures, some time ago. I also spent the majority of my time engaging in activities that studies have shown to hurt the church more than it helps (viz., standard low-yield finding methodologies). If you believe that everything has gone according to plan and that Church leaders have everything perfectly dialed in, again, that is fine. I believe, however, that you are mistaken. Evangelism methods have varied widely over the nearly two hundred years of the Church, and I imagine that we have yet to see institutionalized everything that will ever be used to preach the Gospel of Christ.

  114. I hope you don’t interpret “teaching lessons” as tracting. Out of my two year mission, I maybe spent two days “knocking” (in my case “clapping”) on doors. There are always more effective ways to teach, and member referrals, church office referrals, area book finds, have all been effective ways to find people to teach.

    Clapping at doors.

    Clearly Spencer served in a South American mission where finding people is an entirely different experience from that encountered in Europe, much of Asia, and North America. The interest in talking about religion and the likely humility of the people gives him the confidence to speak in this manner. When you’re trying to till rocky soil or flat out rocks, it becomes a different story of first trying to “warm” your neighbor before you ever get the chance to warn them.

    This service approach really helps to facilitate that effort of building close relationships where people come to realize we care about others whether or not they join the Church. And it is through that service that hearts are softened and doors are opened.

  115. Antonio Parr says:

    J Stapley –

    Respectfully, it is hard for one to suggest to someone that they are coming across as a self righteous blowhard without oneself coming across as the same. Especially at a gathering like a dinner party.

    Self-righteousness can be a tricky thing. Some would say that it is self-righteous for a Church member to attack the Church’s positions with respect to same-sex marriage, a male only priesthood, the line-ups for speakers for General Conference, etc.

    I don’t like the term, and I don’t think it fairly characterizes Spencer’s post or your otherwise thoughtful response.

  116. J. Stapley says:

    Fair enough, Antonio. Still, the behavior isn’t what we do here.

  117. I like the idea of service for the sake of service when and where missions can’t otherwise meaningfully fill that time teaching.

    I haven’t read all the comments, but it seems like everyone is on the same page that preaching repentance / teaching is the first priority of missionaries. My mission experience was probably closer to Spencer’s (although I was in West Africa), and while it took a lot of continuous work and effort–it was not unusual to be able to fill every day teaching/preaching and finding new receptive/interested investigators. But I realize that is probably not the norm in most missions. And where downtime cannot be avoided, I am all for some sort of genuine Ammon/service model.

    That said though, my personal (and probably biased and skewed) preference would be that in areas with a lot of downtime, to take missionaries from those areas in an attempt to be more efficient with fewer missionaries, and then send these extra missionaries to Africa or other highly receptive areas and/or places where the gospel has not been preached yet. In the comment section of J. Stapley’s post that was similar to this one, I also liked Ray’s suggestion of members taking over the missionary work in the well-established areas (where I’m guessing a fair amount of the downtime is taking place, ?) so that we can use the full time missionaries to preach and gather in the harder-to-reach and less-established areas of the world.

  118. We should be careful with throwing around “-The- Scriptural Model” for missionary work. There isn’t just one, even in the BoM, just as there isn’t just one model for all the missions in the world. We tend to go to Ammon as an example (probably cause he cut arms off), but miss out on the other successful efforts.
    I think we and missionaries are being given good tools to help this improve, like the Preach My Gospel manual (which specifically encourages differing approaches), missionary councils (which include men and women working together to help guide the mission), and even the increased usage of the ward missionaries. Sure, these ideas could be good, but certainly not one-size-fits-all.

  119. Sigh. Anon here. says:

    Whoops! I said “Ammon and the sheep.” I didn’t mean that! I meant “Ammon and the turkeys“!

  120. Sigh. Anon here. says:

    Frank, when I said the scriptural model, I wasn’t just thinking about Ammon, although that was part of it.

    I was primarily thinking about called and set apart servants of the Lord who are sent out two by two and are endowed with power from on high to preach the gospel.

    Brushing that divine call and responsibility off onto the Saints who are not called to the work is not particularly scriptural.

    But I could be wrong, and as I explained earlier, the topic of member missionary work was hammered on again and again and again during a very traumatic time in my life, so your mileage may vary in how you view member missionary work.

  121. SAnon – I think I said it more for my own sake than for anyone in particular.

    For member missionaries not being sriptural, I think much of it is due to how little we have in the scriptures about anything. We know there were people converted because of those around them, not just from people going to another country to save another people, but we don’t have any big stories with turkeys about it. Abish’s father had a vision, yet we get no more than that. The Lamanites converted all the Gadiantonites in their area, and these were mixed in with the people.

    There’s also something to be said for doing things differently than is laid out in scripture. We get different instructions for different times, just as they did. Doesn’t mean either is particularly wrong.

  122. For member missionary work, it is important to remember that members don’t teach. Missionaries do. Member missionary work ought to be natural and simple, by example and by mixing with non-members more. Because if you fake friendship, you will do more harm than good. That’s why member referrals tend to be higher quality. The same can be said for missionaries. The more casual and natural the relationship, the more likely that they will teach lessons and investigators will listen. I like the idea of more community service for missionaries for the same reason I like it for members: It gets us our of our insular LDS culturally infused lives, and in real contact with others where our example can work, and we can create real friendships in a common cause. Tracting in our ward has generated marginal baptisms when they happen at all. I am all for a new model, because our ward can’t keep a single companionship busy, so all that is left is tracting, and as ward mission leader, I will encourage, I will promote community service, but I won’t harangue ward members.

  123. whizzbang says:

    We had another missionary go home early today, I feel for the elder. He wrote me a letter and said he had testimony troubles and the mission wasn’t the place to get it figured out in case the Church wasn’t true. That’s 4 missionaries who have gone home in our ward since like July and we have had 2 baptisms. I want to believe in hastening the work but it seems it’s jamming people up and I hope he stays active

  124. Waaaaay upthread, someone was critical of their experience volunteering at charity shops during their mission. Since I’m a volunteer in a charity shop, I admit my hackles were raised a bit. So I looked up just how helpful our shop is for my particular charity. We are a food pantry and homelessness prevention service. In 2012 we had $2.8 million in total income, of which 53% was “gifts in kind” (that includes food donations and donations to our shop). 93 cents of every dollar we make in the shop goes into the program (the rest covers rent and the salary of the shop manager, our only paid employee). I’m the sorter in the back, so when people donate during my shift, I’m the face of the organization to our donors. Yesterday, I sorted out about two dozen bags of donations, one of which contained a 1920s BSA uniform (from Pack 19, Los Angeles) covered in merit badges, and a pocket full of 1920s merit badge cards. On eBay, that uniform & cards should bring in a very nice amount of money for my organization – it will feed people, support life skills/job education classes, and support our transitional housing program. So please don’t be dismissive of charity shop work. It’s genuine service that does genuine good for people.

  125. Meldrum the Less says:

    Response to OD : “I’m curious, where are people located who have 16-18 missionaries assigned to a Ward?”

    Sorry for the delay, I have been winter camping with a bunch of non-LDS boy scouts for the last few days. Single digits outdoors in the mountains, way beyond what we usually do. Few have the right sleeping bags or coats. Thankfully we build big fires and all returned safely with the worst injury being a large bruise on my thigh where a high school pitcher in the troop who has never played in snow before was acting like a first grader and nailed me with a hard snowball. He is a good kid and meant no harm. (Maybe if he makes it to the major leagues this story will make me famous.)

    The 16-18 missionaries to a ward is a bit of a “stretcher,” but I will leave it to you to decide who is doing the “stretching.” Here in Atlanta my ward was divided about 2 ½ years ago. The half ward I was assigned has about 5 stable families who own homes and a ton of fairly transient new couples maybe with a small child or two or singles who are either still in school or first real job. Sacrament meeting attendance was about 125. The other half ward had about 90% of my long-term church friends and a smaller but substantial number of younger families, couples and singles in apartments. Sacrament meeting attendance over there was about 175. The people in the front rows celebrated this division as ‘growth” while many of the people on the back rows muttered in disgust. I would have stood up and voted against this action and tried to get others to do the same, except I was embroiled in another issue between the stake president and a member of my family and did not want to confuse or jeopardize his judgment.

    My new half ward has zero YM and less than 5 YW. One adolescent girl (son’s sorta gf) whose parents are divorced was coming every second week when with the active parent and she stopped attending church at that point; there went about ¼ of the YW. We lost stable families owning homes with children who moved to other wards with better youth programs and a couple of families with children are getting less active. (Most weekends at the lake or husband hasn’t been seen at church for over a year.) The number of more transient people is to the point we barely keep track of them. My half ward is larger but seems to be very cold and distant. It feels like everyone is there for the first time every week.

    The other half ward lost about 10 families who moved either to better wards or because of job transfers and only a few new moving in. (This is assumed to be a statistical blip.) Their sacrament meeting attendance is falling and is now lower than my assigned half ward. The missionaries found a Hispanic family with 3 teenage boys interested in scouting and brought them to church for a few weeks but it didn’t take them long to figure out that they could go to a much better troop at another church. There went half the scouts in both half wards. The bishop is a good friend (whose son is in a non-LDS scout troop) and he told me that he is having trouble getting anyone to be the EQP and jokingly suggested I could switch (half) wards and do it again. (I’m in my late 50’s). I have also heard that the two bishops are seriously out of harmony with each other over the usual issues. Many people are asking about the process of joining the two half wards back together. People speak as if the division was only yesterday. If we put ward reunification to a vote it would easily win. Sacrament meeting would be about 350 people and we still wouldn’t have enough for decent youth programs. But maybe we would have enough stable members to better organize the more transient ones into helping each other and sustain a more friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

    Summary: So the stretcher is that 6-8 missionaries are assigned to each of these 2 “half” wards and have a couple of ZLs over them. Before the surge only 2 missionaries served what was, and still should be, and maybe will be in the future, the original ward. Neither 2 nor 18 missionaries were/are busy.

    I find it ironic: that we are failing to keep the active families in the church and we think the solution to this is to rev up to 16 more immature missionaries and attempt to bring new families into wards where the devoted families are finding it extremely difficult or are leaving. This instead of correcting mistakes and making the wards more appealing to new members and families, whether they emerge from the strength of the hills out west or from the local swampy waters of baptism.

  126. Meldrum the Less says:

    High risk of being moderated:

    While camping (and dodging 90 mph snowballs) my hypothermic brain gave the topic of this blog much thought. Here are my thawed out conclusions:

    1. The traditional approach to missionary work is not working very well (over 95% responders on this blog seem to agree) and has not worked well in my ward for at least 2 decades.

    2. The point of missionary work is not self-improvement. It is service to others.

    3. The personal benefits of an LDS mission are unintended consequences or side effects. Hence they will be lost if the focus of missionary work shifts to self. (Else plenty of high mountains for monks to meditate upon are to be found in Utah and elsewhere).

    4. A number of substantial changes might be welcome, under the principle- even a blind squirrel will find a few acorns.

    5. A measured shift towards more community service performed by LDS missionaries would be a better use of their time since so much of it is being wasted in activity with no demonstrable outward benefit to others (and doubtfully much to themselves).

    6. We are fooling ourselves if we think having our missionaries do more community service is going to result in more conversions.*

    7. The most successful churches (judged by attendance or recent growth) in my experience do not have missionaries out promoting them. Their church services and programs sell themselves. (No “commitment pattern” needed for most functioning adults).

    8. If we want to see more people come into our church we are going to have to change what we are doing at church, not in the methods of how we introduce or bring people into the church.

    9. This brings me back to my worn out call for: better music, more sincere prayers, more thoughtful and inspiring sermons, more insightful and informative lessons and most important; markedly better youth programs from cradle to adulthood. **

    * This is where I might be parting paths with some of you. Community service might make the LDS missionary experience more meaningful personally to the missionary and help the community outside the church and give us more PR (don’t we have enough?). But I would be willing to bet this year’s tithing that 500 LDS missionaries doing 80 hours of community service each week within my ward boundaries, with no other changes, would not budge our low conversion and RETENTION rate.)

    **This is all based on the assumption that bringing people into the LDS church is at least one of the best ways to bring them to Christ. (Mormon exclusivity implies the ONLY way). Otherwise, we are forced to distinguish between the distinctive goals of bringing people to Christ and making them Mormons. Then decide which path we desire our missionaries to follow. (Missionaries become church employees with negative pay). To the degree that our wards are not centered on Christ, this dilemma grows wider. In some wards it is already pretty wide.

    President Uchtdorf, in his famous “doubt your doubts “ talk, later asked an interesting question and provided answers. He queried why people come into our church. To me this is the same question as why people leave the church and to boil it down further, why church at all. The first answer he offered was people come to church to find Christ. If your ward is not undeniably and obviously Christ-centered, in the eyes of visitors and new members (not just in your own eyes), then this inner vessel needs to be cleaned and shined before we do anything else about missionary work.

  127. it's a series of tubes says:

    Meldrum, I find myself agreeing with you again. I think you are right on point that a ward generally requires a critical mass of people to be successful (including with respect to missionary work), and the division in your area sounds like it was very counterproductive.

  128. I don’t see how this is a new idea. The sons of Mosiah first served, then taught, then converted people. We should have been doing this all along.

  129. John Mansfield says:

    “Service” in the scriptures was not much like what we currently call service. It was what we call servitude.

  130. Interestingly enough, as ward mission leader, I was just sent a survey from church HQ about missionary work in the ward, and I am assuming it has gone out to all listed ward mission leaders in US and Canada, but not sure about that.

    The questions focused on training for ward mission leaders, how involved the ward mission leader is in ward council and PEC, how often missionary work is discussed, if we had a ward mission plan and were executing on that, and how involved missionary work is for finding new converts, retaining converts, and reaching out to less active members.

    There was NO opportunity to express concerns and give feedback such as some of the topics brought up in this post and discussion, which I find unfortunate. Also it reiterated that the WML and assistant WML have to be male priesthood holders. I have an unofficial assistant WML who is a single sister in her forties, and would do a better job as ward mission leader than I do, but we are barred from doing that.

    So with the surge, there is a concentrated effort to find out some quantitative feedback on our efforts, but it doesn’t appear to be looking for dramatic changes to the current program. I don’t totally disagree that we could all do better executing the existing plan, but if the results are only incremental, why not look at more radical changes?

  131. Meldrum the Less says:

    Thanks tubes. I wish my perspective was completely illusionary but to me it is not.

    “….NO opportunity to express concerns and give feedback such as some of the topics brought up in this post…”

    Turn the dang survey over and write your suggestions in large letters on the back. If enough people say similar things they might take notice.

  132. Meldrum, did I mention it was an online survey? I tried turning my monitor over….

    The other question that got overlooked is that it asked me how many visits I had made with our assigned missionaries in the last week, completely ignoring that as a male PH holder, I can’t go by myself with a couple of sister missionaries. We have had exclusively sister missionaries in our ward for the last couple of years. I think it is great, but it does impose restrictions on missionary activity in several ways that were not reflected in the questions on the survey. It was gender blind in an environment that imposes gender based restrictions, so that is a problem in and of itself.

  133. Well, several comments above I was again treated with some unnecessary slur – It’s always easy to take a shot at someone on an online forum, but I’m now going to direct my attention to the future tense and the bettering of this missionary program (The focus of this article). It is apparent to me that I should have stated some of my beliefs out-rightly, rather than assume my audience’s understanding that I held them:

    1) I believe service IS a necessary part of the missionary program
    2) I do not think that a missionaries time is/should be dedicated 100% to teaching appointments – it isn’t practical, or more importantly, it isn’t the way it is done in the first place.
    3) I used Preach my Gospel as an example (Not something written in stone) where missionaries learn how to manage their time – I believe there IS a reason why missionaries give up to 4 hours of service a week, and not 20 -35 hours (Has this rule changed? I don’t think it has)
    4) I don’t assume that every mission is the same. My missionary experience is mine and my own – but I want to make it clear that teaching should always take center stage. I didn’t deliver lessons clinically, in 15 minutes and expect a baptismal date after every time – Service WAS important on numerous occasions and was even a contributing factor in a family’s baptism, but not the SOLE reason.

    With that in mind, I have made general statements several comments ago that members of this forum have improved upon:

    Service doesn’t have to include serving in a food center or building a home – it can be extended to retention of less active members – which I think is more important and more appropriate for missionaries who are given just 2 years to Preach the Gospel (That is, if I’m willing to concede the notion that “teach-teach-teach” is not an effective strategy, something I’m still not willing to admit as I believe you can teach WHILE serving, WHILE helping members, etc.)

    In short, I think the stark contrast with the current program, and this author’s suggestions is what is calling out to me – To raise hours of service from 4 hours to 2 hours a day is one thing – To say that should be their focus from 9-5 is a BAD idea in my opinion. Those are hours that missionaries can be out and about, walking, talking, teaching; hours that they will NEVER get back as authorized representatives. I believe the model of the program should be service at the mercy of ultimately preaching the gospel of repentance.

  134. The Salt Lake Tribune just ran a story on the Church’s pilot missionary service program. It gives some details about how charities are chosen and the guidelines for service.

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57473415-78/missionaries-service-lds-says.html.csp

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