On goals and souls

I got a copy of an email from the stake high counselor over missionary work asking for our goals for next year, including our number of baptisms. This is familiar territory to anyone who served a mission, I think. And before I get into my reservations about this practice, let me say that I support the idea of setting goals generally; it is a process that can help us become more like God.

But the idea of setting a numerical goal related to conversion (or reactivation) has two problems with it, as far as I can see.

1. The most important factor in the process of conversion is the free agency choice of the potential convert, not the efforts of the converter. We can work and work, and they still get the choice. The idea that we would be rewarded for our efforts by someone being converted seems to violate free agency. Here’s what Elder Oaks says:

In the summer of 2001, Sister Oaks and I were in Manaus, Brazil. I spoke to about 100 missionaries in that great city on the Amazon. As I stood to speak, I was prompted to put aside some notes I usually use on such occasions and substitute some thoughts on the importance of timing—some of the scriptures and principles I have been discussing here.

I reminded the missionaries that some of our most important plans cannot be brought to pass without the agency and actions of others. A missionary cannot baptize five persons this month without the agency and action of five other persons. A missionary can plan and work and do all within his or her power, but the desired result will depend upon the additional agency and action of others.

Consequently, a missionary’s goals ought to be based upon the missionary’s personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others.

Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing,” Ensign, Oct 2003, 10–17

2. The numerical goal is too often seen as a sign of faith, and the larger the number the greater the faith. (This negates the argument that the goals, after being prayed about, are a spiritual verification that a specific number of people are prepared to hear the gospel within reach of the goal setters.) As a FT missionary, I was asked to set baptism goals for our area. After studying our teaching pool, the number of baptisms in the past, etc., we set a goal of four for the year. The DL called and we had this conversation:

DL: Your goals aren’t very high.
Me: But those are our goals. We pondered and prayed, feeling good about them.
DL: They don’t show you stretching your faith.
Me: Well, Elder J (the current AP) was here for 6 months and only baptized one. Can our faith be so much greater or our methods so much more effective than his?
DL: That’s not the point: you should set higher goals.
Me: OK, tell me what our goals should be.
DL: It doesn’t work that way. You need to prayerfully set your goals.

And so on. And again with the ZLs, except they were happy to set our goals for us. The number did not stretch our faith as much as move far beyond it: it was a pipe dream, not a goal.

Some will say that lofty goals, even if not unattainable, motivate to greater success. But it seems to me that the teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t need or deserve such salesmanship ploys.

I say lets set goals that are about what we can do — about the types of wards into which we’ll welcome converts, the types of lessons and talks to which visitors will listen, the kinds of activities to which we would be willing to invite our friends. Let the numbers take care of themselves.


  1. Oh, this brings back so many memories! Particularly your conversation with the DL, and the ZL’s. This is one of those subjects that I got into a lot of debates with my leaders on the mission, too. I even had some pretty strong arguments with my companion(s) about it. I’m with you about setting goals about things we can do, not on things that depend on something more than our work to be achieved.

  2. Jon in Austin says:

    The last line from Elder Oaks is the best quote ever about missionary goals. That needs to be plastered above the bed of every MP and over-zealous ZL in the world.

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    This is so important. A goal such as, “I will initiate a conversation about the gospel with X people.” or “I will offer X Book of Mormons” is entirely appropriate because I am in complete control over it. But goals that abridge someone else’s agency (“I will teach X first discussions”) are entirely inappropriate.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m completely with you and Elder Oaks on this subject. Goals should relate to our own actions.

    Another aspect to this is the tendency of our mission bureaucracy to measure success by simple baptism statistics. But in the long run baptisms, by themselves, are not a success. And if all you have to do for your brownie points is to baptize, you create incentives for missionaries to rush into baptism people that are not adequately prepared (baseball baptisms and like ilk), since they’re not the ones that have to clean up the mess. If you baptize 40 people in a ward in a given year, but only four remain active, have you strengthened the ward? Having four more active people is nice, but now you’ve got huge home and visiting teaching problems and burdens that weigh down your existing members and in many ways is a waste of scarce human resources. Mere baptisms without accompanying retention weakens the Church, not strengthens it.

    It’s like a corporation managing only to the next quarter’s numbers, without a long-term strategic plan in place. And I’m amazed that so many in the mission bureaucracies continue not to grasp this problem.

  5. I never felt very pressured by the goals set on my mission or that they were wrong.

    We had this little acronym of setting difficult, achievable, measurable goals, and our mission was from top to bottom against quotas and “doing it the wrong way”.

    We were encouraged to make our goals by looking at a list of who we were currently teaching, and selecting of those people who we thought could get baptised by the end of the month. Occasionally we’d discuss adding a few to represent our experience with finding and teaching people beyond that, but in general we tried to keep it personal. I never had anyone push me to ramp up my numbers and the one time I had a ZL ask me to make a committment I didn’t want to make, I didn’t make the committment and moved on. No one ever punished me.

  6. Our visiting general authority has just advised that President Hinckley would like to double in 2008 the number of baptisms in 2007 in North America. We as priesthood leaders in our California stake were then asked to do our part by doubling in 2008 the number of baptisms in 2007 in our stake. It seems notwithstanding Elder Oaks’s remarks, President Hinckley thinks we should set numerical baptismal goals. Maybe it’s because President Hinckley’s vision is that there are at least double the number of persons ready to exercise their agency to accept the gospel message if we will redouble our efforts to get out and find them. Anyway, after we obtain the final baptismal count in our stake for 2007, which perhaps not coincidentally will likely be approximately double the number of baptisms that we had in 2006, we intend to “redouble” that number for 2008 and have that be our goal. We’ll keep you posted on how we do in finding those folks that President Hinckley seems to think are out there to be found.

  7. I had the privilege of serving in South Korea a few years back and I only have one regret during those two great years: I let the baptism race influence me. By the time I went home, the only missionaries that baptized more people than myself were a couple sisters that had focused on teaching young kids (a practice that absolutely nauseated me). I was proud of my “success” and promised myself that I would keep in contact with each and every convert. Now, nearly a decade later, only 10% are still active in the Church. Looking back I can now see who was ready and who wasn’t, who I pushed a little too hard and too fast, and I can certainly tell you who I should have demanded more from before I baptized them. I certainly hope those souls forgive me for not properly preparing them.

  8. skip — that’s very interesting. Has anyone else in North America heard about this? Who was the general authority?

  9. Neal Peters says:

    Another great non sequitur from our beloved President Oaks.

  10. Somebody quoting Pres. Hinckley’s desire that there be double the number of baptisms in North America in 2008 compared to 2007 doesn’t mean that Pres. Hinckley wants us all to go out and set a goal to baptize twice as many in our ward for next year. Maybe Pres. Hinckley wants us all to set a goal to be better human beings, or to have more interesting sermons in sacrament meetings (so someone will think, Man, I want to come here again!) or better music in sacrament meetings (for the same reasons), or that we’ll be inspired to know how to bring up the church and the gospel in conversation with friends and business associates or that we’ll be less timid, or that . . . . You see, he may just have the vision that if we do those things, the increase in the baptisms will follow naturally, without a lot of talking about goals and other highly effective habits of pettifogging businesspeople.

    By the way, a shout-out to Kevin for his appearance in Peggy Stack’s piece in the SLTrib today.

  11. One other thing, what the heck is Neal Peters talking about?

  12. Mark B., amen. That’s no non sequitur, but it is great.

  13. I wonder if Zion or perfecting the Saints were more measurable, then would we set more goals in this area? I know that asking for Temple stats (redeeming the dead) is a big no no.

  14. #10 – In our stake, we took the challenge to double our baptisms this year to mean precisely what Mark describes – doing better those things over which we have control or influence. We probably won’t reach the double target, but we will have quite a few more this year than last – and the retention rate thus far has been significantly higher than before the renewed focus. We have focused on Sacrament Meeting attendance, community service, member involvement with investigators ASAP, temple attendance within two months of baptism, etc. – and it has worked quite well overall.

  15. Forgot to mention at the beginning: Amen, Norbert. I couldn’t agree more.

  16. jar:
    Don’t be too hard on yourself. You did help many souls. Perhaps some weren’t completely ready and have since fallen away, but they had and continue to have their agency, and hopefully they are better off even as inactive members than not as members at all.

    I completely agree with all that has been said about goals where others’ agency is involved, and I love that quote from Elder Oaks.

    With our stake sealing assignments, we were encouraged to take the schedule for the year and to put in the names of less active members that we would prepare during the year to go to the temple first for themselves and then for these assignments. I knew many of these less active members, and some had not been to church for years, and had no desire to go to church. I would sit there and say, all of this talk about so-and-so going to the temple is fine, but where does he (or she) fit into the equation? Do they really want to go to the temple?

    Anyway, not to threadjack, but the concept of recognizing others’ agency in our goals applies not only to missionary work but also to helping prepare others to go to the temple.

  17. I say lets set goals that are about what we can do — about the types of wards into which we’ll welcome converts, the types of lessons and talks to which visitors will listen, the kinds of activities to which we would be willing to invite our friends. Let the numbers take care of themselves.

    YESSSSS! That’s the kind of thing that helps make a conversion stick. Otherwise, you just end up having taken a warm bath in from of a lot of besuited strangers.

  18. Referring to skip’s point (#6), President Hinckley made a remark in 2000 to the effect of doubling the number of convert baptisms:

    “I am not being unrealistic when I say that with concerted effort, with recognition of the duty which falls upon us as members of the Church, and with sincere prayer to the Lord for help, we could double [the number of annual convert baptisms.]” President Gordon B. Hinckley, February 2000

    The emphasis from the Brethren for 2008 is to double the number of convert baptisms in the United States and Canada. I have obtained a PowerPoint presentation from our stake president who obtained the exact presentation from Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy. It specifically outlines the how we are to obtain the goals of increasing the number of baptisms for 2008. One of the more interesting points from the slides:

    * Help full-time missionaries assigned to the ward teach at least 20 people each week within the ward (5 from the Elder’s quorum, 5 from high priests, 5 from the Relief Society and 5 from the YM/YW)

    I remembering hearing a comment from Elder William R. Bradford when he was a member of Seventy (Elder Quentin L. Cook, then an Area Authority, was in attendance) stating it is the responsibility of members to ensure the missionaries are teaching 20 discussions each week. Many members have the whole idea wrong about it being solely the missionaries’ responsibility to find people to teach. I highly doubt many members are willing to readily accept this responsibility. Until they do, the number of convert baptisms will not double.

  19. Amen to the original post. On my mission there was a fairly consistent, and somewhat disappointing, monthly baptismal rate. The MP and APs seemed to think that setting increasingly outlandish monthly baptismal goals, without addressing root issues, would somehow force people magically into the font. Not only did it not work, it dispirited the missionaries. Veteran missionaries who had seen the goals draw further and further away from reality simply grew jaded and dismissive of mission-wide initiatives and empty chest-thumping, and new missionaries were simply bewildered by the disparity between the ambitious mission goals, their efforts, and the reality of the situation.

    It was about a year into my mission when I figured out that I couldn’t make anyone do anything they didn’t want to do; I could just do my best to make them want to do it. After my goals because realistic and particular, rather than outlandish and abstract, I actually enjoyed a much higher success rate as a missionary.

  20. I’m uncomfortable with the sales pitch line of thinking. I’ve never liked it.

    How can people have the spirit when they’re worried about making this month’s quota. It seems contradictory to me.

  21. Just because the prophet said that we could see a doubling of baptisms with a more concerted effort by members of the church didn’t mean that he wanted us to make a quota goal out of it.

    The point he wanted to make was that if we as regular members did more, we would see more success, both on a numbers level, and on a more important retention level. He didn’t say to have twice the baptisms so that twice the amount of recent converts can slide right back out of the church.

  22. Having served in a mission adjacent to Manaus from 1999 to 2001, I can identify with the culture that probably led Elder Oaks to make these remarks. I remember vividly a zone meeting in May or June of 2001, where our entire zone was bawled out by an AP for having “only” nine baptisms the previous month (our “goal” had been twenty or thirty, if memory serves). We were then accused of having sinned, and told in no uncertain terms that each and every one of us had need to repent.

    I wish I’d had the backbone then to tell the AP to go to hell. If it happened now, I would have. But at the time I was young(er) and stupid(er). I assumed he was right, and had my mission not already been set to end in a couple of months I would have gone home right then.

  23. Oh, and re President Hinckley’s 2000 statement, I suspect it isn’t just hoi polloi in the Church that reads things into prophets’ statements that were never there. Many of the seventies come from corporate backgrounds, where imposing quotas (on fear of unemployment) is the most widely used means of getting results. Old habits die hard.

  24. One of my DL’s favorite quotes: “Sister, zero is not a goal.” I remember trying to encourage a “potential member” with a baptismal date of August 1 to change it to July 31 so we could meet our July goal. Nutty.

  25. As a high councilor responsible for missionary work, I would like to point out that there does seem to be some correlation between setting goals, and having plans to achieve them, and being successful in missionary activity. Obviously, there are huge exceptions and extenuating circumstances. But, in my experience, the wards that actually set high goals and have plans to achieve them are the wards that, over time, have the highest number of baptisms. Over time may mean over two or three years, not over two or three months, but if the bishopric and the ward mission leader work together to have regular missionary correlation meetings with complete ward involvement, plan missionary activities with all of the quorums involved and have a coherent and achievable ward mission plan, they are more likely to have a higher number of baptisms. In addition, and this is a completely subjective issue, but I can tell you that you can feel the Spirit much more in these wards than in wards that are setting low goals and not achieving them.

    So, while you cannot force the agency of anybody, goals do have an important purpose. Nobody is getting beat up if they don’t meet their goals, but they are certainly getting blessings if they set realistic goals and work out how to meet them.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    This thread reminds me of the Grondahl cartoon where, following Zone Conference, two elders are riding their bikes down the street, and one with a goofy gung ho look on his face has bulging side bags with 1,000 Book of Mormons (you’re supposed to understand that he agreed to this as one of those I’ll top you goal competitions). His partner, with a disgusted look, says “Elder, you’re an inspiration…”

  27. Jim D, your APs and mine were cut from the same swatch. We were told if we didn’t meet our goals it was because we failed to keep our end of the contract with the Lord. At one point when I started getting jarring pains in my stomach (never had them before or since), the doctor diagnosed it as “muscle spasms of the diaphragm” brought on by stress. The APs told me it was because my faith was weak. But I was just like you; I took it. Because no matter how wrong they are, they’re always right– you just respect the office.

    I agree that specific goals are essential to achievement. It’s all the truculent tactics I could have done without.

  28. * Help full-time missionaries assigned to the ward teach at least 20 people each week within the ward (5 from the Elder’s quorum, 5 from high priests, 5 from the Relief Society and 5 from the YM/YW)

    To have this presented to every ward and every stake in North America seems odd to me. Surely the number five represents something different for every organization of every ward, depending on the status of the church and the existing culture of missionary work.

    Over time may mean over two or three years, not over two or three months, but if the bishopric and the ward mission leader work together to have regular missionary correlation meetings with complete ward involvement, plan missionary activities with all of the quorums involved and have a coherent and achievable ward mission plan, they are more likely to have a higher number of baptisms.

    Geoff B, these are, in my mind, good goals in their own right. Are you saying wards with high goals are more likely to do these things? Why not make these the goals and ‘let the consequence follow?’

    On my mission I taught a first to a guy who expressed concern that we were just looking for more people to put on our rolls, that our teaching of the gospel was self-interested. I assured him that we didn’t care how many people were Mormons in that town — we wanted to make his life better. I knew it was at least in part lie. The branch could have a building and be a ward with a certain number of members, and we were (as always) way behind on our stats.

  29. Jon in Austin says:

    Speaking of helping the missionaries…


    We could start teaching them that if someone has a video camera and is recording your conversation, walking away sooner rather than later would be advised. This has over 110,000 views and while the elders come off as naive, they also are seen as more friendly by offering their hands at the end.

  30. Well, I spent my entire mission fighting against the “sales tactic” style of missionary work.

    I don’t know that it did any good, though. Most of the elders seemed to need and thrive on sales tactics and numbers competition. Even then I found it odd that the President asked me to speak at many zone conferences. We’d have an entire conference of “get the numbers” from the Assistants and then I’d get up and talk passionately about the opposite approach. Maybe there is a tension there. Maybe some people need the numbers to feel motivated.

  31. Peter LLC says:


    It is interesting to note that Preach My Gospel rejects numerical goal-setting by anyone other than the companionship.

    As others have noted, there are lotsof goals that can be set to improve missionary work without worrying two shakes about a number of baptisms. Remember what The Voice taught us: If you build it, they will come.

  32. For most of my mission (when I was training, so my companions didn’t know any better to object) I flatly refused to make baptism goals. My companions and I would set our most important goal as the number of proselyting hours, then the number of discussions we would teach, then the number of invitations to be baptized. When my ZLs told me we had to set goals for baptisms I told them we weren’t going to. Sometimes they pushed it, and then I would explain that I didn’t think it was right. When they would pull the obedience card I would tell them, “fine, I’ll randomly make up a number for you, and I’ll even pray about it if you want me to, but that prayer will be without faith and as soon as I tell you the number I’m going to forget about it.” Only once did they have the APs call me. I told them the same thing, so they had the President call me. I told him the same thing. He said I was right and that as long as we were working, he didn’t care what our goals were. Goals were somewhat de-emphasized after that.

    When I served as a ZL, I never badgered the Elders about baptism goals. If they told them to me I said fine, but I made it a point to not talk about it. I would focus instead on proselyting hours, which was 100% in our own control (unless, of course, there was illness or some other emergency).

  33. Norbert, I have a couple thoughts on your response to Geoff B. A problem with the missionary activities themselves being the goals is that we can lose focus on what the activity is supposed to accomplish. The particular activities are unimportant and subject to change if they aren’t working.

    On the question of just trying to put more people on the rolls, I think it is legitimate and honorable to tell someone that part of our purpose is to build up a religious community, and we are looking for people who will add their strength to it.

  34. Geoff B (25), as I understand jar’s point in (7), it is not that setting such numerical goals does not work — indeed, his example suggests that it absolutely does: setting goals leads to attainment of goals.

    I think his point is that setting of goals that are not the actual end-game objective — such as numbers of baptisms within a particular period of time, rather than the final salvation of a soul — can lead to actions that can be inconsistent with, and possibly counterproductive to, the end-game objective.

  35. A couple of statements from our favorite missionary resource:

    District leaders…should not set goals or quotas for other missionaries nor ask them to report their goals. P.ix

    Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “We do not preach and teach in order to ‘bring people into the Church’ or to increase the membership of the Church. P.9

    Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.

    Avoid comparing yourself to other missionaries and measuring the outward results of your efforts against theirs. Remember that people have agency to choose whether to accept your message. Your responsibility is to teach clearly and powerfully so they can make the correct choice. P.10

    Goal setting and planning are acts of faith…. Over time your leaders may establish standards of excellence intended to raise your vision and stretch your faith…. They are not to be used as quotas that impose specific goals on you and your companion. P.146

  36. President Thomas S Monson:

    “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates”

    The numbers/goals relate to souls.

  37. cj douglass says:

    Fortunately I served with a MP who stated, “Do not make goals that depend on other people’s agency”. We never did.

  38. #37 So as a parent you should not have a goal to get your children married in the Temple? (as example) Or what does that actually mean? (curious)

  39. TomGuero —

    “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates”

    Can you explain how you can apply this witout running into the problems I point out, and how it works with the principles Oaks talks about? Or is it just your GA vs. mine?

    So as a parent you should not have a goal to get your children married in the Temple?

    Nope. Get your children married? it sounds vaguely arranged. No, we should hope for it to be their goal, not mine; mine is to teach them what they need to have the desire.

  40. Stephanie says:

    Norbert- I have to admit I like your reasoning.. and it all comes down to what CJ said… agency of the other people. “Get our children married” implies that we are forcing, pushing them or making them do something right instead of guiding them and allowing them to choose for themselves.
    This idea of setting goals for number of converts smacks way too much of MLM type behavior that it really irks me… so the man who sets his goal of 20 baptisms per month and serves a mission in Denmark and baptizes no one the ENTIRE TWO YEARS but he worked his butt off and served faithfully and was not slothful, etc? Is it his responsibility that no one was converted or willing to accept the gospel? Was it the missionary’s fault for not CONVERTING those 20 people he set a goal for? Or is it in the hands of the Holy Ghost since that is who does the converting? If a missionary fails to meet his goal, isn’t he/she infact just setting a goal for the Holy Ghost? How are we to know precisely what God has in other people’s hearts and how can we set goals for other people to convert? That is what makes that sound like a MLM scheme. I think if I were a missionary being asked to make those kinds of goals, I would refuse and use the same reasoning as above. The Spirit converts… not me. My efforts can still be 100% and if the Spirit does not convert as many people as I want that does not reflect on me. God has a plan for everyone and we don’t always know what that plan is.

  41. How many people saw the light and accepted the Lord as a result of Elijah’s preaching? I have a hard time time blaming him for that.

  42. #39 Norbert: Sure, at least i can try to explain how it is in my head :)

    If I set a goal of at least five people to be baptized this month…that’s a righteous desire. I understand it depends on other’s agency. Let’s say that I assume there are at least five that are ready to accept that I can be placed in contact with. Then I have a righteous goal, and I can lean on HF to guide me to those whom He already knows have the agency to choose to join.
    It leans towards adding faith into the equation. You obviously can’t just say 5 random people. But if you truely feel that you, as a tool in HF’s hand, He can guide you to at least five that are ready then in that regard using numbers to represent souls is OK. You don’t know who they are yet, so you must use a number to respesent them. Once found, now you can attach names to those souls.
    Likewise, a missionary cannot baptize 5 people a month on his own ever, but with spiriual guideance and faith he most certainly can.
    The two GAs talks go hand in hand. You set goals (prayerfully I might add), you DLs and ZLs then hold accountability to if the goals were met. If not met, then perhaps question why (lack of faith, desire, not prayerfully setting goals….etc)

    PS I obviously wasn’t assuming arranged marriage. But if it’s your desire, then it’s also a goal to ultimately (by teaching and guidance) have them choose to marry in the temple.
    If it’s not a goal/desire then you will not excerise the effort, faith, and time on knees required to try to bring this about.
    Hopefully I explained well enough….?

  43. #40 Stephanie, To an extent yes, but also no.

    At a most basic level, a man with no goals, works less hard. That is why we set goals. If you truely desire and have faith in that goal you will work your butt off and sacrifice to try to help HF bring it to pass

    If a goal was set for 20, and 0 were achieved, was he slothful? Maybe, maybe not. If the faith, prayer, desire, work, spiritual worthiness was nt present in the missionary then maybe yes,
    If all things were present, and he still did not meet the goal, then obviously no, he/she was not slothful.
    Was Lehi’s goal to have his son be righteous? Yes, I beliee it was, did he fully succeed (at least in life) no. Was he slothful? No

    A Shepherd numbers his sheep, and I’m sure HF has numbered us.

  44. 41 – how about Abinadai, possibly an even more striking example of what your asking, Ray.

  45. cj douglass says:

    Tom, its all about what kinds of goals you make. Of course making goals is important. An essential part of Mormon theology is the idea that God gives us agency. If He can’t force someone to obey, how is our making a goal going to change that. Our goals should be based on things we do have control over (working x amount of hours, praying x times a day etc.). A goal to see your children married in the temple would consist of small goals over the course of their lives like providing service or weekly church attendance.

  46. TomG, I understand your reasoning, and I don’t disagree with you – in a vacuum. The problem arises when others get involved and start pressuring the one with the agency for the goal into setting unrealistic goals and apply evaluation methods that include guilt and a twisted definition of faith and do not credit effort and true faith.

    If effort and goals and extreme belief were enough, then Elijah and Abinadi would have had phenomenal success; if actual conversion rates were dependent solely on goals and the kind of twisted faith being described in some missions, then Elijah and Abinadi were abject failures. I’m not willing to go there.

  47. #45 cj. I agree with you. But I think maybe you’re failing to realize that those small goals are leading to ultimate and larger goals…? (they are)
    There are degrees of goals as well.
    Why do you have a goal to pray x hours a day, and work x hours a week? Is it to bring about the conversion of at least x amount of souls? It could and possibly should be, because the higher your ultimate goal, that will determine how high the “x”s need to be in the smaller goals.

    Bluntly I see it as this; The highest goal is that all born recieve celestial glory. All goals/desires, no matter how great or small would lead to that goal.

    “This is my work and glory to bring to pass the immortatility and eternal life of man.” that’s a goal.

    At least that’s my view on it.

  48. Ray,
    We’re all talking about the same thing. I think we all agree with each other.

    I’ve always been told I’m an idealist, that’s how I think…in terms of “ultimately”. I think I’m just in discussion wiht people who are looking through another paradigm, but we’re all talking the same thing…know what i mean?

    Ultimately, could HF protect a perspective convert against influences from the outside if sufficient faith is excersized? That’s where you’re seeing the fallacies of setting goals because you can’t control agency…which is also ultimately true. But I’m seeing it from the “through faith, all things are poissble.” Both are aboslutley correct.But the goal should be their baptism, if it doesn’t happen…it’s not necessarily any failure, but at least it was a goal being aimed for.

    I think 2 of the main hang-ups on goals (spiritual ones) are:

    1. Labeling a soul with a number.
    2. Viewed “failure” if that goal is not met.

    1. HF has numbered us also, so it’s ok.
    2. Worldly failure and spiritual failure are judged completely differently. They are not the same. On a worldly level it might appear like failure, but spiritually you see the real picture. Lehi, Abinadai, Elijah…etc as stated above. Did not worldly “succeed”, but were by no means spiritual “failures”. If that makes sense
    (thoughts to verbage is not one of my strong points obviously, bear with me. :) )
    So i think im done here, as im pretty sure we’re just talking about the same thing from two different angles.

  49. I’m saying all things are possible through faith, so set goals.
    You’re saying we can’t control anyones angency so don’t set goals. (to that degree)

    Both reasons are true, but we’re using them to argue opposing views of the same subject.

    One’s opptomistic, one’s pessimistic.

  50. 49 – it’s not so much pessimistic as it acknowledges that there are forces out of our control. Tying a number to the goals of Abinadai just doesn’t make any sense.

    And I don’t think that this post is saying don’t set any goals, just be wary of tying goals to the choices of other people.

    And, yes, HF has numbered us, but His numbering is probably far different than ours. He’s a far better counter than any of us are.

  51. Part of the problem I have of putting numbers to people is that, no matter what you do, there will always be some who are not interested. If that person you have been talking with is not one of the “magic five” mentione earlier, what do you do? Do you drop them and start looking for somebody else? That’s fine if you are a missionary, because your time in any area is relatively short.

    But what if that person is a co-worker? The potential for a more long-term relationship makes me less keen on the idea of having my co-workers being one of those numbers I am looking for. My co-worker may not be interested today, or this week. But maybe, after being around me for a couple of years, they see that I have something they want, and see that my friendship with them isn’t contingent on their interest in the Church, I could approach them on a deeper level.

    One criticism of members that I have heard for most of my life is that our friendships with people not of our faith is contingent on their interest in the Church. We will fellowship and befriend them until they tell us they have no interest, and then we drop them like a hot potato. I’ve had plenty of people ask me about the Church, saying that they ask me instead of other LDS people they know because I’m not trying to ram the Church down their throats.

  52. Tom, I never said don’t set goals. I am a firm believer in goals. I also am a firm believer in return and report accountability. I just happen to be a firm believer also in D&C 121:39.

    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” This doesn’t say “all non-members” or “all those who are not Mission Presidents or APs or ZLs (or even apostles).” It includes no disclaimers – none, at all.

    Asking someone to pray about and set goals, then demanding that they change those prayerful goals for no other reason than “they aren’t good enough,” is a form of unrighteous dominion, imo. Demanding that people set goals against which their self-worth will be measured and which will affect how they and others view their success, then demanding that they make those goals so high as to be unrealistic and unattainable, is unrighteous dominion, imo. Asking people to set goals, and holding them to the fulfillment of those goals when they do not have full control over the accomplishment of those goals is unrighteous dominion, imo.

    It’s not the goal setting and accountability that bother me. I accept those things fully. It’s the unrighteous dominion to which I object.

  53. #52 – AMEN!

  54. Ray, you just amen’d youself. This is a new low.

  55. Peter LLC says:


    Several GAs have encouraged all members to make use of Preach My Gospel, a compendium of knowledge and wisdom that should disabuse its readers of any notions that top-down goal setting has any place in today’s missionary efforts (read the section on District Meetings, for example). Note that this does not mean that anything (or nothing) goes; see the reference to standard setting above.

    Maybe you’re thinking old school, (pre) Missionary Guide-style missionary work, but the program has changed in the meantime. Frankly, your formula, x hours of work/prayer/etc. to bring about x conversions, is out of step and out of touch.

  56. *hangs his head in shame*

    #51 – AMEN!

  57. Eric Russell says:

    Norbert, given the transcript in the above post, you were obviously wiretapping a conversation I was having with my DL. Please come up with your own conversations for your posts.

  58. Sam Kitterman says:

    What value is there to doubling (or tripling or increasing by any X factor) the number of convert baptisms if the percentage of members going “less active” remains unchanged? I have wondered for some time whether it is appropriate for church leadership to expound on the growth of membership when the actual active membership of the church is 50% or less than that of the actual membership numbers announced at general conference.

    If all we are doing is getting converts in the door and thereafter, they walking out the back door after some period of time, then what have we accomplished by the efforts undertaken to meet such particular goals?

  59. Well done, Norbert!

  60. #58 – Sam, I believe that is exactly why the brethren have been so focused on “raising the bar” with regard to missionary work. I think that includes (in fact, is centered on) the need to teach better and move beyond a focus on baptism to full temple fellowship.

    The missionaries in our mission have been given fascinating instructions in the past three months. They have been told to quit emphasizing the total number of contacts and discussions (a disproportionate percentage of which have been first discussions) and start focusing on being better teachers of the Gospel – even if that means teaching fewer lessons. In fact, they were told that they should expect a decrease in total discussions. They aren’t tracking first discussions any more but rather those things that indicate progress – those who allow the missionaries to return, those who read the Book of Mormon, those who attend church, etc. I love the new directives.

  61. I always thought number for baptism goals was kind of odd. I mean, if I set a goal to baptize 6 people in a month, it’s not like if we reached that after 3 weeks I would spend the rest of the month sitting in my apartment playing video games. I’d be out in my area trying to find more people. And if I tried my hardest and fell short of my goal, then really what could I have done differently?

    I think luck (or maybe a divine power) has a lot to do with the number of people you baptize. I had to work very hard to find the people that I helped get baptized. I remember near the end of my mission I was talking with another Elder who had baptized a lot of people, but he told me that one thing that he struggled with was finding people to teach and although he had baptized a lot of people he hadn’t found anyone to baptize since he left his trainer. The people he baptized were already in his area whenever he was transferred. I had the opposite problem. I would get transferred in an area where there were practically no investigators and I had to find everyone that I baptized. I’d usually get transferred out before most of them did too so it really got on me. One time I found a really good family, got transferred out and this other Elder replaced me.

    But I don’t know, maybe God knew that my strong suit was finding people to teach and this other Elder’s was teaching them.

  62. Thunder, fwiw, I have believed your last sentence about many missionaries I have observed. In fact, on my own mission my favorite AP was exactly like you in that regard. He worked hard, laid the foundation in new areas, was transferred just prior to seeing the fruits of his labors – and was happy simply to be involved in the process. I believe if everyone took that outlook (including leaders and regular members), the work would flourish and retention would not be a major issue.

  63. Perhaps the problem comes in the difference of people’s personalities. Some may tie their feelings of worth to the attainment of goals. In such cases, setting a number goal to baptisms is a bad idea. Others may need a number assigned to their faith in order to have a mark to focus on.

    I think the biggest problem comes from the unavoidable conclusion that if such a goal isn’t met, it’s because the goal-setter’s faith isn’t strong enough. I can have all the faith in the world, but that doesn’t change another’s right to choose one iota. Some can set such goals and not lose that perspective. Most fail in that.

  64. John Deacon says:

    This article is music to my ears. The unfortunate thing about these situations is the pressure often comes from the Mission President who in turn is getting it from the GA. It is cascaded down to a solitary companionship who work their socks off and do all that is required with no baptisms and forever feeling demoralised because they have not attained goals that they had only some control over.

  65. I think President Hinckley would agree that we are not denying people’s agency by setting a baptismal goal. I think he’s trying to tell us that there are people out there who are ready to accept the restored gospel if we will make the effort to find them. That might include an annual goal of inviting a couple of our friends to hear the message of the full-time missionaries. Statistics tell us that when we as members extend the invitation to our friends to hear the gospel (as opposed to the full-time missionaries’ various finding efforts), the chances are (i) high that they will decide to get baptized and (ii) even higher that they will not be offended. Most of us certainly aren’t praying and inviting our friends to hear the gospel message; thus, President Hinckley’s vision that a few simple steps would increase the number of baptisms. Two years ago, I invited a friend who resides in my ward to hear the gospel message and he ended up joining the Church. Last year, I didn’t invite anyone to hear the gospel and, predictably, none of my friends joined. This year I invited another friend to hear the gospel message and he did, but he has not yet decided to join. In neither case have my friends been offended by my invitation, and they are both still good friends. I think the idea is that we set a baptismal goal and then put in place a plan that, over an extended period of time, causes us to increase our efforts to find the folks that President Hinckley thinks are are out there and ready to hear the message. In October 2001 Elder Oaks said this: “We have been asked to redouble our efforts and our effectiveness in sharing the gospel, to accomplish the Lord’s purposes in this great work. Until we do so, these wonderful full-time missionaries—our sons and daughters and our noble associates in the Lord’s work—will remain underused in their great assignment to teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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