Creativity in Missionary Work

Today was Fast Sunday. Our ward has a tradition that every Fast Day whoever is conducting reads excerpts from the letters home of our missionaries who are out serving. We have two, both Spanish speaking, one in Mexico and the other in Honduras (or some place like that; I forget). As the bishop read the letter from our second elder, the young man told us about a missionary he had met who was out from Nicaragua. Our elder had overheard as this Nicaraguan missionary tried to call home, and his family wouldn’t take the call; they had disowned him when he joined the church (one year before leaving for his mission). It was a reminder that some people make much greater sacrifices than the temporary discomforts we experience when we serve far from home. This story sort of put me in a missionary mood.

Anyway, when we went to sing I picked up a hymnal and a note dropped out. It read:

We are so excited to be serving here with you in the Schaumburg 2nd Ward! Please give us a call if we can do anything for you.

This was followed by their names and phone number. I then realized that we had a new set of missionaries in the ward, and they had taken the time to slip these notes in the hymnals throughout the chapel.

I thought that was really a pretty cool idea. Indeed, as I thought about it it occurred to me that they could have taken this basic idea even further. Head shots of them would help members to learn who they are and their names. (There is a Fed-Ex Kinkos in their area where this could easily be done). Maybe a brief introduction of each of them. Instead of a generic offer to serve, they could list specific ideas for how they could help the members or their neighbors. And maybe put them in the programs rather than counting on them to fall out of the hymnals.

Thinking about this made me think about creativity in missionary work. Often such a thing is in too short a supply. We go knock doors because, really, what else is there to do? Being creative takes forethought, planning, effort, and it’s easier to just stumble out the door and keep doing the same thing you did the day before.

One thing we did on my mission was go to visit hospitals. Our ministerial certificates gave us access to the database of patients by religious preference, and we would go to visit those who were listed as LDS. We gave lots of blessings, comforted those who were in need of comfort, and inevitably had conversations with people and families there to visit those in the adjoining beds. This probably worked in part because it was in Colorado with its relatively high LDS population, but there are a lot of areas where something like this could be profitably done.

I remember when I was a freshman at BYU, the missionaries who were assigned to campus had created a live discussion display in one of the windows to the bookstore. The two elders were actually in there giving a discussion as thousands of students streamed by. It was a very creative idea, and I knew one of those elders (he had been in my student ward the previous semester). He had a background in theater, and he had applied his creative skills and talents in a very effective way. The Universe ran a story about this, and they reached all sorts of kids they never would have found in any other way.

Speaking of theater, when I read that book called something like A Call to Serve, which was about the mission presidentcy of Thomas Rogers and his wife in St. Petersburg, there was a great picture in there of Tom directing a play, wearing a beret and scarf. This was something he was good at, and it was a way to apply his talents to further the work in that part of the kingdom, a way that brought natural defense mechanisms down.

So what are some of the things you did on your missions that required a little bit of creativity? What worked and what flamed out? Is there anything you would have done differently if you had it all to do over again?


  1. When I was a missionary in Australia we’d mix it up a little at the door while tracting. We’d ask person who opened the door if we could sing them a song. Most of the time they said yes and the Spirit was always happy to confirm the truth of the words of the sweet primary songs we’d sing. I never thought of the headshots in the program, though. You sure had lots of time to think in sacrament meeting today. You sure it wasn’t high counselor Sunday?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    julianna, I love the song at the door idea! That’s awesome.

  3. I worked as a missionary in Japan. Preparation day turned out to be one of the best finding days for me and my companions. We would set out to relax by playing frisbee, soccer, or whatnot at local parks or college campuses. Along our way to the park, we invited random people to join us.

    I’d like to say that my motive in inviting others to join us centered around finding opportunities to share the gospel, even on preparation day. But mostly it just made for a much more enjoyable experience to have others play with us. Usually we would get a good group of people, some of whom would eventually ask why we were in Japan. These conversations resulted in some of the best relationships and conversion experiences I had during my two years.

    Post-mission, I’d have to say the same rule applies. As I’ve included others for the sake of having joy in life, I have found opportunities to exchange beliefs in a very fluid and genuine way.

    Oh and then there was the time that my district and I spent weeks and weeks putting together a Stop Smoking seminar. We passed out hundreds of flyers. Nobody showed up. I think they saw right through it.

  4. We did street preaches in Europe. Went out as a district on Saturday, half of us sang and half of us street-contacted, and occasionally one of us would stand on a milk crate and preach for a minute or so. It was a great way to attract attention, and I actually ended up getting a couple of baptisms from it.
    We would sometimes sing in apartment buildings. We’d go out in groups of 4 or 6 and each one of us would take a door on a floor of an apartment house, we’d knock, introduce ourselves, sing, and then talk to the residents. Great way to bring in the spirit, and the acoustics were fantastic. And we got let in a lot more that way.
    We usually had three parts (sometimes two and sometimes four). The majority of the time we actually sounded pretty good. We even made grown German men cry (in a good way).
    I do wish that I would have used the ward list more, and tracked down more less-actives, especially in my first area where, except for our street preaches, all we did was knock doors.

  5. In one area I was in, I found a stockpile of Joy to the World DVDs and Bibles that the previous missionaries had dutifully collected and then never passed out. Seeing how it was the Christmas season and we were in the Bible Belt, we recruited the local university ward and went around all the neighborhoods caroling. At each door that opened up, we’d give them a gift (the DVD or a Bible) and invite them to church and introduce ourselves.

    In same said mission, we heard a story of some missionaries whose area got hit by a tornado. They loaded up all their food into a red wagon and walked around town all day passing out their food to people who needed it. Many years later, random non-member people would still pick up bewildered and confused missionaries and take them out to dinner to “pay back” their debt to the missionaries. I’m not sure if it was creativity or charity, but kudos to the missionaries who figured a guy whose house got knocked down by a tornado probably isn’t looking for the standard door approach. :p

  6. tim–let me guess, you were in frankfurt? :-) we still did street preaches when i was there, but i heard they’ve phased them out. we also did a little bit of “power knocking” with singing, but i never found it to be effectual.
    when i was out, we focused a lot on what we called “ballard contacting” where we’d just try to always talk to everyone–at the store, on the bus, in line to get a currywurst, etc. technically, it’s what we were supposed to be doing, but it was much harder for me for some reason than knocking doors (didn’t do too much of that) or street contacting (did a lot of that).
    now i want a currywurst something fierce…

  7. Very interesting! We had a recent returnee bear his testimony today and he said that as a Missionary bringing new investigators to church he always hoped to see at least 3 families introduce themselves to the investigator and 2 families invite the investigator to dinner. That is the example of a lover of Christ, and that love of Christ is what keeps investigators, new converts, and old members coming back to church. Without it we have nothing. Nice thought, huh!

  8. We made little Christmas notes that also invited them to services and passed them to people on the street.

    What I would do differently? I’d get my Spanish right! :)

    (I’d love an extension of this discussion about how members can be more creative w/ missionary work — since we have been reminded as of late that it’s really our job to find and the missionaries’ job to teach.)

  9. Introducing ourselves to a couple in Brazil, we were asked the name of the God of this world. On a hunch (and figuring it was true in various ways) I answered “Jehovah.” Ding ding ding! It turned out that this couple had been studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses for 2 years, but hadn’t yet been baptized therein. I was transferred before their LDS baptism, but man, that was an awesome couple.

    Several of us elders did an amazing play based on “From Cumorah’s Hill.” I don’t think anyone was baptized directly because of seeing this play, but it sure energized the members wherever we performed. Once while waiting for our venue/rehearsal site to open in Santa Cruz do Sul, we sang hymns of the restoration across the street inside the second-largest neogothic cathedral in South America (the cleaning lady said it would be okay). As people entered the nave and heard our tight four part harmony, their jaws just dropped. Eventually a priest kicked us out, but it was amazing while it lasted.

  10. Mark’s “You Make The Call” post reminds me of another situation that required creativity. A woman and her teenage daughter had signed up to feed us lunch. Unfortunately, they were at the time living in a “motel,” which in Brazil only has one generally accepted use, and it ain’t lunch. After we’d brought up our concerns regarding the appearance of evil, we did go up to their unit, but only to help take everything out for a picnic lunch at the beautiful Parque Marinha do Brasil across the street.

  11. Antonio Parr says:

    Even with the best creative missionary work, it is still absolutely imperative that Wards commit to high quality Sacrament Meetings. For most new investigators, the concept of “Church” does not mean the kind of wholesale change of identity associated with converting to Mormonism, but, rather, a weekly worship service. If our services are lacking, then we are unlikely to ever see these investigators again.

    Hence this minor threadjack about talks about talks, which appears to have become a liturgical norm:

    “I have been asked to speak on Elder so-and-so’s most recent conference address. Elder so-and-so said ” . . . “, and then he said ” . . . ” “Of course, who better to convey Elder so-and-so’s talk than Elder so-and-so in his own words, which I will read to you now . . . ” “I know that Elder so-and-so is a prophet, seer and revelator, and that his talk is true”.

    This type of approach — which is not so much satirical as it is a sad reflection of what appears to be an established practice in the Church — will not impress your typical investigator, no matter how creative the preceding efforts to get the investigators to come and visit us. The talks-about-talks approach is even more infortunate when one considers the extraordinary human resources that the Church is squandering by having people people talk about the experiences of others’ instead of their own. Latter-Day Saints are amazing, with wisdom born of a lifetime of service. Let them speak from this experience, and I am willing to bet that the creative missionary methods set forth above will bear real fruit.

  12. Peter LLC says:

    it is still absolutely imperative that Wards commit to high quality Sacrament Meetings

    Preach My Gospel lists “plan spiritually uplifting sacrament meetings” as one of the suggestions to consider in developing a ward mission plan.

  13. I have a flier that I created on my mission that’s simply labeled “our family mission plan.” It’s pretty much just some ideas about how to share the gospel and some inspiring quotes then a bunch of blank lines for the family to fill in the names of nonmembers in their lives and then write down some goals about how to fulfill those goals (whether related to the people they know or not). After filling it out, I make a couple photocopies and give one to the ward mission leader and then another one to the full-time missionaries so that they can hold us to our goals.

  14. In inner-city Baltimore, my trainer and I tried to think of what the Relief Society would do for our investigators if we were in a more established ward. So, one prep day, we made a dozen loaves of bread and took them around to all of our investigators.

    We never saw a single one of them again.

    My next companion had been a Utah High School All-Start basketball player. When we’d come across a pack of little kids playing ball with a bottomless milk crate, we’d stop, make a big show of tucking in our ties and then challenging the entire crowd to a game. The kids would always win, 11 to 10, and the next day we could go back to the neighborhood and teach 15 discussions easy.

    I also did the hospital service – at the time it was because Johns Hopkins was air conditioned and Baltimore in August is not. I had some of the best experiences of my mission there.

    Overall, I baptized a lot more people by helping them move than by knocking on doors. I’d worked on a furniture delivery crew before my mission, and if there’s anything I can do, it’s load a truck.

    My best creative moment was putting together a group of 10 tuba players and doing four-part harmony Christmas carols in the DC Temple Visitors Center. Don’t know if there were any baptisms as a result, but the place was packed, the windows rattled, and it seemed like a unique thing to do.

  15. Creativity is wonderful in missionary work — usually. My mission president authorized a senior missionary to commandeer our time to star in her production of My Turn on Earth, as translated (poorly) into spanish by this senior missionary. We performed for an audience of LDS teens, with the idea that they would then star in their own production for their friends. I’m absolutely certain we provided them with ample reasons to not want to remain active, let alone produce their own version of the musical for their friends.

  16. GatorAdeMomma says:

    I think the new HIPPA regulations would not give missionaries access to patient data bases by religion. I don’t know for sure, but patient information is highly guarded.

    We had missionaries who invited us to pray and ask for opportunities to have “gospel” centered conversations with people rather than “do your missionary work.” It is amazing how praying to just have a conversations with people around their and our beliefs works better and doesn’t seem to inhibit us as much.

  17. esodhiambo says:

    Kevin–I love the image of the discussion in the window but must admit that I would not like to be the investigator in the window!

    I love reading people’s ideas on this–it makes me feel that my mission was entirely uncreative.

  18. Antonio Parr says:


    re: 14:

    You should have tried crabcakes and Saltines, instead of the loaves of bread. They may not have joined the Church, but they would have called you ‘hon.

  19. If I had been able to afford crab, it might have been an option. You can buy crabs by the bushel with food stamps, but they are a little too pricey to get on missionary funds.

    Had it not been for Sister Salvania and her cheap Chinese food stall in the Lexington Market, untold missionaries would have starved. Her beef and broccoli was the only vegetables many elders got.

  20. Ah, Lexington Market. On the Light Rail stop to Camden Yards from our home in Lutherville. You’re making me miss Baltimore.

  21. @Antonio-

    Re-Talks about talks.

    Do you know where this came from? I don’t remember it say, 10 years ago, but then it started and proliferated. Did the suggestion come from on high?

  22. I tried the hymn-caroling idea, and boy, that was a major fail in the suburbs of Paris. I’m a fan of creativity, though, as long as it is honest in its intent and isn’t an excuse to waste time.

  23. LOL, amen Rachel.

  24. Whilst I engaged with the local communities during my mission and attempted to use my own talents (sporting) and some of my companions musical talents to good use. However what I see now is missionaries who have a set agenda and are stifled creatively. I am constantly being told by the Mission President that we have never had better trained, more obedient, highly skilled missionaries. Unfortunately my experiences with them show no creativity, a dullness that feigns enthusiasm and the saying “We are so excited….” to be words only.

    I love it when once in a while we get a creative missionary in our ward who harnesses their talents to enthuse members and the community into some action. I wish there was more of them!!

  25. Antonio Parr says:

    21: Katie

    The talks about talks is relatively new — in my Ward, it is about 4 years old (or so).

    Prior to this sad development, when I was asked to talk, it was left to me to prayerfully choose the topic. I would then immerse myself in scriptures, Ensign articles, great LDS books (especially the incomparable “Christ’s Ideals for Living” by O.C. Tanner — this book provides a blueprint for any talk or lesson — First, look to Christ’s life and teachings during His ministry; Second, look to the scriptures; Third, look to teachings of Church leaders; Fourth, look to the great lives and wisdom literature outside of the Church; Fifth, look to one’s own life and experiences.) When people were left to their own spiritual devices to select and then prepare for a talk, more often then not the listener was blessed with a talk that inspired. (I know that I heard many such talks before I joined the Church, and I marveled at the ability of “common” Church members to give such beautiful sermons.)

    Assignments to talks about talks, on the other hand, stifles the speaker, and correalates the thoughts and feelings to the point that the talk is often lifeless. If Church members are no longer going to be entrusted with their own inspiration when giving a talk, I would rather that the Ward just pull up a television set during Sacrament Meeting and let us watch a DVD of the chosen General Conference address.

    (I really do think that the “talks about talks” method is hurting our missionary program. It is very difficult to invite a friend to a Sacrament Meeting if you know that the presentation is going to be the less-than-impressive process of talking about someone elses talk. This degree of control over the expression of spiritual thoughts and feelings could seem to visitors unfamiliar with the full beauty of the Church to be the opposite of the inspired adage to “teach correct principals and let them govern themselves”.)

    Caveat: The “talks on talks” model may have some value to newly baptized members or to youth. However, for 90% of any given Ward, it is a method that robs us of the opportunity to learn from the wisdom and inspiration of fellow brothers and sisters who carry with them the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

  26. Antonio Parr says:

    Caveat No. 2: Nothing in my prior post should be construed as a criticism of General Conference addresses. I love General Conference, and marvel at the spirit and prophetic wisdom that is always present during those remarkable 2 days in April and in October.

  27. Display boards in the summer at busy spots in Copenhagen. Nobody is home in the summer anyway, so tracting was a waste of time. They were all at the beach, probably topless. If we had really been creative, we would have gone to the beach…