A reader’s question

A number of units in my stake are having issues with a mission president who insists that baptism is needful for all. The statement “they are better off baptised than not!” has been heard by my own ears on two occasions by our soon to be departing mission president. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there have been numerous baptisms of people with very little or no understanding of the gospel. I would appreciate any thoughts the commenters have on this matter as it seems to contradict recent addresses by the brethren and the doctrines associated with the “Articles of Faith.”


  1. Two points:

    1. I think we concern ourselves way too much with baptizing those we deem to be “unqualified”. If somebody is willing to be baptized, understands the covenants (not necessarily the Gospel), and meets the requirements of D&C 20:37, who are we to say they can’t?

    2. There are still a lot of baptisms that happen that shouldn’t.

    So, I don’t know. I would need to know more about the specifics I guess.

  2. Funny. In a way, I agree that people are better baptized than not (which is one reason I haven’t resigned.) OTOH, baptizing lots of people who are not committed to attending church and holding a calling places a greater burden on the active. I’ve heard stories of Chilean members with 80 families on a home teaching route. It’s real easy for missionaries to come in and baptize a bunch of people who won’t stick around – they don’t have to deal with the repercussions.

  3. To add, the membership in general is really, really bad about blaming the missionaries when converts go inactive. We always chalk it up to the missionaries baptizing people who weren’t ready or they didn’t have a testimony, etc., when the reality is we have failed to fellowship, friendship, nurture them with the word of God and all that jazz.

  4. Tristin says:

    I don’t think it matters. If a person doesn’t properly understand the commitments they are making at baptism, they cannot be held accountable for them. Otherwise we are doing no favors for the millions of dead that we do proxy work for every year (at least those that have not yet accepted the gospel on the other side).

    My advice: don’t worry about it. The goal is to bring people to Jesus, so let that be your focus. If it results in baptisms, great. If it doesn’t result in baptisms, keep working and praying and praise the Lord for agency once again. Let God and the mission presidents worry about who was ready or not.

  5. Mark B. says:

    I heard someone say that the retention rates are about the same, whether you work really hard at preparing people before baptism or simply have an “altar call” and baptize anyone who walks up. That being said, we had a mission president several years back whose departure was a long-awaited blessed day, and we have wards in our stake with hundreds of members baptized during his tenure, who may have come to church once but who would likely not even remember that they had any contact with us. There presence on our rolls does engender a certain humility, however, when we look at the home teaching reports. There’s no danger of our ever hitting 50%, much less 100%.

  6. Mark B. says:

    “Their” even.

  7. On my mission, I was involved with the baptism of someone who had deep and abiding mental illness issues, but often presented as relatively normal. At the time, it was thought that it didn’t hurt anything (I disagreed, but went along with it). The new member was eventually given the Aaronic priesthood. On a vacation to the south of Russia, he baptized a guy (note, the church wasn’t in southern Russia and he wasn’t authorized to baptize anyone). I’ve heard unconfirmed rumors that he was eventually given the Melchizedek priesthood. So, in general, I would err on the side of discouraging it (if we think it doesn’t matter, maybe we should act in accord).

  8. I’m with Ann on the burdens to the local leadership. I’ve had HT routes of 20+ families and have been in units of 700+ members with 40 or so attending. I’ve long since lost patience with missionaries who don’t introduce the leadership to the person being baptized until days or hours before the baptism or who baptize the mentally or emotionally incompetent, and I have often been vocal with that impatience. I’ve even accused a few missionaries of baptizing unto damnation (though, privately, I agree with Tristin that that characterization is probably unfair). I think I made one cry once.

    It’s probably due to this that I haven’t been invited to any sort of ward council or PEC for a while.

  9. Latter-day Guy says:

    I served part of my mission in Lowell MA, which was for a time the largest ward in the Church –– due in large part to missionaries baptizing hundreds of Cambodian children whose families had come to the US during and after the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. There are only a handful of Cambodian members still active in that ward. While I served there, the Cambodian-speaking missionaries spent most of their time trying to track down those who were still on the records, asking them if they wanted their names removed from the Church records.

    Simply put, this Alvin R. Dyer, baptize-at-any-cost missionary methodology does damage that takes decades and decades to undo (if it’s even possible). It is an act of supreme selfishness on the part of missionaries and mission leaders who get to feel pride in their statistics, and then leave after few years, saddling the members in those areas with their mess. I think (and I am being absolutely serious here) those involved in these kinds of unscrupulous missionary activities should be subject to Church discipline. They wreak far more havoc than any number of shirtless RM calendars, or books about praying to God the Mother.

  10. I think the question is: “Is somebody better off baptized than not?” As I see it, a convert who is showing a distinct lack of understanding of basic gospel principles that reflect the qualifications one needs to be baptised is under the same covenant once baptised as everyone else. They have showed the willingness to take upon the Christ’s name and to serve him. It is not fair on the convert to push them into the font without them having the basic understanding and under the pretense of the MP who states “Everyone needs baptism!”

    I have heard a Mission President refer to the leaders of wards who question the readiness and understanding of a new convert as “unfaithful bishops”. Apparently they “haven’t bought into the program”. I think this is hugely disrepectful and allows some missionaries to show a lack of disregard for ward members and increase the seemingly eternal gap between members and missionaries. Often different agendas are present.

  11. DoctrinallySpeaking says:

    We do not preach and teach in order to “bring people into the Church” or to increase the membership of the Church. We do not preach and teach just to persuade people to live better lives. We honor and appreciate the many ministers and others who are involved in the kind of ministry that makes bad men good and good men better. That is important, but we offer something more. One can qualify for the terrestrial kingdom instead of the telestial kingdom without the aid of this Church. We are concerned with a higher destination.
    The purpose of our missionary work is to help the children of God fulfill a condition prescribed by our Savior and Redeemer. We preach and teach in order to baptize the children of God so that they can be saved in the celestial kingdom instead of being limited to a lesser kingdom. We do missionary work in order to baptize and confirm. That is the doctrinal basis of missionary work.

    The doctrinal basis of missionary work is the word of God, revealed in every age, that man cannot be saved in the celestial kingdom without the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that the only way to lay claim to the merits of that Atonement is to follow the command of its author: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you” (Acts 2:38). We are called to assist in this great effort.

    Dallin H. Oaks, address given at a seminar for new mission presidents on June 23, 1992

  12. I personally think that one way to help solve the problem with lack of a long view on retention is to call local mission presidents to local areas.

    My mission had all the typical problems of high baptizing missions until a local guy who actually lived in the mission was called. He stopped the nonsense cause he knew he would have to go back to his home ward and deal with the problems he helped create or live with good results. He chose good results

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with no. 9, largely because I had experience with doing exactly that. My mission was based on the Dyer philosophy, and it was basically a war zone: mission v. stakes and wards. I remember once we baptized a woman who was living with a man. We checked with the MP, and he concluded that under Colorado law they were in a common law marriage. The locals didn’t see it that way, and there was almost a riot. The mission had to pull us both out of that area immediately.

    Our mission culture was very macho, very cowboy. It was considered cool to baptize someone at midnight in the apartment complex pool. Stuff like that. That’s how I was socialized as a missionary, before I came back as a regular member and began to perceive the harm such an approach does to the local churches where these practices prevail.

    Frankly, I blame the Church itself. Any idiot can see that you can’t reward or punish MPs based simply on baptism statistics, but they continue to do exactly that. That is a manipulable statistic, and so it gets manipulated–to the ultimate harm of the organization.. As a result, I’ve become very cynical about HTing hard core inactives, the kind who were baptized 20 years ago without ever even attending Church and in no sense self identify as Mormon, and I just won’t do it. The Church created this mess with their ill conceived policies, and I for one am not going to clean up their mess.

  14. I wrote several comments in this space but couldn’t manage to draft one that was not drenched in cynicism.

  15. Hunter says:

    I’m usually on the side of putting on a few brakes before dunking folks. But I have to admit that it’s a difficult issue. I’m thinking of my wonderfully bright, eager 8-year-old daughter who got baptized over the weekend. It was a spirit-filled baptismal service and she was rearing to go, but frankly, when it comes right down to it, my little daughter has “very little” understanding of the gospel. Maybe the bar should remain somewhat low?

    Or maybe we should re-think our policy of baptizing children, I mean 8-year-olds.

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    I used to be militantly opposed to baptizing investigators who “weren’t ready,” as I’ve seen the damage this does, and the mockery it makes of the need to help investigators understand what they’re convenanting to do and the new world view and culture that they’re buying into. But it’s hard to create and implement a rule that defines “ready” in an objective fashion for every situation, so judgment calls are going to have to be made, whatever the rule. And a good percentage of judgment calls are going to be bad, under any circumstances. So I’m a little less certain than I once was that I can pinpoint exactly what the baptism rule in missions should be.

    Unfortunately, I think it’s impossible to take any religious argument from an MP on this subject at face value, for the very reason Kevin lays out. All the players in LDS missionary work are incentivized to maximize baptisms for reasons that bear little relationship to “saving souls”, and their rhetoric is going to be put into service of this end.

  17. smarta says:

    I served my mission in Brazil (99-00), and the mission president before mine had been very committed to the “better baptized than not” attitude. It led to all sorts of problems for us; I worked one district where a very charismatic and well-meaning sister had, with the help of the elders, convinced all the local school-children to join her seminary class, and then to be baptized. None of the children’s baptisms led to additional baptisms of family members, as far as we could tell. When I worked the area, of the 30+ seminary children who had been baptized, only one was even partially active. The sister was heartbroken that none of the children continued in the church, but we weren’t successful in reactivating any of the former students. The credible rumors of other baptisms were even worse (baptism to join soccer teams,etc.)

    I think the problem is often that well meaning mission presidents assume that their missionaries will behave as they should, and trust their missionaries to use common sense, but forget that the common sense they’re relying on is that of 19-22 year olds who often believe their mission president is going to be the next apostle and will do nearly anything to impress him.

    It also seemed that focus on mission metrics as measures of worthiness had something to do with it as well, but I realize that is complicated by the fact that many of the best, most inspired elders and sisters in my mission did post the best numbers.

  18. One problem with missionay work is structural. It is that the organizational chart has bishops responsible for missionary work in the units, and mission presidents passing messages, not orders, through stake presidents or missionaries. Both routes result in messages that barely get to the bishops and members of the ward. This means that there is typically very little communication between the person responsible for ward efforts and the person responsible for missionaries. Anybody who is married knows that poor communication leads to poor cooperation.

    A partial solution might be for the mission president to attend or send mission presidency counselors to stake leadership meetings regularly or to shorten/alternate the “Bishop’s Welfare council” and create a “Bishop’s missionary council” where mission presidents and bishops could talk.

    A second structural problem is that we give the job of deciding who gets baptised on what date to a 19 or 20 year old that often has 1) a limited understanding of the culture he is working in (i.e., not allowed to read about the culture or talk much about non-religious things), 2) a limited ability to communicate in the language, 3) a limited amount of experience with mental illness, and 4) a very limited understanding of women, or even adults. Finally, 5) the missionary is often under intense pressure to produce results for several different high-stakes reasons. Perhaps this could be improved on by better training or more formal involvement of the local bishop.

    Overall, though, this issue is less important to me now than it used to be. I don’t care if the church is full of mentally ill people or if we end up spending lots of effort on unsolvable and tragic situations. The sum of human needs is incalculably large and and exceeds our abilities by an infinite amount. Fortunately, our best efforts are also somehow very important.

  19. Matt W. says:

    bbell: I don’t know that it is a local/non-local issue so much as trying to move up the LDS corporate ladder/try to do a good job issue.

    Kevin: I am the Church, If I don’t clean up the mess, no one else will. I am cleaning it up one letter of name removal at a time. And every time I get one, I rub the dog’s nose in it.

    OP: The church does have a control for this, in the the Bishop is in charge of the confirmation. If he deems a person unworthy of confirmation, it doesn’t matter if the missionaries baptised that person…

  20. CS Eric says:

    One of the rules of my mission that I was grateful for was that people had to attend church at least twice before they could be baptized. I attend a lot of baptisms in our ward where the only time I have seen the person darken the chapel’s door was the day of their baptism. Wards can’t fellowship people they have never met.

  21. Aaron Brown says:

    “… but I realize that is complicated by the fact that many of the best, most inspired elders and sisters in my mission did post the best numbers.”

    In my mission, many of the best posters-of-numbers were deemed to be the most inspired elders and sisters by virtue of the fact that they were the best posters-of-numbers. So I’m not sure the “fact” you cite is a complicating one, or if it just confirms the basic problem.

  22. I like the suggestion of coordinating the mission president’s plan down to the ward better – seems that this is where the wheels often fall off of the bus.

    there will always be voices on either side of this ‘debate’, but if the convert’s motives are pure, if the missionaries have received confirmation that this individual should be baptized, and that all parties have made a good faith effort at involving local members in the process, I say who are we to judge the issue? welcome them with open arms into Christ’s flock – that’s sort of the whole idea, no?

    As a follow up to the OP, I’d be curious to see everyone’s thoughts as to what are the primary drivers of a new convert falling away into inactivity. Perhaps some focus on those items would strike more at the heart of the issue. Doctrinal issues? LDS culture adjustments? No friends? etc…

  23. StillConfused says:

    My son’s baptism was a traumatic experience because the other person being baptized was a down syndrome girl who had no clue what was going on and screamed bloody murder the whole time. It was so traumatic that I actually went out in the hall until the ordeal with her was over. No one can tell me that that girl was able to appreciate what was being done.

  24. Craig M. says:

    When I was a missionary I tried my best to ensure that everyone I taught who was baptized was ready, but some of them unfortunately aren’t active right now. No matter how well prepared someone is, they might still fall away.

    On my mission in South America in the early 2000’s, we frequently complained about having to clean up the “mess” that was left for us from the 90’s (it seems every generation of missionaries always does this). But as time passed I came to notice that along with the multitudes of inactives brought to the church at that time, the “golden” families who were the leaders of the church (and the parents of the next generation of leaders) were also brought in during that period. Perhaps the costs of casting a wide net are balanced by its benefits.

    For the record, my mission (don’t know if it was mission or area rule) required two weeks church attendance for families (father and mother, plus kids if any), four weeks for any adult being baptized solo, and eight (or was it 12?) weeks for anyone under 18, along with a meeting between the bishop/branch president and their parent. That all seems very reasonable to me.

  25. I would associate myself with #9 and #13 (but I’m a KB fanboy and would almost always associate myself there anyhow). We had a horrid MP here some years back when I was a WM who was all about the numbers using phrases like “You should never blame your lack of success on someone else’s free agency.” I was involved with the baptism of someone who was drunk for her MP interview (by her own admission) and was cleared to be baptised two weeks later, so long as she married the guy she was living with (which happened immediately before her baptism service), and who, two days prior to the interview, had been trying to find a DV shelter who would help her get out of his house so she could be baptised (none would — he was too dangerous). I was assigned to be the HT, and, within three months (during which she attended Church about twice) she was offended that the Bishop wanted them to be doing things if they wished to continue receiving help from him, so she stomped off mad and never came back.

    We had more than 30 adult convert baptisms in our ward that year, and it was a colossal mess. Should that MP be called to be a GA, I will not be alone in raising my hand in opposition.

    I would be ready to go hammer-and-tongs with the MP and every missionary that comes to your ward if need be. I don’t care how mad they got, and I would be as rude as necessary to get the point across. Don’t poo all over my ward and expect me to pretend you’re sending flowers, or that you give a flying fudgecicle about these people’s salvation. In one ward mission meeting, I shut one zealous elder down for trying to push a very luke-warm girl into baptism over the objections of her very active grandfather who knew she wasn’t ready for this. I told him that “President” did not take precedence over this grandfather’s patriarchal position with this girl, that the family was the basic unit of the Church, and neither he nor “President” had any business involving themselves in a family matter. Coulda fried an egg on his head when I was done, and I’d do it again in a heart-beat.

    Our current MP was called to clean up the messes he made, and he’s done quite a good job. He had his parents come out to help him, and they spent most of their time in our ward — wonderful people.

  26. I think a complicating factor in some areas has been that missionaries feel that the local members’ stated concerns about the readiness of converts is pretext for a concern about baptizing people who are too poor, or not the right race.

  27. A partial solution might be for the mission president to attend or send mission presidency counselors to stake leadership meetings regularly…

    I don’t know about the MP in the Illinois Peoria Mission (soon to be no more), but my MP in San Bernardino back in 2002-2004 did regularly attend Stake Council meetings. And if he couldn’t, he’d send one of his counselors to do it.

    His counselors were also regularly traveling all over the mission (well, kind of – one counselor was from the High Desert and he traveled around that area whilst the other traveled the areas immediately around San Bernardino). I don’t think I have ever seen the IPM president’s counselors.

    I remember underlining a portion of the old missionary guide before Preach My Gospel came out. In the section about the duty of missionaries, it said that missionaries are “called to bring people unto Christ”. I think this line is in PMG, as well. I know it continues on by saying “by introducing them to the Restored Gospel through the waters of baptism and through confirmation.” (Or something to that effect.) But I have always felt the focus of the missionaries should be the first part, and the focus of the local ward leaders should be the second.

    When missionaries focus on the latter and ignore the former, we have the problem of vast hoards of Mormons who have no idea what it means to be a Saint in the latter-days. The solution is communication and division of labour.

  28. 2002-2004??!

    Your arguments are invalid.

  29. Did I misread somewhere that in the early Church, there was a one year period between baptism, (one’s witnessing Christ and for the remission of sins), and being confirmed a member of the Church?

  30. Mike S says:

    Two comments:

    1) It seems much of this is driven by people striving to higher positions in the Mormon hierarchy, or trying to impress someone above them. That is just sad.

    2) Over 99.8% of the world’s people are never going to be baptized LDS in mortality anyway. Either they are doomed eternally, or else there is some mechanism which makes it possible to never be LDS yet still attain the Celestial kingdom. Since I believe there is some such mechanism, baptizing someone into the LDS Church should primarily be seen as strengthening the Church as opposed to some eternal principle, as that will all be sorted out anyway. If the current policies are leaving units in disarray for the sake of baptismal numbers, we should step back and refocus.

  31. wondering says:

    Seems to me that all the “problems” caused by baptizing people who aren’t “ready” aren’t really caused by the baptizing per se, but rather by the idea that every one of those people needs to be actively fellowshipped.

    So one solution would be to baptize fewer people. But another (possibley better?) solution would be to stop insisting that everyone who has ever been baptized should have a home teacher, a visiting teacher, etc. Having 80 people on a home teaching route is obviously an unrealistic and silly way to run a home teaching program.

    I say we should move towards a more realistic model of utilizing scarce member resources, and stop the counterproductive practice of making people feel guilty that they haven’t visited dozens of people who never come to church and don’t really want to see them. Also stop using everybody who has ever been baptized in the denominator for calculating home teaching performance. All this would still be worth doing whether or not we also tightened up the requirements for baptism.

  32. There certainly is a disconnect between the stated ideals in “Preach My Gospel” and what happens when the rubber hits the road in too many places.

    As to the actual post, here’s what I would do about it if I were a Bishop:

    1) Talk with my Stake President. Explain my concern. Be ready to be asked about fellowshipping, but be ready to provide solid reasons for my concerns.

    2) Have a copy of “Preach My Gospel” with me when I talk about it, with relevant passages highlighted. It’s crystal clear what the written order of things is in regard to this issue, so I would approach it as an issue of following the Brethren. It’s hard for a Stake President to argue with that approach.

    3) Interview each and every new convert with the intent of determining if they are ready to be confirmed, as was mentioned by someone else. There really is a check-and-balance system in place in the Church, and it ought to be used as constructed. (What’s the worst that could happen? I might get released. Not exactly a terrible punishment for a Bishop – at least not a sane one.)

    4) Don’t go into any of this looking for a fight of any kind.

    5) Be willing to write a letter to SLC HQ, if necessary, saying you are willing to follow your Priesthood leaders and not make a public fight of this but that you simply want to share your concerns so everyone will understand the issues you are facing.

    I have seen major changes in areas made because the word got up the ladder that things weren’t being done as intended. My guess is that if this really is a serious problem, like the baseball baptisms in Japan a few years before my mission there, there will be multiple people feeling like you do – but that won’t be known up the line unless those people are willing to address it – and doing so meekly and humbly and non-agressively goes a long way toward a solution.

  33. Our ward includes portions of an inner city, and we have a huge number of less actives. Our stake has instructed each hometeaching companionship to have just four families to hometeach. That means maybe 60 get hometaught and somewhere around 160 do not.
    Of course, the ward is still responsible for contacting everyone once a year who is not regularly hometaught.

    I see two main reasons why so many people are baptized who are not ready. First, members don’t talk about the gospel enough with their friends (or they don’t have many friends who are nonmembers); I see this with myself, and need to socialize more and talk about the gospel more with my friends. Those connections, after all, are where some of the best converts come from. The second problem is that the missionaries, with free time during the day and also the evening (because they’re not teaching member referrals), tract–and they usually don’t tract around where the active members live. In my experience, they go tract the slums, the immigrant areas where people don’t speak the language that the ward members speak, etc. And so they end up baptizing people that are difficult to integrate into the ward, people that don’t have a way to get to church, etc.
    Personally, I think young single adult wards and branches should get half the missionaries, at least in the US. Most of the converts I know that have remained strong active members were baptized before they turned 30.

  34. Having said that, I know of too many cases where people really were ready to to baptized – but the local leadership didn’t want anyone who didn’t have a miraculous conversion story or an undeniable burning in the bosom experience. They only wanted people baptized if they were convinced that person has almost no chance of becoming inactive. In some cases, they wanted temple-qualified converts at the time of baptism. That kills missionary work every bit as fast as lax baptism rules kill local units.

  35. This is a topic that was the bane of our family’s existence for 3 long years. We moved to an area where we were in a branch that had 60 baptisms in a year. There was no way that the little branch could fellowship all of those new converts. As it was DH and I were YM and YW presidents with approx 20 youth that were the only members in their families. Many of those youth have since fallen away (surprise). Their parents thought it was great for them to go to church, just as long as it didn’t get in the way of their boyfriend/girlfriend of the week and drinking binges.

    Is it just me or did everyone else make a two-way covenant when they were baptized? It isn’t just about getting people into the kingdom, it’s about ensuring their success. When a person is baptized they agree to represent Christ, to keep the commandments, to always remember him. I’d hate for a person to be judged for a covenant that I pressured upon them. I think there may be a few proud missionaries out there with something to answer for come judgement day.

    It was mostly about numbers to the missionaries and the mission president. Just as an example – there were 5 sets of elders in our branch where the harvest was big and none in a ward to the south of us. I could go on and on but I’ll just say that I agree with #9 (except that part about disciplinary action), and #18.

    As to HT stats being horrid because of this – who cares? This is about helping and saving individual souls, not numbers.

  36. Mike S says:

    I’ve never cared about HT stats. They’re all contrived anyway.

  37. 34 — Which is odd, because, afaik, local leaders have no say in whether anyone older than 8 is baptized. That’s entirely a matter for the mission.

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    Just thinking out loud here, but what if the Church stopped incentivizing based on baptism numbers, but on something else, say live endowments. Then the motivation would not be to ram any warm body into the water, but to provide encouragement and support to new members for a full year after baptism toward the stated goal. You couldn’t get whatever brownie points MPs and missionaries strive for unless you held their hand all the way to the temple. That would solve our retention problem, I imagine.

  39. I agree with #9.
    What is the quote I heard about mission presidents?, I think it was something like-

    “We need more doctors and less salesmen”

  40. Kristine says:

    It seems to me that we suffer from a lack of clarity about what baptism is–is it like a sacrament, efficacious in the mere performance of it? Or is it a covenant that _becomes_ efficacious as its terms are fulfilled?

    Of course it’s both, but the missionary department operate under one interpretation, and quorum presidents and bishops under the other. No wonder they end up at odds.

  41. Living in zion says:

    I think #38 is on to something. I also think #24 makes perfect sense. Asking people to make the commitment of baptism without them making the commitment to participate in church seems silly.
    I don’t get too riled up about any missionary work. I subscribe to the thought of , ” If we don’t get you in this life, we’ll get you in the next, so no worries.”
    And for all you Debbie-Downers who start squealing about how awful it is to spend part of eternity waiting your turn for a proxy baptism to be done for you, I say calm down and assume Joseph Smith was right when he asserted anyone who has been to the other side would never want to come back to earth. It can’t be too awful to hang out in an eternal waiting room. I bet the magazines are pretty good.
    I am a fan of making yearly contact with the obviously clueless baptized members to ask if they are ready to have their names taken off the lists. We’ll rebaptize them in the next life, when they are mentally able to make the commitment.

    “It will all work out in the end.” – Pres. Gordan B. Hinckley

  42. Steve Evans – is this ageism I sense?

    Just thinking out loud here, but what if the Church stopped incentivizing based on baptism numbers, but on something else, say live endowments.

    This is very similar to the wisdom from Max Jensen (my first MP). He told us, “If you can’t picture your investigator wearing white in the Temple, then don’t bother picturing them wearing white in the baptismal font.”

  43. #38: Kevin: I would hate to see Baseball endowments. I already think the Church pushes too many Temple endowments on the unprepared now__I can only see this making that worse(?)
    Numbers are the alchemy of our age. Numbers can turn things into gold that should stay lead.

  44. Steve Evans says:

    It’s not ageism when you are a mere pup, Alex.

  45. One may ask how the church is addressing this. I think that here, in France, we have been requested by the previous area presidency to set the following priorities on our hometeaching: 1) new converts, 2) partially active members, 3) inactive members, 4) active members. One admin thing is whether policies of previous area presidencies are still valid or should just be slowly forgotten about. In this case, the stake president asked and was told yes, still valid. I think in terms of today’s discussion, our help with new member retention is the top thing we are supposed to do. Our bishop did not take active members off of the routes, because he feels that the active members are much more fragile that the area presidency seems to feel is the case on average, area-wide. Overall this policy seems to be directly addressing what we are talking about today. I have had remarkable and very meaningful experiences visiting and serving people in category 1 and 2 and 3 in the past few years. I think these experiences are more valuable than I would have ever thought when I was younger. That is why I have come to peace with the system, as there is treasure in each person and huge spiritual, emotional, or financial need almost everywhere you look.

  46. Steve Evans says:

    Tout a fait, Paul.

  47. Kevin, I really like your points in #13 and your suggestion in #38. Certainly as Bob points out, this could lead to a culture that pushes unready people to get endowed. Really it would be best if we could give up on our desire to measure and count everything and reward and punish based on the numbers. But that’s not likely to happen.

    Another issue with counting people endowed rather than baptized is that it would ruin the ability of missionaries to guilt each other for not accomplishing enough. The outcome would be so far removed that you’d have to wait at least half a mission to see it. I would see this as a good thing, but it would go against how missionary work is largely focused now, I think.

    I guess really if we were to count things, it would be something like people exalted, but since we can’t know that now, we’re stuck using all kind of proxies to guess at it. I wonder if in the end our proxy measurements aren’t worse than no measurements at all.

  48. The older I get the more I really hope and pray I am never in a position to make decisions in this church locally or otherwise.

    What about after the fact when the average ward has several 100 inactive members on the roles. Okay to clean house or keep plugging away awaiting the spiritual awakening. My ward is in a really small town and the core members remember all these people form years back so they keep trying even though they haven’t been seen for decades. Then again we all know someone who has come back from years away who would had been lost if “cut off”.

  49. seattle_boy says:

    Here in Seattle we have solved this problem by not baptizing anyone. My stake (Seattle North) has very few baptisms per year.

    I guess that’s another type of problem, though.

  50. Aaron R. says:

    Ray & Matt W. (#19) I want to make a quick comment on the idea that a Bishop can choose not to confirm someone. Though this is possible it seems to me that you are enacting this difference of opinion in the life of someone who (if not ready now) you hope to bring to a point of being prepared. I can imagine the hurt of a new member who has been baptised and promised the HG only to be told that this is not happening.

    This can only happen if the Bishop makes this clear to the Missionaries before baptism even comes up. Even then I sense that this type of response will quickly loose the support of the Missionaries and create a negative working atmosphere.

  51. My understanding of the bishop/branch president’s prerogative is that they need a very good concrete reason to deny baptism. A ‘I don’t think they’re ready’ won’t fly.

    The way I saw the hierarchy work here- the bishops/branch presidents complained to the stake president. The entire stake presidency had a mtg with the mission president. MP continued to dunk em’ as fast as he could fill the font. Relief came with a new MP. Another great benefit of the calling methods in our church, this too shall pass.

  52. Aaron R. says:

    But this is part of the problem. I certainly don’t think that Bishops should be in-charge but I think they should be listened to. Local missionaries should be encouraged to discuss with local leaders and get their approval before proceeding.

  53. The fundamental problem seems to be in mission presidents who view the numbers of baptisms as a means to advancement in the Church hierarchy.

  54. Aaron R. says:

    John, my experience of MP is limited but I find it hard to believe that a) they would believe that and b) that they would want to achieve higher positions? Am I naive?

  55. I don’t know either.

  56. Aaron R. says:

    After I wrote that, I thought I had opened myself up for that comment. Ask a stupid question…

  57. I see two problems:
    1) The Church has 50,000 missionaries in the field and wants something to show for it. Therefore it pushes it MPs for numbers.
    2) If there is a hierachy issue, it’s using the missionary program as a Rite of Passage for young men’s to gain standing in the Church(?)

  58. Aaron R. says:

    Bob, I am not convinced that they push for numbers on that logic. If the Church really believes that serving a mission increases activity over a life-time then they have their reward. Plus, many missionaries pay for themselves (or their wards do) so it is not really costing the Church as much as it might.

    Further I don’t the Missionary program as providing that rite of passage. Perhaps my perspective is skewed being from the UK, but most Bishops I know have not been on Missions, they are mostly converts.

  59. Maybe we need to get rid of the full time mission program as it is and transfer all the responsibilities to the stake.

    Re-implement the stake mission program. Have Full Time missionaries strictly as a teaching resource with a de-emphasis on finding. Stake can then request full time resources as needed depending on the teaching needs of the stake. Full time missionaries could work across the stake instead of in a ward (depending on how busy they are) Ward mission program responsible for finding and retention.

    It seems like right now we have this program / infrastructure / and teaching resources in place, but nothing for them to do. In our mission, the MP has this idea that all his missionaries need to be teaching, so if they aren’t teaching potential converts, he has them trying to teach the general membership in the stake.

    I get what he is trying to do by implement this, but all it amounts to is a bunch of busy work for everyone involved, and less time for the general membership to be productive doing other things.

    Sure, I leave a little wiggle room for the thought that this may all be a result of revelation on how the church needs to run the program, but the “fruits” just aren’t there in general. It’s such an ineffecient use of resources and time. And the focus on statistics is more than enough proof that not a lot of inspiration / revelation is guiding this mission program ship.

    But nothing will change…

  60. jasminder says:

    14 – I don’t know if you were trying to make me laugh out loud, but you did.

    One thing I did learn from my mission – and I learnt it from a less active was that we spend far too much time ‘making sawdust’. She (the less active/inactive/lapsed/apostate/whatever) said that’s all the church does, I disagree I know too many people who have had their lives improved by the gospel, but I also think that’s where our focus should lie: making lives better. Everybody should have the opportunity to come to Christ, that’s not the same as selling baptism as a panacea to life’s problems. Oh, my mother and my wife’s parents were baseball baptisms in the 60s, all went less active, all came back later in life – how’s that for a swerveball (pardon the pun).

  61. Kristine says:

    Why not grant the living as much agency as the dead? Teach them the gospel, perform the ordinance, and let them decide how active to be? If somebody hasn’t shown up to church for a couple of years, and nobody knows them well enough to make a friendly visit instead of an assigned hometeaching visit, take them off of the ward’s records until they decide to show up again, at which time the record can be requested from SLC.

  62. Aaron R. says:

    jm, I see what you are getting at but I think the number of people converted would be lowered, esp. in the UK. I see real value in having a semi-autonomous missionary force that is directed by a MP and who uses internal structures to motivate Missionaries. I think focussing on the Stake would actually diminish effectiveness. The focus on motivation and direction should be under the MP but Bishops (keep it v. local) and Missionaries should decide together who is prepared for baptism. Just requiring this mutual consent would improve ward/missionary relations and ensure that Bishops and local members don’t get frustrated by these points of disconnect.

  63. Kristine, it is quite possible that the home teachers in the spirit world are equally annoying to the backslider.

  64. Fletcher says:

    Kristine (61),

    That is an interesting idea. Logistically, it makes the life of local leaders less hectic, but at the same time, raises doctrinal questions regarding our role as being our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Some might find it a blessed relief to take those less active on the rolls and toss them into a Church Headquarters bin of less active, and not have to worry about keeping contact with them.

    The first part of your post leads to another question, for which I am not sure if there is an answer: Can a spirit in the Spirit World sin?

    A live body has the same agency as a spirit; to accept the ordinance and covenant of baptism. However, the live body is still capable of breaking the covenant in the flesh (choosing a less-active lifestyle), while it is unclear as to whether or not the spirit can do that as well, in the spirit. The distinction of the timing is crucial, since the spirit who receives the gospel and covenant vicariously has washed the earthly sins away. However, the person in the flesh who received the covenant and then walked away from it (assuming the person dies without repentance) will not receive the same grace as the spirit.

  65. Super timely. My girlfriend and I are taking the discussions- with the clear understanding that we’re not going to convert. Of the two, one of our missionaries just finished his mission and we met the replacement yesterday.
    Blech. Terribly tone deaf, antagonistic and literally, every two minutes interjects, “so why don’t you just get baptized.”
    It does make us really appreciate the other Elder though. Nice, heartfelt kid that I have to believe is doing more longterm good for the church just with his sincerity and ability to have a dialog.

  66. If somebody hasn’t shown up to church for a couple of years, and nobody knows them well enough to make a friendly visit instead of an assigned hometeaching visit, take them off of the ward’s records until they decide to show up again, at which time the record can be requested from SLC.

    The problem with sending records to Salt Lake is they almost always inevitably come back. We have this happen on a very regular basis in my ward. People vanish, nobody knows them, we ship the records off, and few months later they come right back to us. It is a never-ending cycle.

  67. #64,

    Big difference between being your brothers keeper and being his stalker.

    Personally, I subscribe to the idea that “Watch over, be with, and strengthen” is describing a hierarchy. If you can’t “Be with”, you can certainly “Watch over”. However, the home teaching program currently demands equal emphasis on all three.

    Aaron, I agree that having dual consent would help solve many problems. It doesn’t address the over-resourced program we have in place. I think we have 4 or 5 companionships in our stake at the moment and they are all struggling to find people to teach.

    Why not put that down to one or two and focus on where the need is? Having a MP who is trying to bump up his numbers doesn’t help. He wants to flood his areas with missionaries to cast a wide net, hoping for more baptisms.

    It’s sad when you see these struggling young elders with nothing to do.

    This has me thinking even more. Why even have full time elders? In our area, most of the teaching that is done is actually performed in the evenings and weekends, when people are home from school / work. A part time teaching force could handle the workload and be flexible enough to grow or shrink with demand. Food for thought.

  68. re: 66

    The only incentive to removing someone from your ward list, cleaning out the roster, or sending records to SLC is to improve your local stats.

    When leaders stop worrying about stats and start focusing on the people they represent, it won’t matter where the record is.

    We need the collective local leadership of the church to stop worrying about stats. I mean, really, if your file leader in SLC is hounding you about your stats and you ignore him, what’s the worst that can happen? You get released. Big deal! You’ll get released one day anyway. Stand up to those bullies in SLC and ignore the stats. You’ll do your quorum / ward / stake a favor.

  69. Michael says:


    I’m all for the Bishop laying down the ground rules. I was in inner city Baltimore for my first area. The ward there had thousands on the roles, and about 75 that came to church.

    The Bishop came to a district meeting and told us that he would reject the baptism if we weren’t either baptizing an entire family or people from a part-member family. He had a mentally ill, in recovery, man who had been baptized by an overzealous zone leader at 10:30 PM on December 31st. He claimed he’d been to a Sacrament meeting years before, so the ZL decided that was sufficient to teach him six discussions in one day and fill the font that night. Well, no more. We were informed that we had no business tracting – he would prefer that we stay in the apartment rather than knock on the doors of somebody who had a night job (best case) or no job at all (usual case).

    The zone leaders complained all the way home, how this Bishop was overstepping his bounds and had no business telling missionaries what to do. One went as far as to claim that since missionaries are called “Elder” and apostles are called “Elder”, we outranked him. I pointed out that the Bishop had been in that ward for decades, and that missionaries might get 6 months in an area, and every time we complained how the members weren’t supporting the missionary efforts, it was because they too had learned that missionaries were just making the problems worse.

    It was then that I decided I didn’t want to baptize anybody. That should be the job of somebody who lives there, who will take a vested interest in the long-term fate of that person. I was happy to do confirmations, but I only got into the font if the person specifically requested that I do it. Otherwise, have the Bishop or a friend of the person do the ordinance.

    If missionaries are trying to make the ward “stronger” instead of “bigger”, they will be a lot more accepted.

  70. In my ward, convert baptisms are pretty much in the tank. The missionaries are struggling to find people to teach including leaning on the members to see what they can squeeze out of us. When they do teach, they do not get credit for teaching a discussion unless a member is present. As a ward we are supposed to have a list of fifteen families on a focus list. The list consists of families that are inactive, part member etc. We as members are supposed to contact each family on that list at least once a week if not more. Those families stay on the list until they either return to full activity, have the non-member baptised, tell us not to come back anymore or serve us with a restraining order . Even then we are supposed to maintain contact with the families.

    If I was not active, or not a member, having weekly contact like that would creep me out. I would feel smothered.

  71. When I served as a bishop, I don’t think I ever understood how the missionary program was supposed to work, and what we as a ward were supposed to be doing. Every six months, just as we felt we were getting up to speed on how to conduct missionary work in the ward, the MP would change the program. I assume that to a great extent, it is still difficult.

    However, I have seen the results when it really works, and have been involved in the teaching and fellowshipping of a number of converts that have remained active, and become stalwarts in the church, attending the temple, and all. It’s wonderful when that works. But I also can recall times that it didn’t work, which only causes anguish for all involved.

    Historically, we had a large number of Cambodian immigrant converts about 25 years ago, and probably half have vanished. However, our ward still has a core of about half a dozen families that are wonderful, kind, fully participating members, after all these years. The problem in all of this is that it is not always easy knowing up front who will fully embrace the gospel, or who won’t. No one should be pressured to be baptized, but I have a hard time about someone who requests it not being given that opportunity. A little more integrity in the process would always help, but a big portion of that responsibility also resides on the members who need to get to know the investigators and befriend them before baptism.

  72. #71 .. good insight – I agree with all of that.

    I think it is useful to look at the other side of this equation as well – the process of ‘leaving’ the church. I’ve personally been involved in situations where a member specifically requests to not be contacted, states that they don’t belong to the church, don’t remember it, aren’t interested, etc. And the PH leader inquired of the HT’s if they had ‘it in writing’. What? Seriously – when someone requests not to be contacted, why can’t we honor that simple request? Sure, by so doing, we’d lose some good stories for the Ensign, but I see much more good in boosting the morale of HT’s acting in good faith vs. a strict letter of the law – particularly when that ‘letter’ will change with each change of MP, SP, Bishop, MPL, EQP, HPGL, or any mixture thereof. Just my 2 cents.

  73. jim (68) There is another, more important, reason to clean up the records. As you said, nobody is in any leadership calling forever. Eventually someone new is going to be called. Sincere leaders want to know those over whom they have stewardship. My members of our new bishopric have been going out at least once a week to visit families in the ward they don’t know. There have been several evenings where their visits have been nothing more than finding out that people are not there and those who are don’t care. Time that could have been spent ministering to those who are there and might care.

    It isn’t just about having better stats. It is about being able to minister to those who are in need. How many families could they have visited that evening if they hadn’t spent their time driving around going to non-responsive people? That is why I advocate cleaning house.

  74. Any Bishop worth his salt will want converts in his ward. Give them the ultimate say on who should be baptized instead of two pressured 20 year old kids.

    Here in the UK the MP’s are generally held in very high esteem and to the 60’s generation a guy with an American accent was holy – this has passed on to some degree. When a MP speaks the missionaries think it is actual doctrine and some members believe it to. The pressure is on the missionaries from the district and zone leaders who in turn get it from the AP’s who in turn get it from the MP who in turn gets it from the Area President. I have seen this first hand during my time in the mission office 97-99.

  75. #53, #54 – Two points.

    1. Serving as a mission president is pretty much a pre-req for GA level calling.

    2. Missions are divided into areas and mission presidents receive the baptism statistics of the other missions in their area. Total baptisms or baptism / missionary rate is the only real metric that counts as far as comparing missions go. Add in the all too frequently found successful executive/businessman type and I think you get your answer.

  76. anon for this one says:

    Whaddaya know! We too live in a mission with a very zealous MP who is to be released in July. Heavens, I feel like I have too much to say on this one. Gonna try to keep it on topic.

    To prove that there can indeed be consequences to overly pushy missionary work, I offer a sampling of the chaos our MP has wrought upon the ward.

    -That one time the ward bent over backwards to throw a wedding for a family getting baptized… and it was the last time we ever saw them. This is pretty minor– we just don’t do weddings anymore. Marriages, yes.

    -Nearly every one of their converts needs a ride. Great- except the elders (all elders! We have no sisters, because the areas they tract are too nasty for sister missionaries. Not too nasty to ask mothers with young children to visit teach over there though, having to either do it at night or bring their kids with them during the day!) often come from the kinds of wards that are full of teenagers, and thus have several families with half-empty club wagons. In the elders’ universe, rides are no problem. In our ward’s universe, our work force is all graduate students with one tiny car that’s already full of car seats. Because our ward falls short of the universe that exists in the elders’ heads, we are thus guilty of a moral failing indicating poverty of faith and definitely an insufficient love for Jesus. They must remind us of this frequently to ensure that we have opportunity to repent. When investigators do not call for rides, but when questioned by the missionaries say that they did (because this nice white guy took an interest in you! You wouldn’t say anything to disappoint him), ward members are obviously dirty liars. And should be reminded of that fact frequently, again to allow just opportunity for repentance. It’s charity.

    At the point when we just said “Forget it, elders– we’re not giving rides anymore,” it often took multiple families to go pick up one family of investigators/new members. By the end of this period a full 20% of the ward was getting a ride to church by this method; the ward spent so much organizational manpower doing Sunday and Wednesday rides and food runs that we could literally do nothing else for new members who were willing and able to receive *real* service, like learning how to read and getting job training; and we had a sister nearly get carjacked on her way to pick somebody up for church. The most beautiful girl in the world– a li’l five-foot-tall Latina, all by herself just mindin’ her saintly business, got jumped by 4 guys at a stop sign and luckily managed to zoom off in time. Can you imagine what would have happened? Right- and this attempted carjacking was at 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

    -Dangerous disregard mental health issues. They taught one guy who was with-it enough to make the missionaries think he was “a nice guy, kind of outgoing” but asked my husband if the church could help him get his meds within the first 30 seconds of us giving him a ride to church. “Ah… what meds?” Turns out he was an unmedicated schizophrenic. Fair enough! They need the gospel too. Only– wait. Do we really want to take a guy with untreated schizophrenia and teach him about the Holy Ghost, effectively telling him that he should definitely listen to all those voices in his head? But they refused to think of dropping him– you see, he’s black, and that would be racist.

    -Speaking of racism, my husband was ward mission leader before they burned him out after 6 months, and is a PhD student working on the Haitian revolution. Sort of hoping to become an expert on the race warfare that resulted from white exploitation of Africans, really, so we don’t see ourselves as prime candidates for recruiting by the Aryan Nation. He and I had one particular heart-to-heart with the elders about the need to realize that the people they were baptizing had serious NEEDS and they didn’t understand what they were saddling the ward with by their lets-focus-on-people-who-are-at-home-in-the-ghetto-at-10-am strategy. “You have to realize that there are reasons these people don’t have jobs, guys,” was one thing we said. The version of the discussion that got back to their MP was that we had told them that we didn’t want any more n*****s in the ward. Funny that he believed it, since this version of the story also had me- a delicate new mom- lifting the 250-lb ZL the collar and smashing him against the wall. With one arm! Sadly, bro, only in my dreams. And also, apparently yours.

    -We had a new convert one week. I had talked to her a little and one thing she mentioned was that she felt like she was under a lot of pressure to get baptized, and she just didn’t want to give up smoking. I told her, “Don’t let yourself get talked into something you don’t want to do. It needs to be your decision and remember, they can’t force you.” I got wide-eyed you’re-going-to-hell looks from a bystanding missionary. Oddly enough, a week later she was baptized. In the meantime I found some odd article on how nicotine is addictive partially because it acts as a really effective antidepressant in many people with underlying psychiatric trouble. It’s not the only treatment for these problems, but it’s a common one that people self-medicate with.

    A week after that, this young woman died at home alone in her bathroom. She was on several medications that can be used to overdose and while I really know nothing more about her or her death– that haunts me! Oh God! Could we have had a part in that? Her little eight-month-old girl will never know her mother and I’m terrified that we might have had something to do with that.


    All that said it hasn’t been a completely dark picture. We have had people turn their lives around… very few of them, but they’re there. Also, because so many people who were non-traditional Mormon types were baptized so quickly, they had a chance to stick together and form a nucleus for support before any of them got depressed by the isolation of being the only black people and/or single moms in the ward and left.

    The major challenge for us was that this MP didn’t want to deal with retention and less-active work. At all. He straight up said that dealing with “that stuff” was a waste of his missionaries’ time– to the Area Authority 70 who asked him to cease and desist.

    A General Authority 70 persuaded him to change his mind. It was the most faith-affirming moment of my life!

  77. I know who you are says:

    “All that said it hasn’t been a completely dark picture. We have had people turn their lives around… very few of them, but they’re there. Also, because so many people who were non-traditional Mormon types were baptized so quickly, they had a chance to stick together and form a nucleus for support before any of them got depressed by the isolation of being the only black people and/or single moms in the ward and left.”

    The ward your husband was born into had a problem for a while where black families would join, feel isolated, and (generally) not be coming out by the time the next black family joined. And of course none of them knew each other . . .

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