In my mission, they were called investifakers; I preferred inventigators, but the name is immaterial. At certain times, companions and I deemed it necessary to report that we were teaching an investigator who did not exist. I built up considerable talent in this creative endeavor, and now I would pass my experience and knowledge on to any who might find it useful.
Before I begin, I need to acknowledge those who gave me so much. Of my four companions who were ‘older’ than me, three described having created investigators. (My trainer, a steadfast fellow who went on to become AP, never mentioned having done so: he was merely willing to round any segment of an hour up to the full hour and was generously inclusive in the definition of street contacting [including playing chess in the park and video games in an open arcade]). Truly I stood on the shoulders of giants.
Should I create a fake investigator?
In most cases, probably not. Here are the conditions that will necessitate a fake investigator:
- Do you serve in a place where it is difficult to find people to teach? Fake investigators temporarily fill empty teaching pool rather than making full teaching pools overflow. If there are real investigators to teach, you don’t need fake ones.
- Does your mission leadership make your life miserable when you have nobody to teach? I don’t just mean a bit of tut-tutting or a thoughtful letter: I mean accusations of unworthiness, threats to send you to the outer reaches of the mission, a steady rotation of improving splits by leadership, shouting, calls to explain your shortcomings publicly in zone conferences, etc.
Even when these conditions exist — and I hope they are a rare combination as the bar has been raised for mission presidents as well, right? — fake investigators will not be possible if you are in the same city as another set of missionaries or are close enough to the mission home to risk surprise splits by office elders or APs. Only loners and Egyptians (as they were called in my day) should do the inventing.
And even so, fake investigators are a last resort. Having an empty teaching pool with otherwise strong statistics (hours outside, contact hours, hours tracting, hours street contacting, Books placed, etc. etc.) will keep you safe for several weeks if not a full month. If things get desperate, there is always the option of once again going back to the buildings where all of the immigrants and refugees live and picking up a few lonely souls willing to talk to anybody, but it’s an old trick and may fail to impress a jaded AP. No, save the fake investigators for dire situations, like the cranky GA’s tour of the mission or the possibility of a punitive transfer.
What kind of investigator should I create?
Keep in mind that you will not have this investigator for very long — two or three weeks tops. After all, according to my mission’s instructions, they should be baptized in three weeks, and the questions about the investigator’s lack of progress will attract all kinds of unwanted attention.
Here are some issues to consider when creating your investigator:
- A single man is the best option for elders. A family is far too rare and exotic, and the mission president has gotten so worked up about families in the past that he has driven for hours to meet them. A female will raise questions about provisions for teaching her. A companion of mine advocated for an unmarried couple as it provides the exit strategy.
- The details can be sketchy as missionaries rarely remember anything more about an investigator than his first name. However, a few particulars will be necessary, like his age and his job. Non-descriptness will be key. I always liked unemployed guys in their late twenties since it fit most of our investigators anyway.
- You will need to explain how you met. Do not make up an inspirational story: you do not want to end up being asked to bear your testimony about your interactions with a fake investigator. Basic midday tracting or chatting at the bus stop will probably do the trick.
- You will need a reason for him to discontinue the lessons, but these are incredibly easy to come up with as it happens so often in real life: the tithing or Word of Wisdom scare, a pamphlet from a neighbor, disapproval of a girlfriend or parent, boredom, etc. Again, nothing too dramatic, but it does need to be final: you don’t want an enterprising ZL wanting to go out and change his mind.
What do I need to watch out for?
- The ward mission leader. If it is possible to invent an investigator only for the leadership and not for the WML, by all means do so, but it may require having two sets of records and that is a chore. If needed, give your fake an address away from all active members and say as little about him as possible. Investigators coming to church is so rare that nobody will expect it anyway.
- Splits. This is the biggest threat. Have an emergency ready for your investigator if unexpected splits occur, like needing to help his sister move out of town.
- The area book. The fake needs to be in the area book for some time, but it must be removed before transfers. Future missionaries will not appreciate trying to chase down fake people.
Isn’t it wrong to invent a fake investigator?
Missionary work is hard work. It demands attention and a self-confidence. There are circumstances in which a certain style of leadership in a particularly unproductive mission area undermines that level of attention and destroys the self-confidence of the missionaries. In those circumstances, the continuation of the missionary work — however frustrating and fruitless — and the missionaries’ faith and even sanity may require some pragmatic ethics. Take that as you will.