In a conversation with a friend from my ward, I made some comments regarding the current Missionary Program, based on my limited observations of the general and regional ecclesiastical bureaucracy and things on the ground. I’ll be honest in that I think that the church is struggling existentially with regards to missionary work. Church leaders clearly have the mandate to spread the gospel, but the standard methods are rooted in a culture that doesn’t exist (and hasn’t existed for over a century), at least in the US and many other countries. I think church leaders don’t know what to do (I should add that I certainly don’t, either). So it will be interesting to see how things play out.
I’ve thought a lot about it, but have very few ideas moving forward. The itinerant preacher who went door to door was a staple of antebellum and rural postbellum American culture. I think the Southern States Mission in the late 19th century is really an interesting case study. All the missionaries labored in the rural areas, because they could still do the old things (travel without purse or scrip, and be welcomed or at least find places to eat and sleep). There was essentially no missionary work in the cities, because they didn’t know what to do there (you had to pay for food and lodging). Then they decided to change how they proselytized and found great success in the cities, but it require abandoning the dominant mode of evangelization. I think we are at a similar point, but we haven’t found the new methodology. The problem is compounded by the reality of the mission boom. We have too many missionaries to do anything constructive with them under the standard program. It is a crisis and church leaders know it. It has sucked up the budget and everyone is trying to figure out what to do. It is the biggest logistical, budgetary, and perhaps spiritual problem we have right now, and all the general leaders are talking about it because they want to find a solution. This trickles down to local areas; however because the pressure trickles down, but no solutions, local leaders are left holding the ball.
Or maybe I’m mistaken. It is quite possible. I could very well be misreading things. There are some efforts to try new methods, but what I have seen makes me think that they will not endure. A friend pointed out a comment a missionary left on a number of public facebook pages. They all were roughly the same:
Hey everyone! My name is Elder [last name] and I am a representative of Jesus Christ serving in the [geographic locale] Mission. I am loving the opportunity to serve the Lord and to share with everyone the message about the restored Gospel. The missionaries in my mission have the opportunity to talk with everyone in the world via facebook, facetime, and skype. We share videos, scriptures and have lessons with them as well. We have seen a lot of success from this! The message that we received this last June told us that the members are the key for success in Gods plan. So with that, if any of you have family or friends that are (non members, less-actives, or active members who might need help) that have interest in learning more about the blessings of the restored gospel I can send them a message with a video and get to know them or i can help you present the Gospel to them in a non weird way. I love you all brothers and sisters and i am excited to see the missionary work go to a whole other level. The Gospel has changed my life now lets work together to help it change the lives of others. Please send me a friend request with a message so i can hear from you and hear your thoughts. Tell your friends as well. Love you all. Christ lives!
I think it would be gratuitous to analyze in detail all the ways I think this example of outreach fails. It might be most simple to say that it fails as “non weird.”
It is clear that we need to innovate on the evangelization front. I wish I had some good ideas. I think that Fowles’ suggestions would be brilliant and positive, but I tend to think that the current administrative structures are not sufficiently nimble to realize such changes. Nimbleness, perhaps that is the solution. I do think tan pants are actually a great start. In the meantime, I think we will be dealing with historically high amounts of pressure from church leaders regarding missionary work, for the next couple of years at least.