Missionary Work

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.


  1. NotRachel says:

    I think Missionaries should focus about 60% of their time on service. If there aren’t people to baptize, surely there are wells to be dug and homes to be built and children to be educated. It would seem to me that people would be more open to listening to the message missionaries may be able to share if they have gained a wonderful reputation as true servants of Christ.

  2. Really good points. I’m grateful that neither I nor my children had to be missionaries during the current missionary bubble, and I’m anxious for it to be over and for the numbers to shrink back to what they were before. I’m also grateful that I served in a country where nobody was interested in conversion, such that I pretty quickly had to figure out how to draw meaning from my missionary service other than finding people to baptize.

  3. SeekingtobeAstonished says:

    How about evangelization via the Spirit — you know the old, “miracles following them that believe…”

  4. J, this is precisely my concern about social media interaction. The message is as aggressive as someone knocking on your door and feels unnatural to the context of the environment. In other words, it falls flat because it’s instantly recognized as a sales pitch.

    Now, sales pitches do work. They’re just not the best method of attracting the interest of others.

    Possibly the best thing a missionary can do is to build some visibility in social media through interesting topics and interactions. The first one who starts a blog or facebook page called: “The Book of Mormon – Ask a Real Mormon Missionary Any Question” and does it right is probably going to find moderate to significant success. Some humorous or touching memes will probably be involved.

    They’ll have to break through the Church’s SEO strangle hold on certain terms (like Mormon Missionary) but the point is becoming visible and causing people to become interested enough to ask a question. And from there it’s up to the missionary to know how to best work that relationship. You have to break the ice in some manner and for every potential investigator the approach is going to be different. And the voice that comes through has to be authentic.

    But I’m completely aligned with Mr. Fowles. The more time missionaries spend serving the area where they live and really engaging with the poor and needy the more likely they will be blessed with very real success. Maybe they become volunteers at struggling public schools (think something along the lines of Teach America) and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. This is perhaps where the visibility should be focused in some fashion with a blog discussing the experiences and work that is done. Properly channeled it would be an excellent PR effort for the Church in how we live the daily lives of service. And it would get them daily into interaction with a variety of people who would develop relationships directly with God’s chosen and called servants in an environment that would foster the right kinds of conversations.

  5. I heartily concur with NotRachel that missionaries need to spend more of their time doing service. I live in one of the test missions (in California) where missionaries are no longer tracting or doing street contacts, and frankly, they’re bored. Getting out into the community and being involved in service would be the best missionary work they could do. (For one, It’d go a long way toward erasing the nasty image the Church established for itself here during the Prop 8 campaign.)

  6. Kudos to this particular missionary for trying his best. But to expand a little on Stapley’s post, this approach of spamming Mormon themed Facebook groups with a boilerplate post is extremely unsustainable. If every missionary did that, it would shut down Mormonism on Facebook. How could Mormon themed Facebook groups possibly endure for their various different intended purposes (many of which are to foster discussion about niche topics, like environmentalism/earth stewardship, for example) if thousands of missionaries begin trolling the groups under the guise of their new mandate to bring their missionary work to Facebook? It goes without saying that such trolling would be happening independently of the trolling of all other missionaries half a world away.

    Traditionally, a missionary would have been unable to venture outside of his mission and proselytize in a neighboring mission. This facilitated an orderly approach to the work. A London missionary was not allowed to venture south of the Thames to begin knocking doors in the London south mission, though he or she might live in a neighboring area a short walk away.

    But now a missionary in a mission in California can post such a boilerplate in any Mormon-themed Facebook group (or, presumably, in any Facebook group at all) but so can a missionary in Texas, or New York, Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, or Hawaii (i.e., anywhere in the world).

    My guess is that some guiding principles will soon be implemented to prevent this — at least I hope so. For one thing, why should random missionaries come into a Facebook group with a specific focus and begin proselytizing. At the very least, it does not seem to accord with common standards of etiquette or politeness.

    I think the intention of allowing missionaries on Facebook was so that they could friend members of their local ward to which they are currently assigned and then start to interject themselves into discussions between those members and their vast networks of friends. That alone invites some anxiety and contemplation about whether such interaction between missionaries and a member’s Facebook friends is actually going to be a positive encounter, especially considering the types of substantive discussions that are often occurring on Facebook, often about politics and current-event type news stories. But this new approach of spamming random Mormon-themed Facebook groups is of even greater concern.

    We all want the Church to be able to present itself in the best light possible and as effectively as possible. I have serious concerns about whether this particular approach does either. In fact, I am worried that it could set us back significantly in the image we are presenting and in our ability to interest a wide range of people in our message about the Restored Gospel.

  7. NotRachel says:

    Oh, see? This is what happens when you don’t click on the links provided. I am completely on board with Fowles’ suggestion!

  8. Heathermommy says:

    J. -what’s wrong with what we did in our mission? Street contacting ALL DAY LONG?? :)

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Good times. Heather, we at least had the benefit of having areas that were larger than 2 or 3 square miles.

    John, right on, both on the issue of logistics/sustainability, and your overall idea of service which seems to have a lot of popular traction. OD, similarly agreed.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Excellent observations all around.

  11. Kobayashi Maru says:

    Clayton Christensen recently came out with a book that somewhat addresses these issues. It is geared more towards member missionary work, but also applies to full-time missionaries. It is worth checking out. He is after all planet earth’s leading expert on innovation studies!


  12. I already know I come from a different place than most Mormons, but am I the only one who is turned off by the marketing of the gospel? I know the guys at the COB are trying their best to evangelize, and want to use every avenue of persuasion available to them, but I kind of hate to see advertising tools used to sell the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe it’s because I have worked in that industry and know exactly how disingenuous and crass it can be underneath all the shiny happy surface. There’s a reason I’ve never looked at, much less submitted anything to Mormon.org.

    On the other hand, I don’t know how to turn authentic, heartfelt human connection into a church program either.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    As the decades pass, the Church continues paring down, shutting down canneries, selling farms, reining in the MIA, making quorums, wards, and stakes minor trifles in the lives of saints who are not leaders, a place for worship services on Sundays, and a temple somewhere in the greater metro area to visit on occasion. But calling young men in missions continues as a fixed feature, with little variation over the last 60 years. The closing of the Benemerito school in Mexico to turn it into a missionary training space was a sad case of this.

  14. Using Facebook to share your mission with your existing circle of friends, especially for missionaries who weren’t raised in an area dominated by members and, therefore, have lots of friends who are not members, is wonderful. Responding to people who respond to your posts about your experiences is wonderful. Other activities in that forum? Not so much.

    I also like the idea of more time being devoted to service, but I think if the overall membership stopped trying to “do missionary work” and started serving others more actively (not just each other, like so many “service projects” are focused on doing) – **with no conversion focus but simply for the love of other people** – we would end up with a situation where the full-time missionaries would be teaching much more than they currently can. I believe if we truly worked to establish Zion, people would “flow unto it” – and “missionary work” would be available for the full-time missionaries without their having to seek it nearly as much.

    As I’ve said previously, we tend to focus so much on not being of the world that we forget to be fully in the world – and that, I believe, is our biggest challenge to both building the kingdom of God on earth and to establishing Zion. So, while I agree that how missionaries serve is an important issue (and that it can’t be the same way they served previously as itinerant preachers), I believe the solution in our own time lies in how we serve, first and foremost.

  15. I agree with J. that “we need to innovate on the evangelization front,” and that this is long over due.

    However, from my experience (full-time mission, WML, and run of the mill member) our authority structure tends to dampen any grass roots innovation efforts. Try to involve the full time missionaries, and that gets even worse (rules, schedules, organizational culture, etc.). I’m not saying that PH leaders intentionally discourage innovation, just that our authority structure can make us (generally speaking) less likely to think outside the box handed to us from “on high”, so we await the next “big idea” to be handed to us.

    What we tend to see, absent a pilot program sent from HQ, are minor variations of the tested, tried and true, and thus, no real innovation or major success stories. The missionaries always ask us for referrals, and I hate to tell them that I spend too much time in church (and involved in callings) to have many non-member friends.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    I’m generally a big fan of irony, John. I’m not certain I see your point though.

  17. I love Ray’s idea that if we were really focused on serving others, that people would be drawn to the service we were providing and more missionary opportunities were result. I think the difficulty is that it is just as difficult (if not more so) to find and create meaningful service opportunities for others as it is find people to teach under current methods. The idea of more service is frequently mentioned, but how would it practically work? Perhaps instead of only establishing missions based on geography, there could also be missions designed by service topic run in a way similar to non-profit organizations, and the Mission Presidents and staff could focus on the particular area and function as the executive director of non-profits do. So as someone mentioned helping out in inner-city schools, that could be one topic. Assisting immigrants could be another. Senior missionaries could be called to find areas in communities that could benefit from the service and create the organization that is needed to use the labor of the young missionaries effectively. And when these service missions are operating well, they should be open to the everyone so members of the community can serve hand in hand with the missionaries.

    I see a lot of promise with the idea, but I think the difficulty comes in finding and organizing service opportunities that really are meaningful. While there are many problems in our societies that could use our help, the solution often isn’t as simple as providing massive amounts of untrained labor.

  18. Mike, I was talking about service by regular members like me, given in the communities in which we live. Those opportunities are abundant and nearly overwhelming in many communities, and everywhere I’ve seen it approached humbly and meekly (“How can we help, no strings attached?”) the local government and community leaders have been grateful. In areas like where I was raised, where over 90% of the citizens are members, it would be a bit different, but if we stopped serving with an agenda and simply looked for those who need help (and provided whatever they need, not what we want to give), things would be radically different even in areas like where I was raised.

    The issue is sustained effort and commitment, even if no baptisms result immediately. It really does have to be for nothing more than love of others. If nothing else, it would turn us into better Christians and not just better Mormons – but I really do believe a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes (many of them deserved, unfortunately) would break down and interested people would find us as a result of more exposure and our own internal change.

  19. In other words, I’m not talking about service missions; I’m talking about unconditional service. Period.

  20. The Other Clark says:

    I think J. is right: The Church has a ton of resources, but is unsure how to utilize it properly. So, the best method found so far–member referrals–is being pumped for all it’s worth.
    In the past 12 months, there has been a clear shift in placing all the responsibility for finding on members, and practically absolving the FT missionaries of that job. (See Elder Ballard’s GC talk for the most recent example) But my experience is that most active members find the LDS lifestyle to be so time-consuming that there’s little time left to get involved in the community and develop non-LDS friendships. (that’s why less-active members usually provide more/better referrals.)

    One solution would be to declutter the LDS lifestyle, but jettisoning seminary, mutual night, big families, time-intensive church callings, and limiting the number/length of church meetings isn’t even possible.

    I think the most realistic solution is to use the missionaries as a fellowshipping/reactivation force.

  21. Last Lemming says:

    When I went with the local missionaries a couple of weeks ago, I found that the first thing they asked people (member or nonmember) is if there was any way they could be of service to them. A cold approach like that does not yield many positive responses, but the offers are sincere. I know members have volunteered the missionaries for various things their friends and neighbors have needed help with knowing that the missionaries would come through. That could not have happened when I was a missionary (late 70s) because we were severely constrained in the amount of service we could do. So there is progress on that front, even if it is kind of ad hoc. And I can’t say that it has resulted in any surge in baptisms either.

  22. I apologize for misreading. I imagine increased service in both areas will bring blessings.

    This no doubt reflects my own inward-focus, but I have not viewed service opportunities as easy to find, abundant, or overwhelming. Sure, it is easy to pick up litter, clean up the river, and work on trails, but it seems harder to find service that more directly makes an impact on people. From what you have seen, when people ask “how can we help, no strings attached,” what kinds of help have been requested?

  23. As a ward mission leader of six months, and having not served as a missionary myself, this is a huge issue right now. I deal with it every day. We’ve been fortunate to have had some very hardworking sister missionaries in our ward for about the last year and a hal, but we can’t come close to keeping them busy, and the stake president has warned us that at some point after the first of the year, we are likely to end up with two sets of missionaries in our ward.

    I second the mention of Christensen’s book about member missionary service. It is helpful in allowing us to reset some expectations in a more realistic manner, and provides some good advice.

    When I was called, my bishop and I both agreed that doing the same things we’ve been doing for the last twenty years and expecting any changes is not a good plan. Our ward mission plan currently points to getting members more involved in the community in service, and in providing more non-threatening activities to invite non-member friends and neighbors to. We’ve had some great experiences partnering in some service work with our local VFW post that sends care packages to front line troops in Afghanistan and the 88 year old vet who runs that program has turned out to be one of our best PR spokesmen, telling everyone how great our church is to help. We haven’t reached critical mass, but I truly believe that this is at least one step in the right direction. My problem is that I seem to spend a lot of time in stake and ward meetings talking about missionary work which leaves me limited time to actually look for service opportunities where I can be out and amongst my neighbors and friends.

  24. Service Service Service SERVICE.
    Also, stop with the mandatory missions for young men.

    And encourage members to be actively involved in their community. And not in a proselytizing way–in a know your neighbors, run for school board, volunteer at the homeless shelter and be a good Christian way.

  25. Serving in soup kitchens and shelters of all kinds – conducting parenting courses for young parents – mentoring and tutoring students (of all ages) – sitting with hospital patients and nursing home residents who have no family who visit – volunteering in schools – delivering Meals on Wheels – providing temporary shelter for abused women and their children – teaching budgeting and nutrition skills – cleaning senior citizens enters – helping Habitat for Humanity – volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club and YMCA – cleaning and beautifying cemeteries – clearing land that poses a fire hazard – providing childcare for welfare recipients attending classes – helping with military veteran rehabilitation – organizing or participating in drives to gather food, clothing, school supplies, etc. for needy children and families.

    The list is endless – and I agree that it would take a paradigm shift to allow members to spend less time at the church building and more time in the community. There is so much we could do administratively without having to have traditional meetings – and we could substitute service of this type once a month for some of our secondary meetings (even the second and/or third hour of our Sunday meetings. It’s just a matter of decoupling culture and tradition from Gospel, in many cases – and I use “just” knowing it’s not easy.

  26. “it would take a paradigm shift to allow members to spend less time at the church building and more time in the community”

    As long as we’re doing a paradigm shift, let’s locate our church buildings right in the center of the community, both geographically and functionally!

  27. John Mansfield says:

    Sorry that I was obscure, J., I wasn’t attempting irony, only brevity. Your post deals with a static mode of evangelization that seems to not match how the world’s ears, eyes, and hearts can be brought to hear, see, and be penetrated at this time. One part of the mismatch is that unlike in the past, the number of missionaries at hand is not the limiting factor for spreading the gospel message, at least in the mode that we have been doing it.

    Not only is the world changing, but so is the church. My father-in-law comes from Idaho’s Gem Valley. I asked him once about the mix of saints and gentiles there. He said that the end of the 19th Century, it was about 50-50, but over the first half of the 20th Century, nearly all the families came into the church. That is hard to imagine happening today. People still talk about church taking up lots of time, perhaps out of habit, but unless we’re bishops or seminary teachers, it really doesn’t in the 21st Century. Far more time goes to other matters of work and community involvement, and apparently it should, but the lack of the involved Latter-day Saint world that used to exist also means that there is no visible Zion that others around us will join with. All we have available to offer them is pure gospel teachings, to be received from missionaries in private homes.

    So, I wonder about the young Latter-day Saint of today, asked to serve a mission, just like his/her grandfather was. It is a comparatively greater involvement with his/her religion than it was for his grandfather. And I wonder about the young men of tomorrow, after decades of direction that it is the duty of each one to serve a mission, should that involvement with their religion also be withdrawn, because though available and worthy, most really aren’t needed anymore.

  28. The Other Clark says:

    The business of most Mormon meetings (ward council, PEC, key scouters, etc) could really be accomplished via a few group emails with face-to-face conversations as needed.

    Elder Packer says it takes a pretty good meeting to beat no meeting at all. I wish this attitude tickled down to the local level.

  29. J. Stapley says:

    That is a really interesting way of framing it. Thanks, John.

  30. Speaking of a couple of missionaries figuring a way out to project their message in a compelling way, here are a few in NYC who leveraging street level and online interaction in a way that has real potential. These guys are breaking out of the box within the constraints of the current system.


  31. Antonio Parr says:

    “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matt 5:16.

    Why not experiment with a year of pure service on the part of missionaries, and see whether the Savior’s promise is fulfilled, i.e., people outside of the Church witness these works of love, and, in response, seek to glorify God? Perhaps these hearts turned to God will wish to join with the young Latter-Day Saints whose service they find so inspiring . . . It seems like a natural progression. At the very least, the good will that would flow from such service almost certainly would create fertile opportunities for Gospel discussion.

    (Of course, finding service opportunities for young people is often easier said than done. Either way, God bless the young men and women who sacrifice so much of themselves for the highest of causes.)

  32. OD, our family has a friend who is serving in that NY mission, and they really are doing some innovative things that would surprise most people – both with social media and in regular daily activity. Also, he spent most of his first few months helping clean up the flooding that occurred in the coastal communities. The stories he has shared are phenomenal.

  33. Ray, this thread has reminded me of the service my stake gave in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. We spent a long weekend there helping people cleanup. The attention and response we received was amazing… cops who stopped traffic to allow us to cross the street, saying, “You guys are too important to keep waiting,” to a transit officer who unlocked a gate and told us to enter the subway for free, since our “money’s no good here”, etc. Countless people stopped to thank us for the service they had received from other church members.

    Reading this thread, I’ve wondered if any of that translated into increased teaching opportunities. That certainly wasn’t the intent (at least from anyone in my group), but I’ve wondered if it did have an impact. My guess is, long term, we have a better “brand image”.

  34. Rick Warren went door to door doing marketing survey and tailored the church to facilitate it. In 20 years it grew from his house to a Christian mega church with more than 20,000 attending per week. Many will say it is wrong to bend the church to meet the desires of humankind but if the changes are merely style and format but delivers the same true gospel to more people isn’t it good? Our services are stoic, theirs joyful, our music is full of history but difficult to sing and typically drags, theirs is fun and uplifting. Our services 3 hours of mostly boring punctuated by occational gospel golden nuggets, theirs a hour or so of gospel entertainment. We defiantly have more doctrine and some of that is meat but why does it have to be delivered so morosely? Is there something wrong with finding out what the customer wants and giving some of that to them without compromising gospel principals? We need an LDS light that is fun, relevant and instructive as a marketing magnet for the deeper more orthopraxy church.

  35. John Harrison says:

    Two things:

    1 – The boom is temporary. There will likely be a long term increase in the number of sister missionaries, but my reading of the numbers indicates that the percentage of elders serving hasn’t gone up at all and shortly we’ll be back in the 55,000 to 60,000 range. We’ve invested so much in the suddenly inflated numbers that I wonder what will happen two years from now when the numbers look relatively paltry.

    2 – John Fowles got it completely right as far as I am concerned. Sending young people out to waste their time for much of the day is a recipe for disaffection. Give them meaningful service to do during a portion of that time and it will not only improve the missionary experience but eventually it will cause more people to be exposed to the missionaries due to their service work.

  36. The emphasis on member referrals seems to me born of a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. The statistics I heard again and again in pushing member referrals are that 1/[really large #] doors knocked leads to a baptism, 1/[large #] some other form of contact leads to baptism, but 1/[relatively small number] member referrals leads to baptism. But there is no way you can take a baseline observation of the results of member referrals, and then expect that pushing members to refer 10x as many people as their baseline number will result in 10x more baptisms. It destroys the whole reason that member referrals are effective, which is that they are an extremely fine filter. Members only refer those few select people who are likely to be interested. Asking members to loosen those standards by pressuring them to make more referrals will just dilute that. It doesn’t mean it’s a terrible idea. But the way the numbers have been sold to me is flawed.

  37. Cynthia, your analysis is spot on I think. My own experience with returned mission presidents seems to suggest that referrals are a dead end in terms of volume. Members can be used in much more effective ways apparently, but church culture is focused in other directions right now. A new gender balance and less bureaucratic top down control and more localized thinking may be part of the answer. Part of the problem may be the traditional interpretation of the apostolic model. It will be interesting! On another note, missions have been perceived from the beginning as the way to maintain the core of believers, not so much by conversion by through the conversion effort. The model of the returned missionary as backbone of the church in later life has elements that stretch through much of church narrative. I think at least some people see the “bulge” as a threat to this, if it is not handled productively.

  38. NotRachel says:

    Oooh! I really like what Howard has to say!

  39. Peter LLC says:

    Preach on, Cynthia L. In my experience part member families are in the same boat. I get why leaders and missionaries are optimistic about the prospects of friends and relatives of members joining the church compared to the general population, but to the extent there is an advantage, it has to do with the way relationships develop, and that is hard to scale with any degree of authenticity.

  40. I agree this is a major problem/crisis for the church. I thought that dropping the missionary age for women was a good solution for trying to staunch the rise in disaffection among college age young women (another major crisis) as missions are a perfect way to build identity. However, there needs to be at least some success and feeling of usefulness for the identity building to happen. It could end up actually being counterproductive to that goal. I love Fowles’ suggestion as well. We could dust off the new 4th mission of the church (remember that?) which we have done almost nothing new with programatically in the church and use it to rally missionary and members.

    I think the biggest problem, however, is in the general belief that the answer to this long standing problem will come with top-down management. Per Christiensen, I think the best course of action is for us to all realize that we (and the leaders) don’t know the answer and give each mission large leeway in inventing and experimenting. To do this they need to also release the MPs from the huge pressure for reliable, consistent baptism numbers so that they feel free to really shake things up and have time for truly new approaches to pay off in the long term. I think we as members don’t appreciate how much pressure MPs are under to deliver numbers. Let the missions experiment and then the leaders can use inspiration and guidance to choose the variations that work.

    Also, I agree with some previous comments that we need a similar approach to the basic church meeting and ward organization. While I know many members find the consistency and predictability of our meetings reassuring and comforting in a ritual way, it is unclear that the programs from Sunday School to Home/Visiting Teaching as traditionally managed are meeting contemporary needs. However, no ward or stake feels they have hardly any discretion to deviate. Even in my previous very progressive ward with bishops willing to shield us from the stake in our experimentation we were still very limited in what we could try. However, even just relatively modest changes such creating our own family history Sunday School class run more as a college class with limited enrollment, long term projects and significant non-manual curricula really energized people simply because it was new and different.

    I would love to see a COB supported initiative of of experimentation and invention. Imagine a declaration for a church wide petition to the Lord for answers to these major issues, asking each stake and ward to become a “laboratory of inspiration” with wide freedom to reinvent basic programs of the church. Let them experiment with new meeting formats, create their own materials, come us with their own missionary programs, reinvent home/visiting teaching for say the next 4 years. The area authorities would be dispatched to collect and evaluate ideas (as well as provide some basic controls for anything to crazy). Let us actually take a hand in designing Zion! Tell me that wouldn’t renew many people’s involvement and commitment to the church, reinvigorate programs and get some buy in. It would show great trust in the saints by the leaders to let us innovate around the gospel we love! It would be scary for the leaders and for us, but innovation IS scary and uncertain. I fully believe that it would solve more problems than it causes. It won’t happen, but one can dream right?

  41. “Let them experiment with new meeting formats, create their own materials, come us with their own missionary programs, reinvent home/visiting teaching for say the next 4 years.”

    rah, I know I mentioned the possibility of substituting some meetings for service opportunities, and I am all for experimentation in this area, but I have to say:

    In some areas the quote above would be awesome; in others it would be no different than now; in many areas it would be absolute Hell. I have no doubt many people would gravitate to even more extreme measures of the old stand-by approaches, and I don’t want to imagine some of the things I know would be put in place in some areas. *full body shudder*

    I favor the teaching of correct principles and having individuals (and individual local leaders) governing themselves, but I also want the principles and guidelines to be clear enough to avoid Hell.

  42. Have Uchtdorf make commercials!

  43. Some fascinating comments here! A few observations… In our area, the needs with the ward almost preclude serious service to be rendered frequently. The ward relief society president can barely manage sufficient help for members, let alone all the masses living within the ward boundary. I think correlation from Salt Lake dampens and drags the work. I agree that we all anxiously await the next golden nugget to be offered to us from the COB.

  44. Ray,

    At least it would be *interesting*. I understand the concern. I could see it crashing not a few wards, but then I ask myself – “Do I really believe that God through the Spirit leads the church?” Maybe we need to “put our money where our mouth is” and trust that the saints will find their right path. I wouldn’t argue for no oversight, that is what the area authorities can do – reign in the worst ideas etc.

  45. ” in one of the test missions (in California) where missionaries are no longer tracting or doing street contacts, and frankly, they’re bored”

    Bored missionaries become trouble missionaries in short order.

  46. KerBearRN says:

    Maybe I’m already repeating what has been said (I’ll admit coming late to the discussion, I have only skimmed comments, sorry!). But this has been a major concern between my husband and I. We basically now have had two missionary-age sons, active and faithful, who chose not to go on missions, because they just couldn’t identify with the typical full-time missionary format (and they have both been excellent member missionaries, the older son even helping convert and baptize a friend). But they both jump at the opportunity to do service (and I see the extra confidence in their step when they have gotten to serve.). Sonny and I have felt for years that the whole missionary program needs to become an arm of Humanitarian Services– what better way to represent Christ and His Gospel than through service??

    So rather than try to have leaders at the top trying to figure it all out, it seems to make more sense to kick it to the local levels. It seems like bishoprics and RS presidencies (and local members for that matter) are typically very aware of local needs, which obviously vary by locale. I wonder if the “Ward Mission Leader” could become instead a “Service Liason Representative” (oh, and side note– make it a couple calling, as there should also be a sister in this leadership position, as it is part of the calling of the Relief Society anyway!). This couple could communicate at all levels of the community to arrange service. This would take the pressure off the Bishop and the RS President. The Liason would also liase closely with the mission president and be directly in charge of the missionaries assigned to that ward. A schedule of service for the week could be created, with certain days for special projects, and the ward members could also be involved, as it would be a fairly predictable rota.

    I’m sure this is more complicated than the picture I am painting, but we have to start somewhere to be relevant in a world where many people aren’t even home during the day (when tracting typically takes place). Imagine the force for good we could be, serving and being involved in our communities. Right now, to me, it seems like we are pretty much wasting most of these able young bodies and minds, and they could DO so much.

    My father in law served in the Pacific Islands in the 50s. In those days they didn’t do much tracting–he was mostly involved in building, both for the Church and the community. For him it built a foundation of testimony that was literally forged by the sweat of his brow, that helped him through a very tumultuous adulthood. He has intensely loved memories of that time. I hear RMs frequently testify of their love for the people of their mission. Why not let them literally and truly SERVE those people, and cement that bond in both directions? I can’t see how that could in any way be a losing proposition. What better way to reveal Christ?

  47. And PS I’m with Howard. Let’s put Elder Uchtdorf in front of the cameras more often!

  48. I live in Colorado, and apparently our mission is one of three piloting a program that is trying hard to implement some more community service both into the lives of ward members and full time missionaries. The web site is http://www.justserve.org. The way it works as I understand it is that anyone who registers can add a service need in the community, and anyone can join a service project. The hope is that we get involved in the community as do the missionaries. There are no Helping Hands vests involved. As I’ve looked through the opportunities on there available at this point, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few listed but many are the kinds that are hard for our wards to traditionally fulfill – literacy volunteers that require long term commitments, for example. But it is really exciting to me that things might be moving more in that direction, both for our members and our missionaries.

  49. Ray,

    And if I was being realistic and serious about it. I would propose just having one ward a stake be the “experimenter” ward. Take the gloves off almost completely except things like sacrament and ordinances. This way each stake would choose the bishop/leadership team that they believe had some innovative ideas and the where with all to pull off and execute change. Even just one ward a stake would be a huge amount of innovation. Then as a ward hit on something that worked it could tried out in other units in the stake. I don’t think the COB mentally could even consider doing this type of scale. A few top down derived experiments with wards and missions is about all we will get. Probably incremental innovations that hold on to all the programatic sacred cows.

  50. Thomas Parkin says:

    One of the things I noted in the year or so I was WML was this: quite often while teaching, or even casually talking about the church, Elders would use language that they seemed to think would in some way evoke the Spirit simply by their being spoken. I actually first noticed this in a close relation of mine, in the way that she would say “The Lord Jesus Christ.” There seemed to be some kind of expectation that the words themselves altered the course of the discussion, although they may not seem to be directly related to the conversation ongoing. I later noticed the Elders doing the same thing. “Would you like to hear a message about The Lord Jesus Christ.” And at many points in their teaching similar things would happen. There would be a slight suspension, or a slight change in tone, and then words like “The Prophet Joseph Smith” or “the Restored Gospel.”

    The example from the OP is similarly rife with an expectation that prescribed language contains magical qualities.

    Two observations: true communication draws from lived experience, and the Spirit accompanies true communication.

  51. Mormon-speak is a huge problem in these interactions online. When you spend formative years always hearing certain catch-phrases employed, they become your key to knowing when the Spirit is officially present. We learn it in GC, in church each week, in our own FHE curriculum, in seminary, in YM and YW activities and in our social lives (if we live, as Bonjo mentioned up-thread, in a way that church keeps us so busy we have few non-member friends). It’s all well and good in relatively closed communities, and was even still innocuous in private, one-on-one exchanges in the old model of missionary work. But the peculiarity and oddness off Mormon-speak becomes stark and utterly off-putting when it’s being cut and pasted in the vast, open social media world, and suddenly a secular person is hearing unfamiliar and odd turns of phrase- the peculiarity causes note, and when the same peculiarity is seen repeatedly— the message is easily labeled inauthentic (at kindest) and rejected. This is particularly problematic when these exchanges are preserved via Google cache, screen-caps and Facebook and the boilerplate is shown for what it is in the stark light of the unforgiving eye of electronic record. Suddenly, our slip is showing- and showing in the most unflattering and unintended light possible.

  52. Serving in soup kitchens and shelters of all kinds – conducting parenting courses for young parents – mentoring and tutoring students (of all ages) – sitting with hospital patients and nursing home residents who have no family who visit – volunteering in schools – delivering Meals on Wheels – providing temporary shelter for abused women and their children – teaching budgeting and nutrition skills – cleaning senior citizens enters – helping Habitat for Humanity – volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club and YMCA – cleaning and beautifying cemeteries – clearing land that poses a fire hazard – providing childcare for welfare recipients attending classes – helping with military veteran rehabilitation – organizing or participating in drives to gather food, clothing, school supplies, etc. for needy children and families.

    These are all wonderful ideas for individual action! But please, please, please, let’s not advocate for them as mandates on members or local church organizations! I know that some would love for their ward’s elders quorum or Relief Society to adopt a soup kitchen and compel members to do service there one night a week or whatever — but I prefer the old notion of teaching correct principles and letting people govern themselves. Maybe I’ll work in a soup kitchen — maybe I’ll volunteer with the Boy Scouts — maybe I’ll stay home and read — please let it be my decision, not my church leader’s decision, if we’re talking about members. If we’re talking about full-time missionaries, well, I think mission presidents are already encouraged to encourage them in meaningful service work.

  53. John Mansfield says:

    A limitation of service-based methods of proclaiming the gospel is that there is only one single scriptural model of this. (Miraculous healings are a rather different thing and not models of service, though they may be models of compassion.) On ther other hand, the Gospels, Acts, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are filled with numerous examples of preaching and commands to open our mouths.

  54. And once upon a time cold-call preaching and tracting actually worked.

    One of the main reasons we have modern prophets, instead of relying solely on scriptures, is because things change. The “open our mouths” model doesn’t work nearly as well as it used to. What would work?

    I imagine a service model where missionaries in, say, Asia are taught, for example, how to teach conversational English, and then spend their days volunteering in high schools and universities teaching conversational English and their evenings and weekends teaching the gospel. It would take some effort to set up, and I imagine the missionaries would perhaps be asked to remove their name tags and refrain from talking about religion during their time at the schools, but the missionaries wouldn’t be mostly wasting their time tracting, their acts of service would benefit the community, and interest in the church (and probably convert baptisms) would skyrocket.

  55. Even though cold calling and tracting are very inefficient they are magnitudes more efficient than doing nothing. As a full time missionary my biggest need was to be doing something, anything with the empty, unscheduled hours that stretched out ahead of me in a week. If there was nothing better to do then, yes, we defaulted to knocking on doors and street tracting, and we had some success. I can’t imagine being a missionary and hanging out at the chapel on the computer every day sending out religious spam to Facebook and Twitter. It sounds like the lowest level of hell.

  56. The problem is we are competing with many more forms of entertainment and information clutter than in the past and it has recently grown exponentially with the internet and personal electronic devices. People are busy, have less time and are less bored and introspective than they were in the past due to these diversions and they are more jaded regarding sales pitches and approaches and therefore far less inclined to engage the passé shall we say Fuller Brushman type conversational hook offered by our missionaries.

    Find some gospel meat sound bites that are appealing to non-members, have Uchtdorf speak them into the camera put it on missionary iPads and phones and give it a try as a stopper/hook. If it works and I suspect it will, you will need a longer version, a full talk that is capable of captivating nonmembers attention (a feat not recently accomplished in my memory) but certainly possible given the church’s PR firm’s talent, then teach them the lessons. It would be nice if GC offered this same appeal as regular fare, it would make a better sales tool and we would all enjoy it more but Mormons have been trained to be prospectors, they’re willing to sort through tons of largely useless rock to find a few golden nuggets, investigators once the Spirit converts them will be willing to do this too (although I’m not sure why) but before conversion this inefficiency is an unnecessary and expensive tax to add to our sales and marketing effort.

    Finally and respectively, please consider comparing the joyful, loving and full of life Uchtdorf talk delivery with the often morose delivery of the others and ask yourself how this goes over with strangers and gospel prospects. Having spent more of my life outside the church than inside it when I returned I was very, very put off by the emotional disconnect displayed by the brethren on down to local speakers (mimicking them?) who’s content spoke of rejoicing in the gospel but their stoic, morose sometimes even depressed appearing delivery conveyed quite the opposite resulting in a strangely LDS mixed message. If the gospel is truly joyful shouldn’t it show from the podium?

  57. Actually, the church did dictate that local units get involved in community stuff. In the 1990s, for the 150th or whatever anniversary of the Relief Society, we were instructed to do service in the community. Our ward started providing a monthly meal at a residence for cancer patients, some did a local harvest program of picking up food from restaurants and taking to the homeless shelter for immediate use, and the homebound sisters made little quilts for the neonatal intensive care unit. We were really stupid, though, because while the rest of the church apparently only did it that month or year, we kept on doing it for decades.

  58. I love how President Uchtdorf has become the Ubermensch of the independent Mormon. If it comes out of his mouth it obviously must be true. I feel sorry for him the day he lets loose a statement that craters the overwrought expectations that so many members seem to be piling upon him.

  59. “please let it be my decision, not my church leader’s decision, if we’re talking about members.”

    I agree. I have no problem with a ward or branch picking something members can do as a group, particularly for members who would rather serve by assignment (and I can understand and respect that desire, given how busy so many of us are), but I also would not want involvement to be compelled in any way.

    Also, just to say it, there are some people who won’t be found in any other way than the traditional approaches by full-time missionaries. They won’t know members, and they won’t be involved in our service. If we eliminate those types of finding methods, we write off a lot of people – and I’m not willing to do that. Again, I believe strongly that if we were closer to establishing Zion the conversation would change in fundamental ways – and the full-time missionaries would have more opportunities to teach, preach and build the kingdom of God on earth, since people really do “flow to Zion” when they see and experience it.

  60. OD,
    ? If you’re referring to my comments you’ve missed the point completely. I’m talking about countenance, expressing joyful emotion and buoyant delivery not truth or content based on political leaning.

  61. “Also, just to say it, there are some people who won’t be found in any other way than the traditional approaches by full-time missionaries. They won’t know members, and they won’t be involved in our service. If we eliminate those types of finding methods, we write off a lot of people…”

    There are thousands of cities of 100,000+ people throughout Europe and Asia that have no missionaries. Obviously, many of those are in China and India–but I served in one city in Europe of that size that no longer has missionaries, and I know there are many more. Not to mention a huge number of smaller cities, towns, and villages that missionaries never get to. Compare that with my town, which has at least one missionary for every mere 1,000 people. The church could pull missionaries out of my town and send them to my old area in Europe, but just because they don’t doesn’t mean the church has written off everyone in that European city. It’s just more effective to have missionaries in my town who stay busy teaching than to have missionaries in that European city who spend all day tracting. Likewise, I think it would be more effective to have missionaries involved in quality service for 30 or 40 hours per week instead of using that same time to tract.

    I had limited success on my mission from tracting–it’s how we found most of our investigators, and at times it felt we were rushing from one appointment to another, at least in the evenings–primarily to meet with people we found while tracting. But at other times we spent months knocking doors and street contacting with precious little to show. I don’t favor eliminating tracting completely, but I do think it should be used sparingly. Certainly, missionaries who have nothing else to do should be sent out to knock doors and street contact.

  62. Our ward has 3 sets of missionaries and yeah it’s tough to find stuff for them to do. This mission is getting flooded with missionaries and lots are getting bumped back home. Baptisms are WAY down and I feel bad for the missionaries! We just had stake conference and the Mission President and his wife just attended a Mission Pres. seminar and they gave kind of over the top talks and it was kind of aggressive. One elder said he was glad his investigator didn’t show up. We heard phrases like, “not enough” “way more” and “maximum effort” and similar phrases in terms of helping the missionaries. I know investigators were there and I was cringing thinking what they could be thinking and I hope no one gets turned off! It was all thsi Hasten the Work stuff and it was no Gospel really and what our ward is doing to hasten the work and Jesus was almost left out. Our stake is worn out and burned out and trying to get more and more and more and people leave, 70% of our stake is inactive

    One elder here a bit ago said if he knew that he would be indexing, church tours and facebooking his already member friends back home he wouldn’t have come out. I just want so much more for them and I feel for the missionaries in this phase or whatever!

  63. Kevin Barney says:

    Clearly the solution is to embed gospel messages into cat videos…

  64. Tim, the closest thing to a vision I have had in my life was an impression I had while serving in a Stake Mission Presidency years ago.

    The first part was the strong impression that conversion and retention among the black community in the Deep South would explode if and only if the people, collectively (of all races), let go of their racial prejudices and learned to love each other simply as equal children of God. The second part was the thought that the ideal would be young adult, full-time missionaries serving exclusively in areas without strong, established wards and the membership taking care of missionary work in areas with strong, established wards.

    I wouldn’t mind at all if all of the full-time missionaries were able to serve in areas where they were involved in building units into fully functioning wards and Ward Missions took their place in established areas – even if that meant employing more traditional approaches. That would allow local units to tailor their activities to their own areas, including, in places like rural central Utah where I was raised, little or no traditional preaching but complete focus on service and practical assistance – since the handful of non-Mormons in the town where I was raised had become really good at dodging the religion bullets that were fired at them periodically.

  65. I love Ray’s idea of the membership being more involved in meaningful service in the community (on a structured yet volunteer and not assignment basis). Also I like the idea of trying to raise our game as members to make our worship services on Sunday more meaningful, and more community and love centered. I agree with the idea that if and as we become a more Zion-like people, the Lord’s sheep will be able to recognize with greater ease the light on a hill or ensign to the nations that we stand for.

    I really really dislike the idea of emphasizing, increasing, or coupling standard Christian service as a duty for missionaries called to proselytize. Yes, they can go about doing good when opportunities are before them, but they are called to preach the gospel and gather the righteous into the fold. Service should be for service, not used as a missionary tool for conversion. Standard service is simply not the call or duty of most proselytizing missionaries. Let the membership serve and set a righteous Christian example, and let not a missionary bypass someone they see in need, but I say let the missionaries fulfill their divine mandate to preach the gospel by the spirit of the Lord to whomever will hear it.

    I have a hard time relating to missionaries being bored. If this is the case, something seems out of whack. I served my mission in West Africa, and there was hardly ever a moment that I couldn’t be opening my mouth and preaching the gospel helping people to come unto Christ. Is this not service? Is preaching the gospel to those in spiritual bondage not a noble enough cause? If missionaries are bored, lets send them to the countless populations in the continent of Africa who have not been reached by the gospel as of yet. Or I’m sure there are many places around the globe that would likewise benefit from the fullness of gospel being preached and taught to them, let’s preach there if there is no one to listen in the areas missionaries are currently assigned to. Caring for the poor, the needy, and the downtrodden is the duty of the millions of we the members who have covenanted with the Lord in baptism. Let the much smaller niche group of tens of thousands of missionaries focus on the preaching and the gathering they are called to perform. It’s a large world, surely there are more than enough people that will benefit from having the gospel preached to them from true and assigned messengers.

  66. I posted that before I saw your comment right before my own. I really like your ideas there too!

  67. Kevin Barney FTW

  68. Ray,

    I’ve long wondered why there are full-time proselyting missionaries in the Mormon corridor, and I’d love to see them be replaced by ward missionaries, so I agree with you on that point.

    I don’t think conversion should be the focus of service by missionaries, but I think it is a natural byproduct. I also think missionaries should spend their evenings teaching, meeting with members, and, if they have no appointments, tracting. But tracting is enormously ineffective in much of the world, especially during daytime hours. In contrast, genuine, regularly-scheduled service would do a world of good.

  69. ” I can’t imagine being a missionary and hanging out at the chapel on the computer every day sending out religious spam to Facebook and Twitter. It sounds like the lowest level of hell.”

    Sounds like the bloggernacle to me :)

  70. yep, it sucks

  71. I dunno. IMHO you are overstating problems. For example, see this fun and creative (and seemingly effective) way that missionaries are sharing the gospel. Low-tech but innovative. http://ldsliving.com/story/74035-union-square-nyc-missionaries-draw-giant-chalk-plan-of-salvation

  72. My family joined the church in 1958, in Australia. Our only source of information about the church was what the missionaries taught. (the Gospel). There was no established branch to attend. We did not even find out we had joined a racist organization for years.

    Potential members now have the internet, so can find out more. Even if they just looked at LDS.org.au they would find a small amount about the Gospel and a large amount about the ultra conservative Utah culture that comes with the church. This culture may be OK in the US but in much of the rest of the world it is pretty discredited.

    I believe the reason the church is growing in third world countries is that they are like we were in the 1950s, believing what the missionaries teach, and not aware of the culture that comes with it.

    I believe the Gospel is not going to all the world because 90% of the world are repulsed by the culture. For the last couple of years there has almost always been an article about opposing gay marriage, (not mentioned in Gospel, just culture). 90% of Australians under 40 are OK with gay marriage and repulsed by ultra conservatives who still oppose it.

    If the Gospel is only to go to the extreme right wing, our potential member pool is the racists, the homophobes, the Nazis, the misogynists, and some pretty unsavoury characters.

    If we are going to be a world church we have to ditch the culture. That’s what is appealing about Uchtdorf, he is teaching the Gospel without the culture.

  73. Really great dialogue and lots of wise contributions – thanks. I’ve been a ward Mission Leader for a while now in a densely populated and busy ward in southeast Greater London and we have just had a big focus in Stake Conference on ‘Hastening the Work’ (another typically vague addition to our lexicon of jargon which puts a lot of pressure on without really being specific about it expects, and sounds vaguely like a Nazi or Soviet slogan. ‘If we rebrand it with a cool name it will have magical powers’…) We have 3 young companionships and a mature couple in our ward and they are all a godsend and on average quite effective at finding converts tracting and street contacting – one of the benefits of our local demographics with varied immigrant communities of people up for new things and from more religious cultures and traditions abroad. Numbers are dropping off even for us though.
    The major contributions they can make to our ward is their time – most of the ward council members have very busy and demanding jobs and family responsibilities and home teaching percentages in our stake have always been rubbish and probably always will be, so they really keep our show on the road visiting members and doing the chasing around to tidy up our ward list and find out who still lives here or not. The couple have been invaluable to the bishopric and me doing a lot of this and organising our leadership meetings.

    I totally agree that social media discussions and service should be neutral and not manipulated for prostelyting or it kills trust and won’t work anyway – D and C 121 says the priesthood can only function ‘without guile’ – but there is plenty in areas like ours where Mormons are rare and precious creatures that they can do serving and ministering just to the ward members to keep our congregations going. Average members have less and less time to do this, let alone develop community roles and non-member friendships as has been said already. I see loads of opportunities for them to focus on their primary role of preaching the gospel within the life of a ward or branch – full-on ministering – without needing generic community service opportunities on a large scale to keep them busy. Easily a very full time job in our ward and surely plenty of others. They could could do the chapel cleaning for a start so the small handful of local members who do everything else and end up being the only ones reliable enough to turn up to clean the building can spend a bit of time with their families before the Sabbath treadmill starts. My ‘day of rest’ involves about 7 or 8 hours of hard graft starting at the crack of dawn these days!

    I felt quite angry that the message coming through at Stake Conference was that it tends to be converts who already have a connection with the Church (part member families etc) who stay active long-term so they are the ones we should all focus our energy on. Totally defeatist and no way to convert the new families we will need for the Church to really grow and be capable of quickly stepping into leadership roles. My frustration is that the missionaries’ daily routine is specifically designed to ensure they are indoors with their head in a book when anyone with a 9-5 job is actually out and about and on their way to work. Our mission president let us run a local experiment for a month with our missionaries contacting, handing out cards and prints of their Mormon.org profiles to the thousands of commuters who pour into our local train stations and sit with not a lot to do for an hour on the way into London during early morning rush hour and it has a lot of potential, particularly when they get equipped to be able to follow up with internet conversations with those people while they are on the train. They found the Jehovah’s Witnesses were already doing it! So my view is we should reorganise their day, get them out and about when people with jobs and stable incomes are out and about instead of waiting till only the unemployed or homebound are available to talk to as they do currently (it beggars belief – no wonder they have given up hope of being able to convert middle class people from scratch.) and they can do companionship study etc in the middle of the day. Reorganise the routine. Tool them up with I.T. to be able to have dialogue with the busy people with jobs they meet who still manage a hefty dose of being online every day here and there. Focus their ministry on doing a lot of the things members are too busy to these days. Stop calling it missionary WORK (totally demotivating) and bag the silly archaic jargon. There! Sorted! ;) Taking the best bits of traditional missionary work and making it fit the 21st century. The joy and fun of missionary work is interacting with people, exploring a new community, getting to know it inside out even if the tracting doesn’t yield high returns, building relationships. Encourage them to get on with that instead of the hopeless quest that frazzled members are going to magically come up with exponentially more referrals.

  74. I am not an American and have been a member of our faith all my life
    My wife and I have recently served a Mission in Eastern Europe for 2 years which I must say we loved, all the doubts I had about the Missionary Program over the years were well illustrated during our service there. Our love of the people and for the very few who were taught, sharing the gospel was a sheer delight and I believed we made a contribution to the Church in this land.
    There has always been an elephant in the room in regard to Missionary work. This stems around American Culture, more particularly Western American Culture. This has resulted in a very real dichotomy between my love for America (where we lived and studied in the east and in Utah) and the rather negative issues of what I see as very real ‘high romanticism’ and a ‘business model’ rather than a religious one.’ The Church is culturally dominated by Western American Romanticism which has many redeeming aspects but has some very negative parts to it too …..the ”Unicorn and Rainbow” view of life. This has manifested itself in terrible sentimentality (see Church films in the 60’s+ or more recently Church History, “The dumb downed version”) as truth. Worst still there has been the preoccupation with things that aren’t difficult, things that are only ‘nice and good’, things that are ‘American’ and things that if you express a contrary opinion you tend to be dismissed, usually not passively. The other aspect is “The Group Talk” and “The Group Think” of Church Culture. Just don’t address the negatives, in fact, don’t raise them and don’t have any critical dialogue. This is another of the significant reasons we fail, particularly in Missionary Work! I see it rooted in this romanticism, as a German Artist described it “Feeling is Law” but it has to be ‘nice feelings’! Truth becomes the causality.
    In the Missionary Program we tend to all do pretty much the same where ever we are in the world…We seem never to ask real questions about what we do especially in a tough cultural environment where we served. We tend to want to tell them ‘what we think they need’ and ‘not necessarily what they need’!
    We served in a non English speaking country where the native language was one of the world’s difficult languages. Language defines thought. So one of the major issues we experienced was that religious language is at the high end, abstract and philosophical in nature. If you don’t use the correct language to communicate the religious ideas, can the Holy Ghost reveal truth if the idea is not truthfully presented? It seemed apparent that for the Missionary Program to develop, there needs to be some very significant studies on all cultural aspects of the nations we do missionary work in and a review of their language particularly their ‘religious’ language needs and how to approach each nation with its complexities.
    Mission Presidents are too busy and are asked not to ‘critically review the Mission with incoming Presidents’ as this will pass on prejudices (it usually happens however through the ‘back door ‘anyway) plus they will be ‘drowned’ by 18 year old problems, I fear, especially in countries of complexity and real toughness. Mission Presidents often ‘suffer’ from the corporate business model where you must look like you are achieving more than the person before you…..how does this relate to religious growth??
    The Church has a corporate business culture with emphasis on performance (often overachieving), reporting and conformity. I well remember our European Mission President who said,” I asked the senior couple who preceded you,” “how was the work going?” They gave what he described as an American answer “great, fine, just great”. He said he knew it wasn’t going well but never got through the ‘screen’ as he described it.
    I see this cultural screen all the time; it is one of the problems.
    As a Church we look like bankers; suited and badge wearing, a ‘fine corporate body!’ or as my American Mission President said; “I am glad to see you dressed in the Uniform of the Priesthood” I nearly through up, since my life was dominated by dealing with suited Business people, Politicians and Senior Bureaucrats who looked like the mafia and largely acted like them!
    It is interesting that in the country we served, a suit is worn to exams by young men and has a rather negative connotation. I remember too the wearing of a badge (which I particularly disliked) in the shopping malls where people thought you were part of management and almost always asked you where things were! (As we could not speak the language there was a lot of shoulder shrugging). A very fine Elder said “you know we have more success talking to people in winter because of our coats hide our badges.” Maybe some of our traditions get in the road and we are NOT willing to adjust?
    We do not learn either from others. Why don’t we look seriously at other religions that have Missionary success?? In the country we served one other religious group does not have a corporate image …they look more like the ‘normal citizens’ and do have much better access to the population having over 80,000 members where we had 300 active in a huge population which was almost all attending Catholics . They also are ‘more liberal’ with their new members behaviour than we are and given the complexity of this nation maybe we should look at a more sensitive cultural and behavioural approach?
    When I raised my feelings about the systematic failure of missionary work with a number of ex Mission Presidents there is no real answer other than” it takes time” and “the Lord is in Charge” both of which I agree but we can do better with what we are doing, MUCH BETTER. I thought the Missionary Program in the country we served in was largely wasted energy and direction, not because of the missionaries, nor the Mission Presidents , they were marvellous, but the wrong emphasis and direction…..no real questions and NO research or review of other religious successes. A matter of the right questions and with the help of the Lord I think would result in a much more successful preaching of the gospel.
    All the ‘correct principles I think are in the “Preach My Gospel’ but are NEVER ever adjusted correctly; certainly that was both my observation and experience. Finally the over emphasis on obedience as a weapon of behaviour mitigation is poorly taught and delivered to missionaries and the cruel emphasis on baptisms as a means of successful measurement….again a corporate business model. I well remember one poor Elder in tears saying to me” I must be so disobedient I have never baptised in our Mission, please teach me to be more obedient”. I nearly died with sadness. In this mission the average baptism was about .4 of a baptism per missionary per year!
    So, to me we have a long way to go, wrong “model”, wrong approach, very real cultural issues (internal and external), more research and questioning and “more haste, less speed” and importantly, if we would only harness other cultural views and accepting other models, remember the American Western ‘Centre Stake of Zion’(as was quoted to me,)model is not the only view of the world (I thought Zion was scattered throughout the world!) ..Let’s do some homework.

  75. So late with this comment, but anyway….

    The comment about Rick Warren building his mega church. We are a Church with continuing revelation, however the doctrine of the Church has continued to reflect the most conservative thinking in the Church. What we could do with is a jolt of doctrinal excitement, a reason for people to look at the Church. Right now the Church stands for polygamy is the past, racism in the past, anti-feminism and anti-gay in the present, and right wing politics. This sells NOWHERE. Not in the bible belt, because we are not Christian, not on the progressive coasts (New York or California) because of the politics and social conservatism.

    We need to make the Church more present in the now, more exciting to be in. As it were, missionary work would be a breeze, the Church would sell itself on the merits. We have to look at the product we are selling. No automobile manufacturer could possibly succeed selling 1920s hardware.

    Early we were selling a piece of America and a Restored Religion. Then we were selling a mixture of a cohesive society in a splintering world along with a new vision of who we are in relation to God. As God has become more amorphous, and more available to the masses and less controlled by organized religion, and as America has long since lost its luster or closed its borders to the rest of the world, this does not work any more. As organized religion has become less popular the nugget of the restored priesthood has ceased to shine.

    What do we have that anyone would want? We have a turn of the 20th century package in the turn of the 21st century society. Our appeal has turned toward 2nd and 3rd world peoples, and the downtrodden and outcast of our own society (in our ward, many new converts and contacts are drawn from down and out men and homeless. Not all, mind you, but still possibly a majority.)

    Make a better mouse trap….

  76. I completely agree – we have a sackfull of really exciting and contemporary Big Ideas to get excited about and emphasise in missionary approaches to modern educated first world (or any world) people.

    First the Christian basics of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, his living example of love in action and and our comparatively successful model of making close-knit communities that make Christianity a part of our daily life and manage to involve everyone without paying a minister to have most of the responsibility and most of the growth while the rest sit and watch.

    I suggest the other Unique Selling Points that should be working wonders in the 21st century Mormon Messages are:

    MORMON FEMINISM – D&C 121 has a very feminist analysis of the weaknesses of male psychology and establishes our male ordained priesthood as not a statement of male superiority but weakness and need for an intensive training program to fundamentally re-wire traditional male motivations of desire for control of others and status, which only a few will pass. They are given some powers exclusively because they are most likely to abuse them, so they need to prove they won’t before they get them permanently like the women. That’s radical feminism! Jacob 2-3 in the Book of Mormon says specifically that the Nephites were doomed and the Lamanites prevailed because of how they treated women, not just generic badness. Oh, and we have had an integrated female ministry, female-only spaces for mutual support and empowerment, women can become goddesses, we have a Heavenly Mother, and in the temple women perform priesthood ordinances as equals with men and are promised the same blessings after being reminded that Eve was the one with the brains in the garden of Eden. Pow! No other Christians can compete with that.

    MULTIRACIAL EQUALITY AND INCLUSIVENESS – sadly scuppered by a century of institutional racism, but after the repentence process is completed and the prophet publicly and unequivocably apologises for it the way will hopefully be clear for us to reclaim the unblemished commitment to inclusiveness we should have had all along. One of the biggest themes in the Book of Mormon that speaks to the modern world is a powerful anti-racist message – it sets up a situation of racial hatred, then follows the heroes who work hard to challenge and break down the racial cultural barriers of prejudice and see people of other races as ‘brothers’, and then ends with the brown people who had the disadvantaged beginning proving to be the most spiritually stable and ultimately the chosen people of God who survive rather than the people who thought they were the more civilised and racially superior ones.

    Global vision: 2 Nephi 29 ‘…. Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?…….. For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.’ That covers everyone everywhere!

    Individual inclusiveness – nearly everyone gets to part of heaven, no one is predestined to fail, free choice is paramount at every step and everyone past, present or future will have a fair chance at exaltation. God is just and merciful and helping co-eternal intelligences progress, not an arbitrary psychopath who made people from nothing knowing before he even started who he would burn in hell for eternity but went ahead and created them anyway.

    SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY – our theology copes with the insane size and complexity of the universe. It isn’t mostly empty of life and a big waste of effort – stuff that matters with planets full of people is going on all over it. God/s is/are a living organism in our universe (or transcending many dimensions of it or parallel universes if String Theory is correct) not some mysterious unknowable force disconnected from the fabric of reality. We are the same species as them. Our potential is to fully comprehend it all and have power to join in making more of it, not waste eternity boring God out of his mind going on and on and on about how awesome He is without ever really knowing why.

    HEALTHY AND DRUG FREE – drug dependency is one of the biggest scourges of modern society and life expectancies are falling in the first world because of unhealthy diets. Yay Word of Wisdom! We’ve had that one sorted since 1833…..1833!!!

    Our big ideas rock! Time to stop wasting time trying to be generic Christians in the PR and get excited again about how we have always had a gospel for the modern age, and leave the crusty old dying denominations without the answers eating our dust.

  77. The last two responses are fine BUT to me the real issues are not only content BUT how we deliver the content…..which includes cultural adjustments to how we teach the content……I am sorry to say but we DO need a cultural change in the church which also includes a less Utahan view of the world.

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