Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission).

I don’t agree with his characterization of Dyer, however, as an either/or proposition (either you teach and prepare and help them feel the spirit or you challenge baptism early). Dyer specifically talked about the spirit driving commitment and about the challenge being issued to all up front when they feel the spirit. It is true, though, that he decried the notions of teaching and preparing as fruitless and unnecessary. But let’s re-examine Dyer’s own words to see what he says.

I’ve done a few blog posts at By Common Consent about my mission here, here, and here. One discussion point is that my mission was following the Alvin Dyer Challenging & Testifying Missionary approach, a controversial approach that created high baptism rates followed by low retention rates. It’s an approach that was unique at that time (1989-90) in Europe in our newly formed mission in the Canary Islands and Azores. It had gone out of fashion, but our president liked it, and we used it.

By contrast, missionary friends in other places in Europe had a lot of hurdles to take investigators over before they could be baptized. Sometimes when I would share a story of a person we taught who was baptized, my friends serving elsewhere would sputter “But how did you get them ready? How did they have time to go to church twice first? How did you get through all the discussions?” That wasn’t a requirement in my mission, and it didn’t occur to me (based on how we were taught to work) that it would be necessary or important.

For those unfamiliar with the Challenging & Testifying Missionary approach, here’s a link to the talk it is based on. We were given a copy of the talk upon arriving in the mission, and we were told to refer to it often as a way to motivate ourselves and re-center if we were struggling. I was excited that Dyer’s own mission experience took place in my native Lancaster, PA.

Here are some of the quotes I found that most resonated for me when I was a missionary, with some explanation of what they meant in practice, and a few that were perhaps on somewhat shaky ground:

The more I see of people coming into the Church, and I have seen many thousands I see the reality of this one thing that the Lord knows who He wants in the Church. This has been determined beforehand and there isn’t much that you and I can do to destroy that. – Alvin Dyer

This was a huge contrast to some other missions where success was considered a byproduct of missionary obedience. That was not a misconception under which our mission was laboring. I jest–a little. Yes, we had some missionaries who were a little bit lax, but for the most part, people were trying to obey the rules that mattered. We didn’t consider the rules to be a path to success, just a way to keep missionaries safe and worthy. Frankly, we had a lot of autonomy working on islands with little oversight, and how individuals interpreted the rules was often fairly loose.

You could interpret Dyer’s statement to be determinism, and maybe some did, but I think most of us viewed it as people having their own agency to choose to join or not, and that we should invite everyone and if they were interested, we’d keep going with them. We starting talking about baptism as early as we could, and if they didn’t progress, we’d move on.

One of the most difficult things to remember is that this matter of teaching by the spirit is the special talent that a missionary has been given, and unless he uses it in testifying of the truth, he may lose it. And when he once loses it he may never get it back again. There is no other talent the missionary has to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ other than to testify of it by the spirit. . . . I know in my heart that we have not sold this idea of testifying by the spirit fully to the missionary. I don’t believe our missionaries as a whole are teaching this way. We have learned the catchword of “teaching by the spirit” but we do not do it. We teach by our knowledge and this is often confusing to the people. – Alvin Dyer

We were very focused on the idea of teaching with the spirit rather than teaching the discussions exactly as written. We would hit on the majority of the points, but we were constantly distilling the discussions into a set of objectives, the 2-3 main things we had to get across, and the purpose was to keep the person progressing to the next step or to determine they weren’t interested in going on. Sometimes, we would teach them in a different order if it just felt right in the moment. We had a lot of ambiguity and freedom. It’s probably one reason I’ve never been a fan of following a correlated lesson methodologically.

You actually do not know when you go to a door whom the Lord has prepared for the gospel. You must approach each door with the idea that here is where people who are prepared for the gospel live. You must do it without fail at every home because you do not know if these people have been chosen by the Lord. – Alvin Dyer

Image result for glengarry glen ross

He could have been one of my ZLs.

Again, this idea that every door is a potential sale baptism was something very powerful at getting us through our fear. The longer you delay asking someone if they want to be baptized, the less likely you will ever get the chance. We often brought it up at the door, not just in the second discussion. For us, the idea that some people were ready and others were not was also very freeing. You didn’t have to really create or prepare new church members, just find them. And if they didn’t progress, they weren’t the ones God had prepared.

The missionary often says, “We have met the most wonderful family today and we are going to challenge them Wednesday.” How do you know you are going to Wednesday? Why didn’t You challenge them last night? Know more about what? Do you think you can teach a testimony? Can you analyze your own testimony of the gospel? Try and do it. Try and explain why you think Jesus is the Son of God. You will never explain it by physical reasoning. Where do you get the knowledge to say “I know Jesus is the Son of God?” John said, “Of this no man needs teaching.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is not knowledge. When people say they are glad to have a knowledge of Jesus they speak in what we call a manner of speech. The gospel is a feeling. It is controlled and governed by the power of the Holy Ghost, and this great personage has been assigned to administer the gifts and the spiritual powers of this life and you cannot and never will be able to take the place of this power as it ministers unto and influences people.  – Alvin Dyer

As I look through my mission journal, we focused a lot on whether we felt like we had brought the spirit into the discussion. Sometimes we just didn’t feel it; we could generally agree when it wasn’t there and when it was, regardless of what investigators decided to do. I don’t think we felt bad about it when we weren’t successful at bringing it into the discussion; we just tried again. I read one particular passage in my journal that was about this experience where there were 2 elders and my comp & me. We tried, we taught the same things, but we just weren’t feeling it. We didn’t know why, but because of our focus on the Challenging & Testifying Missionary, my assumption was that these just weren’t people who were ready. We didn’t assume it was our fault or because we were bad missionaries. We’d get frustrated when it felt like a waste of time, but that wasn’t the same thing as internalizing it or feeling guilty.

I don’t believe that all who come into the Church are going to stay in and there will be many spin off because they were not able to sustain their conversion, which more than likely has been a doctrinal and not a spiritual conversion. Here is the right slant of missionary work. Dogmatic instructions tend only to confuse. – Alvin Dyer

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Almost a direct quote.

In practice, this aspect of the approach meant we as missionaries were off the hook for what happened with the people we baptized afterward. For some, that meant baptizing people they knew would never stick with it, such as sailors in the port who were leaving that week and didn’t live there, but sort of assuming/justifying that the baptism was still a positive step in the overall journey of the person’s life.

There were plenty of us, though, who really did want people to stay in the church, but in this case the nature of our specific mission rules & culture made it difficult for us to facilitate retention. We had a rule that missionaries could only attend church if they had investigators with them. Otherwise, you were kicked out by the Zone Leaders. In my case, there was one area where my trainee & I had not been to church for six weeks, and then we came one Sunday with two families to be baptized. As soon as they were baptized, we were once more not allowed to attend church. One family stayed active and the other did not (although they probably wouldn’t have anyway). The members were frustrated with us for not attending, although we would visit them during the week. They felt the pressure of having new converts they hadn’t met just dumped on their doorstep.

Image result for glengarry glen rossI was just talking with a fellow missionary at a reunion about how crazy that rule was. The running joke in our mission was: “The only time I was inactive in the church was on my mission.” I mentioned that I kept writing to president about how this rule was terrible, and eventually it did get changed, but much later than my letters. This other missionary said that I probably had two mistaken assumptions: 1) that our President was the one who created the rule (rather than the APs or ZLs), and 2) that President actually read my letters. Oy! Good points.

I am convinced that we keep people out of the church. I can tell by the look on some of your faces that this goes against the grain. You still like it nice and easy, where you go in and teach the lessons. Teach by the spirit when you go into the home, and have the spirit so strong it comes out of your fingers and they feel it so strong they say, “I know what you say is true.” You can teach all six lessons in 10 minutes when they say that. – Alvin Dyer

I’m not sure anyone actually taught all six discussions (at the time) in 10 minutes, but we also didn’t do them over a period of 6 weeks. When my parents went through the discussions there were 52 weekly discussions before baptism. We were teaching all 6 discussions in 1-2 weeks usually, and sometimes we taught 3-6 after baptism.

There was probably a bit of a “coffee’s for closers” mentality in the mission, too, as a result. If you were baptizing, you could relax in other areas, and those who weren’t baptizing were just not willing to do what you were doing. I wouldn’t say everyone felt that way, but there were some who got very caught up in what we called “the yellow sheet” which was the monthly newsletter showing who had baptized for how many months. If you ever went a month without baptizing, you would fall off the sheet and had to start from scratch again, just like an OSHA violation in a manufacturing plant: “0 days incident free!”

Image result for car dealership salesmanFor those in leadership roles, not baptizing might mean being bumped back down in rank. Since I was a sister, leadership roles were not relevant. We were trainers or senior companions, but not eligible for leadership positions. Even so, a few of my companions were very focused on their placement in those rankings. Others were pretty rebelliously cavalier about them. I was kind of agnostic about them. It was great to feel like you were making a difference, but the rankings were just about how other missionaries saw you.

I know missionaries who cling to the idea that they can’t be baptized until they know what they are being baptized for. You teach about the Godhead and the apostasy. Often they don’t know what you are talking about. . . . Now these lessons are important. I’m not saying they are not. When people are baptized they have an eagerness to learn everything about the Church. . . . I was telling the president about a fine attorney we baptized recently. He got his testimony the first night. Here is a man who stands before the judgement bar and argues cases, but he got a different feeling that night. The attorney said he knew that Joseph Smith was prophet by the way the missionary said it. The missionary said, “We’ll get him after the third lesson,” and they did. This man had the stamina to withstand the three lessons. He said, “I didn’t know what they were talking about. The only desire I had was to get into the Church. – Alvin Dyer

In practice this meant that the focus was not on content in the teaching, just on creating a feeling and then asking them to be baptized and join the church. On the one hand, it was a humbling message to the missionaries to point out that there was precious little they were going to “teach” these people who were much older and often wiser than they were. The focus was on seeing everyone as having great potential, and then inviting them.

We are preparing people to be leaders in the worlds that will follow this one. Do you suppose He will have to change the man or woman that He wants to prepare to be a future king and queen in some other world? That is ridiculous. This is God’s work. Our work is to help Him get people into the Church. – Alvin Dyer

Now, of course, there are a few issues with this approach that are probably obvious to most of us.

  • Lack of coordination with the local members / wards which led to lower retention.
  • A bit of “used car salesman” Glengarry Glen Ross style Zone meetings. And these were definitely the norm (minus most of the language, although I do recall one ZL suggesting that we “reach down to see if we had some balls” given poor results). Mostly I laughed this stuff off because they were being idiots.
  • So-called “baseball baptism” approaches in some cases (“port” baptisms were more common in our islands mission), but these issues were probably mostly driven by having a numbers focus that was solely measured by baptisms and not retention or growth. The lack of responsibility among missionaries for retention was reinforced by the statement that some people just won’t stay active. It wasn’t something people felt was in their control, which it’s not, but we could have done a better job at hand-offs.

Image result for car dealership salesmanThat was my experience as a missionary anyway, and the funny thing is that as a result, I have found that I’m actually pretty good at sales, although I avoid the slimy tactics that I saw from time to time. In a mission skit at a conference, some elders did a funny but telling sketch in which they were teaching an investigator as if it really was a used car sale.

ELDER: We’ve got a great Celestial Kingdom plan for you that comes with baptism. What do you think?

INVESTIGATOR: Well, I’m not ready to give up smoking.

ELDER: That’s totally fine. We’ve got another package called our Terrestrial Kingdom package. And guess what–that also comes with baptism!

INVESTIGATOR: Well, that sounds good, but I’m not so sure about giving up sex with my girlfriend.

ELDER: No problem! There’s a package that’s just right for you. It’s our Telestial Kingdom package. That also comes with baptism. So what’s it going to take to put you in a font today?

It was an effective skit at getting the point across, taking a swipe at some of the tactics that were used. For those of you who served missions, let’s hear about your experience:

  • Did you use the Challenging & Testifying Missionary or some other approach? What were the pros & cons of the approach?
  • What do you think would be the ideal approach for missionaries to avoid some of the pitfalls? If you were a mission president, how would you avoid the issues you saw as a missionary? What numbers would you measure?
  • Do programs like this work or simply create a scorched earth effect for future missionaries?
  • Did you see yourself as primarily a teacher, a salesperson, a therapist or something else?
  • Did leaders in your mission push the numbers too much or get caught up because of the need to have successful results or did they avoid that? Did the sisters stay out of the fray because they weren’t considered eligible for leadership?

Discuss.

Comments

  1. Happy Hubby says:

    I was on my mission in the mid 80’s and we were pushed to not delay challenging, but not “you MUST ask on the first discussion” (but if the spirit prompted, DO IT!)

    I can think of one companion that I had that I think scared off someone that was interested, but not THAT interested.

    I do feel it makes the missionaries come off as only interested in getting people in the font. That tends to lead to others being more “I am not even going to listen to you because I know your only motive.”

    I think there is a spectrum of personalities for missionaries and investigators. Some missionaries need a bit of “don’t wait until the 3rd time you have given all the discussions to ask them.” Other need to get a bit of, “hold up there Abinidi and work with people a bit more.”

    Did you see yourself as primarily a teacher, a salesperson, a therapist or something else?

    THAT is a good question. Going out I thought I was mainly going to be a teacher and I thought the only pressure would be between me and God. Once I was out, it was much more towards the salesperson with my “manager” pushing hard for me to set high goals and lots of pressure to meet those goals. Afterwards either a promotion or shame would be coming.

    In my mission, numbers were emphasized too much IMHO. It bothered me my whole mission and I could never push the guilt on others even though I was a DL, ZL, and in the office. I always tried to encourage.

    Did the sisters stay out of the fray because they weren’t considered eligible for leadership?

    Wow. Another step in the mile-high ladder of becoming aware of my obliviousness on some matters. I don’t think I thought about it at the time, but I would say now this was absolutely the case for most sister missionaries. They had somewhat of a different mission (purpose) and mission experience.

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    A lot of those sorts of ZLs are now bishops and stake presidents in the US who wonder why their units have >75% inactive rates.

  3. I served in the New England in the mid-90s. We were encouraged to give a “soft challenge” for baptism at the end of the 1st discussion, essentially as it is scripted in the manual. Basically, once you receive a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, we hope you will be baptized. Then we sought a firm baptismal commitment at the end of the 2nd discussion. As I remember it, we weren’t supposed to teach beyond the 2nd discussion without a baptismal commitment. In practice my companions and I routinely taught all the way through the 6th discussion without it. We did this largely for the sake of the numbers. We had to report exactly how many discussions we taught each week.

    In the U.S., I think the “scorched earth” effect comes from over-tracting, not any given teaching approach. I’ve been inactive for almost two decades, and even I’m tired of the roughly bi-annual knock on the door or sidewalk encounter around town. Same old thanks-but-no-thanks conversation.

    I saw myself as a teacher charged with recruiting his own students. The reporting could be annoying (and I’m sure I was annoying when I was the DL/ZL), but I felt like the mission presidents I had were generally well-grounded and sincere in getting us to prepare investigators well. Regarding retention, does anybody else remember the 6 post-baptismal discussions, which Stake Missionaries usually were tasked with teaching?

    I remember sisters being visible in zone conferences, speaking up in group discussions. I remember getting the sense of some of were gifted teachers and spiritually in-tune. But I don’t remember them as being disruptive in any way, positive or negative.

  4. Served in Europe from 99-01. We didn’t have high pressure to baptize or to issue premature challenges, but we were encouraged to give what I’ll call a “contingency challenge” up front if the circumstances were right: “Iif you get an answer that this is true, will you be baptized?” I don’t think we even would have counted a “yes” as committed for baptism in our reporting. I didn’t really mind it since it wasn’t being pushed as a cheap trick or anything – just giving the person a heads up about where this was headed if they continued with the lessons, which makes sense. Mileage could have varied in the nuances of the approach pressure-wise by individual missionaries, but we had a fairly healthy culture thanks to a good mission president.

  5. As an adult convert to the church I personally am grateful to the Elders who asked me early and repeatedly if I wanted to be baptized. I was 40 years old. I am 60 now. I remember going to the blessing of my friends baby. I felt the spirit , listened to the testimonies, and felt unworthy to even ask to return the next Sunday. I do not proclaim to know anyone else’s heart but my own. But mine needed all those invitations. They made me feel welcome, included, they made me desire to strive and learn more , in a church that can feel very insular at times.
    I studied and met with the elders for over a year, and I am grateful to them for their patience and persistence.

  6. Michael H. says:

    In my mission in Argentina 2007-9, we were give specific directives to *not* word such challenges — which we were encouraged to give as early as possible, including in contacts — in a contingent, conditional way: not “When you know the truth of these things, will you get baptized?” but “Will you get baptized [on X date]?”

    Nevertheless, I remember counting conditional statements toward our challenge numbers, which we had to report.

  7. Latam girl says:

    This looks like a great post and I look forward to the discussion but I wonder if you could edit/annotate in such a way that it becomes more clear (I’m on a mobile device) which paragraphs are from the Dyer talk and which are your commentary. It was confusing.

  8. Northern California, mid-90’s. Elder Loren C. Dunn came to our mission and held several special training conferences where he specifically instructed us to invite people to be baptized in our door approaches while tracting.

  9. I served in an area that had suffered under this approach under a previous mission president (I think about 2 before). There was still some hangover among some missionaries pushing like this, but the biggest repercussions were enormous inactive rates. The first Sunday I spent in my last area 2 branches were merged into one. My outgoing mission president (who knew me well and loved me) recommended in our last interview that I focus on reactivation instead of new finding. Since no one else was privvy to our conversation that didn’t really go over that well in practice, but I found it satisfying to at least track people down and remind them that God loved them and if they wanted to come to church again, they’d be welcome.

  10. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    Great post. And I’m sure many more comments will validate, with similar stories. I don’t think you needed to experience Dyer-based variance (as laid out here) to experience this. I served during the Missionary Guide years (“commitent pattern” much?) and this approach, to commit as early as possible, perhaps in the first discussion or even at the door, is baked right into the Missionary Guide (the proto Preach My Gospel) if I’m not mistaken. And it’s not required to think that this approach deliberately encouraged “salesmanship” over the spirit…. in fact i think the approach assumed they could feel the spirit and therefore make a commitment based on that experience. So the problem is/was simply that this is unrealistic, not that it’s inherently unspiritual. At any rate, I imagine the comments will populate with many accounts that agree, and along those lines (for what it’s worth) I can certainly add my “amen” – – i most definitely experienced this in 1990-1992, in a highly systematic way. That this existed, and still exists (based on my interactions with a son currently serving) seems incontrovertible. Numerous additional anecdotes might be ethnograpgically interesting but unnecessary to prove the point.

    But that brings me to what really bothers me about this. (And to the extent it matters, I’m a highly active former bishopric and high council member, tithe payer, temple attender..) While I’m certainly bothered by “sales-y” missionary practice for all the obvious retention reasons, the thing that bugs me most here is Elder Ballard’s position. Boy, does that grate. The whole “we had no idea this is going on, where did it come from?” position is completely, totally disingenuous. And that really irritates me. I find this tendency – give no quarter, never admit regret or even fallibility – to be almost more institutionally problematic that the hard-sell proselytizing practices themselves.

  11. Peter Bleakley says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Angela. I am a Brit who served in the Alabaman bit of the Florida Tallahassee Mission 1989-91 and has been a ward mission leader several times since in 3 wards including a comparatively high baptising but not always retaining one with 6 missionaries in.

    Ballard is shamelessly lying his head off just as egregiously as he did when he declared to the LDS YSA’s of the world in his Face to Face with Oaks a couple of years ago that the leaders of the Church have never hidden anything from anybody… while clutching an Improvement Era article about the 1932 First Vision account that Joseph Fielding Smith his in his safe for 30 years so noone would find out about it. Ballard was apparently heavily involved in creating and promoting Preach My Gospel which includes strong pressure to issue a baptismal challenge WITH A DATE that the missionaries have already decided on without consulting their investigators or yet having any sense of how long their personal journey of learning and conversion is going to need in the second discussion, preferably the first ‘if the Spirit prompts’. What missionary feeling the Spirit while teaching is not going to interpret that as permission to issue a baptism challenge?!

    I have as WML sat through several car crashes such as a missionary who tried that in a second discussion on a struggling student nurse with 3 kids including one with special needs and gave her just 2 weeks as a date, which would require several discussions a week, because of some random zone target or something. Of course it went down like a lead balloon and she soon stopped investigating. To his credit he realised after he had screwed up because the Spirit fled and hopefully it was a salutory lesson to avoid anything like thosen high pressure sales techniques in future. Also a losing battle I had with a fanatic zone leader who insisted that the baptism date for an investigator who as clearly educationally compromised and told them repeatedly he was extremely anxious and did not want to get baptised then could not be moved because he received it by revelation when he and his companion prayed about it. He ended up standing next to a full font watching it go cold because of course the investigator did not turn up for the baptism date he had had ‘revealed’ to him. Why on earth have we been making our poor missionaries think any of that nonsense was a good idea or even their holy obligation?!! Is it any wonder so many leave the church when they get home. It’s abusive and cruel.

    ‘Scorched earth’ is an understatement. Decades of this apalling nighmare of rushing people to baptism and dire retention rates have devastated our wards. My stake and Europe in general has an activity rate of 22% which is probably typical of most of the world now, and that is 22% of the peolle on ward lists, not even counting the however many millions on the ‘address unknown’ files. This is a huge burden for wards to carry and it demoralises members constantly feeling obliged to still visit and try to reactivate all that dead wood. It has scorched the members’ trust in the missionaries or that work in general after so many insane and dooomed gimmics. I wouldn’t let most missionaries anywhere near any friends of mine without very careful de-programming and rules first about not rushing them. Most of my work as a WML was trying to persuade missionaries to free themselves from the intense numbers and rush it culture imposed on them by General Authorities in person and via their mission presidents and engage with investigators as adult humans with autonomy. My first zone conference involved Elder Jeffrey Holland telling us we were crap and he wouldn’t go into battle with us and bullying our District and Zone leaders into doubling their already unrealistically high baptism targets for the coming month… none of which were met of course. I am now hearing in faceboook groups that he basically did the same wherever he went. And Ballard thinks the GA’s don;t know where this came from?!

    Not surprisingly the whole system has finally crashed with missionary numbers and converts per missionary falling through the floor. We are steadily losing missionaries in our wards which is the death knell for those wards basically. The mission I served in closed down. the 2 branches I seved in there no longer exist. My home England London South mission just closed down and got merged with the neighbouring ones. All because of this utterly dysfunctional mess of a mission system that doean’t work, doesn’t do even basic common sense things to retain investigators, doesn;t learn from its mistakes and totally ignores middle class families who did the right thing, got educated, got a 9-5 job, are raising children and will never see a missionary because they are busy out and about while they are at work. Most of the members who have been keepers and leaders took months, even years to investigate.

    Hallelujah, Ballard has finally spoken up about the key problems. But why oh why can our apostles never take responsibility for the consequences of their own catastrophic errors? They ALWAYS have to lie or try to blame their victims these days. This is perhaps the moment when they overplayed that hand – EVERYONE who has served as or with missionaries knows perfectly well it all came from the General Authorities. All of it.

  12. Served in Texas 09-11, at some point, I think halfway through my mission we were specifically instructed to challenge people to be baptized in the first lesson, with a date and everything two weeks out, so they would have time to attend church twice.

    This was intensified further during my last 8 months when a visiting 70 told us to do it the very first time we contacted someone.

    So I don’t buy Elder Ballard’s “we never said to do this/don’t know how this started”.

    Or perhaps they really don’t know, and members of the 70 and mission presidents were just doing their own thing without a whole lot of coordination with the capital B brethren.

  13. Not a Cougar says:

    Our mission in the Philippines certainly wasn’t “baptize at all costs” but we absolutely did follow the prompting in the second discussion to invite to baptism (and there was a prompt to invite in the first discussion if we felt it was appropriate). Around a year into my mission, our mission president issued a directive requiring investigators to live the WoW for 30 days (and the clock restarted with slip-ups) and also emphasized the need to baptize men (fathers in particular) because of the idea that if the men are active, the rest of the family (present or future) is more likely to be active (I recall reading some non-LDS research that seemed to support this idea). I also recall the mission president sending out a letter expressing his great displeasure when, the month after the 30-day policy was implemented, our mission baptism goal dropped from something around 200 (we were over 300 when first got there) to just over 40. He also didn’t like it when one of the elders pointed out that every non-member we met had some sort of WoW issue (smoking and drinking were absolutely ubiquitous for men – I met one young man who didn’t drink or smoke, but he was certainly a coffee drinker) and that the goals were a reflection of that reality.

    One thing I did agree with was that we also stopped trying to baptize people so far from the church building because people didn’t have transportation money to regularly get there (we heard tales of missionaries paying transportation expenses for investigators who promptly went inactive when the subsidies ended upon baptism or shortly thereafter). I regularly met inactive members who had only ever been to church 1-2 times, including getting baptized. A side effect of that decision was that our teachable area boundaries were effectively reduced by well over half and we wound up covering the same areas on a regular basis.

    I look back on it and I really don’t feel guilty about the people I baptized. I never used underhanded approaches to convince people to join, and we did our best to ensure they had at least some knowledge of what they were getting into (understanding that at the time I had no idea about some of the difficulties addressed by the Gospel Topic and Church History essays). We also tried our best to ensure the ward was acquainted with and invested in the new members (we really tried hard to work through referrals). It worked about as effectively there as it did in the U.S. so retention after a year was roughly 1/3.

  14. Segullah says:

    In my mission (Upstate New York, mid-1980’s) we had two visiting Seventies demand that we set high baptismal goals and challenge for baptism during the first two discussions. Our missionaries were also highly indoctrinated with the book “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven” by Grant von Harrison. If we were not baptizing millions, it was our fault for not being fully committed to the work. Never was it acknowledged that investigators possessed God-given agency, or that there are factors outside our locus of control.

    I am grateful that Elder Ballard has provided a course correction. But high-pressure sales techniques and faulty theology were part of the mission experience for decades.

  15. I served in the midwest U.S. in the early 90’s, and elements of this approach were definitely explicitly taught in our mission. Soft-challenge on the first discussion, follow up with a firm baptismal challenge on the second, no exceptions. The focus was on getting through the discussions so the person could be baptized, not on actually teaching. Discussions were not to last more than 45 minutes. In the hands of an over-zealous missionary, this becomes even more a recipe for disaster. I had one companion who believed in keeping discussions to 30 minutes. I remember teaching a 1st discussion to a man who didn’t even know if God was real. When I stopped to try to “resolve concerns”, my companion got mad at me, took over the teaching, barreled through the lesson, and we were done in 30 minutes. It didn’t seem to matter that the guy didn’t even believe in God, we got through the discussion. I have story after story after story about some of the shady things that were done in my mission in the name of furthering the work. Once I got out from under the tutelage of some of my early senior companions (one in particular) and had more autonomy for myself, I did what my conscience felt was best, but that also resulted in being looked down on by leadership.

  16. my mission was following the Alvin Dyer Challenging & Testifying Missionary approach, a controversial approach that created high baptism rates followed by low retention rates. It’s an approach that was unique at that time (1989-90) in Europe in our newly formed mission in the Canary Islands and Azores. It had gone out of fashion, but our president liked it, and we used it.

    Angela, I’m not sure if you meant to say following Dyer’s approach was unique to Europe or to your mission. I served in the Belgium Brussels mission during this same time period, 1989-91, and Dyer’s talk, in our case, given at a conference in Paris, France, 9 April 1961, was included in the printed welcome booklet we received upon arrival. I have a large box full of all the archived materials I gathered on my mission and pulled out this welcome book this morning to refresh my memory. I extensively marked up and underlined passages in the talk as I recall because as missionaries and especially as leaders – I served as a District Leader for half my mission – many of us referenced it regularly.

    As you know, Dyer was the President of the European Mission in 1961 (essentially the Regional President) with oversight for all missions in the British Isles and Continental Europe. My father was serving in Paris as a missionary at the time – and attended the Paris Conference – and he explained that Dyer likely gave this same talk at mission conferences across the region in the Spring of 1961 as he worked to spread the invitation and instruction to missionaries to become bold and engage with the Spirit in their teaching. In chapter 10 (The Missionary Program), of his David O McKay biography, Gregory Prince references Dyer, an Assistant to the 12 before he was called to lead the European Mission, Henry D Moyle a counselor in the First Presidency with responsibility for the entire missionary program, and T. Bowring Woodbury who was called as President of the British Mission in 1958 and had served as a counselor to Dyer when he was President of the Central States Mission in the mid 1950s. These leaders carried forth the effort of revitalizing the missionary effort and it was during this era where the idea of the Challenging & Testifying Testifying missionary surfaced. Prince reflects on the remarkable initial growth that was achieved in the first couple of years and then the aftermath as what can fairly be called zealotry took over in pursuit of driving ever increasing numbers through the pressure and unintended consequences that led to a disastrous outcome including “baseball baptisms” and such.

    In my mission in 1989 we lived the Challenging & Testifying approach in spirit and in word with regular instruction and examples from leaders within the mission. We were to testify, invite the Spirit into people’s homes and then challenge them to set a date to be baptized. If the Spirit was there on the first visit then it was to be recognized and the invitation was to be made. And the expectation was that we would set up follow up appointments over the next two weeks if possible to teach them all of the discussions. It was rare that we could achieve this though this was the ideal outcome. But there were rules: investigators had to be taught the doctrinal content of all the missionary discussions, they had to attend sacrament meeting at least one time and commit to keep the Sabbath day holy, and they had to meet the Bishop or Branch President. I believe this approach is the spirit of missionary work where the call is to find, testify, and invite people to follow the Spirit into the waters of baptism. Though it lacks in something which is the effort to ensure retention and to take measures to figure out how to build a foundation with and around the new convert that plants their feet solidly in the gospel soil while also providing effective fellowship that will help them through what can be a significant transition in their lives.

    As I reflect on my experiences as a leader I felt the pressure to baptize as the expectation was that every leader in the mission would set the example by baptizing every single month. It was expected that every missionary companionship would achieve this goal and we were encouraged to set daily and weekly goals to pursue this success with hours of tracting, Books of Mormon handed out, discussions given all being seen as leading indicators for achieving that success. I recall one new companion, who had been out just a few months longer than I had and had developed a reputation as a bit of a hard case, telling me in no uncertain terms on the first night I arrived as the new DL, that he wanted nothing to do with the numbers. “You can set them if you want,” he declared, “and I know the ZLs will expect them, but don’t expect me to play that game.” In my heart I understood him but I had a responsibility to live the example. I felt I often walked the tightrope between where my heart led and what my head was telling me as a result of the regular phone calls and instructions I received from those above me.

    But we experienced extraordinary success as a mission, especially a French mission where it seemed the Church had always struggled. As a mission we baptized at least 1000 new members in 1989 and again in 1990. Part of that I would ascribe to the influx of African immigrants, especially those from the West African nations of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Nigeria. These individuals were streaming into France from former colonies at a time when immigration was less of an issue than it is today. It was a very different environment and what we missionaries recognized was that the Africans were extremely open to the Spirit and spoke of dreams and encounters and often welcomed us with open arms. What I didn’t realize at the time but learned later when my parents were called to serve in the Ghana Temple, was that Ghana shut the Church down in 1989 – in what was called The Freeze – and I would say that part of the way the Lord dealt with this was by sending many who were ready for the gospel elsewhere to be taught. The APs and those working the Brussels office had an opportunity akin to shooting fish in a barrel because there was a large immigrant processing center nearby and pretty much all they had to do was hang out outside the dorm there and chat up every single person who walked in and out. Many baptisms resulted from those encounters. How many stayed in the Church after is hard to say but I would say the retention of those members was no worse than what we encountered in the broad averages.

    I do recall the baptismal number that was set for 1991 and somewhat sarcastically declaring that the APs might have spent one too many nights out in the brasseries consuming a few too many beers since their number – 1889 as I recall – exactly matched the name of a popular brand of Belgian beer (of course they didn’t – that kind of behavior was not tolerated in our mission – but the coincidence was sufficient to make the joke). Still I had a couple of encounters at the end of 1990 that left me extremely uncomfortable where we were pressured to accelerate the baptism for certain individuals in December to help achieve a specific goal. I rebelled then and was overriden by those above me as they interviewed and baptized a man I absolutely knew was not ready. I still look back on that experience as the worst example of salesmanship encroaching upon what was supposed to be a Spirit driven endeavor that was meant to change lives and not just hit numbers.

    The other challenge we faced was that we were strongly discouraged from keeping contact with members / investigators after we left an area. This was hard because we built strong friendships with both converts and “interested” friends and it felt like such a whiplash to them I’m sure that we essentially abandoned them when we were transferred. I have some very heartfelt letters I received from a woman my companion and I baptized who found our departure as such a loss. Today missionaries are encouraged to keep contact through social media but back then we were told we could write them letters after we were released from our mission. I appreciate why, our President had dealt with a few examples of missionaries becoming too familiar with young women, or older men becoming attached to sister missionaries, and he was trying to avoid outcomes that would wind up sending a missionary home. But I’m sure this did not help in retention for new members either.

    When I served in Mulhouse I recall one month, we had 5 investigators (I know this term has fallen out of use or is being pushed hot to be used today but it was the term we used at the time), all of whom at one point in our instruction agreed to commit to be baptized. These were honest acceptances and not something done under undue pressure from us. And with each one of the these dear friends, because they felt like friends with all the time we spent with them discussing their challenges and hopes and daily lives, at some point each of them decided they could not continue. For one it was us asking them to give up smoking and drinking, for another it was the law of Chastity, and for someone else it was the idea of tithing. This was in the last 6 months of my mission, when I felt like I both had a full grasp of the language and a mature understanding of what it took to be an effective missionary. It was devastating to report 0 baptisms that month because it seemed as if we were so close. My companion and I darkly joked that if only we could use the “Manipulation Pattern,” instead of the Commitment Pattern we could help these people do what we knew was really best for them.

    Those were some of the dismal months when I struggled as a missionary and questioning the reasons for my lack of baptisms. What I will say is there was a strong emphasis for unity between the companions where an environment of love between the two (or three in some cases) missionaries would allow the Spirit to flourish and be an effective tool in guiding our work and touching the hearts and minds of those we encountered. So there was a balance in what we was pushed within our mission. There as a definitely a strong push for numbers but there was equally an emphasis on truly serving together/each other and understanding what it meant to feel the fruits of the Spirit enveloping your work.

    Today, when I have taught the early “MTC” for High School Seniors my emphasis has been on understanding that they teach by the Spirit. That the goal should be to set the individual’s eyes on the temple and the eternities. That baptism is only a start and that they are asking people to dramatically change their lives. That this is a very difficult path and that they will need the support of missionaries and members as friends to guide them in this change. I’ve also reinforced that they should be aware of the stricture of missionary life but should recognize that their success is in helping people feel the Spirit and helping them make commitments while understanding that the missionary cannot make someone decide to be baptized and I don’t believe they should set a monthly goal for such an outcome. Instead, they should set goals for efforts they can control and see the true measurement of success is the extent to which they are connecting with people and helping them feel the Spirit. That making the connection is the goal. The Spirit is in charge from there on both sides of the equation.

    That said, I’m hoping President Ballard either misspoke or is misquoted because honestly I cannot believe that leadership of the Church does not know where the practice of inviting people to be baptized on first encounter came from. It came directly from the top and has persisted in pockets ever since. It may be easier to gloss over and ignore the history but the honest truth which I think they would acknowledge if asked directly, is that we know exactly where this practice came from and we’re doing our best to change behavior through positive teaching.

  17. Wondering says:

    “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ”
    I have noted the ambiguity in Elder Ballard’s statement quoted here. Standing alone, the part of this sentence beginning “before” could modify “baptized” rather than “invite.” But the rest of the context doesn’t support that interpretation of the ambiguity. Still, while agreeing largely with Peter Bleakley (my mission was in continental Europe years earlier), I stop short of calling out Elder Ballard or other GAs as “lying.” I am somewhat less sure that they know when they are speaking falsehoods — as opposed to whether they should know. I suspect some of them have at least sometimes succumbed to the LDS culture of GA adoration and cannot imagine themselves having made a mistake and so, do not look back with an open mind to see where it was or may have been.
    I had a law partner like that once who didn’t even have the impetus of the adoration-culture behind his inability to see himself as mistaken He was a master at revising history in his own head so that he actually believed his statements contrary to fact. He had no idea how to deal with someone who would actually call him on them. I wonder sometimes if we do not see some of that going on with some GAs.
    On the other hand, when GAs are disingenuous (as I suspect some are at least sometimes), I wonder if it could be motivated by concern for the sheep who can’t handle an admission that folks they sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators could be mistaken.

  18. it's a series of tubes says:

    I studied and met with the elders for over a year, and I am grateful to them for their patience and persistence.

    Lisa, thanks for sharing. I’m going to stay behind my handle for now, but I hope you and your family are doing well.

    -A former P-4 member

  19. Aaron H. says:

    I served in the California, San José Mission from 12-14.
    From reading the comments I think I’ll be the youngest to comment on the article here, which might add some insight.

    My Mission was numbers driven. We reported 23 key indicators every week. However, I never was told by my Mission President to commit to baptism without the spirit. Preach my Gospel never directs you to do it (to the doubters PMG says as part of the outline for the lessons to invite to be baptized “as prompted by the spirit.”)
    The pressure I got was from the other mission leadership. My DLs and ZLs and the APs.
    Everytime we turned in “subpar” numbers (ie:below the standards of excellence) we were given this guilt trip that was supposed to encourage us to find ways to get the numbers.
    Even if the numbers made sense. Like “we taught 30 lessons this week, which is 10 more than the standard, but we only got 60 of our 140 street contacts, sorry. We were too busy actually teaching people than walking around on the street getting yelled at by random people. I feel like that was a better use of our time. ”
    And we’d get yelled at, by the ZLs for not getting our numbers in. It was rediculous.
    I got in several arguments with companions about bending the PMG rules (particularly the one about lesson length, gotta stay under 45 minutes), which we were supposed to follow to the letter, even if it would ultimately benefit our investigator.
    My point, ultimately, is that I firmly believe that upper leadership in the church expects missionaries to follow the spirit. It’s the lower leadership that encourages the numbers games, because it’ll make them look better. Or maybe because they don’t think they are a successful missionary unless they baptize 60 people.

  20. I never served a mission, but when I took the institute Mission Prep class, I was told that during the first lesson we were supposed to ask something like “As you feel the Holy Ghost and come to know that our message is true, will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by one having authority from God?” And if they said yes, we were supposed to set a tentative baptismal date as a goal. It seemed rushed to me and made me even more nervous about the constant rejection I would face if I went on a mission. Now that I think about it, the question would have been fine if it were phrased a bit differently to not seem so pressuring. As someone said above, it’s good to let investigators know the missionaries’ intentions upfront. But I think phrasing it as an assumption of when, not if, smacks of trying to force people to gain a testimony. Fast.

  21. The C&TM Dyer talk was circulated in our mission but not approved by the president. I got hold of it because someone left it behind in our apartment. I tried it for a few weeks and ended up baptizing a family. It was not a great experience and the branch members saw the family as a burden because they needed a ride to church every week. That stopped within the month. I never tried it again, largely because my companion refused to get out of bed most days. The Dyer movement, just a part of a much longer tradition, really deserves some careful study. Dave Golding, I’m looking at you bro. Great post, as usual, Angela.

  22. I haven’t read all the comments and I never served a mission but this whole topic is a bit of a sore spot for me. In the 1990’s one year our ward in Toronto had 74 baptisms with almost zero retention. I was a counselor in RS at the time and we had over 300 sisters on our ward list. When we tried to contact them many of them didn’t even know that they had joined the church. Apparently no one had told them that baptism was how you became a member. They thought it was just a nice ceremony. Eventually the ward had to make a rule that you had to come to church at least once before you could be baptized.

    Rushing baptism for the sake of padding statistics may seem like a good idea on paper. (It’s not.) But the missionaries eventually go home leaving the ward members with an incredible burden and huge mess to clean up. (So long suckers!!!) Not to mention that it makes it almost impossible to find the real inactives.

    Elder Ballard was mission president in Toronto in the 1970’s so this wasn’t on his watch. But I wonder if he has kept an eye on the stats of his former mission and if perhaps this has informed his opinion today. Just a thought.

  23. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Aaron H, I lived at the very northern edge of the San Jose Mission (I was literally across the street from the southern edge of the Oakland Mission) during the time you were there. Hitting the sort of numbers that were expected by your leaders must have been brutally difficult for you. That’s not an area where hard sell PMA approaches are going to work. IIRC that mission was where they piloted doing service with the Red Cross and Catholic Charities in SJ proper because missionaries weren’t teaching very much, which I’m sure frustrated the “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” types who usually end up being both mission presidents and ward mission leaders.

    Having lived my whole life in what Jello Belters used to call “the mission field,” and seeing now how little even the Spanish-speaking missionaries in the California Riverside Mission have to do, I am increasingly convinced that the Church needs to give up on explicit proselytizing missions and instead have young people follow the Catholic Worker model in the spirit of Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”

  24. The article and comments make for interesting reading and led to a walk down memory lane. My walk was longer than others commenting here; I left before the MTC existed. Enter the Salt Lake mission home on Saturday and Thursday night you’re tracting 2000 miles away. I also spent five years as a Stake Missionary including time as Stake Mission President when that was a thing and later watched Preach My Gospel get developed and tested. Missionaries were given draft pages run through a copier as different ideas were tried before publication.
    The difficulty the Church has is 65,000 missionaries. In my day they coped with that by having us memorize discussions word for word. Learn the discussions, keep the rules in the white book, and you could be a successful missionary. At worst you’d not be an abject failure sent home is disgrace.
    The various teaching plans, door approaches, challenge plans, etc. I’ve seen and experienced are again efforts to put some structure on thousands of free spirits only too able to freelance. Again, any of those approaches will bring with it a modicum of success and keep everyone out of the weeds.
    The smart missionaries of any era took the tools they were given and adapt them to the circumstance. They mix and match listening to their investigators and the Spirit. Perhaps a message about Jesus Christ will be more effective at Christmas time than would a message of the restoration. Maybe talking about Family Home Evening will help a mother worried about her teenagers more than a lesson on repentance. You learn to freelance but within the bounds set by the general structure being used. I can still remember the astonishment of one of the APs who was working with me when we took off into the Christ discussion after tracting out an elderly widow. (He kept up his end once he figured out what was going on but I’d have liked to hear his report to the mission president.)
    I heard about the early baptism challenge. It wasn’t taught in my mission and I never used it. I heard of some who did. It, like any other mission plan, had its genesis in someone trying to find a structure that’ll let every missionary go home thinking he/she was a success. Like anything else, it probably worked some of the time with some of the investigators for some of the missionaries.
    And yes, failure to follow up after baptism with new converts is/was a plague. The problem is that it is not quantitative. I can count and track number of discussions or number of baptisms. Hours spent with investigators is nebulous and uncomfortable particularly if you’re concerned that the new member was converted to the missionary and not to the church.

  25. Alain – based on your experience, I highly recommend reading my book (mentioned in the article). It will be right up your alley, and you’ll be surprised at how similar our experiences were in the Canaries to yours, particularly since I had a friend serving adjacent to you in the Netherlands whose experience was drastically different from my own.

    Aaron H – “I never was told by my Mission President to commit to baptism without the spirit.” Neither were the rest of us, but we WERE told very clearly to commit to baptism early, including in first contact. It was just couched as “bringing in the spirit, then committing.” The statement by Ballard that people were told to commit without the spirit, before teaching the gospel is misleading. Committing before teaching, sure, but we were told it was to be with the spirit. But you really can’t decouple the culture of numbers from [insert any tactic or strategy that will increase numbers] and that goes all the way up the chain. Numbers are valued at the highest levels. Mission Presidents are “promoted” based on high results. Area Authorities are expected to drive results. Baptisms are one of the easiest things to measure “success,” and whatever you measure, there’s always a way to game the system.

  26. Jack Hughes says:

    This is why I warn prospective missionaries that the majority of their mission will be spent cleaning up the messes made by the missionaries who came before them.

  27. buraianto says:

    From “The Gospel of Jesus Christ — Discussion 2 — Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel” of 1986, which I think is what was in place when I was a missionary:

    During this discussion you need to help the investigators feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. This will prepare them to make the commitments that lead to conversion and baptism. During this discussion the investigators should commit themselves to–

    * Be baptized on a specific date

    In addition, you should help them commit themselves to take part in the third discussion, to read further in the Book of Mormon, and to continue to pray about what they are learning.

  28. Buraianto: Yes, exactly as I remember too — the second discussion.

  29. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Yes, we were expected to ask for that commitment during the second discussion. We should plan to do that not IF we felt prompted to do so, but only if we felt strongly that we should NOT do so. If you were to report, at the end of the week, that you had taught a second discussion you would be asked when their baptismal date was and better have a pretty good reason why one hadn’t been set. We were also expected to schedule discussions at 3-4 day intervals (twice per week), so it was entirely possible that a new “investigator” would have already made a commitment to be baptized before even attending church.

    Of course, the overzealous young missionaries frequently thought they should get a commitment for baptism (or at least extend the offer) during the first discussion. This had nothing to do with whether someone was prepared to make such a commitment. They just thought that doing so would make them look like stellar missionaries who should be fast-tracked for promotion. Unfortunately, this usually worked out for them. They looked good, they were made District and Zone leaders, and there became a culture of exploitation of investigators in our mission. Of course, these incentives only applied to the Elders, as the Sisters had no opportunities for promotion. But, I was surprised at how this attitude was also adopted by the Sisters. This speaks to how powerful such a climate can be.

  30. buraianto says:

    If I remember correctly, we were counseled by our mission president to discontinue the discussions with an investigator if he or she was unwilling to commit to baptism by that second discussion invitation. Maybe I’m misremembering and it wasn’t so early in the sequence of discussions, but I do remember that we were to drop investigators who were not making what I thought to be quite quick progress.

  31. Jack Hughes says:

    Every so often, during stake conference we in the audience get openly chastised by the stake president for not finding enough people for the full-time missionaries to teach; that we as local members are to blame for their low numbers. It’s happened in every stake I’ve lived in for many years. This disingenuous shifting of blame is not unlike Elder Ballard’s evasion of responsibility for high-pressure baptismal commitments. Perhaps we have a cultural leadership problem of avoiding responsibility. As long as we refuse to be honest about why baptism/retention/activity is declining, or at least earnestly examine why, I don’t expect missionary work to improve.

  32. Pro From Dover says:

    West Coast late ’90’s in a mission with direct ties to Dyer. We reported on 1st Discussions taught each day, with the requirement to teach at least one 1st EVERY DAY. We further reported on what were called “will-you’s” which were whether or not you issued an invitation to baptism in that daily 1st discussion. The expectation was that Will-You’s equaled 1st Discussions.

    Those who hunted numbers were rewarded, those who did not well…it wasn’t good. I struggled but made it through. President Ballard’s talk was both wonderful and bewildering to me.

  33. Billy Possum says:

    Thanks for your post, Angela. This touches me because, in my mission (anglophone west indies, 2007-2009), one of the unfortunate consequences of the Dyer approach was aggressive baptism of minors without their parents (but with technical parental “consent”). This became a larger and larger problem, and our mission president eventually discouraged it openly.

    I hope that the kids we baptized got something out of it. Maybe their parents encouraged them, or later jointed (though many did neither). For those who left, I hope a just God will not let it work to their condemnation (Elder Anderson, then-Seventy, assured us as much). If He must, I hope He will condemn us, the number monkeys, and not the west indian kids who took the plunge to get into the good graces of the only Americans they’d ever seen. I dread being called on a mission again (I still have the nightmares), but if I were, I would go to fix just this part.

  34. My mission was in the early 1980’s, in South America. We invited baptism on 1st or at the latest, the 2nd discussion. That’s how we were trained to do it, from the top down. Since there were so many people prepared for baptism now, we shouldn’t waste precious time with those not progressing—their time would be later. We were measured by the number of discussions taught each week. The mission was baptizing 300+ people per month. We never had “soccer baptisms.” I never thought twice about it at the time—I assumed that the invitations would always be accompanied by the Spirit if we were doing our calling diligently. And personally, I felt like mine were. You had to have some measurement of work otherwise missionaries could just coast and waste time and money. It was said that native missionaries there on Church funding would be sent home promptly for laziness, though I never saw it happen. Only later did I have second thoughts about the affect on retention that this approach had. Still not sure if I could go back if I would change anything. But Elder Ballard’s talk gives me a lot of pause.

  35. nobody, really says:

    Central East Coast, 1990-1991. The APs, with full blessing and approval from the mission president, introduced a “new way to tract productively”. Knock on the door, get invited in, and immediately drop to your knees and pronounce a priesthood blessing on the home and all who live there. Specific lines were provided to make the home more receptive to the Spirit. Close the blessing, stand up, invite all there to be baptized. If they accept – great! Teach the first discussion, schedule the other five, and arrange to fill the font right after they attend church the following Sunday. If they didn’t accept baptism, we were supposed to let the people know that our words will be held against them at the last day, leave them with a Book of Mormon and the phone number for the stake missionaries.

    Each zone conference got about 90 minutes of this, complete with role-play and handouts. I thought it was offensive, but my opinion mattered little. The whole scheme was quickly forgotten and never spoken of again.

    At other times, we were to rarely give a 1st discussion without a baptism commitment, and never give a 2nd without one. There had to be a really good reason to go for a 3rd without a date lines up.

  36. I did not go on a mission, but I think missionary work like this is why in our ward in San Antonio there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 families on the ward list and anywhere between 150 and 200 attending regularly/semi-regularly. Occasionally the ward would decide we needed to contact all the inactive families and send the auxiliaries out to find them. Often they were nowhere to be found. But the missionaries kept baptizing people that would ghost us within 6 months.

    My husband served in the Amsterdam mission in the beginning of the 90’s. He claims his “conversion count” to be -3. He was involved in the baptism of 2 new members and facilitated the exit of 5 old members. If 1st discussion baptism commitment was encouraged policy I doubt he participated. He was/is a big proponent of “Know what you are getting yourself into.”

  37. Another Roy says:

    Chilean Mission 2000 to 2002. The branch president in my first area told us that a previous branch president, maybe a decade or so before had gone to the extreme step of chaining the chapel doors with a chain and padlock. This was done to prevent the missionaries from using the baptismal font to surreptitiously baptize new converts without the knowledge or coordination from the local membership.
    I have no idea if the story was true in the details but it became, for me, a powerfully visual reminder of the tension that can be created by baptizing without local support. The picture of a branch president chaining the chapel doors shut because the branch cannot handle any more ill prepared converts.

  38. I haven’t read all the comments, so perhaps this has already been mentioned. Google on “Youtube, Ted Lyon, Church in Latin America” and you should be able to locate 2 to 3 interesting interviews with retired BYU Professor of Spanish Literature, Ted Lyon (son of T. Edgar Lyon) regarding what he was shocked to find as a brand new Mission President in Chile (Osorno Mission, I believe) regarding the 2-hour baptism program the mission was doing prior to his arrival. He delineates quite clearly how it contributed to the results of 10% activity rates (or less) in Chile, causing an apostle to later come down to Chile to help clean up the mess and reduce the number of our units and buildings. Fortunately, this good and decent brother put a quick end to that program after he arrived. Ted was later a Temple President and MTC President in Chile as well. A very transparent individual and faithful member of the Church with an extremely intriguing perspective.

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    I loved Angela’s book in part because my first MP was a Dyer disciple, so my mission culture was very similar to hers.

    On this subject I have very little sympathy for the Church. It doesn’t take a genius in organizational dynamics to figure this out. If you make baptism stats your basis of perceived success, of course people are going to game the system resulting in horrible retention, which weakens the church, not strengthens it. GBH understood this and tried to do something about it, making conversion more holistic and pointing more towards the temple, but everyone was too invested in the baptism stats system, and not even GBH could put a stop to it.

    In the past I have participated in efforts to “reactivate” people on the rolls nobody knew, but I’m done with that. If we let the mission system bloat our rolls with people who don’t self-identify as church members, that’s on them, no longer my problem.

  40. It’s a problem dating at least to the early 60s. In the mid-60s I was sometimes working in an area with two native languages with an elder from the neighboring mission (I think the idea was to deal with the locals’ common game of pretending not to understand whichever language we started using at a door — for all the good it did!) That elder told me he’d been in the mission for 3 months and his “score” was -297 He’d baptized 3 and excommunicated 300, since his mission president was on a clean-up-the-rolls kick. I also encountered the early 60s results of the Dyer approach when after teaching a woman for several weeks we discovered that she was a member on the branch rolls and didn’t know it. On the other hand one of the unconverted teenage-baptized members I met, became and remains decades later a good friend — an unintended but good result of the early 60s Dyer approach in continental Europe.

  41. I served in Gilbert Arizona from 2012 to 2014. At the time the Gilbert Mission was the smallest mission in the world outside of temple square. Like the author we were taught to extend a baptismal invite early with the assumption the spirit would be present . Our mission president, ZLs, DLs, etc. encouraged us to extend a baptismal invite during the first lesson. Some missionaries would invite people to be baptized during street contacts.

  42. In the mid-to-late 60s in my continental European mission we did not have a problem with too-early baptismal challenges We had a problem finding anyone to teach anything. If I remember their reports correctly, most of our missionaries never got past a first discussion and baptized no one. Our reports were primarily reports of “proselyting hours”. There did seem to be accolades and sometimes “promotions” for elders with high numbers of reported proselyting hours. But any relationship between such reports and promotions was unpredictable; sometimes “promotions” were of elders with much lower numbers of reported hours. It didn’t concern me much. Having lost interest in and respect for ecclesiastical position by age 16, I was not interested in that kind of “success.” I was amused, however, to discover, after spending a full week working with my district leader, that he reported 70 proselyting hours for the week when I reported 50. We had done no proselyting that we had not done together.
    But, and peripherally relevant to mission specific rules of any kind including early baptism challenges, at age 19 I was very concerned about rules — partly a result of having been told by a GA in the Salt Lake mission home that the mission rules were commandments of God and we could not possibly have the spirit with us if we broke any of them. For me that was put to rest in an interview with visiting Apostle Ezra Taft Benson I brought it up because we so rarely had the opportunity to teach and if we were teaching in the evening in a part of the city far from our apartment, we could not possibly keep the rule about being in bed by 10:30pm without simply cutting the teaching short. Elder Benson’s first response was anger at the unnamed GA who instructed us that way. Then he told me that mission rules were nothing but a generally good- sense summary of 130+ years of missionary work, and that if they got in the way of teaching the gospel, they were to be ignored. I wonder what would happen if that were mission presidents’ general approach.
    The very few of us who had multiple baptism “successes” were never “promoted” to district or zone leader, etc. for that reason. I think I was lucky.

  43. Wow, I’ve never served a mission, so I claim complete ignorance to all of this, but I find the tactics used and described here absolutely horrifying. Baptism is a serious commitment, and to baptize people without 100% fully understanding what it means to be baptized and become a lifelong member of the church is really low and unethical. It reminds me of a woman who was baptized quickly in my ward in Japan. She didn’t attend much after her baptism, but around Christmas she showed up and looked with surprise at the Christmas tree we had up in the foyer. “You celebrate Christmas?!” she asked in surprise. My heart absolutely sunk.

  44. Peter Vousden says:

    I know a 26 year old woman who was baptised in London 8 days after first contact. I met her 2 days before her baptism. Married her. Thirty two years later still strong in her faith. Temple married. I do believe if she could she would have been baptised the very first day she met the missionaries.

  45. Grant Adams says:

    Early 90’s, Portugal. Arrived about 3 months after a change-over in mission presidents. Prior president (and hence all the missionaries still in leadership) had full on instituted committing to baptism in the 1st discussion as part of the 1st vision story. Basic approach was promise a ’15 minute’ lesson at the door, proceed to give a 90 minute, intense, manipulative lesson culminating in the baptism challenge after the 1st vision story. This tended to leave the BoM section as an afterthought since you’d already used up all the available time and spiritual and emotional energy in the 1st vision discussion. It took about a year for things to revert back to the ‘normal’, missionary guide approach as the old missionaries aged out and went home. The old 1st discussion did have an aspirational ask for baptism in the closing statement conditioned on confirmation the church was true through the spirit.

  46. I was not a fan of baptizing inactive members, but at least our mission had milestones that had to be met before we could baptize. They had to attend sacrament meeting at least twice, had to abstain from whatever WoW issue they had for at least two weeks, and had to be taught at least up to the fourth discussion. We could issue the baptism challenge at any time, but at least during the third discussion if not the second. I didn’t really start to enjoy my mission until I gave up all the hard-sell tactics. The closest I came was to offer to just say a prayer with them if they didn’t want to be taught. And I always kept my promises on the time we would spend; if we promised we’d just take 15 minutes, I’d end at 15 minutes. They say that it takes on average seven contacts before people become open to the Church. I wanted to be sure that mine was a contact that left a good feeling.

  47. Schlange says:

    A couple of comments.

    “Yes, we had some missionaries who were a little bit lax, but for the most part, people were trying to obey the rules that mattered.” Um, I’ve read your memoir, and my impression overall was that the missionaries, as you describe them, were doing their best to avoid most of the rules. Maybe that’s why you say they were trying to “obey the rules that mattered.” Apparently, it was up to each missionary to determine which rules mattered.

    Also, the Dyer approach sounds a whole lot like recycled Calvinism, with its notion of irresistible grace. God has predetermined who will be baptized, and there’s nothing the missionary can do about it. God has chosen them. Mormonism, on the other hand, seems more focused on allowing people to choose God, not the other way around.

    We tried Dyer’s approach in my mission, but it was a disaster. In fact, most of the inactive members in one ward where I served were baptized during the years when Dyer presided over the Europe Area.

  48. In 1997 in Nicaragua, We had a program called VELO- Velar Por las Ovejas where we hunted down members that had no church attendance since baptism. We found members that were baptized as initiation to join a basketball team, names copied off of headstones in the cemetery – the missionaries before us called that Bautismos por los muertos to fill the baptism quotas, or children that had been dunked while swimming with the Elders, or people that couldn’t remember ever being baptized.

    Our mission president didn’t pressure as much as the previous but we were repeatedly told to commit people we taught to baptism in first or second discussion.

  49. A Flock of Seagulls..... says:

    …. called and wants their hair back. Seriously though, had I known anyone at church sported hair like that I probably would have gone more. A commenter above mentioned Henry D. Moyle in the same breath of Dyer. I’m entirely too lazy to read, but isn’t he responsible for quite nearly bankrupting the entire church and is the reason financial records are no longer released? Is it possible the Dyer approach was heavily influenced by Moyle’s zeal? His grandiosity seemed to be the kind that would necessitate a group of time share salesmen to immediately restrain and medicate him for being overly aggressive. And there’s an institutional memory lapse as to how any of this happened?

    My sincere sympathies for anyone who wasted any effort, time, or energy blaming themselves for perceived failure on their part due to such ridiculous expectations.

  50. Josh Higham says:

    I served in Idaho from 2011-2013, and inviting people to be baptized in the first lesson was pretty strongly encouraged by the presidents and by missionaries, and we were encouraged to be thoughtful and to seek the spirit in deciding when to stop visiting with people. The idea, as I understood it, was that we shouldn’t be teaching people who were not committed to being baptized and reporting those lessons as if the people were preparing for baptism in the next month or two. It seemed like a very reasonable compromise between the idea that missionaries are really only there to teach and baptize, not to do the longer-term work of conversion and that God doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to preparing people for baptism. I had some pretty cavalier leaders who put Dyer-style pressure to invite and drop, invite and drop until you found people who would accept the invitation and “progress” quickly, but I never got the impression that that was a top-down directive from church HQ or the mission president. I had a lot of beef with both of my presidents, including with their “standards of excellence,” and their attitudes about baptizing people who were not prepared for the long haul (I suspect the majority of baptisms in my mission were children of less-active parents who wanted their kids to be baptized for a variety of personal and cultural reasons, but didn’t particularly want to go to church themselves), but I think they encouraged us to be very patient with people who were experiencing conversion at more measured rates.

  51. If they don’t want people extending baptismal invitations on first meetings, why is a section on just that topic included in the very first lesson missionaries are directed to teach investigators?

  52. Angela C says:

    Schlange: Your observation that many missionaries in my memoir were patently disobedient to the rules is accurate, but I’m sure if you asked them (minus the ones who were literally breaking commandments and possibly laws in a few cases rather than just rules), they would have had what they considered good reasons for their actions. That’s just the nature of being human. But yes, each missionary essentially decided what rules mattered. That’s a byproduct of serving in islands with little oversight. It’s one reason I changed the names in the book. I’m nobody’s confessor. Despite that, I hope you enjoyed the book! A few of my fellow missionaries have asked me who’s who, and in several cases, they thought a story was about another person (who had basically done the same thing!)

    I believe your depiction of Dyer as Calvinist is also accurate. I didn’t see that at the time I was a missionary, or at least it’s not what we as a mission focused on in his talk, but it is there if you read the talk and know what Calvinism is. Looking back now, I believe he was preaching determinism, but it’s not inconsistent with the concept of pre-ordination in the POGP. He was very focused on the idea that God already chose and prepared some people, and he also bought wholeheartedly that blacks were not those chosen, prepared people, that they were ineligible (I suspect most of his racist ideas were redacted by wise mission presidents, including ours).

  53. What are the most recent anecdotes? I’m feeling less and less concerned that my son has no interest in serving.

  54. malibu06 says:

    I served in Brazil – 91-92. The pressure to invite as early as possible came from GA visits.
    My first mission pres and I had a discussion where his views were very much in line with Dyer. It seemed very strange to me to push so soon and not sooty so much about retention. But as a brand new Elder, I remember seeing the weekly newsletter with all the names of the Powerful Ones who had baptized week after week. There were a couple of guys that had baptized for 52 weeks in a row at the time. Many others in the 20-40 week range. It seemed unbelievable but then again I was just a brand new greenie from the MTC on fire and ready to go. I was disturbed and in awe at the same time.
    It was only a few months into my mission that I went on splits with one of these “Poderosos” that I saw first had their questionable tactics. After that I felt no shame or guilt not being on the consecutive week streak list.
    I came to find that there were sometimes hundreds of “baptized but never attended again” members in some of the Favelas that were favorite sports for these Poderosos to achieve their targets.

    In favor of the GAs though, we did have one come about halfway through – he proposed a tactic and emphasized going after Fathers. Not single women but that our focus should be on bringing men and their wife and kids to the church together. I thought it was a good idea at the time and it shifted the mission culture away from the high pressure tactics.

  55. TallTime says:

    Over the course of my mission a Dyer-like approach was introduced.

    I served in Australia 98-00. Many missionaries baptised 2 or fewer individuals during their entire 2 years. The mission president changed 1 week before I arrived. Pretty quickly the new president set much larger goals for the amount of tracting done weekly.

    In the early part of my mission, we would always invite to baptism at the second discussion. But if individuals said no to baptism, but still wanted to meet with the missionaries, we did not drop them. These people would often hear all the discussions and still continue meeting on some sort of regular basis with the missionaries. Each area seemed to have 1-2 long term investigators like these. Some of these long term investigators did get baptised, but I think there was an idea that meeting with people so long term was a waste of time.

    About 9 months into my mission an Emeritus Seventy that happened to be related to my mission president came through the mission doing a series of special Zone Conferences. We were taught what seems like a variant on the Dyer method. Immediately after describing the first vision (in the 1st discussion) we would drop to our knees and ask the individual to pray and ask if they should be baptised. If they refused to pray or didn’t get an answer of ‘yes’, we were to leave a phone number and depart. We led to believe that people would be calling, begging us to return.

    I have to admit, this method felt pretty fun at first. We wouldn’t be ‘wasting’ time, with people that weren’t serious. And I really believed people would be wanting us to return.

    However, things never really worked out. The number of baptisms in the missions dropped. The number of discussions taught dropped. All the long term investigators were quickly removed. Suddenly missionaries that usually had previously had around three teaching appointments a week, would have zero. This made missionary moral go down because instead of a few hours every week talking to friendly interested people in comfortable settings, missionaries were out in the weather getting more rejection.

    The immediate response from the mission leadership was to double down and the new approach and make sure we were doing it ‘right’ and ‘always’. Eventually the new method was quietly dropped. No one ever gave the go ahead to stop using it. It was just stopped being mentioned by the leadership. In private conversations, everyone admitted it was a failure. I personally did not baptise another person until I stopped using the method.

    I will now attempt to answer some of the other questions. Because missionaries baptised so infrequently, the push about numbers focused mostly on tracting, perfect mornings, and other things within the control of the missionaries. This seems for the best. Likewise, leadership positions seemed to be mostly based on a willingness to tract the required amount. It seemed like the sisters were just as much involved at the number game as the elders. Any number you measure will have unintended consequences. Currently I think we should abandon most number reporting. Numbers can be used to give leaders a shortcut into understanding something, but are not worth the consequences.

  56. I served in the Utah Salt Lake City South mission in 1988-1990 under V. Dallas Merrell. My mission was notorious for this. We were at the time the highest baptizing English-speaking mission in the world (400+ baptisms a month). We were instructed to absolutely challenge investigators to be baptized during the first discussion; in fact were were instructed to *lead* with an invitation to be baptized, at the start of the first discussion, literally before we had said a word about the doctrines of the church. We weren’t supposed to keep teaching them if they had not committed by the third (if I recall correctly) although that particular rule was often disregarded.

    It was also utterly clear that missionaries were rewarded for having high baptism numbers, regardless of their personal righteousness or obedience. ZLs had (or claimed – I’m not sure which) the authority to let companionships watch movies on P-Day — or not, depending on whether the ZLs felt “inspired” to do so. There was also a weekly underground mission-wide basketball night, which was by invitation only from the APs. In both cases, guess who got permission?

    It was also clear that the mission president kept a “good” and “bad” list, and the people on the bad list ended up with much more difficult areas. If you made it to the bottom of the list you went to live in a trailer on the outskirts of Wendover, on the Nevada state line, and you didn’t get a car.

    In addition, high baptizing missionaries got cars, and ultimately were made ZLs. At least two elders I spent a lot of time with were just horrible human beings, but they were closers, and both ended up as ZLs. One moved in with a girlfriend a month after he was released. She was originally an investigator of his in his last area.

    Baptismal numbers were published monthly in the mission newsletter, so everyone knew who was high performing and who wasn’t.

    There was widespread loathing of the entire regime by about half of the missionaries. A lot of us became cynical, about missionary work, our particular mission organization and leadership, and in at least a few cases the church as a whole.

  57. I will however say this: this all taught me two very important lessons that have served me well ever since.

    One: Know what your job actually is. Have the backbone to ignore anyone or anything that hinders your ability to do that job. Especially if that person is in a position of authority.

    Two: If anyone tells you that an obviously stupid policy is in place “because the Brethren want it that way”, insist that they tell you *which* brethren, and ask for a written reference.

  58. Wondering says:

    GlennH, And for that abominable mission management style your mission president was “promoted” to regional representative and then general authority status? https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/elder-v-dallas-merrell-former-general-authority-seventy-dies-at-83?lang=eng Was that also a reward “for having high baptism numbers, regardless of … personal righteousness or obedience”?
    Or maybe there was some repentance along the way.

  59. In the early-mid 20th century, there was a distinction we have entirely lost between “investigator” and “friend.” Investigators were actively moving toward baptism, or at least we hoped so. Friends were people who were not at all interested in baptism, but who were literally friends who liked to have occasional contact with the missionaries.

    Friends are good to have. Friends can cheer you up when a mission is tough. Friends can help you figure out how to get life things (in contrast to mission things) done — how does the subway system work? where can I find such-and-such a product? what is this cultural thing everybody seems to be talking about that I don’t understand? can you teach me the local words for X and Y? can you introduce us to high school teachers who might want English-speaking Americans to answer questions for their classes? During my mission, we needed notes written in French handwriting that couldn’t be traced to the missionaries — it was our friends who wrote them for us.

    You can waste too much time hanging out with friends, but I’m sorry to see so many references to abandoning contacts entirely if they don’t jump into the font after the second visit.

  60. Wondering, that was my assumption. In addition to what I listed, at one point I got beaten up by a companion, and my mission president never even asked me about it. It was literally like it never happened. My mother actually wrote him a letter when he was called saying that she could not in good conscience sustain him, and asked him to explain himself.

    My mother is the single most faithful member of the church I have ever met, so that’s saying something. Elder Merrell actually wrote to our stake president complaining about my mother’s letter, and the stake president, bless his heart, wrote back saying that my parents were the salt of the earth, and that if my mother had a problem with him maybe he should pray about that.

  61. I served in South America more than 40 years ago and I was blessed to have a mission president for most of my time there that was the opposite of so many of the qualities expressed in this discussion. I know that if my mission was like so many written about here I would have been miserable and would not look back with the fondness and warmth on my two years that I have today almost 50 years later. He left near the end of my mission and the new president instituted something similar to some of the comments above. He instructed us to use blessing a home as our door approach and entry into homes. We were to ask people if we could offer a blessing over their home and then kneel with them and invoke the priesthood to bless the home and the family that lived there. He assured us that this approach was seeing amazing success in other places it had been used.

    That claim of amazing success happening in some other vague place has been repeated many times in my life as I’ve seen missionary programs come and go. I particularly remember about 15 years ago having the Gift of Family History program given to us with the usual promises of amazing success. We as a ward were to prepare an elaborate binder full of family history information for the people the full time missionaries contacted. We had training sessions and goals set by higher ups and returning and reporting and all of the other accoutrements that accompany every program that will unlock missionary success. We heard about it constantly until we didn’t. It died a quiet death and was never heard of again.

    That belief in a pot of missionary gold at the end of every missionary program rainbow seems to be a foundational assumption of LDS missionary work in my lifetime. We believe that that pot of gold truly exists, and that if only we can find the secret program, if only we can be more faithful to it, if only we can work harder at it, then amazing missionary success will be ours. It reminds me of someone who instead of investing wisely and methodically over a lifetime instead truly believes that a pot of gold lies waiting for them if only they can find the right scheme. So they spend their life getting involved in crackpot investment scams that never work out but leave a trail of broken promises and financial ruin in their wake.

  62. Another face in the crowd says:

    This constant fibbing is one of two pillars that keep me from returning; like I ask my own kids, why do you lie about verifiable information? It costs you my trust.

    My missionaries followed their little flip-book to a T, and they asked me to commit to baptism and tried to set a date after the very first discussion. I did not agree; I took my time, and that netted the church an all-in member for 20-something years. I’m glad I joined, and I am glad I left.

  63. One thing that has nagged me all of these years is that *some* of these issues stem from leadership, either the mission president or direction from Salt Lake. But a lot of it can be explained by the simple observation that leaving 20 year old boys in charge of 19 year old boys with no day-to-day supervision is a really bad idea. Although I’m not happy with my mission president, even all these many decades later, the real problems came when directions from him were filtered through the Zone Leaders. Most of the really egregious numbers emphasis, unrighteous dominion, and kooky teaching ideas really came from them.

    I gained a real appreciation of The Lord of the Flies on my mission, because that was what it was like. And the thing is, it wasn’t even really their fault. They were after all 20 year old young men with no leadership or life experience who were trying to figure things out as they went. It was the structural setup of all missions everywhere that gave this power to them that was the problem.

  64. Wondering says:

    The one truly bad proselyting idea in my mission came straight from the mission president. He got it from the president of a neighboring mission — keep going back to the same residences until the resident actually tells you “no” six times. It couldn’t have been better designed to make people furious at and confirm their lack of interest in listening to any message from any Mormons.
    I never heard any direction from any zone leader — except when to go on splits with them. So I don’t think it is necessarily an age thing. Whether zone leaders exert unrighteous dominion or kooky teachings might be significantly affected by the mission president and the mission culture extending back through the regimes of more than the current mission president.
    I did have a zone leader who allegedly threw a Fourth of July beer party for most of the zone. If so, he had the good sense not to invite me.

  65. Wondering, my mission was perhaps a bit different due to the geography. Utah SLC South had 200+ missionaries all squeezed into the area between 28th South and the Utah County line in SLC. Theoretically we also covered Park City and Tooele County (and Wendover) but there just weren’t many people in those areas. So we saw other missionaries all the time, and maybe we had more contact with the ZLs than would have occurred in other places. I saw my ZLs weekly. When I was a DL I spoke with them daily. They were really the ones putting pressure on us to report good numbers. Theoretically they were also the ones who were supposed to handle inter-companionship relations issues, but in my experience they invariably made things worse. And they were the ones who got to decide whether you could participate in P-Day recreational activities.

    I actually had ZLs drive by one time as I and my companion were walking down the sidewalk, and upbraid us for not walking abreast of each other. It was in February. When they were done yelling at us they drove off. They did not offer us a ride to where we were going. They left us, in a freezing blowing wind, on a mile-long stretch of pavement. I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to them that we were cold. That kind of thing happened frequently.

  66. Just a quick reminder that what you’re seeing above is not a random sample in the same way Yelp is not random–you’re mostly hearing from those who had a very positive or a very negative experience. (And I’m not suggesting that the negative experiences aren’t valid, just maybe not representative.) I had a good mission where I enjoyed my president, most of my leaders, and did my best while I was a leader. I think we had a hope that if the circumstances were right–spirit was there, e.g.–we would extend a baptismal invitation early, but neither I nor any other missionary I worked with extended one all the time. My president also wanted 3 consecutive weeks of church attendance and 2 week clear of WoW issues before we could baptize, so it didn’t really matter as much when the invitation went out; there was going to be a waiting period either way. I have a few regrets of things I did/saw on my mission, for sure, but all in all, I thought the program was run pretty well and it did really good things for me. Your mileage may vary.

  67. Ardis: That is a fascinating comment. Although I state pretty clearly in my book that we were encouraged (and I followed this protocol…mostly) to drop people who weren’t “progressing,” the idea of keeping contact with those who were friendly to the church yet not interested in baptism is powerful.

    If I were called as a mission president, I would incorporate that idea and embrace it. There’s a real goodness to that line of thinking that would significantly alter how missionaries view the people they meet: not as “marks” that they can use to attain social status (an ever-present hope, even if it is mostly unstated), but as possible allies in life in other ways, a support system. It would make missionary tactics less self-centered, but also more likely to help the missionaries’ mental health and life skills in the long run. We were usually shamed out of prolonging contact with those who were not progressing, although that’s likely a byproduct of the focus on numbers and the lack of life experience of the boys who led the districts and zones.

  68. I forgot to note one other thing that I should have, a topic I discussed in the section of my book that deals with this specific “Challenging & Testifying” approach. It’s a philosophical question whether it’s better for someone to be baptized and then later fall away (but perhaps the church was a positive for them at the time, helping them in some tangible way like overcoming addiction or marital problems or parenting trials) or if it’s better to create hurdles to their baptism so that they stay longer.

    The second approach assumes that the more hurdles, the more committed they will be, which I’m not sure is true. How would we even know why they stayed or left? I’ve stayed in touch with some of the people I baptized, and I know their reasons for leaving were complicated. In some cases, there were family squabbles as their kids got older. In other cases, couples divorced. Some had issues with mental illness. Some fell on hard times financially and felt embarrassed to ask for help. Every missionary thinks they are cleaning up after their antecedents, and so many people (converts or BIC) don’t “endure to the end” for various reasons that have nothing to do with the conversion process. It’s facile to say that they left the church due to a hasty baptism.

    To revert to the used car analogy, not every person who buys a used car ends up disliking the car because the salesperson used slimy tactics. They are buying a used car, after all! Sometimes it’s just not a car that meets their needs. Sometimes they are unskilled drivers. Some cars come to them with hidden problems due to prior owner misuse. Sometimes a car isn’t maintained well. Some cars just conk out earlier than others due to design flaws.

  69. This is so messed up.

  70. Blueridgemormon says:

    Another face in the crowd: what is the second pillar that keeps you from returning?