How to reactivate people

After reading this week about some stake presidencies sending form letters to folks in an effort to keep them active, I got to thinking about what really would work to keep people active in the Church and what sort of approaches would work. Here are some thoughts that represent my personal findings after being involved on the periphery of reactivation efforts over the years. I hope you don’t mind these ramblings, which are mostly to spur discussion and are not meant as a final declaration on the topic of church activity.

First, I think we need to profoundly ask ourselves what sort of people we want at church. The immediate answer is I think correct but not sufficient, that we want everyone at church: Jesus’ table is open to all, and we want everyone to participate, regardless of their state. But this answer sort of sidesteps the matter a little bit, avoiding introspection of why we want everyone, which might be articulated as: we want everyone to come because we want them to be happy and to be saved. In turn, we need to look at the ability of our institution to do those two things. How well can we meet those needs? From an ordinance-dispensing perspective we say we are the only ones who can save, because the ceremonies done in other religions are false and without salvific benefit. Note that this statement may be true, but no ordinance can save without faith on the part of the recipient. So we want everyone to come back to Church, but we want them all, ultimately, to believe, to have faith and thereby be saved. I say “ultimately” because most people I know would also say “come as you are”, whether or not you believe, we’re just happy that you’re there and part of the community. I will get to that a little later but let me suggest, for now, that the “come as you are” approach is almost always* an interim approach and not the desired final outcome. Most Church leaders want people to come back not just to hang out, but to save souls, which requires genuine belief. The point here is that we need to really examine our motivations and ultimate aims when we’re talking about getting people back to Church. I feel really strongly that we need to have a very clear personal understanding about why we engage in activation efforts, and let that personal understanding be transparent in our work.

So: we want people to come back to Church to be happy and be saved. Where to start? I think you need to start by understanding why they left. This means understanding the circumstances of departure, but that’s superficial. I mean we need to understand the deep spiritual needs of individuals, what they are searching for in life, and we need to understand how Church failed to meet those needs. This means first being willing to accept the notion that the Church can fail to meet the spiritual needs of individuals. If we are only “church broke” and are blind to the shortcomings of the institution, we will probably never be able to generate the profound understanding and empathy required to address the spiritual hunger found in people on the periphery. That doesn’t mean we need to abandon our own faith, but it does mean we need to stop confusing symptoms (drinking coffee or not attending the temple) with causes (not being understood, not hearing messages that respond to deeply important questions). At the same time, I think we do a disservice if we pretend that “leaving the Church” is somehow a unilateral act, that either the institution or the individual is a fixed point with the departure solely caused by actions of the other. When you start to have a fuller view of why your friend left the church, you might find yourself in a difficult state of irreconcilable priorities and beliefs. That is ok. Empathy is rarely comfortable!

OK. So you’re clear about your personal motivations, you understand why your friend left and now you have this really messy view of the Church, personal needs, institutional failings, personal failings, and general aporia. Now what? You tell me. The answer is probably not going to be a form letter that says “we don’t know why you’ve stopped worshiping with us, but please come back.” It’s unlikely that your answer will be to email your friend a Bednar talk**, though I guess that’s possible. Your answer will probably start with the hard work of being led by the Spirit as it teaches you to sit with your friend’s discomfort, to seek for institutional change where it is needed (yes, it is sometimes needed!), and to truly put the happiness of your friend first. If you understand them, you know that their reasons for leaving cannot be easily dismissed or addressed with apologia. You also know that the Church has a lot to offer, and that leaving was one of the hardest things they’ve ever gone through (and they’re not done going through it). Try to make their burdens light, knowing that they likely may never come back to Church. In other words, treat them with genuine friendship and respect.

Coming back to the matter of our motivations and approach, I think we need a keen understanding of what success looks like when we’re talking about reactivating people, and we need to think about how we are measuring that success. Presence at Church is a poor shorthand for individual belief, and non-presence is also an inaccurate measurement of individual non-belief, though aggregate trends of both might be useful in looking at larger population shifts over time. If our true goal is the happiness and salvation of others, we have no good way of measuring this at all in ourselves, let alone in others. But I think it is safe to say that we will never completely achieve that goal. I feel like it is not really useful to measure activity rates in general, in part because people work towards what is being measured, and pushing Church activity over bona fide friendships or beliefs results in a supervisory system like Home Teaching and general discouragement in the ranks. I understand that institutions gonna measure and cannot be stopped from attempting to foist metrics, but metric-driven management is both one of the greatest sins and greatest triumphs of the modern Church. The metric that matters to Jesus is tending to the one; unfortunately, Jesus didn’t provide much instruction in the way of organizational behavior, so methods of instilling this priority in each member will vary, with vary degrees of success.

A final question to ask is, “reactivate to what?”. There are a couple of hard truths that need to be confronted when we talk about reactivation. The first is that most people will never come back to church, and the second is that for many, not coming back to Church might be the right choice. Everyone acknowledges the first truth, though it is profoundly discouraging for many and a source of family rift. The second truth is more difficult to acknowledge, but perhaps can be softened by saying “not the right choice… at least for now”. For some, Church is where they experienced abuse, racism, isolation, or bullying. Church is where they are told that their gender does not exist or that their sexuality is a sin. Put another way, Church itself is an obstacle to their faith. What, then, is a reactivation effort with respect to those people? Again it must be to seek the happiness and salvation of the individual, and so returning to Church may not be possible without real institutional change and real personal healing. Reactivation for some today would mean a lifetime of being alone and misunderstood. We need to recognize that coming back to Church may involve incredible costs that are felt disproportionately, and we cannot expect people to be willing to pay those costs – especially without the fruits of the Spirit being present in our community. If this discussion makes you feel confused or angry, perhaps imagine how angry or confused you might be if you were the one being asked to lay everything down on the altar. Those of us unaffected by such policies must be willing to bear each others burdens and work to create an institution where truly all can be welcome, breaking down barriers of race and wealth and sex that keep us from seeing each other as we really are. When we’re talking about reactivating, I think we also need to keep in our minds the vision of the Zion community we want to be and how our friends fit into that vision.

TL;DR really understanding people and being there for them is hard work and the only work we should be doing. Consider who you are in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

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* Some reactivation efforts are fueled solely from a community standpoint: we want you back because we’re better off with you, we need your voice and we don’t care about the rest. Look — if you miss your friends, go hang out with them and continue to be friends. If their departure from church ends your friendship, maybe take a serious look at what kind of friend you are in the first place. But church community and individual friendship are different dynamics, and confounding the two is I think ultimately going to lead to disappointment.

** I call BS on this story and think this entire article describes a largely failed approach.

Comments

  1. Why would I try to reactivate someone else? If I’m honest with myself, I think the main motivation would be that God has commanded me to warn my neighbor. That’s why, it’s a commandment. Sorry, that’s the way I am. Secondarily, it also feels like an opportunity to share helpful information. I could no more stop believing in the church than I could stop believing that the earth is round. Trying to reactivate someone would be motivated in some part by whatever motivation I would have to instruct a flat-earther that the earth is round.
    What do I think would help prevent people from going inactive? More super-natural experiences. I would be shocked if people would go inactive if they heard the voice of God or where visited by an angel of light. What if angels of light appeared for every 100th Family Home Evening you did? Would people really go inactive? We could tell people “Do FHE 100 times, and you’ll know for sure”. But life doesn’t work like that. I wish it would though.
    This post reminds me of a video that YouTube recommended to me recently: “4 Mistakes Theists Make When Trying to Convert Atheists” by Genetically Modified Skeptic. It’s a good video. He summarizes how family and friends tried to re-convert him after he moved out on his own and stopped believing evangelical Christianity, into four categories. It came down to “I don’t think how you think I think” and “Arguing against something that I don’t believe anyway isn’t going to do anything”.
    I think we need to do more as lay members, in accepting people as they are. Everyone should expect talks and lessons to encourage change, but it’s usually someone not acting in their calling making remarks about someone else’s lifestyle/outfit/shortcomings which is what makes church feel unwelcoming.

  2. I remember well my last real conversation with my Stake President. He was explaining to me what I had to do to come back to full activity. I was attending church. He did not ask me what I wanted or needed. And, truthfully, there were two things on his list that were never going to happen. A couple of weeks later, my bishop after Sacrament meeting asked me into his office. Still stewing over my discussion with the SP, I told him that I did not feel that I had anything to talk with him about. As our conversation continued, eventually he grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward his office. I should have said at that point something like, “Get your hands off me,” but I did not. In his office I simply kept repeating that I had nothing I needed to talk to him about until he gave up. I believed at the time and still do that he assaulted me. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had lots of issues but for sometime I came to church not believing everything, but I was there. I do not know what might have happened if the SP had asked me what I needed to return to full activity. I certainly would have told him what I was not willing to do. Then we both would have known where things stood. So now I am an interested observer.and that’s that.

  3. margaretblairyoung says:

    I love this, Steve. I have so much to say but no time to say it at the moment. I hope I can find the time soon. I had to call myself to repentance a number of times when I realized that Church policy was leading me to judge my own children harshly.

  4. I think this is a great post but I have to imagine that for the majority of people who have left, “come so you can be happy and be saved” is not what will get them back because they simply do not believe church is necessary to be happy (it may in fact have made them unhappy) or saved (they may have left because they came to disbelieve truth claims, and when that cat is out of the bag I’m not sure it ever really goes back in except perhaps for a very very few people). I think it’s actually all about community and I think there’s nothing wrong with focusing on that.

    I used to think it was spiritually weak to focus on church as community and that our attendance and participation should be 100% about being obedient and righteous no matter how much we hate our ward. And I understand your concern about conflating friendship with community and I totally agree we can and should have friendships outside of church. But I really don’t think anymore that there’s much point in organized religion *except* for community and I think that the opportunity to work alongside and serve and try to understand and love people who are wildly different from us is the great benefit of church. I can manage the rest of my spirituality and connection to God on my own. For someone like me (still totally active on the outside, barely hanging in there on the inside) that’s the only approach that would work and if I thought for a minute you were trying to “save” me I’d be pretty put off.

  5. Elise, fwiw I don’t disagree with you there, especially about “the opportunity to work alongside and serve and try to understand and love people who are wildly different from us”. In this post I’m simultaneously describing general church intent and sometimes mixing in my own perspectives, and even I have a hard time telling where one stops and another begins, because my own views change over time. I personally would be content with the community aspects, but I recognize that’s not where the church is coming from. Like I said in my post – and you said it too – sometimes the obstacle to faith is the church itself.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, Steve.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Many years ago our elders quorum on a Saturday went on a reactivation blitzkrieg, something I haven’t seen before or since. It basically was a sh-t or get off the pot approach. We were supposed to try to encourage them to come back, but if it were clear that wasn’t gonna happen, we were supposed to encourage them to write a letter requesting their names be removed from the records (I guess to clean them up and improve our activity rate). It was a pretty miserable experience. Naturally with that arrogant agenda no one wanted to come back. Interestingly, only one was willing to have his name removed. (It turns out the SP knew the guy and refused to process the letter, saying “Let’s give him another chance.”) I resolved I would never allow myself to get suckered into anything like that ever again.

    Our bloated membership rolls are a function of our life insurance salesman proselyting practices. Dunk ‘em quick, then stop wasting time on them and pass them off to corporate so you can dunk some more. It’s a salesmanship approach that is pretty much designed to lead to bloated rolls. GBH, bless him, tried to do something about it, but the system was too engrained and not even the prophet himself could fix it.

    Anyone who wants my friendship is welcome to it without some activity quid pro quo. I’m old enough I figure I shouldn’t have to put up with that stuff anymore.

  8. @Steve that makes sense. I agree that, if we take for granted the objective you state, your approach is good and certainly better than what some official publications suggest. I also agree that is the objective of most active leaders / members. I just think the objective itself will ultimately be a big obstacle.

  9. My wife and I were talking about this today. We are in the 65+ age group and so won’t be doing church for maybe a year or more. It’s odd for us and we wonder whether the community aspect will ever surface again, at least in the way it was prior to virusville. I feel for missionary grandchildren who really are less active themselves. To baptize a convert they have to attend church a few times at least. That opportunity doesn’t exist for many (and the rules have changed a bit). And the community enfolding of new members is theory now. I wonder whether what you are talking about will feed into something that happened in Salt Lake, post-Utah war. People just stopped coming and really didn’t come back. Reactivation is an interesting problem and much broader perhaps than we think. Thanks for bringing this up.

  10. Grateful reader says:

    I am seriously considering becoming “less active,” so I want to explain why you don’t need to urge everyone back. Maybe many, but not all.

    I appreciate the Church, the effort of good people to help each other, and the chance to learn from others how God loves each one of us in ways that speak to us. But I want a break from church because I don’t want the pressure of having to appear a certain way. In the past, I never let that pressure bother me. But I recently moved to a different place, and I know the pressure in this type of community is real. I’ve always been that one person who speaks up when someone says something about race/same-gender attraction/politics/church history that does not represent what I believe, and I’m not going to sit here and give my tacit approval by sitting there and saying nothing. So I’ve decided to stay away, under the guise of being concerned about Covid-exposure.

    I love what the teachings of Jesus Christ have done for me, how they have healed me, changed me into a person who sees the needs of others and can help, rather than being a person who just needs help. You might say, “Then we need you at church.”

    But I am finding places outside church to practice Christianity, and I don’t want to ruin the good feelings I am getting lately by interacting with any over-curious or catty person at church. It’s just not my thing right now. I know the Sacrament is a commandment, but, thanks to Covid, I realize I can do that on my own. I won’t stay away for long, and I see a need for people at church to recognize that “going inactive” is, for some people, a time to renew their faith. I probably don’t represent the mass of people who have left the Church. Maybe that’s my point. The question “How do we activate people?” is nice…but people are very different, so I guess it starts with acknowledging that some people leave to get closer to Christ, not further away.

  11. Truckers Atlas says:

    Elise’s first comment got me thinking. Respectfully, Steve, I feel that your post, by skipping the notion of one thoroughly losing and moving past their faith in core Church doctrines and cutting right to reactivation efforts, is taking too much for granted. God knows how much better things would be if all members were as thoughtful in their perspective as you, but still I can’t help but see you writing (esp. in the 3rd paragraph) as if every distanced member has a dormant faith that need only be reawakened.

  12. Truckers, leaving the church doesn’t erase one’s spiritual needs. I’m not naive enough to say that everyone remains Mormon deep down, but they’re living breathing humans who still will seek meaning and spiritual purpose.

    In terms of “skipping”, well, the post is about reactivation, so getting right to it seemed like the thing to do.

  13. Truckers Atlas says:

    So is it safe to say you view every inactive member worthy of reactivation efforts, even those who have left and indicate that their spiritual needs are being met elsewhere?

  14. Worthy? That’s a really odd way to put it. Of course every person is worthy.

    I believe that if people leave the church for another religion, we should respect that decision, if that’s what you’re trying to ask. That doesn’t mean that we should withdraw our friendship or contact, or cease trying to have any sort of spiritual connection with that person. Acting that way would demonstrate the sort of social insularity and ostracism that has been all too frequent in our dealings with people who leave. I don’t view church relationships as being some sort of binary, and I think my post was pretty clear about that.

    Your responses seem to indicate that you have not really understood what I have been saying about what reactivation efforts should be. Maybe you are too hung up on the word “reactivation”.

  15. Truckers Atlas says:

    Well, the post is about reactivation…

  16. (and in case it needed to be said: if people don’t want contact, we shouldn’t contact them or make them jump through hoops to cease contact)

  17. Most reactivation discussion seems to assume that a member has had some definite break with the Church – became dissatisfied with shallow answers to deep questions, decided the church wasn’t true, had a fight with the bishop, whatever. I think there may be a larger group who are inactive because they lost the habit: work schedule changed, and they didn’t go back after another change in schedule would have made it possible; the ward has drifted into a rut and some couldn’t face dragging themselves to church for another installment of lackluster services, had to, oh, I don’t know, stay home for months on end due to a global pandemic. But they never consider themselves as having left the church. They still believe in what is taught, they still consider themselves members and expect they’ll be active again, someday.

    It’s hard enough to overcome inertia and start going again. If someone knew that going again would be interpreted as an admission of guilt because local leaders see inactivity as masking sin — or if someone expected to be ignored the way they were pre-inactivity, or pounced on the moment they showed up with obviously fake expressions of how glad everybody is to see them out again, or if they go back once and realize that the ward is still in its unsatisfactory old rut … why would anybody even try to overcome the inertia?

    I really dislike the assumption that the reason someone stays away is due to wrongdoing or disbelief. It just might have a lot more to do with what little is offered in a ward’s meetings, than to any darkness in an “inactive’s” soul.

    Maybe that fits with Steve’s “listen to your friend and understand why he is inactive” request, I did want to say explicitly though that not all inactivity means someone has left the church and needs to be reconverted. Maybe the ward needs to take the beams from their own eyes before presuming to find motes in inactives’ eyes..

  18. Amen, Ardis. Inertia is real.

  19. In some ways aren’t the scriptures a form letter that don’t even do the dignity of knowing our name? No need to reduce it to something so impersonal sounding. A book you pick up with lessons can be learned from or discarded. No need to insult the book like a teenager who says, “You don’t know me”. The emotion behind the negative response is pride, purr and simple. Unwillingness to acknowledge or look for the good in what’s being offered. Just self serving pride.

    The prodigal son is a good analogy. No one got to know that son. No one reached out to him in compassion, support, or with a form letter. He only returned when he had run out of options and the world around him fell into famine. The prideful like that will never come back until there is nothing left for them and nothing left to take from society. When they do the return, of course we lovingly celebrate.

    But the lesson would almost imply, don’t try to help when they leave, but patiently wait for them to have nothing left and then welcome them back. That’s a tough pill to swallow and there are sometimes others paths that work.

    Though I agree, it’s probably best to just let the prideful people leave and anxiously look for the day when they return.

    Others are in need of rescue and praying for us to go out and deliver them. Response to that form letter, in a way, self selects. (Not having read it though)

  20. “In some ways aren’t the scriptures a form letter that don’t even do the dignity of knowing our name?”

    No, not at all. I really disagree with that description. I don’t agree with anything you’ve said, honestly. Your comment is incredibly dismissive of those who leave.

  21. Nate GT says:

    I’m inactive-ish. I attend with my wife, help in the library, but my bishopric knows I have no interest in having new callings.

    Since I’ve been inactive (6 years) no one has bothered to take the initiative to ask me why I’m inactive. No one has engaged me in any deep philosophical conversations.

    The bishopric has had the missionaries repeatedly attempt to contact me. On occasion I’ve had the missionaries in my home. They’re nice boys but repeat the same old drivel.

    How to reactivate people? At some point it would seem that sitting down and having a conversation initiated by a believer would be nice. Why does that never happen? I’ve heard other ex-Mormon tell similar experiences. Thought I would share.

  22. Wondering says:

    “it’s probably best to just let the prideful people leave and anxiously look for the day when they return.”
    Sometimes it appears to be the vocal, prideful (self-righteous, overly confident) people who stay who are responsible in part for driving out the less prideful people, for making a ward the kind of inhospitable place that cannot welcome those who don’t think and talk just as they do.
    I’ve had no success I can recognize in efforts to help make a ward a welcoming place for those whose thought, experience, and testimony doesn’t not match those of the vocal, self-righteous majority. I could do some of it while teaching gospel doctrine, but from any other position, I don’t know how to do it and, after decades, have become tired of trying. I prefer preserving friendship with those I value who “go inactive” for whatever reason.

  23. Wondering: I feel that way as well sometimes.

  24. Nate GT: You have something to teach us. I would like to know why you are inactive and what you need to come back?

  25. Melinda says:

    From Nate GT: “How to reactivate people? At some point it would seem that sitting down and having a conversation initiated by a believer would be nice. Why does that never happen? I’ve heard other ex-Mormon tell similar experiences. Thought I would share.”

    A few years ago, I visit taught an inactive woman. I went every month for more than a year and helped her move and helped her after her surgery. I never once asked her why she didn’t come to church anymore. I didn’t want to her to unload on me. I couldn’t solve any of the issues and I was afraid of her venting on me. Conflict is scary.

    Now I’m inactive. I don’t want to be reactivated. It’s nice to not feel the stress and pressure of trying to measure up to everything the Church wants anymore. I check in at LDS blogs once in a while and think “huh, glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

  26. Steve, we need to talk. For present purposes, I’m working from the other end as you know so I have little to say here. But there is a nuance that I think the reactivators among us should consider, which is that there is a class of people who will never return to the Church as it describes or envisions itself. For example, thinking of the Church as a bundle of saving ordinances and truth statements may not ever fly. But who might return to their own definition and vision of the Church.

    Do you want them?

    To make this personal, my experience as a part of the class I’m describing is that very many of us believe nobody cares. Thinking the insider position is a take it or leave it approach, as in if you’re not going to be signed up for the full program we won’t actively reject you but nor will we actively recruit you. But that belief is not consonant with my real life experience that fully active 100% committed members in fact do want me, as I am, and with full understanding that the probability of significant change is nil. The discontinuity between what marginal members think is being said about them, and what really is said in some (but certainly not all) perfectly respectable and respectful corners, is worth some consideration.

  27. Absolutely worth consideration! The dynamic of that disconnect is fascinating and I suspect that understanding the source of that disconnect would help us understand a lot about what fuels inactivity.

    FWIW, I have only rarely seen members who want others to leave. Most of those members are on the internet.

  28. I take issue with questioning the veracity of someone’s story in the Ensign. Some people may need an email with a talk by Elder Bednar. I imagine that the group that would benefit from that is pretty small, but I think “calling BS on that story” demonstrates a lot of unnecessary cynicism.

  29. Dsc, suit yourself. I still don’t believe it.

  30. Steve,

    Speaking of pride…

  31. Kristine says:

    jader3rd,

    You wrote: ” I would be shocked if people would go inactive if they heard the voice of God or where visited by an angel of light.”

    Though it may be shocking, the scriptures are full of accounts of exactly that happening. Maybe the lesson from those stories is that we are not very good at knowing what kinds of spiritual nourishment are important for other people, and perhaps, as several other commenters have suggested, we need to ask them and be willing to listen, and then accept that we are all constituted so differently in spiritual terms that monolithic prescriptions are useless.

  32. Loursat says:

    Extending a bit further Steve’s discussion of motives and organizational behavior:

    It seems to me that the concept of “activity” in the Church is essentially an institutional way of framing the issue. By that I mean that “reactivation” states the issue from the standpoint of managing the institution’s welfare as an institution. It’s a management concept, not a pastoral concept. Mistaking management problems for pastoral problems makes pastoral care extremely difficult both to give and to receive. When we start by assuming that the task is to “reactivate,” we’re already hobbled.

    I’m afraid it sounds like I’m dismissing the premise of your post, Steve. I don’t mean to. I think you’re obviously speaking from years of sensitive and genuine ministry. I’m sad that we don’t seem to have quite the right words in our church to talk about this problem in a way that connects immediately with the spiritual experience of a great many Latter-day Saints.

  33. Loursat, not to worry, I think your point is important and ties into the whole issue of measurement. That’s not how pastoral efforts work, but it’s an inherent part of how institutions work.

  34. Speaking of spiritual experiences, it is not uncommon for serious-minded people who “leave” the Church to report powerful, even life-changing, spiritual experiences that have nothing at all to do with the LDS Church or constituent pieces (the Book of Mormon, for example), and sometimes that are directly contradictory to standard Mormon teachings. If you’re going to be in the reactivation business, I suggest you think deeply and honestly about how you respond to such experiences. Further, I suggest that if your reaction is anything in the spawn-of-Satan line of argument, or even just casually dismissive, you find a different line of ministry to give your time to.

  35. I have been a very active member my whole life. But I am finding as I get older that I am tired of so many of the requirements and regulations. It is feeling so pharisaical. As I studied the NT last year, Christ talked about loving others and loving god. That I try to do. Didn’t give many other rules. I can’t see Him being too worked up over drinking coffee or shoulders showing. There is so much busy work in callings and initiatives and programs. It just makes me tired thinking about it. I am having a really hard time finding any desire to go back.

  36. Geoff-Aus says:

    I am in my 70s. I have been on missions for 10 years, on bishoprics for 25 etc. I have never been inactive but whether I will return after the virus?

    30 years ago we moved back to the area my family comes from, not realising the church was much more conservative here. Since then I have had a branch president try to excommunicate me, and been refused temple recommends on numberous occasions by bishops. A couple of times because I would not agree that obedience is the first law of heaven. On one occasion he seemed to have a list of comments on blogs like this. The present bishop refused to even ask the TR questions so I went to the SP who told him to. He has since told me that while he is bishop I will not give a talk or teach a lesson. Do I feel welcome? Would he even want to reactivate me? There are a couple of families I like in the ward.

    On a SLC church level I have come to conclude they are conservatives first and followers of Christ well behind. Their response to racism, this last example of being involved in preventing women getting birth control, while at the same time being pro life (whatever that means). Their attitude to gay marriage. They have lost all credibility. They do not represent Christ.

    Rather than defending discriminating agains people, they could be helping solve real moral problems like the ones Christ pointed out, poverty, abuse, racism discrimination. If it is not on the conservative agenda it is not on theirs.

    Living in Australia, where universal healthcare, abortion, gay marriage, equalty for women, racism, and gun control, are not politicised, they are accepted by all sides of politics, and those who want to make issue with any of them, are extremists, the church and most members, are extreme.

    The leadership of the church globally, and locally, are not my people. I would not associate with them, and judging by the last few years they feel the same way about me. The fact that Utah voted for Trump, and if they do again after his pathetic performance, just confirm there is no moral compass.

    At present I feel like I might come back when the leaders are followers of Christ. Perhaps Uchtdorf, if those before him would catch the virus?

    An awful lot would have to change to make me want to go back to church. And people like suit don’t help one little bit, just confirm the problem.

    I do have children, and grandchildren in the church, though only one in my ward.

  37. Frustrated says:

    I’m not even in Utah or from Utah and I’m tired of hearing “Utah voted for Trump” as if that meant that a even a majority of Utah Mormon voters voted for him. Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. Utah is about 62% Mormon (on the books). But Trump had less than 14% of the vote in the Utah Republican caucus. In the popular Utah vote in November 2016 he had less than a majority vote in Utah. He had Utah’s electoral votes only because he had nearly 46% of the popular vote while 49% was split between Clinton and McMullin. I expect a good number of the 46% were not in favor of Trump, per se, but were more strongly opposed to Clinton’s political history and proposed economic and political policies than they were in favor of Trump. There are enough conservatives among senior Church leaders that it is hardly necessary or helpful to be harping on Trump having Utah’s electoral votes as if that said something about Utah Mormons.

    Otherwise, I’m rather sympathetic to Geoff-Aus’ concerns. I’m just sick of Trump and trumpetings about Trump. I’d rather try to understand what Christian Kimball is saying, and am not convinced I know “what marginal members think is being said about them.”

  38. Whatever you do, please don’t refer to the re-activation of inactive members as a “rescue”. Inactive members don’t want to be rescued and they would be horrified if they knew they were being referred to that way.

  39. nobody, really says:

    I wonder what it is about “the leadership” that makes “us” think other people are incapable of making rational, informed decisions about religion/worship for themselves and their families.

    I once got one of those form letters. It was five pages, hand-written, but the name at the top had been left blank. The letter was photocopied, and then my name was written in with blue pen. The EQ President started off with “I call you to repentance and invite you to return to the fold.” I now kind of wish I’d kept the offensive thing.

  40. The blue pen was a nice touch!

  41. Kristine says:

    Here you go, Frustrated. Mormons did vote for Trump at a much higher rate than Utah residents overall. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/

  42. Nate GT, when would be the right time to ask why someone is inactive? I’ve known people who stop coming to church because they skipped a week and then they’re afraid of people asking about what they’ve been up to recently. Not in any judging-thy-soul kind of a way, but in the small talk way that shows genuine interest in the person. And knowing that some people find being asked about church activity or church attendance as hostile attacks, I don’t know if I would ever be the one to breach the subject. I’ll invite to church and leave their issues with the church between them and the Lord.

  43. It’s always interesting reading these sorts of discussions, as someone who is “less active.” I put that in quotation marks because even though I haven’t attended church in over 5 years, I haven’t stopped actively engaging in my faith at all. Quite the contrary.

    I stopped attending after the Nov 2015 policy–even then, I didn’t make a decision to cut ties with the church, I just felt too emotionally nauseated to go the next Sunday. And then I didn’t go the Sunday after that, or after that, and so on until here we are. So I guess you could say that it was the church’s position on LGBTQ and gender issues that was the straw that broke me and that’s true, but even if all of that were magically changed tomorrow, I don’t think it would be enough for me to start attending regularly again. At this point, it’s almost more a question of relevance. The institutional church–as opposed to the gospel–just does not feel overly relevant to my life (particularly as a single woman in my 40s). It feels like busywork.

    Since ceasing attendance at church, my social circle/community has grown to include some church-going Mormons, some ex-Mormons, some never-Mormons who bring their own experiences and religious backgrounds and cultures to the table. Within this community, there is a sense that none of us really has all the answers and we are all just doing our best, so there is very little judgment or moralizing. Rather, there is a deep mutual respect and support for our respective journeys. No one pities me or particularly cares that I’m not married and don’t have children–it just doesn’t come up. No longer engaging in the busywork of church has freed up a lot of time to pursue community service opportunities that are uniquely suited to my skills and expertise, which I find really satisfying. I feel the Spirit in my life as much as I ever have, and my relationship with the Divine has grown as I’ve grown less invested in making God fit into some preconceived image in my head and just let God be God. I feel less afraid and more free. I still feel very connected to my active-LDS friends and family, and I maintain an interest and engagement in many things Mormon. And as an added bonus, I enjoy moving my body so much more now that I am not constantly adjusting my underwear. At this point, I don’t hate the church at all–I just fail to see the appeal in going back. It doesn’t have much to offer me that I don’t already have, and I don’t think I have much to offer it (despite the protestations from many good church members that they want me, it really feels like they don’t–not the *real* me, especially if I actually “show up” and don’t just show the parts of me that are comfortable for people.)

    Even so, I really do care about the church and want it to succeed. I *want* it to be a place where all people can feel spiritually fed and at home. I know that some people feel this now, and I’m glad for them. But I think the group of people that can feel at-home at church is becoming increasingly narrow, and that does make me sad. I know what would make a difference for me and most of my non-attending LDS friends, but I see no sign that the institutional church is interested in that. And so here we are.

  44. Kristine, are the scriptures really chocked full of experiences of people hearing the voice of the Lord and then going inactive? There’s Laman and Lemuel, but they might have been converted to the Law of Moses and didn’t like what Nephi was doing with his proto-Christianity. There’s the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and I guess Judas Iscariot (though his church attendance might have been stellar). I think the scriptures are chock full of the opposite. Whether it’s Alma the Younger and Sons of Mosiah, or Saul/Paul, or the Israelites seeing miracles such as the fire from heaven being called down by Elijah.
    Either way, I think my statement is a more extreme version of what Ardis brought up of people getting bored with church because they aren’t being spiritually fed there. I think that activity rates would be up if people regularly felt something good at church, that they only felt at church, regardless of their preparation, or the preparation of the speakers or teachers.

  45. “are the scriptures really chocked full of experiences of people hearing the voice of the Lord and then going inactive”

    Yes, that’s most of the Old Testament and a very large chunk of the Book of Mormon.

    I agree with what you say about how good experiences at church would raise activity rates.

  46. DoubtingTom says:

    I’ll speak from my experience as a currently in-active and disbelieving member. My beliefs, quite simply, have changed. I do not accept the church’s validity in terms of its truth claims, and while I tried to continue to attend for over a year with this paradigm, ultimately I was not getting any personal spiritual benefit and so I stopped. I continue to have deeply meaningful spiritual experiences outside of the context of mormonism (or any religion for that matter) and, quite frankly, I don’t miss the community nearly as much as I thought I would.

    So what would bring me back? It’s actually quite simple. I am not likely going to ever see the church as “true” in the way I once did. But if the church provided a vibrant community where I felt welcomed and loved and encouraged to bring my unique perspectives and thoughts with me, where robust discussion of topics of interest and import to me were welcomed, well then I might reconsider. Not as a “believer,” but as a member of a thoughtful and vibrant community. I would only subscribe to the “rules” that I feel add value to my life.

    Would I be welcomed? Would I be allowed to participate at a meaningful level or would I be assigned to the role of observer? I don’t anticipate I would want the busy work of some callings but something in me would want to feel I am still “eligible” for callings and be allowed the freedom to decline. Also, I would want to feel that I am supporting an institution that is not contrary to some of my deeply held social views, something that I can’t currently say about the church.

    But if church attendance added value to my life and allowed me the opportunity to experience uplifting spiritual feelings and be a part of an intimate community that I believed was doing good in the world? Sure, I’d consider participation again.

  47. Brother Sky says:

    Steve, thanks for writing such a thoughtful piece and sparking such an interesting discussion. christiankimball’s post resonates with me a bit. Reading your OP, there was much I appreciated, but I think it’s a good idea to be careful about the assumption that “we” (if by “we” you mean the church generally or church leaders) want everyone at church. In some sort of idealized way, that might be the case, but in terms of Mormon belief and practice, that is decidedly NOT the case. One reason we know that is because both Mormon doctrine and Mormon practice are exclusionary rather than inclusive. If some members of a ward are married to non-members or even just have marriages that aren’t temple marriages, their marriages, by Mormon doctrinal definition are “less than” those that have been solemnized in the temple. If a couple in the ward have less active/non-attending children, than that couple is, by cultural practice and assumption, less than a couple whose children are all active. The same goes for an LGBTQ person or couple, for someone who smokes, for someone who didn’t serve a mission, for someone who isn’t a scriptural literalist, etc.. I agree with Jana Riess’s points about clumsy church leaders trying to intimidate or shame people into attending, but intimidation and shaming are just symptoms of the disease. Once a member deviates from the narrowly acceptable Mormon mainstream, they will feel excluded. IMHO, the reactivation discussion has to confront, first and foremost, the prejudices and wrong-headed exceptionalism of specific Mormon beliefs and practices. Until the church, its leaders and its members work diligently to dismantle those things, I don’t see reactivation being terribly successful. Who wants to go to a church that claims it welcomes everyone but then makes a number of different people feel unwelcome?

  48. Sky, yes it’s definitely an idealized way.

    Re: exceptionalism, I don’t see that going away anytime soon, but perhaps transitioning away from general superiority towards exclusivity of authority.

  49. marcellatp says:

    DSC – I have trouble with the Bednar story too. I’ll tell you why. I don’t think any one thing brings people back to activity within the church. Once upon a time I hired some local movers to move a very heavy piece of furniture upstairs for me. One of the guys laughed and pointed out that he thought it was funny that on a bookshelf I had a both the Harry Potter series and the Book of Mormon on cd. He didn’t think the two could co-exist :-) He said he was LDS and hadn’t attended in years but maybe he needed to again. Could I have written that seeing my Book of Mormon on CD brought him back to activity? I suppose so. But really it was likely a little thing in a very very long string of little things that added up. I suspect someone getting a letter in the mail is the same. It’s not the “Thing” it’s a small piece of a much bigger thing. Oh how we love to simplify because that makes dreaming up programs much easier.

  50. Re: “there may be a larger group who are inactive because they lost the habit”

    Admittedly, this is anecdotal evidence, but out of all the “inactive” members I met on my mission, I could probably count on one hand the amount that considered themselves LDS. There are certainly a group of people who have fallen out of the habit, but it’s hard for me to see them as the majority. Maybe I just haven’t had enough experience.

  51. Sorry, “there *is* certainly a group of people who have fallen out of the habit.”

  52. Roy, thanks for asking. I am inactive because I simply do not believe the church’s teachings about many things from history, the nature of the cosmos, and morality to be true. That said, the church has buildings, gatherings, organization, and opportunities to build a wealth of positive shared experiences. It has long been my culture. It can’t be replicated outside. Some say, “the church is true, the people aren’t.” I believe it is the opposite. The church isn’t true, but the people are.

    What to do to bring me back? Build and develop a space for cultural Mormons to inhabit. Maybe try to develop a more lay-clergy split. Some Mormons are very much interested in leadership positions. Let them have them. Others are meant for the sidelines. That’s me. Build church more around service and less around doctrine. I love helping people move and do yardwork. I love taking meals to the sick. The opportunities to build camaraderie are great in those circumstances.

  53. Nate GT: Thanks for your reply. I think it is exactly what the post is asking to know

  54. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    If I haven’t been to my local grocery store for a while I get a coupon in the mail (or in an email) with a pretty good discount on something I usually purchase (they know because I use their member card). That’s usually enough to get me back in the door for that item, or to do the weekly grocery shopping while I also pick up that discounted item. One of two things will happen – I’ll look around and see that they’ve spruced up the place, the produce is no longer past prime, the prices are good, the people are friendly, and they stock the items I need. Or, I get in there and am reminded of why I started going somewhere else, or nowhere else and just order online.

    The reactivation effort could be the coupon, with a lower cost of returning to see what the ‘inactive’ member is missing. Hopefully, the people are friendly, the lessons and talks aren’t stale, and they have the spiritual experiences they have missed in stock and they come away with a week’s worth of sustenance (or more). But, if it’s just the same old place they left, they’ll be reminded of why they stopped showing up. BCC is sometimes my own online shopping for religious engagement.

    I’m not saying we should offer 50% off tithing for some re-introductory period. Well, maybe I am. Showing up again shouldn’t have to come with a full commitment to…everything. You shouldn’t need to be called into the Bishop’s office for a ‘chat’ when you first come back, or asked to share your testimony, or explain your absence, or be treated awkwardly. We just make returning to activity so damned hard! Even if you desperately want to return, the barriers for doing so are great. We have tried to make it hard for people to leave by erecting social barriers that dissuade it. But those same barriers make it so hard to return. In many ways, if we were more understanding of the issues people have when they need to step away, and made it a little easier to do so, we would find more people coming back because that would also be less daunting.

  55. We were an every Sunday active family with callings when a stake presidency really stepped in it with my husband and left him deeply hurt and offended. This was closely followed by a separate life crisis and our family started to spin. Within 2 years, we had made a major move, our oldest son had essentially left activity and our other two sons were unenthusiastic. Faced with a new, unwelcoming ward, our activity began to slip until my husband and I were attending sacrament meeting, without the children, about quarterly. About 18 months ago the Bishop called my husband into the office to “talk” The first question out of his mouth, without knowing ANY of our backstory, was “What would it take to get you back to the temple.” The interview was all downhill from there, ending with, “I wish you would reconsider for your sons’ sake”

    When my husband reported this to me, it came out that not once was I brought up in conversation. There was a lot of concern for the Priesthood holders in the family to return to activity, but no thought whatsoever for their wife/mother, who, ironically, held the most influence on any of them attending church. If I was inclined to have them attend, they would. That day I realized I’m not valuable enough to the organization to make the effort. And we are a package deal.

    At this point I don’t know that my ward could do anything to entice me back to activity. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and I’m not sure I have enough belief in the organization to get over the garbage heap I felt tossed upon. I still show up on occasion. (Not now, until health concerns are addressed, I absolutely won’t be back) But before, I did still randomly attended, trying to feel…something. All I got was feelings of frustration and isolation.

  56. Cloves, that sucks. It just sucks.

  57. I think the variety of answers here demonstrates the difficulty of reactivation, or at least a one-size-fits-all approach to same. Some people want desperately to share why they’re leaving; others very much want to be left alone. Some left for doctrinal/historical reasons; others had bad experiences with leaders. Some would probably come back if they felt like they had a few friends in the ward; others wouldn’t come back under any circumstances. And I imagine a large “inactive” group inherently not represented at this blog simply “fell out because they weren’t in far enough,” to quote Marvin J. Ashton. In sum, I think reactivation is a minefield best navigated by someone prone to nuance, emotional intelligence, and being led by the spirit.

    All that said, I’m willing to say that the least effective approach to all of these groups is for the first contact in a while to be a strident call to repentance. I know that seems to have worked a lot in the scriptures, but I’ve never seen it be successful in real life. I know it would turn me off.

  58. Old Man says:

    Steve,
    Cloves got me thinking, and an odd idea crept in…

    I really love the Jewish Rosh Hoshanah preparations which commence just before Rosh Hoshanah and lead up to Yom Kippur. As a rabbi once told me “One must make oneself right with one’s fellow beings before attempting to make oneself right before G-d.”

    In that spirit, I wish we could make 2020-21 a Jubilee year. You know, a year of repentance, reverence, scripture reading and forgiveness for all during what will be a year of practically no meetings or limited church meetings and limited temple worship. After months of soul-searching, we could go into April 2021 General Conference with a prayer in our hearts asking for the forgiveness of all our sins, individually and institutionally, particularly those incurred during times when we held stewardships within the church.

    Now there are other wonderful details about Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur that I think Latter-day Saints could benefit from by borrowing the concepts. First, the food is great. Our ward parties have not been what they should! And I really wish we could do something like blow the shofar together as a people. For those who don’t know, the shofar is the sound of humanity in distress, but it is also a call to repentance for all.

  59. This is a complex issue. The causes of individuals choosing not to physically attend and be engaged in a ward congregation are multi-determined, can be complicated and are individually unique to be sure. As a generalization, often our (local church) response is far too programmatic instead of being an expression of genuine Christ-like love for the individual. Unfortunately, our culture has evolved in such a way that “reactivating” someone is more important for institutional reasons than out of regard for the member’s individual experiences and feelings and desires. I know some members would argue those considerations are one and the same, that to reactivate is always in an individual’s best interest, but I strongly disagree with that. Our mandate ought to be to care for and love those around us, holding that individual’s best interests at heart as they define what those interests are.

    My second thought: Having spent too many years of my married life in early morning church leadership meetings, I’ll outline one way I have observed why ‘reactivation’ efforts fail. A primary problem is those efforts often fill the needs of local church leaders more than they seek to fill the needs of the member of concern. Usually a charge will come down from the stake presidency to improve attendance metrics and the motive is driven in part to keep the ward leader’s church boss happy. (It’s a well-developed equation in which we can switch out the variables of inactivity with home teaching–now ministering–or finding prospective convert baptisms.) The programmatic church too often fuels the motive and individual interests are regarded less. I’ll share one example. An inactive member came up in a bishopric meeting following one such charge from our stake. A member of the bishopric decided what that member needed was to be confronted and told, more or less, “It’s time to stop messing around and come back,” and took it upon himself to act with “boldness,” as he stated. To my shock, that is exactly what the bishopric member did. It didn’t go well, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. We received notification approximately two months later the member had formally requested to have their name removed from the records of the church. Here is the tragedy and why I thought the action was egregious. The member fully supported his family in their commitment to the church. This member regularly engaged in local service projects, including those designed to provide financial assistance to the full-time missionaries. This member was kind and engaging with his member neighbors and was always respectful. He had politely requested home teachers not visit him, and that the missionaries never be sent to meet with him. We, in turn, and in our spiritual arrogance, disrespected the gist of his requests, pressed him outside of any context of a personal relationship (the bishopric member who confronted him had no personal relationship with him), and drove him out for good. The misguided effort to do good actually ended up hurting the member and his family, badly. I have always viewed that experience with sadness and as an act more driven by misguided church culture, by spiritual perversion, than out a sense of discipleship and morality. I would like to think this kind of thing rarely happens but am afraid it happens in some form or another all too often.

    I will balance this by saying I have also witnessed incredible acts of long-term love and commitment to individuals by local church leaders and members that have blessed many lives. These relationships span years and are underpinned by a sense of real love and concern that is bidirectional, and seem to me not to have originated in a ward council meeting. This observations look a lot more like discipleship to me.

  60. Kristine says:

    I think it would be a good idea to just not gossip about people in Ward Council meetings, regardless of their activity status. It’s hard to imagine any case where private conversations with ministering sisters & brothers and maybe relevant auxiliary presidencies wouldn’t be more effective, and, more importantly, more respectful. The very act of discussing people as a project shows such profound disregard for them, it’s no wonder the “solutions” proffered in such discussions rarely work.

  61. “At present I feel like I might come back when the leaders are followers of Christ. Perhaps Uchtdorf, if those before him would catch the virus?”

    The comment wherein Geoff-Aus jumps the shark.
    Hello BCC mods?

  62. ShySaint says:

    “At present I feel like I might come back when the leaders are followers of Christ. Perhaps Uchtdorf, if those before him would catch the virus?”

    ‘The comment wherein Geoff-Aus jumps the shark.
    Hello BCC mods?’

    Is that jumping the shark? I agree wholeheartedly. It makes a lot of sense to me. And, based on the escalating rate of defections from the church my guess would be that Geoff and I are not alone.

    Do you want to just silence us, reactivate us or consider what Geoff was brave enough to articulate?

  63. Geoff-Aus (and ShySaint), that is over the line. We won’t be wishing Covid on anyone here, particularly not apostles. I’m sure you can find more civil ways to express your ideas.

  64. In SW SL County here we are in week 19 of home church (and no zoom allowed) so this all seems so removed.

  65. Geoff - Aus says:

    Yes likewise Chet we have no contact from church except emails from stake telling us a councilor in the elsers quorum has been replaced(can’t imagine why). Pretty irrelavent in the present climate.
    Thanks shysaint.
    There have been a few shark attacks recently. Hadn’t heard about jumping them before.
    I read that bald men make up 70% of virus deaths. I didn’t say they should, only if they did.

  66. rickpowers says:

    I have not read this article or any of the comments. “Why not?”, you ask. Because I clicked on this desperately hoping for a definitive Top 10 List. What the world needs now is love, sweet love; but I would settle for some yuks, funny yuks. But, noooooooo. You’all have to get all serious about something that has such a simple solution: You want people back to Church? Then serve ’em Rice Crispy treats when they leave the meeting. It never fails.

  67. Aussie Mormon says:

    rick: “I would settle for some yuks, funny yuks.”
    Perhaps try the Rowan Atkinson scene from four weddings and a funeral.

  68. Kevin Barney said (way back on July 12): “Many years ago our elders quorum on a Saturday went on a reactivation blitzkrieg, something I haven’t seen before or since. It basically was a sh-t or get off the pot approach. We were supposed to try to encourage them to come back, but if it were clear that wasn’t gonna happen, we were supposed to encourage them to write a letter requesting their names be removed from the records ”

    Kevin, was that in Cincinnati, 1975? I was in the EQ presidency at that time and the president said he had been told by the SP to do something similar. He and I went out one Saturday with a list of 10, or so, names. None of then were home–much to my relief.

  69. CS Eric says:

    I’m wondering what COVID will do to me. I’m approaching the age where I will need to be more cautious, and I’m still recovering from having a kidney removed a few months ago. I don’t trust the youth in adequately cleaning the chapel between meetings, and horrified at the number of ward members who believe it’s all a hoax. It will be several months before I even consider going back. Will that make me inactive? I’m in the Elders Quorum presidency, and my wife is in the Relief Society presidency. How long can we stay away because of health concerns and still be considered active and keep our callings?

  70. If the reason you wish me a happy birthday is because my name is next to yours on a spreadsheet and you no longer wish me a happy birthday when my name is no longer next to yours on the spreadsheet, then I’ll think we aren’t really friends. If that happens over and over for decades, maybe I learn that I don’t have any friends from that community.

  71. Geoff-Aus says:

    Cs Eric, long time before it is safe in Utah or most of America for that matter. Now forcasting 225,000 deaths by November in America. America leads the world already. You need a leader who cares.

  72. Yesterday my brother, while he enjoyed a New Belgium, told me that our dad had been contacted by Salt Lake trying to get contact information for him (the brother I mean). I was really embarrassed to have to tell my brother that yes, the church is still doing that. In 2020.

    Interestingly though, my fully orthodox father declined to give SLC contact information for my brother. (And I’ve done the same thing when they’ve contacted me – even when I was 100% fully ‘in.’) He sent Bro a text message saying ‘you might want to go ahead and resign your membership.’ I’m trying to imagine such a thing happening even ten years ago, and I can’t wrap my brain around it.

    So yeah, we have a pretty good idea of what DOESN’T work, but they just keep on doing it.

  73. BigSky – you nailed it. “A primary problem is those efforts often fill the needs of local church leaders more than they seek to fill the needs of the member of concern”. I too have served for way too many years in Bishoprics, EQ, etc etc – to know that although we pretend we are putting all kinds of actions in place for the benefit of the individual, we always have an “ask” for them. We seek to change them, we always have a motive that does not involve what they want. Re-activation should never be our motive. Love should always be our motive. It is not “love” to befriend someone only to try and get them to change. After all, “Love seeketh not her own”.

  74. stephenchardy0 says:

    Oh boy… How much to say! Let me relate a true story about reactivation.

    Some ten years ago I was a bishop’s counselor. Our bishop was a gentle and kind soul and a true believer. A very humble guy. He LOVED visiting members and was at his best one-on-one and not in a group. Every Wednesday night he liked to visit active and inactive families, and he took one of his counselors, or really anybody who could go, and make his visits. One Wednesday we went to visit an inactive family. He told me what he knew about them: Returned missionary father; married in the temple. Then a drift away. They had three children who walked out of a youth meeting because of something about gays that offended them. The husband and wife just didn’t believe and left. Much to the great sadness of both of their families who had occasionally urged the Bishop to reach out to them.

    So we went, and we were welcomed. I didn’t see this coming, but my bishop proceeded to fairly sternly call them to repentance. He told them that they had made promises in the temple, and that they should not ignore those promises. He said that they should be ashamed at turning their backs from so much truth. I listened, mouth agape, because (A) I NEVER confront people and could not imagine myself doing what he was doing, and (B) it was very much NOT this bishop’s style to be like this. I had made many visits with him through many years and knew him well.

    The family was polite, and thanked us for the message. They said that they no longer needed the church, and that they knew that they had caused pain for their relatives. We left on friendly terms.

    Now, fast forward about five years. New bishop. I’m the HP Group Leader now. And the father starts coming to church. He explains to the group that he had lost his way but was back now. He was now divorced. Not much later he married, again in the temple, and started his second family. I NEVER discussed or reminded him of our intense meeting years before. I wasn’t sure that he remembered that I was there. I later had him called as one of my counselors and he did such a nice job.

    Towards the end of my tenure as HPGL I led a seminar during the third hour about home teaching. (My, how many things have changed!) Towards the end of the lesson/seminar (where I was hoping for lots of participation) he made a fairly long comment. He mentioned that bishop so-and-so and I (meaning the guy who is typing now) had visited his home years ago and called his family to repentance. He said that the visit shook his life up, and led eventually to his return. He wondered if I remembered that I was there.

    I spoke to him for a while after the meeting, assuring him that I remembered that event and we discussed it in some detail.

    I don’t think that this should be taken as a recommendation that we call inactive members to repentance in that manner. I believe that my bishop was “moved, betimes…” by the spirit and was therefore able to be effective. I admire my bishop for heeding his promptings, and this fellow members who heard the call.

  75. stephenchardy says:

    Now a second comment.
    Here is a quote (that I have posted in part before here at BBC) by a now deceased Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel:

    “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”

    I am responding now to Steve Evan’s question about what we are bringing members back to. I fear that so much of our religious observance is irrelevant (modesty rules for example), dull (need I say anything more?), oppressive (I am a believer of full LGBTQ+ inclusion in our ranks) and insipid (BYU grooming standards; refusing to let bearded men have temple callings).

    When he says.. “when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain…” I think of a recent multi-stake conference that we had where a high ranking general authority spoke a lot about the faith of our ancestors, telling specific pioneer stories. Believe me when I tell you this: this kind of appeal often helps me. I am the product of many pioneers and appreciate deeply their sacrifices. However, this conference was held at the height of (I think it was the height) of national unrest and demonstrations about racial justice. Not a single word was mentioned about the issues or the unrest. I think that having a high ranking church official reflect on our own racial (racist) heritage and then discuss what constructive things we might do to build bridges, to atone, to help heal the wounds. But sadly we focused on our heirloom, and not on living waters.

    The quote also says that “when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past…” I think of April conference where almost no comment was made about the health crisis seeping across the country, and rather focused on the splendor of the First Vision.

    The late Rabbi says that when religion stumbles like this, then “its message becomes meaningless.”

    I believe that in order to activate those falling away that we need to fix our message and focus, not backwards at our inspiring pioneers, but forwards to a better society, church, and world.

  76. your food allergy is real says:

    Geoff-Aus wrote: “Cs Eric, long time before it is safe in Utah or most of America for that matter. Now forcasting 225,000 deaths by November in America. America leads the world already. You need a leader who cares.”

    Geoff, by recent case counts it is currently safer in New York state than in Australia

  77. Rolf the Norwegian says:

    I love the plan of Salvation. I believe it’s perfect. The reason why I love the plan of Salvation, is because it includes all of us, not just the active. We all were intelligences. God organize spiritual bodies for all of us. We all accepted the plan in the pre-existence. We all were born with the Light of Christ in our lives. We all will have a chance to hear the gospel and accept it. We all will die. We all will be resurrected. We all will have the ordinances performed in temples. We will all receive a kingdom of glory (with a few exceptions). The plan of Salvation is an eternal plan, and it is a good plan, that shows that God loves all his children. I have started to see everyone as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, but not everyone is a member of the congregation. I think it makes it easier. I’ve never expected the church and its leaders to be even close to perfect. I do believe that they have the keys and that they will be held responsible for how those keys are used, in the same way as I will be responsible for the keys I’ve have as a father, a husband and my callings in church.
    What’s not to be thankful for. We really need to lighten up. I truly believe that things will be alright, and not just all right but much better than we could ever imagine. We should try to show charity to all, those that are active in the congregation and those that are not active in the congregation and everyone else. They have their reasons as I have mine for being active. We need to understand that one size doesn’t fit all, this also applies in the church. In my worldview there are many things in the church that I don’t agree with, there are programs that I would like to see practice in a different way, but I’m not going to throw the baby out with the dirty bath water. We all live in our own world and we all have our own world view. I think we forget how different our worldviews are. We need to make decisions and see the world according to our worldview, and to ask God to let us see things as they really are. I’ve always been interested in hearing about people’s world view, it has often taught me that I am ignorant fool, that I lack understanding and that I assume things that were not true. I realize God’s plan is perfect, but my plan is not. I believe God showers us with blessings more than we can ever receive. I prefer to see sin as missed opportunities.
    So, when it comes to reactivating members, we shouldn’t worry about it – but we should show an increased interest in their lives and their worldview – hey, we might learn something.

  78. nobody, really says:

    stephenchardy:

    On rare occasions, a person might need a swift kick in the butt. When that EQP sent me a form letter calling me to repentance, he probably didn’t realize that I was attending another ward, that I hadn’t missed a single week at church, or that the problems were so severe that the Office of the Presiding Bishop approved the records transfer a few weeks later. I suspect he’d never had a spiritual inspiration that some 30-40 inactive families in his ward all needed to be called to repentance in the most impersonal way possible.

    I saw him about a year ago at a temple open house, a good 300 miles from where I’d been in his ward. He smiled, put up his hand to wave, then realized who I was, wiped the smile off his face, and turned around.

  79. Stephen Hardy says:

    Nobody, really:

    I am sure you are correct. I told the story because it stood out as the possible one and only time that bearing witness of someone’s need to repent was fruitful. Usually, like in your case, it is destructive or at least not productive. Sort of like the exception proving the rule. From this experience I did not learn to confront inactive people like my bishop did that day. My personality isn’t built for that.

  80. The best way to reactivate members is to give them a reason to return. Give them something beside meetings that regurgitate the same doctrine over and over. Give them Church position that are not just busy work. The Church needs to cuts its ties to conservative Christianity and the Republican party. The Church at its initiation was progressive. Service to humanity would be a great new emphasis. That would be right in line with the teachings in the NT.

    As an inactive member, I don’t want to be hastened, ponderized, or inoculated. But provide me with a expansive world view and a way to improve to improve the plight of humanity and I might, just might, resign up.

  81. Lane J Wolfley says:

    I’m 67. I haven’t believed in the divine mission of the Church since 1984, which was four years into my service as a bishop. I served another year, and after a few more years of faking it, settled down to a healthy lifetime of scouting and social service opportunities in the Church. Otherwise, I attend sacrament meeting to be with my wonderful wife. But my mind is beautifully free, and I never subscribe to any of the narrow views which other people continually try to foist upon me. I would have to give up everything to be active in the Church again. Just the thought of it leaves me suffocating for air, as though I were drowning in a sea of desperation. I’m really thankful for where I am in life.

  82. To fbisti and Kevin, I think this pushy attempt at “come back or get out” must have been a rolling effort by the church to blitz inactive members and force them to write a letter resigning their membership.. Glendale, California did it in 1971, a year after hubby and I joined the church. We were asked to go with the EQ, presumably because we were new converts and could help convince people to come back to church. We were stunned that active members would be so rude, especially to the one single lady. We declined to participate in any more such sorties and it left a bad taste in our mouths. Another bad taste was when they did the Golden Contact project in about 1973 or so. We were in Utah then. It cost me the friendship of some of my immediate family in England for over 20 years and permanent loss of Presbyterian friends. Once more, never again for us, though I remained active. Hubby didn’t but for other reasons. Leaders really need to come up with better and truly caring ideas or we will not convince anyone to come out to church, even if they want to.

  83. Talking with a friend over lunch yesterday (outdoors, safe distancing, masks to get there and back) we mused about the meaning of active or inactive (see Loursat and others, above in this thread). One idea we bounced around in the context of self-identification is that “cafeteria Mormons” who admit it to themselves and others may be inclined to think of themselves as no longer active. At the same time, in progressive circles at least (BCC, looking at you) it is a commonplace to observe that everybody is really cafeteria. Something I’m still chewing on.

  84. Christian, I wonder if the resistance to the recent instruction to wear masks isn’t proof of cafeteria Mormonism once and for all. It’s not just “progressives” – as soon as a church instruction collides with a deeply held feeling (however stupid, in the case of anti-maskers), there’s the impulse to pick and choose your beliefs.

  85. Steve, I had the same thought. There are other issues over time, but masks is a pretty sharp divide right now. And public enough—right in front of your face, literally—that many will be forced to admit me too.

  86. Reactivation is an everyday thing – and we all need it. Even the whole world needs it. When someone does something for me unexpectedly, or me for them, I feel the light of Christ activated in me and I hope the same comes to them. I live in a country of goodhearted people, rain or shine, what a blessing, to be a blessing.

  87. “Give them something beside meetings that regurgitate the same doctrine over and over.” Indeed. Turns out this has been a problem for a loooong time.
    https://benspackman.com/2020/07/18/nels-nelson-on-lds-preaching-teaching-and-the-life-of-the-mind/

  88. About 15 years ago, I taught a Relief Society lesson on the Plan of Salvation. I spent way too much time preparing for it, about 80 hours. Probably the best 80 hours I ever spent. After years of the chalkboard three circles on the other side of one circle (mortality) being presented to me, and my lacking the knowledge or maturity to understand anything more than the basics. I finally got it. Here was God’s plan, one in which no one fell off the edge and everyone could have just as much as they chose and were willing to work for. There was an Atonement to compensate for my sins and weaknesses and to give me time to realize them as I experienced life’s challenges. There were ordinances where I signed on the dotted line that I was agreeing to something. There were gifts of the Spirit, one for each and every weakness I possessed and others just designed to bring power and help to the world. There was an eternal destiny so rich it encouraged seeking to actually become the same kind of person Jesus Christ is. There were unending treasures of knowledge and progression. There was love and place for everyone.
    A few years ago, I created my own Church history tour, taking a month to visit all the sites. I had done this years earlier, before the Joseph Smith Papers Project. This time the missionary guides read the actual words of the people who were present. I was no longer hearing a story, but realizing these people were testifying about their personal experiences. My testimony was so thoroughly strengthened I could not believe the difference.
    The point I am trying to make is that perhaps some go inactive because they have not yet grasped the total sweep of the Gospel. Too often we broke the Gospel into bite-sized pieces to make it teachable. But I fear we need an 80 hour marathon that puts these pieces back into place as a whole. Actually studying justification and sanctification until I understood them made me want them In my life. Grasping the whole Gospel message is so much more powerful than focusing on its parts. And allows us then to keep those parts in their place as they are taught to us.
    Do I attend every church meeting? No. But I have fallen In love with the Gospel plan and want to be part of it. And I finally understand why our pioneers sacrificed so much. They may not have built the city of Zion but they knew it was coming and they wanted to be part of its forerunners here in the West. I too want to someday point out to my descendants, this is the part of the foundation I laid to usher in a better world. A few bricks only, but my bricks. And with them a much better world.

  89. Article Thief says:

    Interesting discussion. Too busy at work to respond timely, sorry….

    Many years ago, my then 10 year old daughter was paid $500 to play her violin at a Christmas program at the Wieuca Road Baptist church. I didn’t want to hover too much, but I didn’t want to leave her entirely alone. I wandered around the church buildings and popped back into the nicest meeting hall where they practiced at random, short intervals. This sanctuary was beautiful and classy. Our temples seemed a bit tacky in comparison. I found a library with hundreds if not thousands of books, but it was locked and an empty kitchen where they cooked food in up to 30-gallon pots with lingering, delicious scents.

    Then I stumbled upon the minister’s office and it was locked. At the time my view of ministers was based 99% on the old temple ceremony where ministers are minions of Lucifer. I jimmied the lock and sat in his chair with my feet on his desk. I rummaged in the unlocked desk and found their financial records. At the time I was our ward financial clerk and I was astonished to see that this big church ran on only around twice the same amount of money as our ward’s tithing and we shared the building with 2 wards.

    Then in his files, I found a short article titled: “WHY CHURCHES FAIL.” This was not a speculative sermon by an inspired preacher. It was based on research done by social scientists (maybe at TCU?) that looked at hundreds, both retrospectively of failed churches and prospectively of churches that fit what the retrospective data predicted. The results were interesting but not earth-shattering.

    Congregations were classified into 3 groups of people. About 85% they called the good sheep of the fold. These people are the backbone of the church. They are reliable, tolerant, and helpful. But they have their limits. In the protestant world they can walk across the street to another church as easily as switching gas stations for a 2 cent a gallon price difference. About 10% of the people they called the zealots. They are the most visible people in the church and are impossible to ignore. They volunteer for most anything and generally get the job done. They are organized and demanding. About 5% of the people are the creative types who have more ideas than they can execute and only some of their ideas are good. They can be viewed as free-thinkers, troublemakers or fringe members.

    If the creative ones get too much control, they will run ahead and in too many directions for the good sheep to follow. They seldom execute well and thus their damage tends to be self-limited. The usual path to failure is when the zealots get too much control. First, they will eliminate the creative types. And their better ideas, applied thoughtfully, are the key to the future of the church staying relevant and dynamic. When the creative ones leave, the church is doomed. The zealots will try to whip the good sheep in line and many of them will leave. Eventually, the zealots will be successful at making some of the good sheep more zealous. But in the end they turn on each other and tear the church apart. It is nigh impossible to have a church exclusively of zealots because zeal is relative to the performance of others and the need to feel better than others.

    I stole the article and shared it with our ward leaders. They rejected it as evidence of the wickedness of other churches not led by prophets and thought I was teaching my children to violate the Sabbath by working for money on Sunday entertaining the faithless. (No mention of burglary).

    My thoughts: Any model is a simplification of messy reality and inaccurate at some level. I see a similarity between the model in this article and the old Iron Rod- Liahona model. Because of our insistence upon assigning people to wards based on geography, it is not easy to just walk across the street to another ward. This makes it harder to run the good sheep of the fold away. In the few wards I am familiar with, we have long isolated or silenced the creative ones. The same 10 families run the ward zealously. I see two narratives online. Those who are in the church deep and everything is wonderful, mostly. Those who have left or are struggling to not leave and they easily see many of the active members as zealots. Comprehending this difference is the way forward.

    Protestant churches fail individually and often. They are subject to intense market forces to implement fulfilling religious experiences. Our organizational and financial structures prevent this pruning process. But it will eventually lead to collective failure on a broader base. I personally think the time is too far spent to avoid a perpetual decline in the future.

    I think many people on this website are probably creative ones. Many have successfully found a niche somewhere in which to survive. But painting with broad strokes, we have collectively failed to make most of the church what it needs to be to flourish.

    The idea of zeal as described above (based on comparison with others) is fundamentally opposite to the basic gospel message. We are all wicked sinners in need of repentance. We are not special. Our ordinances and hamster-wheeling and bargaining with God (the covenant path) will get us nowhere. If I have to describe the steps to this crew we all must take often, then you need to have a genuine “Come To Jesus” experience.

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