Baptism Goals

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In episode one of the Mormon Stories podcast, John Dehlin states that at one point in the 1990s Elder Dallin Oaks said that we cannot make goals for something that depends on a person’s right to choose (i.e. baptism).

I know that despite this idea, my mission (and others) constantly set baptismal goals. Is this still a common practice in missions? If so, why hasn’t elder Oaks’ counsel reached these missions or why have they not heeded it?

24 thoughts on “Baptism Goals

  1. I think there is a type of unrighteous dominion that goes with a little authority (D&C 121). In order to feed their vain glory a rare few mission presidents and the like will seek to have statistics that show how well they are doing.

    I also think this mentality comes from have a few leaders in the church that take their business experience into the gospel, instead of vice-versa. This leads even more toward performance goals.

    I would much rather see goals set for things that we can have control over. Our own efforts.

  2. This concept of baptism goals concerned me on my mission too (’84-’86).

    Elder Oaks again addressed this topic in a recent general conference, either Oct 2002, or sometimes during 2003.

    On the baptism goals do seem wrong. However, if you “work backwards” from the goal, and concentrate on your efforts on finding/teaching, and avoid all coercive, manipulative, or unrighteous influence, then I believe it’s okay.

    Here’s the reasoning, and it harkens back to the “sales funnel”. It’s really based on averages for the society/culture/mission in which you’re working.

    Let X0 be the number of doors you knock on plus the number of people you contact on the street.

    Of those, X1 take the first discussion. Of those, X2 take the second discussion, etc. X6 take the 6th discussion, and finally X7 get baptized.

    Maybe 5% of X0 get to X1. That’s why it’s important to have members present you with people who already want the first discussion. It saves the missionary from having to knock on 20 doors just to get 1 first discussion.

    The percentage of people who take a lesson who then go on to the next lesson varies by mission. And it’s not constant lesson to lesson.

    Here are my wild guesses.
    5% of X0 go to X1.
    75% of X1 go to X2.
    50% of X2 go to X3.
    75% of X3 go to X4.
    (If they take the 3rd discussion, they are at least interested, so the percentage picks up.
    75% of X4 go to X5.
    75% of X5 go to X6.
    50% of X6 get baptized.

    Working backwards from ONE baptism, using those numbers you get:
    1 person gets baptized, hence:
    2 people take lesson 6, hence:
    2.66 people take lesson 5, hence:
    3.55 people take lesson 4, hence:
    4.74 people take lesson 3, hence:
    9.48 people take lesson 2, hence:
    12.64 people take lesson 1, hence:
    *(for a total of 35 lessons).
    252.83 doors knocked on.

    Now maybe those 75% “graduation” percentages should be lowered to 66%. Or that final 50% might be lowered a bit.

    But whatever it is, you “reduce” (work backwards) your goal to something you do have control over, IE: how many doors you knock on, or how many people you contact on the street.

    Missionaries can’t control how many referrals they get from members either, but they can try to exert righteous influence in asking members for referrals, teaching members how to invite their friends to hear the lessons, etc.

    Too often I saw (or heard) that the baptism goal turns into manipulation, and the missionaries do a “sales job” on the investigators.

    Boyd Packer once said that “righeous sales techniques” may be used. I took that to mean how to contact people, how to righteously influence people to get them to read the scritures and pray, and how to promote the gospel as a means of uplifting them and solving many of life’s problems.

    There are many unrighteous manipulative salesmen in the secular world. But not all salesmen or sales activities are unrighteous. It may be righteous to create a need. It is usually unrighteous to convince someone to buy something they don’t need.

    But if a salesmen has something that someone is genuinely in need of, there are righteous ways of informing (teaching) that person that your “product” meets their needs.

    The “clincher” or the “close” or the “convincing” has to be done by the Holy Ghost. No one should get baptized because the missionaries talked them into it. People should get baptized because they believe the message, willingly make all the committments, and actually desire baptism and membership in the kingdom.

    But given the historical percentages of how people progress from contact to convert, if you want one baptism per month, (assuming the numbers above) you better work at knocking on 10 doors a day and getting at least 3 or 4 first discussions every week.

    That is how you take baptism goals and translate them into something that the missionaries have some degree of legitimate control over.

  3. I think the principles of marketing/sales are divine and humans have tapped into them, not the other way around. Geoff J. wrote a post about this a while ago here.

  4. The recently revised missionary program explicitly forbids quantitative goals. On the other hand, it allows mission presidents to set quantitative “standards of excellence.” One step forward, one step back…

  5. “The recently revised missionary program explicitly forbids quantitative goals.”

    That may be true in terms of number of baptisms, but not so in terms of activities that the missionaries can control.

    Setting quantitative goals for contacting people is encouraged on page 149, paragraph 10 of Preach My Gospel.

    Page 146, last paragraph, mentions the “standards of excellence” but says those are not to be used as quotas.

  6. That sounds like a good change if you ask me. My mission was very “numbers” centric. We sometimes went overboard with it. We also were a very high baptizing mission. Not that I think we had a bad mission president (he was a CPA), but I hope that that mission changed it’s focus.

  7. Our mission president pushed the numbers hard (I served ’95-’97). His reasoning was that EVERYONE needs to be baptized to enter the kingdom of God. We constantly focused on the number of baptisms each companionship had. Awards were given for highest number of baptisms each month. Numbers were broken down into # of families, # of adult males and total #. For the 1st year of my mission, all I thought about were how many are we going to baptize.

    Then “Velar por las ovejas” came out. All the focus became retention … we constantly were looking for members who had been baptized but who have been inactive for a LONG time. The number of baptisms fell dramatically. Again, we focused our efforts on the number of people we found … all number driven.

    We got a lot done and it was measureable.

  8. I served in the South of France in the late 70’s. Western Europe was/is a very tough mission field. Even so, my MP (a great guy) was abused by the area GA due to our poor stats. Finally, that GA dump on front line missionaries in a series of “tough love” speeches. Most of those missionaries were doing the very best they could and many good ones left the church over that crap. I managed to eventually come back (thanks to marriage to a believing LDS gal) and made peace with the church but have developed no hesitation in writing off uninspired leaders who are obviously full of it. Glad things are getting better. Our missionaries need our support and encouragement, not abuse because some happen to labor in unreceptive areas with few baptisms.

    BTW, Francophone missions rock!

  9. Steve, can I ask you politely to stop spreading the gospel of “writing off” the Priesthood leaders whom you have personally judged to be uninspired? You’ve said before you didn’t intend to influence anyone to follow you, yet here you are, doing it again.

  10. I recall with fondness one time on my mission where each zone was coming up with ways that their zone could sacrifice more. Some zones were waking up 2 hours early and sacrificing meals etc. etc.

    We had a mission confrence where one of the area presidency attended, I can’t remember his name, but he seemed particularly gruff. All of the zone leaders came up and reported all of the extra sacrifices that their zones were making. After thier speals and their much bragging, the area authority stood up and spoke about how missions were hard enough and that any extra sacrifice should be determined by companionships and not by the mission or by zones. I was happy about that as I was tired of waking up so early (i’m kind of an insomniac).

    Anyway, after that, the zones started asking us to come up with our own sacrifices, manditory of course…

  11. LT Bug AF: Bro, your disagreements with Steve EM are well known and well established. You’ve made your points about it over and over again, to him and to everyone else. Now it just looks like you’re trying to remove the mote(s) from his eyes. And in so doing, you’re coming across worse than he is.

    I too had problems with the over-emphasis on numbers “back in the day.” Steve EM has correctly pointed out that that emphasis came from the GA’s. Maybe that emphasis was misinterpreted by 70’s and MP’s and others at the expense of other priorities. Maybe that emphasis was executed incorrectly.

    But the GA’s have now backtracked, (not explicitly admitting error, but implying it with a new direction or emphasis ) first in the mid 90’s with a “watch out for the sheep” initiative (getting missionaries to focus more on retention instead of just numbers of baptisms), and then in 2002 with a “raise the bar” initiative aimed at fielding better qualified missionaries.

    I think Steve EM and I (and others) have different takes on what “raise the bar” really means at the local level. It’s not as bad as Steve and some others claim. I don’t think its purpose is to keep 19 year olds who’ve transgressed out of the program. It’s purpose is to keep out, or delay rather, those who’ve transgressed and haven’t repented, until they have repented fully. And it is to keep out, or delay rather, those who are so unprepared spiritually and emotionally that the mission experience would end up being a negative for them.

    I fell into that latter category of being emotionally unprepared, and the negative effects had lifelong bad consequences for me.

    I was once on the receiving end of a GA (a 70) having a bad day and chewing out his audience of missionaries. I don’t think Steve EM is too far off the mark in calling such a talk ‘abuse’ or being ‘dumped on’ or ‘tough love.’ GA’s are human and can have a bad day. It would not be too far off the mark to call such an abusive talk “uninspired.” But that 70 may have been angry that day, and he may have had cause to be angry. I saw him 20 years later give a talk in a general conference and was glad to see that he had mellowed out.

    I also saw a similar abusive attitude among the Branch Presidents in the MTC in 1984. That particular group at that particular time were all cut from the same cloth, and to a man, they all talked down to their audience (at least the ones I heard at the 8 weekly assemblies I was at) in an arrogant and confrontational tone.

    Maybe high-spirited 19 year olds need a heavy-handed leadership. But if EQ presidents, bishops and stake presidents had talked to me like that before my mission (I was a convert at 24), I would not have gone back to church.

    Steve EM may be too broad in his sweeping generalizations or accusations. Maybe he murmurs too much. But he’s got a point. You telling him to “stop” on someone else’s blog says more about you than him.

  12. In that case, I’ll speak to everyone but Steve: Please don’t follow Steve’s advice/example and reject God’s Prophets.

  13. LT Bug AF: Oh thank you! I’m sure glad you’re around to warn people about who to avoid. Is there anyone else we should be warned about?

    By the way, could I please see your blog-cop badge?

  14. And please be leery of people who simultaneously say they’re not trying to influence your choices when they obviously are.

  15. Bookslinger: I thought ‘blogs were about presenting ideas for the purpose of influencing each others’ views. That’s what I’m doing when I say we should disregard Steve EM’s advice/example, and stay faithful to the Prophets (including the ones that Steve denounces). I don’t quite follow how doing that makes me a “cop.”

    However, it’s become clear that I am as unwelcome to you here as I was to Mary on the Garments thread. Since that is the case, I’ll just leave.

    (Can’t guarantee that I won’t check back in after a few days, but I should at least wait until the hostility has time to cool.)

  16. I go back to D&C 121. It says that it is the nature and disposition of nearly all men, that as soon as the get authority begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. It is a scriptural warning about this type of thing to all of us. The church is true, and it is run by imperfect people who are apparently nearly always prone to some level of unrighteous dominion after they get a calling of authority.

  17. LT: It’s one thing to say “I disagree with you, and here’s why…”, or “You’re wrong, and here’s why…”

    But what you told Steve EM in #11 was “stop…”

    The first example is an opinion or belief. The second would be an order, even when dressed up with “can I ask you politely to..”.

    Same with #14. That was bad form, regardless of the “please” in there.

    It’s not your belief that is annoying people, it’s your presentation and lack of manners/diplomacy.

    I’m not very good at people-skills myself. I think I’m better than I used to be years ago. It comes with practice and learning to absorb feedback and adjust. I still have to weigh things carefully before I speak or type, or else I come out looking the fool.

  18. mtnnomad wrote on his blog: “I believe that everyone should be using Firefox as their browser, but if you’re a blogger and need another reason to make the switch, here’s one.”

    That is certainly acceptable. And I agree Firefox is good. I might even call it “Much to be desired, above all other browsers!” :-)

    But, isn’t that trying to influence others to use Firefox? Isn’t that “selling” the “idea” of Firefox? (I use Firefox by the way and I like it.)

    I like to be a proponent too. Here’s the horn that I like to toot: (Okay, so call me a One-Note Johnny” !)

    I believe that everyone should take Chinese and English Books of Mormon and go eat at Chinese restaurants. Hey, you gotta eat anyway, right? But if you’re not already a ward missionary, go here and read how to do it.

  19. You got me! I’m thrilled that people are actually reading my rants. My blog is fairly light and doesn’t take itself to seriously. The writer(me) often needs reminding that the blog is really being read by anyone.

    I obviously do some “selling” on my blog. I guess my very comment that blogs should share, not sell was a type of selling. I guess what I was trying to say, was that on a discussion-based blogs where the topics are fairly subjective, sharing goes further than trying to influence others or shut them down. What makes it interesting on this religious blog where the religious doctrine is so centralized and testimonies of members so strong, that commenters can feel ok about telling others to stop sharing/selling “such and such” opinions because it goes against doctrine or mainstream Mormon beliefs. There I am selling again. Thanks for that polite mirror.

  20. It turns out the idea of baptismal goals is far from dead. This morning, it was made known to me that the Canada Calgary Mission currently has a mission goal of 55 baptisms per month.

  21. Just talked to the mishies the other day and they said in our area that the focus is on fellowshipping.

    I guess the Magrath/Raymond/Cardston areas don’t generate many baptisms toward the goals anyway.

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