Raising the bar

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 StumbleUpon 0 Email -- Filament.io 0 Flares ×

Several years ago?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùshortly after we moved into our current ward in fact?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthe First Presidency introduced a programme of sorts that they referred to as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìraising the bar?¢‚Ǩ¬ù. Presumably, they were tired of all the missionaries who goofed off in the mission field or missionaries who came on a mission to gain a testimony, missionaries who had very little gospel understanding, and so forth.

The idea of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìraising the bar?¢‚Ǩ¬ù was that bishops and stake presidents would be more thorough in their scrutinizing of the prospective missionaries.

I was ecstatic with the announcement because I hoped this meant missionaries as a whole would be better concerned with who they baptized and how effective they were in ensuring those converts remained in the church.

Which brings us to today.

We have had roughly two dozen converts in our ward during the 7 years we’ve been here. Virtually all of those who stayed in our ward no longer participate fully. Two converts who were baptized this month still come to church, and one who was baptized nearly two years ago still comes. No one else does.

In short, retention rates seem similar to what they were prior to raising the bar. Has anything changed? Are the missionaries coming out at a higher standard now?

24 thoughts on “Raising the bar

  1. C’mon, Kim. Excep for truly flippant baptisms, retention rates are far more the responsibility of the local members than the missionaries. Even the best of missionaries can’t stay to work with converts for the long term. Even the best of converts have a hard time remaining active if the local members aren’t doing their part.

    Have local members raised their own bar?

  2. Retention is always a problem, I always say “two transfers away from being inactive”…one Elder gets transferred, then the other and you never see them again. Pretty common.

    That said, as far as raising the bar for missionaries, total FAIL.

    Maybe we are unlucky, but the quality of Elders we have had the past few years is awful. They are lazy, rude and clannish. We gave up giving referrals as most of the time the missionaries never even went by, pointless.

    My wife teaches Gospel Essentials and she has to get onto the Elders/sisters every week for not paying attention, talking or making stupid jokes.

    I think having a few borderline ones in the mission is a good thing, the reformed hell raisers make the best missionaries anyway…looking at you Alma the Younger…

  3. So, Ardis, do you feel it isn’t the missionaries’ responsibility to ensure that their converts actually believe Joseph Smith is a prophet or that their converts actually no longer have a cigarette addiction?

  4. Recently a member of our bishopric gave a talk and informed us of some statistics given in a recent regional training meeting.

    Before raising the bar:
    Number of missionaries who went home early: 4%

    After raising the bar:
    Number of missionaries who went home early: 7%

    The conclusion: parents need to do a better job preparing their children for missions and life away from home.

  5. A couple of things. First, it is never a missionary’s responsibility to ensure that a convert no longer has a cigarette addiction, only that the convert is committed to living the word of wisdom. If we had to be free of addiction before we could enter a covenant with Christ, I guess we would be doing all the work on our own. Even the sacrament prayers do not demand that we keep the commandments, only that we express our willingness to do so.

    Second, (and these statistics are available by simply taking the church’s own reported number of convert baptisms in a given year and dividing by the number of missionaries) since the raising of the bar, the number of baptisms PER MISSIONARY has fallen. This is a continuation of a trend and cannot necessarily be laid at the feet of the missionaries who were able to leap the higher bar. In terms of baptisms at least, there are many ways to interpret the decline. Maybe we’re having fewer, but higher “quality” converts because the better missionaries and better, less manipulative techniques are resulting in a conversion process that is slower, but more sure. This is hard to determine on a church-wide scale, since getting meaningful retention numbers at the organizational level just doesn’t happen. Maybe, contrary to latter-day revelation, people just aren’t buying into what we’re selling in the way that it is supposed to go down. Maybe the internet has made all of the things we don’t tell new and prospective converts too available, and they are retching up the meat when their stomachs can only handle milk. While the church IS growing, it isn’t doing it an anywhere near the kind of exponential, J-curve rate that I was led to believe was happening while I was growing up. We lose more of our converts than we keep, we’re losing a greater (and continually growing) percentage of our “lifers” that ever before, and we’re having fewer babies.

    a. reader #4:

    Purely anecdotal and also just purely grinding a personal axe, here’s an observation I have made:

    Kids I know who were homeschooled who went on missions = 11
    Homeschooled kids I know who came back early = 1
    (to be at least a little fair, one of them came back early because he was diagnosed with leukemia, and by all accounts was a stellar missionary while he served. But he went to three years of high school)

    The other ten ALL came home early for dubious health reasons. While I know a lot of people who are doing a great job homeschooling their kids and have some things they are trying to achieve with it, all these kids I know that came home early did so because, in a very basic way, they couldn’t handle the structure and the social stresses that were forced upon them.

  6. I just made a rather critical type-o.

    The number of homeschool kids I know who’ve come home early = 11 and yeah, that’s the same number of homeschooled kids I know who have gone on missions.

    But to speak to the results thing that I mentioned above, every YM I know who was homeschooled did make the choice to serve a mission. I haven’t seen any of them not try it, I just haven’t seen any of them finish it.

  7. “retention rates are far more the responsibility of the local members than the missionaries”

    “do you feel it isn’t the missionaries’ responsibility to ensure that their converts actually believe Joseph Smith is a prophet or that their converts actually no longer have a cigarette addiction?”

    The only person responsible for the retention of a convert is the convert themselves.

    Others may have influence, but not responsibility.

  8. jjackson,

    For what it’s worth, every missionary I know who has come early was public schooled.

    I know we have not had an increase in better quality converts since I have been in the ward. The quality had pretty much stayed the same.

    Keep in mind that all major religions start out small, have a rapid increase, and then plateau.

    JM,

    Good point. I do think it is irresponsible of missionaries to persuade someone into making serious covenants they are not ready to make. Certainly, those converts have personal responsibility and agency, but the missionaries don’t get off scot free.

  9. In my opinion, don’t blame retention issues on missionaries, but on local members. Local members bear the primary responsibility for friendshipping, extending callings, and helping them grow in the gospel.

    Every new member needs a calling, a friend, and to be nourished by the good word. This is the responsibility of members.

    In fact, members should be present in most, if not all, of the member lessons and new member lessons. If your ward doesn’t integrate new members into your ward well, ask to speak with your bishop and be called as a ward missionary. Or better yet, go out of your way to integrate them, befriend them, and otherwise nourish them in the gospel.

    But please, let’s not dump all the responsiblity on the missionaries for failing to integrate new members into the ward family.

  10. Great theory, alexspong. You can’t go to discussions for investigators you don’t know exist. FWIW, I was a stake missionary for four years: two as ward mission leader and two in the stake mission presidency.

    Regardless, the point of this post wasn’t whether missionaries or members are responsible for convert retention. The point of this post was to determine whether raising the bar did indeed produce better missionaries.

  11. Raising the bar doesn’t PRODUCE better missionaries, it only filters out some of the lousy ones. Families teaching children to be kind, reasonable, smart, socially adept and hard-working produces better missionaries. This is why I liked Elder Bednar’s talk on “becoming”. It’s not about going on a mission, it’s about the process (that starts much earlier in life) of becoming a missionary. I’m a big believer in the idea that we cannot control results, we can only control processes. I was always resistant to goals, on my mission and since, that focused on the number of discussions to be taught, or the number of people to be baptised. I liked goals that related to what I would do each day in terms of study and proselyting. I could control my rate of activity in the work, but could never have any control over other people’s decisions, so why get worked up AT ALL over the things I couldn’t control?

  12. I guess I’d be considered a pretty “high quality” convert, but I don’t like this “high quality/low quality” stuff. Just because you believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, and you obey the WofW, and pay tithing–doesn’t mean you really understand everything that being a “good,” active means. A lot of it just takes time to figure out, and it can be hard to do that if you don’t have someone leading you along the path. Missionaries come and go, and it’s hard to just walk up to a member you don’t know very well and say, “Help me know what I don’t know yet.”

  13. Regardless, the point of this post wasn’t whether missionaries or members are responsible for convert retention. The point of this post was to determine whether raising the bar did indeed produce better missionaries.

    But you’re measuring quality of missionaries by the retention of converts, which is an unfair measure. Converts can make a serious commitment to live the Word of Wisdom (and whatever other commandments you judge by), and they can have a strong faith in the mission of Joseph Smith, and still not remain active if they aren’t integrated into the ward. Even lifetime members may go inactive for a time because of social conditions — I admit I did — unrelated to their testimonies or their readiness for baptism. The fellowship of a congregation has more to do with the staying power of a convert than any missionary could have.

  14. I don’t like this “high quality/low quality” stuff.

    Good point. After all, the worth of a soul is great in the sight of God.

    But you’re measuring quality of missionaries by the retention of converts

    Sort of. I’m making an observation that there has been no improvement at all in the retention of converts in our ward, and I am wondering whether that should have changed with the raising of the bar.

    Let’s suppose for sake of argument that prior to the bar raising, missionaries did the bare minimum to get someone converted: no smoking for a week, gone to church once, had all the discussions, and so forth.

    Given that benchmark, would we expect missionaries of a higher calibre be meeting the same minimum, or would we expect them to go further? Should the investigators now go without smoking for a month, go to church four times, have all the discussions in a member’s home, and so forth?

  15. That said we have two recent converts that I am willing to bet will stay totally active.

  16. Yes, and if you include Susi, that’s three. But that isn’t atypical for our ward. That’s about the rate we had before, except those who stayed in the church moved away.

  17. A few points:
    – sounds like you have a good missionary ward! Our ward hasn’t had close to that many convert baptisms

    • raising the bar has nothing to do with convert retention. It isn’t something you can put on a scale and figure out if someone was a good missionary or bad missionary by the number of baptisms, and how long people stayed active. I really don’t understand how you think the two equate. Look at missionaries that serve in strong Catholic countries like Italy – they see maybe 1 or 2 baptisms. In my husband’s mission an average missioary had 2 baptisms during his entire mission. I don’t know what it was in my mission – but it was much higher than that – but mostly because we had a big group of Spanish missionaries. They just had to stay out an hour later a few nights a week and they could double their baptisms. In the Spanish wards though there was a really really low retention rate. Tons got baptized. Very few stayed active. Did that make me a better missionary since more of the people I taught that were baptized stayed active? Nope. Just different.
  18. Dawn, I didn’t say that I think they equate; I’m asking whether there is a correlation between no change in convert retention and raising the bar.

  19. Before raising the bar: Number of missionaries who went home early: 4%

    After raising the bar: Number of missionaries who went home early: 7%

    The conclusion: parents need to do a better job preparing their children for missions and life away from home.

    I think your conclusion needs to be reconsidered.

    Perhaps there are more factors about why the percentage of missionaries going home early have gone up rather than just whether or not their parents have done a good enough job preparing them.

    Perhaps the missionaries that are going home now that wouldn’t have gone home previously are doing it because:

    • Mission Presidents have less tolerance for missionaries suffering from homesickness and depression
    • It’s harder to build a strong testimony in an age with such easy access to information
    • They might feel they were not worthy for the new higher standard and shouldn’t be there
    • Missionaries are working longer, harder days to meet the new standard and are getting worn out
    • Mission Presidents no longer feel the same obligation to keep missionaries in the field who they feel aren’t meeting the obedience standard

    Also, I am curious what the percentages of missionaries that are “sent” home with a dishonourable release. Also it would be interesting to find out what really happened in those cases.

    Someone should make a documentary called, “Sent Home”. I’d totally watch that.

  20. Were any changes actually made in response the the “Raise the Bar” talk? I’m not too involved in Young Men and I’m not in a Bishopric, but I haven’t noticed any new guidelines for preparing and encouraging missionaries that didn’t exist before.

    As far as I can see the type and quality of preparation is the same and anybody who wants to go is still allowed to go no matter how unprepared they might be.

    So what has really changed?

Leave a Reply