Preaching to the choir

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I served as a full time missionary for the LDS church in the Nevada Las Vegas Mission (there was only one mission in Nevada at the time).  Lots of fond memories there.  Blistering heat that would leave your footprints in the asphalt, desert rainstorms / flash floods, really interesting people from all over the world.  There was also the “work”.

I remember the first time I was a trainer.  We were instructed by our mission president to take our new missionary tracting as soon as we got them back to the apartment.  Didn’t even give them time to unpack.  I think I handled the first dozen or so door approaches before my “greenie” got the courage to try one.  On his very first try, a man came to the door wearing nothing but boxer shorts with a handgun tucked in the front.  The man suggested we leave.   We did.  What a great way to start a mission.

I experienced two mission presidents while there.  Both of them had different approaches to proselyting, but one thing remained the same.  We were to spend as little time as possible with existing members of the church.  We were even told that if there wasn’t an investigator at church, that we were to be sure to attend one of our wards and take the sacrament, but then we should leave and be out in the community proselyting, even attending other churches.  We did this quite a bit.  While in Nevada, I attended Catholic Mass, Jehovah’s Witness meetings, and a variety of other Christian denomination meetings.  While not  always resulting in formal teaching opportunities, attending these other churches generated a lot of gospel discussions.

When we were with members, we would tract or take them street contacting.  We never visited with the less active unless it was a part-member family situation that had a potential convert.  Our dinner appointments with members were to be wrapped up in under an hour unless a non-member was present.  The total focus was on bringing souls to Christ through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation.  And you can’t do that when you spend all your time with the “already baptized”.

Fast forward to today.

The mission in the area where I live has been given a mandate that every companionship needs to teach 20 missionary discussions a week.  I guess that’s a good thing.  I remember similar goals when I was a full time missionary.  However, here, where I live, the focus seems to be on teaching these discussions to member families, not non-members.  The missionaries in our ward pass around two calendars.  One is the dinner calendar, and the other is a calendar for you to have them over to teach you a discussion.

To me, that’s just bizarre.  I just don’t understand the logic in “Preaching to the choir”.  I mean, pretty much all active, attending LDS families are probably already converted.  There is almost zero chance that anyone they are teaching is a candidate for baptism and confirmation.

I’ve heard the argument that this will help inspire members to invite non-members over to take part in these discussions.  Frankly, I don’t buy it.  In the last couple years that they’ve been trying this, we have had ZERO convert baptisms in our ward as a result.

Is this the future of missionary work in the church?  To spend all that money, time, effort, and resources to become an over-glorified home teaching program?

19 thoughts on “Preaching to the choir

  1. On the plus side, it gives the missionaries more teaching experience, allowing them to become more familiar with the material they teach.

    We have a 20-discussion programme in Lethbridge, too, but we were told to focus on the less-active. The names are chosen by the ward council, and we have no calendar to pass around.

    Even though our missions were beside each other (Utah Provo Mission), we spent a lot of time with members. Granted, we were meeting with members to try to drum up referrals. It was nearly fruitless to go tracting.

  2. My first night in the mission field I went to a pool hall to play snooker with an investigator.

    My trainer would take me to less actives to teach lessons for the practice when we didn’t have investigators. Otherwise it was all contacting all the time. This was in England so tracting and street contacting were quite successful.

    The only calendar we have is for dinner appointments. The assignment to fill in the calendar usually goes to a Mom with a child in the field currently. They try to guilt everyone if even one day a month is not scheduled. I used to think 2 a week on my mission was a GREAT area.

  3. I am in the same mission. I understand the ‘get experience teaching’ goal – but we’ve also been told that the missionaries aren’t to do any finding. They are to encourage members to do the finding….which I also understand to be my responsibility – but if a missionary isn’t doing ANY finding, and do they do all day? I didn’t tract a lot on my mission, but if we didn’t do any I think I would have missed out on a lot of great experiences!

  4. Could this possibly be an effort to keep the mishies from being exposed to information that may cause them to question their faith? Packer said that not all truths are useful, and this may be an indicator that the church is losing too many young men while in the field or just after they return home.

  5. We had a similar thing in my mission (California) – but it was 10 discussions per week – either investigator, member or both. Teaching the members was very effective in bringing in referrals and also reactivation. It helped show them what the discussions were like and to gain confidence and trust in us. It’s a big deal to entrust a friend to the missionaries – I know this from both sides.

    We of course also focused on less active families which was really great in bringing the Spirit into their home and encouraging activity. We also found that doing this with families with teenagers helped them catch the missionary spirit as well. Many times we’d work through the Bishop who would advise us on which families would be best to work with.

    We were required to do four hours of tracting a week. Most of our work was either member or media referrals versus tracting or street contacting which was minimal.

  6. I would think, rick, that the percentage of those who fall away isn’t significant enough to shelter all the missionaries.

    Shane rings up a valid point though. Perhaps it’s another way to generate referrals. After all, isn’t that how most home sales work? Give the spiel, then ask for referrals.

  7. I’m with you Kim.

    Perhaps it’s a good way for referrals. I would tend to think teaching members would be better for home teachers though. We used to have requests to teach members now and then. Whenever we asked our mission president about that he’d tell us to gently remind them that the hometeachers can do a much better job of teaching and fellowshipping members, whether active or not.

    In our area they like to go and teach the lessons to families with boys that are about to go on missions, or should be going on missions too.

  8. Kim, it’s a way that most shady multi-level-marketing type sales approaches are done but I wouldn’t think that the church would want to operate like a sleazy company like Amway … oh wait. ;)

  9. Our missionaries are putting the heat to our family. They came over last Friday to challenge us to find someone for them to teach in 7 days. Sounds wonderful….but my bad attitude creeps in so fast. (I hate people telling me what to do and putting the pressure on me.) With all this they come over and visit with us a bunch of times in those 7 days to give us lessons and encourage us along. Yesterday they were here and they were telling us that at their district meeting they played chocolate milk roulette. 4 cups of chocolate milk – only one of them is full of 9 bars of melted exlax. One of the missionaries in our ward got it. He’s kind of a goofy guy and often says things that pretty much have him pegged in my mind as a bit of a rebel missionary. Having been on a mission I don’t have a lot of patience for that kind of stuff. He was looking pretty sick when he was at our house.

    …and as I watched him burp and groan with pain I thought, “And you want me to refer my friends to you???”

  10. I completely get the whole teaching LDS families discussions; You may think that just because you have great attendance in your wards in your area that everyone is “active” in keeping the commandments. Not the case in the least. Teaching the members the discussions gives those members more tools to carry out member-missionary work. Really and truly missionaries today have such a hard time contacting & then teaching people without the help of the local members of the wards/branches in their areas.

    Complacency is a huge issue when it comes to members of the LDS church. People think oh I know the truth why should I share it or they are simply embarrassed to share. I think we NEED to be reminded to be bold, to be unique, to stand out and to stand up for what we believe in, not in a shove it in your face, cocky way, but in a loving & caring way.

    Missionary work has changed a great deal over the past 5 years. There is an even greater push for Every Member a Missionary. Sharing the gospel truths not only strengthens ones foothold in the gospel, but also our families and friends.

  11. I would prefer that over how things are here — in my stake (or mission, I guess) the missionaries can’t have dinner with members unless there’s an investigator there, period. I have no idea who thought this would be a good idea, but it’s pretty much ensured that I’m never having them over for dinner. If I can’t have them in my home to meet them and get an idea of who they are and how competent I think they are I’m not letting them near my friends. I think having them give us a discussion would be a good way to get to know them a bit.

  12. Kim said: “Is this the future of missionary work in the church? To spend all that money, time, effort, and resources to become an over-glorified home teaching program?”

    Quite possibly. Rick may be on to something, but I think it has more to do with using the missionaries to do preventative maintenance on a dam that church leaders can see is starting to spring leaks. LOTS of RMs go inactive or lead the church, though not necessarily in the first few years after serving. For many it’s much later in life. I can’t remember the numbers, but I remember being in a stake training meeting with 70 Elder Coleman where he told us that if you use a 20 year window, the church’s retention of returned missionaries was only slightly better than the 5 year retention rate of converts, and he said that we’re keeping less than half of those.

    One of the lessons from the “war” sections of the Book of Mormon is that it is easier to preserve what you have than it is to get what you don’t have or retake what you’ve lost. Maybe the missionaries are seen as a resource that can be used to preserve. Rick’s idea that the missionaries will have safe, positive teaching experiences may only be a side benefit.

  13. Sorry, Kim, it was from JM who wrote the post. I’m just used to these posts being mostly yours. I also meant to say that RMs LEAVE the church in my last comment rather than LEAD…though some of them obviously end up doing that as well.

  14. Back when I was in a more believing state, and particularly while I was on my mission, I thought that the best way to get members to be missionaries was for them to be as happy as possible.

    They needed to know what they believed and why, and it needed to make them happy. So when we taught members, we focused on helping them to feel happy rather than twisting the referral screw. It also helped if they thought the missionaries wouldn’t do or say anything weird around their friends. The better the connection between the missionaries and the member, the more likely it was that the member would suggest that a friend talk to the missionaries.

    What really seemed to work was when non-members had a chance to actually get to know and connect with the missionaries without any pressure or commitments. (At least at first…the pressure – I mean commitment pattern – came later.) But by then the investigator didn’t mind so much because they really liked the missionaries. It was a manipulation based on the build-up of referent power, but at least it was a soft manipulation. Effective, at any rate.

    An even more cynical part of me knows that the missionary department knows that converts who come into the church because they know active families tend to contribute much more in terms of both service and tithing, than converts who join through other avenues of proselytizing.

    If I want to crank my cynicism up to “11”, I’d say that the biggest thing accomplished by having missionaries serve in areas where there are relatively few converts (any developed nation) is the conditioning of the missionaries to be obedient to church authority, and streaming them into meeting the cultural milestones of the church. They’ll come home, get married relatively soon, go to school, start raising more church members, get decent jobs and spend the next 50 years giving 10% of their money (and more of their time) to the church, training their children to do so, and even paying for their sons and daughter to spend a couple of years at the same obedience school.

    So as far as the church is concerned, ANY converts a missionary happens to produce is just gravy. Programming the young missionary is the meat and potatoes.

  15. In the church there are two things we spend a lot of time talking about, home teaching and missionary work. I think it is because they are the two things we do not like to do. If we spend enough time talking about it maybe we can fool ourselves into thinking we have done something about missionary work or home teaching.

    I do not like restrictive rules or one dimensional programs that assume that all missionary work fits into a specific pattern. Everyone responds in their own individual way.

    I do not like make work projects that do not accomplish anything but magnify the work we are supposed to simplify.

    I don’t like people who tell me what I should do with my friends. Missionary work is a bit like dating. If you try too hard you get no success. What is more scary than a zealous member who wants to tell you all he knows and commit you to it all in one conversation?

    I look forward to the day when the members of the church realize that guilt is not the Lords way to motivate people. It does not motivate anyone and it is a form compulsion frowned upon in D&C 121.

    I am a horrible missionary. I don’t open my mouth, I usually do not volunteer easily that I am a member of the church but I have had some success as a missionary. The only reason for this success is because I have many friends and associates outside of the church.

    We are too closed or too busy with our callings to venture out into the real world.

    Perhaps I am selfish if I do not share the gospel but I don’t think people will be damned to hell if they do not get the gospel in this life either.

  16. “So as far as the church is concerned, ANY converts a missionary happens to produce is just gravy. Programming the young missionary is the meat and potatoes.”

    That used to be openly stated, in these terms: “The most import convert a missionary will make is himself.”

    However, don’t ever let the idea of converts not being important to the church take root. Converts _are_ important. Without converts, the church would in-breed and wither.

    Granted, the growth (counting active/retained members only) comes more from children of members than it does from converts. But the church _has_ to have “fresh blood” or it will die off.

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