Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Missionaries and Retention: A Critical Analysis

John Dehlin has began an interesting series on his Mormon Story blog site that gives us a glimpse into the mission culture using virtual ethnography. Like a good ethnographer Dehlin appears to be sympathetic to many of his guests but like any good critical theorist he is using the information to show distortions in Mormonism. He covers missionary work in eleven podcasts/videocasts.

One of his guest podcasts is of Ted Lyon a former mission president from Chile tells his experiences of being mission president in Chile. He relates how when he arrived there as mission president he was concerned by missionaries who were baptizing converts after only teaching them two hours.

In post in response to Lyon I stated: "I really think it is a service that you have an actual mission president sharing his practical experiences. The problem of mass baptism and better preparing converts is an ongoing problem of the last thirty years. Hartman Rector did the same things in the San Diego Mission back in the 1970s. His missionaries baptized people in swimming pools on the same day they taught them.

I think the statistic of eleven percent [retention of converts] is not overly startling Marion G. Romney in a CR (Romney, Marion G. “Conversion.” IE 66 (1963):1065-67.) gave the conversion rate at around 16 percent where baptized at age of eight or later as a convert.

I agree we can do better at retention. I think that is a member function. I agree you need a commitment and that two hours is ridiculous amount of time before baptizing some one.

Kay Smith gives some interesting ideas also about conversion at

Thanks it was a very candid presentation and got me to think about the quality of baptisms."

His experience is similar to the "Baseball Baptisms" that took place in the 1950s and 1960s that Mike Quinn chronicles in Sunstone. Dehlin experienced disillusionment himself when he was a missionary because of similar techniques in 1988. During the war in Argentina in the middle 1970s the missionaries there were baptizing people by the thousands. I doubt that as spread out as the missionaries were that they could have adequately prepared the members for baptism. I don't think it is a rare occurrence that in some places mission presidents baptize large amounts of people using unorthodox methods and many of the new converts are not prepared well for church membership.

David Stewart on his Cumorah site pushes the same type of agenda that he can answer how to retain "Retain 80-100% of new converts anywhere in the world." I read his suggestions but couldn't understand his rambling style well enough to see how implementing his techniques would change missionary effectiveness. His quoting of Prophets and scriptures is too general to be anything more than motivation.

These people are all good at finger-pointing, but none of them have given concrete suggestions on how to really improve retention. I will be discussing retention of converts in forthcoming posts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Easy for you to say. I lived the constant brow beating from a corrupt President (who DID NOT follow Church instructions, and yes, I was in the office for a year, so I saw this personally) in South America, where baptisms were well over 500 per month. Dehlin is right on with his suggestions as is the other site. You, sir, need to open up your close-minded conservative Republican all is well in SLC mind, and might realize things aren't always black and white. God bless!