Monday, June 16, 2008

Sports as an LDS Missionary Tool

Sports can be an effective tool in providing missionary referrals and in baptizing people. As a youth I participated in softball and basketball as well as I attended several LDS youth dances. The Las Vegas area where I grew up had so many stakes and wards that there was a dance every Friday night somewhere in the area for youth and young adults. Many people joined the church after socializing with LDS young people.

The Church has gotten away from such programs in the last several years. Back in the 1970s they did away with church-wide tournaments. Michael Quinn wrote about the baseball baptisms in England which talked about how the church used different sports programs in the 1960s and 1970s to attract teenage boys. I don't agree with Quinn that it was a bad thing to baptize hundreds of young men since the retention rate has been consist over the last forty years.

Francis M. Gibbons wrote in Spencer W. Kimball: Resolute Disciple Prophet of God:

"In his meetings with missionaries during this trip, Elder Kimball urged them to work with more concentration and persistence, to follow the mission rules exactly, to work cooperatively with the local leaders and members, and to make sure investigators were taught thoroughly and were ready for baptism. A decade before, some converts had been baptized hurriedly after their participation in Church sports, which had caused critics to refer to them derisively as "baseball baptisms." Elder Kimball deplored the use of this term as unfairly casting a shadow on everyone baptized during this period. While he did not condone careless or slipshod proselyting that may have occurred, he openly lauded those who had presided then for the aggressive, purposeful way the work was conducted, which he felt had significantly altered local attitudes of inertia and had contributed to the strength and vitality of the Church. This view was confirmed when he conducted area conferences in England in 1976 and found that many of the promising young leaders were part of the harvest of almost twenty years before."

Back in the early 1970s before I joined the Church I participated in softball. In the North Las Vegas Nevada Stake they developed a softball complex on Carey Avenue behind the chapel complete with a snack bar and three softball fields. I spent many a pleasant night talking with Mormon families and their leaders. We played about three games a week and Tuesday through Friday there were games. I remember old Sam Ashton, a former bishop as a pudgy old dude whiffing guys more than half his age. Chris Loveland could sure knock the ball out there and was a pretty good tennis player. I had two good memories one was after my mission I played on the Twentieth Ward's A team against the Thirteenth Loveland a lefty hit a line shot that should have cleared the fence but I reached up and robbed him and the other was my bragging I was a good tennis player and he trounced me good. I remember playing Scott Seastrand and his friends David Hollingsworth who had a distinctive pitching style. President Seastrand even occasionally pitched a game for the Seventh Ward. I still remember he wore his hat pulled down on his head with those ears sticking out. He would lick his two fingers and hold them up before wiping them on his pants. Playing on the 13th Ward and the 20th Ward after my mission we sure liked to beat them and it was very competitive back then. He went to a lot of games as we went through softball,volleyball, and basketball back then year round.

In order to play Church sports as an investigator you had to be able to pass a standards or worthiness interview with an LDS bishop that involved keeping the word of wisdom which meant not using alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea. Also you had to be chaste so you couldn't fornicate or commit adultery nor use profanity. You needed to attend Church at least once during the playing season. My first experience attending the LDS Church was very positive despite my outrageous outfit which consisted of a panama hat, a Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans, and Converse. The bishop and all the members were cordial and friendly and made me and my non-Member friend feel welcome. I didn't join the church because of the sports but it sure went a long way to giving me a positive impression of the friendliness of the LDS people.

I think that proseltying missionaries miss opportunities for gospel discussions. Every P-Day they play some kind of sport with their companions and members. I think that they should find investigators to play with and maximize their time and fun. When I was a missionary one of our most productive times was playing Ping Pong with the Burkhardt family in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada. We would play against the husband and wife and the two children playing doubles. After an hour or an hour and one half of playing we would then teach them a discussion. The entire family after a couple of months joined the Church.

Missionaries should be less competitive with themselves and should challenge local non-Members in sports like basketball, soccer, and softball. I think it is good missionary work to have missionaries joined local leagues so that people get to know who they are. They can also play informally with non-members such sports as tennis, flag football, badminton, bowling etc.
We know that missionaries are going to play sports on their P-Day no matter what. In perusing of the active sites I discovered there wasn't practically any sport from Frisbee to boxing to billiards to hockey to softball to volleyball that they didn't participate in.

In my opinion we should use their youthful exuberance and energy to make converts. It doesn't matter how a person gains an interest in the church. Any avenue is a good avenue and statistically it is a way to meet people that has always been effective during the last one hundred years in producing converts. I and a lot of other people wouldn't be members today if it weren't for the wholesome activities of associating with good LDS people.

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