Thursday, October 2, 2008

Building Pools of Leadership: Converting Fathers as A Key to Growth

When I was a missionary under M. Russell Ballard he emphatically stressed to us that we should concentrate on converting fathers of families. His rationale for encouraging us was that he said we needed to build leadership in the wards and branches. Fathers who join the Church have a significant influence on their wives and children.

James O. Mason in “The Kingdom Progresses in Africa,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 30 made a few good points on building up the Church in expanding areas. Elder Mason gave some good reasons for concentrating on fathers:

Growth of the Church in Africa moves forward deliberately and steadily according to inspired design. Altogether there are 80,000 members, 12 missions, 10 stakes, and 425 wards and branches. The number of baptisms during 1993 totaled over 9,000. Even greater numbers of baptisms would be possible if that were the sole measure of success. However, we are anxious that each of our African brothers and sisters be remembered and “nourished by the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4). The Church therefore proceeds in an orderly and planned fashion. Efforts are focused to create centers of strength. The goal is to establish deep pools of leadership that will become the foundation for future Church expansion.

Missionary work is concentrated geographically around existing chapels. Buildings are sited for occupancy by two or more Church units. The missionaries concentrate their efforts on converting families and potential leaders. Major attention is given to training local leadership, which is made easy because members in Africa are eager to be taught and quick to learn and abide by gospel principles.

I have been reading David Stewart on Cumorah.Com who is continually calling for a slower more deliberate process of conversion so there will be a higher retention rate. I personally think that missionaries need to concentrate their efforts systematically on fathers and if no father is present than mothers who are heads of homes. I agree with Stewart on the deliberate and thoroughness of the teaching but I am not sure about the slowing down of baptizing part. I think we need both numbers and quality of conversion. The heads of homes have a great deal of influence on their children and extended family members who look to them for direction.

When I was a missionary I would take whoever I could get but now that I reflect on it I didn't use a qualitative approach. I don't think we are sacrificing quality by teaching and baptizing whoever is interested but Elder Ballard used to say we needed to work smarter not harder. It is obvious that we need more fathers since there are fewer of them in the Church.

Each Sunday when I look at my own ward in South Carolina I see twenty or thirty families holding together the entire ward. Even if we don't retain all new fathers that we teach and baptize we need more of them since we can have an influence on society by educating fathers to their responsibility to their families.

In the United States I read in O Magazine that the divorce rate has climbed by ten percent in the last decade alone. There are fewer and fewer traditional homes with the father as the head. Even if many fathers don't join the Church we can still build leadership in society by missionaries carrying a message that strengthens families. If several of them decide to join the Church for however long they are members they can strengthen the wards in which they reside. When missionaries teach fathers they are building pools of leadership in the Church and society at large.


Raymond Teodo a.k.a. was_bedeutet_jemanden said...

This is very true! How many stories have we heard where the father in the family was the only one that was holding the rest of the family back from joining the church? The problem is, a lot of the time, the father tends to be very stubborn, hence how come the story goes, they usually end up being the last ones to be baptized. What do you think would be the best way to help fathers of investigator families overcome this obstacle?

Anonymous said...

Stewart is right. I've read his entire book and I agree with virtually everything he wrote. As a return missionary and convert to the church, my own missionary experiences confirm his research. Concentrating on fathers is the wrong approach. We need to preach the gospel to every creature, regardless of sex, as the Savior directed. This past week I visited a Seventh Day Adventist church/school and my observations were consistent with what Stewart wrote about that church. We are missing many, many opportunities by these misguided approaches to preaching the gospel, such as the "focus on the fathers" approach, the "centers of strength" approach, two-week baptisms, etc.

We wrongly speed up that which should be slowed down and get meager retention, which ultimately results in fewer baptisms. If we slowed down the teaching, we'd get greater retention, which would produce greater baptisms. We are doing virtually everything wrong and/or backwards. If this is according to "inspired design," as Mason says, then I have to wonder what the source of that inspiration is: the devil, man or God?

Stewart's research is the best I've found and he is correct in comparing what meager numbers we are given to the numbers from other churches. In such a comparison, it becomes plain that we are failing in our charge to take the gospel to all the world.

It also becomes very plain that this is a leadership problem. The leadership itself has become an obstacle to proclaiming the gospel, with these many ineffective "inspired programs."

My recommendation to every ward leader who reads this blog and my comment is to obtain Stewart's book, read it and apply it as best you can in your ward. Doing so should reverse the trends of high inactivity and low numbers of baptisms we are currently seeing.

Dr. B said...

I am not sure we should be so critical of the Church Leaders who want to develop leadership. As a missionary we take whoever we can get. Many times wards and branches have a vacuum and are not able to sustain many church related programs because of lack of leadership. Many times couple missionaries and full-time elders have to keep them going. Or they have to travel get distances to other places to go to Church which makes their wanting to go to Church a bother. I am not sure stressing the need for new leadership which means male priesthood holders preferably fathers is a contradiction of the Lord's charge. You can have a mandate to baptize every person and still make a concentrated effort to bring in fathers or mothers that are the head of homes.

I understand what you are saying though because I am the only member of my family and joined as a teenager. I don't think what they are saying this stuff about baptizing fathers when they make these statements is not to baptize everyone but try and bring fathers in with their wives and children.

As to Stewart's research I read his book and there is little evidence to support what is he says other than anecdotal information. He himself is trying to get people to do some research which I think is a positive thing and may yet support his hypothesis. For now I am not sold. Statistics have not deviated much over the course of thirty years in numbers. I know the Church has attempted different things. They even met with Stewart and had a presentation by him. I am sure they take this stuff very seriously.

Elder Ballard being a former businessman would probably buy-in to the classical viewpoint that Stewart espouse that you can discover what is going on by examining missionary work through a microscope and explain it scientifically if you could see what takes place out there in the mission field. I think it is more complex than that since I know the missionary department has been conducting field research for most of the thirty years.

Mormons have some of the finest minds at their disposal in fact Orson Scott Card even did a survey of returned missionaries when he worked for the Church. The Church hires fancy public relations firms and has statisticians that can analyze every aspect of the process. That being the case why do they grapple so hard with making sense out of what happens.

I remember when eighteen month missions were tried. Instead of more missionaries going the number was pretty constant and the numbers started to go down. The disconnect in the process is the members' involvement. Members do a poor job assimilating new people. Missionaries are there to gather in the new people. Members are the bridge to their retention. We need to get our acts together in retaining people not in teaching them longer. In fact I speculate if we lengthened the process there would just be fewer people with about the same retention level.

I think we have this backwards we need to figure a way to get even more people baptized and increase the missionaries and put them in places with the greatest growth just like they are doing. We might consider the approaches of other churches like the Jehovah's Witnesses where members pioneer.

I don't frankly think this is going to happen because most of us are too lazy to make that much effort. It would take a refocus of our culture and climate. It is kind of like home teaching where people just take a lesson out or do random seeding.

There is little follow-up only to report if something is seriously obvious. They go in and fifteen to thirty minutes later leave saying "Is there anything we can do to help you?" Most don't really want you to ask them anything and go back and report I did it.

A few noble priesthood holders take it to another level but having four sets of home teachers in thirty years who actually came to my home who came regularly and helped me on occasion it is hard to evaluate. Even as a high priest group leader when I had a group go from 38 percent to 78 percent it was mostly their just going out to give a message rather than engaging in the lives of those they home teach. I actually gave the men PPI's and most had little clue about what was happening in the lives of the families they taught.

I maintain it is the lack of engagement that is at the root of low retention not length of teaching time by missionaries. Mormons are busy people in to achieving in careers and church service we would need to develop a whole different mind set to become member missionaries in any active daily basis that would affect others.

If you wanted to get at why people join the church why not ask everyone of them. You could do a brief intake survey with open ended questions. What I see going on is hocus pocus. Nobody really knows and people try to make conclusions based on personal observation like on my mission and what he says is what I saw. All of us are just guessing.

A complete shift would take engagement and that my friend is hard work. I agree with a lot of what you say but I am not persuaded on at what point missionaries hand off the investigator or new convert. I guess we could do some pilot's and try out Stewart's suggestions.

I actually emailed Elder Ballard and suggested he call Stewart to be a mission presidents then the rubber would meet the road. He usually just blows off my suggestions but at mission reunions he routinely asks us to do that if we see a sharp person.

Stewart may need a little seasoning and probably his new journal will give him some refinements. I don't doubt he will one day get his shot if he doesn't piss off the leadership. You can disagree with what the leaders say or do but I like to look at the totality of what they are saying. In some contexts the father approach in developing countries is vital and necessary if the Church is going to get off the ground. It may apply for Africa but not for Alabama Birmingham.

The funny thing about the classical approach is that you can't throw a blanket over everything and come up with transferable steps to baptism and retention when you have mission specific conversions dependent on the missionaries and the converts unique experience and mind sets which are personality and relationship based or psycho-social. People who are baptized many times are going on intuition or a gut feeling and we teach missionaries to baptize on the same premise by using the spirit. Humanistic tendencies skew this process.