Monday, October 6, 2008

Solving the Convert Decline in the U.S. & Canada: Putting LDS Brain Power to Work

Recently in my stake a group of high council persons presented this missionary department information to the members in my stake in an hour-long presentation. They asked us to think about ways of solving the decline in new converts and making our ward in to one of "extraordinary missionary success." In essence they asked us to find ways to become more effective and successful in member missionary work. They told us our stake president thought this is a high priority item for us to implement in our individual wards and he wanted our help in achieving that status. I am not sure I have the necessary analytical tools to solve it on my own so I am inviting all LDS persons to participate in looking this over and giving me your comments or perspective.

The LDS Missionary Department conducted a focus study that shows what effective wards do to have extraordinary missionary success. I was elated when I asked the stake presenters for a copy of their presentation and they generously shared it. Now I can gather a larger pool of members' comments on what they think the data says. By putting the minds of hundreds of LDS men and women on the subject irregardless of their position in the Church we might brainstorm and find out creative ways of seeing what impressions they have. This way thinking outside of the box we might see something that would otherwise be missed.

The stake high councilors asked for impressions and comments but you can't give much input in five or ten minutes. It could take hours for a real discussion to take place. Some people express themselves better in writing and can clarify their thoughts when down on paper.

Now with the shared data and analysis of the Missionary Department on my blog you can take your time in coming to your own interpretation and telling me ways of refining it. I am sharing the information so that a larger group of Saints can put their minds on the subject and come up with real tangible suggestions or ways of improving member missionary work so that we can "achieve extraordinary missionary success." I have enclosed their slide presentation which they claim came from a Church-wide focus study done by the Missionary Department. A case study is given for your consideration so you can respond to doing an actual assessment of a average ward and an extraordinary ward. Knock yourself out explaining this data and/or case study.

Prophetic Statement

2006 Missionary Department Focus Study Data

Research Study on Effective Ward Missions

Missionary Department Analysis

Case Study

It would be easier to analyze if we had the instrument and its results but this is all I was given. We will have to make educated guesses since the data is only summarized. All comments are appreciated. I once worked for a three star Army General who said that the people who worked for him had the brain power to build and launch a nuclear ship. I think whether you have a high school diploma or a doctorate degree or are even a high school drop-out that all of us might get inspiration and come up with meaningful suggestions and comments. Let's put our thinking caps on and use our brain power to analyze this data and make some sense out of it. Maybe we will come up with some good comments that will influence the decision-makers who occasionally read this blog.


Rick said...

Using the statistical data from General Conference, you could easily see that the number of converts per missionary has fallen by half in the last few decades. I puzzled about this for some time, until I read the research by the Barna Group showing that the percentage of "unchurched" Americans had doubled in approximately the same time period. Thus, the reason for the decline really has less to do with the Church, and more to do with our culture. We are in a cycle where organized religion is relatively less important, while personal spirituality is holding fairly constant.

Bookslinger said...

My view is that most wards don't friendship investigators.

Investigators show up, and it's like they're invisible to the members. No one but the missionaries talks to them.

Well, the bishop usually does, but hardly anyone else.

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

I was viewing the slide show and the differences between the high baptizing wards and low baptizing wards, and I thought to myself, "I could have told them that straight out, without them having ot do all that research!"

I agree with Bookslinger, and I would even go further by saying that I've seen wards where the members go out of their way to fellowhip their investigators before baptism, but after baptism, that support begins to wane. It's as though these members are thinking, "Well, I've done my bit now, and now I'm not going to just leave them alone"..... The Gospel simply doesn't work like that. We don't friendship these people just because we want them to join the church and then leave them out in the cold......

Anonymous said...

Heck, most of the wards I've attended have been lousy at friendshipping/fellowshipping current members, let alone investigators and new members. The ward I was originally baptized into had a fantastic sense of community. Most other wards I've been in since then, around the U.S., have been variations on high school cliques. There's the "mid-20s stay-at-home mom" clique, the "ward ball elders" clique, etc. I've stopped inviting friends to church because whenever I did, they'd feel so isolated and unwelcome that they'd just leave with a bad taste. So really, I'm tired of getting admonitions to "increase my dedication to missionary work." Unless you want me up on the pulpit yelling at people because, for whatever reason, outreach and fellowship are not top priorities for them, there's just not a lot I can offer.

Mayan Elephant said...

"I've stopped inviting friends to church because whenever I did, they'd feel so isolated and unwelcome that they'd just leave with a bad taste."

I would add that people also dont invite others to church because it is embarrassing. look, if i invite someone to a party, and they dont know anybody else, they will likely spend most their time with me. they wont expect to come away having been the focus of others attention.

and this is a group event. nobody really wants to show up and be bombarded with fellowshipping, they want to observe. all that fake handshaking and fellowshipping just feels dumb and phony. it is not the reason people dont come to church, and it is not the reason members dont invite others to church.

the reason people dont invite others to church is because it is embarrassing and it feels awkward to be rejected. nobody likes being rejected, and that is ultimately what happens pretty much everytime we think we are going to convert someone.

the mormon religion, when viewed from the outside, is kooky. yoooo hooo. nutso insane batty kind of kooky.

angels, garments, secret temples and secret rituals, history of america and it came to pass. whoa. thats some goofy stuff. and add to it that no coffee thing and the thought of getting married without ever having sex at all, and hoping it all is compatible. yikes. do you really want to bring your partner from the law firm to that party for three hours on a sunday? uhhhhh, ummmmmm, no thanks. thats embarrassing. so it doesnt happen.

but, some people do join. about 300,000 a year it looks like. of which, about 4% are still active after a year, at best.

Anita said...

I joined the church in the late 70's. There were lots of fun things to do such as socials, roadshows. The lessons were fun in Relief Society, some weren't even about religion, but about other countries, etc. I never felt like I was a NUMBER when I joined.
Nowadays there is no fun in the wards I have moved into. Every meeting and every class sounds the same. The emphasis on the numbers is incessant. The church has changed. That's why LDS kids are dropping out and no one is being baptized other than 8 year olds (and they're being bribed, ya know)

Mayan Elephant said...

well, Elaine Dalton thinks the youth are dropping out because of their sins and poor transitions to relief society.

and if the church cant be interesting enough for people that grew up with it and have family ties within the church, it must not be interesting to someone who doesnt have family ties.

hey, so as to not be too picky or critical of the goal of this site. let me offer one solution that would rescue the dropout rate of the youth, and increase convert baptisms by a million people per year or more.

change the missionary program from a proselyting program, to a service program much like the peace corps. make it available to mormons and non-mormons. serve people that need help. build something. allow women to go before they are 21. change the world with the biggest full-time volunteer corps the world has ever seen.

ed said...

This is weird. There is all this talk about "priorities" and "goals" but not one word about what the high-baptizing wards were actually DOING differently (if anything).

Also, I thought the "matched control sample" wards were selected from the same stakes as the "high performing" wards. So how in the world were they able to detect that the Stake President had an effect on performance?

And how do we know that it wasn't just random chance that some wards had more baptisms than others? Even if every ward does the same thing, you'll always find a few that look very "successful" over a period of a few years, just by random chance.

This whole "study" strikes me as a poorly done rah-rah exercise.

KingM said...

The problem is not the sales force, the problem is the product. And it is becoming harder and harder to sell the product when so much consumer information is available online. What is the first thing an educated investigator is going to do when they start getting serious about joining the church. Right, pull up Google.

Dr. B said...

It is not surprising that the stake president is not always involved since October 1977 it has been a ward focused activity.

I found this little ditti in the October 1977 Ensign being quoted by Carlos A. Asay:

Upon hearing President Kimball’s instructions, my mind went back to the fundamental principles of a unified missionary program in the Church, as outlined by the First Presidency in a letter dated October 27, 1972:

“1. The responsibility to do missionary work rests with every member of the Church.

“2. Those called as stake and full-time missionaries are to help the members of the Church discharge their missionary responsibility.

“3. All of the organizations and programs of the Church should be used for their proselyting value.

“4. Home teaching is the vehicle that makes available to the members the help of the missionaries and the organizations of the Church.

“5. Missionary work is now a ward-or-branch-centered activity which revolves around the ward mission leader and is correlated through the Ward Priesthood Executive Committee and the Ward [Correlation] Council.”

Even since that time it has been more proscribed for it to be done at the ward level. So it doesn't surprise me that stake presidents don't rate it as their number one priority.

It seems to me that the Church needs to focus on stake presidents understanding how to write stake and ward mission statements and for stake and ward leaders training the home teachers in missionary matters. I think the First Presidency should also do quarterly messages that tell how they personally did some missionary work.

I noticed that not one of them served a full-time mission. Only President Monson even served as a mission president. You have to walk the talk to talk the walk. As servant leaders we need to hear more recent examples of their being involved. Is there a Church-wide mission statement on missionary work?

Having conducted a doctorate in program planning it would be nice to see people actually trained in the formulation of a stake and ward mission plan. A Church-wide one would be a good model. When I conducted needs assessment or want my employees to write a vision or mission statement I give them an example of a previous one I did somewhere else. It makes it a lot easier and a better product.

People have to be involved in order to buy in to doing something. With supposedly hundreds of stake and ward mission plans available it shouldn't be too hard to write the best one. Stakes should be in alignment with the Church's mission statement. Their success is how well they align their stake plan and ward plans to the Church plan.

Dr. B said...

I propose we send the Missionary Executive Committee to the Harvard Educational Leadership Seminar for ten days next Spring to learn how to do the best Church-wide mission plan. If they wanted it second hand they could get the dean of business at BYU or the new president of BYU Idaho to do the training. I suggest they go to Harvard to get away for a few days so there minds could percolate on revitalizing the whole missionary process.

It would be a transformational experience for them as they learn to apply Bolman and Deal Restructuring Organizations to the problem of convert decline. One of the principle they would discuss would be how to have a first class missionary organization. Then they could approach it from different frames of reference. They might get some new revelation.

If they don't want to do it themselves maybe they could train the trainers who could then go out and train the stake presidents, bishops, high councils and finally us members.

It may sound like a kooky suggestion but I think they need a radical or paradigm shift to get over the three hundred thousand hump. I don't think most of the leaders or the rest of us at lower levels have a clue how to solve this.

I personally think if they could get a half a million or more converts per year they would break Satan's grasp on North America and Canada. It would be akin to when I was a missionary and we tried our darndest to get one hundred in Toronto Canada. I believe we need to focus on it because if you don't how are you going to come up with a way to be better at converting people. In addition members need something like this.

I think Spencer W. Kimball was the best program planner the Church has ever seen. He had an innate talent for getting us moving in missionary work that was built on by the current generation of Church leaders who trained most of the current leadership even if many never knew him. Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley all had platforms that carried the work forward at a similar pace. If we are to accelerate the pace President Monson needs a paradigm shift in the members' commitment.

You can't get revelation in a vacuum you need the right tools and putting on your thinking cap in new and different ways. I wish some of my commenters would get on the stick and offer a great new program here. Where are the Kevin Barneys and David Stewarts when you need them? David O. McKay was a spark plug for Sunday School and the term every member a missionary.
Someone out there must want to come to the attention of the Lord and the brethren with their superior plan.

We need to amp up our thoughts and be positive on how to approach this data. I am thinking about this problem from my Harvard experience but being a lowly member of my ward as the only counselor in the Sunday School Presidency with no secretary I haven't had a break-through yet. I am going to give this a little more thought so I can be a better missionary.

I wish my nonmember father who was a truck driver were still alive. He had a great mind and would have helped me solve this with his tenth grade education. You would think the Mormon intellectuals would give it a public try. My father always said we need to use our common sense here people. The answer must be so simple we are over-thinking it. We just are too close to the forest to see the trees. Get with it and keep commenting.

Goldarn said...

I admit to being curious, but I doubt the information is available. I'm wondering if the wards that were gung-ho on missionary work slacked off in other areas, or if they were strong in most programs?

For instance, did the "missionary work is job #1" wards have a larger-than-average number of a YM/YW go inactive when they turned 18? Did the Primary or Scouting programs suffer? How is their retention, or is it more about numbers than souls?

I'm thinking particularly about "differentiating factor #5": how missionary work is a "top priority" for stake presidents vs. being "4th or 5th priority." I would think that, if missionary work is number four or five, it would still be a top priority, given how many "priorities" a stake president has!

I know a ward, personally, where 17 out of the 18 priests left the church while a certain man was bishop, because the young men weren't one of his "top priorities."

In the church today, missionary work is down. YM/YW retention is down. Adult activity is low. Home and visiting teaching is low. Temple attendance is low. Which of these should be a bishop's or stake president's number-one-or-two priority?

Bookslinger said...

One bishop taught me:

First priority is youth. Without raising up righteous youth, the church dies out in one generation.

Second priority is home-teaching. When home-teaching goes right, everything else falls into place.

Dusto Magnifico said...

I was recently called as my wards mission leader. How do you:
1. Get the members of your ward become better missionaries without treating investigators like numbers.
2. What activitiies are there out there that can get people to come to our church. Clearly the Spirit can do it's job, but we need to do our part as well... what is that PART!