Friday, October 3, 2008

Teaching Pools: Mission President's Relationship with Member Is Critical

Elder Spencer V. Jones of the Seventy, President of the Central America Area, offers three reasons for the Church’s growth in Nicaragua that offer some insight in to why mission president's need a good relationship with local leaders and members. "First, Nicaraguans seem to feel a “spiritual hunger.” After a long period of conflict in their country, “people are looking for peace in their lives, and the gospel is providing that peace.” Second, “there has also been a succession of strong mission presidents who have developed a good working relationship with the local leaders and members. Basically, the missionaries don’t have to knock on doors very often. They have tremendously large teaching pools because of this relationship.” Third, as a result, “the missionaries have developed a faith that they have the capacity to baptize. They’re not afraid to challenge investigators to prepare for baptism. They have that confidence and faith in the Lord.”

I really can relate to why this approach works. When I was a missionary I can only remember a few times when we ever had member referrals. It was actually pretty depressing that we knocked doors fifty or sixty hours a week. The few times we got referrals usually panned out to being an easy baptism. When members were involved it made the process much easier. Usually members referred friends after Elder Ballard gave one of his enthusiastic talks about members helping out the missionaries.

In 2000 Elder Ballard wrote: "Currently, of all investigators participating in a first discussion in the United States and Canada, only one in 10 is member-referred. In other words, only one in 10 of those beginning investigation is found through member efforts. But among those who progress through the discussions and get baptized, more than half are found through the members. Member referrals are dramatically more likely than other types of investigators to be baptized—about 10 times more likely, according to our latest research!"

I know it is difficult for mission presidents to sustain their efforts and follow-up on a constant basis. In most places I have lived which is now 12 places in 25 years of marriage, I usually hear the mission president speak five or six times at conferences in their three year period of service. The disconnect is that he and his wife stand up and tell us what we have heard constantly and go their merry way having no interaction with me or most others in attendance. I listen a little more intently when they don't read their talks and speak from the heart. I just tune out the ones that read me their talk since it is the same oh same oh. I think mission presidents should try a different approach by stumping the mission field and holding focus groups with every ward in their missions and speaking with key stakeholders in the wards and stakes. They might try hosting root beer float receptions after stake or ward conferences and talking with more individual members so they can develop relationships.

I know this would be a huge undertaking and not as convenient as passively speaking. It would be more like 'purposeful activity." If the Church is smart enough to hold a focus group to identify extraordinary missionary success then mission presidents should place themselves in settings where they can engage members. The more engaged they are with members the better their success.

The thing I noticed as a missionary was when President Ballard got down on a one-on-one basis he had better results. Not only that the people he engaged with became future leaders of the Church later. No one said being a mission president was easy. Not only do you have to conduct the affairs of the mission you need to be in the places where members are. I have given missionaries referrals but not because the mission president motivated me. I gave them mostly because my children had friends they wanted to convert including boy friends. I have spoken to two mission presidents on two occasions in thirty-five years of being a member. It is not because I am anti-social it is because they just never talked with me. One time I approached a mission president for a post on this blog and the other time I was between the mission president and his wife who wanted Elder Ballard's attention when the Ballards were visiting my stake in Houston and I was chatting with them socially. The first guy never even checked to see what I wrote when I offered to let him edit my post. He just thought it was an inconvenience that I was spotlighting him.

When I was a ward mission leader I never once met with a mission president or his counselors in any capacity in the two years I served in that calling. A good technique might be to even get to know the leaders of missionary work in the local unites even that relationship might result in a few more contacts for missionaries or new ideas for improving the work. I worked once for a former three star Army General at a university where as president he told us we had the brain power in the room to build a nuclear missile and that there wasn't any issue that we couldn't solve. If you don't talk with those even assigned how can you expect them to buy-in to some guy who is just saying what every other guy in their position is expected to say.

It is not surprising to me if you continue doing what you have always been doing then the results will be the same. I mean I have heard for the last thirty-five years stake presidents and bishops tell me and other members to do missionary work. The numbers have remained constant with a slight decrease of convert baptisms whether there were thirty thousand missionaries or fifty thousand missionaries.

When I think of great mission presidents I think of guys like R. Bay Hutchings, B.H. Roberts, Melvin J. Ballard, M. Russell Ballard, LeGrand Richards, Thomas S. Monson, all men who engaged members in the missionary process. Some mission presidents are doing a great job engaging members. I have seen on the web a few places like Nicaragua or the Africa or the West Indies where mission presidents have closer interaction and the results are exceptional. In a place like the West Indies there is something to be said for geographic size. In a developing place like Romania or Africa mission presidents operate on a different plain having more ecclesiastical power so they have to know people. One of these days I am going to have a good working relationship with the mission president over my ward in the United States and maybe I will give him and his missionaries regular referrals. For now I am only engaged with missionaries every few months who come over for dinner. Some ask for referrals and some don't.

I agree with Elder Jones that those mission presidents who have a relationship with local leaders and members have better results. I feel that when a mission president only speaks he is planting random seeds that might sprout results. More would fall on fertile ground if he had any feedback and contact with more individual members. I don't want to be critical here since I know they are busy men so my experience might be different than the majority.

I am attaching a brief questionnaire to the end of my post since any results are better than a guess.

1 comment:

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

Hi, Dr. B! Just finished your survey now. Although (I know I shouldn't really have to justify this to anyone) I give the missionaries referrals, not because someone told me to, but because I give then once I feel my non-member friend is ready to hear and accept the Gospel.....

.....It is true, how some mission presidents are really open and somee are not. I can see this with the current mission president serving in our mission. Then again, I think this man and his wife are generally shy people. At least that is the impression I got when I saw them for the second time in the goodness knows how many months they've been here for. Still, it would be nice if they could at least try to continue a conversation once you've approached them and started one with them. I must admit though, it did annoy me at first whenever I tried to start a conversation with him at least, and I only got short, one sentence answers. His reaction was way different to my mission president, who always went out of his way to greet the members and establish a relationship with them. I totally agree with you that mission presidents should (when possible) take a more active role in befriending the members.