Monday, February 16, 2009

Longitudinal Studies in Tracking the Retention of New Members

For over twenty years I worked in major university systems that prided themselves on tracking their graduates for five, ten, and fifteen year periods. They liked to see where their graduates ended up. I feel that the LDS Church should conduct similar kind of studies in order to know how effective their really are in convert retention. The way things are currently people are just guessing about the effectiveness of the missionary program and the assimilation of new converts in to the Church.

The MIS system could be tweaked to track them or actual surveys could be mailed to a selective sampling from each mission. There are currently 365 missions in the church. Even a 15-20% sampling of the 200,000 new members each year would represent a meaningful statistical population. Most good longitudinal studies are tracked for a five year period. The Church spends millions of dollars each years in media exposure. It would cost a fraction of that amount to check the effectiveness of convert tracking.

Longitudinal studies would uncover patterns, trends and perceptions of people. It would take a lot of antedotal perceptions out of the equation and actually measure the success of the missionary program. I believe that leaders are slow to react to changes and decline and even spikes in the convert growth. As one of my doctoral professors said at least you would be able to describe what is happening 15-20% better than just guessing at what is happening in the Church.

In my church career I have only been systematically asked about one thing and that was by the temple department of the LDS church who did focus groups after the open house for the Houston Temple. My wife and I were selected with a few other couples to tell what our impressions were about the process.

I think members feel valued when their opinions are solicited in something as important as missionary work or temple work. Most members wouldn't view such surveys or focus groups as an intrusion but as a valuable way to describe their experience. I believe we are missing out on valuable information that could make a difference in improving the missionary process when we don't use the tools at our disposal. Revelation isn't given in a vacuum.


Anonymous said...

It would not surprise that the Church is already doing longitudinal studies of new members, and perhaps has already completed some. The Church has a very capable social science department that does lots of studies; unfortunately, the results of the studies generally are not made public (with a few exceptions, such as the study regarding factors influencing youth activity that was publishing in the Ensign about 25 years ago).


Dr. B said...

It is interesting to hear that the church is doing studies of human subjects without revealing any confidential information. It is the first time in my experience that the Mormon grapevine in Sunstone or Dialogue didn't get wind of it. I guess the church is getting more sophisticated in its approach. I wonder if Ph.D's at BYU are doing anything with this data since it might be very illuminating for the missionary process. I know men like Dave Stewart would be interested in analyzing such studies in an effort to make missionary work particularly convert retention more qualitative.