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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mormon Church Growth & Retention

(I will be traveling over the next few days. This will be the last Mormon Coffee post until August 7th or 8th.)

On July 18th the LDS Church released this to the press:
SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the second-fastest growing church in the United States, according to the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, published by the National Council of Churches.

After citing some statistics regarding worldwide LDS Church membership, the press release stated:
"The numbers don’t tell the real story," a Church spokesman said. "The real measure of Latter-day Saints is the depth of their faith and how it changes people’s lives."

I found this last statement interesting. On the day I read this I had earlier been reading the LDS Church News report of the New Mission Presidents Seminar which took place in Salt Lake City in June. LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks spoke to the new mission presidents about the challenge of retaining converts to the Church.
Drawing upon surveys and statistics, Elder Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "Most of those we baptize are children, youth and very young adults. Most of this majority are very young. Children ages 8 to 15 make up 40 percent."

They are at a much higher risk for inactivity if their parents are not active, he cautioned. And most are not. (Church News, July 8, 2006, page 4)

Mr. Oaks continued, noting factors that affect member retention. Many converts are baptized while in a country that is not their native country. In that case, converts need "a friend, a responsibility, and nourishing by the word of God."

Another factor Mr. Oaks said helps retention is giving 12-year-old boys the Aaronic Priesthood within four to six months after baptism. Another is making sure those investigating Mormonism attend the LDS Church before they are baptized.
"If investigators attend Church many times before they are baptized, they are a great deal more likely to attend Church thereafter, and therefore, be retained in activity. In other words, pre-baptism Church attendance is closely related to retention."

I wonder what Mr. Oaks had in mind when he suggested investigators attend Church "many" times before baptism. The first lesson of the LDS missionary manual Preach My Gospel tells missionaries:
During this or any other lesson, do not hesitate to invite people to be baptized and confirmed. (page 40)

Furthermore, the same manual explains that only the first four lessons are to be taught before baptism (page 29). This sort of approach doesn't seem to leave a lot of opportunity for investigators to attend the LDS Church "many times" before becoming members.

Be that as it may, the online LDS press release page offers a link to an article which explains why the LDS Church is the second-fastest growing church in the U.S. -- why it all works.
At first glance, an organization that makes such demands on its members would appear doomed to failure.

But a notable characteristic of millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a willingness to devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy to their church.

"Church leaders have repeatedly stressed that the strength of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be traced to the personal testimony of each individual member," says Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at the Church-operated Brigham Young University.

The depth of members' personal testimonies or convictions is the driving force that motivates them, Millet says.

At the mission president's seminar LDS Apostle Oaks didn't mention personal testimonies and convictions. Instead, he stressed activities -- give them a title, give them a job to do, make sure they have friends to hold them accountable. Mr. Oaks' advice was more in keeping with comments from the current prophet:
Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said of individuals who join the Church: "They are put to work. They are given responsibility. They are made to feel a part of the great onward movement of this, the work of God….

"They soon discover that much is expected of them as Latter-day Saints. They do not resent it. They measure up and they like it. They expect their religion to be demanding, to require reformation in their lives. They meet the requirements. They bear testimony of the great good that has come to them. They are enthusiastic and faithful."

Well, those who remain active members, perhaps. But those who fall away?

In reporting Apostle Oaks' talk Church News said:
A serious retention factor for adult and youth converts is conquering their use of addictive substances like smoking, alcohol and pornography…most converts reported that neither missionaries nor members helped with this problem.

"Help is desperately needed if we are to retain," Elder Oaks said.

Indeed, these converts Mr. Oaks spoke of do not "measure up." They do not "meet the requirements." Therefore, they become inactive, not enthusiastic and faithful.

Finally,
The last vital data [Mr. Oaks] presented on retention stressed the importance of having a friend.

The percent of new adult converts in North America who had close active LDS friends or family before they started their investigation [of Mormonism] was 69 percent.

After reading this report on retention I'm not quite sure where "the depth of members' personal testimonies or convictions" actually fits in. When it comes to keeping members active, instruction from the leadership of the LDS Church is all about obligation. Use a hook to keep them involved.

There doesn't seem to be anything here, from those who claim to be God's prophets and apostles, about faith and commitment to Christ.

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