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A Simple Proposal to revolutionize missionary work — Sounds like a hit

June 11, 2009
Mormon Missionaries: you can see them coming from a mile away

Mormon Missionaries: you can see them coming from a mile away

At Sixteen Small Stones, J. Max Wilson discussed a simple proposal to completely revolutionize the LDS missionary effort. I was skeptical…it seems that any time you put “simple” and “complete revolution” together, one or both don’t happen.

Fortunately, Wilson’s article doesn’t fall into that same trap. And it’s because other churches have been doing this for awhile with great success — so it’s a headsmacker: “Why hasn’t the LDS church gotten on to this?!”

The proposal relies on a relatively simple (and supposedly obvious) flaw in current member missionary work: introducing the church  is rather awkward to most members (something that even the guys at What Do Mormons Believe? note in their latest). We don’t want to alienate our friends, so we wait until the church is casually brought up in conversation…in which case we plan to jump at knocking opportunity.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.

Sometimes, we never get that prime opportunity…and even if we do, then it’s at the tentative butt of conversation…So you’ve been talking to someone for a while, and then they bring up the LDS church, so you talk some about that, and at the end of the conversation, you slip in something about coming by one Sunday. A lot of work for something that could fail.

Another conundrum is that the full-time missionaries (as opposed to the every-member-a-missionary missionaries) are called to do the awkward anyway and make the first move on the church and gospel…but the problem here is that people see them coming. They say, “Two white-shirted black-nametagged gentlemen at 10 o’ clock!” and shut down; shut blinds, and hunker down inside.

So, what to do?

One path the church has been suggesting is for members to recommend sympathetic friends to the missionaries. This at least changes one thing…now, missionaries aren’t tracting to just anyone (when “just anyone” could have no inclination). At least theoretically, referrals to missionaries are prone to be friendlier…because these are personal friends of a friend, and seeing the missionaries is a favor to a friend.

But this doesn’t yet fix the problem of how to introduce. Why would a friend just introduce the missionaries to another friend unprovoked? I might do that to an enemy, but a friend? (j/k! Don’t flip out on me!)

Here’s where the simple revolution comes into play. There are some noncontroversial favors.  For example, it would be easy to be ask (or be asked): “Oh, my daughter has a recital tonight? Would you come?” or “I have a speaking arrangement? Care to see me speak?”

And these kinds of requests aren’t weird. So, a friend is likely to say, “Sure, I don’t have anything tonight; I’d love to see your daughter!” This is true even if the friend may think the daughter in question really sucks at piano/violin/kazoo. He can of course weigh out how busy he’ll be (or how busy he’ll tell you he is), but he can’t really hunker down at the sight of black nametags.

So…what kind of opportunity would someone in the church have for this? Well, duh, the church is lay clergy. Any member can be invited for most callings, and any member can be invited to give a talk or a lesson. So the field is white already to harvest.

J. Max Wilson gives 12 reasons why this should work, but I don’t think one needs to go through these to realize that intuitively, this should be effective. In fact, you don’t even need to intuit such — you can know by demonstration.

As I read through, I noted the utter simplicity and practicality of it. And in fact, I could recall several times when others had invited me to their churches because they’d be giving some talk. Often times, it became a quid pro quo affair (and this is where others got me: as soon as I’d go to theirs, they’d say, “Oops, can’t go to yours.”)

So, I’d like to give some words of warning for anyone, LDS or not, who wants to use this strategy, which I think is effective (and I’m not even a believer, so maybe my opinion means something).

One…you have to bring on the content. Like the invitation to the daughter’s recital, you might get one go or two as favors…but unless the daughter has talent, you won’t want to continue going. This is not so critical for a recital, but since the church does want this to be a missionary tool, if it wants to be effective at bringing people in, it has to provide content that is meaningful to people. I’d argue that not all people are going to be swayed and certainly, not all people are going to get a spiritual witness of the church (and a spiritual witness regardless says more about an individual than it says about the church…), but if you can put up a good show, this will be a good first impression.

Two…be honest and fair. I dislike the idea of inviting people to Fast/Testimony Meeting, because in many ways, it’s just too real. However, even if we invite someone to another sacrament meeting or to a group activity, putting up a good show doesn’t mean being unfaithful to what the church is. There is no long-term benefit for misrepresenting the church — because if you do, and someone falls in love with the lie, then as soon as they realize such, they will fall out…and hard. And not only will you have an ex-member…but you’ll possibly have someone who is resentful.

As for fair, this is my soapbox…if you invite someone to your church, don’t badger them for what you believe to be their cult-like beliefs. Don’t be inhospitable. I’m inclined to believe that if there is a god as described in the Bible, he nuked a city or two over inhospitality (not homosexuality). So, be fair. If you make a deal, don’t break your word. If you know you have ulterior motives, don’t hide, lie, and deny. Because again, when those motives come out, you will have an enemy, not simply a disaffiliate.


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  1. I talk with some friends (usually those who are interested in religion in general) about my beliefs quite a bit. As for inviting them to church or other activities, I like your suggestions and have tried them out before, e.g. when I was playing the piano for a choir number last winter, I invited a friend to come. It is VERY non threatening, imo, and friends who come to those things generally come in the name of support. If any of those things turned into them wanting to learn more, then great, but I always keep the attitude of we are friends, and I am sharing with them, and them converting or not has no bearing on the relationship.

  2. I’m in favor of shirtless missionaries. I don’t care what they say or what language they speak or what Truth they think they’re sharing.

  3. sideon, as we speak, missionaries are understanding this very pressing demand:

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