Retention: Expanding on Axioms

June 25, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 1:42 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Someone has failed, failed miserably. I say to bishops throughout the world that with all you have to do — and we recognize that it is much — you cannot disregard the converts. Most of them do not need very much. As I have said before, they need a friend. They need something to do, a responsibility. They need nurturing with the good word of God. They come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm

-Gordon B. Hinckley

President Hinckley has given the church three simple axioms upon which we base the current retention program of the church. The purpose here is to provide some practical expansion of these three areas, in an effort to further strengthen the retention efforts of the church.

A friend:

While the ideal is that someone has had a spiritual and rational conversion to the Gospel, and their relationship with God rests within themselves, it can not be ignored that one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with the community of the Church are not synonymous. That being the case, a social assimilation is typically needed as well to effectively hold someone in the church. In fact, in another Christian denomination, a survey of churches with successful retention rates cited the main reason for success in this area to be positive relationships between members. The note that “the development of these relationships with new members best takes place before the member joins. If the new member has no relationship with a church member when he or she joins the church, it is exceedingly difficult to create relationships. Such is the reason why it is critically important for church members to become highly intentional about developing relationships with unchurched persons before that person ever visits the church.” And further that “the most effective assimilation group is the Sunday school… A person involved in a Sunday school class is five times more likely to be active in the church five years later, than a person who attends worship services alone. “[1]

A responsibility:

It is important to remember that the church is a volunteer organization. Church membership was not the placement of a name on a roll; the clear expectation for converts needs to be that the member is to make a difference through the ministries of the church. One Church did a 2 year study of churches with successful retention rates which showed that churches with clear expectations of service within the church. [1] So first and foremost, Involvement in volunteer activities needs to be implicit in membership in the church. Since members are coming to the church because they want to help, it is essential that you do everything you can to give them work to do as soon as possible. Underutilization create serious retention problems, because motivated members who are trying to be of assistance will feel useless if they are not actually involved in doing something. They will also lose any sense of relationship with the organization over long periods of non-involvement. [2]

Also, it is vital to not just assign members callings at random in the church, but to talk to them for their input on how they would be interested in serving. This includes identifying the right job for the volunteer, but it also includes identifying what it would take for the volunteer to feel successful in the job. It is advisable to hold such interviews periodically, a the motivational needs of members will undoubtedly change over their lifetime and during the course of their relationship with the church. [3] One Major obstacle the supervisor must overcome is the natural tendency of some to not be forthcoming with problems or concerns related to their volunteer work, due to the religious nature of their volunteer commitment. It is up to the supervisor to encourage an environment where appropriate candor is valued more than forbearance.

One Interesting Survey recently asked what things were most important to volunteers in general. It’s results were very interesting.

Colony, Chen, and Andrews
Rank and Mean Scores of Individual Items for All Volunteers [4]


Colony, Chen, and Andrews
Rank and Mean Scores of Individual Items for All Volunteers






Helping others



Clearly defined responsibilities



Interesting work



Competence of supervisor



Supervisor guidance



Seeing results of my work



Working with a respected community organization



Reasonable work schedule



Doing the things I do best



Suitable workload



Freedom to decide how to get work done



Chance to make friends



Pleasant physical surroundings



Opportunity to develop special skills/abilities



Challenging problems to solve



Convenient travel to and from volunteer work



Opportunity to work with professional staff



Volunteer recognition



Adequate reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses



Chance to move to paid employment


Note that of the top five highest priorities, The supervisor has direct control of three of these elements and indirect control of the other two. The more able and enabled a supervisor is to meet these needs of volunteers, the greater their success in volunteer retention will be.

Nurturing by the good word of God:

While not many studies have been done on effective ways to spiritually nurture either volunteers or participants and how this affects their retention in an organization, it is obviously a tenant of our religion that it’s members should have a rational as well as spiritual conversion to the faith and that every effort ought to be made to provide this to the member and to teach the member to provide this for themselves. Often in the online LDS community this topic is handled in different ways, whether it be by suggesting must-read materials that provide answers, or by espousing “inoculating” members to the more controversial issues of the church. While these are good suggestions, they are both incomplete, as you can never produce enough books fast enough to answer all the questions in every way they are being asked, and you can never do enough inoculation to insure no one ever gets sick. And the aim should not be to give every answer or dispel ever issue, but to instill faith in members of the church that there are answers to their questions and that they will always have sources to seek out these answers, even if that source is only direct revelation from God. Thus every sacrament meeting talk, every Sunday school lesson, and every other moment of communal church activity should be used to create an environment where the spirit can communicate with the individual. All these events should also take every opportunity to present concepts that are clear, honest, and compelling to the intellect.

If you can’t tell, I am not quite as empiracel on this third point. Any help would be appreciated here. [6]

[1]- from here (It should be noted that the Sunday School mentioned here was typically a small group)
[2] ibid.
[3]- from here
[4]- ibid.
[5]- ibid.
[6]- If you are wondering, Yes I am EXTREMELY proud of the fact that I figured out how to put a table into this post.


  1. Ok, so my thoughts here are a little half backed, but I was sooo excited that I figured out how to get the table to work I decided to role with it. forgive the nerdy exuberance.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 25, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  2. Nope, I don’t think I can forgive the nerdy exuberance this time. Maybe next time.

    Comment by Kristen J — June 25, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  3. imo, nurturing by the good word of God is where it’s at! There will always be times when friends let you down, or when you are “between callings,” but God’s word is constant.

    I think the emphasis should be on how to use the scriptures/words of the prophets to find answers. If one is taught how to do exegesis on one’s own, and becomes proficient enough to trust in one’s abilities to access the Spirit through Scripture, it will overcome any controversial questions or dumb comments in Sunday School that may arise.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — June 25, 2007 @ 9:22 pm

  4. BiV- I don’t disagree, but I think also there must be an emphasis on providing powerful and spiritual church every minute of the 3 hour block, so that we can not just have faith that the scriptures/words of the prophets can provide answers, but also going to church can be an answer to prayer as well.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 26, 2007 @ 6:34 am

  5. Very interesting & enlightening research Matt. Thanks. Now we’ve just got to assimilate this into the day-to-day of the basic units of the Church.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — June 26, 2007 @ 7:49 am

  6. It is interesting that 4. comes up in complaints quite often. We seem to do very well with 2., but not always as well with 3. In my own experience, I have never had someone ask me how I would like to serve, and I haven’t had a very good track record with 9. That’s okay though, I am happy to do almost any calling, and willing to do the others.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 26, 2007 @ 10:28 am

  7. A friend, a responsibility, and nuturing by the good word.

    I can see the value in each one, but in practical experience I see the “responsibility” one hurting as often as it seems to help. New members often seem overwhelmed, even with callings that most of us consider minor callings. Then, if they don’t fulfill the callings to which they’ve been assigned they seem even more likely to quit coming in order to avoid questions about why, or to stop feeling guilty when they are reminded about what they are not doing. The best thing I can see about giving a new member a calling is that it helps facilitate the “friend” aspect. Otherwise, it seems like it might be better to hold off on the “responsibility” aspect for at least a little while.

    Of course, in my experience none of these three things are helped when we baptize people that the ward members have never seen at church or who have shown up only to sacrament meeting, or who have only been once, or twice. (I have issues with that, even though I probably need to get over them…well, maybe not. *g*)

    Comment by Rachel J — June 28, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

  8. Rachel,

    You make a good point about callings being a two-edged sword. It seems like the choice of calling would play a significant factor here. I’m curious which callings you have seen turn out to be bad for a new convert. Have you seen any pattern in which callings turn out good verses those that turn out bad?

    My only thought is that a Sunday calling would be best because it gives them a reason to be at church every week. Some people worry about making sure a new convert can be in Gospel Essentials, but that seems like a mistake to me (but then again, that might just be a reflection of the fact that I dislike sunday school).

    Comment by Jacob J — June 28, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

  9. Rachel, Jacob, as a convert, and having done a brief survey of other converts, I would say that overwhelmed converts in callings is more of the exception than the rule. If the convert is overwhelmed, it is more by lack of supervisor guidance than too much work being loaded on.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 28, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

  10. My last coment came across poorly, let me add that the above is my opinion and experience, and I am interest in your alternative views. They soundsensible, I just have not often witnessed them as the rule rather than the excpetion.

    I would give a hearty Amen to the fact that people who do not keep their committments before baptism will not keep their committments after baptism and thus should NOT be baptised.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 28, 2007 @ 9:59 pm

  11. Matt, I thought your comment sounded fine, and I totally realize that I am looking through a pretty narrow filter of the small area I live in. I can see how supervisor guidance could be a huge contributing factor in whether callings work out or not.

    Jacob, Sunday callings do seem like a good plan. And, seeing as I think of a calling as a means to friendshipping (at first), I think callings that isolate probably aren’t the best, like Primary teacher. And Sunday school teacher seems that it would have the problem that Matt pointed out with lack of supervision, plus, as much as I personally enjoy the youth, I wouldn’t foist them on a new convert. I think maybe a secretary in a presidency would be a reasonable choice. You’d have good chance for good supervisor guidance, Sunday responsibility, chance to form friendships with the other presidency members, and chance to become familiar with names and faces of lots of ward members because of the bookkeeping stuff.

    Comment by Rachel J — June 29, 2007 @ 8:13 am