Increasing Member Retention, Part1 The Problem with the Current Model

July 24, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 10:08 pm   Category: Life

Two years ago, we were told our ward was the top baptizing ward in the top baptizing stake in Texas. “Good Job!” we were told. “It’s because you are such a loving and welcoming ward.” We were told. We had 20+ baptisms. We retained 1 person.

As a very dedicated convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of my main concerns is seeing those who come into the church, like I did, not make it. We have lived in the ward we are in currently for 6 years, and have seen 60+ baptisms in that time, but only 4 (1 family, 1 lone man) that I know of are still regularly active. My wife and I sometimes refer to this situation as the “catch and release” program of the church.

Now there are, upon reflection, many different reasons for this abysmal statistic, but none of this is because of baseball baptisms or faking records. In other words, missionaries are not breaking the rules.
In order to capture some of the issues I’ve seen, I’m going to break our wards missionary work out into the 4 typical areas of missionary work. All these issues are anecdotal, but that is all that’s available to me at the time.

1. Finding- A lot of the people who are found by the missionaries in our area are either transient people or disabled. A large percent of them don’t have cars. These people are typically not member referrals.

2. Teaching- Many people who are taught do not completely understand the expectations the church has for its members (callings, service, visiting other members, etc.) Few members are available to take time off to meet investigators.

3. Baptizing- In conjunction with #2, Many people who are baptized, have had trouble fulfilling their commitments prior to baptism, especially the commitment to attend church regularly.

4. Retaining- People have complained about not feeling welcome at our church. Converts typically do not last long enough that being endowed ever becomes a concern. Most new members are brought in solely on the missionaries’ efforts, not through member referral. Home Teaching is poor.

Above, I have tried to assemble a quick sketch of the symptoms of the problem we are having.

And so I ask you, are you having the same problems in your area? And if so, what do you think is the root cause? Ie- What are we doing wrong and how do we repent of it?

In part two, I will talk about ways I think missionary/retention efforts are being done in other churches, and ask if we should borrow any of their ideas. First I just wanted to see how typical my anecdotal concerns are.


  1. I agree. In my ward on the Wasatch front (SLC), in the past nearly 15 years, there have been 2-3 baptisms that I know of total within the ward. These have all been to part-member families where the non-member gets baptized as the member decides to become more active again. We did have one baptism of a man and his son who showed up in the ward randomly, but they disappeared after baptism. The only real changes in our ward over more than a decade have therefore been births/move-ins vs move-outs/deaths.

    I look at my mission (European country). I’ve been home over 2 decades. There are as many members in the country now as there were 2 decades ago, despite hundreds and hundreds of missionaries doing thousands and thousands of hours of work. In talking with some friends from the country over this past year, the only baptisms they can remember over the past decade+ have been non-native people of the country, who also disappeared after baptism.

    It is also objectively apparent that the conversion rate has been going down rather steadily over the past 2 decades throughout the world, and that the converts we do get are rarely active members a year later.

    As far as “what we are doing wrong”? This opens a whole other can of worms. I don’t think the problem is necessarily with a “program” or with the type of discussions/Preach My Gospel we use. I think it is the “product”, to be honest. The pure and beautiful core of the gospel has been buried under so many layers of rules and programs and bureaucracy and correlation, both official and unofficial and cultural, that the institution of the Church has lost its appeal for many, many people. I don’t think that a “tweaking” of the missionary program or a “every member a missionary” slogan and program is going to fix it.

    Comment by Mike S — July 24, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  2. I live in Western Europe. I will list each of our converts in our ward over the past four years, and a few details. Hope this data gives some idea.
    1) Latin American college student, became inactive, moved away, said he regretted joining before he was ready, felt pressure. Didn’t have car, needed to be picked up. Thought the people were great but never believed the Book of Mormon.
    2) 11 year-old son of inactive family: currently active, as is rest of family. Lots of mental health issues for family, not for him yet. Likes church, now a teacher. Often needs transportation 40 km away.
    3) College Student: issues with anti-Mormon literature, got name removed within 3 months
    4) 17-year old post-high school young man living in projects: offended because bishop asked him to stop reciting profane rap in testimony meeting. Lived 30 km away, had no car or income to pay for transportation.
    5) 26 year old young man — now married in temple and has newborn. No car, he is comfortable walking.
    6) Single mom from Africa, 3 kids. Offended after being accused of practicing witchcraft and only attends occasionally. Has been to temple to do baptisms. Has had difficulty paying for public transportation to get to church.
    7) 2 teen-age daughters and the mother of a devoted long-term member. Very active. Have cars.
    8) Female mentally handicapped 40 year old refugee. Inactive, will only talk to missionaries. Walking distance to church.
    9) Male college-age boyfriend of member girl. Very active after breakup. Has car.
    10) Nine year old son of inactive family. Moved across country two days after baptism. Probably very sporadic attender.

    Breakdown: 15 baptisms, 5 now there every week, 5 are sporadic attenders, 4 totally inactive, and 1 off of member lists.
    Referral Method:
    Member referral converts there every week: 5/7.
    Missionary found converts there every week: 1/8.
    K-12 students: 3 / 7 there every week
    College students / YSA unemployed: 1/4 there every week
    Unemployed / SAHM: 0/2 there every week
    Gainfully employed: 1/1 there every week
    Retired: 1/1 there every week

    1) Member referrals are more effective than finding people on the streets. Our bishop has prioritized member work, and this was the right thing to do.
    2) The new member discussion should include psychologically healthy discussions on what to do when offended. Sooner or later someone will offend the new members, they could perhaps be actively prepared to deal with it. It seems to be harder to deal with offenses if you are found by missionaries vs. being a referral.
    3) Transportation is a big issue, strongly predicting activity rates. A car-owner is more likely to stay active than a non-car owner. Sunday morning bus schedules are not made for church attenders.
    4) Missionaries baptized people who didn’t feel ready or were mentally incapacitated 2/15 times, so blame of missionaries should be pretty low, all things considered. Members remember these cases too strongly. Missionaries do have an intensely superstitious belief that the confirmation needs to happen right after the baptism, so we have lots of Friday night and Saturday night baptisms. Integration would be better if they were baptized on Sunday and confirmed the next one.

    Overall, of these 15 converts, maybe 13 / 15 got good fellowship. Rarely did they get a callling in their first year (may were < 18 years old, anyway), however.

    I recommend the creation of a "member experiences committee", like the correlation committee, that looks at the quality of experiences members have all along the path. People see: 1) facilities rules that cause alienation and prevent the church being a gathering place. Who put those guys in charge and let them throw away the barbeque in our church garage and saw up the nice oak benches in favor of plastic chairs? 2) often, bad experiences on their mission–a surprising number of people come home feeling used, overcontrolled, and dehumanized, 3) stale hymnal and music tradition in the wards, 4) feeling judged (this gets lots of new members), 5) feeling disillusioned when they see the difference between what is in the manuals and what is acknowledged history, etc. It may be worth looking at these things from a systemic point of view.

    Comment by Paul — July 25, 2010 @ 7:40 am

  3. We have the same trend as you in Michigan Matt, but not as bad as you report.

    Here are some of my opinions on the matter:

    – Missionaries rush people into baptism. The are not yet integrated, don’t know what they are getting into, etc. If the missionaries would slow down we would have less baptisms but a higher percentage of retention.

    – Missionaries will teach whoever lets them. Members do not give many referrals, so missionaries find the needy people – often without a job, phone, car, etc.

    – We are often more concerned with a social conversion rather than a spiritual one. It is the testimony building spiritual experience that will usually make a convert stick.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 25, 2010 @ 8:26 am

  4. Mike S.- I typically thing of the bureaucracy as the program of the church and the meetings the product,so I find your comment interesting. I have recently heard from several friends that they feel the product of the church is based primarily on it’s volunteers, and that more and more, we are doing lukewarm jobs in our volunteer service. Is that what you have in mind, or do you mean institutionally it is harder to give our best due to the rules around giving our best?

    Paul- Very interesting comment! I’m still digesting it, but wanted to mention I went to church 6-7 times before I was baptized and was baptized sunday night, then confirmed the following sunday. So there is some merit to what you say.

    Eric- Regarding missionaries rushing people into baptism without integration, do you mean by integration, social conversion? I find this to be true as well, but find it interesting in light of your view that we focus more on social than spiritual conversion. Seems like we have problems in both areas. Also, regarding missionaries teaching whoever lets them, I think this is partly due to most people working 8-5 and the missionaries have to fill those hours with something…

    Comment by Matt W. — July 25, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  5. #4 Matt W

    I consider the whole package the “product”. Due to the strict hierarchal nature of the Church, there’s not truly much room for “local level” interpretation, as bishops “run things by” the Stake President, etc. But I consider everyone hamstrung by the organization.

    A few simple examples:
    – “Service”: Serving others is the core of life in my opinion. In Islam, serving others is a core attribute to be developed. In Buddhism in the Mahayana branch is to literally devote your life to serving others. No one tells you how to serve as circumstances are absolutely unique, but it is the highest ideal. In our Church, even this is institutionalized. Home teaching is “service”, but it is assigned, tracked, talked about, and correlated. We have work assignments presented as “opportunities to serve”, but they’re really just ways to go clean the church buildings or work on a church farm for free. And even the “service” of going to “serve” as a missionary for 2 years isn’t necessarily to help other people’s lives directly, but to try to convert them to the Church.

    – “Charity”: Again, a core premise of every faith is giving away things we have. People are all in unique circumstances. Some choose to give in many, many different ways. In our Church, it is again institutionalized. You MUST give 10%, only to the Church. Unlike every other reputable charity, they are completely opaque in what they do with the money at that point. And if you don’t give 10% to the church, you can’t go to the temple, which necessarily implies your eternal salvation is at stake.

    – “Garments”: These are a tremendous imposition for women especially. Why can’t they make the top a cammisole top? They’ve already shortened the sleeves 2 feet since JS designed them, so sleeve length obviously isn’t what’s important. The marks could still be the same without the cap sleeves.

    – “Appearance”: I don’t think God really cares how many times someone has their ears pierced, if they have a tattoo, what color shirt they wear, if they have a beard, etc. But for all the lip service we pay to accepting “anyone”, if you don’t look the part of a TBM, there is an unwritten shunning.

    – “WofW”: This is billed as a health code. It is an obedience code, pure and simple. We ignore the perfectly clear part about eating meat, yet some people interpret “hot drinks” as Coke. That’s as clear as mud. JS and Christ drank wine, and JS drank beer which is even the “mild barley drink” we’re supposed to drink per the WofW, but doing those now will keep you out.

    This is already too long, but it could go on and on. The Church doesn’t develop characteristics in people. We have come a LONG LONG way from teaching people correct principles and letting them govern themselves. We have become a religion of checkboxes and rules and whitewash.

    Again, the core is beautiful. If we focused on families and priesthood and the core of the gospel and not the minutae of day-to-day living, we would be much better off. The “product” isn’t “selling” anymore. Conversion rates are flattening out.

    But I don’t see any hope for change.

    Comment by Mike S — July 25, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  6. I have to agree with Mike that the problem comes down to the “product.” The most promising converts (those with car and steady job)tend to come to church once and never return. They don’t connect with our services. Those who stick around tend to be ones with mental problems. I’m not sure that speaks well of our meetings!

    Of course Matt is also right that the product is produced by our team of member volunteers. I don’t think the current church programs and formatting are stoking people’s fires and enthusiasm, and thus what we produce for other people in turn is apathetic and lukewarm. So I really think the key to attracting and retaining new members is to work on spiritually nurturing our current members. The trickle down economics of the gospel if you will!

    Comment by Katie M. — July 25, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  7. Mike was posting as I was posting, so I would clarify that while I agree with his defective product argument, I don’t agree that the things he listed are at the root of it.

    Comment by Katie M. — July 25, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  8. I don’t know if you are taking any requests, but I would be interested in how the parable of the sower fits in with where you are going.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 25, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

  9. “what do you think is the root cause?”

    Could it possibly be what they find on the Internet?

    Comment by ed42 — July 25, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

  10. Our ward is The Best Ward in the mission, according to various missionaries. They love to serve here, because of the reputation for baptisms. Last year, the ward had FORTY – EIGHT convert baptisms. Still active? Maybe 12. The biggest number is children under age 11, some with distant LDS grandparents, some with single moms who work 3 jobs and have zero interest in any religion, but seek stability for their kids. As Primary leaders, it’s a huge headache! 14 of those baptisms landed in the CTR-9 class. The children come 1-3 times, have no idea how to integrate into Primary or Church, and of course have no transportation. How can they possibly be expected to hang on, to keep themselves motivated to attend Church? I remarked once in ward council how lopsided the numbers are, and asked how these kids were supposed to keep covenants with zero family support. They’re **children!** I was soundly scolded by missionaries and the ward mission leader, who insisted that “keeping the ward’s reputation up was more important because God sorts these things out.”

    I think a minimum level of potential success is not a bad idea.

    Comment by deb — July 25, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

  11. deb- We’ve had similar issues in our wards, but our current bishop is pretty wise and I’ve seen him push back hard on the baptism of children without parents and on the baptism of the handicapped. He’s pretty awesome in that regard.

    ed42- No, not really. Most of our converts are not going inactive due to “anti-mormon literature” at all.

    Eric- The Parable of the Sower is mentioned in every book by other churches I’ve read, so sure, I can do that.

    Katie M. – I agree. I think a big challenge the church has is that I’ve seen many members who love the church, but are somewhat embarrassed by it.

    Mike S.- While I totally accept your comment as acceptable, because I opened myself up to it in asking for problems. I do have to say that some of the things you find unappealing, I would consider key differentiators that are vital to the church’s brand. I will say in my experience, no one “runs things by” the stake president, at least not very often. I have never been involved with a church or community with more different charity and service programs, I am not a woman so won’t comment on women’s garments, but my wife has no problems with cap sleeves, the shunning is an issue, and the WofW became prominent in it’s modern form 100 years ago! It’s a key component of the church’s modern brand. It does limit the church, but I do believe it is God’s will for me. Adherence to the Word of Wisdom has changed my life almost as much as Faith in the Atonement has, in terms of who I am. So there you go.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 26, 2010 @ 7:08 am

  12. I wonder about the changes in stake missionary work over the last couple decades. In 1986, stake seventies quorums, which had a special responsiblity for missionary work, were disbanded. In 2002, stake missions were disbanded, stake mission presidencies and stake missionaries were released, and their responsibilities were placed on the bishops along with everything else bishops are responsible for. There used to be a lot of people in a stake with stewardships; now only bishops and parents do.

    The calling of stake missionary once came with the expectation that 10 hours a week would be devoted to the calling; a generation ago they were the heart of proselytizing within an organized stake. They would tract or do whatever the work was to find investigators. Today, ward missionaries mostly give rides to the real missionaries and sit in Gospel Essentials class with whoever may have shown up. Ward missionary is also a calling often given to new members without much or any guidance in fulfilling the call.

    Looking at changes in local missionary work, I see specific responsibilities that used to be held by seventies, stake mission presidencies, and stake missionaries have been diffused by giving those responsiblities to 1) the general membership, and 2) the bishops. In the first case, when everyone is responsible, then no one is. The second case, when everything is your responsibility, then nothing is.,17884,5107-1,00.html

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 26, 2010 @ 7:18 am

  13. John, I guess my question is whether the 1986 change or the 2002 change made a difference on retention. When I joined the church (1998), Stake Missionaries only really taught the new member discussions and came to Gospel Principles.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 26, 2010 @ 8:19 am

  14. I’ve wondered what would happen if the church stopped collecting and talking about numbers. If we stopped comparing our baptism numbers to theirs…stopped reporting home teaching numbers and just chatted with home teachers about their families…stopped recognizing so-called high achievers, or high producers. Maybe everything would just stop and the church would dry up, but I don’t think so. I think I would like the effect it would have. I think more baptisms would be real, more home teaching would be for the right reasons, and more gospel living would actually occur. Maybe I’m naive.

    Comment by Hal — July 26, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  15. Is it just me, or is the post’s title of “mouse trap” somewhat cringe worthy relative to the topic?

    I think that missionaries are incentivized inappropriately in many ways. Especially considering their age and maturity. They will tend to get quick baptisms over better long term baptisms simply due to the very nature of how they live and think. The primary effort really needs to be by the members but I think they just haven’t stepped up to the job.

    All that said, in one sense we can only provide opportunities. It’s like college. It’s very easy to graduate from college and have learned little. But it’s also easy to go to college and learn tons – especially stuff outside of your classes. It’s an opportunity you can make use of or not. If someones activity depends so much upon massive changes in the missionary program then part of me wonders if we aren’t attempting to live up to that “mouse trap” part of the post title. An inappropriately since missionary work should not be about anything more than providing opportunities to people to take hold of the gospel. If we do more than that I think we cross the line so that we are infringing on agency in some way.

    That said we should be social. But not for some sense of numbers but because that’s something we simply should be doing period. And we should be just as social with non-members. Once again not because of some numbers game but because that’s part of being a good person.

    All that said I think some encouragement is necessary. Were the Church to stop emphasizing home teaching I think few would do it. Our human nature tends towards sloth in some ways. A little encouragement helps us lengthen our stride.

    Comment by Clark — July 26, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  16. To add, I recognize the problems for members. On my street here in Provo there are far more non-members than members. But most of them simply don’t want anything to do with proselytizing. Being their friend and helping them realize our character without being pushy is (I think) the appropriate response. But at best that is a long term conversion principle.

    Comment by Clark — July 26, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  17. Ouch Clark- re the title. I’ll change it.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 26, 2010 @ 11:01 am

  18. We can’t expect active converts if we baptize inactive investigators.

    Comment by KLC — July 26, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  19. A simple experiment that might garner different results than the current missionary program is this: Dear Elder SoandSo, You have been called to serve in the SuchandSuch Ward for a period of two years.

    Two years in one ward: serious “relationships of trust,” no rush to baptize before transfers, plenty of time to foster new members, intimate knowledge of inactives within the ward boundaries, the burden of dealing with baptisms gone wrong (i.e. if the companionship baptizes a wishy-washy person, they have to deal with that baptism for a good long time and not just transfer out and forget that it ever happened), opportunities to hold callings in the ward, force 19 and 20 year old kids to not burn bridges with each other, ward members, and local citizens since there is no way off the island through transfers.

    There would be downsides, sure, but based upon my mission experience, downsides define the mission experience in the day to day perspective while upsides surface years afterward.

    Just an idea.

    Comment by oudenos — July 26, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  20. oudenos, don’t we already have ward members to do all that? I guess the difference would be having someone with a longer-term perspective who also cares a lot about missionary work.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 26, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

  21. Ways to improve retention:

    1. Require a complete reading of the Book of Mormon and the New Testament.
    2. Stop telling missionaries their job is to baptize. Tell them instead that their job is to bring people closer to Christ, which doesn’t always mean “baptism.” Eventually, yes, but for many people, that is years away. Baby-steps.
    3. Have all members stop being “weird.” Stop dressing alike, stop using strange language, stop pestering, stop hovering, stop suffocating others with “kindness.” In other words, require that everyone just be normal, act like they would if they were at work. We are a weird group of people, and it spooks a lot of people away. It would spook me away, had I not been born into the church. It is beginning to spook me now.
    4. Pep up General Conference a bit. The solemn voices, the funereal music, the brightly-lit speakers against the field of darkness. Five or ten minutes of this is conducive to the Spirit. Eight hours of it is spooky. And frankly, boring.
    5. Reign in the “testimony meeting renegades.” We all know who they are in our respective wards. Anybody who approaches the pulpit with a book should be stopped.

    That is a start.

    Comment by sam — July 26, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

  22. So Matt, in my last letter to my son who is serving in Brazil I sent him (most of) your post above and asked him to comment. Here is what he said:

    Batatais has an activity percentage of about 8% (that is, 92% of the members are inactive) in Bebedouro and São Carlos it is higher, but still not very good. [He remarked that your retention figures mirrored his experience there.] The only really mut(e)able [not sure what he means here] statistics are teaching and ward missionary work. The stronger and better the members are in home teaching statistics and referrals, the higher the retention, and the better the teaching of the missionaries (referential to how well they explain the level of committment, which usually isn’t very well, because if you explain such to investigators, you are likely to lose them) the greater understanding of what is expected. His {your] description of missionary work in Texas is a stunningly accurate picture of Brazil (from what I have seen so far).

    Comment by WVS — July 26, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

  23. Thanks Matt (#17). I know the connotation wasn’t intended. But it really did have a negative vibe. Sort of entrapment vs. persuasion.

    Comment by Clark — July 26, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  24. Tangent on “mutable”: I suppose this word in Portguese is about the same as in Spanish, in which case it means “changing.” I remember long ago that level of missionary estrangement from English where I sometimes wasn’t sure if cognates that I was now used to in Spanish meant the same thing in English or even existed in my old mother tongue.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 27, 2010 @ 7:02 am

  25. The prayers offered by the Saints, in church and the temple, are indicative of the real problem: We are praying for the missionaries to do our job.

    Comment by Thomas Taylor — July 29, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

  26. As they say, faith without works is dead.

    Comment by Clark — July 29, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

  27. I just got back into town but I had noticed the original title. Thanks for changing it Matt — it was cringe worthy.

    This sentence from the post stood out to me: What are we doing wrong and how do we repent of it?

    Are you certain God is unhappy with the way things are going currently? If he were unhappy why wouldn’t he just instruct his living prophets how to fix the problem?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  28. That’s not good logic Geoff. Think of racism in the Church and how long it took to change. Often there are things God doesn’t like but he wants us to recognize it and change it.

    Comment by Clark — July 29, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

  29. The logic works fine depending on the assumptions one is using Clark. It appears to me that the assumption in this conversation is that God is unhappy with the current convert retention rate in the church. I am just questioning how reliable that assumption is.

    (We make a lot of assumptions about what God wants… I have been trying to figure out a good post on that subject.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

  30. Great post. Always an interesting debate. I figure you might want to know that we highlighted your article on our podcast this week:

    Retention is so difficult and complicated. I don’t think there is any sort of panacea for it, but I do think that too much emphasis is placed on baptism and not enough on retention, especially on the end of missionaries.

    Comment by Geoff O — August 2, 2010 @ 12:37 am

  31. Please believe that I mean no disrespect with my comment. While I am not LDS, I do have a possible answer to your question. I volunteer with Truth in Love Ministry, a Christian Ministry that reaches out to Mormons. Over the past six or seven years, our experience has been that LDS Missionaries often don’t teach accurate LDS doctrine to their prospects. Is it possible that many converts have no clue as to what the LDS Church officially teaches? Could it be that once the converts hear correct LDS doctrine, that they feel they were misled into being baptized?

    We have corresponded with hundreds of people (either at Seminars or via email) who have had LDS Missionaries come into their home. We hear the same thing, over and over again–that these LDS Missionaries claim the Mormon Church teaches basically the same thing as other Christian churches. Do you know if this is a strategy of Church leaders, as a way to give prospects “milk before meat” so to speak?

    I have been surprised that in many situations, the Missionaries don’t even give the prospects the Missionary Pamphlets, which do accurately teach LDS doctrine. In several situations, I have had to mail these pamphlets to people who are honestly trying to figure out what the Mormon Church officially teaches.

    I have been wondering if the Missionaries are intentionally keeping their prospects in the dark about what the Mormon Church teaches. Do you think that strategically, it is something that is done so as to get more baptisms?

    In general I have been surprised that many LDS members don’t really know what the Church teaches. I was born and raised in a strong LDS family. All my life growing up my father was Bishop, Stake President and Stake Patriarch. He made sure that we knew our Churches teachings. I know that this year’s Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum is Gospel Principles. That Manual has always been used for new converts. Do you think that Gospel Principles is being used to make sure that LDS members know the basics?

    I guess in responding to your thread, I also asked a lot of questions. I pray that you know I ask these things sincerely. God’s blessings.

    Comment by Becki Detro — August 4, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

  32. Becki: our experience has been that LDS Missionaries often don’t teach accurate LDS doctrine to their prospects

    I’m afraid you have been misled Becki. The missionaries do teach accurate LDS doctrine. The beef that anti-Mormons have is that missionaries don’t teach the far out Mormon speculations that all y’all anti-Mormons wish they would teach. Mormonism leaves a lot of latitude for metaphysical exploration and guessing and speculation but that does not mean all speculations fall under the heading of “official doctrines”. It just means that we admit there are some things God has yet to reveal.

    But there are always anti-Mormon “ministries” like yours out there eager to freak new converts out by convincing them that something Elder so-and-so said 100+ years ago is the true secret doctrine of Mormonism.

    In general I have been surprised that many LDS members don’t really know what the Church teaches

    Likewise I am always surprised at how many people in your position are Calvinists or at least partial-Calvinists (as are most Evangelicals I have met) but fail to recognize that the God described in Calvinism is a horrible, vicious, sadistic being. See here for more on that. It’s weird that anyone would believe in the God described in Calvinism huh? Yet huge numbers of Evangelicals do. I suppose that is because many evangelical Christians don’t really know what their church teaches.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 5, 2010 @ 10:47 am

  33. Becki, I have to agree with Geoff here. In my experience, we are not losing many people to other churches, but rather to being unchurched. I don’t think Doctrine really comes into it.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 5, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  34. Geoff,

    Wow, I guess I should have given you an example of what I meant. I agree with you 100%. Many anti-Mormons are “out there eager to freak new converts out by convincing them that something Elder so-and-so said 100+ years ago is the true secret doctrine of Mormonism.” I am in complete disagreement with these so-called Christian Ministries that don’t have a clue as to what the LDS Church really teaches. One such example is the horrendous video “The Godmakers”.

    I guess that you don’t know anything about the Ministry that I volunteer with. We at Truth in Love Ministry do not even read things that are not current and official LDS literature. I have a data base of LDS quotes taken from the four year LDS curriculum. I often have to use those manuals when I witness to Mormons–because many Mormons don’t know current official LDS teachings. On my blog, the only quotes I use that are not found on are ones from “The Miracle of Forgiveness”. That book, while it it not considered official, is quoted in many official LDS Manuals, books and magazines.

    I was merely to basic LDS doctrine. Things like what a person has to do to gain eternal life; or, be forgiven of a sin. If you notice, that is why I said that I mail LDS prospects the Missionary Pamphlets. I buy the LDS book True to the Faith by the hundreds because I hand them out at Seminars when I teach official LDS doctrine.

    I am sorry that I offended you. I was merely trying to offer my opinion as to the dilemma that you were discussing. As to Calvanist beliefs, I don’t really know what a Calvanist believes. I use the Bible to test what I hear in Church, as well as to learn what God wants to teach me.

    Comment by Becki Detro — August 5, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

  35. Matt,

    I agree that the LDS Church is “not losing many people to other churches, but rather to being unchurched.”

    I was speaking mostly about converts who don’t really stick around for very long. I recently met a young woman from South Africa who had come to Idaho as a Nanny for an LDS family. The missionaries started teaching her the discussions and she was baptized within three weeks. After about two months, she realized that what the missionaries had taught her was not true. Mostly she was surprised with the LDS doctrine that eternal life is gained through faith AND works. She had specifically asked the missionaries and they had told her that Salvation was completely a free gift given to believers.

    I am not wanting to debate whether works are necessary, I am merely pointing out that she felt she had been misled by the missionaries who had taught her the LDS gospel. She left the Mormon Church and started coming to our Church.

    I do agree that for Mormons who have been in the church a long time and leave the Church, they do not leave because of doctrine. And, there are many who become unchurched. I am an example of that. For me, doctrine had nothing to do with why I left the church. I spent nine years unchurched.

    Comment by Becki Detro — August 5, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  36. Becki: After about two months, she realized that what the missionaries had taught her was not true. Mostly she was surprised with the LDS doctrine that eternal life is gained through faith AND works.

    I’m calling BS on you again Becki. It sounds to me like there was an easily resolvable issue about how faith and works are inseparably connected in that case. No doubt you and your anti-Mormon pals were thrilled to jump on the fears of this girl and scare her out of her wits about the church…

    I don’t really know what a Calvanist believes. I use the Bible to test what I hear in Church, as well as to learn what God wants to teach me.

    Then your pastor probably preaches the blatant falsehoods of Calvinism to you and your congregation every week and you probably swallow it hook, line, and sinker. (Your faith and works comment supports that assumption as well). But as they say, ignorance is bliss.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 5, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

  37. Geoff,

    Thank you so much for reminding me of why I left the Mormon Church. Apparently it is not possible to have a civil conversation on this blog. I am very sorry that I thought it would be.

    Comment by Becki Detro — August 6, 2010 @ 12:10 am

  38. Becki,

    She had specifically asked the missionaries and they had told her that Salvation was completely a free gift given to believers.

    Exactly as stated in the Book of Mormon (2 Ne 2:4). Sorry Becki, but however well intentioned you are, your comment makes it fairly transparent that the lack of theological depth in new members is something you prey on rather than lament. Seriously, a “faith vs. works” example of a new member being “misled” by missionaries?

    Comment by Jacob J — August 6, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  39. Geoff J,
    You’re suppose to thank people for being gracious enough to kindly talk down to you.

    I’m curious as to which doctrine our missionaries should teach if from your position it’s all a farce anyways?

    Comment by Riley — August 6, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

  40. Nice post Matt W. I like it that you are exploring this question.

    Becki- Don’t feel too offended– Geoff actually took it easy on you. I mean The Miracle of Forgiveness? Faith vs. works?? You present such an easy target it’s almost adorable.

    While it’s nice for you that you found a group of like-minded people to hang out with, what’s not so nice is that its whole existence is based on destroying someone else’s faith.

    I love my church. It helps me raise great kids, keep my marriage thriving, give meaningful service to others, and have a happier life. Even more important, it has taught me who I am, it has given my life meaning, it has given me hope for the hereafter, it has brought me to a greater appreciation for the atonement of Jesus Christ, and for his love for all of us.

    I find it just sad for you to gloat about depriving a new convert of the opportunity to find out for herself through her own experience what the church is all about.

    Comment by C Jones — August 8, 2010 @ 9:16 am

  41. C Jones, thanks. There is a part 3 in the works, but I am still thinking it through.

    Becki, sorry dear, as an Returned Missionary, I am fairly confident there is no sneaking around. Maybe the real issue is checking to so how in line your father’s beliefs were with what is now generally held as LDS teachings. A lot has changed in the last 30 years, and I’m afraid quite a few people are stuck in the past.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 8, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

  42. My feeling is that people leave the church for various reasons. But rather than talking about what causes people to leave the church, I think it would be more productive to talk about one of the most effective means of keeping them here: deep friendships with other church members. I think that because of changes in society (inside and outside the church) we are increasingly having difficulty forming deep friendships. What I mean by a deep friendship is having a friend who you KNOW will always tell you the truth, someone who will be there when you need them, not just because they are assigned to be there, but because they actually love you in the Christ-like sense. This type of friendship can happen when people are introduced through church programs, but it doesn’t happen because of them. It happens because people realize the need and choose to create that type of friendship. I am certain that an individual’s ability to be this type of friend is a spiritual gift. Without this type of friend, when we run into a problem, there is no one we can trust to help us solve it. And there are problems that we ALL run into that we are not capable of solving by ourselves. A person may leave the church because he is exposed to anti-mormon literature, or because he develops a word-of-wisdom problem, or because he doesn’t feel the church is providing the meaning to his life he needs, or just because he doesn’t have a ride to church. These and many other problems can be solved or at least placed in the proper perspective by this type of friend. Perhaps Becki would still be an active mormon if she had had a friend like this.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 9, 2010 @ 10:08 am

  43. If you really want to know why people leave the church, the answers are all over the ex-mormon web sites. For example, the one below from . They aren’t getting what they need from the church. But at least the church has recently acknowledged that there is a problem by expanding the three-fold mission of the church to include a fourth item, providing for the needs of the members.

    I drive by an LDS Church everyday to work. Today I started thinking back to the early 60’s. Back then I was in the mission with Tommy and Ballard as Mission Presidents. The Church was the focal point of my family and community. I loved Church then. It was a family and a community effort. I truly believed the teachings and what was taught. We had road shows, firesides, lots of activities. You could stop in any time of the day or night and someone was there in the building, even the custodian, and they would sit down and talk to you.

    In the 70’s we had great single activities, etc. Church was just the place to be. Then things changed. Correlation. Budgets, cutting back on meetings, etc. 3 hour block program. I had just finished my Masters Program and said that the church was doomed. I was right.

    People stopped having time for talking. It was rush rush rush for the 3 hour block. Executive secretaries took the place of personal contact with Bishops and Stake Presidents. You could not meet GA’s anymore unless you were in the SP. etc.

    Then the 90’s with standardized lesson manuals and standardized classes. The Church grew by lots of members but no one had any time for anyone. You could not get answers to questions. Then it was all focus on the family. If you were single you were a cast away. Primary did not seem like fun anymore. Nothing seemed liked fun. At General Conference the talks got worse and less informative. It was pay, obey and follow. People grew distant in my mind.

    Today I drive by LDS Churches, as we have lots in our city. Few cars at night. Closed and locked tight in the daytime. If you do your own studying you come up with lots of questions but no one wants to answer.

    I can see why people are leaving. The new members are not taught any depth about the gospel then get blown away by what the older members talk about. The older members are feeling less and less connected to the church. There are few spiritual stories ever told any more in Sacrament meetings. There is very little said about personal struggle like back in the 60’s when people struggled to come into the church.

    The lack of leadership at the top is deafening. Just like the deaf sounds I hear as I drive by the LDS churches day after day.

    What happened folks. When I was 18 I thought nothing would every stop the church or how I felt about it. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Now if I go to Church with my wife I sit there and feel sorry for the older folks who have limited themselves to paying tithing, going to the temple and denying what they see around them.

    It is a very sad state of affairs.

    Of course I am a sinner; I have lost the spirit I guess. I have had too many wild things happen to me in my life. I am well educated. I ask questions. I look for answers. The answers are denied by the top. They have to know. BUT I am not empty like the churches I see as I drive by them. Life is good and wonderful. But I still wonder what happened!!!

    Comment by Bill B. — November 27, 2010 @ 7:39 am