Redefining Missionary Work Throughout The Church

In recent years it seems that one of the greatest priorities of the prophets has been that of Missionary Work.  The Lord indeed is Hastening His Work—the Work of Salvation—but how can we help Him in this Hastening?  Obviously sharing the Gospel is nothing new, but how, to whom, and where we share the Gospel is rapidly expanding into broader horizons.  Missionaries can teach over Skype, Facebook, and via other electronic mediums to reach people across the globe.  The use of iPads by full-time missionaries has brought people to the waters of baptism.  In Mosiah 3:20 King Benjamin makes a remarkable prophecy that “the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.”  He could not have imagined in 125 BC that there would be technologies such as iPads and the internet that would allow this knowledge to be spread.  The world has seen the fulfillment of this prophecy in our lifetimes—all you need is an internet connection in the jungles of the Amazon, the depths of the Congo, or in the science stations in the wastes of Antarctica and you can be taught by missionaries who have been called of God.

The Church has over 85,000 full-time missionaries in the Church scouring the world for people to teach.  But are the members of the Church pulling their weight?  As we listened to the statistical report this April General Conference, many of us were disappointed to hear that the number of converts wasn’t as high as we had hoped with the increased number of missionaries.  The problem is finding the people to teach.

In 1999 President Gordon B. Hinckley in a special broadcast, much like the Hastening of the Work of Salvation Broadcast in 2013, challenged the membership of the Church to exercise concerted effort to double the number of converts:

“My Brethren of the Twelve, who are deeply concerned about our missionary work throughout the world, have asked that I share with you some feelings that I have on this most important matter.”

President Hinckley continued,

“From the beginning of this work, missionary service has been a four-step process:

  1. Finding the investigator.
  1. Teaching the investigator.
  1. Baptizing the worthy convert.
  1. Fellowshipping and strengthening the new member.

“Last year there were approximately 300,000 convert baptisms throughout the Church. This is tremendously significant. This is the equivalent of 120 new stakes of 2,500 members each. Think of that: 120 new stakes in a single year! It is wonderful. But it is not enough. I am not being unrealistic when I say that with concerted effort, with recognition of the duty which falls upon each of us as members of the Church, and with sincere prayer to the Lord for help, we could double that number. The big initial task is first to find interested investigators. So many of us look upon missionary work as simply tracting. Everyone who is familiar with this work knows there is a better way. That way is through the members of the Church. Whenever there is a member who introduces an investigator, there is an immediate support system. The member bears testimony of the truth of the work. He is anxious for the happiness of his investigator friend. He becomes excited as that friend makes progress in learning the gospel.

“The full-time missionaries may do the actual teaching, but the member, wherever possible, will back up that teaching with the offering of his home to carry on this missionary service. He will bear sincere testimony of the divinity of the work. He will be there to answer questions when the missionaries are not around. He will be a friend to the convert who is making a big and often difficult change.”1

In 1998 there were 299,314 converts.  Church membership has increased by 42.96% since 1999.  It would make logical sense that as Church membership increased, the number of converts would increase proportionately.  That has not been the case. In the years that followed the Church did not rise to the challenge—in fact, in 1999 we broke 300 K, at 306,171; however, in 2000 the number of converts began to decline.  The following table2 shows the number of converts each reporting year since 1998, compared to the number of full-time missionaries, total Church Membership, missionary-convert ratio, and Member-convert ratio (pay particular attention to the number of converts per member of the Church):

 

Reporting year Number of Converts Number of Missionaries Missionary-convert Ratio Total

Church Membership

Member-Convert Ratio
1984 192,983 27,655 6.98 5,650,000 .034156
1985 197,640 29,295 6.75 5,920,000 .033385
1986 216,210 31,803 6.80 6,170,000 .035042
1987 227,284 34,750 6.54 6,440,000 .035293
1988 256,515 36,132 7.10 6,720,000 .038172
1989 318,940 39,739 8.03 7,300,000 .043690
1990 330,877 43,651 7.58 7,760,000 .042639
1991 297,770 43,395 6.86 8,120,000 .036671
1992 274,477 46,025 5.96 8,406,895 .032649
1993 304,808 48,708 6.26 8,696,224 .035051
1994 300,730 47,311 6.36 9,024,569 .033323
1995 304,330 48,631 6.26 9,340,898 .032580
1996 321,385 52,938 6.07 9,694,549 .033151
1997 317,798 56,531 5.62 10,070,524 .031557
1998 299,134 57,853 5.17 10,354,241 .028890
1999 306,171 58,583 5.23 10,752,986 .028473
2000 273,973 60,784 4.51 11,068,861 .024752
2001 292,612 60,850 4.81 11,394,522 .025680
2002 283,138 61,638 4.59 11,721,548 .024156
2003 242,923 56,237 4.32 11,985,254 .020268
2004 241,239 51,067 4.72 12,275,822 .019206
2005 243,108 52,060 4.67 12,560,869 .019354
2006 272,845 53,164 5.13 12,868,606 .021202
2007 279,218 52,686 5.30 13,193,999 .021162
2008 265,593 52,494 5.06 13,508,509 .019661
2009 280,106 51,736 5.41 13,824,854 .020261
2010 272,814 52,225 5.22 14,131,467 .019305
2011 281,312 55,410 5.08 14,441,346 .019480
2012 272,330 58,990 4.62 14,782,473 .018422
2013 282,945 83,035 3.41 15,082,028 .018760
2014 296,803 85,147 3.49 15,372,337 .019308

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Note that the height of the ratios is in 1989, and in 2014 those ratios have decreased by more than half even as Church membership has more than doubled since then. Missionary work is not about the numbers, it is about bringing the Children of God into the fold; however, the trend of a decreasing convert to member ratio is still distressing.  Is it because fewer members of the Church are sharing the Gospel?  Are the same members sharing the Gospel and the rest of the Church hasn’t caught on yet?  Is the world getting increasingly wicked, thus making it harder for investigators to leave the Babylon of the World? Or is it that there are only 230,000- 290,000 elect that can join the Church a year? It is impossible to determine the exact reasons why these numbers have been dropping.  However, the number of full-time missionaries increased by 53.67% from 2011 to 2014, and the number of converts has increased by only 5.51%–which suggests that the largest factor in bringing new sheep into Christ’s fold is not the number of missionaries.  The greatest impact on the number of converts is the dedication, effort, and faith of the members of the Church.

Over fifteen years later we have yet to follow what the President Hinckley (the man whom we chose to sustain as the Lord’s mouthpiece on earth) asked.  As we choose to sustain the living prophet, the Lord has promised that if we shall “give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.” D&C 21:4-6