The Future of Mormon Missionary Work

2) The weaning of slow-growing congregations from dependence on full-time missionaries and transition to sustainable models of indigenous member-missionary service will be necessary to free up missionary manpower to enter new areas. The present paradigm that virtually every established LDS congregation needs to have full-time missionaries assigned is somewhat akin to mobilizing the army to harvest potatoes and construct public works: appropriate in an emergency, but not a practical long-term policy in the face of limited manpower, underutilized outreach opportunities, and the needs-resource mismatch between established and unreached areas. Increased missionary time spent with members has offered little evidence of increased member-missionary involvement or higher growth. In many cases, numbers of missionaries have been cut considerably without decreasing growth; this process is likely to continue.

3) Consistent implementation of higher standards is needed to ensure that converts are well integrated into local congregations through regular church attendance and member fellowshipping before baptism, and that they have developed gospel habits of daily scripture reading and have firmly overcome substance abuse. Rushed-baptism approaches based on the tenet that merely "feeling the Spirit" was enough to gain a testimony have resulted in high rates of attrition, as baptized converts were often unprepared to serve in the church or to implement gospel teachings in daily life. Transient foreign missionaries have tended to be less realistic in decisions about convert preparation than local members with a vested interest in building strong indigenous congregations. Recent directives have emphasized the importance of church attendance and convert preparation prior to baptism, but an ongoing institutional focus on monthly baptismal goals and official lesson plans geared toward obtaining a baptismal commitment on the second lesson -- before most investigators have even attended church -- send mixed messages. Challenges of high turnover and low retention will not be overcome without consistent directives emphasizing the necessity of gospel habits and deemphasizing baptismal dates, commitments, goals, and quotas. These steps reduce pressure for investigators, reinforce missionaries' primary responsibility to help investigators to develop sustainable lifelong habits of spirituality, and lead to more firm and lasting commitments from those who become Mormons.

4) The 21st century will see continued development and refinement of Mormon humanitarian efforts. The past several years have seen the launching of LDS Philanthropies and the organization of Mormon Helping Hands, a worldwide community service initiative of Mormons to improve their communities. The Mormon Church continues to contribute generously to short-term disaster relief and long-term infrastructure, education, and national development projects. Although LDS involvement in such projects primarily reflects a core commitment to Christian service, such activities have sometimes opened doors and fostered receptivity to the church's message.

5) The LDS Church has increasingly turned to the internet and other media to proclaim its message. Recent programs such as the "Truth Restored" media initiative and the integration of member profiles and testimonies on signify an increasing emphasis on involving members in outreach online as well as within their communities.

6) Long-term investment not only in missions and congregations, but in international Mormon social and educational institutions, will be necessary to strengthen international congregations. In an Americentric church, many promising international Latter-day Saints from Europe and Asia emigrate to the West for education or marriage; few return to their native lands except to visit. This dynamic saps strength from international congregations and makes self-sufficiency elusive. The potential creation of regional Mormon institutions of higher education similar to BYU-Hawaii or BYU-Idaho in international cities such as Seoul, Kiev, Frankfurt, Manila, Tokyo, and Accra, may one day address multiple needs. Such centers could reduce the impetus for young Mormons to emigrate to the West, provide social opportunities for young Latter-day Saints, foster education, strengthen indigenous congregations, and serve in outreach to non-Mormons.


David Stewart, M.D. is an orthopedic surgeon who has studied the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in more than thirty countries. Dr. Stewart is the author of The Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work as well as several articles and book chapters on LDS growth. He writes for, a website on international LDS growth, and is currently compiling an almanac on the international LDS Church.

8/9/2010 4:00:00 AM
  • Future of Mormonism
  • Conversion
  • Globalization
  • Mormonism
  • About
    Close Ad