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Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Statistical Mystery

I'd really like some feedback. Honestly, I'm very interested in hearing some ideas or theories that explain something peculiar that I have observed/discovered. It's something rather depressing. And maybe alarming. However, I have no doubt that Church leaders are aware of this already. They have to be! I'm just not sure if anyone has publicized the issue or offered a solution.

When I joined the Church in 1981 I remember feeling a marvelous sense of pride in the LDS claim that they were the fastest growing (generally recognized) Church (statistically speaking) on the face of the earth. So I'm wondering...is that still true?

There seemed to be a different attitude/spirit/emphasis among Church members back then than there is today. In 1981, when I first joined, the Church statisticial report (which is always, oddly, one of my favorite moments in any April General Conference) stated that there were about 229,000 convert baptisms that year. We were just shy of passing the 5,000,000 mark in overall Church membership. And there were about 29,000 full time missionaries.

Now for the bad news. Or unexpected news. Or sad news. Take it how you want. Last year the Church reported about 265,000 convert baptisms. Yet we have well over 13,000,000 members, and about 52,000 full-time missionaries.

So that's almost twice as many missionaries, THREE times as many members, and only a slight percentage increase in convert baptisms. I'm no mathematician, so I'll leave it someone else to figure out accurate numbers, but just based on a simple eyeball estimate, one might think the Church should have had around 500,000 to 700,000 convert baptisms last year. That is, if trends had continued as they were back in the 70s and 80s. What changed? Is it just that Spencer W. Kimball's "every member a missionary" thing has been forgotten?

Now I have my own instinctive feelings as to why things are different. One idea is this:

Before I joined the Church I must have had 50 people (no joke!) "bear their testimony" to me. Friends in Junior High, students at BYU, my High School seminary teacher, my High School civics teacher, BYU professiors, roommates...even two strangers who were handing out Books of Mormon when I attended the first Sundance Institute in the summer of 1981 when when I was 17 years old.

I don't think that kind of stuff happens anymore. Or at least not nearly as much as it once did. Somebody--whether society, our Church teachers--SOME MYSTERIOUS FACTOR has made us feel much more reluctant to bear testimony outside of safe places like Sacrament Meeting. What made the situation different in the 70s and 80s? Why, as a Church, are we much more inclined to leave missionary work to the full-time missionaries? Basic psychology would tell you that this wouldn't be as effective as testimony bearing by a normal member. See, a missionary is SUPPOSED to be forward and obnoxious. People expect it. Consequently, they "steel" themselves against it. But the testimony of a friend or co-worker or acquaintance--that's powerful stuff! Or at least it was for me.

All I can say is that I'm soooo grateful for those members of the Church who put themselves on the line and bravely faced ridicule and rejection to tell me about the Church way back when. Their words resonated inside me. How could they know their Church was true? They just "believed" it right? Nope, they were adamant. They knewwwwww it. They told me all about Moroni 10:3-5. And this made me want to know. If they could know, why couldn't I? So I found out for myself. And lo and behold, I got an answer. Exactly as the scripture promised.

Well, anyway, if anyone can tell me what's changed, or why it changed, or how (if we want) we can get back to how it was before, I'm very interested hear your ideas and participate in the discussion.

(c) Copyright 2009, Chris Heimerdinger


  1. Even though I am currently the age you were then, I find the trend fascinating and scary all at once. I have been a member all my life and, I admit, I'm a little scared to bear my testimony to my friends. I think that now we hear all the things against the church and instead of trying to quietly and calmly correct misinformation, we back out of the topics and avoid gospel discussions.

    I admit, I don't bear my testimony often outside or inside the church, but I know I have one. I find that more and more often, though, my friends are asking me questions and they seem genuinely interested in the answers I give them.

    I live in Montana, and there are many churches in town that criticize and slander the "Mormons". One of my friends in particular has given me and another of my member friends a hard time, saying that we believe in a false prophet , the Book of Mormon isn't true, etc. I admit now, my response was not to my liking. I got extraordinarily angry, as this was through texting and I had no opportunity to say anything. I finally told her that if she really wanted to know what I believed I'd talk to her, but if not, then the conversation was closed. Permanently. Today, I am not proud of that "discussion" and as soon as school starts again in two weeks, I plan to talk to her about it.

    In reference to my other friend (the member), she did the same thing to him. He "fought back" which I'm not sure was the appropriate response. He provided scriptural references to prove the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and made some interesting analogies to her. She has been blindly criticizing us and the things that he said to her cowed her a little I think. But that's not what I want either.

    I have spent most of the summer thinking of how I can talk to her, but still can't think of certain ways to get through. How did your friends talk to you and what sort of questions did you have?

  2. I think for myself there are two reasons it has been more difficult:

    1. Most of my contact with non-members happens during the day, at work. The workplace has become somewhat hostile towards this type of conversation. I was once told by a boss (who was a member!) that if anybody in the office was to "try to convert" the non-members who worked with us, we would be in trouble. There are so many sticky Human Resources laws now governing what can and can't be done in the workplace that I am hesitant to venture too far into the realm of religious conversation, unless it is a unique situation, and it is the other person who brings up the subject.

    2. But I don't hide the fact that I am LDS. I had a conversation just last week with a co-worker about the Word of Wisdom over dinner. For as many times as these opportunities come up, I am personally finding fewer people taking the conversation any further. Perhaps the people I am talking to are feeling just as hesitant as I am.

    Have other people found that religion is a subject people don't talk as much about anymore? I love to talk about religion. And I know I could do better. But keeping the conversation going seems to be more difficult. It is entirely possible that the problem is mine, however. Maybe I have become more quiet.

  3. I read this and have been contemplating my personal thoughts and feelings towards sharing my testimony. And I can't figure out if it is pride or fear that prevents me more???

    PREIDE: I had a friend in high school that fit perfectly into the whole "the Church is true, but the members might not be". It became very hard for me to be around this person. They would walk up to strangers on the street and tell them how smoking was wrong and bad and that Heavenly Father asked us not to hurt our bodies. I would be so embarrassed. This person would not be friends with some of our other friends because they would find out they had tried drugs once, or drank. Very judgmental, very unforgiving, very unchristlike. This persons manners and attitude toward them didn't help their attitude toward the church. I know we need to be strong and stand up for what we believe in and know to be true, but this persons example of what not to do made me even more reluctant to say anything at all. I didn't want to be like them, I knew I would bring those friends to the church simply by being a good friend and refusing the drugs, sex, and alcohol that was offered me. I would be the EXAMPLE not the VOICE.

    FEAR: I grew up in a household where testimonies were shared in FHE and that was really all. I cannot recall in my 28 years either of my parents standing in sacrament to share their testimonies. Not that my parents didn't encourage us, they just were not the best examples of doing it themselves. The one time I tried at girls camp I was in such a state of emotion that I couldn't get anything out and my leader gently sat me down and said perhaps I could try again later. I haven't tried to share my testimony in public since.

    I try to be a good person through example, but I do not think this enough. You are right about the numbers being sad news. We are becoming an idle people and this is one of the ways. Not that this is any kind of excuse, but I feel sometimes that when I meet people here in Utah that are not members, they have something against the church and are not afraid to let you know. They go off on it like it's the plague! I stood up a little to someone once and defending tithing and bore my testimony a little to the blessings I know that me and my family have received, and this person never spoke of it again to me. But it's hard to know if and in what way I have affected them.

    I don't know the answer, but I do know that I need to be better that just being an example. So I take your post as a challenge Brother Heimerdinger, I am going to try and share with someone my beliefs and knowledge to someone in the next two weeks!

  4. The only thing that comes to mind are two points actually. The first one being that a testimony is a very personal sacred thing. And when you bear it to someone you in essence bear yourself to that person. Now you never know how that person is going to react to that holy moment, and thus sometimes it's just too personal to share outside of safe places like Sacrament meeting.

    The other thing that came to mind was that it's not as open a time religiously as it was in the 70's and 80's. There's a lot more emphasis (persecution!) on people throwing their religion around. You're not allowed to speak your mind as freely as in the past without bringing down the wrath of the PC people...

    Just my two cents worth. I do enjoy reading your thoughts, and I hope my input and thoughts made you think more thoughts! LOL :-)

    PS. This actually sparked a rather lively discussion with my husband and myself, thanks for the topic!

  5. Great thoughts so far. What I hope we, as a people, become more willing to do is simply state, "I know my Church is true," or "I know the Book of Mormon is true," or "I know there's a prophet on the earth today." You could also say, "I know that Jesus is the Christ," especially if the person is a non-Christian, otherwise it may not challenge that person to seek for something they don't have. You see, it's the statements themselves--simply put, nothing flowery added--that invoke the challenge. It's what makes people wonder. Sure, it may also offend. But who cares! (Or at least there was a time when the saints didn't seem to care.)

    This is so important to understand. This is the objective. You have to be willing to make someone think. And yes, you have to be willing to face embarrassment, rejection, ridicule--all of the above. You see, when I was younger, the statement "I know the Church is true," used to drive me crazy. A good kind of crazy. My response was always, "How can you 'know?'" And many times that may be your response as well. And if you want, you can get into something like Moroni 10:3-5. Usually it inspires a discussion about the Holy Ghost. But get over the idea that you need to be a gospel scholar. You DON'T. You don't even need to be a great communicator or teacher. Maybe, first and foremost, we need to make sure we have a testimony. Or that we understand what a testimony is. But if you really know something, you don't have to intellectually defend it. That's what used to bug me about these "testimony bearers" when I was a non-member. I could throw back at these people the most eloquent arguments, but they just smiled and said, "I just know." It drove me nuts! I had to know how they knew. Eventually, I stopped challenging them. They were so sincere. And they finally explained the Holy Ghost thing, so I starting setting goals for myself. And when I prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was true, I REALLY expected an answer. Yea or nay.

    For example, Daron, when you talked about the Word of Wisdom, was there an opportunity to just say, "I know it's a true principle, and I know my Church is true"?" WOW! ZINGER! CHALLENGE! RIOT INCITING! RELEASE THE HOUNDS! I hope even the thought makes you cringe. That likely means it's the right thing to do. Satan hates this kind of stuff. I think this generation of Latter-day Saints is more worried about being LIKED and ACCEPTED than saving souls. I promise you, it wasn't always that way. The attitude has changed steadily over time. And I really do worry about its consequences.

  6. Statistics show that it is actually the US and Canada that are lagging behind in an increase of convert baptisms. Every country outside of the US and Canada have had an increased number of baptisms since the 70's and 80's while the US and Canada have remained consistent with the same amount. Now, I have my own theory behind this, but the more research I do the more it seems justified.

    The bigget thing goes back to President Hinckley's fireside that states every memeber needs three things: 1) A Friend, 2) A Responsibility, and 3) Nuturing in the Good Word of God.

    Many people state that home and vistiing teaching gives the person that responsibility, right? What is said is that the percentage of home and visiting teaching continues to decline each year. New members aren't being given the opportunity to share their testimony through the home and visiting teaching fields because of the decrease. In some cases those new members don't even recieve home or visiting teaching routes for up to 6 months. They are supposed to receive them within a week after being baptized or receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

    What is even more shocking is that not even half of those new members are getting the New Member Discussions in a timely manner. This is causing many new members to fall away. Out of the ones getting those new member lessons timely, we must ask how many are getting to the temple within 90 days to do baptisms for the dead? Church statistics show that 96% of converts who get to the temple within 90 days remain active.

    Right there are two of the biggest sources for convert baptisms- less actives and new members who want to share their beliefs with their friends. If we in the US and Canada start doing the home and visiting teaching we will not only see an increased number of new members retained,we will see them going to the temple and we will also see those convert baptisms grow.

    My local ward has been emphasizing these two areas the last three years. The first year we only had the average of our usual amount- 2 baptisms in the year. Last year we remained diligent at focusing on these areas. The home and visiting teaching increased percentagewise, and we led our Stake in baptisms for the year with 15. We have 12 baptisms this year, 9 of which have come since the change in Bishopric, and another three are scheduled this weekend. Out of those converts, 75% are being retained, so we obviously still have room to improve. It wasn't until we started focusing on what many people consider to be the unimportant areas of the Church though that we had this success occur.

  7. Great post bigddan. The U.S. and are still the countries with the largest number of saints per capita. So this is a sad trend. However, I still don't think the number of converts outside the U.S. is increasing percentage-wise or numerically the way we should expect, considering Church growth as it has been in decades past. So I suspect the trend toward "hiding our candle under a bushel" is pandemic.

  8. Chris,

    Nice to discover your blog and hear what you are up to. I think you are exactly right. People are less willing to bear their testimonies. I also think that with more media coverage about the Mormon faith, people think they know more about us than they really do.

    I served in the Salt Lake North mission, where everyone thought they knew who we were and what we believed because they live in Utah. Fortunately there were a lot of good people to question what their friends really knew and get them thinking.

    It was a very high baptizing mission because they knew enough about Mormons to know the horns and plural wives weren't true about us. So when they started learning what we really believed, it was an easy transition.

    Keep up the good work. Books--and blogs--like yours help in spreading the word.

  9. Chris, I definitely hear what you are saying. I suppose that sometimes I have held back a little, because I have not felt that spiritual nudge to say more (like the conversation at dinner). In other settings I have been very vocal. I have given away a Book of Mormon, invited them to church, shared my testimony about how I found out the Book of Mormon is true. But it is not in every situation. My point was that in some situations I feel cautious.

  10. Your story just gave me a good example, Daron. I don't think we bear our testimony in every situation either. But I fewer of us attune ourselves to even look for such situations. (Don't want you to feel picked on!) :)

  11. Does anyone know how to edit a comment on blogspot? I get frustrated when I leave out words 'cause my scattered brain is going faster than my typing fingers. The last post should say "...we should bear..." and "But I think fewer..."

    I can fix the blog itself, but how does one fix a comment?

  12. Hey, I understood it, even if you skipped a word or two. :)

    In my experience, I had someone in my chorus class see my "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and ask what it was. I explained to her that it was a pamphlet written by the leaders of my church. Before I could get out any more, however, this girl sniffed and said "It sounds like it's written by old people." Her tone said it all. 'How could old people know anything anout teenagers? How could you be stupid enough to even read it?' I tried to laugh it off and say "It pretty much IS written by old people." But I felt sick inside.

    I knew this was a chance to bear my testimony, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I felt as if I wasn't qualified to answer her questions, and I wasn't quick enough to stand up for what I believed in when it mattered.

    Maybe this is a problem that some people have. Maybe they find bearing their testimonies hard because they feel like they don't know enough about the church to really defend it, even if they know it's true.

    Hope that helped! :)

  13. I don't know it's if we just don't share?? I think it is less opportunity to do so. Thanks to Satans new ploy, the world has put so much strain on any expression of our religious beliefs. You can talk about anything but religion. Whether at work or at the grocery store. We tend to be very cautious who we bring it up to, we truly wouldn't want to offend. A co-worker avoiding you everyday at work does not make for good work relationships. Or your neighbor ducking as soon as they see you coming around the corner doesn't build great friendships. I firmly believe it was President Hinkley's best advice when he said (paraphrased)"to love a little more and be a little better." In the world today that really stands out. So those who see us desire to know why and will ask the all important question. "Why do you do what you do." Then the burning fire of our testimony should be the immediate answer. Seize the opportunity. What they do after that is up to them. As long as they left with answers to the question they asked burning in their minds.
    We recently had a family baptism in our ward the mother being the only (inactive) member when they moved here from another country. To her surprise the people in the ward were there for them. Friends, not bread today cold shoulder tomorrow friends, real friends. All of the children were baptized and a new understanding of the gospel realized. It truly blessed our ward family. (And hopefully them a little) Should we be braver or just better? I think that is the real question. Maybe it's both. Maybe we should be more brave about living better and being kinder.

  14. Great feedback. And I'm impressed to see that so many of us confess our fear. Oh, I'm not immune from it either. It abounds--and for the very reasons that HarpFamily expounds. Our "example" should be a given. Do we really need to be told to live the Gospel and attract people by our example? Goodness! If we think that's missionary work, I think we've got a serious misunderstanding. We should live the Gospel and let our light so shine naturally. Effortlessly. But what do we do when we think we have attracted an investigator? See, here's the problem. There's too doggone many saints who do NOT represent the Church very well. So if all we do to attract converts is be nice and set a good example, chances are that people will think you are a very nice person, but gain no opinion (necessarily) about the Church.

    We need to reach out. We need to take risks. I believe there are definitely ways to bear testimony AND turn around and be a great friend--not judging, not becoming uncomfortable and embarrassed. Folks are too worried that bearing their testimony will create a strange aura or tension between themselves and person they bore testimony to. This is Satan's lie. And it does not need to be so. You can still love someone and show them that your personality and friendship are no different before or after. You might even feel an inclination to reach out and be a GREATER friend. Why not?

    Bear testimony, freinds. I'll make a prophesy. (Not an official one. Okay, I'll just call it a guess.) I predict that in years to come the Church resurrects the instruction and attitude that prevailed in the 70s and starts asking people to set more pressing goals regarding testifying to friends and neighbors. Just a guess, mind you. We'll see if it happens. But I hope by now we've learned that no matter how nice or "normal" we appear, we will never be fully accepted. It's naive to think otherwise. We're the true Church for goodness sake! Satan will besmirch our public personna whenever possible. (Take a look at Prop. 8 and that backlash for goodness sake!) So we might give up our desires to be "liked" and "accepted" and show our love for our fellow man by trying to save their souls. Isn't that the epitome of friendship?

  15. I live in Chile and the area presidency recently put out a document called "Abide". It breaks everything down into 5 areas. First, The Supreme Gift of the Holy Ghost and every good thing we have depends on obtaining and keeping the power of the Holy Ghost in our lives.
    Second, the relate a Problem. Basically it talks about sin, spiritual death and seperation from the Lord. (Alma 42:9, 14). That when we are alone there is no hope.
    Third, it address the Solution - Jesus Christ and because of His Atonement we can become clean, become invested with His Power but only if we have Faith in Him, if we repent, receive the ordinces of baotism, the sacrament and the temple and stay on the straight and narrow.
    Fourth, it talks about the Glorious News - the Gospel. It discusses how the power to act in the name of the Lord and receive ordinaces is once again on the earth (priesthood). Also, what this means to us, especially being able to receive the Holy Ghost and keep it withus always and that everything depends on this.
    Last or Fifth, the document discusses Keeping on the path and never giving up. In this section John 15:1, 2, 4-11 are related highlighting especially the word ABIDE.
    How does all of this apply to the question. Well as this document puts it, life is simple. Get on track and stay there. Why are we not growing faster? I think it isn´t so much fear or restriction of rights or other things, but more as a church we are in a struggle to stay on track, meaning having the Holy Ghost with us always. In our time, in this place, we know are the best and the worst, the hardest and the most worthwhile. The time has arrived for hot or cold. As the Lord says lukewarm gets spit out as it doesn´t serve. I am not trying to be hard on anyone, but the time for a strong testimony is now, the wheat is being shifted. I believe that the fear I felt as a missionary of "will what I did be enough" is upon me and my family once more - being worthy of Him, keeping the eternal persepective, being a friend, having a calling and participating fullscale. It´s not more pressure, just refocusing, staying focused, getting focused.
    Sorry this got so long. Thanks Chris for your books and this blog. Your work is amazing!

  16. Not to sound cynical but I think there are a lot of complacent members out there now...well at least in some areas. Another thing is that there are so many less-active members to help that aren't reflected in these statistics. I personally find it difficult to share the Gospel with new people (I try to do it anyway, that's why I've started my own blog) but I come to life when I'm talking to less-actives. Maybe it's individual spiritual gifts or something. But I was less-active for a few years and when I came back I married someone who pretended to be active, then ditched me after 3 weeks of marriage, and I know I'm not alone so I find that I am a much better missionary to those who have lost their faith to being hurt or offended by someone in the church because I have too but I'm still here and now sealed to a great husband with 3 kids. But I get tongue tied when I talk to non-members.

  17. I know a lot of these comments were made quite awhile ago but I just recently found this blog which I am so excited about.

    I live in North Carolina. I am originally from Utah and grew up there. I love being in "the mission field" so to speak. I grew up in the church and I really don't think I ever really bore my testimony when I lived in Utah and I never really tried to figure out who was a member in high school and so forth. I think the reason for this is because you just assume every is a member and you think you know who isn’t one. I even believed until recently that a friend in high school wasn’t a member come to find out he was. I never bothered to ask.

    After high school I moved to New York to be a nanny for a Catholic family. One of the best decisions I have made in my life. I lived my standards and I saw a lot of growth in our ward of other young adults. I always bore my testimony and the people I lived with respected my values and supported all activities of the church. While there, there were two brothers who were not members who played Volleyball with us on Monday nights. One ended up dating a member and joined the church. The other brother after I left started taking the discussions and he came to Utah to visit friends and ended up coming at the same time as my wedding reception. The best wedding gift I received and still feel the same way today 18 years later was him telling me he was getting baptized. He was happily married in the temple and has a wonderful family. I am grateful for the experiences I had in NY in the mission field. I wanted to serve a full time mission but ended up finding my husband unexpectedly right before I turned 21.

    Moving to North Carolina and living in the “bible belt” has been a real blessing. I think one of the reasons maybe we as church in the recent years haven’t shared our beliefs with others or our testimonies is from the bad media that has been in the news. I for one love to talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I live it and therefore it is always in my thoughts and actions. I don’t think there is a time where religion doesn’t come up with my non member friends. It is who I am. The hard part for me is inviting them to church. I bare my testimony often to them when we talk but that is as far as it goes. Maybe I feel they aren’t ready for it after our discussions. I don’t know but it is something I have to work on. I sometimes I wish I could have the faith of a child. When the pass a long cards came out the missionaries encouraged us to give them to a friend. My 6 year old son at the time wanted a whole bunch to take to his school class. I at first was reluctant to let him take them for fear of what his teacher would say or do. But in the end I let him and he was so excited to share those with his friends and was ecstatic when he came home and was able to tell the missionaries what he did. In the last few years we have had tremendous growth in our area due to member participation. Our ward has been “taken away from” twice now with the chance that it will happen again in the next year or two. This area has boomed. This past year though the baptisms have slowed almost to none because I feel the members have become “too busy” to share the gospel with their friends. I for one am guilty of this as I am a mother of 6 and I really don’t get out much. But when I do I keep my standards and when the situation arises I share my testimony and talk about the gospel. I hope this makes sense. I tend to babble and not make sense. It makes sense in my head but not so much when it is put on paper.