Recently, I found myself in a stake missionary correlation meeting with a handful of ward mission leaders and 10 full-time elders that serve in my stake. As a stake presidency, we have tried to put more of an emphasis on missionary work since we are blessed to have 5 companionships assigned to our stake (most Utah stakes aren’t as lucky). There were two moments in this meeting that stood out to me.
“I’ll never be that type of member”
First, I try to encourage the missionaries to be very candid in this meeting. I don’t want them to sugar-coat anything. If they don’t like an aspect of serving in this stake I want to hear about it and see how I can help. I emphasized that I cannot be offended by what they say as long as it is the truth. The missionaries seem to respond well to this and they were very open during our discussion. This invitation of candidness led to a discussion about member support. They feel the ward council and ward members in general, are not doing enough to really make a difference in bringing non-members unto Christ and assisting them to find more people to teach.
I then asked them this question…
“How many of you feel like you will return home and be just like these members that are disengaged with missionary work?”
The group of elders suddenly had disbelief on their faces and in unison shook their heads as one missionary piped up and said, “I SURE HOPE NOT!”
In that very moment one of the ward mission leaders, who was a missionary himself eight years ago, began to laugh out loud. It was hilarious how well his timing was—as if I had planned out his response. This ward mission leader then explained with a wise smile on his face, that he used to think the same way. As a missionary, he was committed to not becoming the type of member he loathed during his mission. But then, missionaries return home, life gets busy, and you suddenly have the full-time missionaries in your home asking YOU for a referral. It’s human nature and we rarely live up to the ideal examples.
Invite Members to Invite… to Do Something
The second part of the meeting that stood out to me continues off of this exchange I just described. The elders in my stake were sharing how discouraging it was when they go to these dinner appointments and no member is willing to refer them to their friends. This lead them to the conclusion that the members must be scared and they don’t have the faith to get over this fear of inviting.
We talked about whether fear really exists for these members and I am of the opinion that a lack of member referrals has nothing to do with fear. If a latter-day saint had a non-member approach them with a sincere desire to learn more about the Restored Gospel, most members wouldn’t feel fear in that moment. They would feel excitement. So the problem isn’t a fear of sharing the gospel, and it isn’t even the fear of inviting someone to hear the gospel. It all goes back to the basic leadership principles that most problems in any organization are rarely a motivational problem. They usually come from an ability problem. Members of the Church are not unmotivated or fearful of making an invitation. They don’t know HOW to make an invitation. It’s not as simple as walking up to your close non-member friend and inviting them to meet with the missionaries. There are 50 steps before that invitation. It all starts with a simple invitation to do something. Inviting them to come over for dinner, to assist you at the local cannery for a service assignment, to simply have a short conversation at the mailbox. Most members (pardon my generalization) don’t know how to make small invitations that lead to the big will-you-meet-with-the-missionaries invitation.
I was attempting to change these elders’ frame of mind when working with members. Stop expecting them to shower the full-time missionaries with referrals when they don’t even know how to invite them to a ward party. I’m not saying they should avoid asking for a teaching referral. In fact, that is where they should start. But when it doesn’t come, invite the members to make a smaller invitation that will get the ball rolling.
Of course, these missionaries didn’t let me leave the room without committing me to making an invite in my own circle of friends. So I committed to invite a good non-member friend of mine to a new popular movie. I committed to do it and went home and made that invitation.
And guess what!
My friend said YES.
It’s a start.
What about you? What are ways that full-time missionaries can more effectively work with local membership in their areas? How is it different outside of Utah? How have you found success?