“When people are hungry,” Brigham Young said, “they need substantial food; when they are thirsty they need substantial drink. … It is the duty of the true minister of Christ to instruct the people … how to get their food today.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book Co., 1966, pp. 334–35.)
The Saints today have been called to be those ministers, and throughout the world they are responding to the call. Their methods are almost as varied as their personalities. But the results are often the same: lost sheep are found; friends and neighbors and relatives are letting the Lord change their hearts and are entering the fold of God.
What missionary approaches seem to be working? What actually brings converts into the Church? We asked new converts from places as far apart as Florida and Washington, southern California and Maine, England and the Philippines to tell us what brought them into the Church.
We found that members successfully invite friends to family home evenings; give them copies of the Book of Mormon; share their testimonies with them; invite them to church, to open houses, to visitors centers; discuss gospel principles with them; refer them to the missionaries; and simply work and play and enjoy life with them. All these approaches, and many others, are effective—but only, it seems, when the nonmember is also impressed with the good example of members of the Church.
As some new members commented:
“I was impressed by the Mormon people and their family program, especially by the way they related to their children.” (William T. Wood, Shelton Ward, Olympia Washington Stake.)
“My doctor is a Mormon, and he is so kind and has so much faith that I wanted to be like him. I’m only sorry about one thing: that I didn’t investigate sooner!” (Sister G. Brown, Wandsworth Ward, London England Stake.)
“These Mormons didn’t realize that they were teaching me and changing my life, because they were doing it through their everyday actions.” (Tim Apple, St. Louis Missouri Stake.)
“My first experience with a member family was with a bishop, his wife, and their family. The example set by this family and the guidance of the missionaries are the reasons I came to believe the truth of the gospel.” (Nancy Orth, Gladstone, Missouri.)
“There was something special about being around Roger. It seemed like everyone who knew him felt that his family life was exceptional, and his life-style really had something that was desirable.” (Dana Dyer, Gig Harbor Ward, Tacoma Washington Stake.)
“I could see the change that came over my husband’s sister’s family after they started going to the Mormon Church, and I wanted to know more about it.” (Arlene F. Granum, Sequin Ward, Bremerton Washington Stake.)
In most of the stories that were shared with us, it was because the nonmember had noticed something different about the Latter-day Saints that he accepted the opportunity to learn more when it was presented to him.
Brother John Christian vom Lehn of the Franklin Branch, Greenville South Carolina Stake, explains: “As I came to admire Dan’s standards and personal conviction, I grew curious to determine the source of his strength.” That curiosity led to the next step: “We began discussing his religion more and more, often at my own choosing. Most of the time I was trying to find a loophole in Dan’s ideas. But I could find none. Instead, I seemed to uncover my own misunderstandings.” And then the clincher for him: “One night I offered him a particularly tough question, and instead of his usual eloquent response, Dan looked me in the eye and asked quietly, ‘Have you prayed about it? Have you studied the Bible and looked for answers there?’ That was a turning point in my search, and I have never been the same since.”
Brother Keith Knoblich of the Toppenish Ward, Yakima Washington Stake, describes the relationship that developed between him and George Brooks, a Mormon fellow worker: “Through work we got to know each other very well. I really came to respect him. As we grew closer in our friendship, we would talk about our families and our activities, which led to the Church. I could tell that it was the Church that made him and his family different—in a very positive way—from most people. Soon we were talking about some of the doctrines of the Church, but never did he pressure me or preach to me. … One day at afternoon break he asked me if I would like to know more. … We took the lessons at his home.
“If it were not for the real concern and the interest that the Brookses have shown to our family, I really think that we would not be members of the one true church and have the light and knowledge of our Father in heaven and his plans for us.”
Brother Knoblich makes an important point. He was attracted by the example of the Brooks family. But what really opened his heart to conversion was the love and concern they showed to him and his family. The Brookses’ gospel living was taken from the general (“love thy neighbor”) to a specific (“love the Knobliches”).
How can we do the same? The following stories of new converts can help us. They tell us what really works.
Thomas Blake, Portland Ward, Augusta Maine Stake: “Sister Gilbert would show my wife things that she learned in Relief Society. She would talk about the Church a little. Eventually she invited my wife to Relief Society and both of us to church with them. When we went to church that first time with the Gilberts we felt very comfortable and were at once friends with people whom we had never met before. They were all so friendly and warm to us.”
Yvonne Ottmann, Croydon Ward, London England Stake: “I asked a good friend of mine some questions about the Mormon Church and she said if I wanted to know more about it I should go to church with her on Sunday. I did and enjoyed Sunday School so much and was surrounded by so much love. I knew that there was something special about the Church, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. After I started meeting with the missionaries, it didn’t take me long to find out.”
Karen Sullivan, Grandview, Missouri: “They got me to go with Kathy to an AP-YW meeting. That night they showed the movie Behold Thy Handmaiden. It brought tears to my eyes and made me feel good all over. They then talked me into going to church on Sunday. The Mormon meetings were twice as long as the ones I had attended at my church, but they seemed to go twice as fast. They kept my attention. I was impressed that the speakers themselves were members and talked about spiritual things.”
Brother and Sister James Neal, Weston Second Ward, Boston Massachusetts Stake: “The first Sunday School meeting we attended, a member whom we had never seen before came up to us and said, ‘I know that God lives, and that this is his church.’ We were touched that anyone could be that open and that bold. Our hearts were so pierced by his testimony that we could hardly speak to one another on our way home that morning.”
Judy Mortimer, Newport, Rhode Island: “It was a long while before they could get me out to church, but when I finally did go I found everyone so friendly that I was almost embarrassed. They took my hand, and sincerity and love radiated from them. I sensed a peace and contentment about them. One couple spotted me and invited my boys and me to their home for lunch. We went with them and talked until it was time to go back to the five o’clock sacrament meeting. The following Sunday we did the same thing and the Sunday after. Their testimonies helped me tremendously. They didn’t push, and sometimes even apologized for talking so much about their religion. But I didn’t view it as their religion. It was their way of life.”
Jenny Pearce, Hyde Park Ward, London England Stake: “After attending AP-YW with Sue for a while, I was given a Book of Mormon. After reading a few pages, I felt sure that it was not the work of man; I now believe that it is one of the greatest miracles of our age.”
E. Frank Carlson, Maple Valley Branch, Renton Washington Stake: “A Mormon friend gave my wife A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Jesus the Christ, and the Book of Mormon. The minute my wife held these books in her hands she knew they were true. She had a strong testimony before she even read them that they were of the Lord.”
Jay Cooprider, Cambridge, Massachusetts: “I met a Mormon girl at school, although I didn’t know at the time that she was a Mormon. She was one of the few people I had known who always seemed to have a smile for everyone, and I was curious about what made her that way. I found out a few weeks later when she gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon. That was probably the main thing that caused me to eventually join the Church, because it aroused my curiosity. I started to read it and began asking questions about the Church, and from that point it was only a matter of time before I gained a testimony and was baptized.”
Devon Harris and Sherri Harris, St. Louis Missouri Stake: “Jerry Rennick had talked to us a number of times about the Mormon Church and had repeatedly invited us to visit his ward. But we felt comfortable with our lives and never showed much interest. Then we had a bad experience with our church, and when Jerry heard about it he asked again if we would consider talking to a couple of missionaries. Devon was eager to accept, and although I was reluctant, I was confused enough about our religion to go along with it. One fine winter night three Mormons, two missionaries and one man from our area, knocked on our door. The elders began in a sincere and methodical way to explain the history and principles of the Church. By the time that first visit was over, we were eager to have them return.”
Scott Guild, Foxboro Ward, Boston Massachusetts Stake: “I met five Mormon families, almost in a row, in my selling job, and before too long five referrals brought two missionaries to our door. We became fast friends, and before too long we were well into the discussions and even challenged to be baptized. But it was not all that easy; there is more to our finding the gospel than that. The biggest part was my reaction to these five Mormon families I met. They were certainly the leaven in our decision to have the missionaries come. You see, I felt immediately at home with these people. Though Cathy and I had never met Mormons before, I felt I was not a stranger among them and welcomed them into our home and our lives. They seemed so relaxed and assured about their lives, almost sublime about it—and yet they were so down to earth. If we hadn’t been impressed their referrals would have had no effect.”
Brother N. Johnstone, Hyde Park Ward, London England Stake: “After meeting a member of the Church at a party, I heard him mention one or two things about the Church that seemed the most sensible things in the world. That nearly converted me then and there.”
Phyllis Neusee, Kansas City Missouri Stake: “One night I said a bitter prayer to God, asking why he had allowed things to become so bad in my life. The next day David called me and told me about the Mormon Church. He said things to me that probably couldn’t have been said by any stranger. I was baptized a few months later into a new life of hope and happiness.”
Santiago Ofianga, Malabron Branch, Philippines Manila Mission: “I met Mrs. Monica Cesar in the San Francisco Airport while we were both waiting for connecting flights. Our conversation led into a discussion on religion, and she imparted to me her testimony of the blessings that her family received from joining the Mormon Church. At that time I wasn’t really interested, but she had planted the seed, and when I met the elders some time later I was ready.”
Karen Lowe, Cle Elum Branch, Yakima Washington Stake: “While I was visiting my uncle in Idaho, I went over to visit a neighbor of his, Forest, whom I had met before. We just sat around and talked until quite late about him and the gospel. He told me some wonderful things I had never heard before about God and what He’d done for him and about the wonderful things the Church did for his life. He told me that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that our Heavenly Father is alive and plays a very important part in his life. For some reason the greatest warm feeling just came and seemed to say, ‘It’s true,’ and I just knew it was! I could just feel it all over.”
Andrew Austin, Claremont Ward, Montpelier Vermont Stake: “As time went by I was impressed with the changes in my wife, who had recently joined the Church. She became more patient with the children and took more interest in the home. Through her love and patient help, I was able to overcome my drinking problem and eventually become more like the Mormons that I had grown to love and respect.”
Rose Lagarto, Makati First Ward, Manila Philippines Stake: “My sister Andria told me something about the Mormons. She told me that our Father in heaven had been very kind to our family. She told me about genealogy. Then she told me that the church she belonged to is the true church, and I believed her because I know when she is telling the truth.”
Cynthia Jackson, Oxford Branch, Augusta Maine Stake: “My daughter Laurie had been baptized into the Mormon Church in July 1975. Each weekend she would come home from college and try to tell me about her church. This particular Sunday afternoon Laurie came home from church and sat down across the table from me and calmly poured out the teachings of the gospel for two hours. This time I really listened, and felt she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She asked me to attend a meeting with her that night at a member’s house. I said I would think about it, and she left the room. I found out later that she left to pray.
“I thought about how I was breaking her heart by always saying no to her invitations—and wasn’t she a more beautiful person since she had joined the Church? I decided it would do no harm and went to the meeting with her. And I loved it!—those sweet people whom I didn’t know making me so welcome. And the lesson in the gospel was just what I needed.
“The next Sunday I went back to my own church, and it was like I was in a daze. I hardly remember even speaking to anyone. I was in the choir—one of two altos—and in the middle of one of our hymns I stopped singing and actually had to repress the desire to walk out then and there. Something said to me, ‘What are you doing here? You don’t belong here.’ I never went back. In just one evening at a Mormon member’s home I had found what I had been looking for and missing all my life.
“The next Sunday I went to church with Laurie. It was beautiful. I felt like I had come home.”
Dale Peters and Julie Peters, Tacoma Fourth Ward, Tacoma Washington Stake: “We knew several Mormon families and were very impressed with them. In fact, one family invited us to their house for a missionary discussion. We accepted, but before the appointed day, something came up and we had to take a trip to Arizona.
“Because of our interest we decided to visit the principal Mormon sites along the way back. We first saw the Mesa Temple, then the Manti, then Brigham Young University, and then the Salt Lake Temple. The visitors center at Salt Lake served as an oasis to our parched souls. We seemed to have an unquenchable desire to learn more and more and to see everything. We stayed in the center until closing time, not even seeing the rest of Temple Square. The story of Joseph Smith suddenly came to life. The warmth and spirituality we had felt in Mormon homes was magnified many times as we toured the center. We felt at home. This was our answer and we knew it.”
Daniel Slinkard, Parkville, Missouri: “One day I met a lovely Mormon lady. We started dating, and we eventually went to the visitors center in Independence together. We took the tour and saw some of the films they had. All the way home we talked about the Church. She gave me the Book of Mormon to read and told me to pray and ask God with a sincere heart if it was true. I did pray as she had instructed, and from that point on I never questioned the truth of the Church. I knew it was true.”
George Harrington, Rutland Branch, Montpelier Vermont Stake: “When we moved from Provo to Vermont, we renewed our acquaintance with an old friend of mine. He and his wife just seemed to go well together with us, and we started spending more and more time with them. Pretty soon the topic started turning to religion, and Dave and Lindy seemed interested. We took them to the Joseph Smith Memorial in South Royalton, Vermont, and then to the Palmyra pageant. They enjoyed it, but then other things came up and they seemed to lose interest. We thought we had failed, but they were still our good friends, and we hadn’t given up hope.
“Six months later, almost out of the blue, Dave began to ask questions again. The seeds we had planted long before had been growing, and now they were ready. We took them to a branch social and then had them over to our house for the missionary discussions. Each discussion was an unforgettable spiritual experience. It was all we could do to keep up with their questions. Finally I was privileged to baptize them at the Joseph Smith Memorial. That was one of the most unforgettable days in my life.”
Richard Frantz, Southington Ward, Hartford Connecticut Stake: “About three years ago I started a new job. One of the young technicians there was a Mormon. That was easy to tell because he talked about his religion at every opportunity. He wasn’t pushy or dogmatic; he was just sold on his religion and wanted to tell us about it. One day he invited a fellow worker to an open house at his church. The man declined to go, but I asked about it and was given a warm invitation. I decided I would go just to see what it was all about. I was very impressed with the friendliness of everyone there, and with the film they showed.
“After that Ken played it cool, and that was just right. He said no more about it until a week later, when I brought my lunch over to his desk at noon and started to ask questions. I had never looked a man in the eye and talked to him about God before, but we did that day. The more answers I got, the more questions I had. He said the best place to get the answers was at the investigators class at his ward. I only had to attend the first one to know that this was what I had been looking for.”
Sharing the gospel isn’t always easy. But it isn’t always hard, either. As the Lord has said, “There are many yet on the earth … who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” (D&C 123:12.)
We can help that “many” find the truth. The stories just cited give us some insights how:
1. If we are setting a good example of how the gospel affects our lives, people will notice—and often become interested in what makes the difference in our lives.
2. But a passive example often isn’t enough to cause people to inquire about the Church. Members need to be willing to take the first step to introduce others to the gospel.
3. Nonmembers can be touched by a variety of means—thoughtful comments, Church services, a testimony, a visitors center, a Book of Mormon, the Church magazines, home evening in a member’s home. There are others. The method that works seems to vary from person to person.
4. But what doesn’t seem to vary is that the nonmember’s heart is first opened by a good impression of the Church and its members, and by the love and concern of the members he knows. The feeling you share with the nonmember seems to matter more than the approach you use. People respond more to love than to programs. That is not to say that approaches are not important, but they are often only as effective as the member’s love is deep.
5. Those who join the Church are often good friends of members before they join. As a member in Maryland said, “You have to make friends before you can make converts.” He also wisely noted that it sometimes takes more time to make friends with nonmembers than it does with members, simply because you have less in common with the nonmember. Still, gospel sharing that is not preceded by friendship is usually ineffective sharing.
What else do we learn? That the gospel brings joy and peace. That people who really follow its precepts are different in a visible way. The conversion story of the Heydon family in the Kansas City First Ward, Kansas City Missouri Stake (as told by Sister Doris E. Heydon), supports these ideas. She tells how fellowshipping was a natural outgrowth of friendship:
“Shortly after we moved to a new neighborhood, I was out working in my garden when one of my neighbors offered me a huge armful of tomatoes she had just picked. That was just the beginning of what was to be a forever friendship.
“In the months that followed, they proved to be the best friends, neighbors, and most important of all, missionaries, we had ever met. They were not afraid to be too friendly and took our family in just as though we were their own family. We enjoyed the hot homemade bread sent over almost every week; the complete dinner brought in one evening when I was too sick to make our own; the beautiful pageant one summer evening in Independence, with ice cream on the way home.
“Sundays at our neighbors’ were always special because they always had missionaries over for dinner; on several occasions we were invited to join them. We became friends with the elders before we even realized we were interested in the Church.
“We were always invited to Church activities but never pressured to go. When we did decide to go, our neighbors’ sweet, dependable daughter came over to babysit for us—and sometimes even refused to be paid for it.
“After I had had a hard day at home, my friend would ask me to come to Relief Society with her. I was generally eager just to get out of the house at that point. But in going I found much more than a respite from household chores. The warm welcome the sisters gave me made me into a regular attender for almost a year before our baptisms.
“Yes, we took a year to slowly and cautiously investigate this church; but our patient neighbors and other friends in the Church just loved us right along and never stopped being our true friends, sharing the gospel with us and being great examples even when we would falter.
“After a while, though, we knew in our hearts that we wanted a more complete life like theirs. We were then invited out to church on Sundays and began to go to the investigators class each week.
“In March 1976 we entered the waters of baptism.
“Not long after that we heard a special talk in sacrament meeting about a person who had been too hesitant to share the gospel for fear he might seem too forward—and the family had to wait ten years before the opportunity came again. Ten years, I thought. Where would we be in ten years if we didn’t have the Church now? My heart swelled and I could hardly wait to find our neighbors outside after church.
“‘Thanks for sharing the gospel with us’ was all I could get out. I wanted to say so much more, but I really didn’t need to. Tears came to their eyes, too, as we all exchanged loving words and hugs, just as I know we always will, for time and all eternity.”