Survey Results Show That a Mission Makes a Big Difference

By Orson Scott Card

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    A recent survey of returned full-time missionaries provides definite evidence that a mission does make a difference in a young man’s life. Over a thousand missionaries answered questions on their attendance at Church meetings; obedience to certain key commandments; and service in the Church; and the results were impressive:

    97 percent of the returned missionaries attended at least one sacrament meeting a month, and 91 percent attended at least three sacrament meetings a month. This is far ahead of overall Churchwide attendance figures.

    89 percent of the returned missionaries had a current Church calling.

    95 percent of the returned missionaries who were married were married in the temple, again far ahead of Churchwide figures.

    Why was the survey conducted? Elder Carlos E. Asay of the First Quorum of the Seventy, executive director of the Missionary Department, explained that for some time stories have persisted in the Church claiming that a high percentage of returned missionaries became inactive. “Even one or two missionaries falling away concerns us greatly, but we found it hard to believe that such large numbers were being lost!” So, to find out if there was a great problem, and, if not, to squelch such stories, Eric Ott of the Missionary Department and John Madsen of the Priesthood Department administered the survey.

    The questionnaires were mailed to 1,757 returned missionaries. More than 65 percent of those who received questionnaires returned them—an unusually high percentage for mailed surveys. But to reduce the possibility of error even further, the bishop of every fifteenth returned missionary was called, to see what relationship there was between the missionaries’ self-assessment and their bishops’ view of their activity in the Church, and also to see if those who returned the questionnaire were significantly more active than those who did not.

    The results of the follow-up survey reinforced the original results. Though missionaries who failed to return the survey tended to be slightly less active, the difference was almost negligible—three percent.

    Not only are today’s returned missionaries very active—they’re also more active than their counterparts forty years ago! A survey of missionaries conducted in the 1930s suggested that 84 percent of the then living returned missionaries were full or part tithe-payers, compared to 92 percent full tithe-payers today; 83 percent were active in terms of attendance at meetings in 1936, while 91 percent are very active today, and 97 percent attend at least monthly.

    But the high percentage isn’t cause for too much self-congratulation, Elder Asay warns. “The results of the survey were a bit better than I had expected—and I had expected them to be good. But we’re very concerned about all our missionaries. To lose just a few is still tragic; we’re not content with 91 percent or 97 percent. We want 100 percent of our missionaries to come home and be active, faithful Latter-day Saints.”