“How Are We Doing As Member-Missionaries?” Ensign, Oct. 1990, 77–79
How often do you share the gospel with your friends—and how do you go about it? These and related questions were the focus of a recent study conducted by the Church.
Although we now have our largest missionary force ever—some forty thousand full-time missionaries—the responsibility of sharing the gospel belongs to each member. To determine just how much member-missionary work is being done, by whom, and how, the Church’s Missionary Executive Council commissioned the Correlation Department’s Research Division to do a study. Researchers surveyed more than 1,800 active members over the age of sixteen, living in twenty-three wards in four regions of the United States. From that group, eighty-five members with varying levels of missionary involvement were then interviewed in depth. (For information on an earlier phase of this study, see Ensign, Aug. 1990, pp. 76–77.)
The study addressed three main issues: How much missionary work members do, what kind of missionary activities members are involved in, and what kinds of things help or hinder their involvement in member-missionary work. All research focused on member-missionary work among friends and acquaintances. It did not study indirect or supportive missionary-related activities, such as making donations to the missionary fund, inviting missionaries to dinner, or sending copies of the Book of Mormon into the mission field to be used by missionaries in teaching investigators.
In general, the results indicate that with thought and planning, most members could do more missionary work among friends and acquaintances than they are now doing. The study also acknowledges that members face many challenges in doing missionary work. But the facts of the study suggest concrete ways members can improve their effectiveness as member-missionaries.
How Much Member-Missionary Work Are We Doing?
According to the initial survey, 60 to 75 percent of active members have low involvement in missionary work. That is, they ordinarily do little to try to stimulate interest among their friends, relatives, or acquaintances. When they do something, it is usually because of obvious interest on the part of the other person.
Between 15 and 25 percent of active members have what may be called a medium-level involvement in missionary work. These members tend to do missionary work with friends or acquaintances intermittently—with long “dry spells” between efforts—and they usually work with only one contact at a time. Members in this group sometimes initiate activities with friends or acquaintances to stimulate or encourage interest in the Church, but they often do not follow up with continued missionary efforts, either in conversations or activities.
A relatively small number of active members, between 3 and 5 percent, are highly involved in missionary work. Members in this group are consistently working with at least one person; often these members are working with several contacts at a time. And as they work with individuals or families, they simultaneously seek others who may have an interest in the Church. They take the initiative and don’t wait until friends ask. They tend to take advantage of existing opportunities, such as special events or programs; but just as often, they spontaneously create opportunities to do missionary work.
What Kinds of Activities Are We Involved In?
According to the survey, the most common member-missionary activity is talking about the Church or the gospel. The next most common activity is socializing with friends outside of Church activities, followed by socializing at a Church activity to which they have invited friends. Inviting friends to regular Sunday church meetings is next, followed by inviting friends to meet with missionaries. Somewhat less common are inviting friends to firesides and giving a copy of the Book of Mormon to a friend. The least common activities are inviting friends to family home evening or sharing a Church video with them, even though these two are as effective as many other activities.
The study verifies that there is a wide range of effective member-missionary activities and that they are most effective when members make repeated efforts, using a combination of different activities. Different approaches made continually with the same person give that friend more of a basis for becoming interested.
The most involved member-missionaries use a variety of missionary methods. With each person they approach, they socialize, discuss the gospel, and invite the person to a range of activities, programs, and meetings. Less-involved members, on the other hand, tend to rely on just one or two kinds of approaches. These members are likely to extend an invitation only once, possibly twice.
Many members could increase their member-missionary involvement and their effectiveness by considering a wider variety of missionary activities and trying to do more with each of their friends or acquaintances. The research was encouraging here on this point. For instance, three out of four invitations to Church activities are reportedly accepted, and approximately one out of three invitations to regular Sunday meetings are accepted. Yet most members don’t extend the invitation.
What Helps or Hinders Our Member-Missionary Work?
Nearly all members seem willing to respond to questions from acquaintances about the Church. But certain factors distinguish members who take more initiative.
Based on the research, one of the most important factors associated with member-missionary activity is personal feelings about the gospel. People who find the gospel meaningful and important in their own lives are much more likely to try to share it actively with others. A second, closely related influence is the member’s personal commitment to try to be a missionary.
Several other factors are also associated with the level of involvement or commitment members feel about sharing the gospel, such as the number of friends and acquaintances who aren’t members of the Church, the depth of the friendship, and the intensity of concern for these acquaintances. Also, members tend to do better as member-missionaries when they see themselves as people who want to share—who enjoy being conversational and helpful. The survey underscores the important fact, however, that members need not possess all of these attributes to share the gospel with others.
Obstacles that members say keep them from doing missionary work include shyness, lack of time, and personal feelings—such as the fear of personal rejection, the fear of offending, and the fear of being perceived as a fanatic. But as the earlier report of the study points out, these fears are largely unfounded; negative outcomes with friends and acquaintances are far more rare than members imagine.
Each member has unique opportunities to do missionary work. It is a challenge to abandon personal fears or to find the time to do member-missionary work. But members can build on their personal strengths by letting their love for the gospel and their warmth and concern for others shine through.
Perhaps the most important thing for members to do—besides being caring and exemplary—is to engage in a variety of missionary activities with each person they work with. This study shows that this practice leads to success and increases our confidence, enjoyment, and satisfaction as member-missionaries.
Most Common Member-Missionary Activities
Talking about the Church or the gospel.
Socializing outside of Church activities.
Socializing at Church activities.
Extending an invitation to attend regular Sunday meetings.
Extending an invitation to meet with the missionaries.
Extending an invitation to attend a fireside.
Giving copies of the Book of Mormon.
Extending an invitation to attend family home evening.
Sharing a Church video.