HOW TO USE THIS BLOG: Since this blog covers various Ward Mission subjects, I've made it easier to find exactly what you're looking for by grouping posts together by topic. On the right side of this page (above the photo of the shaking hands), you'll find the list of topics you can click on to find the information you're looking for

Monday, August 30, 2010

Using Preach My Gospel

The September 2010 Ensign magazine has an article called, "Using Preach My Gospel to Teach New Members". Its the story of a particular new member and the couple assigned to teach her the new member lessons and their positive experience in using Preach My Gospel.

If you are involved with teaching the new member discussions/lessons, you've probably noticed that there isn't any specific instruction on how to do them, other than, "After baptism, new members are taught the first four lessons again, as well as “Laws and Ordinances (the 5th discussion/lesson). Ward leaders determine whether ward missionaries or full-time missionaries lead out in ensuring that these lessons are taught and how long full-time missionaries are involved" (Preach My Gospel, page 29)

In the "olden days" before Preach My Gospel (when I was a recent convert and later a full-time missionary), there was a separate set of discussions that further explained programs of the Church like visiting teaching/home teaching, accepting and serving in callings, family home evening, preparing to attend the temple, etc. and other things that new members need to know. Even though these things aren't discussed in as much detail in the regular set of lessons in Preach My Gospel that we use now, they are still important parts of teaching new members about membership in the Church, so we try to make sure that these sorts of things are explained well, either during new member discussions or Sunday School, etc.

Since the new members are at least somewhat familiar with the concepts taught in the first 4 discussions, we don't approach it as if they are hearing them for the first time. I like to use Preach My Gospel lessons as a jumping off point for each of the new member discussions we teach. The depth we go into depends on the situation and the specific new member. You can usually tell how much detail you need to go into by asking questions about the topic, like, "Why do you think baptism is so important?" or "What were your feelings when the Elders taught you about the Word of Wisdom?" Their answers can give you an idea of their level of understanding.

We try to go into more specific detail about how those principles apply to our lives as members of the Church. For example, the 3rd discussion is "The Gospel of Jesus Christ" (which covers faith, repentance, baptism, gift of the holy ghost, and enduring to the end), so we normally focus on how members of the Church make and keep covenants (like baptism) and that the Sacrament is very important because it helps us to repent and renew our covenants each week. These are probably things that they still remember from their original discussions, but it doesn't hurt to reinforce these concepts.

Last week we had a brand new member over for her first "new member discussion". We invited her and her children over for Family Home Evening, and also invited the full-time missionaries over (to help with the transition). The first discussion is about the Restoration, so our FHE lesson was about Joseph Smith's First Vision and why it is important to us today. We did the whole thing regular FHE style, with pictures and a song, treats, etc. Afterward, I gave the new member a FHE resource book and explained a little bit about more about the FHE
program (why we do it, different ways it can be done, etc).

I think it was really successful because we incorporated the doctrine, but also had the family in our home and also modeled a FHE for them at the same time. This format may not work for every situation, but we can find ways to make the new member discussions helpful and informative for any new member. Preach My Gospel gives us the freedom to do that!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baptism Service Refreshments

The Relief Society Presidency in our Ward does an excellent job of coordinating refreshments for convert baptisms - and they've had a LOT of refreshments to coordinate over the past few months, so they're really appreciated.

I think its great that the Presidency takes care of that aspect of the baptism service because that means right there we've got at least one (usually 2 or 3) representative of the R.S. Presidency there to show their support. Plus, if they have called 3 or 4 sisters from the Ward to contribute cookies, those sisters are likely to stay for the baptism as well. We've had some concerns about low baptism attendance in the past, but no more! We were packed full at our last few services and that is a great thing.

Besides, just about everybody likes treats, so having refreshments afterward makes a great opportunity for Ward members to visit with the new member (and any relatives or friends that they have invited).

I usually try to contribute something for the refreshment table also, though I'm not much of a baker....This weekend we had 5 convert baptisms at one baptism service, so in honor of the very special occaision I put in an extra effort and made temple-themed cupcake brownies (white-chocolate candy shaped like the Portland temple on a brownie in a white cupcake liner). I was a little worried that people might think it was tacky or inappropriate to put a temple on a brownie, but I got the idea from my friend Sue (who used these same kinds of candy molds to make treats for her 8 year old son's baptism) and I thought it was really cute, so I went ahead and did it. I figured it might also be a conversation starter if a visitor was curious about what the building was, too.

I guess they must have gone over well, because by the time my husband got over to the refreshment table to try one, they were already gone!

(Just FYI in case you're looking for a temple candy mold - I had difficulty finding them- I bought my temple candy molds from this website (click on the underlined words to go to the site). I'm not affiliated with that company or anything, its just the site I used for my personal purchase. Each mold makes 12 candies. I bought 2 molds so I could make 24 at once, but you could always just reuse one mold as many times as you want).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ideas for Increasing New Member Fellowshipping

"Among those converts who fall away, the attrition (loss) is steepest in the two months after baptism. When a convert is baptized, there is no time to lose. Fellowshipping efforts must begin well before baptism and must increase in intensity in the months following baptism" ("The Role of Members in Conversion" By Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, March 2003)

Unfortunately, it seems as if the opposite thing is often happening with new members. We tend to think that the most important fellowshipping happens before baptism, and then sharply drops off afterward. While the new member will (hopefully) have visits from home teachers (and visiting teachers) once a month like the rest of us do, that just isn't enough contact for a brand new member.

Members often mistakenly think that the full-time missionaries will cover this need as they continue with their regular and frequent visits to the new convert. Individual missionaries eventually move on to new areas, and for those that stay in the area, its appropriate to eventually wean away from frequent visits to new members. In some cases, it can be a very swift transition that leaves the new member feeling confused and abandoned. I have heard too many people comment that they felt as if they were "dropped" after their baptism. I know that this is not intended by the ward members and full-time missionaries...Instead, we may just expect the new member to be totally integrated into our "culture" when they are baptized and that they should naturally adjust to the change.

This is the area where ward members (and specifically ward missionaries) need to do a MUCH better job. When I read Elder Oaks' advice that member fellowshipping should "increase in intensity" after baptism, it made me consider my own efforts. For example, if I personally have one or two contacts a week with an investigator before their baptism (by phone, at church, in person, or online, etc), I can consider how I might increase that effort after baptism. An extra phone call or visit would be all that it would take to double my contact with that person.

"Our experience has shown that members can have a powerful influence in this process (when they model) gospel living..." One idea that our family came up with that goes along with this principle is inviting new members to come to our home for a Family Home Evening. This combines the concept of fellowshipping with the modeling gospel living that Elder Oaks mentioned.

I first considered inviting investigators for FHE immediately after they had set a date for baptism, but when I remembered that "fellowshipping efforts must...increase in intensity in the months following baptism" I decided that it might be even better to have new members over for FHE the week following their baptism.

Since we have investigator several families in our Ward scheduled for baptism over the next week, I'll be contacting each of them this week (before any of the baptisms) and inviting them for FHE next week. Since some of these people have unusual work/school schedules (and our family has an unusual schedule as well), I've explained that we can have them over on a different weekday afternoon or evening (instead of Monday) if necessary. So, we may end up having 2 or 3 different FHEs in the same week, but you can't have too many FHEs, right?

I figure that if our family makes this a regular practice it will be an easy way for us to make a few extra contacts with each person (call or personal invite and then the actual FHE itself). Wouldn't it be great if we could also encourage other ward members to do the same? I think there are a lot of members who would like to help with new member fellowshipping, but just aren't sure what to do. Can you imagine what a great influence it would be for new members to go to 4 or 5 different members homes for FHE and other social visits during their first few months as new members?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ward Missionaries at Back to School Sales!

If you're interested in providing some low-cost distractions* for the children of investigators who may be caught under-prepared to entertain them during Sacrament meeting (and other Sunday Church meetings), back-to-school time is ideal... Most stores that sell school supplies have "loss leaders" (several ridiculously low priced items that they advertise to get your attention!). Crayons, colored pencils, and wire-bound lined paper are usually priced very low. All of these things are great for keeping young children busy - and hey, if you're going to buy them, you might as well buy them while they're very cheap! I stocked up on packs of crayons for 20 cents each, boxes of colored pencils for 89 cents, and wire-bound notebook paper for 15 cents each.

If you make "Welcome to the Ward" Packets**, plain-colored pee-chee style folders can be found for low-prices at this time of year also (I found them for 15 cents each - they are close to $1 each the rest of the year).

Don't wait too long to shop, though- retailers usually raise school supply prices back to normal the week or two before school actually starts...

*For more ideas, see the post from July entitled "Entertaining visiting children / Sacrament meeting" under the topic "Fellowshipping (at Church)" at the right side of the page.

**For information on "Welcome to the Ward Packets," see the "Welcome Packets" section at the right side of the page.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Explaining VISITS to New Members

One of the adjustments that new members make is getting to know our "lingo" and understanding all of the terms that we use. While visiting a new member (of 2 months) the other day, I asked her if she knew who her home teachers are. She said that she did, but when I asked her specifically who they are, she told me the names of two women. This is a very common mistake, so I wasn't very surprised (many new members unknowingly use the terms 'home teaching' and 'visiting teaching' interchangeably). I explained the home and visiting teaching programs to her again (her home teachers are men, her visiting teachers are women, etc).

What did surprise me was that another new member (of about 8 months) who also happened to be there during the visit, looked very surprised and said, "OH! So that's why those men have been visiting us every month!" She went on to tell us how these "two nice men from Church" had called every month to schedule a visit and had always come and given a gospel message, but she and her husband didn't know why - they just thought the two men were being friendly! "I didn't know they were our home teachers!" I had to laugh, but it also made me think that our new members still need MORE information about whats going on. We may know what visiting and home teaching are, but that doesn't mean they totally understand it.

As Ward Missionaries we explain these concepts to the new members (during personal visits and occasionally during Gospel Essentials lessons). I also include a page in the "Welcome Packet" for new members that explains what home teaching and visiting teaching is and another page that explains what the New Member Discussions are. Now, the information is being provided, but it doesn't seem like its being made clear enough. So, I came up with a sort of "cheat sheet" that explains the 4 types of regular visits that they should be receiving (complete with pictures to help make the distinction easier!). See text below:

Now that I'm an official member of the Ward,
who will be
contacting me to schedule
visits to my home? (and why?)

"Visiting Teachers"

Two women are assigned by the Relief Society to visit each woman in the Ward with a brief gospel message every month. If you are an adult woman, you will be contacted by your new Visiting Teachers soon.

"Home Teachers"

Two men are assigned by the Elders-Quorum (or High Priests Group) to visit each family with a brief gospel message every month. You will be contacted by your new Home Teachers soon.

"Full-time Missionaries"

The full-time Missionaries (the "Elders'') may continue to visit new members and give short gospel messages from time to time as their schedules permit

"Ward Missionaries"

The Ward Missionaries (INSERT NAMES HERE) will visit new members (once a month or so) and give a series of 5 brief lessons called the "New Member Discussions"* (INSERT REAL PHOTO(S) OF YOUR WARD MISSIONARIES OVER <-- HERE)

To conform to the blog format I had to make some changes to the document to show you here, but the basic idea is the same. Its just a brief one-page summary of each of the groups that will be contacting the new members for regular visits. I hope this will help take away some of the confusion.... I'm planning to make these available to future new members, as well as recent converts who might still be having difficulty making sense of all these programs!

*As I've mentioned before, the arrangement that we have in our Ward is that Ward Missionaries are responsible for teaching the New Member Discussions. In other Wards, you may have a different system (the Elders or Home Teachers may teach the New Member Discussions, or a combination of people might be responsible). Consult your Ward Mission Leader for more info.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Get to know new members - the game!

Tonight we had a Relief Society BBQ/Picnic - and the Relief Society Presidency came up with a really cute idea for helping everyone get to know our newer members. They had 6 or 7 of the newest sisters fill out a questionnaire (either ahead of time, or at the activity) with interesting information about themselves (favorite food, first car, last movie they saw, etc).

After everyone had eaten, they asked each of the new sisters to sit in a row up front and as a member of the Presidency read off the trivia facts, everyone else (in the "audience") tried to guess which piece of information went with each person. It was a really good idea because it helped everyone get to know the names of the new members and we also learned a few things about them. All of this without the new members feeling too "on the spot" (because they didn't really have to "do" anything but sit there, so it was low-stress!)

This idea could be adapted to just about any casual Ward or auxilliary activity!