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Friday, April 1, 2011

Ward-missionaries fellowshipping investigators & converts

One of the most difficult parts of a conversion process is the successful transition from investigator to ward member. As a ward missionary, I have thought a lot about this process and how we can improve it. We have what I would consider a fair amount of convert baptisms in our ward - averaging about 1 baptism per month during the past 2 years that we have been ward missionaries. This is probably low compared to many areas, and undoubtabley lower than what is possible. However, as far as baptism 'numbers' go, it's the most successful ward I have ever been in, (including my time as a full-time missionary). Since we usually have the highest (or one of the highest number of) baptisms in our Stake, the first thing people want to know is, 'well, how many of them are still active?'. That is a fair question. I would really like to say that every one of our converts has stayed active. The truth is that while most of our converts are active in the church, some are lukewarm in their attendance, and several of the converts baptized last year haven't been back to church since the Sunday they were confirmed.

I have gone over each scenario in my mind again and again - where did it go wrong? (especially for those converts who have never returned?). I feel that these particular converts had a relationship with the missionaries who taught them, but never developed any relationship with the ward. When the missionaries moved on, so did the converts. As I have written about in the past, it is crucial for ward members (including ward missionaries) to get involved with investigators while they are still in the process of preparing to be baptized, so that we can help bridge that gap.

We try to be involved with teaching investigators whenever possible, but we have learned from experience that different full-time missionaries have varying levels of willingness to include us in their teaching appointments, so I feel like I have to pick my battles. The majority of missionaries that we've had in our area seem to prefer to visit their investigators without a member, or when they do take someone with them, they prefer to choose their own fellowshippers instead of using the ward-missionaries for teaching appointments. We always make ourselves available to go with them for teaching appointments, but we usually aren't included.

This has been of concern to me, because of several converts who have fallen away over the past 2 years. Even one lost convert is too many. Of those who have fallen away, there was something in common among them- there was no ward-missionary present at any of their pre-baptism teaching discussions. While we were eager to introduce ourselves when they attended church, there was no other contact between us as ward-missionaries and these particular investigators prior to their baptisms.

I now make sure that as soon as I hear that there is a baptism date set, I assert myself to ensure that I am able to be present for at least one pre-baptism appointment with the full-time missionaries. I feel that this is of vital importance because #1- I use the opportunity to explain that we (the ward-missionaries) will begin coming to their home to teach their new-member lessons during the months after their baptism (this familiarizes them with the idea, so its harder to dismiss when I call for an appointment). #2- Even if you don't teach the new-member lessons in your ward (in some wards this is handled by the full-time missionaries), you are still building an important social relationship with the investigator/convert that you just can't develop as well in the hallway at church. Being in a home setting is much more effective. #3- Every contact with the investigator/convert is important*. #4- If you have already been in the investigator's home, it is easier for you to drop by with a plate of cookies or call to remind them about an activity, because it has now become a social relationship instead of just a formal relationship from church.

*Always leave pre-baptism-investigators and converts something with your name and phone number on it, so they will remember your name after you're gone and can contact you if needed.

Even if you aren't able to attend a missionary discussion with your full-time missionaries, arrange some way to get to know your investigators and develop that relationship before their baptism. I've come to the conclusion that its our responsibility to get out and friendship the new members, and that I can't wait to be invited to participate - if I do, it may be too late.

I remember reading somewhere that member contact with new converts should DOUBLE following the baptism. I think this is the opposite of what we naturally would do - we normally think, "oh, I don't want to bother them"...and I'm not saying to harass your converts, just let them know that we care by showing an "increase of love".

I try to have some sort of contact with each pre-baptism-investigator EVERY FEW DAYS after their baptism date is set. It doesn't have to be anything major. Here are some ideas for how to do this:
  • message via email or facebook
  • by phone
  • a social visit to their home
  • a FHE at your home
  • at a church activity
  • talk to them at church on Sunday
  • give them a handout with some info about an activity or conference coming up
  • invite them to Sunday School
  • going with them to their baptism interview
  • going to one of their missionary discussions with the full-time missionaries
  • just dropping by with a loaf of bread
  • dropping off a 'welcome to the ward' new-member packet

FOLLOWING the baptism, I try to have contact with each new convert EVERY DAY for the next week or so, then tapering off as appropriate, but continuing with contact several times a week:
  • message via email or facebook
  • by phone to see how they are doing
  • a new-member newsletter delivered in person or by mail
  • a social visit to their home
  • a new-member lesson in their home
  • a FHE at your home
  • bringing them to a church activity
  • sitting with them at church on Sunday
  • just dropping by with a plate of goodies
Another idea that I've started using recently is that I take photos of the convert on the day of their baptism, then have prints made. I make extra copies for the convert and the full-time missionaries, which I give them. I also put one of the photos in a frame as a gift for the convert, and I write a personal message to them on the back. The couple that I did this for recently was really touched, and when I went to their home a few days later, I saw the framed photo proudly displayed in their living room, which made me really happy!

Since I have started using these ideas, I have been very comfortable with the level of friendship that we have been able to develop with our current baptism-candidates and recent converts.

Its hard for me to accept, but converts have their own freedom of choice and some will still choose to turn away from the church, no matter how well they are fellowshipped. However, I feel like if I have done everything I can to fellowship. love, and encourage them, I will have done my part.

2 comments:

  1. Looks like the leaders need to read the handbook of instructions, including the mission president, stake president, and ward council. Member involvement during the teaching process is not only suggested but instructed as a " to do". I applaud your efforts though. If you do it the Lord's way you will have the the right results. It must be taught and acted upon from the leaders with the priesthood keys. If not then, your efforts are equivalent to a "man's church"

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  2. Going from investigator to member can truly be a hard transistion, but whem the members of your ward are aware of the unique circumstances new members are going through it really helps. We just found your blog and think it's great!

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