October 16, 2013 3 Comments.

WARNING:  This video is obnoxiously LONG, I say “you know” and “um” over 100 times, and it’s probably only interesting to people who are Mormon since it talks about LDS missionary culture.  Still interested?

I’ve been mulling about on this topic for quite some time and I finally pulled it all together.  It is my response to why I think many LDS people, particularly less effective LDS missionaries, LOVE the phrase “It’s not about the numbers” when talking about missionary work.

If you DON’T want to watch the 31 minute video, then you can read the transcript (below) or just read my 250 word summary right here and scroll around the Prezi presentation on your own below:

250 word summary:  There are two reasons most people say “it’s not about the numbers”.  While one reason is noble, doctrinally sound and motivated by the wellbeing of others, the more common reason for the phrase is less inspiring.  Most of the time, the phrase is used by missionaries who…

  1. Hold a high opinion of themselves as a missionary because they see themselves as a “good person”.
  2. See that Preach My Gospel states that the purpose of missionaries is to baptize and convert non-believers…
  3. …but they themselves rarely experience missionary success in terms of baptisms or conversions of non-believers.

Rather than face the music that perhaps their high opinion of themselves as a missionary isn’t quite grounded in reality, they instead de-emphasize the importance of their role in the baptism and conversion of non-believers with the phrase “It’s not about the numbers”.  This process is called cognitive dissonance in psychology.

This leads to poor proselyting efforts church-wide and is part of the reason for the stagnating/shrinking church growth.  I believe the way to deal with this growing problem (pun DEFINITELY intended) requires two big changes.

  1. At a tactical level, we need better/more comprehensive missionary training than the church currently gives it’s missionaries.  Instruction for the day-to-day implementation of PMG principles is vague at best and absent at worst.
  2. We need to move missionaries to a “growth mindset” about their proselyting abilities, correctly attributing missionary skills as the result of practice and training rather than as a natural attribute of someone who is a “good person”.


Ok I just wanted to have a quick disclaimer here, I might talk about some things that would make people upset or they might find offensive or that I’m attacking them, I’m not, but even if you think that I am, just know that don’t get mad at anyone else, these are all my ideas and you can just think that I’m’ an idiot and it’s all good.

So here’s what this is about.  Sometimes I hear people say the phrase it’s not about the numbers and I’m not the only one that hears this, this is also something that all my siblings who have been on missions have heard and that frequently come up as members of the church.  I want to talk about why it is that that is a phrase that we say and what it’s doing to us as a church and kind of some next steps.

So it’s my personal opinion that the reason that people say it’s not about the numbers is there’s two main reasons and the first one is that they are trying to avoid internal pressures that they’re putting on them self and then the second one is they’re trying to help others avoid external pressures that other people might place on them.

To put that into a more concrete example, for external pressures, I think what I’m trying to say that they’re trying to help other people avoid baseball baptisms.  And when I say avoiding internal pressures, it’s someone is trying to deal with a cognitive dissonance that they have inside their self.  So let’s talk about each of these things.

Let’s start here first because this is easier.  People will say it’s not about the numbers because they want people to avoid something called baseball baptisms.  Now baseball baptisms for those of you who are a little less familiar with the history of the church missionary program, where something that happened a lot in great Britain between 1960 and 1962.  There was a lot of pressure from people, from mission leaders that missionaries need to just start baptizing more people so missionaries decided to use sports as a way to reach out to people and that in and of itself was fine, but what ended up happening is the missionaries took advantage and would instead go to little kids on the street and tell them they wanted them to join their baseball team, but that they couldn’t join the baseball team until they got baptized.

Now the issue with that is that they would have these kids that would say “fine,” they didn’t know anything about the church they’d get baptized and then they’d never hear from the missionaries again.  You hear that and you go, why would you do something like that and the real reason was that a missionary would do something like that is because they felt such immense pressure from a mission leader that they had to get these numbers that they would go do stupid things.

That wasn’t the only dumb thing they did.  They would have beach baptisms where they would tell kids they would give them a beach trip if they’d get baptized in the ocean once they got there.  You had missionaries that were making up names that were going to grave sites, there were all sorts of terrible things that were happening.  And this is not the way that missionary work is supposed to be done, so when I hear this, and I hear somebody say it’s not about the numbers, I totally agree.  It’s not just, this doesn’t just apply to baptism numbers, it applies to almost everything.

For example,  with a new investigator, if a missionary is to find, let’s say they find 1000 new investigators, right?  They go to a baseball stadium and they stand outside and everybody comes and says, “we all want to listen to what you have to say,” and they get all excited and none of them actually sit down and have a lesson with the missionaries none of them actually learn from them then I would say those numbers of the 1000s of new investigators, they didn’t matter, it wasn’t about the numbers in that case and the same thing with lessons to investigators.

Let’s say that all those people did decide to listen to the lessons, but nobody ended up getting baptized.  At that point you have to say ok, well was that the best use of our time, did those lessons even matter.  I would say no probably not.

And then with baptisms at that final end, let’s say that all those people did get baptized, but nobody was spiritually converted and they didn’t receive the blessings of the gospel, well then the baptisms were pointless too, I think the point here is that it doesn’t lead to spiritual conversion and blessings of the gospel, then it just, it really doesn’t matter, the numbers aren’t important in that case.

Now that wasn’t the only thing that was screwy with this situation with baseball baptisms, the issue was that a big part of Mormon theology and a big part of our religion is something we call the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they’re steps.  And those steps are faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, receiving the Holy Ghost and enduring until the end.  And those five steps constitute in our belief system, what someone does when they want to come closer to Christ and be spiritually converted and receive blessings.

The reason why what was happening with baseball baptisms was so dumb and stupid is that they were trying to skip out on the first half of this, they were trying to baptize people before they had faith and repentance.  And not only does that lead to no conversion but it’s also something that is very serious in our religion that you shouldn’t do.

In fact there’s a scripture in Moroni, that’s a book in the book of Mormon that, where Moroni is talking about why we do not baptize little kids in our religion and he was explaining that the reason is is because they can’t repent and if somebody can’t repent then he said it’s almost blasphemous to baptize them and so unfortunately for all these missionaries that were doing this, that were doing the very thing that is spoken of so harshly in the book of Mormon which is having somebody baptized before they repent.

So that’s a terrible terrible situation and in that case when somebody says it’s not about the numbers, when they’re talking like that, they’re totally right.  You have to have conversion in order for any sort of number that you put up to be significant in anyway, and so that’s the issue that you have with baseball baptisms.

Now this is a part that might be a little upsetting to people.  I personally believe that that does happen and that it’s an unfortunate thing, but I would guess that the majority of the time that somebody says it’s not about the numbers is not because they’re worried about baseball baptisms, it’s not because they are trying t protect people from doing something stupid, but it’s because they’re trying to avoid something called cognitive dissonance inside themselves.

So I’m going to explain a little bit about what this is, and this is a little bit of an interesting term that not everybody’s familiar with and the best way to explain it is a Dilbert comic.  Dogbert is talking to the pointy haired boss and he’s telling the pointy haired boss that he’s going to use cognitive dissonance to improve employee morale and what ends up happening is he goes around to different engineers and one of the things he says to an engineer is, “Isn’t it strange that you have this dead end job when you’re twice as smart as your boss, the hours are long, the pay is mediocre nobody respects your contributions and yet you freely choose to work here.”  And then the engineer starts to freak out, saying, “it’s absurd no way, there must be a reason,” and then he goes, “I must work here because I love the work,” and then he smiles and goes “oh I love this job,” and Dogbert’s pleased that he’s tricked this engineer into a crappy job.

So that’s an example of cognitive dissonance when it, when people’s realities and their beliefs don’t match up it causes a lot of strain inside of us and so what we end up doing is we end up lying to ourselves or changing things in order to make, in order to make our reality and our beliefs match up a little more.

Another example of this is imagine somebody had gone to community college and that they had worked really hard and that they had studied and gotten good grades and good, and gotten good experience and all that sort of stuff because they wanted to eventually go to Harvard someday.  So let’s say they do all those things, they sacrifice a ton and then they finally get to Harvard, it’s this great experience they just go, “Yes, I got in.”

And then when they get to Harvard, they realize “Wow, this is no different than my experience at community college.”  Now all of a sudden that starts to cause a lot of a rift inside someone because they might say why did they put forth all that effort to get to Harvard if all it was was just like a community college, and so they would end up probably lying to themselves and saying no, you know what Harvard’s actually not that bad.  That’s another example of somebody trying to change their beliefs in order to make reality a little more palatable.

So this happens with missionaries all the time.  There are three beliefs that kind of hit each other head on that cause these feelings and were going to go through each of them.  It’s that they are

  1. I am a good missionary 
  2. the main purpose of a missionary is to convert people to Christ through baptism, and 
  3. I don’t baptize people.

So this first one, I am a good missionary.  Almost every single missionary believes this when they first go out and their reason is I think there’s a couple of reasons but I mean the first is that our generation anyways has a pretty high opinion of it so we do not like to think f ourselves as not very good and add that to the fact that at least with our generation we have been told that we are a chosen generation that we are special in that there is something that is innately great about all of us, right?  And so we have this high opinion of ourselves as well.

And then in the last ten years there has been discussion about raising the bar for missionaries that we can only accept the best and the brightest missionaries into our missionary force and so you add all these three things together and it’s no surprise that most of our missionaries believe that they are good and great missionaries before they ever put on a name badge.

Now the second belief that missionaries have is that the main purpose of a missionary is to convert people to Christ through baptism.  The reason they have this belief is because it’s true at least in the LDS missionary program.  It’s pounded into their brains over and over in their main book Preach My Gospel.  Here’s just a couple of excerpts, where it says

  • “your purpose is to not only cover the materials, to help others come to Christ through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and baptism.” 
  • “Help qualify people for baptism and confirmation by teaching them true doctrine.”  
  • “Baptizing and converting the people that you teach is central to your purpose.”  
  • “You are assigned to do the Lord’s work in an area, he wants you to watch over your area with love and great care, your purpose is to help others to come unto him through baptism and confirmation.”  
  • “Perhaps you have wondered which of your duties are most important, your purpose is to help people receive… gospel through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and baptism.  As you focus on these indicators you will help people progress towards baptism and confirmation…” 

I mean it’s just pounded into their heads as they go through this sort of thing.  It is what they are sent out there to do and so they have that belief.

The third belief that clashes with that is, it’s not a belief, it’s more of a reality, and that reality’s when a missionary realizes I don’t baptize people.  And that honestly is the reality for most missionaries.

A typical U.S. mission will have around 100 companionships and probably around 400 baptisms a year.  Now the problem is is that we have kind of a 80/20 75/25 split in missionary work where 75% of the baptisms are done by the 25% of companionships which means in a typical US mission you have 25 companionships baptizing 300 people and then you have 75 companionships who are baptizing only 100 people a year which means that for 75% of missionaries out there they will only have two to three converts through their mission and the issue with this is that they obviously have all three of these things running through their heads…

“I’m a good missionary”, “I’m supposed to baptize people”, “but I don’t baptize people”, and that causes a lot of internal struggle for a missionary and you can’t just live inside with all these things.. something’s gotta give is basically what happens here.  You can’t live with the cognitive dissonance, you will fix something.

And so there are three ways that you can deal with cognitive dissonance.

  1. You can change your behavior altogether.  
  2. You can emphasize a new belief that supports your behavior or 
  3. you can alter the importance or value of a conflicting belief.  

So let’s go through these one by one.

1.  changing your behavior altogether.  As you look at this, two of these are beliefs and only one of them is a behavior which is I don’t baptize people.  All of this pain and struggle goes away if you start baptizing right?  There’s no longer any sort of strain or disconnect for a missionary.

Unfortunately it’s kind of tough to just tell someone, “well just start baptizing,” I mean it’s a difficult thing to do.

And so the other way that people deal with it is to emphasize a new belief that supports their behavior.  These are called like bridging beliefs and so the idea is this, we add a fourth side to our triangle to make it some sort of weird diamond looking thingy, but they’re excuses to make all these things fit together.  I call them bridging excuses.

“I am a good missionary, but the people are hard hearted, so I don’t baptize people”, or “I’m a good missionary but my companion is lazy, so I don’t baptize people.”  Or “I am a good missionary but the local leadership is bad that’s why I don’t baptize people.”   So if you can believe one of those other things, it makes the original triangle a lot more palatable, so I call this “start blaming”.

The third and final way that you can deal with cognitive dissonance is altering the importance or value of the conflicting belief.  So as you look at these things which of these can we alter or can we make less important.

Now first of all, it can’t be this one (I don’t baptize people) because this is not a belief, it’s a behavior.  And this is already represented in that first section.

The second one that people can alter is to say, is no longer believe that they’re a good missionary and there is two ways that they can stop believing that.

  1. They can start then saying to themselves, I am not a missionary and they get so frustrated they just decide to go home and I don’t think that’s the right answer.  
  2. The other way that they can deal with this is to say, I am a bad missionary and we’ll talk about that later.  

Now the reason why people decide to usually not change this belief is because one of the most important things that cognitive dissonance does, one of our most strongly held beliefs is how we view ourselves.  If we would, if we had to pick between changing our beliefs about ourselves and changing our beliefs about the world, we’ll always choose to change the world.  We’re very emotionally fragile creature I guess you could say and it doesn’t matter what your level of self esteem is, we really like to protect the idea that we are of our self image and so this is rarely the belief that gets adjusted.

So that takes us to our third belief, the main purpose of a missionary is to convert people to Christ through baptism.  This is usually the belief that gets downgraded and the way we downgrade it is by saying, “well it’s not about the numbers” or “it’s not just about baptisms,” and the reason we change this belief is because something is easy to believe if we have a caricature of the opposite opinion and by that what I mean is this.

The best example for this is there’s a book by George Orwell called 1984 and in the book they have, there’s a leader of a country that they all call big brother and big brother and the enemy of that country is “Goldstein” and so every day big brother puts on a video of “Goldstein” the enemy in front of all of his army, and I’ll just read it.

One of the things from the book, a quote from the book is, “Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the party.  An attack so exaggerate and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people less level headed than one selves might be taken by it.”

It’s easy to discount something if you can see somebody who’s taken it and taken it way too far to the extreme is the basic gist.  And what better example do we have with somebody of the opposite of it’s not about the numbers than baseballs baptisms.  I mean it’s there, we’ve seen what happens when you take that belief too far, that it’s just all about the numbers and so it becomes very easy once you’ve seen somebody who says it’s all about the numbers to make them believe that it’s not about the numbers at all.

So, those are the three ways we can end up changing or dealing with this cognitive dissonance. Now the thing is, and which is interesting is those that believe it’s not about the numbers and those that engage in baseball baptisms, they do not like each other and that makes sense, but the interesting thing is they’re actually a lot more like each other than they’d like to admit.

They’re on different sides of the same coin, you see those who do baseball baptisms, they overemphasize “raw baptism” numbers and then they say it’s not my job to “non key indicator activities” like caring for the people and making sure that they have spiritual conversion and that they get connected with people and all that sort of stuff.

And then those who say it’s not about the numbers, they do the opposite and they say “baptisms are not my job” – they take the complete opposite stance and they overemphasize “non key indicator activities”, putting a lot of emphasis on everything but  the main core missionary work which is faith repentance and baptism for people.  Probably focusing on things like visiting members of the church or doing service things like that.

That’s part of the thing that’s so funny about this is that both sides of this are very similar to one another in that they overemphasize, and underemphasize similar things.

Now the reason that happens is because people don’t understand the long term purposes of the church’s proselyting program, I believe, I mean this isn’t what the church has said, but I believe that at an individual level we believe in

  • helping people with their spiritual conversion and 
  • improving their temporal well being 
…and then at an organizational level, we believe in
  • expanding the church, we do believe in growing the church and 
  • we believe in growing it in such a way that it’s self sufficient.  That when we grow that’s able to continue to grow and that people are able to be supported and be assimilated into the church in a way that is meaningful and helpful for them and that the church doesn’t collapse under its own weight.

Now when you misunderstand those things on the one side you obviously short term selfish thinking and manipulation in the name of personal achievement which is what happened with baseball baptisms.

And then on the other side if you decided to take it the opposite direction, if you don’t understand the purposes of the proselyting program, you get cognitive dissonance, where people disregard preaching the gospel principles in the name of self image preservation, that’s what we just talked about.  People decide that it’s more important, in order to preserve their idea that they are a good missionary and that they don’t baptize people, they decide to disregard preaching the gospel principles.

The problem with that is that when you decide to start, when you decide to say it’s not about the numbers and take your eye off the ball in terms of what really your purpose is that is spoken of in preach my gospel, it leads to very poor execution of what you’re supposed to be doing and you can see that over the last 20, 25 years of the church, we are obviously in a downward slope.

We do not baptize like we used to , we’re, just not that impressive in terms of, in terms of our proselyting now as much as we were when I was born, 25 years ago and it’s obviously taking a toll, this belief on our membership, you can see right here I mean the membership of the church, the active members, the official members, everything is looking rough.

This belief that it’s not about the numbers is part, one of the things that leads to that.  We don’t have a strong missionary program because we are so concerned about preserving the self image.

So, how do we fix that?  One of the things is that you can’t be cognitive dissonance, you have to operate within it, so let’s go talk, let’s go talk through each of those things.

One of the ways that we said that we could deal with it is emphasizing a new belief that supports your behavior.  We call this start blaming.  I don’t think this is the answer, I think whenever you start blaming, you get into something called “not my job syndrome” where you blame it on everyone else, nobody does it, it never leads to great execution of what you’re supposed to do as you can see in this picture.  Moving that branch was not their job, leads to poor execution, so that’s not the answer.

The other way that we remember to change cognitive dissonance, is changing your behavior all together and we talked about that, that means start baptizing.  Now here’s what I think that’s interesting about when we say start baptizing is that I don’t think that missionaries the reason they’re not baptizing is because they’re just not motivated enough, I mean they left their family for two years to go do this or obviously they have motivation and so when you look at this you say, well “is the reason that they don’t baptize is because they don’t want to or they don’t know how?”

I believe that’s because they don’t know how and because they don’t know how I mean there’s a couple reasons why they don’t know how and one of that I believe is that even though we’ve had a major reworking of the MTC and training materials it has not been implemented very well obviously.

You can see those previous graphs that shows that we are on a downward slides in terms of our mission efforts and I think part of the reason is is because there’s an overemphasis on strategy rather than tactics in our training, and so here is I mean, to understand what I’m saying, here’s a picture that explains that strategy is “take the river” and tactics is “use the boat”. it’s knowing what to do versus how to do it and this slide really captures that for me.

Everything that we do needs to have a why a what and a how.  Vision strategy and tactics and what ends up happening when you don’t have a why or a vision of what’s supposed to be happening is you get destruction.  That’s what happened to baseball baptisms.  They knew they, they knew what they were supposed to do, baptize people, they knew how to do it, they came up with a lot of clever ways to do it, but they didn’t understand the background why, why they were doing it which was to really help these people have a spiritual conversion.

Likewise when you have a why – why you’re doing something and you know how to do it but you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re supposed to do, you’re distracted.  You bump from thing to thing from program to program not exactly sure what is the right thing that you’re supposed to do and then what I think you have today is I think that we have very strong why, as a church.

I believe that we have a very strong what we’re supposed to do preach the gospels, filled with what we’re supposed to do and it is very very scarce in how to do it.  There is not a lot of explanation of things.  All the missionaries, if you were to ask missionaries, are you supposed to ask for referrals, most missionaries would say yes, of course it says it in Preach My Gospel, and then if you were to ask them, how are you supposed to ask for referrals, the majority of missionaries would have no idea.

The same thing happens with a lot of other finding activities.  Missionaries spend a majority of their time finding, and yet finding only takes up a very small section of preach my gospel.  This happens over and over as you’re reading preach my gospel.  It’s very heavy on the why and what.  Very very scarce on how and so missionaries end up getting frustrated and so I believe that one of the ways that we can fix that, is that we help give missionaries, the hows the tactics that let them not be frustrated so that they can then start to baptize.

Now one of the things that I want to say about that is that you can’t just tell missionaries  “oh you gotta, this is how you have to do it” and then they’ll go and do it.  There’s obviously a buildup of training before they’re good at doing missionary work and I like to call that “the gap”.  It’s that learning section before you’re a good missionary that you know what you’re supposed to do but you don’t know exactly how to do it the right way as you’re learning there’s that gap where you’re not very good at things. So because of that we have to use the third way to deal with cognitive dissonance to get us through that gap and that’s altering the importance of a value.

Altering the importance or value of a conflicting belief which we called changing your beliefs.  So looking at these three things, the belief that we need to change is not “I don’t baptize people” is not a belief and the main purpose is to baptize people, that’s what got us into this mess in the first place so we obviously need to deal with this third belief which is I’m a good missionary, we need to alter that in some way that’s healthy for us.

I do not believe, there’s two ways that we can alter this and one of them is to say, well instead of “I’m a good missionary”, just say “I’m not a missionary” and I do not believe that this is the right answer for, for a missionary that’s going through this they need to stay I mean Jeffrey R Holland, one of the things he said in the talk was “you cannot ever go home you’ve got to know what this means to me what it’s meant to my life, what it’s meant to my family, the first missionary to go a 180 degree turn for our entire family and its generations.”

I mean I feel strongly about my mission that was to going home is not the answer here you should not, if you fall and stumble on the bike, doesn’t mean you should never try again.

And so, the other way that we can deal with this is to then say “well I guess I’m a bad missionary.”

And this has a really bad connotation and I don’t think it should and that’s because I think we misunderstand something as a church and that is is that being a good person does not make you a good missionary.  Those two things are not synonymous.  It is there are plenty of good, great people that are just awful, awful missionaries and the reason is is because being a good missionary is a skill, it is not an attribute right?

It’s something that can be improved and worked on, it’s not like an attribute that you have or you don’t like you’re tall, it’s like being good at basketball, it’s something that you can work on.  The reason why people really need to work on it, is because being a missionary is very difficult, there’s a lot of different things and roles that you take on I mean at any given day, looking through this list, you have

  • theologian
  • appointment setter
  • teacher 
  • trainer 
  • door to door salesman 
  • promoter 
  • event organizer 
  • therapist 
  • marriage counselor 
  • project manager 
  • planner 
  • public speaker 
  • mediator 
  • travel agent 
  • coach 
  • behavior change specialist
  • volunteer
  • customer success manager
  • sales manager
  • translator 

…you can do all of those things and they can all happen on the same day!  It is no wonder why we struggle when we are first on our missions and that’s okay!

The thing to remember is that it’s ok it’s ok to be a bad missionary, it’s ok to be clueless and it’s ok to be disappointed sometimes.  Everybody struggles.  What is not ok is to stop trying to improve.  And that’s, that’s what ends up happening with a lot of these people – it says in preach my gospel in there how to be a successful missionary, how to know if you’re successful.  It says work effectively every day, do your very best to bring souls to Christ and seek earnestly to learn and improve and that’s where we struggle.  We don’t try and do that.

You see with all these different ways that we can try to deal with this – we can obviously work on baptizing a little better, but we need to start changing this belief that we must be good missionaries.  What ends up happening when people feel like that when they say it’s not about the numbers what they’re really trying to say is “I feel stuck.  I feel trapped.  I don’t feel like I know what I’m supposed to do and so rather than admit that I’m a bad missionary I will just say to myself it’s not about the numbers.”

They feel like they are in prison.  And that is not a good place to be because what they start to think is they go “I am just this little fledgling version of a missionary that’s really bad” and they don’t believe that they can grow and get better.  And it hurts them and it leads to this bad cycle of us not being very effective missionaries because we’re afraid of this idea that we need to grow and get better and it’s important to remember that everybody can be a better teacher a better finder a better missionary.

That’s the core belief that we all need to have and the other important thing to remember is that we all start somewhere.  We all were bad at one point in time and we need to be ok with the fact that at one point we’re all bad missionaries and that honestly most of us throughout our entire missions are bad missionaries.

There’s always something that we can do better and that’s ok and so rather than when people say it’s not about the numbers, instead of using that as our excuse, we need to get away from that in order to protect ourselves and say, “yea it is about helping people be baptized and even though I’m not very good at it right now, hopefully I can get better.”

So the next time I hear somebody say it’s not about the numbers, instead of me doing what I usually do which is to pull out preach my gospel and read all those quotes to people about how it’s important to baptize and all these sorts of things, instead of trying to beat them over the head with reality and with preach my gospel, we need to attack that deeper problem.

So when somebody says it’s not about the numbers I think the appropriate response is, “you’re right, I feel like it’s about always trying to be better and to be patient with my weaknesses but not complacent with them.  We need to be striving to become the types of missionaries who can convert hundreds of people how have been prepared by God who surely live in our areas as missionaries but be patient with ourselves on our journey to become that type of missionary.”

That’s what’s most important and I think that is the response we need to say to people when they say “well it’s not about the numbers.”  The response is, “you’re right, it’s about getting better,” and I think that if we have that mentality, it will pull us away from this toxic thinking of excuses and it’s not about the numbers and towards this idea of growth that we can get better.

3 responses to ““It’s Not About The Numbers””

  1. CTorg says:

    Tanner man,
    I thought there was a lot of good things said here. I don’t agree completely with one of your fundamental points though. I still don’t think its about the numbers. Here me out though. So i read the missionary purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ and that the way we do that is through helping people to have faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, get the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end (and enduring to the end is a very important one I think many missionaries completely write off).

    I think that you’re right that baptism is important. Don’t get me wrong. But I think that one can be an excellent missionary and not baptize much. I think the main flaw (and you even talk about this with the baseball baptisms) is that you almost throw out the other steps and say baptism is the only step that matters. I would argue that is incorrect and in fact may be one of the least important steps. Obviously baptism is necessary for salvation, but I think missionaries should focus on bringing people closer to Christ in whatever step of the process that person is. If you happen to be the missionary that hits the baptism step a lot.. Awesome. You can feel great about yourself. But no matter which of those steps a missionary is helping people accomplish, as long as they are bringing people closer to Christ I think they are doing their job. A baptism is worthless if the person falls away shortly thereafter (which is all too common) and I would argue that a decrease in baptism numbers is not always such a bad thing.

    Additionally, I don’t think that numbers are that important in most key indicators. There were so many times on my mission when I tried to force a situation into a lesson because I didn’t want to report a low number of lessons, DESPITE the promptings I received that that wasn’t what the person needed at that time. I think the key indicators are important, but too many people worry about numbers and get away from what is truly important in missionary work.. and that is bringing other closer to Christ no matter if they can count it as a lesson or a contact or whatever.

    I may be completely off base here and that’s fine if you think I am, but I sincerely think that, although suggesting that it is about the numbers is a little true, it isn’t nearly as important as you make it sound. We need to create strong members, not just lots of members. I think we can do both (and I think you’re spot on with missionaries needing to receive more instruction in the How category).

    Anyway man, just thought I’d throw in my 2 cents. Have a good one.


  2. Rachel Larsen says:

    Hey Tanner,
    I found your presentation extremely thought provoking and brave. I was particularly interested because as a believer in Christ, I want to know the spiritual condition of my world, my community, my friends. Clearly I’m not of the LDS faith, so I feel as though my inquiries may be misdirected because of the lack of understanding I have of your beliefs. However, after listening to your argument, I just want to understand better how your solution at the end incorporates/rests upon/is supported by the Holy Ghost like you talked about previously in the presentation?
    I hope it’s okay I’m asking questions!

  3. Tanner says:

    How do you propose that we aim to improve the “how” training of missionary work? Teaching at the MTC I don’t feel like very many missionaries even understand the why and what very well. We spend about 90% of our time on those two because without them in place there is no room for the how. From my perspective, the how training must happen in the field. I don’t think many people have figured out the how in the way that Ammon did for example. I mean, I see how I could fix a missionary by being their trainer or maybe exchanges as a district leader, but that requires me to understand the how… but how do you fix this problem on a large scale?

    Love the presentation though. :) Very Joniesque. It makes me miss the good old days.

    Btw I’m teaching a district headed to Eugene right now. So many memories have been coming back. I think it would be awesome to master the “how” of helping people experience a spiritual conversion through home teaching. That would certainly keep me from feeling like I need to go back to Oregon to be a missionary again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and praying with Rach about it. Last week I got assigned to hometeach one of the action list families. Looks like God is getting ready to teach me some things!

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