“How Wards and Stakes Do It!” Ensign, Oct. 1977, 77
You and your family have decided you really want to do missionary work. You even know the first family you re going to talk to—good friends of yours that you’ve known and liked for some time. And someday soon you’re going to do it.
But admit it—you’re kind of nervous about it. What if they reject the gospel—or reject you along with it?
Maybe it’ll help if you know that everybody in your ward is pulling for you. And they’re ready to help every step of the way.
There are four general areas where wards and stakes—and other local Church organizations—can help your family. First, they can teach you some of the tried-and-true ideas about loving nonmember families into the Church. Second, they can provide opportunities for you to introduce your friends to the gospel way of life. Third, they can encourage you to get started—help you take the plunge into the great missionary effort. And fourth, they can join you in fellowshipping the families you’re bringing in.
Wards and branches all over the Church have been trying out some exciting ideas along these lines. Here’s a sampling:
In the Phoenix Arizona North Stake, two Melchizedek Priesthood holders in each ward are given a Book of Mormon on Sunday. Then they report back the next week on their experience in giving the scriptures to a family they already know and care about—which teaches and encourages all the others in the quorum. In fact, at least one ward in the stake has the family speak for just a couple of minutes in sacrament meeting about their experience in sharing the gospel. The whole ward shares in the learning experience!
The nine stakes in Alberta, Canada, have joined forces to produce a booklet entitled “How to Prepare Your Friends and Neighbours to Hear the Gospel.” The thirteen-step program, already widely known in the Church, has been reduced to four simple steps:
1. Prayerfully select one or two fine families,
2. As a family, contact them (get acquainted),
3. Plan a family home evening together,
4. Invite them and the missionaries into your home.
Under each of these headings in the booklet are dozens of suggestions about specific things that families can do. The same kind of information can be found in the June 1974 Ensign, pp. 6–11. (“How to Share the Gospel,” by Ernest Eberhard.) Or you may wish to think of your own ideas. Pretty soon you will have a plan tailor-made for your family and the good friends with whom you want to share the gospel.
In the Linda Mar Ward, Pacifica California Stake, the bishop purchases a set of missionary discussions for every new priest as soon as he is ordained. Then, at various times throughout the year, the priests go over those discussions, with those not participating directly following along in their discussion manuals, turning over the pictures at the appropriate times. When they’re familiar with the discussions, they go out regularly with the missionaries at night, able to be a real help in the teaching process.
The Lakeland Ward, Tampa Florida Stake, has few seventies—but a large and strong elders quorum. So the elders put on an open house, and ward members brought both nonmember friends and formerly inactive members who were working to get back into activity in the Church. In a similar vein, wards in the servicemen’s stake in Mannheim, Germany, hold “Wilford Woodruff Firesides,” where members and nonmembers come to hear the stake patriarch, the Swiss Temple president, or other local Church leaders answer questions on gospel topics.
Themed open houses are especially helpful. A ward in the Kansas City Missouri Stake recently held an open house on genealogy—and advertised it as a public service on local radio stations and in the newspapers. More than 400 people came to learn about the Church’s long-standing work in tracing ancestry, which naturally included a discussion of the eternal family and temple ordinances. Another ward invited an expert to speak on the Dead Sea Scrolls, tying the discussion into the Church’s obvious interest in ancient scripture! Food storage, home production, family home evening, and many other Church programs can be used as themes for open houses.
The greatest opportunities, however, are found in the regular Church programs. One California ward with a young membership had to emphasize Primary since most of the families in the ward had several children that age. But they didn’t stop there: they welcomed nonmember children into the Primary and the Cub Scouting program. As the parents of these children have begun to see the good results of Church teachings, they have visited the church, become friends with members, and some of them have joined the Church.
Any strong program can become a golden missionary opportunity, for where the Church program is working well, families in the ward will feel confident about bringing their nonmember friends. For youth, this is particularly true in our excellent youth programs, activities, service projects, outings, etc. For adult sisters, it is also true in the many and varied opportunities of Relief Society. No sister should really ever want to overlook the possibilities for sisterhood and learning that can appeal to nonmember women in the lessons on homemaking, mother education, cultural refinement, and social relations.
The seventies in one Phoenix meetinghouse have hung pictures from the missionary discussions in the hallways. Visitors to the chapel are naturally drawn to the eye-catching pictures, and their questions about them lead into good gospel discussions.
And, of course, the Church as a whole provides tremendous opportunities in many areas. Visitors centers at temples and many historic sites are perfect ways to introduce friends to the gospel, since the centers are interesting tourist spots and are geared to teach the gospel in a natural, easily understood way. Wards, quorums, and auxiliaries near visitors centers often organize outings to these sites that can easily include nonmember friends. (A complete list of the Church’s visitors centers is on p. 28.)
Perhaps the hardest thing about missionary work is getting started. Good intentions can go on for years without ever turning into good works! The ward and quorum can help overcome that inertia.
The first encouragement, of course, is to keep missionary work constantly on the Saints’ minds. Converts telling their stories in sacrament meetings and frequent reminders and reports on missionary work from the bishopric and other leaders combine to create an awareness of the importance of the work.
But help can be even more specific. In San Diego, California, the ward mission leaders are helping members commit themselves to missionary work by asking them the name of the family they plan to work with and when they plan to have that family ready for a visit from the missionaries. Of course, progress may be faster or slower than this initial goal; but the important thing is that the Saints know that someone else is concerned with their missionary efforts. The ward mission leader checks back regularly to talk about the investigator family: what kind of progress they are making, what questions they have, what the member family needs in order to make even more progress in the future. In other words, the Saints are tied into an overall ward missionary effort—they realize that they aren’t alone in their work, and knowing that is a tremendous boost to their confidence.
Nothing gives an investigator a warmer feeling than being greeted as a friend by everyone he meets in the Mormon Church. But we must also remember that nothing makes an investigator more wary than having dozens of total strangers throw all kinds of new doctrines at him. The friendship must come instantly and sincerely, while the teaching must come slowly, “line upon line.”
The Overland Park Ward, Kansas City Missouri Stake, takes the obligation to fellowship new members very seriously. The bishop has called four members to serve as “fellowshippers,” and their task is to visit new members and inactive members, helping them become accustomed to activity in the Church. The fellowshippers spend twenty hours a month actually visiting with people, answering their questions about the gospel and teaching them details of many basic Church doctrines and programs that the missionaries could only touch lightly on before baptism: temple ordinances, patriarchal blessings, the details of modern Church organization, what the auxiliaries do, and so on. Their twice-monthly visits for six to nine months are often in addition to visits from home teachers. In the four years that fellowshippers have been serving, more than nine-tenths of the converts to the Church in the Overland Park Ward have remained active, half have already gone to the temple, and many formerly inactive members have returned to full activity.
Another program in the Overland Park Ward that has helped new members become a part of the ward is the “eat-and-linger” program. Participation is voluntary, and the program is simple: once a month three couples get together and have an easy pot-luck dinner, spending time afterward to chat and get acquainted. Because the children aren’t present, the adults are able to find out their common interests and carry on stimulating conversations without interruptions. The program has not only helped converts feel accepted in the ward, but has also helped long-time members who have just moved into the area become an integral part of the ward.
Many wards throughout the Church are actively helping missionary work by sending priests out on short-term missions during summer vacation. Most of these young men work to save money to support themselves on these week-long missions (or longer, depending on the stake and mission leaders), so that they learn firsthand what every aspect of missionary work means. They not only strengthen the mission they live in—they are also better prepared to do really effective missionary work when they go on full-time missions a few years later.
One bishop, when asked why his ward was so aware of and active in missionary work, Said, “I guess it’s because we’ve seen the fruits of our labor. We care about each other in this ward as if we were all in the same family. We’re as excited about each potential convert as little children are when a new baby comes into their family.”
What does this ward do? Like all other wards where missionary work is going well, they feel and live like an understanding family: “When people make mistakes, they’re forgiven, and the mistakes are forgotten. It goes in three steps: We first set our own lives in order, living the commandments and staying close to the Lord. Then we love our fellow Saints, rejoicing when they’re happy, comforting them when they’re sad, helping them when they’re in need. These first two steps make us so close and so happy, we can’t help but go on to number three: bringing that same joy to our neighbors and friends.
“It’s like what we imagine the City of Enoch might have been: all of us loving and helping each other, being one in spirit, the way we’re commanded to be. When a stranger comes into a group like this, he can’t help but feel like a brother from the start, can’t help but want to be a part of it. That’s our best missionary tool—a happy ward.”
The best support the ward as a whole can give to members in their missionary work is to make the Church and the gospel such a beautiful part of their lives that not sharing that happiness with their friends is unthinkable. When every Latter-day Saint is sure that he is loved and accepted by the Church members he knows best—those he works with every day—then he’ll have no fear in bringing his friends into the Church. And he’ll never feel alone in doing missionary work. The kind of love and concern missionary work needs will be a regular part of his normal life in the Church.