“That Part-Member Family: Converting the Other Part,” Ensign, July 1978, 38
Susan Munson is an active member of the Church who has waited patiently for her nonmember husband to show some interest in the Church. He’s always said, “Oh, that’s fine for you and the kids, honey, but I’m just not interested.”
That’s partly true. But Jack is also shy, wary of new people and new ideas. Over the years, he has grown accustomed to gospel discussions with the full-time missionaries, but it seems they are either transferred or released just as he begins to warm up to them personally. After the last time, frustrated by the cycle, Susan asked Brother Caldwell, the ward mission leader, if there wasn’t something that could be done. He promised to take the matter up in his weekly missionary meeting.
The group brainstormed, carefully weighed the alternatives, and decided a “block party” might be the best way to begin. They asked three member families in the area to plan a backyard party for the Munsons and the Nobles, an investigating family. The host family, the Jamisons, took over from there, reporting the details of the planning. The Rivers family had the largest backyard; they took charge of the barbeque. Allen and Linda Westover made the invitations. All three joined in the fellowshipping.
Jack, initially reluctant to come, was surprised and delighted with the easy, natural friendliness of the group. By the evening’s end, he enthusiastically supported the idea of a second party, a picnic in two weeks. No one said anything about going to church, but Allen Westover, who had discussed Jack’s house-painting project at the party, showed up on Saturday with his own ladder—and came back evenings after work. Steve Caldwell and Glen Rivers also helped several times.
Later that month when the elders quorum had a project, Jack was anxious to help them. There he met Ned Winterby, who had a phenomenal memory for the minutia of Jack’s favorite spectator sport, pro football. As the summer progressed, Jack spent more and more time with Church members. There were chats about fishing rods and politics and raising children, about gardening, working out marital difficulties, and handling job pressures. Jack was talking as well as listening. Social evenings with different families included family home evenings and spiritual discussions. To Susan’s great joy, Jack told her one evening that he was ready to take the next step of being taught by the missionaries and formally joining the Church, which he already had joined, in some sense, informally.
There is nothing more transparent than “friendshipping” activities without friendship feelings. The feelings must come first. In this case, the affection ward members had for Susan made it easy to extend warm interest to Jack, then develop friendly ties with him as an individual. But how can we build that warm relationship? Here are two simple suggestions (If the nonmember is the wife, these suggestions are applicable to her as well.):
1. Be a good listener. Find out about their business or vocation, social likes and dislikes, family activities, child-raising techniques, their houses, boats, cars, pets, gardens, hobbies, reading, cultural activities, and vacations (ask to see their slides and movies).
2. Help out. Does their lawn need edging? Offer to bring over your edger and help do it. Do they sometimes run into a babysitter shortage? Offer your teenagers or yourself. Is there sickness? Call on them or bring over a tasty dish. Do they need someone to watch their dog, canary, or home while they are on vacation? Can you pick up for them some butter that’s on sale? Can you take their children to school along with yours? Many individual circumstances can show them you care.
I can’t stress too much how badly they need to know you care. People are generally converted to people before they are converted to creeds and principles. Mission leaders have discovered that a very common misconception active members have is thinking that doctrinal ignorance is keeping nonmembers away—so that’s what they hit. Part-members are somewhat acquainted with Church doctrine. What they need is a feeling of self-worth, of solid acceptance within the circle of people who live by those doctrines. As self-concepts change, life-styles change—and they change according to the examples they respect most.
Ask yourself these questions, as you think about your effectiveness in fellowshipping a part-member family.
1. Am I hoping they’ll become active? (Yes, of course.)
2. What do we have in common that makes our friendship possible? What do I receive from the relationship as well as give to it?
3. If they never become more active, will what I get out of our friendship still be worth it to me?
4. Am I willing to be friends, even though it may hurt me deeply to see them turn away from the gospel that is so precious to me?
Being a friend to part-member families is not primarily an assignment, not a missionary activity, not a duty. It’s a way of life, a joyous, open, rewarding way of life.