“A Conversation about the Church’s Visitors’ Centers,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 77–78
During the past year changes have been made in the Church’s visitors’ centers that will enable them to more effectively introduce the Church and its message to those who tour them. The Ensign talked with V. Ross Ekins of the Church’s Missionary Department to learn more about visitors’ centers and how they serve members and nonmembers alike.
Q: To begin, what are the Church’s goals for visitors’ centers?
A: The visitors’ centers have three main purposes. First, we want them to teach that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Second, we hope to provide visitors with a pleasant and informative experience. Finally, we want to provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the Church and its teachings.
Q: How many visitors’ centers are operated by the Church?
A: The Church has three different types of information centers. Visitors’centers are the largest of these and are usually located at temple sites. These large centers are typically staffed by from twelve to twenty-four full-time missionaries—usually missionary couples. There are thirteen large visitors’ centers, including one at the Mexico City Temple.
In addition, the Church operates ten information centers in the United States, England, New Zealand, and Iceland. These are smaller facilities with fewer missionaries. Sometimes only one missionary couple will staff such a center.
Then there are thirty-five Church historical sites, including twenty-one at Nauvoo, staffed by full-time missionary couples.
Q: Are these centers accomplishing their purposes?
A: Recently, we’ve been simplifying both the messages and the exhibits themselves. We have tried to design exhibits that meet the expectations of the visitors, such as exhibits about Church history and about the temples. We also present information about the ministry of Christ, the plan of salvation, and other basic doctrines of the Church. The Book of Mormon is featured at most centers.
Regular tours last no more than thirty minutes, with additional supplementary tours available to those who are interested. We structure the tours so there is time to answer questions at the end. A survey conducted among nonmember visitors indicated that the thing that impressed them most was the missionaries. The centers, which give some people their first opportunity to meet a Latter-day Saint, now give visitors more opportunities to talk to the missionaries and have their questions answered.
We’ve also changed our procedure a bit. Years ago, any visitor who filled out a referral card would later be contacted by a full-time proselyting missionary. Now we send referrals to the missionaries only when a visitor has checked a box on the card to indicate a desire to have the missionaries visit them.
Q: Many members apparently regard the visitors’ centers as a missionary tool directed at nonmembers only. Can members use these centers?
A: Visitors’ centers can be used by members in many different ways. First, these centers provide an ideal way to friendship nonmember friends. An informal visit to a nearby center offers a very low-key way to expose friends to the gospel. Inviting a nonmember to visit a center with you lets you introduce someone to the Church without worrying about offending him or her.
In fact, of all the referrals we get in visitors’ centers, the ones that most often result in baptisms are from nonmembers brought to the center by their LDS friends.
Visitors’ centers can also be used as the focus for a memorable family home evening. The exhibits are great teaching tools for members of all ages. Actually, there’s no one in the Church who wouldn’t enjoy touring any of our centers.
By the same token, home teachers could tour a visitors’ center with assigned families when appropriate. This might be particularly useful when attempting to reactivate less active members.
A filmstrip titled How to Use the Visitors’ Center (VVOF1351) gives more information about how members can best make use of these facilities. This should be available from most ward libraries, or it can be ordered from the Salt Lake Distribution Center for $2.50.
Q: You mentioned a statistic on conversion when visitors are brought by an LDS friend. Do we know the effect visitors’ centers have on missionary work overall?
A: We cannot measure the total benefits of visitors’ centers solely by the number of referrals generated, but we know that these centers have helped introduce the gospel to many thousands of people. Full-time proselyting missionaries have found it very helpful to bring investigators to the centers. Visitors are exposed to the wonderful missionary couples serving there, and the maturity of these couples add credibility to their message. And, of course, large numbers of people who visit these centers do request additional missionary contacts as a result of their experience.
In 1985, 4,627,585 individuals toured our visitors’ centers, and we expect that number to increase substantially this year. Many of these people have had no contact with the Church before. If we can introduce these visitors to the Church, help them learn something about the Latter-day Saints, and extend an invitation to learn more, we’re meeting our goals. Above all, we try to make the experience a pleasant one. The visitor is more important than the tour.
Q: What kind of people are called to serve as visitors’ center missionaries?
A: These are usually couples aged fifty-five or older; most are retired, although some do take leaves of absence from their careers to fill a Church mission. We need couples who have the ability to feel and show love for others. You have to be able to communicate that love to be truly effective in this work. We have a great need at some centers for English-speaking missionaries who also have language skills in Spanish, Japanese, and other languages. It is a choice opportunity to serve at any of the information centers the Church operates.