My beloved brethren and sisters: First, may I thank you for being with us on this occasion, for this and the many other wonderful things which you do. You give of your time, your energy, your means to the accomplishment of the Lord’s work. I am confident the Lord loves you for your devotion, for your willingness to do all that you are asked to do.
It is a wonderful and serious responsibility to speak to you. Speculation has been going about that President Hinckley is going to announce some new and glamorous program. I assure you that this is not so. My Brethren of the Twelve, who are deeply concerned about our missionary work throughout the world, have asked that I share with you some feelings that I have on this most important matter.
In terms of the eventual audience, this is probably the largest gathering ever convened in the cause of missionary work. The Tabernacle is filled. The proceedings of this meeting will be seen by almost all of the nearly 59,000 full-time missionaries laboring throughout the world. Additionally, the thousands, the hundreds of thousands, of Church officers who have an interest and responsibility in this matter are gathered with us, or the proceedings of this hour will be taken to them. I forewarn you, this will be a rather long talk. I am an old man. I do not know how much longer I will live, and so I want to say what I have to say, while I have the strength to say it. I do not know when I will give a talk this long again. I shall give two speeches interrupted by the singing of a hymn. Altogether, I will take about 40 minutes. Having been warned, some of you will wish to get comfortable. Pleasant dreams.
I spoke the other day with one of the most enthusiastic converts I have ever met. We were in Chicago for a big meeting which brought together some 20,000 members of the Church in the great United Center, where the Chicago Bulls play basketball. Randy Chiostri, a new member of the Church, drove us about while we were there. All during those long rides in the Chicago traffic he was talking about missionary work, praising the Church as the most wonderful institution in the world, talking of the gospel and the plan of salvation as the greatest thing that had ever come into his life. Randy’s introduction to the Church came when he dated Nancy. He took her to dinner. On the first date she said she drank no liquor. She would not take wine. How curious, he thought. She said it was against her faith. Smoking was also against her faith. Her faith became the subject of their conversations.
He married her on the one-year anniversary of that first date. But he could not accept her religion. It took him almost eight years to overcome his doubts.
One pair of missionaries after another taught him. Finally, he was touched by the Spirit. He was baptized last March.
He visited the Hill Cumorah. He visited Nauvoo. He said: “I visited 17 temples. I visited them on the outside but not on the inside.” He went to every temple he could get to. He now looks forward to the day that he will visit them on the inside. That first inside visit, in Chicago, will be in April. He will receive his endowment, and then the next day he and Nancy will be sealed.
After his baptism, Randy was immediately put to work. He was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. After being a member for about nine months, he was ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. He loves the Church. He is consumed with his love of the gospel. It has become the major interest of his life. He cannot stop talking about it. Each night and morning he gets on his knees and thanks the Lord for the wondrous thing that has come into his life.
I learned a few things from Randy as I listened to him. The first is the tremendous power of the example of a member of the Church. It was Nancy’s firm but quiet stance on that first date concerning no liquor and no wine which caught his attention. The missionaries worked on him through the years, but she was the key that unlocked his heart to a love for the Lord, and his mind to an understanding of the plan of salvation.
The second thing I learned is that you never give up when there is the slightest spark of interest. It took him nearly eight years to come into the Church. His mind was open, but there was a lurking fear over taking so bold a step. He was setting aside the traditions of his forebears and stepping into something new and strange and difficult to understand.
Third, he was put to work immediately following his baptism. His bishop saw that he had something challenging to do. Was he qualified to handle the assignment? The bishop gave that question very little attention. He saw an eager new convert, and he gave him a responsibility on which to grow.
The bishop saw that he had friends in the Church. The first, of course, was his wife, Nancy, and there were a few more able people who could answer his questions and listen patiently when he did not understand. He was not left friendless, to grope through the dark. He had those who were willing to take the time to talk with him.
Does he know all there is to know about the Church? No, of course not. He is constantly learning, and with that learning is a growing enthusiasm.
He is excited about what he has found. He is eager to receive the higher blessings of the temple. His testimony has become strong and secure within less than a year’s time. I believe he is a 100 percent convert, and his enthusiasm is contagious. We need more of this kind, and we need many more to work with them.
From the beginning of this work, missionary service has been a four-step process:
Finding the investigator.
Teaching the investigator.
Baptizing the worthy convert.
Fellowshipping and strengthening the new member.
Last year there were approximately 300,000 convert baptisms throughout the Church. This is tremendously significant. This is the equivalent of 120 new stakes of 2,500 members each. Think of that: 120 new stakes in a single year! It is wonderful. But it is not enough. I am not being unrealistic when I say that with concerted effort, with recognition of the duty which falls upon each of us as members of the Church, and with sincere prayer to the Lord for help, we could double that number. The big initial task is first to find interested investigators. So many of us look upon missionary work as simply tracting. Everyone who is familiar with this work knows there is a better way. That way is through the members of the Church. Whenever there is a member who introduces an investigator, there is an immediate support system. The member bears testimony of the truth of the work. He is anxious for the happiness of his investigator friend. He becomes excited as that friend makes progress in learning the gospel.
The full-time missionaries may do the actual teaching, but the member, wherever possible, will back up that teaching with the offering of his home to carry on this missionary service. He will bear sincere testimony of the divinity of the work. He will be there to answer questions when the missionaries are not around. He will be a friend to the convert who is making a big and often difficult change.
The gospel is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to be proud of. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” wrote Paul to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:8). Opportunities for sharing the gospel are everywhere.
Dr. William Ghormley served as president of the stake in Corpus Christi, Texas. He bought his gasoline at a particular station. Each time he filled his tank he would leave a piece of Church literature with the station owner. It might have been a tract or a Church magazine or the Church News, but he never went there without leaving something. The man who ran the station was converted by the power of the Spirit as he read that literature. When last I checked, he was serving as a bishop.
The process of bringing new people into the Church is not the responsibility alone of the missionaries. They succeed best when members become the source from which new investigators are found.
I would like to suggest that every bishop in the Church give as a motto to his people, “Let’s all work to grow the ward.” I am not sure the grammar is correct, but the idea is right.
Let there be cultivated an awareness in every member’s heart of his own potential for bringing others to a knowledge of the truth. Let him work at it. Let him pray with great earnestness about it. Let each member pray, as did Alma of old:
“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing [others] again unto thee in Christ.
“Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee” (Alma 31:34–35).
My heart reaches out to you missionaries. You simply cannot do it alone and do it well. You must have the help of others. That power to help lies within each of us. But you must do all you can. You must be anxiously engaged. When you are not working on referrals of members, you must be developing those referrals yourselves through tracting and related means.
I spoke at the funeral of a dear friend the other day. Some years ago he served as a mission president. He felt totally inadequate when he arrived in the field. He was sent to succeed a very good man, a man of great ability, an excellent leader, and a very able president.
When this new man took over the mission and made his first tour of meetings with missionaries, he said to them: “I never served a mission as a young man, and so I don’t know what you are going through. But do your best, your very, very best. Say your prayers and work hard and leave the harvest to the Lord.”
With that kind of spirit and that outreach of love, a whole new attitude spread through the mission. Members got behind the missionaries. Within a year the number of converts had doubled.
And now this word from Moroni, both to the missionaries and to the converts: “See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out” (Morm. 9:29).
Speaking of worthiness in coming into the Church, President Joseph F. Smith once wrote: “People must be taught before they are fit candidates for baptism. Now, what shall they be taught? Why, faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost, faith in the efficacy of prayer, and in the ordinances and principles of the gospel which Jesus taught; faith in the restoration of this gospel and all its powers, to the Prophet Joseph Smith; faith in the Church which he was instrumental in establishing; faith in the priesthood, as authorized servants of the living God; faith in the revelations received in modern times; faith in the performance of the works required of a Latter-day Saint; faith in the principle of tithing, and in all other requirements, temporal and spiritual, mentioned in the law of God; and, finally, faith to live lives of righteousness before the Lord” (“Baptism,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1911, 267–68).
Now, my brethren and sisters, we can let the missionaries try to do it alone, or we can help them. If they do it alone, they will knock on doors day after day and the harvest will be meager. Or as members we can assist them in finding and teaching investigators.
Whose responsibility is it? I begin with the stake presidents and their councils. A stake mission with a stake mission president is found in each stake. It is their responsibility, working under the general direction of the stake president, to work constantly at the task of finding and encouraging investigators. Those finders include every member of the Church.
Let there develop in every stake an awareness of the opportunity to find those who will listen to the gospel message. In this process we need not be offensive. We need not be arrogant. The most effective tract we will carry will be the goodness of our own lives and example. And as we engage in this service, our lives will improve, for we shall be alert to see that we do not do or say anything which might impede the progress of those we are trying to lead toward the truth.
I request each stake and district president to accept full responsibility and accountability for the finding and friendshipping of investigators within your stake or district. I request each bishop and branch president to accept the same responsibility within your ward or branch. You brethren have a sacred obligation before the Lord for this effort. You set the example for what others may do under your inspired leadership. We have full confidence in your capacity and willingness to do it.
There needs to be an infusion of enthusiasm at every level in the Church. Let this subject be dealt with occasionally in sacrament meeting. Let it be discussed by the priesthood and the Relief Society in their weekly meetings. Let the Young Men and the Young Women talk about and plan ways to help in this most important undertaking. Let even the Primary children think of ways to assist. Many a parent has come into the Church because of a child who was invited to Primary. I have a granddaughter who has a little nonmember friend. She takes her to Church. The girl’s mother, without any malice, said to her the other day, “You say grace just like the Mormons.”
Ward and stake council meetings should have on the agenda the status of investigators developed by the ward members and every convert who has recently come into the Church.
If this happens, then the missionaries will be busy. They will be happy. They will be productive. The revelation says to them:
“Ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name, lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, declaring my word like unto angels of God.
“And ye shall go forth baptizing with water, saying: Repent ye, … for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (D&C 42:6–7).
The Lord further said: “And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, … neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst” (D&C 84:80).
He continues: “Whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).
Missionaries may appropriately ask the members for referrals. We know that missionaries who ask for referrals are far more likely to receive them.
The number of member referrals has declined in many areas because the matter does not receive attention. For instance, in the United States and Canada 42 percent of investigators came from member referrals in 1987. By 1997 that number had dropped to 20 percent. A similar decline is found across the world.
Now, brothers and sisters, this downward trend must be reversed. We need again to give this important matter its proper priority. The Lord will bless those who assist in this all-important work.
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16).
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 113).
And again: “Let the Saints remember that great things depend on their individual exertion, and that they are called to be co-workers with us and the Holy Spirit in accomplishing the great work of the last days” (Teachings, 178).
Every one of the Presidents of the Church following Joseph Smith has spoken on this important matter.
Great is our work, tremendous is our responsibility in helping to find those to teach. The Lord has laid upon us a mandate to teach the gospel to every creature. This will take the very best efforts of every missionary—full-time and stake. It will take the very best efforts of every bishop, of every bishop’s counselor, of every member of the ward council. It will take the very best interests of every stake president and his council, and particularly the Member Missionary Coordinating Councils.
God bless you, my beloved brethren and sisters, in meeting the tremendous challenge that is ours. We cannot evade it. We cannot escape it. We must face up to it. The opportunities are tremendous. We are equal to it, and the Lord will bless us as we try.
Having found and baptized a new convert, we have the challenge of fellowshipping him and strengthening his testimony of the truth of this work. We cannot have him walking in the front door and out the back. Joining the Church is a very serious thing. Each convert takes upon himself or herself the name of Christ with an implied promise to keep His commandments. But coming into the Church can be a perilous experience. Unless there are warm and strong hands to greet the convert, unless there is an outreach of love and concern, he will begin to wonder about the step he has taken. Unless there are friendly hands and welcome hearts to greet him and lead him along the way, he may drop by the side.
There is absolutely no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable. These converts are precious. Every convert is a son or daughter of God. Every convert is a great and serious responsibility. It is an absolute imperative that we look after those who have become a part of us. To paraphrase the Savior, what shall it profit a missionary if he baptize the whole world unless those baptized remain in the Church? (see Mark 8:36).
I received the other day a very interesting letter. It was written by a woman who joined the Church a year ago. She writes:
“My journey into the Church was unique and quite challenging. This past year has been the hardest year that I have ever lived in my life. It has also been the most rewarding. As a new member, I continue to be challenged every day.”
She goes on to say that when she joined the Church she did not feel support from the leadership in her ward. Her bishop seemed indifferent to her as a new member. Rebuffed, as she felt, she turned back to her mission president, who opened opportunities for her.
She states that “Church members don’t know what it is like to be a new member of the Church. Therefore, it’s almost impossible for them to know how to support us.”
I challenge you, my brothers and sisters, that if you do not know what it is like, you try to imagine what it is like. It can be terribly lonely. It can be disappointing. It can be frightening. We of this Church are far more different from the world than we are prone to think we are. This woman goes on: “When we as investigators become members of the Church, we are surprised to discover that we have entered into a completely foreign world, a world that has its own traditions, culture, and language. We discover that there is no one person or no one place of reference that we can turn to for guidance in our trip into this new world. At first the trip is exciting, our mistakes even amusing, then it becomes frustrating and eventually, the frustration turns into anger. And it’s at these stages of frustration and anger that we leave. We go back to the world from which we came, where we knew who we were, where we contributed, and where we could speak the language.”
I have said before, and I repeat it, that every new convert needs three things:
A friend in the Church to whom he can constantly turn, who will walk beside him, who will answer his questions, who will understand his problems.
An assignment. Activity is the genius of this Church. It is the process by which we grow. Faith and love for the Lord are like the muscle of my arm. If I use them, they grow stronger. If I put them in a sling, they become weaker. Every convert deserves a responsibility. The bishop may feel that he is not qualified for responsibility. Take a chance on him. Think of the risk the Lord took when He called you.
Of course the new convert will not know everything. He likely will make some mistakes. So what? We all make mistakes. The important thing is the growth that will come of activity.
As a part of this process of giving responsibility, it is proper and very important that the new convert, if he be a man, is ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. Then before too many months, he may be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. He will have the fellowship of the elders quorum. He will become one of a vast body of priesthood throughout the world, men of integrity and faith who love the Lord and seek to move forward His work.
Every convert must be “nourished by the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4). It is imperative that he or she become affiliated with a priesthood quorum or the Relief Society, the Young Women, the Young Men, the Sunday School, or the Primary. He or she must be encouraged to come to sacrament meeting to partake of the sacrament, to renew the covenants made at the time of baptism.
Not long ago, I listened to a man and woman who spoke in my home ward. This man had served in many capacities in the Church, including that of bishop. Their most recent assignment was to fellowship a single mother and her children. He stated that it was the most joyful of all his Church experiences.
This young woman was full of questions. She was filled with fear and anxiety. She did not wish to make a mistake, to say anything that was out of line that might embarrass her or cause others to laugh. Patiently this man and his wife brought the family to church, sat with them, put a shield around them, as it were, against anything that might happen to embarrass them. They spent one evening a week with them at their home, teaching them further concerning the gospel and answering their many questions. They led that little family along as a shepherd leads his sheep. Eventually, circumstances dictated that they move to another city. “But,” he stated, “we still correspond with that woman. We feel a great appreciation for her. She is now firmly grounded in the Church, and we have no fear concerning her. What a joy it has been to work with her.”
I am convinced that we will lose but very, very few of those who come into the Church if we take better care of them. They may not be thoroughly converted. How can they be, having had only six lessons? They may not meet all of the desirable qualifications. But they have been awakened to a new sense of values and opportunities. They have been taught that they are sons and daughters of God. They have been baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They have been confirmed members of the Church and received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
I was recently in Canada, where I visited, among other cities, the city of Regina. There we were hosted by President D. Lawrence Penner, president of the Saskatoon Saskatchewan Stake. He is a wonderful man, an excellent executive. When he was 20 years of age, he was baptized. It was a huge step for him. He had been referred to the missionaries by members of the Church. They immediately looked him up. They talked to him. They taught him. They baptized him. They encouraged him, as did his local Church officers. He was ordained to the Priesthood. He was given things to do. A year later, he was called on a mission and served in Japan. He returned the stronger for that experience. With the encouragement of many people who have helped him along the way, he today stands as the presiding high priest of this great stake of Zion. He is the husband and father of a good family, all of whom are active. He is an example of the kind of man who should be coming into the Church as a convert and remaining to become a leader.
Now, you missionaries, you are part of this responsibility of binding your converts to the Church. You may not be able to continue to visit them. But you can write them occasionally and give them encouragement. I hope that every one of you will make a record in your scriptures of every man, woman, and child whom you baptize, together with their home addresses. Your penmanship may be terrible, but an occasional note from you will give reassurance and comfort and a rekindling of joy. When you go home do not forget them. At all times live worthy of their trust. Write to them occasionally, assuring them of your love.
To the missionaries, I repeat, it will do no good for you to baptize someone and have that individual fall away from the Church shortly thereafter. What have you accomplished? You may have labored long and hard, you may have fasted and prayed as you taught a particular individual the gospel. But if he does not remain active in the Church, all of your labor has been in vain. The whole process counts for nothing. Any investigator worthy of baptism becomes a convert worthy of saving.
Elder Bruce Porter of the Seventy recounts an experience: “As a missionary in Germany nearly 25 years ago, I arrived in the city of Wuppertal as a new zone leader shortly after the missionaries who preceded me had had phenomenal success in baptizing several families and individuals. Their baptisms represented a substantial addition to that branch, which had nearly 100 members. We decided as missionaries to concentrate a great deal of effort on integrating and fellowshipping these new members so that they would remain active members of the branch for the rest of their lives. We taught them all of the new member lessons, as well as additional lessons of our own making; we enrolled them in a yearlong Gospel Essentials class taught by the missionaries; we worked with the branch leadership to ensure that they received callings and were integrated into the branch through socials and fellowshipping by members; we arranged for them to meet one another and help teach other investigators so that they would form bonds among themselves that would help them as a group remain active in the future. In short, we spent more than six months after their baptism doing what we could to ensure that their testimonies were strong and that they were integrated into the Church.
“Today, 25 years later, almost all of those families and individuals are still active and faithful. Many of their children have served missions and have been married in the temple. We now have a second and even a third generation of activity in the Church. The one couple who did go inactive had a daughter who remained active and has since been married in the temple. Although this is only one case, my experience then persuaded me that time spent by missionaries working with members to integrate new members into the Church will pay off richly in the long term” (letter to Elder Richard G. Scott).
That is a powerful testimony of what can be done. However, missionaries do not need to neglect proselyting to assist in fellowshipping the members. The two efforts can go hand in hand. You have the Saints to help, all of them. You have bishops and their ward councils. You have stake presidents and their stake councils. Most particularly, you have the Member Missionary Coordinating Council, which meets periodically to consider missionary problems in the stakes and most particularly to keep track of and give an accounting of every new member who has come into the Church. Your own full-time mission president will frequently attend this meeting.
Under the direction of this council, another six lessons will be taught to more firmly ground new members in their faith.
Now, to you bishops who hold your ward council meetings, a discussion of the status of converts in that meeting may be the most important business you will conduct. You are not bound by rigid rules. You have unlimited flexibility. You are entitled to answers to your prayers, to inspiration and revelation from the Lord in dealing with this matter. I am appalled when I hear that a bishop is indifferent toward those who come into the Church. At that time, they may not be very attractive people. But if they are treated right, the gospel will refine them. Their very dress, their demeanor, their deportment will improve. All of us have seen miracles occur. How great is our opportunity, how tremendous our challenge.
My beloved brethren and sisters, it is our responsibility, the responsibility of each of us, of the stake presidency, of the high council, of the bishopric, of the Sunday School presidency, of the Primary presidency, of the Young Men presidency, of the Young Women presidency, of the Relief Society presidency, and of the priesthood quorum officers to see that every one who is baptized is encouraged and made to feel the wondrous warmth of this gospel of our Lord. I am pleased to report that we are making progress, but there is so very much more that remains to be done.
How glorious is this work. It is filled with miracles. We could talk about them all evening as we have witnessed them.
Brothers and sisters, all of you out in the wards and stakes and in the districts and branches, I invite you to become a vast army with enthusiasm for this work and a great overarching desire to assist the missionaries in the tremendous responsibility they have to carry the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. “The field is white [and] ready to harvest” (D&C 4:4). The Lord has repeatedly declared this. Shall we not take Him at His word?
Before the Church was organized, there was missionary work. It has continued ever since, notwithstanding the difficulties of many of the seasons through which our people have passed. Let us, every one, resolve within ourselves to arise to a new opportunity, a new sense of responsibility, a new shouldering of obligation to assist our Father in Heaven in His glorious work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters throughout the earth.
This is God’s holy work. This is His Church and kingdom. The vision that occurred in the Sacred Grove was just as Joseph said it was. We are building a new temple overlooking this hallowed ground to further testify to the reality of this most sacred event. As I recently stood in the snow to determine where this new temple will stand, there came into my heart a true understanding of the importance of what happened in the Sacred Grove. The Book of Mormon is true. It testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ. His priesthood has been restored and is among us. The keys of that priesthood, which have come from heavenly beings, are exercised for our eternal blessing. Such is our testimony—yours and mine—a testimony which we must share with others. I leave this testimony and my blessing and my love with each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.