“Chapter 22: Reaching Out with Love to New Converts and Less-Active Members,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley (2016)
“Chapter 22,” Teachings: Gordon B. Hinckley
One theme that President Hinckley emphasized throughout his service as President of the Church was the importance of reaching out to new converts and to those who are not active in the Church. He shared many examples of his personal efforts in this regard, one of which he poignantly described as “one of my failures.” He explained:
“While serving as a missionary in the British Isles, my companion and I taught, and it was my pleasure to baptize, a young man. He was well educated. He was refined. He was studious. I was so proud of this gifted young man who had come into the Church. I felt he had all of the qualifications someday to become a leader among our people.
“He was in the course of making the big adjustment from convert to member. For a short period before I was released, mine was the opportunity to be his friend. Then I was released to return home. He was given a small responsibility in the branch in London. He knew nothing of what was expected of him. He made a mistake. The head of the organization where he served was a man I can best describe as being short on love and strong on criticism. In a rather unmerciful way, he went after my friend who had made the simple mistake.
“The young man left our rented hall that night smarting and hurt. … He said to himself, ‘If that is the kind of people they are, then I am not going back.’
“He drifted into inactivity. The years passed. … When I was in England [again], I tried desperately to find him. … I came home and finally, after a long search, was able to track him down.
“I wrote to him. He responded but with no mention of the gospel.
“When next I was in London, I again searched for him. The day I was to leave, I found him. I called him, and we met in the underground station. He threw his arms around me as I did around him. I had very little time before I had to catch my plane, but we talked briefly and with what I think was a true regard for one another. He gave me another embrace before I left. I determined that I would never lose track of him again. …
“The years passed. I grew older as did he. He retired from his work and moved to Switzerland. On one occasion when I was in Switzerland, I went out of my way to find the village where he lived. We spent the better part of the day together—he, his wife, my wife, and myself. We had a wonderful time, but it was evident that the fire of faith had long since died. I tried every way I knew, but I could not find a way to rekindle it. I continued my correspondence. I sent him books, magazines, recordings of the Tabernacle Choir, and other things for which he expressed appreciation.
“He died a few months ago. His wife wrote me to inform me of this. She said, ‘You were the best friend he ever had.’
“Tears coursed my cheeks when I read that letter. I knew I had failed. Perhaps if I had been there to pick him up when he was first knocked down, he might have made a different thing of his life. I think I could have helped him then. I think I could have dressed the wound from which he suffered. I have only one comfort: I tried. I have only one sorrow: I failed.
“The challenge now is greater than it has ever been because the number of converts is greater than we have ever before known. … Every convert is precious. Every convert is a son or daughter of God. Every convert is a great and serious responsibility.”1
President Hinckley’s concern for new converts and less-active members was a result of his experience in seeing how the gospel blesses lives. A news reporter once asked him, “What brings you the greatest satisfaction as you see the work of the Church today?” President Hinckley replied:
“The most satisfying experience I have is to see what this gospel does for people. It gives them a new outlook on life. It gives them a perspective that they have never felt before. It raises their sights to things noble and divine. Something happens to them that is miraculous to behold. They look to Christ and come alive.”2
We must look after the individual. Christ always spoke of individuals. He healed the sick, individually. He spoke in His parables of individuals. This Church is concerned with individuals, notwithstanding our numbers. Whether they be 6 or 10 or 12 or 50 million, we must never lose sight of the fact that the individual is the important thing.3
We are becoming a great global society. But our interest and concern must always be with the individual. Every member of this church is an individual man or woman, boy or girl. Our great responsibility is to see that each is “remembered and nourished by the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4), that each has opportunity for growth and expression and training in the work and ways of the Lord, that none lacks the necessities of life, that the needs of the poor are met, that each member shall have encouragement, training, and opportunity to move forward on the road of immortality and eternal life. …
This work is concerned with people, each a son or daughter of God. In describing its achievements we speak in terms of numbers, but all of our efforts must be dedicated to the development of the individual.4
I want to emphasize that there is a very positive and wonderful net growth in the Church. … We have every reason to feel encouraged. But any convert whose faith grows cold is a tragedy. Any member who falls into inactivity is a matter for serious concern. The Lord left the ninety and nine to find the lost sheep. His concern for [the one] was so serious that He made it the theme of one of His great lessons [see Luke 15:1–7]. We cannot let down. We must constantly keep Church officers and the membership aware of the tremendous obligation to fellowship in a very real and warm and wonderful way those who come into the Church as converts, and to reach out with love to those who for one reason or another step into the shadows of inactivity. There is ample evidence that it can be done where there is a will to do it.5
I have come to feel that the greatest tragedy in the Church is the loss of those who join the Church and then fall away. With very few exceptions it need not happen. I am convinced that almost universally those who are baptized by the missionaries have been taught sufficiently to have received knowledge and testimony enough to warrant their baptism. But it is not an easy thing to make the transition incident to joining this Church. It means cutting old ties. It means leaving friends. It may mean setting aside cherished beliefs. It may require a change of habits and a suppression of appetites. In so many cases it means loneliness and even fear of the unknown. There must be nurturing and strengthening during this difficult season of a convert’s life. A tremendous price has been paid for his or her presence in the Church. The long efforts of the missionaries and the cost of their service, the separation from old relationships and the trauma associated with all of this make it imperative that these precious souls be welcomed, reassured, helped in their times of weakness, given responsibility under which they may grow strong, and encouraged and thanked for all they do.6
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 great and serious responsibility. It is an absolute imperative that we look after those who have become a part of us. …
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 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.”7
Some individuals have been baptized only, they have not been fellowshipped, and in two or three months they say goodbye. It is so important, my brethren and sisters, to see that [newly baptized members] are converted, that they have in their hearts a conviction concerning this great work. It is not a matter of the head only. It is a matter of the heart and its being touched by the Holy Spirit until they know that this work is true, that Joseph Smith was verily a prophet of God, that God lives and that Jesus Christ lives and that they appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon is true, that the priesthood is here with all of its gifts and blessings. I just cannot emphasize this too strongly.8
With the ever-increasing number of converts, we must make an increasingly substantial effort to assist them as they find their way. Every one of them needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with “the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4). It is our duty and opportunity to provide these things.9
[Converts] come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. … Listen to them, guide them, answer their questions, and be there to help in all circumstances and in all conditions. … I invite every member to reach out in friendship and love for those who come into the Church as converts.10
We have such an obligation to those who are baptized into the Church. We cannot neglect them. We cannot leave them to stand alone. They need help as they become accustomed to the ways and culture of this Church. And it is our great blessing and opportunity to afford that help. … A warm smile, a friendly handshake, an encouraging word will do wonders.11
Let us reach out to these people! Let us befriend them! Let us be kind to them! Let us encourage them! Let us add to their faith and their knowledge of this, the work of the Lord.12
I plead with you … that you will put your arms around those who come into the Church and be friends to them and make them feel welcome and comfort them and we will see wonderful results. The Lord will bless you to aid in this great process of retention of converts.13
This Church expects something of people. It has high standards. It has strong doctrine. It expects great service from people. They don’t just idly go along. We expect them to do things. People respond to that. They welcome the opportunity to be of service, and as they do so, they grow in their capacity, in their understanding, and in their qualifications to do things and do them well.14
Give [new members] something to do. They will not grow strong in the faith without exercise. Faith and testimony are like the muscles of my arm. If I use those muscles and nourish them, they grow stronger. If I put my arm in a sling and leave it there, it becomes weak and ineffective, and so it is with testimonies.
Now, some of you say they are not ready to assume responsibility. But none of us was ready when the call came. I can say that of myself. Do you think I was ready for this great and sacred calling? I felt overwhelmed. I felt inadequate. I still feel overwhelmed. I still feel inadequate. But I am trying to go forward, seeking the blessing of the Lord and trying to do His will and hoping and praying that my service will be acceptable to Him. The first responsibility I had in this Church was a counselor to a deacons quorum president when I was twelve years of age. I didn’t feel adequate. I felt overwhelmed. But I tried, just as you do, and after that came other responsibilities. Never a feeling of adequacy, but always a feeling of gratitude and a willingness to try.15
Every convert who comes into this Church should have an immediate responsibility. It may be ever so small, but it will spell the difference in his life.16
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.17
I believe … that these converts have a testimony of the gospel. I believe they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and know of His divine reality. I believe they have truly repented of their sins and have a determination to serve the Lord.
Moroni [says] concerning them after they are baptized: “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith” (Moro. 6:4).
In these days as in those days, converts are “numbered among the people of the church … [to] be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer.” … Let us help them as they take their first steps as members.18
It is imperative that [every new convert] 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.19
There are thousands across the world … who are members of the Church in name, but who have left, and who now in their hearts long to return, but do not know how and are too timid to try. …
To you, my brethren and sisters, who have taken your spiritual inheritance and left, and now find an emptiness in your lives, the way is open for your return. … If you will take the first timid step to return, you will find open arms to greet you and warm friends to make you welcome.
I think I know why some of you left. You were offended by a thoughtless individual who injured you, and you mistook his actions as representative of the Church. Or you may have moved from an area where you were known to an area where you were largely alone, and there grew up with only little knowledge of the Church.
Or you may have been drawn to other company or habits which you felt were incompatible with association in the Church. Or you may have felt yourself wiser in the wisdom of the world than those of your Church associates, and with some air of disdain, withdrawn yourself from their company.
I am not here to dwell on the reasons. I hope you will not. Put the past behind you. … There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. Come back, my friends. There is more of peace to be found in the Church than you have known in a long while. There are many whose friendship you will come to enjoy.20
My beloved brethren and sisters who may … have drifted, the Church needs you, and you need the Church. You will find many ears that will listen with understanding. There will be many hands to help you find your way back. There will be hearts to warm your own. There will be tears, not of bitterness but of rejoicing.21
One Sunday I found myself in a California city for a stake conference. My name and picture had been in the local newspaper. The phone rang at the stake center as the stake president and I entered the building that morning. The call was for me, and the caller identified himself. He wanted to see me. I excused myself from the meeting I was to have held early that morning and asked the stake president to carry on with it. I had something more important to do.
He came, this friend of mine, timidly and somewhat fearfully. He had been away for a long time. We embraced as brothers long separated. At first the conversation was awkward, but it soon warmed as we discussed together days spent in England many years ago. There were tears in the eyes of this strong man as he spoke of the Church of which he had once been so effective a part, and then told of the long, empty years that had followed. He dwelt upon them as a man speaks of nightmares. When he had described those wasted years, we talked of his returning. He thought it would be difficult, that it would be embarrassing, but he agreed to try.
I [received] a letter from him not long ago. He said, “I’m back. I’m back, and how wonderful it feels to be home again.”
And so to you, my friends, who, like him, long to return but are reluctant to take the first step, try. Let us meet you where you now stand, and take you by the hand and help you. I promise you it will feel good to be home again.22
Why must “our interest and concern … always be with the individual,” even in a worldwide church? (See section 1.) When have you been blessed by someone who took a personal interest in you? What are some ways we can be more sensitive in looking after each individual?
What can we learn and apply from the letter that President Hinckley shares in section 2? Ponder what you can do to strengthen those who are working to build their faith.
Why does every new convert need friendship, responsibility, and nurturing with the word of God? (See section 3.) What are some ways we can befriend new converts? How can we support new converts in their Church responsibilities? How can we help new converts be “nourished by the good word of God”?
Why is it sometimes difficult for members to return to Church activity? (See section 4.) How can we help people return? When have you experienced or witnessed the rejoicing that accompanies a return to Church activity?
What do you learn from the account that President Hinckley shares in section 5? Consider how you can reach out to help someone who is not active in the Church “come home again.”
“Many find that the best time to study is in the morning after a night’s rest. … Others prefer to study in the quiet hours after the work and worries of the day are over. … Perhaps what is more important than the hour of the day is that a regular time be set aside for study” (Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).