Whose Fault Is the Retention Problem?

Dave, over at Dave’s Mormon Inquiry has started an interesting discussion on the recent news article in the Salt Lake Tribune reporting that Church growth seems to have flattened out over the last decade. Part of that decline in Church growth is caused by a serious problem we are having with retaining in activity those that we do baptize. Members are dropping out as fast or faster than they are coming in. What is the solution to this problem? Whose fault is it anyway?

Dave seems to think that running the Church as a corporation is part of the problem, and that things would improve if there was a mandatory retirement age for our General Authorities. One of those who commented on Dave’s post writes, “I can’t see how SLC isn’t the principle blame for the current trends.” Another commenter disagrees, saying that the membership is to blame because they are struggling with an increase in spiritual problems that distract them from missionary work.

I tend to agree that the problem lies not with the leadership but with our failure to follow their counsel more carefully. In my comment to the thread I said:

I like Brent’s thoughts on this matter. I have also thought that the problem might be the rank and file membership rather than the leaders. I think that the members need to follow their leaders more closely, especially when they are asked to pray more, pray more fervently, and search the scriptures more.Elder Holland gave a conference talk on the retention problem a number of years ago. He pointed out that many members who become inactive are simply not being spiritually fed in our Church meetings. He said that “theological twinkies” are not an adequate substitute for the scriptures in our talks and lessons. By “twinkies” he meant the cute little stories that we hear so often in our meetings.

If the members knew their scriptures better, they would do a better job of incorporating those scriptures into their talks and lessons. Then the Holy Ghost would be more likely to testify to the congregation that what they were hearing is true. The result would be much more spiritually satisfying meetings. We must preach the gospel when we speak and teach lessons, and we can’t do that unless we know the scriptures better.

A related stumbling block that is interferring with the spirituality of our meetings is personal worthiness. I’ve been doing some research on the impact that Internet pornography is having on the Church membership; and if we can believe Internet usage statistics, and the counsel of our Church leaders, pornography has become a terrible problem among active members, largely because of the Internet. Needless to say, this is going to have a negative impact on our personal spirituality that will inevitably be reflected in our Church meetings. Without the Spirit, we cannot learn what we should from the scriptures even when we do study them. And the Spirit is not going to abide with us if we are using pornography.

Add to that the influence of television, much of which is pornographic to a degree. Americans don’t read as much as they used to, largely because of the proliferation of nonprint media. We are becoming a nation of vidiots or video idiots, and this is just as true of Mormons as Americans in general. Young people especially do not read as much as those in previous generations. Is this going to impact our reading of the scriptures? Of course it is. And unless we really love and learn the scriptures, our talks and lessons are going to be shallow and uninspiring. And the result? Those who attend Church are going to find our meetings boring and otherwise unfulfilling. All we get is going to be milk, because hardly anyone is qualified to give us the meat. Why even bother going to Church when that happens?

I think this is a problem with the membership, not the leadership. I have heard our leaders constantly ask us to study the scriptures more, to avoid pornography, to seek the Spirit in our lives, to preach the gospel using the scriptures when we speak in Sacrament Meeting, to turn off our televisions and read more. It is not as if we were not being taught these things. We just aren’t following very well, and we can do much better. If we don’t, the problem of retention is only going to grow worse. And the Church will continue to struggle in its missionary work. When investigators and new members come out to Church, we have to have something for them. If we don’t, they will stop coming.

I think that one of the benefits of blogging, if we stay focused on the gospel, is that it motivates us to dig through our scriptures looking for doctrines and principles that buttress our opinions. If we can’t find it, then maybe we ought to rethink our position. For every person chopping at the root of our Church problems, there are a thousand hacking at the leaves. The scriptures can point us to the root.


5 Responses to Whose Fault Is the Retention Problem?

  1. jman says:

    Church is too long (duration, 3 hrs). We’ve got that tied up in responsibility – callings, the 3 fold mission of the church, that we’ve missed the point; church should be a spirtiually rich and happy place too be. Instead we are that busy looking for new members we don’t ensure we ourselves are happy, too many church has just become a place of burden and responsibility. If we feel like that, how can we honestly expect others to feel joy and stay active? Maybe this is the key to the Adventists success?

    I also agree that we baptise too quick. The JWs make sure the person is commited before they join. Perhaps that is the key to their success, along with the fact they are a missionary church – everyone gets involved, yet our culture is one of missionairies bringing converts in.

    I also think the negativity of anti mormon stuff being so freely available on the internet has something to do with it. Should the church be more open with it’s members aknowledging and even sponsoring and directing members to apologist material – as opposed to sticking its head in the sand and saying that anti stuff should be avoided and expecting open minded people to do just that.

    I also think as an RM we promise too much to converts in terms of blessings and the HG. In my experience the great majority of blessings come from obeying principles and being blessed in non miraculous ways, i.e. the word of wisdom – any one can live the word of wisdom and receive the health benefits, in or outside the church, it is a pragmatic ‘blessing’ to divine counsel. We seem to make out that the HG, constant companionship will give them, this fantastic life. Nope it will provide comfort when needed, but it is not the ‘forever high’ as it is sometimes explained

    In short I think we over promise and under deliver.

  2. C Jones says:

    Maybe this is completely wrongheaded, but if we agree that baptism is a necessary step towards exaltation, which is worse-
    hearing the missionaries, feeling some measure of spiritual confirmation, getting baptized, fading away from activity, living out your life– or living out your life never having been baptized? Is there any advantage/disadvantage to taking the step of baptism in mortality, even if that’s all the progress you make?

  3. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    But who will decide who goes and who stays? The sociopaths in my ward have the stake leaders convinced that they are wonderful people, but they do their best to use people for their own gain. Not quite Master Mahan; more like Junior Assistant Mahan.

  4. will says:

    Amen, Gunner. I say we ex all those uncharitable, backbiting, judgemental blankety-blanks.

  5. Gunner says:

    I left this comment on the post at BCC on the same subject.
    Why has the growth stopped. If you are looking for one answer you will not find it. It is based on many small things.
    The fact that people are brought into the church to fast. While wrapped in the loving arms of the missionaries and ward, as investigators all are, they feel at home. Then BANG. The ward and missionaries turn to the next subject and all of that warmth and love goes away. Then they see the tight social groups, the BIC’s who are socially better then them, the RM’s who get the callings while the prole converts get to clean up after them. The people who acted so spiritual when they were inverstigating turn out to be back biters.

    so many harsh realities and truths hit them that they do not just leave..They flee.

    The problem is not the missionary program. The problem is the people in the church. Weed out the 10 percent that have no spirit and are the weeds in the garden and the rest will bloom.

    SLC needs to clean house in the member rolls. Not the inactives. No. They need to clean out the poisonous actives.

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