Background: Member Driven Missionary Work
In the April 2009 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder L. Tom Perry, who is one of the Twelve Apostles of the church, spoke about the responsibility of every member of the church to facilitate the missionary effort to teach the Restored Gospel. He urged us to step up “to do a job that is rightfully ours and for which we are better suited” than the missionaries. He urged us to open our mouths
to our friends and family. (Read the whole address: “Bring Souls Unto Me“, April 2009)
A few months prior to his conference address, Elder Perry presided over our stake conference. I had the opportunity to attend the priesthood leadership training meeting where he introduced us in more detail to the church’s vision for member driven missionary work and reactivation. Without creating any new manuals, establishing any new organizations , or requiring any additional meetings, he told us that the church intended to radically alter the work of building up the church through missionary work.
He then introduced us to a ward mission process by which wards and stakes will prayerfully identify teaching opportunities for the full-time missionaries. Lessons to both less active members and non members will be treated as equally important. Increasingly, members will be expected to drive the work forward by sharing the Gospel.
The church has known for many years that the most effective missionary system is driven by member referrals, but officially shifting the responsibility for finding new people to teach onto the stakes and wards, and holding them accountable for it, is an important, fundamental change.
My Revolutionary Proposal
Elder Perry’s words reminded me of an idea I had at the end of my own mission that dovetails perfectly with this new effort. Since his presentation I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. The more I think about it, the more I think that it needs to happen. Here it is:
Sacrament Meeting Invitations
Yes, I think that Sacrament Meeting Invitations could revolutionize the member missionary effort. Here’s how:
It requires a simple, but fundamental shift in how we treat Sacrament Meeting speaking assignments.
Most weeks, the bishop of the ward asks a number of members of the congregation to speak on assigned topics. The church could establish a policy that all sacrament meeting speaking assignments be made with the ward’s missionary responsibility in mind. When the bishop or his counselor asks a member to speak on Sunday, he would also hand them a number of invitations with a challenge to give the invitations to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, or other acquaintances who are not members of the church, or to those who are less active members of the church. The invitations could read:
Come hear me preach a brief sermon at my church on Sunday ______________________.
I will be speaking about ____________________________________.
The service begins at __________________ and lasts about 70 minutes.
Our congregation meetinghouse is located at ____________________________________.
Sunday best dress is usual but not required.
Hope to see you there,
The bishop would fill in the date, topic, time, and address, and the speaker would sign the invitation. Similar invitations could be made for those performing musical numbers.
This is a very small change, requiring little additional effort or resources, and leveraging existing practices and organization, but it’s implications have potential to be revolutionary!
1. Personal and Less Awkward
Real or imagined, inviting someone to church feels awkward. It often doesn’t feel socially comfortable or even appropriate to invite someone to church without an antecedent that indicates some kind of existing interest or disposition. So we wait around forever for the topic to come up and the right opportunity to make the leap.
But inviting people to come to hear you speak in church is different. It’s about you, not just the church. It’s like inviting people to come hear your band play, or attend a baby shower or your daughter’s dance recital, or to come to a barbecue at your house. There is no reason to wait for conversational queues that might indicate interest or disposition. If they can’t make it or aren’t interested that’s fine.
2. A Physical Reminder
Because the invitation is physical it is easier to give. Instead of having to strike up a conversation that leads to an invitation, you can simply pass out invitation cards. If you are especially shy you can simply leave them taped to the door, mail them, or leave them on a colleague’s desk. When being delivered in person, you can simply say “Hey, I’m giving a sermon at my church on Sunday and wanted to give you an invitation,” and hand them the card. The physical invitation then stays with whomever you have invited as a reminder. It will sit on their desk, their coffee table, the passenger seat of their car, or be stuck to the fridge. It has all the information needed to attend and sets expectations for dress and duration.
3. Time Dependent
The invitations benefit from a specific deadline. Currently, a goal to invite others to church is too open ended. Artificially imposed deadlines aside, you can always put it off until another day because there is a meeting every Sunday. But you speak on a specific date. It is a real deadline. The time sensitivity helps people to overcome the tendency to put off the invitation. It also puts a deadline on those who are invited because if they don’t come, they will miss your sermon.
4. Outward facing
Inviting non-members to hear you speak changes the focus of sacrament meeting talks from inward facing to outward. If there is a chance your non-member friends or family will come to hear what you have to say, it matters more. A sacrament meeting talk becomes an opportunity to share your testimony of the gospel with your friends and inspires more thought and preparation. Are you using words that your friends will understand? Do you need to explain some things that members take for granted? Consequentially Sacrament meetings will become more visitor-oriented.
Every time you remember that you need to be preparing your talk, you will also remember that you need to extend the invitations. Every time you see the person you have invited, it will remind you that you need to be preparing your talk. The invitations and the talk preparation feed back into each other.
6. A Positive Conversation Starter
Instead of the invitation being the culmination of a conversation, the invitation initiates and facilitates conversations about the gospel and the church that may have not happened otherwise. People will be curious or even surprised that you will be preaching a sermon. Instead of passively waiting for discussions initiated by others about dietary restrictions , temple ceremonies, or whatever negative thing they may have heard about the church, the invitations actively lead to discussion of some of the most appealing and interesting aspects of the church: participatory membership and the lay ministry. A conversation about how the congregation is run by the members and the sermons given by the members themselves provides a positive, memorable introduction to the church that is likely different from their own experiences with other churches and will inspire curiosity that will reinforce the invitation. It also helps people understand that our meetings are open to visitors.
7. Youth Experience
Many congregations have a teen-aged member speak. Youth speakers would benefit from real missionary opportunities on a regular basis. And it will be easier for them than to invite their friends than before, even though it does add some stress to what for some teens is already a difficult assignment.
The invitations take advantage of the participatory nature of the church. There are few other churches that could consistently replicate this kind of program on a large scale. Latter-day Saints will come to be associated with invitations and member sermons.
9. Low Tech
While technology could certainly be used to augment and simplify the invitations system, it isn’t required. It would be nice if the church graphic designers produced attractive invitations, like pass-along-cards, that were properly branded, and distributed to each ward and branch. Or perhaps the church software developers can add a section to the new stake and unit websites that would generate attractive invitations on the fly for printing and email-able invitations. But realistically the proposal can be implemented with a simple PDF that can be printed and filled out. Or a printed invitation template that can be photocopied. (A simple PDF template can be downloaded at the end of this article)
10. Hunting and Fishing
Currently, inviting people to church is like hunting. The missionaries pray about and identify a member family that they will invite to prayerful identify a couple of friends or family members to invite to church or a meet the missionaries . They identify a couple of people who may be “ready” or “prepared” and approach them with some trepidation. They aim for a specific target. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail.
Sacrament meeting invitations are more like fishing. You cast your net wide and see how many people you bring in. Some slip through, but you get a lot more yield. While bishops should still seek inspiration in making speaking assignments, and speakers should still seek inspiration concerning to whom invitations should be given, realistically you could invite everyone to your workplace with the hope that a couple might come.
We need both hunting and fishing approaches to grow the church.
11. Easily Implemented Locally
While I would like to see this proposal implemented as a standard policy church-wide, it is simple enough that individual Stake and District Presidents, Bishops and Branch Presidents could fairly easily implement it in their own congregations at any time, if they felt that the Spirit guided them to do so. Even individual members could print out and distribute invitations on their own initiative when asked to speak in church. I’ve put together a simple prototype invitation form as a writable PDF that can be downloaded and used.
12. Potential Reach
Up to three members of each ward and branch would be inviting others to church two or three weeks out of the month. Even if there are only 26 Sundays with speaking assignments, with 28,109 wards and branches, if each speaker invited only 1 person, that is potentially 730,000 people being invited to church every every year. If each speaker invited just 3 people, that would be nearly 2 MILLION people invited every year. Of course, as the church grows that number increases. And contrasted with missionary cold-call door-knocking, street contacting, and English classes, these invitations are far more likely to be effective because they are personal.
Of course, the weakness of the proposal and the key difficulty is the follow up.
The speaker should make sure he or she thanks any visitors for coming. The ward mission leader, the bishop, and the missionaries should be available immediately after the meeting for the speaker to introduce his or her visiting friends. Hopefully, as visitors become more of a focus for the sacrament meetings, members of the congregation would keep their eye out for visitors and introduce themselves and avoid monopolizing the time of the Bishop or Missionaries until later. The leaders and members should be careful not to be pushy, these are after all people who came to church driven primary by their relationship with the speaker and not because they are necessarily interested in joining the church. They should be invited to return the next week, and made aware that the missionaries are available to answer questions. Of course, following the Spirit is the most important.
Perhaps those who come to hear their friends speak will never come back again, but they will have had a significant exposure to the church that will influence them and their perceptions of Mormons for the rest of the lives. And more importantly, they will have had an opportunity to hear our testimonies and feel the Holy Spirit touching their hearts.
I really believe that this proposal has great potential to truly revolutionize the church. I would like to get the feedback from a few people who try it, or Bishops who want to give it a try in their wards. Let me know what you think.
Download LDS Sacrament Meeting Invitations:
Editable PDF: LDSSpeakingInvitationsForm.pdf
Static PDF: LDSSpeakingInvitations.pdf
Word Doc: LDSSpeakingInvitations.doc
UPDATE: Please be aware of the official church guidelines for how local units are to properly use and display the name of the church and the official church logo. I have updated the invitation documents above to conform with the guidelines. If you downloaded them previously please download the updated versions.