Over on his blog, grasshopper recently posted about Church Activity (a topic near and dear to my heart). He pointed out that latter-day saints tend to have higher levels of public activity than other christian denominations, but that those publicly active members are less likely to be privately active. (Something that I view as a measure of conversion -- a topic for a later post.)
I pointed out that you could combine these statistics to get a rough measure of private activity among all memebers. Doing so indicates that general LDS and non-LDS private activity rates are about the same.
Dave then pointed out that there are two possible explanations: 1) the church encourages public acts over private ones, or 2) the church is able to encourage public acts even among those who are not privately active. While I don't have any real evidence, I lean to the second view Dave mentioned. While it's dangerous to speculate from an unsupported base, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned here.
Last night I attended a meeting about Home Teaching, inactivity, and missionary work. In our stake we're home teaching about 40%, inactivity levels are pretty high (we have over 450 propective elders), and convert baptisms have dropped to less that 50% of last year's rates. We've obviously got some work to do. The question is: Where do we apply our limited resources?
One school of thought would be that we should focus on those who are not publicly active, encouraging them to attend church meetings and fellowship with their fellow saints. Hopefully as some of them respond to this invitation and become publicly active, some of those will become more privately active as well.
Another tack would be to focus on the publicly active but privately inactive members first, encouraging them to become more devoted, more deeply converted. As these members begin to exercise greater faith, they will be better able to reach out to those that are not publicly active. I think this was the idea behind the 'retrenchment' movements of the 19th century.
Do we need to retrench before we can reach out?