Retrenchment and Reaching out

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?


BB said...

We are in a similar situation (although I would kill to have 40% home teaching in my ward!). Our Stake President's solution was to ask that no person be asked to home teach more than 3 people, and that we focus principally on those who are currently attending church--essentially retrenchment. It is a long, slow process, but, at least in the Elder's Quorum, I think it is working. One brother who has disfellowshipped has come back recently. Two totally inactive prospective elders have come back, one of whom has received the priesthood, and the other is on the cusp of getting it.
Much of the progress I perceive isn't measurable, but I feel that it is happening. I hope that as the active (come to church) members of the quorum get stronger, they will be better able to reach out.

Anonymous said...

Two memorable quotes scream through my mind:
1. President Ezra Taft Benson said "Bend your efforts and your activities to stimulating meaningful scripture study among the members of the Church. Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow" ("The Power of the Word," 81)

2. "There are many in this Church today who think they live but are dead to spiritual things. And I believe that many who are making the pretense of being active are also spiritually dead - their service is much of the letter and less of the Spirit" (Spencer W. Kimball, CR Apr. 1951, pp. 104-5).


pate said...

thanks for sharing your success story (even if it is based on gut feelings rather than discernable progress).

thanks for the quotes. They settle quite well with what I'd heard Elder Eyring teach in a (local) regional conference. This is where I was going in my comment about public and private activity being a measure of conversion. I'll need to kick these idea around before I write a post about it.


Dave said...

Yes, it makes sense that with limited resources one might choose retrenchment over reaching out. At the local level some leaders do this. But one rarely hears acknowledgement of limited resources by senior leadership, so instead we're directed to both retrench and reach out.

On the other hand, putting resources into "retrenchment" doesn't always bear fruit. Those who are inactive are generally so for a reason, and when they do become active it's often because of some attitude change or life event that has no relation to any "reactivation effort" by the ward.

pate said...

I think we're talking about two different things. I think that retrenching isn't aimed at the inactive members, but the publicly active members who aren't engaged in the private practices of activity. So, instead of going over to invite Brother and Sister Smith to come back to church, I think that we should encourage the basics (scripture study, personal prayer, and family home evening) in sacrament and quorum meetings, interviews, and other settings.

If the traditional emphasis on these practices has not had much of an affect (and that argument could be made), then what new approaches can we try?