A Church Culture of Missionary work

How members talk about sharing the gospel
lds culture

Sunday January 14, 2024

lds culture

A friend gave a talk in church about missionary work, which is the Lord’s invitation to share His gospel and good news with the world. Having been a missionary for two years, it’s much less about “effective sales” strategies and much more about trying to live like a good person and invite others to enjoy the benefits of following Christ.

I bring up the point about sales because a lot of people outside of the church can see LDS missionaries as salespeople. To one degree, they are: they’re trying to change people’s belief system. Adopt Christianity. 1

Yea, that’s certainly a reasonable way to look at it from one angle. But the reality is more like “I have something that’s great and I want other people to benefit from it the same way I benefit from it”. Or better said: there’s so much…misinformation about my church and Christianity in general, how do I have a productive conversation with you about it without knowing where you are? I’d love to talk to you about it, but are you deeply inwardly vehemently against it for some obtuse reason I’m not aware of? That’s what provoked some fear in sharing His good news.

But these fears aren’t warranted. Because that isn’t the right focus from my end. The best focus for “missionary work” is: if I have something that’s great in my life, I should share it like anything else great in my life.

Did I see a good movie over the weekend? Great, share it. Did i hear a great talk on Sunday at church? Great, share it. Did I have a good hike? Awesome, share it. Did I have a funny experience while teaching some kids on Sunday? Yea, dope. Share it.

Mind if I drink this? Oh, you’d like some? I didn’t want to offend you by offering but sure I’d love to share - Elder Uchtdorf analogy paraphrased

Things I liked from my friends talk:

Over the past several months, (my wife) and I have implemented a new fad into our lives in an attempt to improve our well-being, which is the practice of cold plunging. Some of you may have heard of this trend as many gurus talk about it on social media because of its benefits, such as reducing stress and mood enhancement. Cold plunging is submerging your body in very cold water (typically around 50 degrees) for a period of 3 to 6 minutes. Sounds absolutely terrible, right? Well, it is terrible! No matter how many times we do it, it is still very hard and very uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we continue to do it, almost every day, because of the way it makes us feel afterwards. Immediately after getting out of the water I feel alert, energized and confident I can tackle the tasks of the day. Sitting in that cold water is always uncomfortable, but the discomfort is always worth it. By having felt what’s on the other side, I can get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

This cold plunge analogy is interesting: because it’s always hard. Always intimidating. I think that’s true in my personal experience. But for me it’s more like… the opposite of hyperextending my knee.

When I was in high school I got a knee injury. I hyperextended it. The first time was incredibly painful. I was out a few days. But then I came back and was fine-ish. Then a few weeks later I did it again. Then a few days later: again. By the end of the season, I was hyperextending it every other day. It was bad news. A few weeks after the season ended I was playing in a bball tournament and again big hyperextending.

I stopped playing sports that summer and let myself heal up. Haven’t had problems since.

Same with sharing the gospel, but the opposite. At first it’s really intimidating. You do it once and you realize it’s not that bad. Then the more you do it the more it becomes part of your day.

Kinda like writing in this blog. At first I’m trying to find my voice. Now I don’t care and just want to write. I hope it’s beneficial for you.

On the other hand, some may be thinking none of those sound any easier and maybe you sometimes feel that you aren’t contributing because missionary work is generally intimidating and uncomfortable to you. That is OKAY. All efforts, no matter how small, are important and impactful.

This reminded me of President Russel M. Nelson’s invitation:

Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that. Hope of Israel

As a missionary in (Some Area) I had one mission president for my first year and another for my second year. Both presidents elevated the success of the mission with different approaches and leadership styles. In my first year under my first mission president, the mission accomplished a big goal of doubling the number of baptisms from the previous year. During this time our mission president wasn’t fond of us spending too much time with members and our success came from focusing on other areas of the work. By contrast, my second mission president changed the culture and encouraged us to spend as much time with the members as we could, even if we did not have someone to teach with the members. He taught us to focus on the number of lessons with a member participating as the most important key indicator. As a result, the mission’s baptisms started to skyrocket and the number more than doubled again. I know that our success can be attributed to us striving to have as many members as possible participating in our lessons and our emphasis on members and missionaries working together.

If your note a member of the church you may balk at “baptism skyrocketing”. It kinda gives a cultish vibe if that’s how you see it - our goal is to baptize everyone!! I get it. Not great language from the outsider’s perspective if that’s how you see it.

Having been a member of the church my whole life, I’ve heard this rhetoric a lot - get baptisms. But I think this is more of a sociological misrepresentation of a deeply inward desire to share what’s good in your life with others.

Do I want to baptize the world? Umm…do I want everyone to have world peace? Yea.

Will baptizing someone give them peace? No. Well, not just dunking yourself in a hot-tub sized mini pool.

Will someone who has a sincere desire to follow Christ the rest of their life benefit from being baptized because it gives them a chance to publicly commit to following Christ and thus be supported by a community of like-minded people also trying to self-improve constantly? Yea. Baptism would be great here.

Do I want to baptize everyone? No. I would love it if everyone desired to follow Jesus a little more in their life. Learn a little more about him. So, yea I want everyone to be baptized.

This is the spirit which my friend is describing.

So doubling baptisms is this notion of a very fascinating cultural experience: we have as a church more success in helping other people discover the joy of following Christ by how we package “the message”. Yea, it’s sales at some level. What’s a better strategy? Cold calling or referrals? Always referrals. There’s trust there. The product doesn’t seem as strange. Likewise, it takes a lot to change a set of religious beliefs. Having seen someone you know and enjoy associating with benefit from the religion helps make it more palatable at first to begin discussions.

Lastly, this strategy is fascinating: focus on teaching people who already believe in God about why they believe in God, or more about His story. These refreshers help enliven the mind, no different than perhaps me going back to some Stat 121 material and just really appreciating its elegance (even though I do more advanced math in my day to day). Teach people the basics and they’ll remember what they love about it.


  1. From the ultra cynical: “they just want more tithing!” But, like, if you think about it this argument doesn’t work in so many ways. Mainly that the missionaries are paying to be there (don’t get any tithing) and most of tithing goes to maintaining the church (buildings, books, temples, missions, etc).↩︎


Bryan lives somewhere at the intersection of faith, fatherhood, and futurism and writes about tech, books, Christianity, gratitude, and whatever’s on his mind. If you liked reading, perhaps you’ll also like subscribing: