A few weeks ago there was a large, “historic” missionary meeting held. It was broadcast and members were encouraged to attend.
Where necessary, local leaders should adjust scheduled worship services so that members are able to participate in the live broadcast of this historic event.
The meeting largely centered on the “new” ways of conducting missionary work. Tracting is largely unproductive so now missionaries will be using social media (largely Facebook) to contact people who are recommended to them through local members, chatrooms via mormon.org and will use Facebook to build relationships with people before trying to go to their house and talk to them in their living rooms about religion. Also they’ll be doing this with brand new Ipads! Also your local missionaries will be giving tours of the local meeting house to interested parties since now they’ll be hanging out there to access the meetinghouse wifi (hint: password usually Pioneer47).
So… why were so many members invited to attend this meeting of “historic” proportions? Well it was also a pep rally to the fabulousness (yes I just made that word up) of the church and a guiltfest (made that one up too) for members to do their part. The missionaries have better luck teaching people (and let’s keep our eye on the prize- baptizing people they teach) when they are able to utilize the members to find people to teach. So members need to be excited about missionary work and participate in it. But they should be nice even if people aren’t interested in their message… right? Right. Because that’s the the right thing to do.
Also in their target? Inactive members. From my jaded point of view it’s more about bringing tithe payers back into the fold than it is about saving souls. But again- the person on the “right” side here is the missionary or missionarying member- because they are doing what they’re told. (Or so they think).
So as the local ward “inactives” we’ve largely been ignored for the last 2 1/2 years of inactivity. We left because the church isn’t “true” not because of any other reasons. Yes, our neighbors have been jerks sometimes. Yes, there have been malicious rumors spread about our family (although those didn’t start until after I left- but before Steve left). But if there was any indication that the church was “true” after those factors…. I’d still be attending. I remember coming home after church one particularly bad Sunday and even saying out loud, “it’s good thing the church is true or I wouldn’t be going.”
The last few months have seen an uptick in missionary efforts from the ward. The Ward Mission Leader stopped by to say he missed us… but never actually referenced church. My next door neighbor (who can’t usually be bothered to acknowledge my existence) sent me a text telling me that, “believe it or not I still think about, love and pray for your family and I feel inspired to send you this talk” (can you guess which conference talk that was?) When I engaged her in actual conversation it ended with, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, this conversation isn’t doing me any good.” Which is when I reminded her that she started the conversation and if she didn’t want to have a conversation about religion then she shouldn’t bring it up. We also had a visit from our home teachers (one of which had to keep looking at his paper assigning him to us to remember our names and casually inferred that Steve was an alcoholic…)
But those conversations don’t bother me. I largely find them fun and humorous and a little sad. I expected more of them after the “historic” broadcast… but there was nothing- not even “come back to church” cookies- until last Sunday.
I’m an adult. I can handle your awkward missionary advances. I am a grown-up (most of the time) with a fully formed frontal lobe. I welcome the conversation. Come on over and we’ll have a rousing discussion about the church anytime. In fact if you schedule a time I may make apostasy brownies even! But don’t try to get to my kids- especially using your kids. Your kids who used to be friends with my kids… but aren’t anymore. (Timed coincidentally with the same time they stopped coming to church).
When you send your kid over at 9am on a Sunday morning you’re not only waking up the entire house- but you’re doing missionary work wrong. Our kids are welcome to go to church if they like. They don’t like it. They know what’s being offered. They would rather hang out with our family as we go do fun things on Sundays. Last Sunday? When you sent your kid to “invite” my child to church? We had family plans to go hang out with other fun people for brunch. Instead of sitting in meetings for three hours she played tag in the backyard, played with friends, chickens and giant dogs and had delicious breakfast burritos. Would you have let your daughter come with us instead of going to church?
I can hear you now, “no, we go to church on Sunday.” I can hear you because I used to be you. I did. I would have expected to eventually have that inactive child give in to my child’s advances and eventually the entire family would return to church because of the friendshipping of my child. (Insert heartwarming Friend article). But that is rarely how it actually works.
But to your daughter’s request? I will now respond with, “no, we don’t go to church on Sunday- we spend time together as a family instead.”
There is nothing about your choice of activities that makes it better than mine. I was willing to let it go out of kindness for your 10-year-old, but then she came back. She came back with a “we missed you and here are some handouts from our primary class.” I was not going to let this become a regular Sunday activity. Rather than dealing in a passive aggressive way (like Mormons like to do) I politely informed your daughter that we had made the choice as a family not to attend church and to please not continue to do this. I told her to tell her mom that while she was welcome to come down and see if my daughter could play she was not welcome to be her friend to try to get her to come to church or any church activity.
Your daughter responded that it wasn’t you but her primary teacher that told her to do this. I then got the name of her primary teacher and called both of you to inform you firmly, but politely that this was not welcome. I also informed you that not going to church for our family was a decision made- not out of apathy- but because we feel that church is harmful to children. I informed you both that if you would like to get together sometime and discuss our reasons for not attending church I would gladly welcome the conversation- but that my children were to be left out of it. I told you that I welcomed you encouraging your daughter to be friends with mine. That encouraging the primary class to befriend my daughter was fine- but that any missionary advances towards my child were not welcome. You both were extremely uncomfortable with my very direct approach. I know it’s not the cultural norm.
We’ve heard nothing from any adults about coming back to church since the “historic meeting”- but somehow it’s okay to send children to do something you’re too frightened to. I know because once again I used to be you. I did. Missionary work is terrifying. It’s hard. The “inactives” are the hardest because you never know why they don’t attend church. Were the offended or sinning? If you bring church up will they be even more offended? How do you approach them?
Well let me help you out.
Missionary Work: What you’re doing wrong (and what you can do instead)
- Approaching indirectly instead of being direct– Do you want to know why I don’t go to church? Ask me. Same with your sister or brother or neighbor. Then listen. Maybe we have good reasons. Maybe there is something you can do to help us come back- but don’t ask for that reason. Ask because you care. Ask because you really want to know- and then respect the answer we give you and accept that it’s sincere- not a cover up for laziness or sin.
- Ignoring me… unless it’s about church– Everyone likes friends. Even inactive/less active/apostate Mormons. But let’s be clear- those of us who used to go to church and don’t anymore can smell a fake friend from a mile away. Do you only invite me to church related events? Do you suspiciously “drop by” once a month (on the last few days of the month)? Do you even wave to me when I drive by or you’re on my street (or when I’m outside if your my neighbor)? If you want to “befriend” me then actually do it.
- Being fake– Don’t be fake. Invite me to lunch- and then talk about everything but church (unless you’re implementing the ‘direct and then listening’ approach). I know it sounds like I’m repeating myself- but this needs repeating. Don’t be fake. Don’t text me a conference talk that you felt “inspired” to send me- and tell me that, “believe it or not I still love, think about and pray for your family” but then can’t bother to text me any other time, wave to me when I’m outside or hold a conversation about anything other than church.
- Lying- Similar to being fake. Don’t tell me you’ve “missed me” when what you mean is “I’ve missed seeing you at church… but not enough to call or come by and well we live 5 houses apart and I can’t make the effort.” You haven’t missed me- I have plenty of friends who are still LDS- and some that even still attend the local ward- and I’ve talked to them since I stopped attending 2 1/2 years ago. They don’t miss me because I didn’t die, move to Antartica or stop taking phone calls. I’ve been here. I just haven’t been at church.
- Making Assumptions– Don’t assume you know why we don’t go to church. Even if you heard it from a “reliable source” within church leadership. Instead ask. I’ll talk your ear off. But put your defensive stance away and really listen. Don’t assume that we don’t value our families or play with our kids anymore either. Don’t assume that our marriage is in trouble or that we are living some sort of crazy lifestyle now. Don’t make assumptions about us that you wouldn’t want made about you.
- Avoiding difficult topics/answering anything you don’t know with “but I have a testimony” or defensiveness or claiming that everything is “anti-mormon”. This is a long one- but it’s important. If you start a conversation with me about my reasons for not coming to church chances are that you’ll hear things that you’ve not heard before. Seeing how I studied my way out of the church and learned things I didn’t know- I’ll probably tell you things you don’t know either. Just because you’ve never heard about Joseph Smith using peep stones in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon doesn’t make it not true. Don’t tell me that the spirit is telling you that it is an “anti-Mormon” lie. Because then when I send you talks from Russell M. Nelson, Ensign articles and Friend articles showing otherwise you’re going to have to wonder about the validity of the spirit (or you should). Countering my evidence with “I prayed about it” just ends the conversation. There are many people who have found ways around the difficult issues with church history- you might be one of them. I’m not. But just ignoring them stops the conversation. If we’re not talking how can you ever hope to be my actual friend.
- Telling rather than talking– This is something that I’ve encountered time and time again. People bring up a church topic with the desire to “tell” (bare testimony) but the moment someone questions the conversation shuts down. If you want to tell me about an awesome conference talk then you need to be open to hearing what I thought about it. We can disagree. It’s cool. It doesn’t threaten me that we have different opinions- don’t let it threaten you either. If you have a testimony then it shouldn’t be threatened by hearing opposing information.
Let’s be honest here. I can’t foresee a time that I’d ever come back to church. I really can’t. But if you’re genuinely being my friend and having honest conversations then you can know you’re doing missionary work right. At the same time why not drop the missionary “work” and just be friends with people you like. Be nice to your neighbors. Teach your kids to do the same. Don’t focus on reactivation, changing minds or getting people to church. Instead focus on being Christlike. Hint- holding BBQ’s in your front yard and inviting 1/2 the street- the Mormon half- while not inviting the rest of the street and your kids walking around telling other kids that they can’t come because they’re not invited… not Christlike. It also makes your next invitation not feel so inviting. You want to have an exclusive event? Hold it in the backyard. Your Celestial Circle is Hell for anyone not in your club- a good missionary would make everyone feel welcome right? Figure out how to do that to people who don’t fit your demographic of perfection.
I don’t have a problem with Mormons- I was one for 32 years. I have a problem with Mormonism. Step outside the Mormonism bubble and just be kind, genuine, honest and open. Be vulnerable. Drop the fakeness and the keeping up appearances. Even if you never convert a single person to the LDS church you’ll have real friends that love you for who you are- warts and all- and that’s worth more than a ‘conversion’ any day. If you are real and genuine then people will come to you- you won’t have to chase them down.