I served in the Georgia Atlanta Mission in the mid 80’s. We once had a visit from Elder Robert E. Wells who was a member of the Quorum of the Seventy at the time. For those who do not remember him, he had a very stern face and a big booming voice. He had a commanding presence, and could be a little intimidating.
During a meeting with a room full of missionaries, he asked a companionship that was sitting near the front to stand up. He asked them how many convert baptisms they had during the past month. They admitted that they had not had any. He asked about the previous month, and with some relief, they reported having one baptism. Elder Wells thanked them and invited them to sit down. He then posed an interesting question.
He asked what we thought might happen if Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer were to take a year off as Apostles and serve in the same area as the two missionaries he had questioned. How many baptisms might they have?
’50’, said one Elder. ‘100’, said another. ‘Thousands’, someone suggested. Many nodded in agreement. Certainly these great Apostles would have many times more baptisms than the Elders would have. Elder Wells then asked an interesting question: What would be the difference?
There was a few moments of silence as we thought about it. An Elder raised his hand and answered, ‘They would have the spirit with them stronger than Elders would’.
‘NO!’, bellowed Elder Wells. He told us that missionaries can have the spirit with them every bit as much as Apostles do. What would be the difference?
A few moments more and a missionary offered, ‘They would know the scriptures better than we do’.
‘NO!”, was the reply once again. He told us that if we studied as we should we would know the scriptures well enough to teach quite effectively, and that increased scriptural knowledge would not lead to more converts. What would be the difference?
A while later someone tried, ‘They would work harder’.
‘NO!”, was loudly declared. These old men would not get more converts by increased exertion. Now come on, what would be the difference?
About this time we were stumped and intimidated. No one wanted to reap another ‘NO!’ from Elder Wells. But he was not about to let us off easy. He wanted an answer, and he wasn’t going to go away without what he was looking for.
Finally a little Elder near the back timidly raised his hand and suggested, ‘Maybe with the Apostles there the members would be more excited about missionary work’.
‘Yeeeesssss’, came the smooth and approving answer. We really felt the spirit then, or was it just relief?
Would more excitement and enthusiasm for missionary work among local members truly result in dramatic, long-term increases in convert baptisms? Is that all that is lacking? Are there really thousands of people in small towns across America, and the world, that are only kept back from eagerly joining the church because church members lack missionary zeal?