On Baptizing Thousands

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?

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20 Responses to “On Baptizing Thousands”


  1. 1 Cheryl January 4, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Yes. I never served a mission, but I can honestly say that this makes sense. How many times has Pres. Hinckley asked us to reach out to our neighbors and friends, potential investigators and new converts? If we would just do it, then I think it would make a HUGE difference. (great, now that I read this, I’ve got some more repenting to do… :) )

  2. 2 Eric Nielson January 5, 2007 at 6:59 am

    Thanks for your comment Cheryl.

    I wonder sometimes if we somewhat ‘romantically’ think of the success of Ammon and think if we just had the faith, or put forth more effort, or enthusiasm we could baptize thousands also.

    I believe that there is power in excitment and enthusiasm, but I am not sure that this would not only bring slightly better results, and temporary ones at that.

  3. 3 Naiah Earhart January 5, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Missionaries can teach about the concept of eternal families, and our place as sons and daughters of God, but only the fellowship of a warm and welcomeing, actively engaged ward can bring that home to investigators and new converts.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson January 5, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks Naiah:

    So are you saying that what is needed is social convertion? This may ‘work’ for many, and may bring results. But I can’t help feeling that if someone is only, or even mainly, converted socially then they are mission the point. Would not such converts wither like the seeds that fall on hard ground?

    I am often tempted to want to look at the church as the Kingdom of God, and not a nice social club. That is not to say we should not be friendly and welcoming, but people can get friendly interaction in many places.

    Should people not mainly join the church out of a firm belief in the restoration through a modern prophet? Would this not keep them in regardless of whether or not the church met their social needs?

  5. 5 Anonymous January 5, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Eric:

    The Spiritual Conversion v. Social Conversion issue is one that I have looked at for some time. I have decided both are essential.

    What is the kingdom of God if not a society? How can we be in and of the kingdom without loving and wanting to be with the people of the kingdom. How can we love and want to be with the people of the Kingdom if we do not have faith in the foundational principles which we all adhere to.

    Also, I really enjoyed this post, very compelling and thought provoking.

    Matt W.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson January 5, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Wow, thanks Matt.

    I agree that we need both. Does one lead to more conversions, and the other to lasting conversions?

    Does social conversion lead to more conversions, and spiritual conversion lead to lasting conversions?

    Thanks for your comment Matt.

  7. 7 Anonymous January 5, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Henry Eyring says spiritual experiences have a short shelf life, and I believe him. This expands to spiritual conversion as well. It is very hard to spiritually survive in an environment where you do not feel loved or wanted.

    Social Conversions also do not survive without spiritual back up, because inevitably man fails.

    The strongest chance for lasting conversion is both spiritual and social conversion.

    In order to make this more possible, I think we do not just need to be more enthusiastic, but the Church needs to (and is attempting to) remove any cultural chaff from it’s Gospel Core, so that the Gospel can have better social and spiritual success.

    Matt W.

    ps- thanks for the wow.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson January 5, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Matt:

    Do you have a reference for the short shelf life comment? I would be interested in seeing the context.

    I am not sure I believe the statement as-is yet. To me it seems that it is the spiritual experiences that change people. I do believe that ‘miracles’ can have a short shelf life.

    Removing cultural chaff is an interesting thought. I see a post from somebody on that some time :).

  9. 9 m&m January 5, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    I tend to think the apostles can teach not only with enthusiasm, but with a power and directness that perhaps most of the rest of us lack. We are too afraid of offending, or saying the wrong thing, or talking to the wrong person, or not being politically correct, or…. On my mission, my mantra became, “Open Your Mouth.” I think our leaders do that more than we do. They don’t take counsel from their fears. If we don’t open our mouths, the Spirit won’t have a chance to do anything, and neither social nor spiritual conversion will have its day. Easy to say, that’s for sure. I was a great “open your mouth” missionary. I’m a pretty lousy “open your mouth” member when it comes to missionary work!

    As to spiritual vs. social, ultimately, I believe spiritual conversion is more important than social conversion because there will be times people will offend, or a unit one attends won’t be ideal. If someone doesn’t have deep roots of testimony, even the best ward won’t be enough, IMO. Elder Eyring said in the april Conference last year, “The peril comes from the forces of wickedness. Those forces are increasing. And so it will become harder, not easier, to keep the covenants we must make to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Besides, ultimately, the society of the Church to which we belong is supposed to be first and foremost about spirituality and salvation…with service, of course, as a close second, but really, that’s all a part of being more like Christ, anyway, right?

    Moro. 6: 4
    And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, [why?] that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

  10. 10 Bookslinger January 6, 2007 at 12:03 am

    Would more excitement and enthusiasm for missionary work among local members truly result in dramatic, long-term increases in convert baptisms?

    YES!

    Is that all that is lacking?

    No. Fellowshipping, home-teaching, and visiting-teaching play a big part too. If a ward is not home-teaching the members they have now, it’s not likely the Lord will give that ward more members to home-teach. If a ward is dropping the ball with the members it already has, it’s unlikely the Lord will give them even more opportunities to drop the ball.

    What I’m saying is that there is a DIRECT correlation to home-teaching and convert baptism. Want more baptisms? Get the ward’s home-teaching percentage up. Can’t actually visit each and every household in the ward? Then at least contact (phone call) every household.

    Do that, and the Lord will reward that effort by pouring out his Spirit on the inactive members, and they will start to re-activate, which in turn will give you more home-teachers and reduce the home-teaching load (ratio of households per home-teacher).

    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?

    Yes. That and lack of vision and dedication to home-teaching.

    Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve given out gospel material, ie “planted seeds”, to almost 800 people. A little over 100 of those contacts were people to whom I was specifically directed by the Spirit. I am 100% confident that those 100 people were ready to receive a gospel seed, and that I was directed to them because at some point in the future they will be ready to or at least capable of accepting the gospel.

    That’s not to say that all 100 will get baptized. But what if 10% of those “Special 100″ get baptized? There’s ten people. Not bad for 2.5 years of seed-planting.

    And what about those other 700 people who agreed to receive a Book of Mormon? What if only 10% are “special” and capable of receiving the gospel? There’s 70 more “special”. And if 10% of those 70 get baptized, there’s another 7.

    So I think it’s likely there may be 17 baptisms out of the 800 contacts.

    What if every big-city ward in the US had a “bookslinger” who gave out 20 Books of Mormon a month?

    What if every big-city ward in the US had 10 “bookslingers”.

    What if every ward, regardless of size, had every active baptized member age 8 and older give out just ONE Book of Mormon per month?

    So YES, there are THOUSANDS of people per month across the US who could end up getting baptized if members really got serious and enthusiastic about home-teaching to take care of members, and enthusiastic about missionary work to find new members.

    And if the ward members had weekly family home evening and daily scripture study RELIGIOUSLY so as to get a large measure of the Spirit, they’d be ON FIRE, and they’d be LED by the Spirit to contact those thousands who are ready for the message, and they’d be INSPIRED by the Spirit to say the right things, and those who were ready to receive the message would then RECOGNIZE the Spirit in those on-fire members, and catch fire themselves.

    That’s the vision that I see from my book-slinging experience.

  11. 11 Eric Nielson January 6, 2007 at 8:56 am

    m&m:

    Interesting thoughts, thanks for your comment.

    You make me wonder if there is a certain benefit of the stranger as missionary, over the familiar friend as missionary. In the long run, I do not think there is.

    There is opening your mouth (inviting) and friendshipping (preparing). Zealous inviters (often the full time missionaries) seem to be great inviters and lousy preparers. Member friends might be good preparers but lousy inviters. It seems a rare thing to have both.

    Bookslinger

    Yes, the world could use more Bookslingers. I have long admired your bold missionary efforts.

    Your advice is good, and proclaiming the gospel would go better if we followed it. Your advice addressed only what members should do.

    I think at times I get to cynical about people in general – the potential converts. What do they need to do to be converted? Are there really that many people out there who are willing to do what it takes themselves to receive the seeds?

    Perhaps we should not be concerned with how many seeds don’t grow like we hope, and just plant like mad anyway.

  12. 12 Bookslinger January 6, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Are there really that many people out there who are willing to do what it takes themselves to receive the seeds?

    Yes. There are. But in my experience, most of them are immigrants. There are reasons why the Lord is leading (or allowing) so many people to this country.

    There is also the parable about the nobleman who invited people to a feast, and they all made excuses not to come, so the nobleman sent out his servants to bring in the halt and the maimed and the blind and the poor and invite them. I strongly believe there is a parallel between that parable and how middle-class America has been rejecting religion more and more. The poor and down-trodden who have recently immigrated to this country may be the poor ones who got invited to the feast because those who were already here have more or less rejected the invitation by making excuses of being too busy or not interested.

    Perhaps we should not be concerned with how many seeds don’t grow like we hope, and just plant like mad anyway.

    Yes. Two parables support that. One is the seed that falls on various types of soil. The seeds that fall on the fertile soil and bring forth fruit are in the minority. Most seeds don’t bring forth fruit. The other parable is the net that brings in all sorts of fishes, and the bad fish are thrown back in the sea and the good fish are kept.

    And another injunction of the Lord is applicable, where he commanded that the Gospel go to ALL human beings, not just the ones who’ll accept it. According to that commandment, it would be arrogant and slothful for us to want to take the Gospel to _only_ those who are going to accept it. He never promised that spreading the gospel was going to be _efficiient_.

  13. 13 Eric Nielson January 8, 2007 at 8:32 am

    Bookslinger:

    Thank you for reminding me of these parables. They give a good perspective.

  14. 14 Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 11:04 am

    It was in Oct. 2005 General Conference.

    In context:


    That is the very promise of increased faith we need to be spiritually prepared. But if we delayed the start of our obedience to that inspired invitation, the number of pages we had to read each day grew larger. If we then missed reading for even a few days, the chance of failure grew. That’s why I chose to read ahead of my daily plan to be sure I will qualify for the promised blessings of the spirit of resolution and testimony of Jesus Christ. When December ends, I will have learned about starting at the moment a command from God comes and being steady in obedience.

    More than that, as I read in the Book of Mormon, I will pray that the Holy Ghost will help me know what God would have me do. There is a promise of that plea being answered in the book itself: “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”4

    I will act quickly on what the Holy Ghost tells me I should do as I read and ponder the Book of Mormon. When I complete the project in December, I will have had many experiences of stretching my faith to be obedient. And so my faith will be strengthened. And I will know from my own experience what comes from going to the scriptures early and consistently to know what God wants me to do and then doing it. If we do that, we will be better prepared for the greater storms when they come.

    We will then have a choice of what to do after January 1. We can choose to sigh with relief and say to ourselves: “I have built a great reservoir of faith by starting early and being steady in obedience. I will store it away against the times when I will be tested in storms.” There is a better way to prepare, because great faith has a short shelf life. We could decide to persist in studying the words of Christ in the scriptures and the teachings of living prophets. This is what I will do. I will go back to the Book of Mormon and drink deeply and often. And then I will be grateful for what the prophet’s challenge and promise did to teach me how to gain greater faith and maintain it.

    Personal prayer can also build our faith to do what God commands. We are commanded to pray always that we will not be overcome. Some of the protection we need will be direct intervention of God. But more of it will come from building our faith to obey. We can pray every day to know what God would have us do. We can commit to start to do it quickly when the answer comes. My experience is that He always answers such petitions. Then, we can choose to obey. As we do, we will build faith enough that we will not be overcome. And we will gain the faith to go back again and again for further instruction. When the storms come, we will be ready to go and do what the Lord commands.

  15. 15 Eric Nielson January 8, 2007 at 11:38 am

    anonymous:

    Thanks for the reference.

  16. 16 M&M January 8, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Perhaps we should not be concerned with how many seeds don’t grow like we hope, and just plant like mad anyway.

    This attitude changed my mission completely. I need to figure out how to get back into seed-planting mode instead of worrying about finding goldens. ;)

  17. 17 Naiah Earhart January 9, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Eric,
    As other commentors have said, *if* you go with the semantics of, view the dynamic as being social/spiritual, then I would say that both serve their purpose, and are needed in varying degrees for various individuals. I was not referring to a social or cultural conversion when I mentioned that the reality of an eternal family can be brought home for converts by the existing members of the ward. We can teach the doctrine, even preach the doctrine, but we have to *live* the doctrine for it to become real to ourselves and those around us (including converts and other witnesses to our lives).

  18. 19 Regan March 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    As I’ve been blessed to witness the conversions of others — as a full-time missionary but also among my family and friends — I’ve compared their growth in faith with the loss of faith among others (again, in the mission field and among personal relatives and friends).

    I feel that one of the issues that hasn’t been specifically addressed (although aluded to with the parables) is that the faith must be in the right place — in the Savior.

    If someone joins the church just because the Word of Wisdom has been proven to have positive effects, then when they hear about polygamy, they might get turned off.

    But someone who sees how the gospel brings them closer to the Savior in ways that no other organization can (priesthood, additional scripture, continued revelation, etc) then they’ll be able to faithfully work through “issues” that will undoubtedly be presented to them by those who, for whatever reason, don’t want them to be in our church.

    I’m grateful for the church as an institution as well as for my personal testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. I think bookslinging sounds great!


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