Should Baptism Requirements be Raised?

In the March 2003 Ensign Gordon B. Hinckley is quoted as saying that the biggest problem that the church faces is rapid growth. This startled me a little bit. With all the possible things that he could have said, I would not have thought rapid growth would be the biggest problem. It seems evident to me that what the church is trying to do is accommodate that growth. Action in the other direction (limiting growth) seems almost unthinkable.

One of the things this has caused me to think about over the last couple of years is if the church should raise the requirements for baptism. There has been talk of raising the bar for missionaries, but apparently not for converts. I served for a couple of years as a ward mission leader in Michigan. From my faulty memory, this is what I remember being the requirements for baptism:

Attend church at least twice.
Have all the missionary discussions.
Pass a simple interview conducted by a missionary.

I believe that is it. If not that is close. The mission president at the time added a requirement that if there was a word of wisdom problem that the investigator had to quit the habit for one week successfully prior to baptism.

There are some members of the church who get upset by seeing people get baptized, show up for a couple of weeks, and then never be seen at church again for whatever reason. Some feel that if there were higher requirements for baptism that this lack of retention would go away. I admit that I had similar feelings during my time as ward mission leader and again as an Elders Quorum President. Part of the reason I felt that way is because I was being held partly accountable for this lack of retention. There may be some in the church that feel bad about the lack of retention because it makes the statistics look bad and makes home teaching less manageable. There are others who feel that for someone to make a covenant as serious as baptism and then not live up to that covenant is worse than not being baptized at all.

One of the problems with the above requirements is that minimum requirements have a nasty way of becoming standard procedure. Let me give one example. The Elders in our ward found an investigator on Thursday who had a smoking problem. They taught him the first discussion but also committed him to stop smoking so that he could be baptized the following Sunday. They taught him the second discussion on Saturday and committed him to be baptized the following Sunday. He came to church on Sunday and that is the first anyone in our ward had ever seen or heard of the guy, and the missionaries announced he was going to be baptized next Sunday. He got the rest of the discussions and was baptized after first being introduced to the church 10 days prior. He had no friends or relatives in the church, and never fully kicked his smoking habit. He slid into inactivity but would show up once in a while. I provided rides to church for him for a while until he started declining the ride. He was a nice man (he died of cancer a few weeks ago). Was he better off for being baptized? I think so.

Is this type of thing a problem? We baptize for anyone that we find a name for in our family history without knowing at all what their level of readiness is, and always chalk that up to a good deed. Why is it different with a live person who agrees to be baptized? Is it because of the personal commitment they are professing to make? Is the only problem the poor retention statistics and the guilt that sometimes comes with it? The Lord said to go into all the world and teach the Gospel to every creature. He also gave some requirement for baptism in scripture:

D&C 20:37 is good, but also look at D&C 20:68-69. There should be sufficient time for understanding. Also the investigator should show some level of godly walk, works and faith.

So, should the requirements for baptism be raised? Should we start having bishops (those that have discernment) do the interviews instead of missionaries? Or are things fine the way they are. I personally would like to see baptism requirement raised a bit for the sake of those making the commitment.

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10 Responses to “Should Baptism Requirements be Raised?”


  1. 1 Bookslinger February 9, 2006 at 11:36 am

    There do appear to be higher requirements in the “Preach my Gospel” book.

    One of the new committments is to read the scriptures every day.

    That seems to have migrated, like the WoW, from a recommendation to a requirement.

  2. 2 Naiah Earhart February 9, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    When I was baptized 10 years ago, there’s no way I could even have made the requirements that you mention, as my first discussion was on a wednesday, and I was baptized the following friday. Only one sunday in between.

    In the latest church news, one of the quotations (on the page of quotes from Pres. Hinckley) is Pres. Hinckley pleading with us, as a membership, to befriend the new converts, to take them in to our hearts, and by so doing, eliminating the problem of convert retention.

    That really is the key–spirit of community. If people feel that they ‘belong’, then there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. My current ward is just amazing at that. I can’t sing their praises enough. While membership in the kingdom, and relaionship with heavenly Father are personal undertakings, their community spirit, which just pulled me right in and eased all my fears along enough for me to get my faith on straight, so to speak, was not just helpful, but, I truly believe, vital to my own return to activity after a three-year hiatus.

    You go back far enough, and there was a time when every member was a convert. Honestly, though, with the small numbers and the close geography, community spirit was no problem in Kirtland, or Nauvoo, etc. I think we need a way to recapture that same essence, here, in our 12 million member, world-wide days. How do we make everyone feel as if they live in a virtual Nauvoo?

    Well, the answer is simple to state and immensely difficult to practice. We love them. We love each other. We take our wards as family, and participate fully. By fully, it means, not just at meetings. It means beings friends (friends deepened by our siblinghood in the gospel)–calling each other up, hanging out *outside* of meetings. Sure, any kind of prescibed friendship will, doubtless, be strained, but it can happen. It’s happening here in our ward for our family.

    So, I believe the answer lies in the hands and hearts of the membership. I would not change the baptism requirements, but, perhaps, a more comprehensive new-mwmber program would be useful. Right now, there’s just the home teachers’ new-member discussions, and, well, we all know home teachers…
    😉

  3. 3 Eric Nielson February 9, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    bookslinger and naiah-

    Thank you for your comments. If reading the scriptures every day were a requirement I might get kicked out.

    Naiah, do you feel that this community feeling is more important than a spiritual conversion? I guess ideally you would have both.

    Also, do you feel that this sense of belonging should come prior to baptism? Or should someone get baptised and hope that they will eventually feel this?

  4. 4 Naiah Earhart February 9, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    I came from a base assumption that they *had* experienced spiritual conversion in their decision to be baptized.

  5. 5 Naiah Earhart February 11, 2006 at 1:37 am

    I’m sorry, I only answered half of your question.

    I would say that, ideally, they would feel a sense of belonging to the gospel as it was being taught to them (a reflection of our eternal heritage), and then sense a type of that as they were introduced to the ward family. So, not really ‘before’ or ‘after’ they are baptized, but rather ‘as they are being converted.’

    The decision to be baptized must be based on the spirit, but if our wards are relating to each other as they should, that same sense os belonging in the eternities will be reflected in their interactions with other members. Make sense?

  6. 6 Eric Nielson February 11, 2006 at 8:32 am

    Absolutely. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. In general I wonder if there is a rush to baprism pushed by missionaries that at times does a disservice to the people they teach. But admit that perhaps at times it may be best to get it done and not wait for someone to possibly change their mind.

  7. 7 Stephen Thomas December 22, 2007 at 2:52 am

    Hi,

    I hope it is not too late to discuss the issue above seeing that it is almost two years old, however the issues still very much apply today as ever.
    In response to should baptism requirements be raised, I say most certainly.
    The reason and answer is not completely in fellowshipping, though fellowshipping is important. I have seen converts who do not strengthen their own spiritual habits, and while fellowshipping has helped keep them active, they still do not contribute much to the branch I am in, fellowshipping by itself can turn into a spiritual dole. Three weeks ago, I would have completely agreed with the person who said fellowshipping is the complete answer. The last few weeks I have been reading a book called “The Law of the Harvest” by David Stewart. Stewart studied twenty different missions, interviewed dozens of mission presidents, and hundreds of missionaries. He found as a missionary that he raised the retention levels of his converts from 30% in Russia, to 85% by having investigators come to church for a full month, read scriptures daily, and all other committments including smoking for a full month, and as a result converts had much higher retention levels. This makes sense considering that habits taking 21 days to break and start new ones. He also found that his new converts did not have to be constantly babied by were many times more motivitated and committed than members who been in the church for many years. He was also able to get 85% retention in area of the church where there were not that many members to fellowship. Stewart has also found in his studies that missions that have used primarily fellowshipping as the key to conversion have only seen marginal gains, but the ones who focus on the habits before baptism have seent the greatest, though investigators need both. Missionaries and missions that do this, typically have investigators that may take a few weeks or a month longer, but that little extra time is well worth the much added dedication that the new convert brings with a life time of church service.
    This makes complete sense considering in Lehi’s dream it was the iron rod, not fellowshippig that led people through the mists of darkness, and to the tree of life. The first four months of conversion can be some of the toughest that a new convert will go through, do they not need the iron rod now more than ever. If we expect members to be scripture reading, shoud we not make this clear before they join, baptism is the greatest time for change, especially if people realize and are taught the magnitude of the covenant that they will make, people naturally want to feel like they are really changing their life. The missionaries have much more of a role in retentio by prevention, than most people ever give them credit for and that they realize. Missionaries that say “Well our job is just to get them baptized, after that is not my problem, its the wards responsibility”. this is like a traveling sales how gets a dumpy sale, leaves the customer with multiple problems, takes the commision and leaves.
    Second, on the missionaries baptism the guy in a week and a half. Their is no rush to make people change their lives in a week unless a missionary pushes it. Rushed baptisms have been found to not be as fulfilling for the investigators as when they can study out the doctrine and really get a sense of what they are learning and expected of them, this is not the missionaries baptism, or a means for them to get statistics, this is the most important decision an investigator will make in their whole life. The biggest complaint investigators were found to have is always rushed into baptism. How would a person feel if a person they were dating asked them to get married for a week later, after the first date? The person being asked did not even know the persn asking very well at all. I would be scared out of my pants. Yet, many people are asked to be baptised before they even attend once to see what church is like, or even gotten a testimony of the church. If they have not prayed about what are they converted on- missionary personalities.
    People will probably say,well once a person has a testimony they can be baptised the next day. People with a testimony still have the power of habit of their old lifestyle in their system, which needs to be replaced by new ones, we underestimate the power of habit, and we are suprised when few people who are baptized remain active. Moroni said those people who are baptized are the one who bring forth the fruits of repentance, not the buds or the leaves, the fruit. Also, a person who has a determination to serve him to the end. I think a person reading the scriptures daiy for a length of time is just the start of a actions showing a determination to serve him to the end, this is minimul. If people are keeping committments for a period of time, and they are committed they will usually come around with a little time. Why is this so hard, the seventh day adventist, require a complete lifestyle change for a several month period of time, as do the Jehovah Witness, and both of these churches have retention rates of 80% or more, while churches who except anyone and everyone are shrinking. Those who give up much to join the church, and not because the missionaries are pushing them, and strong and committed. Anyone, I highly recommend “The law of the Harvest” by David Stewart for anyone wanting some effective solutions to retention, quality and quantity.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson December 27, 2007 at 8:07 am

    Stephen:

    Excellent comment! Thanks for visiting Smalland Simpe, and for the book recommendation. I am in agreement with you on this one.

  9. 9 ji September 3, 2008 at 2:16 am

    Eric,
    Based on D&C 20, I’m not sure a “Godly walk” is a necessary pre-requisite to baptism into the Church — but it is supposed to be a pre-requisite to confirmation. See D&C 20:68-69. When Pres. Hinckley required that we separate baptisms and confirmations a few years back, he cited these verses. Before, we did convert baptisms and confirmations in the same day within minutes of each other. Now, we postpone confirmation at least until the following Sunday.
    Rather than wondering if we should raise baptism requirements, your inquiry might be better directed at wondering what standard should we expect AFTER baptism and BEFORE confirmation. What’s wrong with a ten-day) or a ten-week) space between baptism and confirmation? Or whatever time it takes, depending on the individual?
    I tend to think that our current practice (and past practice, too) does not give due credit to D&C 20:68-69, and I tend to think that thoughtful consideration of these verses will be helpful for all members and potential members of the Church.
    A person isn’t a member until the confirmation, and the record isn’t created until after the confirmation.
    I don’t write this to help keep weak people off the rolls, although an understanding and application of D&C 20:68-69 will have this effect — but our duty is to minister to these people and to prepare them for confirmation. Maybe if mission presidents had responsibility for baptisms and stake presidents had responsibility for confirmations, and we saw these as related but fundamentally distinct actions…

  10. 10 Eric Nielson September 3, 2008 at 7:01 am

    ji:

    I think separating the two ordinances is a wonderful idea, and would be in keeping with the two verses in D&C 20.


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