I do not have very many burrs under my saddle when it comes to the church, but in this case I would like to expose one in the hopes of removing it. It has to do with the retention of new converts.
I think it all started when I served as Ward Mission Leader and then Elder’s Quorum President consecutively. I believe that President Hinkley’s famous counsel on retention was made when I was a new Ward Mission Leader. My stake leaders at the time, whom I felt were over zealous in general, jumped on this counsel, and in their usual way were going to hold everyone with a stewardship regarding new converts to a high level of accountability in the three areas.
The three areas of need for a new convert are a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing by the word of God – according to President Hinkley. And if any new convert stopped coming to church it was assumed that the ball was dropped in one of these areas, and the ward in question was always at fault.I do not dispute the wisdom of President Hinkley’s counsel in this area, but I do believe that it only addresses one side of the street. The side of the responsibility of long-time local members. But there is another side of the street – in fact I believe this may be a three-way street if you can imagine it. The other sides involve the missionaries, and the new converts themselves.
This months Ensign is completely devoted to new members of the church. There is an excellent article called something like ‘What Now?’, which I believe is on page 24. I don’t know for sure because I gave my copy to a recently inactive new convert in our ward. He and I have become friends of sorts, and I played pool with him last night. It is his favorite hobby. Anyhow, the article addresses the responsibilities of new members. Under the friendshipping section the author mentions that one of the best ways to have a friend is to be one, and suggests that the new member should reach out! Real friendships are always two way streets.
As I thought about resolving some of my issues with this my mind pondered the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13 among other places. Many have suggested that this parable is actually a parable about good soil. Most of you will be familiar with this parable so I won’t review the parable in detail now. But it seems that this parable may be the Saviors explanation regarding retention problems involving his own converts. His own explanation of the parable seems clearly to express that the staying power of a new convert is mainly determined by the quality of the soil. The soil being the convert themselves.
My desire here is to recommend that as local church leaders we don’t point fingers as much as we play blame-game guilt trips. We simply need to do what we reasonably can to help faithful, honest, and well prepared new converts make a difficult transition. I believe a lack of retention of poorly prepared converts who lack a deep commitment is nearly inevitable, and not necessarily evidence of an unfriendly, irresponsible, and uncharitable ward.