Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Developing and Initiating a Ward Mission Plan

The Mission of the Wilmington Ward describes how a bishop and ward mission leader engaged their ward council to develop and implement a plan to inspire the members of their ward to find more people for the missionaries to teach. The story in the case is a synthesis of the experience of three different wards in Massachusetts whose leaders did a particularly effective job in leading the missionary effort. Our handbooks of instruction offer valuable guidance to each of us as wed attempt to serve in the church. They tell us what we are supposed to do. We glean most of our know how in church service, however, from watching other people serve in their callings. Role modeling is a powerful training device. The purpose of the Wilmington Ward case is to provide ward leaders a role model for how to be effective missionary leaders – because most bishops and ward mission leaders have not observed an effective member missionary leadership team at work before.

In the case study method of learning, instructors generally do not lecture. Rather, they ask thought-provoking questions to students in the class, to help the students discover the key insights themselves. This method can only work if the case is distributed several days prior to the training meeting, and if the students have studied it thoroughly beforehand. A thorough discussion of the important issues in the Wilmington Ward case typically consumes an hour.

In keeping with the urgings of the presiding brethren, this case does not suggest a particular missionary program that all wards and branches ought to follow. Rather, it describes a process that a bishop, ward mission leader and ward council can follow to develop a plan that is appropriate to their situation. As D&C 9:6-7 states, developing such a plan that can be put before the Lord is an indispensable step in the process of receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Teaching Plan

I recommend dividing the hour’s discussion into three blocks – 15 minutes at the outset to characterize the process that the ward leaders followed; 35 minutes to probe specific elements of the process more deeply and to examine how they interact; and a final 10 minutes discussing how leaders can initiate this process in their own wards.

What is the process that the Wilmington Ward Council used?

I recommend launching this portion of the discussion by asking the students, “If you were using this case as a template to train someone in how to develop a ward mission plan, which of the things they did would you say are absolutely critical for any ward to do?” To involve as many students as possible in the discussion, it is best to get one suggestion from the initial respondent, and then to ask the question again to another student: “Is there another of the things they did that you think would be absolutely critical?” -- and so on, making a list of the points on a chalkboard as they emerge from class members. The points will include:

  1. The bishop and ward mission leader led by example.
  2. They involved the entire ward council, rather than formulating a plan in isolation, as a band of ward missionaries.

3. Too often in our church service we seek improvement by formulating programs that address the symptoms of problems, rather than their root cause. The Wilmington Ward leaders, in contrast, defined initiatives and activities that addressed the root reasons why members weren’t actively sharing the gospel. This discipline helped them define some creative and effective actions.

  1. Specific people were given responsibility to execute each element of the plan
  2. The ward council chose a specific measure of their success – the number of people that members brought into their homes for the missionaries to teach. They set a goal for the year. Every week the ward mission leader updated his chart. Once a month he taped that chart to the wall in ward council meeting, as a mechanism for the council to hold itself accountable for achieving their goal.
  3. The mechanisms for motivation that the ward leaders used were 1) to teach correct principles (through the member missionary class), and 2) inspiring the members to action through example and testimony. They deliberately eschewed coercion, guilt trips and one-shot programs.
  4. They sought ways to involve the whole ward in the missionary effort – including less active members and people of other faiths. Every auxiliary had responsibility for an element of the program. This was one benefit of having the ward council plan and direct this effort.

As class members proffer these elements of the process, the instructor should ask them why they feel that particular piece was so crucial to the Wilmington Ward’s success. He should summarize each point in a list on the blackboard, so that he can return to many of the points later in the class.

Class segment 2: There is no silver bullet

Once these characteristics of the process have been chronicled on the board, I the instructor should shift gears into the second segment of the discussion, where the class can probe the reasoning behind each piece of the system, and explore how they work together. He can initiate this exploration by pointing to one of the items (for example, the bishop and WML’s decision to lead by example) and ask, “What else in the process would not have worked if the leaders had attempted to lead the effort without setting an example?” Clearly #6 – relying on teaching and testimony for motivation – could not have worked. Number 3 – addressing the root cause – would not have been possible, because one root cause of the ward’s member missionary malaise had been that the bishop could not emphasize it without feeling hypocritical.

The instructor can then pick another dimension of the system – the decision to involve the whole ward council rather than having the plan belong only to the ward missionaries, for example – and go through the same process of assessing what else wouldn’t have worked, if the ward council did not develop and own the plan; and so on. The key insight from this discussion about interdependencies is that there isn’t a simple silver bullet. No single initiative solves this problem. It’s a systemic challenge that demands a systemic solution.

Leadership vs. Administration

When the interdependencies have been explored for this point, the instructor can invite class members to explore more deeply a few of the program’s dimensions. A good place to start is to ask a class member to comment on the distinction that Bishop Miner made to Mike Spencer: “You weren’t called to be a ward mission administrator. This is a leadership problem, not an administrative problem.” What’s the difference between a ward mission administrator and a ward mission leader?

An important, related question might be, “Bishop Miner is a very busy man. Why do you suppose he set that end-of-year deadline for himself, of finding someone for the missionaries to teach?” The instructor can use this to show that what he did was “set a date” as a goal for himself, just as Elder Ballard suggested we do. Ask, “What relationship did setting the date have with Bishop Miner’s talking with and inviting Jose Gutierrez to meet with the missionaries?” always helps class members see that the deadline forced Bishop Miner to do what God wants us all to do – to see everyone as a possible member of Christ’s church. This is also a good point in the discussion to testify that there are two courses of action available to busy church leaders who are faced with the mandate to lead by example. One course is to opt out, with the reasoning that they are already doing all they can to serve in the Kingdom. The other course is to have the faith that God will bless them with a miracle, as happened to bishop Miner and as Elder Ballard and Nephi promised (I Ne. 3:7).

Measures of Success

A second dimension of the process that bears deeper exploration is the council’s decision to measure their success by referrals, rather than baptisms; and then the chart that Mike Spencer developed to update the ward council on their progress towards their goal. The instructor can guide this discussion with two questions. The first is, “I some leaders don’t want to use such an “intimidating” measure as the number of referrals who are taught an initial gospel discussion – believing that if they give members a less onerous challenge it will be easier to inspire them to be missionaries. Which approach is better?” Most class members will favor giving more modest “baby-step” challenges, believing that members respond more readily to easy challenges than hard ones. The instructor can challenge whether there is evidence supporting that belief, however. Furthermore, members deprive themselves of extraordinary blessings when they stop short of inviting people into their homes for the missionaries to teach. A second question is, “Have any of you participated in a January meeting in the past, in setting a goal for how many baptisms you were going to get as a ward that year? What was different about the way that Mike Spencer treated the achievement of their referrals goal, than the typical ward council has treated its baptismal goals?” I recommend spending some time focusing on the chart on p. 9 of the case, which was the tool that Mike used to keep the ward council focused on improving and revising the plan in order to achieve the goal. It is a great tool that a ward council could use to hold itself accountable not just for its missionary plan, but for improvements in sacrament meeting attendance, reactivation, and so on.

It may be helpful to read the following statement of President Thomas S. Monson:

When we deal in generalities we shall never succeed.

When we deal in specifics, we shall rarely have failure.

When performance is measured, performance improves.

When performance is measured and reported, the rate of performance accelerates.

President Thomas S. Monson, Favorite Quotations from the Collection of TS Monson, pg 61

Deseret Book, 1985

Means of Motivation

A third dimension of the Wilmington Ward council’s process that bears close examination is the means of motivation that they employed. The first mechanism was to teach correct principles of member missionary work in a systematic, small-group three-week setting, where class members could learn, act, and return and report the next week. Often in the church we see members not magnify their calling, and we conclude that they simply are not committed. I believe that in many cases, members’ apparent apathy actually is a symptom of their not knowing how to do the work – so they don’t. The second means of motivation was the testimonies of the ward council members in fast & testimony meeting. Ask the class members about the impact that Bishop Miner’s testimony had on the ward; about Christine Quinn’s testimony; and so on. A good way to visualize what was happening is this: It is as if the ward members were all walking together across a glacier, and came to a frighteningly deep crevasse. They were all huddled along its edge, afraid to jump across. If the ward leaders approached from behind and tried to push the members across, they’d resist or run for cover. But if the ward leaders jump across first, and then turn back and describe how rewarding and easy it was, then other members will follow – not all at once, of course. But as more and more members make the leap and turn around to testify about the experience, more and more will develop the courage to follow.

Implementing this Process in Your Ward

I recommend finishing the discussion with a ten-minute discussion about how to implement this process in their wards and branches. I recommend starting this segment by asking, “Could I just see by raise of hands how many of you want to develop and implement a plan to inspire the members of your ward to be more effective missionaries?” Most, if not all, will indicate this desire. Having asked them to make this commitment, the next question should be, “We’ve all been to these training meetings, where we get some good ideas and sing the closing hymn with a resolve to go and do – only to find that when we get home, other events intervene and not much happens. What advice would you give to the bishop or ward mission leader next door, to help them avoid getting sidetracked?”

If these questions don’t result in a sufficiently productive discussion, it can be helpful simply to walk through the steps that Bishop Miner and Mike Spencer followed:

1. A personal meeting, in which they committed to lead by example.

2. Dedicate one ward council meeting each month to the missionary effort. In the first of these, do a root cause exercise. In subsequent ones, develop plans to solve those root problems.

3. Start to collect information, and construct the chart, to allow the ward council to hold itself accountable; and use it every month.

Ask the members why it took a relatively long time to realize success in baptisms, leading to the conclusion that very often, we need to do things “right” for a while, before the results begin to roll in. Often we give up when results don’t instantly appear; and failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It simply takes time for the fire to propagate.

A good way to wrap it up is to note that the ward leaders who did this were average people who previously had not been exemplary missionaries – they had not been born with the instinct for how to do it. And yet ordinary members, following a process like this, and following correct principles, received extraordinary blessings, and became great, successful leaders.