Analysis of the problem:
The reason why many new members fall away is that at the baptismal interface between investigation and membership, the work of missionaries and members doesn’t connect at the three necessary points: friends, responsibility, and nourishment in the word of God. Ward and stake leaders don’t focus on retention because we don’t use relevant measures of their performance or hold them accountable. The problem is not that new members get overwhelmed by callings in the church: the large majority of them never receive callings.
1. Friends. We can ask members to extend friendly behavior to new members, but you can’t assign “instant” friends. If new members bring friends and family with them into the church, the probability that they will remain temple-worthy is 5x greater than if they are baptized singly. The place where having friends is most important is at home, where new members need support to keep their covenants.
2. Responsibility. Most new members aren’t prepared to accept responsibility for themselves or others, even though this is a clear scriptural pre-condition for baptism. And our ward leaders aren’t prepared to give new members responsibility at the time when they need it most – immediately after baptism. Missionaries focus an inordinate share of their teaching time on doctrine, and devote an insignificant fraction to commitments.
3. Nourishment in the good word of God. Most new members don’t know how to receive spiritual nourishment, because they get baptized without ever learning how to study the scriptures and pray in ways that bring the spirit into their lives. And ward leaders and members rarely are prepared to provide nourishment without interruption in a systematic way. Nourishment generally happens only when individuals take initiative to do it.
4. Accountability. The metrics we use for “retention” are false and misleading measures that cause ward and stake leaders to be complacent about this problem.
Changes to make in the investigation phase:
1. Investigators must learn how to be nourished. It is not enough for missionaries to impart an understanding of doctrine. They must teach investigators how to study the scriptures, and how to pray – so that they know how to be nourished.
2. Investigators must be prepared to accept responsibility. We must teach missionaries that making it as easy as possible for investigators to qualify for baptism does not lead to more baptisms. And it reduces the likelihood that new members will stay active in the church.
a. Missionaries should reserve at least 10-15 minutes in each lesson to focus on commitments – to invite investigators to make the commitment; instruct them on what each commitment entails and how to do it successfully; and inspire them to do it through testimony.
b. In all but the most exceptional circumstances, we should invite investigators to take responsibility to get themselves to church. Members should provide rides only after all reasonable alternatives have been tried.
3. Missionaries and members must make every possible effort to baptize people together with friends and family, so that there are other people in the new members’ living environment who are committed to living the gospel and able to support each other.
4. When the investigator progress report is discussed in PEC and Ward Council meetings, the discussion should focus on whether investigators are progressing on items 1-3 above, and on how members can help missionaries to make even more progress.
Changes to make in the new member phase:
1. Ask ward missionaries to reserve the same blocks of time each week for missionary service. During this block they can teach investigators with the missionaries, and serve as special home & visiting teachers to new members. They should visit on a weekly rhythm for the first 3-4 months.
a. Start family history research the week after baptism, and take each new member to temple with family names within 2 months of baptism.
b. This can harness tangible but unseen support of relatives in the spirit world.
c. Teach new member lessons after momentum toward the temple is established.
2. As soon as possible before baptism, the ward mission leader should formulate an ideal, tailored calling for each new member, and propose it to the bishop. An ideal calling has these characteristics:
Friends: Always serve with another member. New members should rarely be called to serve alone. Friendships are built by working together, not by sitting together. A co-worker can support the new member and teach him or her how to succeed in the calling.
Responsibility: The ideal responsibility has three characteristics:
Special: It helps the new member feel important and needed in the ward
Sabbath: It requires attendance at church every Sunday
Straightforward: The assignment must not be unstructured, open-ended or amorphous.
Nourishment: Service in the calling should help the new member learn the gospel and feel the spirit while serving.
If the bishop is inspired to accept the ward mission leader’s recommendation for a responsibility, he should issue this call at the time of baptism.
3. Choose a measure of retention that reflects our ultimate responsibility, and that causes us to do what we should be doing. The right measure is: Of those baptized within the last 24 months,
1) How many are known to the bishop as being temple-worthy?
2) How many are known not to be temple worthy? and
3) What is the number whose temple worthiness is not known to the bishop?