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Maybe you will recognize the feelings I had on the airplane as a brand-new missionary.
I hoped I might engage someone in a meaningful missionary conversation. I knew that an hour chat would scarcely touch on the expansive doctrines of salvation, and that my planted seed would grow slowly. And I was okay with that.
Until I looked out the window.
There below, I saw urban humanity bustling around in gigantic anthills as far as the eye could see. In 1996, Sao Paulo was the third largest city in the world. We flew over dense metropolis for more than an hour before even reaching the airport. Today, the surrounding population of that single city totals 21 million, which is 5 million more people than all the Church members throughout the entire world. Other massive cities can make similar claims: Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, Cairo, Dhaka, Mumbai, Beijing, and Osaka.
I wondered: How can our missionary efforts even make a dent?
And how can we possibly help prepare the whole world for the Second Coming—when the entire Church membership (16.3 million) totals about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s 7.2+ BILLION people?
First, this disclaimer: The Lord says, “I am able to do mine own work.”[i] He lets us “help prepare” in the same way we let our little children “help” in the kitchen for their own joy and growth. As President Monson once told Elder Neil L. Anderson: “We do everything we can to move this work forward. But this is the Lord’s work, and He directs it. He is at the helm. We marvel as we watch Him open doors we cannot open and perform miracles we can scarcely imagine.”[ii]
Okay, so all modern prophets have taught us that the Church’s purpose is to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior.[iii] Elder D. Todd Christofferson declared: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is uniquely empowered and commissioned to accomplish the necessary preparations for the Lord’s Second Coming; indeed, it was restored for that purpose.”[iv]
What exactly does that mean—to have the world prepared?
Up until last month, almost all of my thoughts about “preparing the world” focused around what I’ll call “Arrival Readiness.” Now, for the first time, I’ve discovered that there’s another exciting lens through which we can view our preparations, which I’ll call “After-Plan Readiness.” These two lenses working together now help me see recent organizational and policy changes with fresh eyes. Readying the world feels much more manageable, and I feel more excited for the Second Coming than ever before.
Arrival Readiness vs. After-Plan Readiness
Consider this hypothetical example.
Let’s say a well-respected dignitary is coming to speak in your town, and you want her to be well received. You create a promotional team to raise awareness about her coming visit. You secure a venue and recruit as many friends as possible to come attend. You work hard to gather a crowd and you distribute materials in advance that will help the group interact gracefully with the dignitary—asking good questions and so on. You have just completed what I will call Arrival Readiness. It’s a type of anticipatory preparation for the arrival of a single climactic event.
Now let’s go further. Let’s say that this renowned dignitary comes promoting a specific change—perhaps she would like to build a hospital for your town. She gives a stirring speech and presents a well-considered plan for the financing, construction, and staffing of the hospital. Everyone cheers and agrees. Are you now prepared to build the hospital?
You are only prepared to benefit from this scenario if you have After-Plan Readiness. With your experienced change management team, you will have already spent weeks considering questions such as these:
How will you transfer crowd enthusiasm into tangible action, such as actual fundraising dollars or votes? Who will bring the sign-up sheets? Where should you place a donation collection box? When should the follow-up calls begin? There must be an organized infrastructure: websites, databases, etc., in place ahead of time to immediately bring on new volunteers and accept their ready contributions. If these don’t happen, all of your well-meaning anticipatory preparations are largely wasted.
In other words, what follow-up is necessary so that the vision presented by your visitor can truly be realized? That’s After-Plan Readiness.
A typical Second Coming mindset: Arrival Readiness
Consider the following 5 ideas below which we frequently associate with preparing the world for the Lord’s arrival. All of these are indispensable. Note that, as listed here, each is primarily a form of arrival readiness.
1. We prepare ourselves and our loved ones to joyfully greet the Lord when He arrives. (This requires repentance, covenants, and lots of practice living the gospel.)
2. Through temple ordinances, we prepare millions of the dead to resurrect and join Christ at his coming.
3. We invite all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people to prepare for Christ’s arrival. Those of dispersed Israelite heritage are especially likely to gather first (in fulfillment of ancient promises).
4. Eventually we will prepare a city, the New Jerusalem, where Christ will appear to a welcoming crowd.
5. We even prepare the collective consciousness of those outside the Church, because our true doctrine acts like leaven that spreads imperceptibly to raise the whole loaf. For example, many Christian churches now expect families to be together after death and teach that we are children of God—even though their official creeds don’t fully embrace the implications of these teachings.
All of these things help people across the world (and spirit world) to happily anticipate the glorious moment of Christ’s arrival. We look forward to his coming. We gather in readiness to hear him. We prepare people with the ideas that enhance receptivity. We build the venue. We are working on our Arrival Readiness!
An additional Second Coming mindset: After-Plan Readiness
Now, consider how additional perspective is added when we reframe items from the same list within the mindset of After-Plan Readiness:
1. We prepare ourselves and our loved ones to live in millennial unity and peace under Christ’s reign.
2. Through temple ordinances, we prepare millions of the dead to join our consecrated society as resurrected beings who will work among us under Christ’s direction.
Do you see how the emphasis shifts? How the priorities take on new color?
Other items on the list could be switched too, but before going any further, let me share how I stumbled upon the implications of After-Plan Readiness. As these ideas unfolded, I realized that perhaps our God is readying His Church for an exciting After-Plan in ways far beyond what we imagine.
For this idea, I am indebted to beloved speaker and author, Brad Wilcox. During a summer road trip, my kids and I listed to the audiobook version of Brad’s new book, “Born to Change the World: Your part in gathering Israel.” The whole book is fabulous. It explains clearly the history of Israel, and what we know about the different tribes—which is a great topic outside the scope of this article.
The huge lightbulb moment for me came for me near the end of Chapter 4[v], packaged in this glorious summary (the bolded emphasis is mine):
And what role do the tribes have in the government of the kingdom of God? We know that those of Ephraim and Manasseh have the assignment to gather Israel and prepare the Church and world for the second coming. But we do not yet know what responsibilities the other tribes will be given. It seems reasonable that people named from other tribes should together work with Ephraim and Manasseh for now, preparing themselves to take their places as leaders in their own tribes when future assignments come.
Whatever those roles may be, knowing our tribe now is important because it gives Latter-day Saints an additional level of worldwide organization that can be called into action at a moment’s notice. This is the kind of organization that will be needed when Christ comes again in his glory and billions—yes, billions—of people will immediately want to learn about Him and His Church.
Little wonder the scriptures say it will be in the millennium that the gathering of Israel will commence in earnest. However, if we wait until that moment to get organized, it will be too late. We need to have strong and experienced leaders already in place worldwide to not only handle the dramatic growth of the Church, but also the additional temporal responsibilities that will be ours when, as we read in Isaiah, “the government shall be upon [Christ’s] shoulder.”
You clicked on this article because the title asked, “Are we preparing for Church membership to triple?”
The answer is no…and yes.
The Church isn’t preparing to grow by 300%. The Church is preparing for a sudden growth spike of something closer to thirty-thousand percent!
Let’s be clear. Before Christ’s arrival, we may grow in many ways—possibly even by 300% with the opening of new countries, etc. We will need big growth to continue to spread the message worldwide. But the kind of extraordinary growth we are ultimately preparing for will NOT occur through our everyday member missionary work. It will NOT occur just because we have some great new technological teaching tools.
It won’t really start until after Jesus appears.
“Then shall all the tribes of the earth…see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[vi] According to Elder Neil L. Andersen: “It will be breathtaking! The scope and grandeur, the vastness and magnificence, will exceed anything mortal eyes have ever seen or experienced.[vii]
Then, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it:
Soon…all flesh shall see Him together. All knees shall bow in His presence, and all tongues confess His name.[viii] Knees which never before have assumed that posture for that purpose will do so then—and promptly. Tongues which have never before spoken His name except in gross profanity will do so then—and worshipfully.
Once Jesus Christ appears, what will he say? Undoubtedly, many beautiful things we cannot now even imagine. But we do have a few clues about what part of his message will be.
When Jesus Christ first appeared to the Nephites (as recorded in 3 Nephi 11), one of the first things he did was teach the people about baptism in the proper way, by the proper authority. Isn’t it likely that at the Second Coming, our Lord will immediately invite all people to accept a covenant relationship with Him through baptism?
We don’t know how many people will be present and willing, but it’s extremely likely that—given the miraculous invitation—at least a few billions of our brothers and sisters will likely respond wholeheartedly. This is where After-Plan Readiness comes in. It appears that the Lord wants us to have priesthood authority and some leadership experience already dispersed among the nations and cities, equipped for this immediate influx to baptismal fonts. And as these mass-multitudes join the covenant path and are taught by the living Jesus Christ, will they not also desire a fullness of temple covenants? A few hundred temples could scarcely handle the immediate influx. But it would be a start, allowing the first wave of converts to receive their endowments and then turn around to help endow the next wave, and so on. Our resurrected dead will surely play a part in the After-Plan too.
Our Arrival Readiness is really, really important. But also, today’s gathering of first-wave Israel is preparing a ground infrastructure that will be already be arranged and in place after the Lord’s coming to help everyone throughout the world who will desire to receive Jesus by covenant. The After-Plan will necessarily be unimaginably far-reaching.
In what ways are we as a Church currently being prepared by the Lord—not only for the immediate days before He comes, but also for that ultimate transition to millennial worship, with its continuing missionary and temple work?
I don’t know what other implications attend Christ’s After-Plan. We can only speculate how other Church components might be preparing to contribute then. As Brother Wilcox pointed out, our assignment to various tribes of Israel now may provide a starting point for our callings then. Perhaps the Lord also has big millennial plans for our global education initiatives, now in their infancy. Perhaps our self-reliance trainings go far beyond today’s budgeting strategies, and set the stage for millennial work to recover the globe from disasters and rebuild the cities.[ix] I don’t know how Christ’s government will be structured when he reigns as King of Kings, but we know His Church will play a part. Somehow, He will have organization without bureaucracy, and order without regimentation.
Jesus has told us, “Ye shall have no laws but my laws when I come, for I am your lawgiver, and what can stay my hand?”[x] His laws will end evil, oppression, injustice, poverty, suffering, and death. They will also bring lasting unity, harmony, love, health, and purpose. What an honor to be allowed to contribute to that after-plan!
And in the meantime?
Well, if my missionary children only find a few converts among today’s massive cities, that’s okay. If we have to streamline some of our cultural baggage and youth development customs, that’s okay. If persecution temporarily shrinks our membership or makes it look like we are losing ground, that’s okay. If the whole world doesn’t seem to be anticipating the beautiful day ahead, that’s okay.
We’ll prepare everyone who wants to listen. But we’ll also prepare the leadership scaffolding and organizational structure to receive everyone else as soon as they meet our Savior. In that coming day, they will suddenly, fully understand why we worship Him. And in those millennial after-moments, when our friends finally feel unequivocally committed, we will be all set to assist them in making those sacred covenants that tie us to Him.
As Elder Neil L. Andersen said:
May we prepare for His coming by rehearsing these glorious events over and over in our own minds and with those we love, and may His prayer be our prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”[xi]
[i] 2 Nephi 27:20
[iii] This includes President Russell M. Nelson, as in the “Hope of Israel” address to the youth (June 2018).
[v] From minute 7:10 to 8:52
[vi] Matthew 24:30
[ix] Isaiah 54:3
[x] Doctrine and Covenants 38:22