We all know a Kate.*Her name might be Sandy or Jenny or Heidi, and she could be anyone from a Young Adult through a Certified Ancient. She could be married or single, rich or poor, tall or short. The one thing these women have in common is that they refuse to come to church. Other women might have reasons such as having been offended, laziness, not truly having a testimony, or struggling with a nonmember husband.

But these “Kates” stay away because they think the rest of us are perfect. It’s hilarious, I know. Those of us who attend regularly are keenly aware of everyone’s problems and hardships, the fact that one sister is struggling to stop smoking, another one’s son just landed in prison, another one’s daughter is selling drugs, another one just declared bankruptcy, another is pregnant out of wedlock, and another one is on ten medications for mental illness. We have every trial under the sun, the same as everybody else. And we don’t judge because we’ve either just been there, or we know we could round the corner and find ourselves in the same boat! We minister to one another, we love and try to laugh together, we share tears and testimonies, and through it all we nudge each other along the path back home to our Heavenly Father.

We’re even fond of the quote that says a church is not a country club for the perfect but a hospital for the sick. We deliberately plan evening activities that will appeal to less-active sisters in hopes of luring them back, helping them feel wanted, and giving them the chance to make some friends. Ultimately we want them to share the joy of the gospel, temple sealings, and Eternal Life. We have entire meetings just about how to rescue these lost sisters. For all I know, the men are doing the same thing, trying to tailor a campout or a service project to specifically appeal to some brother on their list. But, my informal research tells me that the men are not afraid to come because they’re overwhelmed by all the amazingly accomplished guys at church. Not that our men aren’t dazzling and impressive; it’s just that men don’t think the same way women do, and don’t feel the same level of pressure to measure up. Challenge me if you wish, but any psychologist will tell you women have a corner on this.

And so Kate sees only the gorgeous women with darling clothes, fresh manicures and perfectly highlighted hair. She only sees families that look as if they could be on the cover of Ensign magazine-a cute wife and hubby and a string of cute kids, all sitting in a row on the bench, the picture of successful living. She sees us happily greeting each other in the hallway and assumes we have no problems whatsoever; we live in la-la-land where no one is overweight or in debt, no one has an abusive husband, and all children get straight As.

After working for years with less active women, I honestly believe more than half of them are “Kates” who feel intimidated by all the “perfect” Molly Mormons, and stay away from church solely for that reason.

“I don’t fit in there,” a woman told me once. “I feel judged there.”

I so wanted to say, “How could you possibly know? You haven’t come a single time since you moved in!” But the sister was sure this was how it would be. The truth is that she was judging herself, feeling both unworthy and unwelcome in a church building, when the very opposite was the case: She would have been welcomed with open arms. In fact, her situation was that her husband had left her for the clichd secretary and, if anything, our sisters would have rallied with sympathy, meals, and tons of attention for her kids. Despite what this “Kate” thought, she wouldn’t be the only single mother, the only one struggling financially, or the only woman whose husband had crushed her self-esteem.

Another woman recently told me that, unlike other LDS women, she has too many problems with her kids, her ex, and her work, to add one more thing (church activity) to her plate. So the very organization that can ease her burdens is the one she wants to avoid! Her life could become immeasurably simplified and blessed if she would just come to church. First, she’d meet other women struggling through a tough divorce and get both ideas and emotional support. Second, she’d find Scout and Primary leaders who could involve her children in fulfilling activities and wholesome friendships. Third, she would be able to renew her baptismal covenants, feel washed clean and forgiven every week, and grow closer to the Lord. Fourth, she would have tons of support (babysitting, meals, female friends for herself, male role models for her boys) as she got to know the members at church. Fifth, she would find joy through service and would realize how small her problems really are when compared with others in a far worse situation. Sixth, she would grow spiritually and see her temporal problems in a better perspective, learning and having dozens of “aha” moments in our classes. Seventh, she would bless the lives of her children by giving them this vital opportunity to grow a testimony and a relationship with the Holy Ghost. I could go on and on.

But no, those women at church are just too polished, too trouble-free. It’s as if we’ve done the most ingenious public relations scam in history! We have actually created the ridiculous impression that we are coasting along without a care in the world! If you’re not laughing at the crazy irony of all this, you’re not active enough.

So what’s the solution? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Better Visiting Teaching. Presidents, let’s assign our best, most compassionate sisters to visit these “at risk” women. Let’s encourage them to contact the sister three times a month, at least. One can be a personal visit and the other two can be phone calls. How else can we convince them we really do care? I’m sorry, but a hasty visit at the end of the month doesn’t convince anyone of their importance, only that a box will be checked and they will be forgotten again until next time.
  2. Open up. Let’s not be so eager to hide or conceal our sorrows. Yes, we all need privacy. But sometimes it does a world of good for both parties, if someone simply speaks up and says, “My son just left his wife and I’m devastated-what if I never see my grandkids again?” Others who’ve been there will speak up to give advice, and those who haven’t will take mental note at the very least, and realize Sister Smithers doesn’t have a charmed life after all; we’re all beset with heartaches. I think we all need to be more open and sharing. We find that we’re surrounded by caring friends, and the sister who is testing the waters of activity realizes she isn’t the only woman in the room with an imperfect life. I’m not saying we have to dress like frumps to convince newcomers that we’re not elitist, but we need to be “real,” and stop conveying the false impression that we are flawless women. Let them see you running errands in your gardening togs, or without makeup.

    It will be therapeutic for both of you!
  3. Fast and Pray. These women are staying away for a totally erroneous reason-let’s fast and pray for them. And let’s think of creative ways to show them how greatly they would benefit by joining our ranks again. Let’s invite them to lunch. Let’s call and ask for their advice with our own problems. Let’s remind them how much they have to offer, and how much we need their experience and wisdom.
  4. Use humor. Too many people, in and out of the church, take themselves too seriously and fret entirely too much about appearances. So what if your kid is a monster one Sunday and has to be dragged out of Sacrament meeting three times? We’ve all been there (some of us as that monster kid ourselves!) and when we can laugh at life’s setbacks we build rapport with others who need to do the same.
  5. Kick competition to the curb. We don’t need to try to outdo one another in any fashion, whether it’s by weighing less or earning more. Let’s stop bragging about our children, outshining Martha Stewart, or using any device whatsoever to establish superiority. We look like idiots when we do it, so let’s banish it from our ranks. If you struggle with perfectionism, the first thing you need to know is that you’re not fooling anybody who actually knows you. And your problem could be undoing years of missionary work with some other sister! To quote President Uchtdorf’s wonderful Conference Talk, “Stop it!”

It’s sad, and even tragic, when anyone stops coming to church. But at least when they doubt their core beliefs, or whenattendance would create conflict at home, that’s a legitimate reason. But this-staying away because of a complete and utter myth-this should never, ever happen. Thousands upon thousands of great women are missing the wonderful blessing of church activity because of an outright delusion. Let’s pop that bubble and get back to reality: The church is true, the ordinances are real, and every woman in this world was included in Christ’s atonement. None of us are perfect, every one of us will struggle, and we all belong at church-together.

*I chose the fictitious name of Kate because it remains a popular name that spans many generations, and can represent dozens of women you may know.

Perfect for Mother’s Day– Joni Hilton’s latest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores.

She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music &The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.