Many choice spirits are coming to earth and most will not be born to parents who are already members of the Church. But they have an inner urge to find truth because they were taught correct principles upstairs and they already have the gospel inside them.
For example, one of my national surveys found that 28% of all Americans believe they lived with God before coming to the earth. We members are but two of those 28 points, which means for each one of us there are 13 others who believe as we do in a pre-earthly existence.
Our task is to help them find a home for what they already believe.
Consider the traditional five-step pathway to membership:
Most people are aware of us and many have at least a little curiosity about what we believe. A person graduates to the interest phase when the curious questions are not only answered but lead to deeper questions – the ones buried in his pre-mortal soul – and he invites a personal discussion. Investigation, in turn, happens when a person is willing to read, ponder and pray.
The key is the curiosity phase and this is where we’re falling short.
Many curious people hesitate to ask questions because they have heard that our missionaries pressure people. As President M. Russell Ballard detailed it for new mission presidents in 2019, “… missionaries sometimes feel like salespeople who have to achieve baptismal goals; therefore, the missionaries use high-pressure tactics to rush people into the baptismal font.”
In addition, he said that “some Latter-day Saints are hesitant to share the names of families and friends with missionaries because the members worry the missionaries will extend invitations for baptism before the person being introduced is prepared and ready to be baptized.”
When curious people and members alike are hesitant, we have a significant roadblock in the middle of the pathway – the Hesitation Hump:
To overcome hesitation, curiosity has to be cultivated. We must allow the curiositator to spend more time nibbling on many topics. Too often we think a person’s question indicates a willingness to investigate when in reality a question may simply be one curiosity among many. We naturally want to do our part to advance the Church, so we quickly answer a curiosity question or two and think our duty has ended as we give the name to the missionaries.
When the missionaries, if allowed, meet with the curiositator, they assume the person is prepared to investigate, which may not be the case. This rush to the next step may lead to misunderstandings and even being offended because we have not spent enough time in the curiosity stage. Ask missionaries how many times a first visit has led to a second visit. The drop-off is unfortunate.
As we properly prepare friends to hear the missionaries, please remember we don’t persuade with pressure; we persuade by removing fears – the things that cause the hesitation. The curious want a comfortable way to find out about us, at his or her own pace, without (1) the tension of a face-to-face conversation, and without (2) the fear of being treated as a sales object.
It can be done. I’ll give you a new idea how to overcome the Hesitation Hump in my next article.
Gary Lawrence is the author of “The Magnificent Gift of Agency” available at Deseret Book and on Amazon.