The Worth of a Convert

My favorite interactions have been with those who had recently entered the waters of baptism for membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The conversations have been pure and unsullied by the life-long membership discussion of questionable doctrinal speculation. Not only that, but the faith they exhibit is often superior to many members- including my own. It is true that strong faith can also be easily shattered by things they might not have the experience dealing with. But, when they have become solid in what they believe, it is a joy to watch and listen to them in their lives. They are, after all, the backbone of the Church regardless of what life-long members might bring to the table.

It is with great sadness that I hear so often the lack of success in retaining them. There have been many reasons and excuses for this. Probably the one reason I find to be the most disturbing is the lack of fellowship – nay, lack of attention – given to those fine seedlings ready to bloom. There is no excuse for that, but too many converts (later in life) I have spoken with each have expressed disappointment at how they have been treated. It often is summed up as “second class citizens” looked on with suspicion. When asked suspicion of what, they often say it has to do with trusting their spiritual and theological capabilities. About this time my blood starts boiling! Sure they are just starting out. There is no question about that. But, that is the perfect time to learn from them, teach them in areas they need strengthening, and generally expressing appreciation for what they bring to the fellowship of Saints.

There are some quotes I would like to share to increase a convert’s faith and change long-active member’s attitudes:

” . . . How grateful we are for the Prophet Joseph Smith, who sought for the truth, who found it, and who, under the direction of the Lord, restored the gospel and organized the Church.

The Church has grown steadily since that day in 1830. It continues to change the lives of more and more people every year and to spread across the earth as our missionary force seeks out those who are searching for the truth. Once again we call upon the members of the Church to reach out to the new converts or to those making their way back into the Church, to surround them with love and to help them feel at home.”
— Pres. Thomas S. Monson, “Welcome to Conference,” April 2010.

“With the increase of missionary work throughout the world, there must be a comparable increase in the effort to make every convert feel at home in his or her ward or branch. Enough people will come into the Church this year to constitute more than 100 new average-size stakes. Unfortunately, with this acceleration in conversions, we are neglecting some of these new members. I am hopeful that a great effort will go forward throughout the Church, throughout the world, to retain every convert who comes into the Church.

This is serious business. There is no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable.”
— Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 49

“I plead with you; … I ask of you, each of you, to become a part of this great effort. Every convert is precious. Every convert is a son or daughter of God. Every convert is a great and serious responsibility.

[Converts] come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. … Listen to them, guide them, answer their questions, and be there to help in all circumstances and in all conditions. … I invite every member to reach out in friendship and love for those who come into the Church as converts.”
— Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Reach Out,” New Era, Feb. 2003, 4

“We have not yet significantly increased our effectiveness in fellowshipping new converts so that they invariably continue to grow in the gospel, to serve in the Church, and to receive the blessings of the temple.

Among those converts who fall away, the attrition is steepest in the two months after baptism. When a convert is baptized, there is no time to lose. Fellowshipping efforts must begin well before baptism and must increase in intensity in the months following baptism.

Our experience has shown that members can have a powerful influence in this process in three critically important ways:

1. Modeling gospel living by providing practical, persuasive examples of the joy we receive from living the gospel.

2. Teaching the gospel informally by explaining Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices, answering questions, and helping investigators and new members resolve concerns.

3. Helping investigators and converts become fully integrated into the community of Saints.

When members see themselves as gospel nurturers, as the prophet has invited us all to be, we will be well along toward our goal.”
— Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Role of Members in Conversion,” Ensign, Mar. 2003, 52

“We then began to observe that in some wards we visited in the United States as well as in Latin America, if we had been investigators or new members, we would not have felt very welcome. The Apostle Paul taught the Ephesians, ‘Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God’ (Eph. 2:19). And yet, on occasion we felt like ‘strangers and foreigners’ in the very Church of Jesus Christ to which we belonged.

These experiences helped us become aware of the discomfort that newcomers might occasionally feel in coming to our chapels, and these made us conscious of the need we all have to improve what we call our fellowshipping skills. We have occasionally observed wards in Latin America, Spain, and in the United States where humble new converts to the Church have not been received with open arms or warm abrazos, and so we have all seen a need to improve our retention of new converts . . .

. . . Let us pay more attention to those who are new to our congregations. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: ‘For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? … And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?’ ” (Matt. 5:46–47).
— Elder Carl B. Pratt, “Care for New Converts,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 11

“Fellowshipping is an important priesthood responsibility. Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums are to act in concert with the sisters under the direction of the bishop to ensure that each person is welcomed with love and kindness. Home teachers and visiting teachers will be watchful to ensure that no one is forgotten or ignored.

We all need to work together to build spiritual unity within our wards and branches. An example of perfect unity existed among the people of God after Christ visited the Americas. The record observes that there were no “Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”8

Unity is not achieved by ignoring and isolating members who seem to be different or weaker and only associating with people who are like us. On the contrary, unity is gained by welcoming and serving those who are new and who have particular needs. These members are a blessing for the Church and provide us with opportunities to serve our neighbors and thus purify our own hearts.”
— Bishop Gerald Causse, “Ye Are No More Strangers,” Oct. 2013.

“The message is the same for us today. The Church will always be a church filled with converts. Whether the place be Salt Lake City, or Sao Paulo, Los Angeles or London, Tokyo or Turino, Italy, it is the Lord’s plan that there be converts among us, brothers and sisters newly brought into the fold of Christ through the efforts of their loving friends and neighbors. Let us fellowship and love each other in the true spirit of the gospel.”
— Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, “Always a Convert Church: Some Lessons to Learn and Apply This Year,” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 2

“If there were no converts, the Church would shrivel and die on the vine.”
— Spencer W. Kimball, “When the World Will Be Converted,” Ensign, Oct. 1974.

A passage from The Book of Mormon reads:

“And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.

17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to esave.

20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
— 2 Nephi 31:16-20

There are many things we members can do to help retain the converts and help them grow. Members should not just fellowship, but become friends. Get to know those who walk through the doors and not just a handshake. A friendly smile is the start and not the finish of a lasting relationship. Even if friendship might not be possible, sometimes people are simply not compatible, at least be open to them and have “little” conversations. There is nothing greater than having someone know your name even when you don’t spend much time with them.

Discuss the gospel with them in both directions. When talking about LDS theology or history, don’t make them become a sounding board. Include them in the discussion, in and outside of the class, by asking them what they think. You will come away surprised, as I have many times by converts, how much knowledge can be gained from fresh perspectives. There is a great surge of spiritual awakening when a convert points out something that life-long members have been blinded by rote and tradition. On the other hand, the convert often gains that much more of a testimony as they learn of doctrine from those who have studied it for a while.

Share with them sources available to all members. That includes books and magazines of LDS interest, an understanding of how the Church organization works, and a helping hand. Aside from getting to know people, having a grasp of Church culture can be challenging. This is no different from any other instance when a major change has just occurred in life. Remember, they came from somewhere that was probably not like what they now find themselves. Lots of them are still in those places, physically and metaphorically, and need help either to integrate or become more active. Once you know them better, help them find ways to stay the course of faith. They will help you do the same as they grow from a seedling to a tree of strength. Mormon leaders from Pres. Brigham Young to Uchtdorf were converts.

Thank you converts for continuing to remind me of how precious the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, and how far I still have to go in my own journey of faith.

11 thoughts on “The Worth of a Convert

  1. I really appreciate the new effort to have missionaries continue discussions after baptism. Even with transfers and releases the new emphasis on using social media to nourish and integrate is sound. A mission president in New York told us that both baptisms and retention are greatly enhanced by this means. Of course this doesn’t release us from following up with fellowship. It helps if members stay in touch with missionaries and stay aware of new converts.

  2. I love the post. I’ve done something new for the past year. My recommendation for solid members is to get out of the sunday school class and get into the gospel principles class where all the new members are and rather than answer all the questions just be there as a face for all the new members to see and fellowship. Listen to the answers the new members give and you will be amazed at the trials they have turned over to the lord. If you spend your time with the new members just by listening you will be amazed at the lasting relationships and friendships you will build.

  3. When we were younger, my husband and I would frequently invite folks over for dinner or to share family home evening. It was awesome to get a chance to invite over new folks in this manner.

    We did this for new converts and folks who were new in the ward, and at the first hint that a family we’d always wanted to know better might be moving out of the ward.

    In an inverse example of this food phenomenon, I thought I’d heard an instance where the government identified that insurgent activities and riots would occur around the food vendors. They were able to significantly alter the number and severity of riots by altering the way food vendors were permitted to sell their wares.

    So the inverse would be if one wishes to foment activity would be to add food.

  4. Great post. These issues definitely apply to new converts, but I think that many of them also apply to long-time members as well. Every member deserves to feel that they are valued and important to the community of Saints with whom they worship. Putting this ideal into practice is not always easy, of course, but it’s amazing how much good comes from simple things like smiling, shaking someone’s hand, saying hello, and other little things–not to mention the “bigger” types of service that so many render.

  5. I’m a convert. I joined the Church almost four years ago.

    The ward I was in was really great for fellowshipping. The missionaries could still teach you weekly for a year after baptism and would bring ward members with them.

    This was in England, where YSA are in family wards. I got fellowshipped a lot through the YSA program in the ward and through Institute organized in a stake level. There were a lot of converts among the YSA.

    I live in Utah now and remain strong in my testimony and activity. I wonder what it is like for converts here and should look for more ways to pay forward the love I received from the members when I was a recent convert

  6. My own experience is that I was married to a member and a white middle class guy among other white middle class people in Silicon Valley. I was also Jewish which added to the intrigue. Plus I went to church every Sunday from the time we were married through the time I was baptized. So I was a pretty known entity by the time I became a member. Assimilation was easy.

    when I became Ward Mission Leader 18 months later, I saw a different side of things. The people the missionaries brought to Church were not exactly like the people in the Ward. We served a downtown area and while we had members there, most of the investigators were single, single women with children and not particularly well off. And, at the time, they only needed to come to Church 2 times and then be baptized. In many cases, not many outside of our missionary group knew who they were. They didn’t show up to Church each week while they were being taught and so fellowshipping was tough.

    Bottom line, I think more needs to be done to make other ward members aware of the investigators and not rush to baptism. If they are truly being converted to the gospel by the Holy Ghost 3 months or 6 months should not make them disappear.

    What we do not need is more people on the records as less active that don’t quite remember if they were baptized into the Church

  7. Good comment Dermot, as an adult convert myself, what’s most important is that people in the ward are your friends, referred to me as Ben, and so on. I was somewhat known by the church membership due to my youth/young adult involvement with a church led Bou Scout Troop.

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