Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's Up With Utah Mormons?

Everyone knows that there are a lot of Mormons in Utah. It seems that many people, both in and out of the state, have the general impression that Utah is some kind of monolithic demographic block - that virtually "everybody" in Utah belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "LDS" Church. To many, this is Mormonville, USA.

It's true that we have a high concentration of Saints in this state - 58% self-identify as members - constituting a slight majority of the overall population. But that still means more than 1.2 million of our fellow Utahans are not members of the Church. And such raw data ignores the reality that the population is not static; people move out, and new people move in all the time. It also fails to take into account that many members may not be fully active and enjoying all the blessings the Church has to offer.

Demographic data aside, I think that a major stumbling-block to member missionary work in our area is not the numbers, but the perceptions those numbers evoke among the members. That is (and I may be making a false assumption, here), I get the impression that many members who might otherwise like to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their friends, neighbors, and coworkers make the false assumption that there aren't that many good opportunities - because of the demographics.

They may feel that "most people around me are Mormons already," or "the non-members I know have probably already been swamped with people trying to share the Gospel with them -- I'm not going to add to the pile-on."

The trouble with this attitude is that we don't share the Gospel with demographic groups or data sets - we share the Gospel with individual human beings, one-on-one. And each person is different, with different experiences, and a different receptivity to truth on any given day.

When we assume that a person will not want to learn about our faith and what it has to offer, when we prejudge that they will dismiss our message because they are not ready, or when we simply assume that a person won't be receptive to an invitation for whatever reason - we are preemptively denying them their agency. We're not even giving them the chance to say "no." In effect, we are saying NO for them.

Don't pre-reject yourself. The consequences are eternal.

President John Taylor cautioned us, “If you do not magnify your calling, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved, had you done your duty.”

An important aspect of member missionary work is reactivation. Since the dominant demographic is LDS in Utah, it may be that you're more likely to find yourself loving an associate or neighbor back into full participation in the Church, rather than sharing the Gospel with a brand new investigator learning about the Church for the first time. Conversions of members are just as important as conversions of non-members.

In some ways, even more important, since those who have fallen away have greater accountability in the end.

So, before you let Utah's demographics, and the concomitant assumptions, derail your efforts and undermine your natural desire to share all the Lord's church has to offer...before you inadvertently allow your perceptions of the population at large to become a rationalization for withholding your testimony from specific individual children of God...remember these three points from above:
  1. We share the Gospel with individuals. We love each unique person, not some abstraction on a census chart.
  2. Assuming they don't want you to invite them is saying NO for them. A person can't accept an invitation that's never made.
  3. So many of our brothers and sisters need (and perhaps want) to be loved back into the Gospel, not just introduced to it. Here in Utah we may have more opportunities to do that than anywhere else.
Let's keep these truths in mind when we're tempted to let sweeping generalizations about Utah's Mormons dictate whether or not we fulfill the prophetic call of "every member a missionary."

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