The number of convert baptisms worldwide during 1988 reached an all-time high of 256,515, it was announced in the annual statistical information report released April 1 at general conference. (See April 8 Church News.) This represents nearly a 13 percent increase over the previous highest-ever total of 227,284 reached in 1987.
More converts were baptized in 1988 than were in the entire Church until 1897 - 67 years after the gospel was restored.The 1988 total means that 703 people came into the Church every day of the year, or about the number of one and a half average-sized wards.
The 1988 total is 58 percent higher than the number baptized a decade ago, in 1978.
In some missions of the Church, each set of missionaries brings in converts each week. In the Chile Vina Del Mar Mission, for example, missionaries average at least one baptism three to four times a month. Wards hold weekly baptismal services, and stake missionaries are busy assisting new members to be fellowshipped into the wards. A good month in the mission will see upwards of 600 people join the Church.
According to mission presidents around the world, several factors influenced the increase in convert baptisms. One is the higher number of missionaries serving, which was at 36,132 at year's end, a 4 percent increase over the previous year-end total. And 16 new missions were created in 1988.
Another factor is that the missionaries are responding to President Ezra Taft Benson's injunction to use the Book of Mormon "as the heart of their missionary work and as the great converter." Additionally, direct gospel messages in the media in many parts of the world have opened doors for missionaries.
Also, missionaries are being trained to be more effective. They learn to talk about the Church to nearly everyone they meet, which boosts their number of contacts. They also bear testimony frequently, and learn to receive commitments from investigators to earnestly pray to know the truth of the gospel.
The value of increasing spirituality in missionaries was emphasized last June by President Benson to new mission presidents at their annual seminar.
"With the Spirit, you and your missionaries will perform miracles for the Lord in the mission field," President Benson instructed. "Conversion itself is a miracle, and only by the Spirit will we realize the harvest of convert baptisms that the Lord expects of us."
"We have been instructed in our responsibilities to declare the gospel to all of our Father in Heaven's children," said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve and chairman of the Missionary Executive Council.
Addressing general conference April 2, 1988, he quoted: " `And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me in the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! (D&C 18:16.)
"I don't know how we can experience this joy if we are not willing to reach out beyond our own circle of Church friends," emphasized Elder Perry.
"A righteous example can attract others to living a standard. . . It can be a source of bringing souls to the light of the gospel."
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, as he instructed mission presidents, explained the process of conversion:
"Missionaries, regardless of where they are in the world, teach by the Spirit, and people receive those teachings by the Spirit; that is where conversion comes.
"It is what people feel that makes them want to go on in the investigation of the gospel."
Elder Ballard, a member of the Missionary Executive Council, said, however, that even with increasing success in missionary work, members cannot afford to be complacent.
"Do you realize that more people are born in a day than we baptize all year? If we are going to break away from this business of baptizing a quarter of a million people a year, we just simply have to learn how to break loose from where we are," he emphasized. "We're not going to get the job done . . . until we get the missionaries and members of the Church and stake missionaries to find people to teach."