Less active heed call to 'come back' to fold

By continuing to minister, Church leaders finding success in reactivation through love, fellowship

In December 1985, the First Presidency issued an invitation for less-active members to "Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the saints."

Since that time, reactivation has been re-emphasized and has become a major theme in the Church. At the last three regional representative seminars, held prior to April general conferences, the General Authorities have urged those who are strong to reach out to the less active.In many stakes and wards throughout the Church, the work of reactivation is going forward. Many people have returned to feast at the Lord's table and are nowworking to invite others to join them.

The following examples are only a sampling of the great work of reactivation now taking place in the Church:

Activate one at a time


In the Wilmington North Carolina Stake, Pres. Rodney Stan Earle said stake leaders know they can't reactivate all less-active members at one time, "but we can get them one at a time."

With that as the theme, this stake, with its "fairly thin" Melchizedek Priesthood leadership base, has set out to target specific individuals and families in their reactivation efforts.

"We've just really tried to implement the counsel of the First Presidency to continue to minister," Pres. Earle said. "We decided we didn't need any new programs. Instead, we emphasized reactivation through effective home teaching. We focus on those likely to respond to our efforts."

For example, about three years ago, the stake presidency challenged the Shallotte (N.C.) Branch to increase its average attendance to 40. This would qualify the branch, which had a small, 40-year-old meetinghouse, for a new building. One of the first people selected by the branch presidency was Gene Frink, a former branch president who had been less active for many years. With the help of full-time missionary couples, the branch leaders began fellowshipping the Frink family. As Frink became active, he was called as elders quorum president.

"He took home teaching in that branch and ran with it," Pres. Earle said. "Ever since then, the home teaching has been 100 percent to those who will let them come. And even some of those who wouldn't let them come have changed and now let home teachers visit."

This led to the activation of several other families. Three brothers, Robert, David and Gerald Leggett, were activated and their non-member wives baptized. The Shallotte Branch reached the 40s in attendance and constructed a building, only to have its attendance mushroom to 75 people a week. Recently, a second phase building was completed there.

"That branch has had a tremendous spirit about it ever since," Pres. Earle said. "It shows what the Lord can do if we do the work."

Another unit in the stake, the Wallace Branch, concentrated on the Verzaal family, which had just moved into the area. First, branch Pres. C. Cameron High-smith Jr. and Danny Wait, Young Men president, visited the family.

Then at the next Priesthood Executive Committee meeting, branch leaders discussed the family's needs and prayed for a way to reach them. A member of the stake presidency, William Wahlgren, was assigned as their home teacher.

"He challenged them to come to Church, [andT they did!" recalled Norman Adkins, elders quorum president. Adkins also visited the home several times, helping the family with their personal computer. Now the father, John Verzaal, has accepted a calling as a home teacher. "He is sincere in his desires to serve our Heavenly Father," Adkins said.

"We are seeing the gospel working in the lives of many individuals and their families, " said Pres. Earle.

`They felt warmth, love'


When Pres. Jerry Wayne Hatch of the Idaho Falls Idaho North Stake was called as stake president last May, he and his counselors resolved to have the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums lead out in the work of reactivation. They have since worked to train quorum leaders put reactivation in the forefront of their efforts.

"We set aside one day a month for us [the stake presidencyT to go out with elders quorum presidencies and high priest group leaders to visit the less-active," Pres. Hatch explained. "We've also asked high councilors to make themselves available on a regular basis to visit the less-active."

This ministering process helped in the reactivation of Lynn Wilde, his wife, Sandy, and their three children. The Wildes had been less-active for several years. Their return to Church began when Sandy's father died. At the funeral, her bishop, Melvin Saunders, shook her hand. "I felt real warmth and love," she recalled. The week after that, the family decided to "give Church a shot." The experience was a positive one.

"We felt like everyone put their arms out and welcomed us," she said. "It was as if they were saying, `We love you.' "

Priesthood leaders began visiting the family once a week, teaching them the gospel. Many times the priesthood leaders took their wives. As family members developed testimonies of the gospel, they also became close friends with Bishop Saunders and the elders quorum president, David Snarr, and their families. Soon the three families were attending Church socials and going on family outings together. On Feb. 24, the Wildes were sealed in the Idaho Falls Temple and continue to attend regularly.

"It was a special day," Sandy said of going to the temple. "We had a lot of friends there that we've made in the Church. The love we've received has been real special."

Tell them they're needed


In the Yankton (S.D.) Branch, Pres. Donald Gregg said the key to reactivation is to let people know they are needed and allow them to progress at their own pace.

This philosophy worked for Ann Pay, now branch Relief Society president.

"Pres. Gregg helped me a lot," she recalled. "He just said to start from where you are and go from there."

In addition, the Lord provided her with several experiences that helped to soften her heart. "At the time you don't always see these events as good things," she explained. "But I'm very grateful for those things now - even though I wasn't at the time."

In July 1986, she began reading the Book of Mormon and gained a testimony that it was true. "I knew then that all the things my parents tried to teach me were true, and I realized I had wasted a lot of time.

When she returned to Church, she was given meaningful callings and has grown in each one. She has used Pres. Gregg's philosophy of "starting where you are" in helping young women develop a testimony of the Church. Now she's trying to do the same with the Relief Society sisters.

"I have really come to love these people," she said. "I can honestly say that each woman in my branch is my sister."

`Reach out to people'


In the Bessemer Alabama Stake, Pres. Samuel G. Fletcher said the stake leaders aren't doing anything unusual - "We're just trying to reach out to the people."

The stake has placed emphasis on strengthening the elders quorums so they can effectively work with families. Quorum members are urged to visit people and let them know they are needed.

"We want the people to know the Lord needs them, and the people of their wards and branches need them," Pres. Fletcher said.

The Church video, "Continue to Minister," highlighted the activation efforts of a home teacher in a unit in the stake, the Jasper (Ala.) Branch, which led to reactivations and conversions.

In Jasper, elders quorum Pres. Tom Rice is a former branch president who knows the importance of training quorum members to accept responsibility, the stake president explained.

"His task has been to train as many of his quorum members as possible to look upon themselves as future quorum presidents - to act that way and truly become responsible for one another," Pres. Fletcher said. As a result, several people have responded because more than just the president of the quorum has made an effort to extend a hand of fellowship and love.

The video chronicles the experience of a home teacher, Kevin Wade, who involved a non-member co-worker, David Blanchard, in a service project. Wade and Blanchard built a ramp for a less-active sister confined to a wheelchair. Wade was the family's home teacher. The sister was reactivated and her husband later joinedthe Church. In addition, Blanchard and his family were converted to the Church.

Since the video came out, members of the Jasper Branch have continued to be successful in reactivation, Pres. Fletcher said.

Sports topples barriers


In the Oak Hills (Ore.) Ward here, the less active are being reached through a successful sports program.

"Everybody is welcome to play," said Bishop Woody B. Shipp. "And we have a rather careful policy that everybody plays. I'm not interested in winning ball games as I am in fellowshipping, sharing what we have, and sportsmanship."

The ward has two men's softball teams and basketball teams, and ward leaders involve less-active members and non-members each year.

Because of the fellowship of the sports program, about 12 people have joined the Church. Several more have been reactivated.

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