While challenging new mission presidents to think, ponder and pray about ways to increase the number of converts who come into the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized:
"I believe it is totally unnecessary that we lose [any of] those who are baptized."President Hinckley was the concluding speaker June 26 at the final session of the annual Mission Presidents Seminar held in the Missionary Training Center. Following his remarks, the group sang a traditional farewell song, "God Be with You Till We Meet Again," and the couples exchanged hugs and tearful farewells as they departed to their respective missions. Most assumed their leadership positions about July 1.
President Hinckley remarked that he is managing "to get out a little" and hoped to see the new presidents and their wives in the field.
"I have been in many nations in the last three years, among thousands and thousands of missionaries and millions of members of the Church."
Following his address to the new mission presidents, President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, rode in a small cart from the building where the seminar was held to the nearby training center auditorium. The sidewalk between the two buildings was lined with missionaries. He waved and spoke to the missionaries as he passed. (See related article on this page. Coverage of earlier addresses at the seminar, which was held June 23-26 for 111 new mission presidents and their wives, was published in the June 27 Church News.)
In his address to the new mission presidents, President Hinckley charged them to "work to hold on to every one who is baptized."
In some areas, converts come in large numbers. In others, only occasionally is there a convert baptism, he said. But, he emphasized, "there is no point in baptizing people if they do not become solid members of the Church."
Actual harm, he said, may be done to those who leave old friendships and old ways of doing things only to be allowed to slip into inactivity.
The Church leader reported he has asked the Quorum of the Twelve to improve convert retention. The Brethren have been out in all the missions of the world.
President Hinckley emphasized the importance of true conversion, not just baptisms, to mission presidents. He said that a convert is a "precious person. He or she will make a tremendous decision in coming into the Church. Retention will primarily be the work of the local wards and branches. However, you have a very, very important part in this. Your missionaries must be sure that conversion is real, that it is life-changing, that it is something that is to last forever and go on through generations.
"Nobody gains when there is baptism without retention," he said. "The missionary loses, and while the Church gains statistically, the membership suffers, really, and the enthusiasm of the convert turns to ashes."
He said missionaries should keep in touch with those who have been baptized.
"Any individual who has been worthy of baptism is worthy of saving, now and for as long as he lives and the generations who follow."
President Hinckley noted that "this is a great season of opportunity for the Church.
"In most areas we are better known and highly respected. The Church now with 10 million members has become large enough to be reckoned with as a force for good in the world. Our mission numbers are without equal. This university [BYU] and its faculty, our family history facilities, the Church's fast building programs. The Church has spread over the earth, and it has won the admiration of people everywhere."
The field is white and the harvest is great, he said, "and it is wonderful to be a part of it all."
"We love you very much," President Hinckley told the new mission presidents as he expressed confidence in them. "We will be counting on you to carry forward this marvelous work and wonder which has come to pass in these latter days. I hope there will be for each of you a marvelous and wonderful and rewarding experience."
He said that members who accept callings work very hard and seem to sacrifice in their great desire to serve, but, "It is not a sacrifice when you receive more than you give. This is what happens to those who go to the temple, to those with leadership positions, with the women of the Relief Society. . . . It becomes not a sacrifice but an investment.
"You will work harder than you have worked before. You will learn more. You will pray more. Your faith will be tested, but with all this will come something sweet and wonderful and good.
"Your lives will be changed. You will re-dedicate yourselves exclusively to the work of the Lord. Your natures will be mellowed, your personalities refined. You will speak more softly but with certainty concerning the things of God. Your prayers will be heard and answered. Solutions will be found and followed."
One of the great blessings will be the love the new presidents and their wives develop for their missionaries, he said.
"You have been told 25 times, perhaps 50 times, in this seminar that your first great responsibility is toward the missionaries. I am sure you realize this. Their care and well-being will be in your hands. A missionary is a special commodity. With very, very few exceptions, they all have mothers who have loaned them to the Church for two years. Many of these mothers are working to keep them in the field. They are praying for you."
President Hinckley concluded by saying, "My heart simply bursts with the testimony of this great and good work, this the work of God as He has moved His hand in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, for the salvation and blessing of His children because He loves us."