"Any investigator worthy of baptism becomes a convert worthy of saving," emphasized President Gordon B. Hinckley in a missionary satellite broadcast Feb. 21.
President Hinckley described the Sunday evening meeting as "probably the largest gathering ever convened in the cause of missionary work." The meeting, originating from the Tabernacle, was telecast to meetinghouses throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. In the congregations were many of the Church's 59,000 full-time missionaries, plus members of stake and ward councils and others.
In addition, videos of the meeting will be sent to missionaries and units in areas not receiving the broadcast. Videos of the meeting also will be available in a few weeks at the Church's distribution centers.
President Hinckley spoke for most of the hourlong broadcast, stopping his remarks in the middle for an intermediate hymn. A choir from the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, sang as prelude music "I Am a Child of God" and "I Need Thee Every Hour." The choir joined with the congregation for the opening hymn, the missionary anthem, "Called to Serve."
In his address, President Hinckley first focused on "the sacred responsibility" of the local priesthood leadership and members for finding and friendshipping new investigators.
Second, he underscored "the great and serious responsibility" of holding on to each "precious convert
As he began his address, the Church leader observed: "I forewarn you, this will be a rather long talk. I do not know how much longer I will live, and so I want to say what I have to say, while I have the strength to say it
President Hinckley described recently meeting an enthusiastic convert, Randy Chiostri of Chicago, who joined the Church eight years after being introduced to it by his future wife.
"I learned a few things from Randy," the Church leader said. "The first is the tremendous power of the example of a member of the Church. The second thing I learned is that you never give up when there is the slightest spark of interest.
"Third, he was put to work immediately following his baptism. His bishop saw that he had something challenging to do
President Hinckley said that from the beginning of the Church, missionary work has been a four-step process:
"First," he said, lifting his hand and counting with his fingers, "Finding the investigator. Second, teaching the investigator. Third, baptizing the worthy convert. Fourth, fellowshipping and strengthening the new member."
He said that while some 300,000 converts were baptized in 1998, "I am not being unrealistic when I say that with concerted effort, with recognition of the duty that falls upon each of us as members of the Church, and with sincere prayer to the Lord for help, we could double the number."
This will happen as missionaries, rather than spending their time tracting, obtain referrals from members.
"Whenever there is a member who introduces an investigator [to the missionaries], there is an immediate support system. The member bears testimony of the truth of the work. He is anxious for the happiness of his investigator friend. He becomes excited as that friend makes progress in learning the gospel."
President Hinckley encouraged members to be proud of their Church membership because, "Opportunities for sharing the gospel are everywhere."
He suggested that every bishop give as a motto, "Let's all work to grow the ward."
"I am not sure the grammar is correct, but the idea is right. Let there be cultivated an awareness in every member's heart of his own potential for bringing others to a knowledge of the truth. Let him work at it. Let him pray with great earnestness about it." (See Alma 31:34-35.)
He said that within each stake is a stake mission and stake mission president, who has the responsibility, under the general direction of the stake president, "to work constantly at the task of finding and encouraging investigators. Those finders include every member of the Church."
In each stake, members should develop an awareness of the opportunity to find those who will listen to the gospel message.
"The most effective tract we will carry will be the goodness of our own lives and example," President Hinckley said. "And as we engage in this service, our lives will improve for we shall be alert to see that we do not do or say anything which might impede the progress of those we are trying to lead toward the truth."
He asked each stake and district president and each bishop and branch president to accept the responsibility for finding and fellowshipping investigators within his stake and district, and ward and branch.
"You brethren have a sacred obligation before the Lord for this effort. You set the example for what others may do under your inspired leadership.
"There needs to be an infusion of enthusiasm at every level of the Church."
Finding people, the Church president went on, is a subject to be discussed occasionally at sacrament meeting, in priesthood and Relief Society meetings, Young Men and Young Women meetings and in Primary. Stake and ward councils should have on the agenda the status of investigators and newly baptized converts.
He noted that the number of member referrals has dropped significantly since 1987. "Brothers and sisters, this downward trend must be reversed. We need again to give this important matter its proper priority.
"Great is our work, tremendous is our responsibility in helping find those to teach," said President Hinckley as he concluded the first half of his address.
The congregation and Missionary Training Center Choir then sang an intermediate hymn, "High on the Mountain Top."
"Having found and baptized a new convert, we have the challenge of fellowshipping him and strengthening his testimony of the truth of this work," said President Hinckley as he began the second part of his address.
"We cannot have [the convert] walking in the front door and out the back
The Church leader said that "there is no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two [conversion and retention] must be inseparable. Every convert is a great and serious responsibility. It is an absolute imperative that we look after those who have become a part of us."
He quoted from a letter from a convert who expressed the loneliness, disappointment and fear involved in finding herself in a "foreign world, a world that has its own tradition, culture and language." Trying to progress without guidance in this world can lead to frustration and anger, and in this condition the convert will return to a previous, more familiar world, the convert said.
President Hinckley emphasized: "I have said before, and I repeat it, that every convert needs three things:
"1. A friend in the Church to whom he can constantly turn, who will walk beside him, who will answer his questions, who will understand his problems.
"2. An assignment. Activity is the genius of this Church. It is the process by which we grow. Faith and love for the Lord are like the muscles of my arm," he said, holding up his arm. "If I use them, they grow stronger."
If a bishop may not feel a convert is ready for a responsibility, he should take a chance anyway, said President Hinckley. Then he quipped, "Think of the risk the Lord took when He called you."
He said new converts often make mistakes, but "So what? We all make mistakes. The important thing is that growth will come of activity."
It is also very important that a convert who is a man be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, and some months later to the Melchizedek Priesthood, where "he will become one of a vast body of priesthood throughout the world, men of integrity and faith who love the Lord and seek to move His work forward."
- Every convert must be nourished by 'the good word of God' (Moro. 6:4), said President Hinckley.
"It is imperative that he or she become affiliated with a priesthood quorum, or the Relief Society, the Young Women, the Young Men, the Sunday School or the Primary. He or she must be encouraged to come to sacrament meeting to partake of the sacrament, to renew the covenants made at the time of baptism."
He expressed a belief that "we will lose but very, very few of those who come into the Church if we take better care of them
President Hinckley encouraged missionaries to maintain contact with their converts.
"Your penmanship may be terrible, but an occasional note from you will give reassurance and comfort and a rekindling of joy," he said, adding, "if they can read it. When you go home do not forget them."
He said that if missionaries have worked long and hard to convert an individual and that individual falls away, "all of your labor has been in vain. The whole process counts for nothing."
He told the experience of Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy, who, as a missionary spent a great deal of effort for several months to retain a group of recent converts, and how those efforts had been successful and blessed a branch.
Missionaries should assist in these efforts, but "missionaries do not need to neglect proselyting in order to assist in fellowshipping the members. The two efforts can go hand-in-hand. You have the Saints to help, all of them."
President Hinckley mentioned as sources of support the ward and stake councils, and member missionary coordinating councils.
Bishops who conduct ward councils should discuss the status of converts in that meeting. "You are not bound by rigid rules. You have unlimited flexibility. You are entitled to answers to your prayers, to inspiration and revelation from the Lord in dealing with this matter."
At the conclusion of his address, President Hinckley extended an invitation to all members to "become a vast army with enthusiasm for this work, and a great overarching desire to assist the missionaries in the tremendous responsibility they have to carry the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. 'The field is white already to harvest.' (D&C 4:4.) The Lord has repeatedly declared this. Shall we not take Him at His word?
"Let us, every one, resolve within ourselves to arise to a new opportunity, a new sense of responsibility, a new shouldering of obligation to assist our Father in Heaven in His glorious work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters throughout the earth."