PROVO, Utah — Citing the scriptural passage “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), Elder Brent H. Nielson on Monday, Jan. 8, unfolded a “vision of the work” of proclaiming the gospel.
Elder Nielson, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, delivered his address at the Provo Missionary Training Center during the opening session of the annual seminar for newly called missionary training center presidents and visitors’ center directors and companions.
Thirteen of the couples are bound for visitors’ centers and historic sites, and the other eight for missionary training centers. The seminar concluded Thursday, Jan. 11, in Salt Lake City.
Elder Nielson touched on several innovative approaches intended to meet the current demands of missionary work.
He illustrated his message by contrasting two neighboring stakes he visited when he was an Area Seventy, one of which was doing very well in almost every category and the other of which was struggling. In the successful stake, the “vision of the stake” had been clearly communicated to members, many of whom had refrigerator magnets on which the vision had been printed.
“I realized that they had a vision and that everybody knew the vision,” Elder Nielson commented, “that the vision was published and they were unified around this vision.”
He said, “For you who are going to go out and serve all around the world, you need to know the vision that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have for us.”
The Church has come a long way since its organization in 1830, he said. “Let’s talk about where we are today, in 2018.
In 2006, there were just over 50,000 missionaries serving in the Church. In 2012, when President Thomas S. Monson announced a lowering in the ages for young men and young women to serve missions, a huge surge happened, culminating in a total of almost 90,000 missionaries.
“That surge has ended, and now we’re at a point where we have about 68,000 missionaries, and we think we’re going to stay around 68,000 to 70,000 missionaries moving forward.”
He declared, “Our number 1 priority — your number 1 priority — is the care and safety of our missionaries. We want every missionary to serve a successful mission and do so without interruption.”
Toward that end, new interview questions have been announced for prospective missionaries, Elder Nielson said. “We’ve also opened many other options for missionaries to serve on Church-service missions.”
He displayed the booklet “Adjusting to Missionary Life” and said, “This helps our young men and young women understand how they handle missionary service, and it teaches them skills that they can use when hard times come — and they always will.”
He displayed a chart with graph lines showing convert baptism rates through 2016.
“What has happened over time is our baptisms have remained quite consistent, and we haven’t been able to move the needle much,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to find more people to teach.”
During the surge, the baptisms per missionary did not go up, he noted.
A bar chart he displayed showed that missionaries spend by far the majority of their time finding rather than teaching.
“We want that to be just the opposite,” he said. “Our goal is to have them focus on people that they can teach.”
Elder Nielson said the Missionary Department is analyzing the “investigator journey” to identify how investigators find the Church and how many make it all the way to conversion and baptism.
The Missionary Department is trying to analyze every step along the way to improve the performance, he said.
“So our goal is to find quality investigators and lead them to repentance and conversion,” Elder Nielson declared. “After we take care of our rising generation, this is our second priority.”
He displayed a graphic showing figures representing two missionaries next to a block of 100 figures representing houses. A house in the center was colored in blue, representing a household with one or more receptive contacts.
“Their goal is to find the person in the blue house,” he explained. “They have to knock on a lot of doors to find the person who lives in the blue house. We’re trying to figure out if there are quicker, more effective ways now — especially with the technology we have — to find those people and teach them the gospel.”
He spoke of a number of media efforts the Missionary Department is undertaking, including the “Light the World” Christmas season campaign, which reached 85 million people in 2016 and is expected to exceed that number for 2017.
Another effort was undertaken in Melbourne, Australia, taking advantage of the publicity surrounding the “Book of Mormon” musical play. A 10-foot replica of the Book of Mormon was erected, and people were invited to walk inside it, where they viewed a presentation called “Discover What’s Inside.” Visitors were invited to read just one verse from the Book of Mormon.
“It was powerful,” Elder Nielson said.
He spoke of the use of computer technology to find people to teach by responding to questions they ask or topics they search on social media.
“It’s an incredible thing to see someone who is actually interested in the gospel find us,” Elder Nielson said.
On a video screen, he scrolled through a list of many people who recently have been baptized after searching for information on Mormon.org.
Elder Nielson said all missionaries in the United States, Canada, most of Europe and much of Asia will now have mobile devices. On each device is the Missionary Department app “Area Book Planner.” Combined with the planner, a tool called “Smart Sort” can help a missionary companionship look up people in a neighborhood whom they might not have even taught but who have had contact with missionaries in the past and are the most likely to join the Church.
Church members who have the Church’s “LDS Tools” app on their mobile devices can now use a feature on the app to electronically send missionary referrals of people they meet, he noted. “Immediately it goes to the missionaries in the referral’s neighborhood.”
The referral also goes to the mission president and the ward mission leader in the respective area.
“Brothers and Sisters, that’s a vision of the work,” Elder Nielson summarized. “We feel very strongly that there are people who are kept from the truth because they know not where to find it and that there are people who would accept the gospel of Jesus Christ if we just knew who they were. We are working to find the people in the blue house.”