Missionary service has long been a defining element of President Bonnie H. Cordon’s life. Besides serving her own full-time mission to Portugal, she watched as her parents, Harold and Carol Hillam, served together when her father presided over a mission. Later, she served alongside her mission president husband, Derek Cordon, in the Brazil Curitiba Mission.
“Missionary work is some of the sweetest and most heart-changing work in the Kingdom of God,” she said on June 27 at the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar. “I may not be able to tell you the exact number of baptisms Derek and I had in our combined years as full-time missionaries, but I could talk to you for hours about the people. That is the joy of missionary service.
“For the rest of your life, the names and faces of members and missionaries will be engraved on your heart. Your ability to love and the sheer number of people you love will grow exponentially.”
Missionary work, she added, is about much more than baptizing new members — it is about nurturing lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. “We rejoice when they choose to be baptized, but nothing compares to the whole-souled gratitude when these faithful converts remain firm in the faith of Christ.”
Retaining those new members — along with the missionaries who teach them — in the gospel for generations to come is the true measure of success.
A 30-foot retaining wall borders President Cordon’s home in Bountiful, Utah. That physical structure, with its secured foundation and reinforced layers, is symbolic of what it means to build something designed to withstand life’s storms and daily wear and tear. It is built with an eye toward future strength.
So, asked President Cordon, what happens when this same building pattern is applied to missionary work?
“We begin with a firm foundation, anchored in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We secure that foundation and each layer of growth with steadfast relationships. We build by inviting those we teach to be active contributors in the work — now. Line upon line, brick by brick, we let them know they are needed and that they belong.”
Anchored in Christ
The missionaries set the anchoring foundation of the Savior for those they teach.
“The Book of Mormon is the keystone with its powerful evidence for the divinity of Christ and its proof of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith,” she said.
That foundation is then expanded through lessons on the Restoration, the Plan of Salvation, the doctrine of Christ and the laws and ordinances of the gospel as outlined in “Preach My Gospel.” Such a sure foundation is then sealed with the witness of the Holy Ghost.
When workers built the retaining wall next to President Cordon’s home, every foundation stone was set with soil to keep it steady and secure. The “soil” that secures members to their faith are the relationships they build with fellow believers.
Steadfast relationships for new members are steady, enduring and consistent.
“I also love the second half of that word in English – steadfast,” President Cordon told the mission presidents and their companions. “The quicker we can connect those who are interested in the gospel with local members and leaders, the more they will feel they belong.
“Instruct your missionaries not to wait until they are baptized to begin forging these friendships. Even while exploring the gospel, many people will begin to lose friends and family. Much of their support system may fall away. The missionaries can fill in part of this gap, but we need feet, yards, even tons of support to sustain them.”
Outside of a testimony of the Book of Mormon, well-built relationships will have the greatest influence on a new member’s retention, she added. New members rely heavily on their friendships with the missionaries who taught them. But they also need to be encompassed by a “cloud of witnesses” who can support their growth and increase their retention.
“As missionaries encourage and nurture friendships for those they teach, coming to Church will feel like coming home. They will know they belong to a loving ward or branch family.”
President Cordon added it is also vital that missionaries gain the skills they need to effectively communicate and connect with members, allowing them to work shoulder-to-shoulder with new members.
Engaged in the work
Once a firm foundation and secure relationships are in place for new members, it is next essential to build for “deep conversion,” she said.
Such “building” comes by “engaging” new members in the work of the gospel. “We all need to feel needed, to be part of a cause bigger than ourselves,” she said. “Our cause is the cause of Christ. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Invite investigators and new members to take an active role in establishing Zion, she said.
“What would happen,” asked President Cordon, “if we asked those we are teaching to be a friend, not just receive one? How would they feel if they knew they are a part of this work and not just a project to be taken care of?
“Allow them to feel the witness that comes as they serve and sacrifice for others.”
The Lord knows each person the missionaries are teaching. They fought side-by-side with Him in defending the Father’s plan before coming to earth. They have been prepared to be “active contributors” in His kingdom.
The three key elements of member retention — being anchored in Christ, establishing steadfast relationships and engaging in the work — don’t function independently, taught President Cordon. They work in synchrony.
Each of those elements can also be strengths in the lives of the missionaries.
“You have a unique role as mission leaders — not only do you have a vision and testimony of retention, you have an opportunity to build missionaries who are capable of helping others become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ,” she said. “The beautiful thing about helping your missionaries see the vision of retention is that they better understand this eternal truth for themselves. You will increase their desire to hold firm in the faith of Christ.”
For new members and missionaries alike, she said, a life built on the “the Rock of their Redeemer” will allow them to forever remain firm in the faith.