What our fictitious couple, Joe and Sue Murray, experienced in chapter 1 is certainly not make-believe. Currently, the more than fifty thousand Mormon missionaries worldwide spend most of their time as the two energetic quasi-evangelists did with Joe and Sue-seeking to convince people of the claims of Joseph Smith and the truths of Mormon scripture.
Additionally, the Mormon Church has mounted an aggressive public relations campaign. Using attractive, inviting television commercials with an offer for a free Book of Mormon or a Bible, Mormonism portrays itself nationwide as a mainstream Christian movement. This large and expensive public relations drive is fueled by the LDS Church's investments in American economic life, as well as by the giving of its own members.
In this chapter we'll look at the proselytizing strategy of this organization, its public relations profile, and its financial resources.
The mainstay of Mormon growth is its missionary corps. Young men and women in their late teens or early twenties spend up to two years sharing the gospel of Mormonism. Fifteen missionary training centers dot the globe. The largest is in Provo, Utah, which is fed by the almost thirty thousand undergraduates at nearby Mormon-operated Brigham Young University.
Many Mormon missionaries were raised in LDS families and were exposed to the teaching of Mormonism from infancy. Children's books based on the Book of Mormon or even the Articles of Faith of the church often were their reading staples. The budding missionaries attended Mormon Sunday school, were baptized at age eight (as the church directs for Mormon children), and usually attended early morning "seminary" classes during their high school careers.
At the college level, a manual entitled Doctrines of the Gospel is used to further ground Mormons in their faith. From it they learn about the great "apostasy" of Christianity, the appearances of God, Jesus, and other biblical figures to Joseph Smith. They also learn about the distinctive views of Mormonism regarding God, Jesus, and the "gospel."
Their parents usually are diligent about saving and encouraging their children's saving for their eventual Mormon mission. All costs for proselytizing ventures are paid by the youth or their parents alone. The church pays for their return trip home at the end of the two-year mission.
When young persons begin their missionary service, they are trained at a missionary training center. At the centers, the young missionaries learn to cook, wash, iron, and do other household chores. If their missionary destination is a non-English-speaking country, they learn some of its language. But most important, they learn how to present the claims of Mormonism in the most positive and attractive way possible.
Once committed to a Mormon mission, missionaries have no contact with their families except for letters and two phone calls a year, which can be made on Christmas and Mother's Day. A Mormon missionary's time and energy is to be spent zealously seeking converts to the LDS Church.
Converting others to the church is the bottom line of the Mormon missionary. Mormonism is built on the concept that a person must be baptized by a priesthood "holder" or an active male member of the church to achieve the highest level of salvation. That level is the celestial kingdom. Mormonism therefore practices proselytization, or the conversion of a person, not just to faith in the Christ of Mormonism but to the Mormon Church itself. While evangelical Christians and other Bible-based Christian missionaries may have a limited goal of leading people to faith in Jesus Christ, Mormonism's real intent is baptism and active membership in their church. It is the Mormon's conviction that the one true Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormons therefore proselytize members of Christian churches, encouraging them to leave and renounce the validity of their own denominations. Converts are to be baptized by a member of the priesthood in the LDS Church to become Mormons. Mormons believe baptism by immersion and other acts are absolutely essential for converts to become active participants in the LDS Church so they may become faithful and genuine followers of Jesus in this life.
Bible-based Christians believe that faith in Jesus alone saves. While true believers are members of Christ's universal Body, the Church, they do not have to join a particular denomination to be fully obedient followers of Christ. Therefore evangelism, the sharing of the truth of Christ—his saving death and victorious resurrection—and not proselytization, marks Christian missionary efforts.
How successful are Mormon missionaries? On average, each Mormon missionary leads approximately six people each year into the ranks of the Mormon Church. The church's goal is to improve its proselytizing methods and thereby raise the average number of converts. The church also is working to increase its number of missionaries. By 2005 to 2010, the Mormon hierarchy hopes to have one hundred thousand Mormon missionaries active around the world. Their strategy and logic are simple: the more people contacted, the more likely that the number of converts will increase. If the average number of converts per missionary remains the same or increases, the likelihood is that Mormonism will have a half-million to a million converts a year by 2010.