An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

During my True Blue Mormon days, I was shocked to hear a woman gripe about a suggestion that the Church, rather than parents, provide financial support for missionaries. “I’ll pay for my own son’s mission,” she said. “Why should I pay for someone else’s kids? They’re going to get the benefit, not me.” Boy, did she have it wrong, I thought. Missions aren’t primarily to give young people growth experiences. Missions benefit the whole Church by bringing in new members, so why shouldn’t the whole Church pay?

After sending two daughters on missions, I am now more aware of the personal benefits of missions—and perhaps less convinced of their benefit to the Church, statistics notwithstanding. Our oldest daughter, Lolly, served in the Wisconsin Madison Mission. Not a lot of converts during her mission, but one family seemed to be the reason she was sent to that place. She and her companion found and taught a Lutheran pastor, his wife, and son. Baptism was an enormous step for this family as it took away the husband’s employment. The couple were both hearing impaired and their only son was intellectually handicapped. Lolly has a gift for relating to handicapped persons and this is probably what drew this family to the gospel.

The family hung onto their Church membership even though the husband received a ward calling as Scout leader—not always a strong testimony builder. Although she had been transferred, Lolly was allowed to accompany the family to the Chicago temple a year later for their endowments and sealing. She kept in touch with the family after returning home. Within a couple of years, disappointment with the Church, and perhaps other reasons, caused the couple to return to their original faith.

 While the Church didn’t experience much long-lasting growth through Lolly’s mission, she did. Her authoritarian personality and commitment to following rules to the letter caused her to be known as the Nazi-sister. Having to work and live closely with people less understanding than her family caused some introspection and a change of tactics which has served Lolly ever since. Her mission was worth every cent we paid.

Our second daughter, Jaycee, served the in the Marseilles France Mission. Investigators were scarce, baptisms almost non-existent. As far as Jaycee knows, Church membership in France was not increased by her mission. But the personal benefits she received have been long-lasting.  Jaycee’s mission opened her eyes to goodness in the larger world outside the Mormon community—and, of course, she learned French.

I do know that, in general, the Church does increase membership through missionary work. A side-benefit to the Church is the personal growth in missionaries like Lolly who mature and become stronger members on their missions. A lesser benefit to the Church may be missionaries like Jaycee who experience growth that takes them away from Church affiliation. In my book, personal growth trumps institutional growth, and the world is a better place when people develop and live up to their full potential. From our experience, missions are a good use of parents’ resources.

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Comments on: "Mission Benefits and Side-Benefits" (6)

  1. I have heard that France is a tough Mission. From a purely Machivelian point of view, Missions tend to strengthen membership, though I am aware it is a detriment in some cases. In the prior, the Church would gain more in financial remuneration in the long run. I am not suggesting that this is the case, just pointing it out.

    I think missions are wonderful, but would like to see some policy changes. Stop the high pressure. Some is ok, but the stigma should go. And missions should be of variable length, 18-30 mos seems good, up to the missionary. I think the return on the investment for more self dedicated Missionaries and for the Church would be far greater.

    One of my big regrets was that I did not go on a mission, I find myself yearning for some retreat time more and more often. Oh well, maybe when we are older, a nice service mission would be just the thing.

    • I agree that less pressure to serve a mission should be applied. Our oldest son who chose not to serve found the pressure high even after he passed missionary age. In his area, girls were discouraged not only from not marrying a non-missionary, but even from dating a non. That’s a serious impact on a guy’s social life.

      I think variable length missions make sense, but wonder if social pressure wouldn’t play in somewhat. For awhile in our ward, there was a fad for missionaries to ask for an extension of their missions by a few months. I think it became a test of devoutness to ask for that extension.

  2. Dorothy J.D. Guinn said:

    Our missionary comes home in 11 days. At one point in time one of the GA’s counseled with them and said, in effect, that serving a mission is an ineffective way to gain new members–something they had all figured out all ready. So why bother? Turns out missions are more about the missionaries and their needs. Makes sense to me 🙂

    Incidentally, one of my non-LDS relatives said that he would not be attending the mission report meeting at church, but would be happy to come visit after some of the religion had washed off of our missionary in a few months. That makes sense to me, too. 🙂

    • Dorothy,

      Your relative is right. Newly returned missionaries can be a colossal pain in the rear.

      • Dorothy J.D. Guinn said:

        This is so true! When my cousins came home we avoided them like the plague. Shifting from the ‘real world’ of love & service back to the ‘fallen world’ of everyday living is a tedious chore I am sure. We drilled into his head before he left that this behavior is to be avoided at all costs. 🙂

      • I almost wanted to avoid our oldest daughter for the first couple of weeks after her mission. A warning to your missionary beforehand is a good thing.

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