5 Things We Need to Learn from the Mormon Church

by · March 28, 2011

This week, the dudes who brought us South Park are debuting their musical based on their ever-famous (or infamous) Mormon episode. Book of Mormon has been met with mostly positive reviews but has not been without the negative blowback that typically follows when South Park pokes fun at a particular religion.

Now, it is no secret that foundational Christian doctrine differs from LDS theology in key areas. Christians have made it a sport to argue with and generally make life miserable for Mormons when given the chance. However, we have no problem lining up behind them to protest against the staple gay marriage bill that comes around every other voting season. It is a demented relationship at best.

But this post is about methodology, not theology.

Living in Arizona, we are surrounded by a large population of LDS (Latter Day Saints). They are our neighbors, co-workers, and *GASP* friends. Over the years I have come to respect several things about the Mormon church as an organization and community. These characteristics are things I think the Christian church in America needs to take notes on.

1. Public Relations

If Christianity had a PR firm, it should have been fired decades ago. The fact that we don’t is so painfully obvious that preaching[raw][image align="right"]http://www.i4m.com/think/thumb/South-Park-Mormons.jpg[/image][/raw] against our past failures has almost replaced the Gospel itself. Every Christian engaged with a peer in a spiritual conversation must first overcome the typical “hypocrisy” debate and then tackle the issues of the Crusades, Manifest Destiny and the bombing of abortion clinics (just to name a few).

But the Mormon faith has a tainted past too. Outside of church historians and a handful of ill-intended educated Christians, people don’t know about the dark side of the religion. This dark side includes a massacre of 120 men, women and children settlers less than 150 years ago on American soil.

Instead, the Mormon church is known for being “too nice.” People are annoyed at how perfect its followers seem. Overall, there is a consistent approach to works and Mormonism has branded itself as the religion of good deeds.

Like Christians, Mormons hold some pretty wacky-sounding beliefs too. Try and describe communion to a non believer:

What you say: “Well, we eat bread and pretend it is the body of Jesus and we drink grape juice and call it His blood. We do this together once a month at least.”

What they hear: “We practice ritualistic cannibalism or a regular basis.”

Mormons believe they will one day be exactly like God, but having dominion over their own world. But this belief is buried and lost on even some of its followers. And the way they describe it makes you want to sign up and begin picking out names for you own celestial realm. From a public relations standpoint, the fluidity and consistency at which the LDS church has handled itself is almost flawless.

2. Staffing Issues

Have you ever met a Mormon pastor? Have you come across a guy in jeans a flip flops at your local Starbucks, reading blogs and listening to sermons and getting paid for it by his church? 

Nope, and you never will.

That’s just not how Mormons roll. Instead, they decided that for each local church body (aka “ward”) there would be several key volunteer leaders (aka “bishops”) and they would be responsible for the delegating the responsibility of running the church to other volunteers. The music, message, and other service elements are performed by volunteer church members each week who are on a sort of “pastoral rotation.” Each year, the church member is assigned his or her “calling” which tells them what duty they be performing in the coming months. 

The downside of this is that a guy like myself might be stuck pulling diaper duty in the nursery thus propelling me to the megachurch down the road where I don’t have do anything.

The upside of this is that it keeps cost down and every church member has taken ownership of their church. Each family is invested in making sure things run well and the vision of the church is executed. Who doesn’t want that for their local body?

In the average Christian church, the largest budget section is the salary of the staff. We have managed to take a couple curious verses in the New Testament and turn them into a mandate for creating medium-sized corporations complete with corporate perks and parking spaces. I am not going to make a case against paid staff in this post, but it is possible and seems to be doing wonders for the fastest-growing religion in the world right now.

3. Engaging the Community

I recently heard a speaker at a conference of church leaders chastise the audience for focusing their time and energy “building towers of Babel” instead of engaging their community around them. In my conversations with people after the sessions, I was amused and saddened at how many leader assumed the speaker was directing his message to someone else in the room. I never heard one person say, “Wow, that really hit me personally. My church needs to make some changes.”

[raw][image align="left" caption="Mormon missionaries."]http://www.wordsoftruth.net/wotvol10/wotbulletin11222009_files/mormonsonbikes.jpg[/image][/raw]I think this is because as church leaders, we know what we need to do (talk to tour neighbors, etc) but we don’t know how to do it. The Mormons are great at this. Granted, their strategy is simple and hasn’t changed for decades, but they have conditioned their community now to know who they are and what they are about based on looks alone. They use pairs of scrapping young men, wearing dark slacks, white short-sleeved button up shirts and dark ties. They get around on mountain bikes and they always have helmets on. When they come to your door, you know what they are there for: to talk or to help.

One time, a friend of mine who is a Christian told me with great joy how he some Mormons came to his door and asked if there was anything they could do to help him.  He put them to work for hours on a hot summer day picking weeds in his backyard. To him, this experience was a win for the real Kingdom, he was glad to take up their time and got joy from relaying the story. I, on the other hand, wondered why the real Kingdom wasn’t the one with the followers who were willing to sacrifice their time and sweat for their community.

We need to learn from the Mormons that engaging your community doesn’t require a ministry or director. Talking to your neighbors means putting their needs above those of your church and asking your congregation to do the same.

4. Social Media

One recurring theme here at Shrinkthechurch is that it is not enough to just HAVE a social media profile for your church, you need to USE it. There is a major difference between talking TO people through Twitter and Facebook and talking WITH them. The first is just traditional, old marketing that gets unused. The second is what make social media work.

The LDS Church is excellent at talking with people across their social media sites. There are several Facebook pages for the different sections and interests and multiple Twitter feeds users can follow for church news, devotions etc. The official LDS Facebook page is updated daily with videos, polls and conversations and has almost half a million users.

Recently, they started the, “I am a Mormon” YouTube campaign where average church members are followed around in their everyday life and proclaim, “My name is ________. I am an artist and I’m a Mormon.” These videos are featured on a microsite that engages prospective converts and even allows them to chat live with average Mormons about their faith.

5. Unity

This is the biggest and most important. While there are varying sects of the LDS religion, for the most part, they are one unified body that offers a consistent experience across all regions and wards. The statement of faith for all communities is the exact same and there is no competition among branches.

Simply put, the Mormon church is the closest thing to a Wal Mart religion there is out there.

On the other hand, Protestant Christianity is always fighting and competing within its parts. In every suburb of America, you can find a handful of Christian churches vying for the love and affection of the same group of people. There is palpable sibling rivalry just below the surface of our churches and as the megachurch movement expands, it is only getting worse. I am unqualified to offer a solution here, but lets look at the LDS Church for ideas.

Wrapping Up

Now, I know the Mormon church has its flaws. It is not perfect and they may be the first to admit that. But in a recent interview with NPR about their musical making a mockery of Mormonism, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were asked to comment on how they have been received by Mormons. I expected the usual backlash, condemnation and palaver. Instead, the Mormon church responded this way:

“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”

For Parker and Stone, they said the more reactions they read from Mormons, the more they like them. I’m starting to feel the same way.

Christianity has a lot to learn from its wanna-be second cousin twice removed.

Filed Under: Culture, Strategy

  • magnum

    j smith was kicked out of the freemasons b4 inventing mormanism,go figure

  • Brett

    Let me start this by posting a disclaimer: I’ve been a part of the Christian church since birth, but my life experiences have put me in many situations where I could learn about Mormons and the LDS faith (including living in Utah, having a Mormon roommate in college, and working for a Salt Lake City based company). I LOVE MORMONS. Do I think they are lost in a whacked out religion? Yes. Is my gut reaction to have anger towards them like so many of the Christians arond me? No.

    With that being said…. I see where you were trying to go with this post, but I think you missed the boat. I know that this article was more so focused on the “business” end of the LDS church. You said off the bat that this post was focusing on the methodology, not the theology. The major problem I have is that in the LDS church the theology facilitates this methodology.

    The LDS religion is a works based, no risk-high reward faith system. I used to look at my LDS friends and mistake their on-point behavior and discipline for being “on fire” for their faith. What I learned is that if I was trying to earn my way to God-hood and knew that by my acts alone would I be able to earn a super sweet afterlife, I too would be more likely to avoid coffee and trade in swearing for some “fetches” and “Jeezle Petes”. Why do so many Mormons go to seminary at 5:45 am on school days, or move to Russia for two years trying to baptize people? Is it because they are so super excited about Jesus that they just can’t get enough? Or is it because they have zero concept of being saved by grace and are trying to do whatever they can to get theirs?

    This concept leads to many of the points your made in your article. You would have a lot of people at your local church signing up for a calling to help in the nursery or at the semi-annual neighborhood beautification event if they thought they were getting some gold star stickers on their “Level of Heavens Scoresheet”. Would it be nice to have more church volunteers and participation? Of course. Could you get those results if your faith system was heavily based in guilt and fear-mongering? Of course.

    I will get to the PR and Unity aspects of your post this afternoon. I have to take your sister out to lunch.

    Holla.

  • Nick Asolas

    Thanks for your thoughts Brett. I think you are thinking way to deep for this post.

    I understand your argument: Mormons methodology is great but for all the wrong reasons; they just do awesome things because they have to live up to the works standards of their religion.

    I would argue the exact same is true for Christianity, its a moot point.

    Regardless of the reasons, I still think there is a lot to learn from how they operate as an organization.

    I hope you had a good lunch with my sister- keep treating her right and we wont have any problems.

  • http://chrishaidet.com Tediah1

    Great post Nick….right on the money!!!

  • Mike

    “Why do so many Mormons go to seminary at 5:45 am on school days, or move to Russia for two years trying to baptize people?”

    To be honest, it’s because of pressure from my parents that made me do the above. But I can tell you this, at no point throughout my 36 year life have I done anything for the LDS church with the goal of “earning my way to God-hood.” What a very base and materialistic point-of-view. It makes sense that you hold this view being on the outside looking in. What really drives me and motivates me are the people that I love, my family. We believe that true happiness in the next life is spending it with people we love, and watching them learn and grow and become better people. Imagine the joy of being able to look down through centuries of your posterity and feeling the love for each of them that you have for your own children.

    Of course I say this, but out of full disclosure I have a porography and tobacco problem, I drink 2 44oz Mt. Dews a day, I over-eat. And while I don’t attend church very often, what drives me the most to get back on track so to speak is not the thought that “If I don’t straighten up I won’t get that universe I was promised in church.” It is the desire that my children have a good example for a father, and that this father gives his whole attention to them and doesn’t get distracted by addictions and worldly affairs. A father that although he struggles right now, will gain mastery over his physical impulses and desires, a father that in the end will feel good about looking our savior in the eyes.

    I understand that sounds very “works-ish” to you… Maybe it’s just me but I feel like what better way to honor a Man that took upon Himself the sins of the world than to work to avoid those sins and take steps to better ourselves and our family and friends.

    For as much as you want to sound like you know about the church, it doesn’t sound like you have had really honest discussions with any of it’s members.

  • Mike

    Brett, please see my post above, meant to post it as a reply but did something wrong.

  • Dave B

    While it may seem, from the outside-looking in, that we are a works-based religion, I can tell you, with no amount of deceit, that we believe whole-heartedly in the saving power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I do the things I do out of love for Him and a knowledge that everything I have is from Him. LDS people don’t serve and sweat and proselyte for any sort of reward or gain or favor. It is done solely out of love for our Father, His Son, and our fellow men.

  • Cody

    You make some good points and I think some of them are possible because your 5th point–unity. My understanding is that the LDS church has a clearly defined hierarchy that applies to all LDS members everywhere (although I’m not saying their aren’t differences of opinions within LDS ranks). This unity in government would allow them to communicate one message and set uniform standards and methodologies across the board. That’s very efficient but I am not sure it’s all good either.

    For example, I worked with some Mormons in the past and, from the outside, it sounded like they attended the ward they were expected to attend and it didn’t sound like there was much of a choice for them. The good side of this is that you are connected with others that actually live near you and we Christians ought to seriously consider thinking like that. But I cannot help cringing at the idea of having no choice (and, yes, I am aware I say that as an individualistic American).

  • 1davscot

     

    No Christianity does not have a lot to learn from the LDS
    church…  
    Jesus Christ does not lead the
    LDS Church “men do”… 
    Previously, for 50 years I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of
    Latter Day Saints.  I served in
    Bishoprics, served a Mission, was a High Priest, I would go to the temple
    regularly…  I and my wife are or were
    fourth generation Mormons.  My Great
    Grandfather was a bodyguard to Brigham Young, one of the wife’s of Joseph Smith
    was the daughter of my wife’s Great Grandfathers brother…  Yes they (LDS) have quite a portfolio, but
    they do not lead people to CHRIST. 
    Recently in our dis-affection we have been attending Mission Community
    Church in Gilbert, Arizona…  I have
    heard more preaching from the Bible in one month than I heard in 5 years, of,
    week in, and week out attendance at my ward! 
    I am one who has prayed perhaps every day to have truth come into my
    life.  Finally just as the reformation
    was due to the printing press, my reformation was due to the internet. 

    In brief I would read an article on the news about the LDS
    church and I would say “no we don’t believe that, or Joseph Smith didn’t
    do that”.  I then would go to my
    gospelink. com website (LDS Website that for a fee one has access to about
    25000 volumes of books in reference to Mormonism) I would  research and verify and there it was “we do
    believe that and Joseph Smith did say that”… 

    Yes Mormonism offers a good corporate model, there marketing
    program is second to none… 

    This comparison lacks, one is looking to the heart in
    bringing people to Jesus, and the other is built on compulsion…  

    Mormonism is a con of which had generations of seclusion in
    the Salt Lake Valley in which cultivated much of the unchallenged doctrines… 

    Recently Elder Jensen of the Mormon Church made comment to
    how the present apostasy from Mormonism is comparable to the earlier apostasy
    in which as many as half of the membership of the church was leaving.  I believe that is from the Kirtland Banking Scandal?

    As I believe now, “I am a true follower of Jesus”  I have had a peace and happiness of which
    Christ offers.  It may have taken along time but as his sheep, I have finally heard the Shepherds Voice and it is good!. 

    I could go on and on… 
    But I will spare you!  

  • 1davscot

     

    BTW… the Wal-Mart comparison is accurate… also, UNITY, don’t
    question the Brethren, when they speak the thinking has been done… Also there
    are hundreds of LDS splinter groups of which are the fruits of the tree of
    Mormonism, (Can you say Colorado City). Pray, Pay and Obey…. Further any
    challenge or questioning the LDS church can be grounds for excommunication, and
    they do so regularly. Competition perhaps not as a collective body but one man
    to one man in a passive aggressive fashion, its game on!  Those young men who were pulling weeds well
    if they chose not to serve that mission there social status in the LDS
    community would be diminished (good luck finding a good Mormon wife if your
    chose not to serve the mission).  Social Media
    and the PR dept., do you realize that many speculate the LDS church has assets
    in the $100 billion range. Do you realize the many of the Apostles are Harvard Grads,
    attorneys and Medical Doctors. They are like the oil companies, they spin, and
    they inundate the internet, marketing, marketing, marketing…  For goodness sakes the LDS church is self-insured,
    every chapel and temple built is paid in full prior to be occupied (no such
    thing as mortgages).  Have a Coke and a
    Smile.  As for the local unpaid clergy,
    WOW nothing better than having the leader of your congregation being some man
    that has a fulltime job, 7 children of which during his 5 year tour not being
    able to spend time with his wife and children. Let alone the fact that he has
    limited knowledge of the scriptures.  I don’t
    know where you think these callings are for 1 year, I have a friend that has
    had the same calling for 15 years.  My
    Brother in law has served as a bishop 3 different times all totaling about 17
    years.  Let alone the fact that a Mormon
    Bishop is considered a true judge in Israel, which means that LDS people are
    required to confess serious sins to him to receive forgiveness.  I now enjoy having paid clergy…  WOW our Pastor went to college because of his
    or her passion for the ministry!  

    In closing in my youth when I went to the Mormon Temple prior
    to serving my mission at 19 years of age I swore an oath of which I acted out
    while running my thumb from below one ear across my throat to below the other
    ear.  Stating that ” I consecrate my time
    talents and all that I have to building up the Kingdom of God on earth or
    suffer my life to be taken”   Now hmmmm 
    lets see I wonder why so many Mormons are willing to sacrifice so much….  Kind of creepy eh!