Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Have you ever had a wonderful family—or an individual—get baptized in your ward and then shortly fall away? And have you scratched your head, wondering why? After all, this person said they believed in God and Jesus Christ, the restoration of the gospel, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that we have a living prophet today. So what’s missing?
This has happened in my own ward, and the reasons for inactivity are familiar to all:
They see perfect, polished families when they come to church, and they feel they don’t measure up or fit in. Of course, every bishop can tell you there’s “pain in every pew,” and truly our church is not immune to the various serious problems that beset mankind in general. But to a newcomer, we are sitting there in our Sunday best, smiling as if we haven’t a care in the world. It’s intimidating to some.
There are major sports tournaments their kids have to attend, to get college scholarships. Or, just because they’re on the team and they want to play.
Someone offended them.
They are getting ready for, or they are on, or they are just back and exhausted from, a family trip.
They anticipate a baby, they have the baby, they are overwhelmed with the baby.
Their assisted living facility offers a brunch at the same time as church.
They just don’t feel good. They have relatives visiting. They were up late. Their work schedule is much more demanding now, and they need Sunday as their “off” day.
We’ve heard all these reasons, and many more. But what’s actually going on? These new members bore strong testimonies, they were interviewed for worthiness to be baptized, and now they’re simply missing in action.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said that every new member need three things– friends, a calling, and to be nurtured by the good word of God. Yet sometimes, even though we’ve tried to supply all three, something goes amiss.
I think I know at least part of the problem. I think we fail to impress upon ourselves—and new members—that weekly attendance is a very big deal. Taking the Sacrament must become a top priority.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “It is not something to ‘get over’ so that the real purpose of a sacrament meeting can be pursued. This is the real purpose of the meeting.” (“This Do In Remembrance of Me,” October 1995)
I know a woman who once lived in a ward where she had no friends. Zero. She knew women she was friendly with, but no one she really socialized with outside of church meetings. In fact, some of them were quite stand-offish, to underplay it. At that time her closest friends were nonmembers and one of them once remarked, when they were all together with their young children, “I’m sure you have lots of friends at your church.” That was the moment when she realized she didn’t. She hadn’t actually thought about this, because church wasn’t where she went expecting to find her entire social circle. And it taught her that she wasn’t attending church for social reasons whatsoever.
And this is important, because if we come to church solely because we have friends there, what happens if they move away—or we do? Going to church because you like the people, or the music, or the scouting program, or the lessons for children, or for any number of other perks, does not give you a strong taproot. Winds and storms can and will blow you away if you are not attending for the main, and really sole purpose, of taking the Sacrament.
And that—enacting Christ’s atonement—should be the whole deal for us. If we live in a country where we don’t speak the language and can’t understand the talks, or we find ourselves in a ward where certain people are unfriendly, or we simply don’t feel we “fit in” for whatever reason, it shouldn’t even register that maybe we should stop attending.
We go to renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the Sacrament. And if someone offends us or the air conditioning breaks down, or whatever, we keep attending. We realize this is not a club like the Rotary or the Kiwanis. It’s not a place we come because it’s “fun” or it’s where our buddies are (though it often can be).
And here’s where I think there’s a disconnect for new members. Most other churches hope you will come regularly, but they get it that many parishioners are Easter-and-Christmas attenders, or that they have competing activities, or they’ll simply come when they feel like it. There’s no real message that coming every week is essential to your salvation.
But we belong to church of ongoing repentance. Weekly, earnest, serious repentance. And that means taking the Sacrament to renew our covenants and start again with a clean slate. It’s the most sacred ordinance outside the temple. It’s a moment of oneness with Christ as we recommit and resolve. Yes, it’s vital. Every week.
Here are just three quotes by apostles, and watch for the word, each:
Elder David A. Bednar: “Faithfully obeying God’s commandments is essential to receiving the Holy Ghost. We are reminded of this truth each week as we listen to the sacrament prayers and worthily partake of the bread and water.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follow that commandment each week by attending a worship service in which we partake of the bread and water and covenant that we will always remember Him and keep His commandments.”
Elder Robert D. Hales: “Each Sunday we renew that baptismal covenant by partaking of the sacrament and witnessing that we are willing to keep the commandments.”
Additionally, unlike many other faiths, our church has a lay ministry and all the singers, speakers, teachers, and administrators are volunteers. We are given callings and the expectation is that we will come dependably each week to fulfill our tasks. These are to be taken seriously, as well. People count on us and we grow by serving in these capacities. But someone brand new to the LDS faith may not be familiar with an organization that runs this way.
In the 12th chapter of Preach My Gospel, the section on baptismal interview questions tells missionaries to ask prospective members if they understand and are willing to obey certain standards. 5-D says, “The Sabbath day, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to fellow members.” (My own italics). I wonder how often this is glossed over or assumed, not just by missionaries, but by members as well.
So, unless someone has explained the requisite weekly attendance, it’s entirely plausible that a new member simply doesn’t get the commitment and plans to attend when it’s convenient. They still believe in Mormonism, they’re glad they were baptized, but they’re missing that understanding of how important it is to take the Sacrament every Sunday.
And that, I feel, is the final box we all need to check. Yes, it’s wonderful to know this church is true. But knowing must be followed by doing.