As I’ve observed before, Mormons are a goal-setting people. It’s pretty much unheard of to have an organization in the church which doesn’t have yearly goals and possibly monthly and weekly goals as well. As a missionary, I learned that goals were practically part of the gospel. We set goals every month and we were expected to meet them or know the reason why. I believe in goals, and enjoy setting yearly goals for myself and trying to meet them. Even if I don’t get there, I like knowing that it’s something I’m working toward, and if I do get there, I really enjoy the feeling of accomplishment I get from that.
But then we had a meeting about ward mission goals. The other ward missionaries, who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, were very resistant to setting goals. The stake was asking us to set goals in several different categories, including convert baptisms (presumably, this is in accord with the CHI’s mandate that we have a Ward Mission Plan, which includes specific goals). Most of the people in attendance thought that was silly, because in a ward in the SLC area, it’s actually fairly unusual that anything the ward missionaries do ever results in convert baptisms in the ward. So if that’s the case, why set goals? Isn’t the purpose of the goal to have something to work towards? But if your work isn’t actually doing anything to make the goal happen, then what’s the point? One person in attendance even implied that goals are antithetical to the Spirit of God, since if you’re working towards a number, you’re working for the wrong reasons.
After listening to the discussion among my fellow missionaries for a while, I thought that two things were going on: (1) they simply resented being told that they had to set goals and in what categories they had to set them; and (2) they didn’t like the idea (suggested by the stake) that each goal should be higher than the actual results from last year. They felt this was setting up an unrealistic expectation, and that we were very likely to fail to achieve such goals, which would just make them all feel bad about their calling. It made me wonder if there is a better way to go about this. I think we first need to ask whether goals are even necessary or important in missionary work, and whether such goals should include ward missionaries. Is the work of ward missionaries so disconnected from convert baptisms that they ought not to set goals in that area? Should goals ever be imposed from the outside or should they be entirely self-generated? If you fail to meet a goal, does that make you feel like a failure? (As an example, the University of Utah football team failed to acheive their goals for this season, but should an 8-2 team ever feel like a failure?) Let me know what you think.