The Church has discontinued tracting in the United States. Or at least so goes the rumor.
If true, it wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, it’s always been far, far down the list of effective ways of finding people to teach and I imagine it’s only gotten worse over time. Missionaries hate doing it and people hate it being done to them. It’s embarrassing, awkward and dreaded. But the worst part about it? The baptisms that have come from it. Seriously. Those very, very, very few successes have lead to more bad missionary work, in terms of quantity, than any bad mission president or program.
Let me explain: Think of all of the inspirational missionary stories you’ve heard. What percentage of them involved tracting in some form? (“We were about to turn in but decided to knock just ONE MORE DOOR…” or “…we knocked on the door and out came a guy holding a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of Jack in the other…” or “…the blisters on my knuckles taught me the importance of hard work…” Etc.) Okay, do you want to know what percentage of converts are a result of tracting? Yeah, so do I, but I know it’s much, much smaller than the stories would indicate. But that doesn’t matter to the missionary who is told that the most important thing they can do is WORK HARD!! And if that means blistering their knuckles on strangers’ doors, well then, they’re going to do it. So now you have mission presidents directing their missionaries to tract when they don’t have appointments and missionaries who want to work hard and have a spiritual experience. They know the stories. So they tract.
I know there are many folks who were found through tracting. And I’m glad we have them. I actually have one of those Ensign-worthy stories from my mission that was a result of tracting. But have you ever thought about the value of that time being spent doing something else? The second half of my mission I probably tracted a total of 20 hours (in the whole year, not per week). And I baptized probably 3-times as many people. Why? My theory is because I worked exclusively with members. Active members, ex-members, less active members, whatever. Nothing on the schedule in the morning? Let’s go visit the Torres family. Not to ask for referrals but perhaps to talk about some nonsense or maybe do some act of service or whatever. The important thing was that we were present and that they knew us. Which they all did, everyone in the wards knew us well enough that missionary work was constantly top-of-mind. And we got referrals. Lots of them. Imagine if we spent that time talking to strangers. Sure, we probably would have found some people. But I guarantee we wouldn’t have found as many as we did working with members.
I’m not saying that every mission could or should have the same dynamic as mine. But there isn’t a country in the world where tracting is more effective than working with members.