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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Tracting, Past & Future » Tracting, Past & Future

Tracting, Past & Future

Don - October 20, 2005

A post at T&S by Kaimi got me thinking…he usually does that to me.  Our mission required 20 hours of tracting per week minimum.  One week my companion and I actually tracted 41 hours.  Obviously tracting was not very effective then, and it isn’t now.  So what can be done instead?

I’m not averse to member missionary work, however it’s not my comfort zone. I’ve been a Stake missionary several times. Trying to get members to do their missionary work was not worth the effort. Success came when I made a personal commitment to do both the finding and teaching. So my first proposal would be to call a Stake missionary, instead of a 2 year time frame, call them until they find someone to teach the gospel to….maybe at least 3 discussions. Once they have done that they can be released.  Great motivation!

As far as tracting, tracting is for finding people to teach, let’s find them a different way. How about a church produced DVD "Basic Doctrines of the LDS Church". It could contain the 6 discussions in a missionary / family setting. Obviously giving contact numbers and info after each lesson. Or a DVD "20 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask Your Mormon Friend, But Didn’t Dare To" or "What Makes Mormons Tick?" These DVDs could be purchased by members in quantities of 25 or 50 for cheap. Then we could either mail them to our "friends" and "neighbors" or simply distribute them how we see fit, anonymously if we want.

The Ward mission leader puts the pressure on each family to do their part. The families buy the DVDs and distribute them. The family feels they’ve done their missionary work…what a relief, the regular missionaries and ward mission leader don’t "bother" you anymore!

These DVDs would get into a lot more doors than tracting. I would bet some would even get watched.

If regular members want to continue to do missionary work the old fashion way and invite friends over that’s ok too. I just want an easy way to "do" my missionary work, not feel so guilty for not doing it, and maybe actually have some success.


  1. I totally agree that current missionary work is well past it’s prime. The institution is ripe for a revolution.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 20, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

  2. Not having served a mission myself, I can still see what you’re getting at with the outdating of things like tracting. My closest member friend who is an RM is on leave right now, or I’d ask his opinion, but I just am not sure if the DVD idea is really the right way to go. I can’t say as I’ve got a better idea myself, but that just seems entirely too much like commercialising the Church. Personally I’d like to see a lot more emphasis put on ‘Missionary Work by Example’. That’d be my suggestion.

    Comment by The Gooch — October 20, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

  3. I don’t think tracting is typically that effective – especially now when everyone has been tracked out at least once. It’s not negligible but probably about on par with the success rate of spam or telemarketing.

    I think the bigger issue is how much it annoys people.

    The one thing it has going for it is it gives missionaries *something* to do when they don’t have anything else going on.

    Comment by Clark Goble — October 20, 2005 @ 5:32 pm

  4. I hated tracting. I never could take it seriously. As we turned a street corner, people’s windows would close, doors lock, chains go up, laundry gets pulled off the line, kids go in for supper, and so what once was a lively sprawl of happy, smiling faces turned into a ghost-town in 20 seconds flat. And then–get a load of this–people would think we’re J-Dubs!!! One time I decided to play with it, told them I was J-Dub, and actually went through the entire 1st discussion, even gave them a copy of the BofM, and they still didn’t notice! Man, I miss those people.

    The video idea is neat, but people need face-to-face interaction, just like Moses on the mount. Well, without all the fire and clouds and thunder and all that. I mean, what if someone is watching the “third discussion” video, and they have a question? Do they call an 800 number to get it resolved? Or is the DVD interactive, and you just press “yay” or “nay” on your remote control to have a question resolved?

    I agree; tracting is terrible, and only makes us look annoying to people. I don’t have the desire to look for it, but a quick google search might reveal a very funny video I saw on Saturday Night Live a while back. During the 2002 Winter Olympics, SNL filmed a skiier performing an event. During the race, two Mormon missionaries skiied up on either side of her, and began to give her the discussions. So yes, we’re viewed by the media as totally annoying because of tracting.

    Comment by David J — October 20, 2005 @ 5:42 pm

  5. So yes, we’re viewed by the media as totally annoying because of tracting.

    Among other things. Sheesh, for all his academic superiority, Dave can be a downright idiot sometimes.

    Comment by David J — October 20, 2005 @ 5:45 pm

  6. The one thing it has going for it is it gives missionaries *something* to do when they don’t have anything else going on.

    But think of all the wonderful things Mormon missionaries could do with their time? “Helping Hands,” for example, could easily become a massive, and publically recognisable programme.

    Comment by Ronan — October 20, 2005 @ 5:55 pm

  7. Here, here, Ronan.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 20, 2005 @ 6:30 pm

  8. Missionaries should ditch the uniform and play golf w/ thier name tags on. Worked wonders on my mission in western Europe a generation ago. Unfortunetely, we effective pagans couldn’t teach the method to others w/o getting set home. Sad.

    Comment by Steve EM — October 20, 2005 @ 6:38 pm

  9. I like the DVD idea, but I shudder to imagine the cheesy way the Church would produce it. The pictures would be very gauzy and Michael McLean’s “We Can Be Together Forever Someday” would be playing in the background.

    I say let a third-party produce a non-glurgy DVD and let’s send that puppy out. I especially like the idea “20 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask Your Mormon Friend, But Didn’t Dare To.”

    Don for GA!

    Comment by NFlanders — October 20, 2005 @ 7:32 pm

  10. I agree that tracting is menos eficiente, but I think Clark’s point hits on why it’s still done. It’s something to do. In my mission we weren’t required to tract, in fact, we were strongly discouraged. We were told to avoid it at all costs. And yet, I still spent a large portion of my mission tracting, because we had to keep working, and we usually had nothing else to do.

    A helping hands organization might work in the New Orleans mission, or in Guatemala, but most missionaries are in normal suburban neighborhood where nothing is going on. We were required to do four hours a service a week, and we struggled to find it. Many missionaries in search of service end up working in an old folks home or something.

    It’s easy to say we shouldn’t tract, but it’s not so easy to come up with a plan or program that is actually more effective.

    Comment by Eric Russell — October 20, 2005 @ 9:12 pm

  11. But there ARE ways to be effective and take up time. I rarely tracted on my mission mostly because I hated it, but also because it wasn’t effective. I spent most of my time with members. There are SO MANY ways to work with members because there are SO MANY things that need to get done in any given area. It can be as simple as stopping by and asking Brother Johnson to introduce himself to new member Jane after Sacrament meeting. Or ask him to call new member Jim on Saturday night to see if there’s anything he needs. Or ask him to accompany you on a discussion with investigator Joe. Or ask him to just bring up the Church in conversation with a friend (much easier than asking to go to church). Or WHATEVER!

    A couple weeks ago I fed the missionaries dinner. After we were done they shared a scripture with me (which I always find awkward) AND THAT’S IT!! They didn’t ask me to do anything. What a waste of a visit with a member. The only way investigators and less/inactives are going to feel welcome at church is if the members are involved.

    Comment by Rusty — October 20, 2005 @ 10:32 pm

  12. My parents were tracted out and joined the church. I was born shortly thereafter (possibly as the result of their membership in a church that encouraged large families). I tracted out and baptized a family on my mission as well. I’m all for tracting still (even though it isn’t the most efficient finding method).

    Don brings up some very interesting points though (Nice work again Don). Maybe I’ll post on the strategic marketing strategies of the church in response.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 20, 2005 @ 10:41 pm

  13. The problem with “an easy way out” of doing missionary work is that it like trying to find an easy way out of gaining and strengthening a testimony. To help someone truly become converted takes uncomfortable-ness, lots of pondering thought, sincere and intense prayer, and true charity. You can’t show the pure love of Christ for someone without making them and yourself at least a little uncomfortable. It’s like the testing of any friendship when you don’t allow someone to do something they want to but you know in the long run will hurt them.
    Working hard and getting out of our comfort zones and even hurting people’s feelings for the gospel’s sake is part of exaltation.
    As for tracting, it IS just something to do. Not only that but something pretty brainless to do. You don’t have to think and pray hard to figure out some creative/helpful way to get a good referral; just go knock on doors and if that fails, go to the next one. That’s why I hated it and hated when asking my leaders for help on how to get some work going in my area they just wanted to blitz it with more missionaries to tract it more. I did a lot of media referral tracting which was somewhat more effective, but my mission is one of the few that got a ton of those.

    Comment by Bret — October 20, 2005 @ 10:44 pm

  14. Ooops — left a stray “strategic” in that least sentence.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 20, 2005 @ 10:45 pm

  15. uhhhh… “last”

    Comment by Geoff J — October 20, 2005 @ 10:46 pm

  16. My parents were introduced to the missionaries by the ward mission leader. As were a few other families on the street.

    I tracted about four hours my entire mission, and was I ever glad. I hated it. It was a complete waste of time. Luckily, I served in Utah, Arizona and Nevada, where I was able to spend my time with members and ward and stake leaders. I found the more time we spent with members, the more phone calls we received with referrals.

    Media referrals never worked in my mission; they were always members who didn’t want to pay four bucks for a video.

    Comment by Kim Siever — October 20, 2005 @ 11:47 pm

  17. In many areas you just don’t have that many members. My first area we had zero active members. In many other areas you’d meet with members as much as you can but you can only make so many appointments. What do you do what you don’t have teaching appointments and don’t have member appointments?

    Also, consider that many missions keep pretty strenuous records on the amount of time you work. So…

    Comment by Clark Goble — October 21, 2005 @ 12:33 am

  18. As much negative as we can find about tracting, all 14 baptisms I had in England were from tracting. One day we decided the same Elder would tract until he got an appointment, or invited in. I went 4 hours before we changed turns. We played all sorts of games to make it more it “fun”. As bad as it is, converts do come from it. I just think there’s got to be better ways.

    Comment by Don — October 21, 2005 @ 2:42 am

  19. Somebody more creative than me can flesh this out, but I have an idea for getting rid of tracting and simulaneously introducing a “20 questions” video.

    First, buy advertising time on all networks to announce a halt to tracting. The announcement itself would be made by Jon Heder, in character, dressed in full missionary regalia (complete with an Elder Dynamite nametag). He would say something like…

    “So, I guess some of you figured out that I’m probably Mormon. That means it’s about time for me to come knocking on your door to try to tell you about my church. But GOSH, I HATE doing that kind of stuff, so I told them I didn’t want to do it. And they said, ‘well OK, we won’t send guys door to door any more.’ So instead, they made this SWEET DVD that answers all the questions you never dared asked your Mormon friends, like whether they have horns and stuff. So if you want one, just call and well bring one over.”

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 21, 2005 @ 10:05 am

  20. Last week, I was driving the missionaries around our Maryland ward. One visit was to someone they met knocking. (That’s what they called it, not tracting; it’s a long time since we’ve gone around handing out pamphlets; the traditional wording seems to be loosening its grip.) They chuckled, “In fact pretty much all of our investigators we’ve met knocking.” Every place and time has its peculiarities of what works and what doesn’t. My brother-in-law who served in the Ogden mission, sometimes covering two stakes, said tracting could at times be useful for embarrassing wards into action.

    Visiting members could be very useful in my Latin American mission. People there visited one another spontaneously, so if we dropped in on someone we knew, there was a good chance of getting to meet and talk with another guest. Most “working with the members” in the U.S. that I’ve seen, though, amounts to little more than haranguing members to find investigators. If the called missionaries aren’t finding investigators themselves, there isn’t a lead for the uncalled missionaries to follow. And we have to reach people who aren’t so lucky as to have a Mormon friend.

    I like the DVD idea. We spend so much time telling people “We have a message. We have a message.” Some of that effort can be expended actually telling the message.

    This morning in my mailbox there was a Priority Mail envelope. That’s $3.85 in postage plus the cost of the USPS cardboard mailer. It was from Branchburg, NJ, which seemed dubious, but who would spend all that money on a mass mailing? It turned out to be an ad from Verizon for fiber optic connections they had recently finished installing in my neigborhood. By investing a little in it, they got me to open it. I didn’t feel tricked because there was some purposeful targeting involved. Suppose every time we completed construction of a building such a mailing were sent to every house within five or ten miles with the meeting schedule and Brother Don’s DVD. It would cost a bit, but every missionary companionship costs over $800 per month in maintenance and another $1600 in lost income.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 21, 2005 @ 10:23 am

  21. Put the videos up on BitTorrent and put them in a format that all the cool kids can watch them on their video iPods.

    Comment by a random John — October 21, 2005 @ 12:19 pm

  22. LL, great idea to introduce the video. An alternate version like a random John suggests would be great too.

    I love it. Just think I can do my missionary work without the work.

    Comment by don — October 21, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

  23. John Mansfield:
    You’re like me, thinking of missions in terms of “lost income” in addition to actual expenses. Yeah boy! Are you Tribe of Judah too?



    P.S. Most of you have seen it, but if you haven’t, check out my blog at indybooks.blogspot.com for ideas on finding people. I finally gave out an English Book of Mormon to a native English-speaker.

    Comment by GreenEggz — October 23, 2005 @ 4:22 pm

  24. GreenEggz,
    I’ve been sending friends and people in my ward to your site. It’s truly inspiring. Thank you.

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2005 @ 4:38 pm

  25. GreenEggz,

    Why did you take down the post about Bill Cortelyou?

    Comment by a random John — October 23, 2005 @ 6:09 pm

  26. I accidentally deleted the blog. I intended to delete another blog, but Blogger changed the order of the blogs on the control panel, and I was on auto-pilot.

    I did not have all the posts backed up, so it is not completely reconstructed. If you emailed yourself a post that has not been restored, send it to me, or post it as a comment somewhere and I’ll put it back on.

    Comment by GreenEggz — October 23, 2005 @ 11:47 pm

  27. GE,

    You might be able to reconstruct it using Google Cache if you act quickly. Here is your Bill Cortelyou post, but my response indicating that he lived in my ward is not there:

    Comment by a random John — October 24, 2005 @ 12:53 am

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