A Numbers Game

I think our Stake Executive Council must be scheduling its meetings right after the TV show “Numb3rs.” Either that or tax season is getting to everyone.

Let’s start from the bottom up. In Primary, the children are working on memorizing twelve scriptures. In Relief Society, April has been designated “100% Visiting Teaching” month. In the ward, our bishop has set a goal for 65 convert baptisms this year, or roughly one per family. In the stake, the stake president has challenged the stake to read the entire Book of Mormon in ninety days, which breaks down to three chapters or six pages a day. Furthermore, he’s asked us to distribute 5,000 Books of Mormon–the size of its original print run–by the end of the reading period; this breaks down to eight books for each active adult.

None of this really bothers me, though it does boggle in my mind at times: “Was it eight pages a day? No, six pages a day; it was eight Books of Mormon. Or maybe it was six converts…?” I think numerical goals can be powerfully motivating, blessedly quantifiable, and uniquely satisfying to achieve: without my long-standing daily goal of turning one outline bullet into decently-clothed paragraphs each day, come hell, high water, or colicky baby, I never could have finished my dissertation. (By contrast, and as the single exception to my liking for numerical goals, the weekly goal-setting sessions on my mission were regular exercises in agony for me: I felt like I was picking numbers out of the sky, and the size of the number quantified either the degree of my faithlessness at the beginning of the week or the degree of my failure at the end.) Furthermore, I’m fond of my relief society president, bishop and stake president, and even if I didn’t like number goals, I’d still want to do my part simply to help my leaders out. It’s just sort of funny that all these numbers have come raining down in one inspired April shower.

What sort of number goals have you worked on in your area?

60 comments for “A Numbers Game

  1. Kaimi
    April 7, 2005 at 11:24 am

    Numbers? Personally, I prefer Deuteronomy.


  2. April 7, 2005 at 11:41 am

    I’d like to thank Kaimi for getting the obligatory “oldest joke in canonical Judaeo-Christianity” out of the way…

  3. Ana
    April 7, 2005 at 11:43 am

    In our Young Women organization and I think in the other auxiliaries, each leader or teacher has been asked to focus prayer and effort on one inactive person. This was a goal set by the stake. One is a wonderful number for this.

  4. April 7, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Our ward and stake have goals. Going to the temple x number of times, baptizing y number of converts, achieving z number of reactivations. I must confess, however, to being completely and comfortably ignorant of what they actually are. (There’s a poster in the foyer of our building, but I honestly can’t remember what it says.) I make goals, but they are rarely numerical goals, and when I do attach a number to my goals it is almost always for something very short-term and mundane, as I dislike the uses to which numbers in connection with large and important things can be (and often will be) put. I had the same feeling about numerical goals on my mission that you did, Rosalynde; however, I think I have also had that same feeling (namely, that numerical goals are arrogant, arbitrary, and arguably idolatrous) about pratically every such goal and all the related Stephen R. Covey-type goal-talk I have ever encountered, either before my mission or since, whether in the church or at work or school or anywhere else. Given that we are a fallen people who are going to end up measuring ourselves against the clock and one another regardless, I suppose submitting ourselves to that kind of ordering of things is occasionally a necessary evil. But not very necessary, I hope.

  5. Rosalynde Welch
    April 7, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Ana, one *is* a great number! It reminds me of Elder Ballard’s request in General Conference that each unit send one more missionary this year. Wonder what percentage of those “one extras” will be sisters? A pretty large proportion, I’d guess.

    I wonder whether the current slump in missionary rolls will relent during the next ten years, as baby boomers start retiring and serving couple missions. The missionary committee are probably really, really hoping this happens.

  6. maria
    April 7, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    I wonder whether the Bishop’s goal for 65 baptisms will change after he reads the new guidelines in “Preach My Gospel” that imply that number-driven goals for baptisms are inappropriate. Or maybe that rule only applies to missionaries, and not bishops. Does anyone know? I’ll have to go re-read that section.

  7. SF Taylor
    April 7, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    I hate numbers. I work at a bank (sadly) and have for many years (I won’t give the “number” of years). Numbers are like “time”, it is a man-made concept. In the hereafter, there are no numbers —- just like time. The Lord made worlds “without number”. The reason they are “without number” is because there are no numbers in the eternities. We are all “one”.

    Don’t we all know people who belong to the “religion of numbers” and live to “worship reports”?

  8. Jim Richins
    April 7, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    The number one also reminds me of Elder Ballards talk from last year’s conference, in which he talks about the only one being the most important audience.

    “Sadly, in today’s world, a person’s importance is often judged by the size of the audience before which he or she performs. That is how media and sports programs are rated, how corporate prominence is sometimes determined, and often how governmental rank is obtained. That may be why roles such as father, mother, and missionary seldom receive standing ovations. Fathers, mothers, and missionaries “play” before very small audiences. Yet, in the eyes of the Lord, there may be only one size of audience that is of lasting importance—and that is just one, each one, you and me, and each one of the children of God. The irony of the Atonement is that it is infinite and eternal, yet it is applied individually, one person at a time.”

    Aside from the fact that the goals in Rosalynde’s stake seem to remind me of the arbitrary and urealistic goals of my mission, I have to agree along with Maria about the dubious effectiveness of numerical goals. There continues to be record keeping and goal setting in “Preach My Gospel”, but I don’t have the sense that these things are emphasized as they were in the past. 100% Home Teaching doesn’t mean diddly if the Home Teaching isn’t effective. The Saints can go through the motions to satisfy a numerical goal, and completely miss the point of the exercise.

    The cynical side of me also has to wonder if Rosalynde’s Bishop is leading by example, and if his family will participate in at least one convert baptism this year. Likewise, I wonder if Rosalynde’s Stake President remembers that it isn’t so important how much time we spend in the scriptures, but how much time the scriptures spend in us – it is often much better to spend 30 minutes on one page of the Book of Mormon, pondering each verse, rather than skimming across as many pages as possible in a short amount of time.

  9. April 7, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    I second Rosalynde that *one* is a fabulous number! A bishop saying he wants 65 baptisms seems much more daunting that asking each family to work with one person. Reading one chapter in the BoM a day seems much easier than trying to remember how many pages, remember that “I went over last night so I can go under tonight…” Besides, a SMALL handful of people are actually going to take that seriously enough to do it all the way through.

    I also like what SF Taylor wrote about all of us being *one* in the eternities (though I don’t know if we can say there will be no numbers (I don’t like to think I will have one finger or one hair)).

  10. SF Taylor
    April 7, 2005 at 1:54 pm


    You’re looking at it from your “telestially trained eyes”. In the eternities, you will have “fingers”. You will have “hair”. There will be no need to attach a number to it. I mean, how many “hairs” do you have now? There’s no way to tell.

    Numbers are man-made.

    As the HP Group leader in our ward, I absolutely HATE the end of each quarter because it’s then time to “feed” the computer: numbers. I prefer the sessions I have with each individual HP during an interview session — where we can talk about their families one at a time.

    In the temple we go through for our deceased friends. How? One at a time.

  11. Jim Richins
    April 7, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    SF Taylor,

    I agree that the importance of “numbers” is distorted when lacking an Eternal perspective, however I also feel that you may be overstating Eternal Unity.

    “As the mathematician in our ward”, I fully understand how mankind “invented” numbers and developed mathematics – all in order to better understand God’s creations. You may be correct when suggesting that ordinality may not exist in the Celestial Kingdom, but you would be dead wrong to extend that claim to the concept of cardinality.

    Can you say that the ratio 1/1.618033… will not exist in the Eternities? Then why does this “number” show up with such frequency in the universe? The symbol for this number is the Greek letter Phi, although many people may recognize the term “Golden Mean” . It is the ratio of beautiful proportions in art and architecture, in music, in the human body. The ratio of successive terms in the Fibonacci sequence approaches this ratio as a limit. It is an irrational number, but certainly not arbitrary. God MADE 1.618033…, humans discovered it.

    What about i, the symbol for imaginary numbers, or more precisely, the square root of -1? Surely we can jettison imaginary numbers in Eternity – a concept that by its very name suggests that it is a wild concoction of human imagination. But, imaginary numbers are also an integral part of fractals, such as the Mandelbrot set. Fractals combine the properties of being infinite yet self-similar, and they so accurately describe so much of the universe that they could easily be a governing principle behind creation.

    God is a mathematician who knows far more about numbers than any of us can imagine. I invite you to learn more about mathematics. I suspect that a truly deepening experience awaits you, as it often does for me when I dive down in between the integers.

  12. Jim Richins
    April 7, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    I said before that cardinality would surely exist in Eternity, but perhaps not ordinality (as in, the concept of “first”, “second”, or being “number 1”, “number 2”, etc.) Upon further reflection, however, the scriptures indicate that this concept continues as well.

    Abraham 3:16-19:

    16 If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me.

    17 Now, if there be two things, one above the other, and the moon be above the earth, then it may be that a planet or a star may exist above it; and there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it.

    18 Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.

    Clearly, in the Celestial Realm, the concept of greater and lesser exists. The fact that two unequal values exist which are both eternal is underscored in v. 18.

    Greater and lesser exist in both the ordinal and cardinal sense in Eternity. Thus, numbers must also exist, although I am confident that a more efficient scheme of representing these concepts would also exist, just as there is certainly a more efficient scheme of verbal communication than English.

  13. Mark Martin
    April 7, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    SF Taylor,

    Jim has already touched on this in #11. Numbers are man-made? Read Moses chapter 1. Part of verse 35 says:

    “.. and innumberable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.”

    Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7 both say “… the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

  14. Mark Martin
    April 7, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    To Rosalynde’s original post, I favor working toward important objectives without the “objectivity” of specific number-based goals. It seems that all of the respondents (so far) feel that way.

    One is a nice number because it helps me take action with the possibility of making real progress. Isn’t (in)tangible progress the desired outcome? I’m not as interested in (for example) 65 for a ward. It seems to spread the responsibility too widely to take it seriously for long.

    I’m a statistician, and frequently people say to me, “So you like numbers!” I finally found a good response the time that I answered, “The way a musician likes notes!”

    Even when I’m analyzing results from a scientific experiment I helped design, it’s not the numbers that intrigue me. It’s trying to understand the phenomenon that is occurring, and the numbers are just a tool to help us get to the heart of the matter. If we were able to actually *see* exactly what was happening at the molecular level during the experiment, I probably wouldn’t need to collect the numbers.

  15. Paul Frandsen
    April 7, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    I agree with what many have said regarding the impersonal and trite nature of setting numerical goals. The example of 30 minutes in deep study of one page is better than skimming pages to reach a numerical goal is so true. However, how can a leader motivate those within a stewardship? For example, many missionaries could probably work harder–how should a missionary president go about motivating. Ideally we are motivated by love of God, but if attaching a numberical standard to lessons taught during a week gets missionaries in homes, then that love of God can be manifest during those lessons that may otherwise have been spent at a 2-3 hour lunch or outing.

    I believe using numbers in the church organization, however annoying they may be, are a way of helping it’s members avoid living as if all were well in zion when often all is not well…

  16. Sheri Lynn
    April 7, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Wow. I find mathematics, chemistry, and physics to be strong testaments of the Creator. I think anything good or useful belongs in the celestial kingdom and will be there.

    (Except that mongrel science of cruelty, physical chemistry. That won’t be there, no no no no no.)

  17. Mike Parker
    April 7, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    In the stake, the stake president has challenged the stake to read the entire Book of Mormon in ninety days, which breaks down to three chapters or six pages a day.

    “Speed reading the Book of Mormon” seems to have gained popularity recently. Personally I refuse to participate — I learn much, much more by spending 30 minutes reading, pondering, and researching one or two verses than I do trying to cram 3 chapters down.

  18. Greg Call
    April 7, 2005 at 6:04 pm

    My mission president was a big numbers, charts, graphs guy. A good chunk of zone conferences was spinning numbers to both praise us and encourage us to work harder (e.g., “The per capita baptism rate is the highest it as ever been in this mission!” or “At the rate we’re baptizing, it will take up 430 years to baptize everyone within our mission boundaries. We’ve got to do better.”) Toward the end of my mission, we would talk about why he chose the style he did. He liked to quote Thomas S. Monson (at least that’s who he attributed it to; I never checked): “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back the rate of improvement accelerates.” I’m less of a numbers guy, myself, but Monson’s quip is probably more true than not.

  19. SF Taylor
    April 7, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Clearly there are many people who are “light years” ahead of me in the math department. I confess that readily. Math was never my strong point. I get by, but, as I say, many on this board are way past my reach in this area. But from my very simple-minded point of view, in some odd way, there is a difference between “math” and “numbers”. Sounds silly, I know, but to me there is a slight difference. Can’t really explain it in words.

    To answer this:

    “.. and innumberable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.”

    The Lord numbers them like this: “one”.

    I do count myself lucky that there are people (many on this board) who are great mathematicians. God bless you all. And I know that there are odd numerical happenings in the heavens that explain the order of the universe:

    Genesis 1:14
    14 ¶ And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:


    Isaiah 55:9
    9 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    Somehow, I think the Eternal God uses something other than “numbers”. Numbers (to me) are a telestial device to help humans understand this realm of our eternal existence.

    I’m probably way off the subject and I apologize for that. Last point: I too hate to translate human experience into numbers. It’s so cold and impersonal. And the longer people stare at numbers, the more inclined they may become to start “worshiping” the reports. The next step is often: “more, more, more! Give me more numbers!”

    I hate when that happens…..

  20. Kaimi
    April 7, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    There is a dark side to numerical goals.

    A very, very dark side.

    But that’s a post for another day. (I’ve had the post written for months, and perhaps this is impetus enough to make me actually post it).

  21. Rosalynde Welch
    April 7, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Hi Paul! I didn’t know you read T&S! Welcome!

    I tend to agree with your observations: numerical goals, when formulated and promoted properly, can be very motivating.

  22. Keith
    April 7, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    My ward has had the unwritten but clear goal to have one Sacrament Meeting every week. With the exception of about four weeks of the year, we are doing very well.

    To the larger point, as the Good Book says, numbers, like so many things and programs, were made for man and not man for numbers. Keeping this perspective in mind, numbers can be helpful. Loosing this perspective, well . . . we’ll wait for Kaimi’s post.

  23. MDS
    April 7, 2005 at 7:00 pm

    The bad or good of number goals, at least to my mind, has to do with how much control I have over the achievement of the goal. The more factors that are out of my control, the less useful the goal.

    Examples–Good goal: Tract 6 hours per day. Bad goal: baptize 1 person per month.

  24. Kevin Barney
    April 7, 2005 at 7:03 pm

    I have a hard time taking these numerical goals imposed from above seriously, for all sorts of reasons.

    If I hear that our ward’s goal is supposed to be to baptize 65 people in a year, I can’t help but think about things like: uh, we’ve baptized maybe one person in 18 months. Where does 65 come from? What relationship to practical reality on the ground does this number have?

    I really dislike goals that are ultimately out of our control. People have their free agency as to whether to accept the gospel, and we can’t make them do it.

    A goal like this just sets us up for almost invariable ultimate failure.

    I’m not a big goals and numbers person anyway; it all seems so sales motivational to me. But if you’re going to do goals, they should be small, pragmatic, realistic, and things that you can actually control by your own efforts and work, not dependent on factors outside your control.

  25. annegb
    April 7, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    Our visiting teaching was 87% this month. I challenged the men to a duel and they whined about getting to write letters (which actually usually don’t count, long story). But you know what, we have 108 women to visit. That includes about 15 single women who are part of other families. We have only about 60 visiting teachers. They have almost that many men, PLUS they get to ask the young women to go out with them, PLUS they only have to visit whole families.

    We are so going to kick their butts. They have to cook us dinner.

    I hate this calling. I hate numbers. But they are reflective of dedication and brotherhood. So I expect to see a surge in home teaching as these women try to shut up this mouthy broad. The motive may be wrong, but the end will be a good thing. I sure as hell hope.

  26. Mark B.
    April 7, 2005 at 9:41 pm

    Home teaching with the young women as companions? Was that a typo, or is the church really changing out in your neck of the woods?

  27. Shawn Bailey
    April 7, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    My mission was obsessed with numbers. I understand that there were months that we were the highest baptising mission in Brazil—and perhaps the entire world. I know that my mission presidents both were successful businessmen to whom it was second nature to watch the bottom line. But I understand that the number-obsession went higher—that the area authorities to whom they reported (also successful businessmen as far as I know) were also keenly interested in bottom-line statistics.

    There was a time when we were encouraged to set rediculously high goals. I still recall the leadership response to my high but still achievable (for my mission) goals: “You are only planning on batizing six people this month? Why not twenty? Why not thirty? Elder, setting a high goal is a sign of faith! You will probably not reach your goal, but the higher your goal, the more success you are likely to have!” Perhaps there was something to what they were saying. I am not denying the possibility of dramatic mass conversion miracles—I believe that it is at least possible to baptise an entire city. But Days of Pentecost have been rare occurrences. My goals were tied to reality. Given the fact that we walked everywhere we went, often 5-10 miles a day—how many people are my companion and I able to teach all six discussions in one month? How many new members can this ward possibly integrate, give callings, and ultimately retain? Given our experiences with the people here, what percentage that hear the first discussion are likely to hide from us when we show up for the second? How many will never so much as open the front cover of the Book of Mormon, or make numerous comittments but never follow through?

    To be meaningful, faith must be faith in true things. As a principle of power, faith can make seemingly impossible things come true. But there are variables, most notably the agency of others, that one’s faith cannot overcome.

    I saw the upside and the darkside of numerical goals. I am profoundly grateful for the numerous experiences I had teaching (often between five and ten discussions a day!) and entering the waters of baptism on my mission. I wonder if I would have gotten over certain fears or seen nearly as many miracles if I had not been captured by the drive to deliver numbers. Thus, I think there is some truth to the statement regarding numerical goals and responsibility attributed to President Monson (Greg, no. 18). The problem, of course, is that we should be motivated by love. If we are motivated by fear of those who will hold us responsible, or pride in our impressive statistics, can we have the spirit necessary to do the Lord’s work?

    As far as the darkside is concerned, it was a constant effort for me to see people as people, not statistics. Afterall, converts are not widgets, even though both can be counted in the same way! I tried very had to consider what individuals needed to be ready for baptism: what questions they needed answered, what kind of repentance they needed to undergo, what kind of spiritual experiences (with the scriptures, prayer, at church) they needed, what kind of social ties they needed in the church. I know that many in my mission saw such preparation as simply inefficient. Six discussions, once in church, then in the water: crank them through. Those who stuck to this pattern—the big numbers guys—were the heros in my mission. Those who did more to care for individuals were seen as soft; they were not encouraged or rewarded. Also concerning the darkside, I would like to forget the abusive, sometimes cruelly derisive, brow-beatings I recieved from leaders to whom I reported the numbers of my companionship, district, or zone. I would like to forget the feeling of sheer discouragement and despair that I felt in months that probably would have seemed rather triumphant in other missions. I would like to go back and enjoy the Spirit, and care for individual investigators more. I hope I would be motivated by love, not fear or pride. I hope that I can say I am so motivated now. (That’s something to think about.) I wonder if these thoughts apply to all numerical goals regarding spiritual matters. I am inclined to say they do.

  28. Julie in Austin
    April 7, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    Shawn, do you know what I’d like to see? I’d like to see us invent some clever metric (with its own obtuse acronym) that would represent something like “number of people I baptized that were active a year later” or “number baptized that were endowed within two years” or something. I’d like to see missionaries obsessed with *that*.

  29. Ivan Wolfe
    April 8, 2005 at 8:49 am

    Having worked among a group (Laotions who immigrated to America) where missionaries often had 200-300 baptisms in the 70s and 80s (I met one RM who claimed 700, but I think he doubled his numbers)

    Yet right now, inactivity among Laotions in the USA is around 99%. The missionaries were so concerned with numbers they didn’t bother to care about activation.

    And then my mission president shut down the Lao program in our mission because of low baptisms. He actually said something like: “They baptized hundreds just a decade ago! Are you elders lacking faith?” No – we were cleaning up the mess left to us by those earlier elders and we had decided to make sure baptisms led to actual activity in the church.

  30. April 8, 2005 at 9:00 am

    When a Ward or Stake leader sets a goal, it is generally for those who are struggling in that area. I read my scriptures and pray every day. If the Stake President or Bishop sets a goal for us to read the Book of Mormon, they obviously aren’t thinking of the people who are already doing it. They are trying to come up with a way to help those who aren’t doing it to have a reason to start. A goal needs to help people improve, be more Christ-like. If it does that, then I’m all for it.
    I’m desperately trying to get my Ward to stretch themselves and get out of their comfort zones. Unfortunately everyone has a reason/excuse not to participate (see many of the previous comments). I guess that’s just the nature of the human condition. If we could all (me included) realize even a small part of our potential, then we’d be much more willing to give our all.
    Julie in Austin (comment #28), I agree with you whole-heartedly! If a goal doesn’t lead to sustained improvement/growth (either individually or collectively), then what was the point?

  31. Jed
    April 8, 2005 at 9:22 am

    This issue of number, in my view, clearly differentiates the modern church from early Mormonism. The obsession with number shows the church’s rootedness in a market capitalist culture that sees life as a competition requring the maximizing of profits and the minimizing losses. This way of thinking also shows the pervasive influence of modern corporate management and statistical marketing on the way we in the North American church think about our spirituality. Number measures the “increase” of spirituality.

  32. April 8, 2005 at 9:33 am

    So explain how you can measure the “increase” of spirituality without mentioning a number/comparison word.
    We had more people at our meeting
    The number of people going to the temple increased
    50 families were visited last month
    Baptisms were up
    Moses 7:69 “And Enoch and all his people walked with God”
    Mosiah 18:35 “And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls.”

  33. Jim Richins
    April 8, 2005 at 10:03 am

    Graham’s comment completely validates Jed’s point. Graham seems to be conflating spirituality with those things that can be measured.

    A person can faithfully study the scriptures every day, but still be clueless about the word of God. Another person can visit the Temple every week, and yet have developed very little charity.

    We can not measure the charity in a woman’s heart, or the degree to which the word of God has been engraven on a man’s soul. We do create metrics out of discrete behaviors that can be reported or measured. We must not confuse these measurable traces with true conversion.

    It is true that the metrics we try to measure *probably* correlate to spiritual characteristics – those that are invisible to us, but are visible to God. We just have to remember that 100% Home Teaching can still be ineffective, and 700 baptisms does not mean 700 conversions.

    So, to the extent that measurable goals provide a yardstick for us personally, they can help individuals stretch themselves. But, when a Bishop or Stake President sets a goal to have 65 baptisms, or to read the Book of Mormon in 90 days, he is focusing on the yardstick, and not the underlying purpose for measuring.

    A more effective way for a Bishop to increase baptisms would be to preach true doctrine from the pulpit, provide workshops for introducing the Gospel, introduce the full-time missionaries to ward members, have speakers that can testify to positive experiences with sharing the Gospel, etc.

    He can find ways that will help members become converted to Proclaiming the Gospel. Then, the metric will increase on its own.

  34. Jay S.
    April 8, 2005 at 10:08 am

    NUmbers are a good thing. They let our finite minds comprehend. They are tools to be used for a celestial purpose. The General Authorities use them frequently. The most notable one is to have each ward provide one more missionary than they allready have in the works. This is a healthy goal, as it challenges the ward to stretch, to find that one young man. It gives encouragement to work just a little more.

    They can be an unhealthy one as well. An obsession with baptismal numbers for a missionary can draw one away from the spirit and result in unprepared convert baptisms. Though for my 2 cents on the issue, long term activity of converts is less a function of the missionaries and more a function of the ward (at least in more established church areas).

    With regards to “speed reading” the book of mormon, I do not understand the negativity associated with this approach. mike said “Personally I refuse to participate – I learn much, much more by spending 30 minutes reading, pondering, and researching one or two verses than I do trying to cram 3 chapters down. ” Why is it a choice between the two? While pondering and researching the scriptures is great, and should most likely be how we spend most of our scripture study time, a “Cram” of the book of mormon is a wonderful thing. It is not because “hey i read the BOM in a month!” or “I read the bOM 8 times this year”. A quick read of the book of mormon helps to tie together the concepts and story in the scriptures. It helps us to get a “big picture” view. If you are touring the US, you will see the most detail and experience the full richness of the land if you go over every road and see every city. But flying over an area or studying a full map of the US adds another dimension and enhances our comprehension of what the United states is. That being said, there is a lot of detail missed if we ALWAYS speed read.

  35. April 8, 2005 at 10:16 am

    But how do you measure whether you’ve increased baptisms… by counting. That’s what measurement is. If a Bishop does all the things Jim said, he still has no way of knowing how effective it was. There is nothing wrong with counting as long as it is for the right reasons.
    I understand that you can’t measure the quality of one’s life, their understanding of the temple, their desire to be Christ-like. But if we don’t set measurable goals, then we probably won’t make any progress. I’ll say it again… a goal should be set to stretch ourselves. I’m by no means defending goals that are set strictly for numerical purposes. In our stake a few years ago there was a goal to have 1000 baptisms in 2000. When our history was about 100 baptisms a year, I said to myself, “Yeah, right!” Needless to say we didn’t reach 1000. But if my Ward is getting 50% home teaching and I set a goal for 60% (with the input and support of the Ward leaders), then we will be able to measure that. Maybe someone who hasn’t been going home teaching will go. Maybe someone who hasn’t tried with a certain less-active family will actually try. Maybe the EQP or HPGL will actually do a PPI and find out why someone isn’t going. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have a problem with setting numerical goals, as long as the focus is on the process to get to that goal, not the goal itself. I’m fine with 65 baptisms, as long as the Bishop has a plan to do all the other things Jim mentioned.
    Even God and Angels record things in the Book of Life. That in a way is a measurement.

  36. Jed
    April 8, 2005 at 10:18 am

    Graham, The point is not that other people in other places and times (pre-capitalist, pre-industrial) times do not count things or measure things. A farmer or an artisan must count his production in order to trade or barter. Some Book of Mormon peoples probably took an increase of flocks and herds as evidence of their own righteousness.

    The point is about the modern conditions that have made number seem the natural, commonsensical way of measuring progress over time. If I read eight pages a day in the scriptures, then I am doing well, I am getting closer to God–that is a twentieth-century way of thinking about the problem of spirituality. Pre-industrial people do not have their own scriptures, and those who did were in no hurry to get to eight pages so they could check the box on their seminary progress chart. Number obscures the quality of spirituality.

  37. April 8, 2005 at 10:20 am

    So how else are you supposed to measure progress?

  38. MDS
    April 8, 2005 at 10:28 am

    Re: Julie’s comment Nr. 28,

    I believe statistics of this nature are indeed tracked, Julie, at least I know they were in my mission. We were very conscientious about retention, and as a result, had a very high rate. Thus, while our baptisms weren’t exactly the envy of the church, the retention numbers were, and the units into which these people were baptised were much improved as a result. As I recall, we averaged about 80% retention for a full year, with an endowment rate just slightly below that. Elder Wirthlin, while visiting, told us that our mission lead the church in this regard. My perception was that he knew this via objective statistical comparison, not just through some subjective impression.

  39. Shawn Bailey
    April 8, 2005 at 10:33 am

    Julie (no. 28): I agree! One practical problem with working out such a metric (as far as the missionary program is concerned) is the current preference to shuffle missionaries around every few months. If missionaries stayed put, they would be much more invested in seeing their investigators who accept baptisim remain active and move toward meaningful conversion. Of course, to a degree, good missionaries try to do this even when they cannot stick around by writing letters, enquiring with the current companionship in the area about the recent-convert’s status, etc.

    A significant shift toward focusing on retention and reactivation in the missionary program happened during my mission. Still, many missionaries in my mission dismissed it. And the leadership attitude was that due to this shift in emphasis, we will baptise even more! But now we will work smarter and our converts will have no choice but to remain active! Success!* After this change, I was delighted to have Prophetic utterances that justified more caring for individuals and less number-obsession. For example, when I arrived in a particular area, none of the several people baptized in the prior several months were attending church. Not only did we get some of these to come back, but all of those who were baptized in me and my companions’ four months in the area were active when I left. I know that some of them are not now active. But we did much more to help individuals have a meaningful conversion, and the short-term results were positive. Long-term results, I think, inevitably will depend on both the ward and the individual’s effort and agency.

    *If you didn’t catch it, this is an allusion to the hillarious parody of motivational speaking in Rubin and Ed. I wish I could disagree with Jed (no. 31), but I felt like I was often treated like a low-level employee in a fortune 500 company on my mission, NOT a spiritual minister seeking to provide Christ-like service. For example, my second mission president’s “personal” interviews with missionaries each month consisted of a canned recitation of the mission-work slogan that he had come up with for that month. He was still reading my name-tag late in my mission to identify me. Thus, there was no real interview: I wasn’t about to share any sincere personal concerns with such a corny, impersonal, totally-outside-the-box, synergizing maximizer. The whole situation made me feel like a hundred bucks.

  40. Jim Richins
    April 8, 2005 at 10:50 am

    You don’t measure “progress” – you measure numbers.

    And then you hope that A) those numbers are at least a pale reflection of the unmeasurable factors, and B) that leaders do not conflate numbers with progress, and realize there are unmeasurable factors.

    A leader who focuses on numbers never has to leave his office, or teach a class, or visit a home. A leader who realizes the difference focuses on people – on hearts and families and testimonies.

  41. Jed
    April 8, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Jay: The problem with speed reading the scriptures is that the scriptures were not written to be read speedily. They were written to be read aloud. The scriptures are closer to poetry than they are an assembly manual. What can do get out of speed reading poetry? The cadence and pacing and rhythm and word choice are all lost on us, the very thing lost by speed reading the scriptures. Speed reading allows people to acquire information, but it is not at all clear the prophets were concerned with conveying “information” in the cold sense. Edification was probably the larger intention, and edification requires time and meditation.

  42. Mark Martin
    April 8, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Annegb (#25),

    Quite the enthusiasm you have! Having dealt with the challenge of assigning home teacher brethren to all ward members, let me share. Everything you described for the sisters (must treat adult singles as individual, separate families) also applies to home teaching. Then, add that the home teachers are to visit all of these sisters, plus all of the brethren in the ward. Most wards seem to have a larger pool of VT companionships than HT companionships (unless, as you probably meant, there are many young men ages 12-17 to serve as companions).

    In my singles ward, most VT companionships are assigned to visit 2 or 3 sisters. Most HT companionships are assigned 5 to 7 people.

  43. Justin
    April 8, 2005 at 12:33 pm


    Handing out 5,000 Books of Mormon is an impossible goal, as there is only one (it’s apparently the most true, or something). Handing out 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon would be a much more reasonable goal. (Unless you live out where they send home teachers out with young women as companions–maybe there is more than one Book of Mormon in their version.)

    I’m sorry. I just can’t help myself.

  44. Justin
    April 8, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    Jed, while some passages of the Book of Mormon were originally oral texts, I think that most of it was primarily composed as a written text; hence the frequent refrain of how much worse the Book of Mormon prophets were at writing than at speaking.

    I agree about the “transcribed” poetic sections, though–those should be savored at delicious length.

  45. Jim Richins
    April 8, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    As I think about it some more, I’m becoming even more convinced that number-based goals are a bad thing than I was before. My latest reasoning for this basically revolves around the idea that we can not supplement the goals of daily Gospel living with anything better. Thus, IMHO, the only goals that should be set are the basic, individual ones:

    scriptures – daily
    prayer – twice daily
    3-hr block – weekly
    tithing – 10%
    fast offerings – as much more than the cost of 2 meals as you can afford
    Temple – as much more than monthly as you can manage
    missionary – set an example of good living and open your mouth to testify (with sweet boldness, and not coercion) at every opportunity you can
    home/visiting teaching – have meaningful relationships (hopefully spiritual, too) with each of my families
    etc. etc.

    Changing my “missionary” goal to a “baptisms = 1 per year” goal seems to suggest coercion, as in “I am going to *get* my neighbor baptized this year no matter how much he may resist”

    Another way to put it is setting goals to improve those factors that are under one’s individual control, and leaving all other factors – even if they are easier to measure – to result naturally.

    I think a leader will be most effective if he/she can help members focus on these core principles, rather than setting some arbitrary standard of outward behavior for members to meet.

  46. SF Taylor
    April 8, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    jed said (#36): “Some Book of Mormon peoples probably took an increase of flocks and herds as evidence of their own righteousness.”

    the scriptures warn:

    1 Timothy 6:5
    5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, *supposing that gain is godliness*: from such withdraw thyself.

    Since the moment Cain slew Able, the carnal man has tried to equate “gain with Godliness”: “The more I have, the more righteous I am”. Timothy says: “from such withdraw thyself”.


    Moses 5:33
    33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.


    Having worked in banking for a very long time, I can tell you of some very “rich” people who feel they are “free” because of their “gain”. And they feel righeous too!

    From such, withdraw yourself.

    D&C 11:7
    7 Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.

  47. Jay S.
    April 8, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    While I agree that the prophets were concerned about edification, scripture is much more than poetry. While there are poetic sections, there are also doctrinal sections and historical sections.

    The purpose of “speed reading” is to get a better sense of the historical and to put things in context. When I am reading slowly (say 1 page a day), when I am reading Moroni I may not recall the thing I read 6 months ago (or more) in 1st Nephi.
    I am not going to argue that a quick read (30/90 days etc) is the BEST way to study the scriptures. I don’t think there is one BEST way to study. Is it to read slowly and ponder? Research by topic? Randomly open? I do think speed reading is a method that has its value.

    Besides the benefits i have listed before, having this goal may inspire some to actually read the book of mormon cover to cover. There are many people in the church (active included) who have not read the Book of mormon in its entirerty. My wife was one of those people, who had read 1st nephi probably 20 times, but couldn’t quite make it all the way through. Having a short deadline means a greater chance at reading it at all. Besides I seem to recall something about an early church member who was converted with a “speed read”. :)

  48. Mark Martin
    April 8, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    Regarding reading, we often tend to overlook the benefits of combining various styles of reading, depending upon the purpose and context. Rapid reading, scanning for a particular passage, skimming, previewing, stopping to ponder, reading aloud, etc, all can have their place.

    For spiritual matters, such as studying the scriptures, I think encouraging daily study (of *any* length of their choosing, even just a couple of minutes or verses) can be enough to develop the daily habit and thought process. It’s possibly better than “Hmmm, I’m tired, and I missed yesterday too, so tomorrow I’ll read 18 pages to cover the 3-day quota.”

  49. Jed
    April 8, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    Justin (#44): To say that the scriptures were written to be read aloud, as I noted earlier, is not to make a distinction between written and oral texts. Most texts in pre-modern societies, whether written or oral, are still intended to be aloud, primarily because the people who are able to read are few and the technology of reproducing written texts is absent. Silent reading–as well as speed reading–is of modern advent, silent reading among the educated dating to perhaps the early fifteenth century, silent reading among the masses much later.

    Jay S. (#47): Of course the scriptures cannot be reduced to poetry. I was using poetry as an analogy for the kind of close, careful reading the scriptures require. On the opposite end is an instruction manual or self-help book, the sort of text we breeze through to get just the information we need, picking and choosing along the way, before moving on. I think Mark Martin (#48) makes a good point about styles of reading: some scriptural texts may call for different methods. I can see speed reading being useful for “getting the story” down in a few cases, but I think we are missing out if we habitually read the scriptures in that way, emphasizing quantity over quality, information over edification.

  50. Last lemming
    April 8, 2005 at 2:50 pm

    Greg Call (quoting Elder Monson) said:

    “When performance is measured, performance improves.

    If measured correctly, this is probably true.

    When performance is measured and reported back the rate of improvement accelerates.”

    No, what accelerates is the rate of lying.

    MDS said:

    The more factors that are out of my control, the less useful the goal.

    Examples–Good goal: Tract 6 hours per day. Bad goal: baptize 1 person per month.

    The assertion is probably correct, but the examples are horrible.

    Bad goal: Beat your head against the wall for 6 hours a day. Good goal: Make sure every investigator knows that you care more about them than about your report.

  51. Jed
    April 8, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    Jim Richins (# 46). Numbers are a great way of making people accountable, especially in large organizations. They don’t require face to face contact, they are easily assimilatable (that is, they remove ambiguity by functioning as a universal language), and they tell us what we want to know quickly. They also allow us to measure progress across groups of people separated by many miles. It should not surprise us that very large companies or corporations are the entities that rely on numbers the most: large companies have to be able to measure how they are doing against other companies, and they have to measure how employees within the company are doing against viz other employees. If the church, as a large organization, did not use numbers, church leaders would not have a very clear sense of what is going on. The danger is in equating number–more of this, more of that–with progress. More can mean progress, but it need not have to. Sometimes small is better. Sometimes slow is better.

  52. Jim Richins
    April 8, 2005 at 3:25 pm

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough before, but I am not saying that the Church should not track numbers. I think its fine to count the number of bodies in Sacrament Meeting. I think its perfectly appropriate to base a ward’s quarterly budget off of these numbers. I think these types of numbers do show a snapshot of what is currently happening or historically has happened. I don’t think the numbers alone tell the whole story, but we should track statistics as far as we are able to measure.

    I just don’t believe that the numbers represent a good basis for setting goals.

  53. Mark Martin
    April 8, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Re: #50, #18 quotes of Thomas S. Monson

    I like a story that I’ve heard President Monson tell a couple of times at local leadership meetings. He tells of a leadership meeting where the leader of a ward was called on to explain how they achieve 100% home teaching. This leader went on about how quorum leaders check with home teachers mid-month, and they follow up and help visit anyone who hasn’t been reached near the month’s end.

    Then a leader from the ward with the LOWEST home teaching (70% or 80%) was called forward to answer for his stewardship. Stammering as he approached the pulpit, he said, “I’ve been asked to explain why it is that we have done only 76% of our home teaching, when another ward has achieved 100%. I’ll tell you why…. We’re honest!”

  54. Justin
    April 8, 2005 at 10:49 pm

    Jed (#49): Fair enough–I misunderstood the point of your previous comment.

  55. Julie in Austin
    April 8, 2005 at 11:28 pm

    Mark Martin:

    “After having been called as a bishop, I [Joseph Fielding McConkie] was bragging to Dad [Elder Bruce R. McConkie], ‘In our ward we’ve had 100 percent home teaching for the past five months.’
    ‘Well,’ he responded, ‘we have found that a bishop who has 100 percent home teaching lies about other things, too.'”

  56. Steve
    April 10, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Julie … great line. Can you provide a source for this exchange?

  57. Julie in Austin
    April 10, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    It is in the bio that JFM wrote about his father, _The Bruce R. McConkie Story_, pages 318-319.

  58. Connie
    April 10, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    So if quantifying our goals is such a wonderful tool, will annual performance reviews for each member be next? How fun that would be! Let’s be sure to have them all of our paperwork in order at approximately temple recommend time, so that we can be prepared to analyze our goals and how well we reached them, and set new goals for the next year. We can start the sunbeams on their own annual performance reviews! That way, by the time they are teenagers, they will want to leave and never come back…

    Honestly. People can be encouraged to be a member missionary, and to function to the best of their ability. But that is undoubtedly different for each individual. How could a person read 8 pages of the Book of Mormon a day when you have little preschoolers at home, and by including them, you may read 5 or 6 verses at a time. I just think that folks should be able to judge for themselves the pace for their spiritual growth and missionary activities.

    We are not servants that need to be commanded in all things. Right? That would make us unprofitable servants….

  59. Rosalynde Welch
    April 12, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks, everybody, for stimulating comments. (We’ve been laid up around here with a nasty flu, so I couldn’t follow up intelligently while the thread was active–sorry!)

    It seems to me, after reading the discussion, that the desirability of numerical goals grows in direct proportion to the number of people one has under one’s stewardship: numbers will be important to those with administrative jursidiction over large numbers of people (that is–to those people with power). This will naturally incur a bit of the inevitable resentment of the powerless toward the powerful–and, as several anecdotes on this thread have suggested, that resentment is sometimes justified. Rules and numbers tend to concentrate power in leaders, while standards and and principles tend to distribute it; no surprise, then, that leaders will prefer the former and rank-and-file will prefer the latter.

    Numerical goals are also good for the weakest in the flock, I think: as a weak visiting teacher (I only consistently achieve two out of my assigned three visits each month), I have definitely made a greater effort–though ultimately unsuccessful, so far–to complete my third visit this month. Most of those who chafe against numerical goals probably don’t need them, but others might. This reminds of my experience in the MTC, where I was driven nearly to distraction by the overwhelming emphasis on obedience to rules–even though, as I’ve come to find out, I was an extremely, even morbidly, obedient missionary in the MTC.

  60. Rosalynde Welch
    April 12, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    Jed, do you really think that early Mormonism emerged into a “pre-industrial” milieu? Though Joseph and the earliest church members were drawn from rural regions, it seems to me that they exhibited “industrialized” structures of feeling–and certainly the boatloads of early converts from England and Europe were fully industrialized.

    I’ve been struck at the degree of rationalization and systemization attempts of the early church–even though conflicting systems emerged and overlapped and evolved and were generally messy.

    (Still, I agree with you that small and slow can be better.)

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