LDS Church Growth, Member Activity, and Convert Retention: Review and Analysis
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Chapter: III-06: Definitions and Endpoints
Terminology must be carefully defined and consistently applied. Great confusion has arisen from comparative studies among different denominations that fail to disclose dramatic differences in membership definitions between participating denominations. Ideally, standard and measurable definitions should be uniformly applied across the study. When this is not possible, as is the case with dependent research which relies upon official data from various religious denominations, the differences among in these definitions and their implications must be discussed before conclusions can be drawn.
In interventional studies or observational studies of efficacy, appropriate objective endpoints must be chosen. As we have seen, raw membership numbers convey no information about member participation or even belief, and thus represent a poor endpoint for research into the church's growth.
Researchers must be very sure that chosen endpoints actually measure what they think they do. The selection of poor endpoints which do not adequately reflect core priorities can confound the research results and lead to unintended consequences. For example, internal church research has traditionally used the number of convert baptisms as the primary endpoint for measuring the effectiveness of missionary approaches. Unfortunately, when a majority of converts are lost to the church within two months of baptism, a shortsighted focus on baptism as the research endpoint has led to the development of a proselyting system which has historically been more focused upon achieving quick baptisms than in fostering genuine conversion and promoting the long-term growth of the church through the increase in active and participating members. A better endpoint for such research would be the number of converts actively participated in the church six months or a year after baptism. Although such data is not immediately available and requires greater effort to acquire, such endpoints that better reflect the intended purpose of the missionary program pay rich dividends in providing data of better quality that can then be used to formulate better programs.