LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)

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Oversaturation

Author: Matt Martinich

Posted: August 21st, 2013

The assignment of multiple missionary companionships to a small congregation generally results in oversaturation of missionary resources.  The point of oversaturation depends on several factors namely the size and receptivity of the target population, strength and quality of member-missionary activity, and the size of active LDS membership.  Oversaturation in small congregations generally occurs because missionaries run out of productive activities to do in strengthening the congregation through proselytism efforts.  Locations where there is low receptivity to the Church, few active members, and local leadership that cannot properly function without outside assistance are especially vulnerable to oversaturation as assigning multiple missionary companionships seldom increases convert baptisms without reducing convert retention rates.  Due to a surplus in missionary manpower but leadership and administrative challenges, full-time missionaries often undertake many ordinary member responsibilities such as blessing and passing the sacrament, teaching Sunday school classes, and performing home teaching visits to less active members.

Oversaturation of missionary resources in small congregations can occur for several reasons.  Mission and area presidents will often assign multiple missionary companionships to a struggling branch that they believe can be revived through reactivation and renewed proselytism efforts.  For example, the Church in several countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America has concentrated missionary resources on small branches in hopes to help them qualify to become wards.  This "centers of strength" paradigm has been one of the major contributors for oversaturation.  Instead of placing a single missionary companionship in each congregation, some mission leaders will assign as many as three or four companionships to a single small unit in hopes that concentrated mission resources in the area will increase the number of convert baptisms, revitalize reactivation efforts, and motivate active members to engage in member-missionary activity.  However these efforts seldom produce the desired results.  Instead, additional missionary companionships often erode the self-sustainability of local members and leaders as missionaries undertake ordinary member responsibilities.  Locations that experience low levels of receptivity to missionary activity generally experience the most concerning results.    

Mismanagement of limited mission resources has also been linked to oversaturation.  Missionaries serving in many missions around the world report that surplus numbers of missionaries are concentrated in larger congregations that often have a well-established missionary program or in select struggling branches believed to have potential to grow if more resources are allocated.  For example, in the late 2000s missionaries serving in Aruba reported that one of the larger branches on the island had four young full-time missionary companionships assigned at a single time.  In Greece, missionaries and members have reported for years that some branches have more full-time missionaries in attendance than local members and investigators.  The assignment of multiple missionary companionships to a single congregation often reinforces the erroneous belief of some Latter-day Saints that it is the role of full-time missionaries to find, teach, baptize, and retain meanwhile ordinary members stand on the sidelines providing encouragement and meals.  Some conditions may warrant the assignment of a second set of missionaries to an individual congregation such as government restrictions preventing the opening of additional cities, assigning both a male and female missionary companionship to meet the needs of male and female investigators, preparing to form another unit within the geographical boundaries of the current congregation, responding to a unique language need among a subset of the population serviced by the congregation, and when member-missionary efforts overwhelm a single missionary companionship.

Oversaturation not only negatively impacts the Church on the local scale but on a global scale.  Some missionaries and church leaders have expressed frustration that some less productive areas of the world have two missionary companionships for each ward yet there remain thousands of medium-sized and large cities without any LDS presence and no full-time missionaries assigned.  Some mission presidents that serve in areas of the world where populations are most receptive indicate that the number of missionaries assigned cannot effectively meet current demands in locations that already have an LDS presence, let alone set aside additional resources to open more cities to proselytism.  This suggests that the Church has yet to find a greater balance in distributing full-time missionaries between church areas in order to avoid oversaturation and to maximize the efficiency of available missionary resources.  Mission leaders nonetheless exhibit a significant amount of control and discretion in how they distribute missionaries within their jurisdictions.  Some mission leaders have concentrated surplus missionary manpower or have redistributed mission personnel to permit the steady opening of additional cities to the Church.  The Hungary Budapest Mission numbers among one of the most successful missions in wise appropriation of mission resources to permit the regular opening of additional cities to missionary work.   

The Church has made progress in recent years preventing or reducing oversaturation by redistributing missionary manpower on a global scale through consolidating missions in Europe, the eastern United States, and industrialized East Asia and opening new missions in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the western United States.  The self-sufficiency of the Church in some countries in staffing the full-time missionary force has appeared a major contributing factor controlling the distribution of mission resources worldwide.  Most missions created since the late 2000s are in countries where the number of members serving full-time missions surpasses the number of full-time missionaries assigned to the entire country or region such as in the western United States, Central America, Peru, and some areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Church has also begun to more aggressively open additional missions in countries that have had a more recent church establishment such as Benin.  Notwithstanding progress in redistributing global missionary manpower to maximize efficiency, there remain many areas of the world where oversaturation occurs due to low member activity rates, inadequate prebaptismal preparation, and low levels of receptivity.