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

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Quick Baptism Tactics

Author: Matt Martinich

Posted: September 28th, 2013

Quick-baptism tactics entail inadequate prebaptismal preparation and reduced baptismal standards to augment the number of converts baptized with little if any accountability for convert retention.  These practices are more quota-driven than goal-driven.  Mission leaders often employ incentives for missionaries who reach these goals.  Returned missionaries throughout the world report rewards such as special vacation trips to remote and expensive tourist destinations, meals at luxurious restaurants, and additional free time for missionaries to spend doing recreation or performing non-missionary activities.  With only a handful of exceptions, the Church has relied on quick-baptismal tactics to achieve its most rapid and impressive numerical growth.  For example, one mission in Mexico in the late 2000s reported 1,000 convert baptisms in a single month.  Missionaries baptized hundreds of thousands in Chile during the 1990s.  Many of these converts attended church only a couple times prior to baptism and couple times thereafter.  Due to the limited exposure to the Church during their brief period of activity, most of these converts have little understanding of LDS teachings.  Reactivation efforts are largely ineffective as most did not have a sincere, solid testimony of the Church and become quickly disinterested and antagonistic from unannounced visits by full-time missionaries to try to reclaim these lost members.

The intention of rushing poorly-prepared converts into baptisms deserves serious criticism by mission leaders and full-time missionaries.  This practice not only does violence to the sacred nature of the ordinance and lessens the significance of the long-term commitment to follow Christ and remain active in the Church but results in the Church achieving only a small portion of its potential growth.  Many converts baptized do not have friends among members of their assigned congregations prior to receiving missionary lessons and were rushed into baptism before any solid friendships were developed.  Oftentimes these converts exhibit greater trust and socialization with full-time missionaries rather than ordinary members.  The vast majority of converts baptized in locations where quick-baptismal tactics are employed do not remain active a year after their baptism and accumulate over months, years, and decades on church records.  Returned missionaries in some missions have reported convert retention rates as low as 10-15% one year after baptism.  Mission leaders enact quick-baptismal tactics in many locations with high receptivity to the Church but where there is little cultural emphasis on regular church attendance, participation in church responsibilities, and meaningful, daily religious practice on an individual or family level.  Consequently the development of these attitudes and habits depends on the Church.  The brief and at times shallow depth of conversion and commitment to fulfill gospel-related duties and follow church teachings results in many never developing daily and weekly habits of individual and collective religiosity.

A lack of accountability for retaining converts occurs for several reasons.  First, full-time missionaries regularly transfer to other proselytism areas.  Individual missionaries are not permanent members of the congregation and at best can only offer encouragement and correspondence to converts over the long term.  Missionaries may baptize converts without adequate preparation and fail to consider whether the convert will become a liability or a resource to their congregation.  This occurs because missionary tactics generally focus on the present or the short-term.  Second, there is little involvement from ordinary members in the conversion process.  Returned missionaries who served in missions that experienced quick-baptism tactics report that member-missionary activity often starts and stops with providing teaching referrals.  The development of mission standards and baptismal goals without the involvement of ward or branch leaders reinforces the erroneous belief that full-time missionaries are responsible for missionary work and that ordinary members stand on the sidelines to provide moral support and free meals.  Third, full-time missionaries interview and approve prospective converts to be baptized.  With missionary activity in a ward or branch occurring almost independently from indigenous ward and branch leadership, local leaders often have little control or say in approving baptismal candidates especially outside the United States and Canada.  Missionaries can consequently baptize large numbers of needy converts but congregations often lack the resources to effectively retain these members.  Fourth, the Church in many areas of the world consists of a small nucleus of highly dedicated and active members.  Converts joining the Church in these areas offer the potential for greater stability and reduced strain on active members, but the baptism of large numbers of converts in a short period of time overwhelms available resources to keep track of new converts, provide new member missionary lessons that are taught by ward or branch missionaries, and prepare new converts to hold a calling in their congregation.  Fifth, youth and children comprise the majority of convert baptisms in many of the highest baptizing missions.  Missionaries often encounter less resistance and greater interest from children and teenagers resulting in greater ease baptizing larger numbers of converts in a shorter period of time.  This young demographic provides exciting opportunities for the Church to achieve long-term growth and stability if these converts remain active, serve full-time missions, and marry within the Church.  However, teenage and child converts require special considerations for retention.  Many do not have other family members that have joined the Church or that actively attend church.  Consequently the parents and siblings of youth converts may persuade them to stop attending church or are unable or unwilling to provide transportation to church services.  Youth converts generally need a strong support group to be successfully retained, or at the very least a committed family or seasoned ward or branch member to provide encouragement, mentoring, and support; otherwise it becomes too easy for these youth converts to become inactive and lose an interest in attending church and following LDS teachings.  

There are various methods that the Church sought to rectify quick-baptismal tactics.  Church leaders have regularly stressed in General Conference the importance of member involvement in missionary activity as a means of accomplishing real growth.[1]  Mission presidents serving in locations where populations exhibit good receptivity emphasize baptizing entire families into the Church instead of individuals and children without their parents.  Mission presidents in some locations heighten the minimal standard for converts to be baptized to avoid quick-baptism practices.  These standards may include increasing the required number of times a convert must attend church, lengthening the amount of time a convert must abstain from substances or activities prohibited by LDS teachings, and discouraging tracting and street proselytism in locations where receptivity is high and member-missionary activity is moderate to good.  Other methods employed by some mission presidents that have improved convert retention rates and the quality of new converts include assigning no more than one missionary companionship per congregation, engaging local members in missionary activity, and increasing the number of local members serving missions.  Preach My Gospel warns against mission leaders from using goals and missionary statistics to control or manipulate missionaries.[2]  Mission presidents should seriously consider the ramifications and the doctrinal soundness of extrinsically rewarding young missionaries for reaching arbitrary baptismal goals due to this practice reinforcing quick-baptismal practices that result in poor convert retention and long-term member activity frustrations.


[1]  Edgley, Richard.  "The Rescue for Real Growth," General Conference, April 2012.  http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-rescue-for-real-growth

[2]  Preach My Gospel, p. 151