LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)
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Author: Matt Martinich
Posted: April 22nd, 2014
A mission president presides over one of the Church's 405 missions and provides leadership, ecclesiastical, and administrative support for full-time missionaries and ordinary members residing outside the geographical boundaries of stakes. Traditionally a member from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles interviews potential mission presidents and their wives prior to any formal extension of a call. Once serving as a mission president, all minor children accompany him and his wife to his assigned location. There have been instances where a senior missionary couple receives a call to serve as a mission president, especially when the Church creates a new mission in a location where the senior couple is assigned. Mission presidents and their wives traditionally serve in this position for three years although the Church has reduced the length of the assignment to only two years in a few locations that experience significant safety, health, political, and transportation challenges. Following the end of his tenure, a mission president and his family traditionally return back to their hometown and resume the pre-mission pursuits and activities
The Church generally assigns a mission president to a specific mission based on language abilities or familiarity with local culture but this is not always the procedure. Most mission presidents are between the ages of 40 and 70. The Church announces the calling of new mission presidents in the LDS Church News and in some church magazines and online publications complete with demographic information providing age, past church callings, occupation, and city and country of birth. The area presidency supervises mission presidents and holds mission president seminars once or twice a year to provide training and support.
A mission president has two counselors that together comprise a mission presidency. Counselors in a mission presidency are local members or male senior missionaries who are called to serve in this position by the mission president. A mission president often strategically calls counselors to serve in specific geographic areas of the mission. Depending on local conditions, some counselors in mission presidencies act like the mission president within a mission region or specific area - especially if a mission consists of multiple countries and if the administrative burden is too great for the mission president to effectively administer the entire mission.
Supervising and training full-time missionaries constitutes one of the greatest responsibilities of a mission president. Most mission presidents preside over 60 to 250 young full-time missionaries and any senior couples within the mission. Within the past decade, some missions have had as few as 30 missionaries or as many as 300. Specific responsibilities of a mission president pertaining to supervising full-time missionaries include conducting periodic personal interviews with individual missionaries, determining and enforcing worthiness standards, assigning missionaries to proselytism areas, coordinating with area leaders in opening additional locations to missionary activity, serving as the presiding priesthood leader for missionaries and meeting missionaries' ecclesiastical needs, and providing regular training on doctrine, effective teaching skills, church policies and procedures, goal setting, and proselytism methods. Mission presidents set convert baptismal standards for their mission and have a significant influence in determining policies regarding approved proselytism tactics, goal setting, the duration of church attendance and adherence to LDS teachings required for a prospective convert to be baptized, coordination with local church leaders and members, and mission resource allocation within their jurisdiction.
Mission presidents fulfill many of the duties of a stake president for membership within their jurisdiction that reside outside of stakes. Tasks appointed to mission presidents for members in districts and mission branches include conducting interviews for temple recommends and beginning full-time missionary service, approving the advancement of worthy male members to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and completing interviews for individuals desiring to receive a Patriarchal Blessing if a travelling patriarch is available. The mission president acts as the district and stake president for branches not assigned to a stake or district and fulfills the administrative needs ordinarily carried out by stake and district leaders such as reorganizing branch presidencies and interviewing members for leadership callings.
Mission presidents play a major role in church growth due policies they implement pertaining to convert baptismal standards, outreach expansion efforts, and relationship with local leaders and members. The Church has achieved significant growth in nominal membership in many areas of the world through mission presidents reducing standards for convert baptisms and placing little emphasis on post-baptismal teaching and fellowship, resulting in low convert retention rates and dependence on full-time missionaries to act as surrogate leaders within their assigned congregations. On the other hand, some mission presidents have instilled reasonably high convert baptismal standards that over time result in increases of other church growth indicators such as the creation of additional wards, branches, stakes, and districts. Mission presidents have a strong influence on opening unreached cities and towns to proselytism as the Church relies on full-time missionary manpower to accomplish this feat. There have been many instances of proactive mission presidents significantly expanding national outreach within short periods of time, such as in Uganda and Guyana. However, more commonly mission presidents dissuade opening new cities to missionary work and the establishment of new groups and branches in lesser-reached areas because of the required time and energy, belief that these efforts will be unproductive, and a disconnect between local church leadership and mission leadership. Policy changes between mission presidents have also had a negative impact on church growth. Some mission presidents undo policies that have achieved good convert retention in favor of less stringent qualifications for baptism to increase numerical membership growth. Some mission presidents halt or even retract outreach expansion efforts in favor of a "centers of strength" approach to proselytism that focuses on concentrating mission resources on strong wards and branches to continue strengthening these congregations until a sufficient number of active members is reached to create additional congregations.
Missiology researchers attend to the country of origin of mission presidents when assessing the self-sustainability of church leadership for a given location, country, or region. The Church oftentimes demonstrates a high degree of local leadership self-sufficiency within countries where the number of members serving as mission presidents equals or exceeds the number of mission presidents serving within a country. For example, the number of members serving as mission presidents from the United States exceeds the number of mission presidents serving within the United States due to the high degree of self-sufficiency and maturity in priesthood leadership in that country. On the other hand, there are countries where the Church is unable to generate as many mission presidents as needed to meet local mission needs such as in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and many areas of Latin America. The Church appears to have enough capable local church leaders to serve as mission presidents in most regions of the world, but relies on North American membership to serve as mission presidents in these locations as the appointment of local leaders to serve as mission presidents may result in a shortage of priesthood leadership to serve in local leadership positions.