Like a lot of other people, I’m in the midst of creating a profile for the new mormon.org campaign. The idea is that most people out there don’t know any Mormons well, and that factor is the single biggest determinant in whether or not someone’s receptive to hearing our message. Therefore, the Church is sponsoring a mostly one-way social networking site where Latter-day Saints can post profiles and our future friends out there in cyberspace can start getting to know some of us.
This is a great idea, and it gives me what I hope is also a great idea.
We should have a similar site to reach out to inactive Church members.
I think a lot about those who had joined the Church at some point and then, for whatever reason, stopped coming. It’s no secret that there are more than a few. Why exactly people become inactive is such a touchy subject, on both sides, that it’s almost impossible to have a productive conversation about it in any context. When an active member asks a less active member why they don’t come to church, the one being questioned feels awkward because they feel someone prying into their private lives; perhaps they feel a “sale” coming on, with some degree of pressure to buy back in.
Actually, I’m only guessing. I don’t know for sure that’s how they feel because inactive people rarely open up in person about what brought them to this point (now online, that’s a different story…). As far as I know, there’s no research on the subject from, I don’t know, some Utah social scientist, maybe, which is too bad. An objective study would be helpful.
However, I can guess about the reluctance of inactive people to talk about it by extrapolating from my own experience. I didn’t take church seriously for a few years after joining it, and I remember avoiding people who I thought would bring it up, or changing the subject when it did, more than once knowingly punishing people emotionally for what even then I knew was an honest interest in my well being.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I wasn’t going to church at that time because I wanted to live a life of indulging in whatever I felt like, with no restrictions or, as I saw it, judgments. I had some honest doubts, things that could have been easily resolved (I see now), but which, coupled with my attachment to the trendy nihilism of the culture, became an iron prison for the real spiritual witness that I ignored with increasing effectiveness, until I could aver that it had never been there at all.
And this is where my idea comes in. Sharing things like that, in an online profile, could make a difference in someone’s life. It sure couldn’t hurt. If there were a place, an online community, where those who themselves had been inactive in the Church but who had since come back, could express their stories to all their unknown friends out there who have similar backgrounds, it just might help this conversation along. If it’s too hard to do this in person, maybe we could reach out to people better online.
It doesn’t have to be just “ex-inactives” who share. There’s a lot of value in a testimony which says, “I was born into it, I’ve always believed it, and I may not be able to identify with where you’re coming from, but whatever any of us has thought, seen, felt, or been through, I know that Jesus Christ is there and loves us.”
One fascinating feature of the new mormon.org site is a forum for members to answer “frequently asked questions.” Imagine some of the FAQs we could discuss on an inactive-invitation site: How do you deal with members who offend you? Or who largely disagree with aspects of your lifestyle? What about all the criticism directed at the Church for Proposition 8? I feel happy enough now–why should I bother with all the hard work of coming back?
This is clearly just the tip of the iceberg for making such a site valuable and productive. Perhaps there are completely different ways of approaching it which would be better. Still, I really think such an effort to reach out to others would be well worth it, and would reward all involved.