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

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Author: Matt Martinich

The Church has defined revelation as "divine guidance or inspiration"[1] that originates "from God to His children."[2]  Revelation generally occurs through quiet spiritual promptings from the Holy Ghost but may also occur through visions, dreams, and angelic visitations.[3]  In a church growth context, revelation is regarded as the primary influence on the placement of mission resources within individual missions, the standardization of minimal baptismal standards, and the development of church policies that guide missionary work such as methods for finding investigators and collaboration with ordinary members.  Revelation supersedes all other factors that influence decisions regarding church administration.  The importance of revelation in church administration is evident in several common instances.  Apostles rely on revelation to assign newly called missionaries to one of the Church's 405 missions.  Church leaders approve the organization of new congregations, stakes, and missions and the opening of additional cities and countries to missionary work only after prayerfully considering the request and confirming the decision through revelation.  Mission presidents have reported to church growth researchers that there is limited communication between outgoing and incoming mission presidents to encourage new leaders to seek for revelation in making decisions regarding missionary work and church growth within their jurisdictions that are not simply iterations of their predecessors.  Church-wide decisions, new policies, and official declarations constitute additional examples of the role of revelation in LDS teachings and theology.

There are frequent instances of how revelation has changed church policies that influence church growth.  The 1837 revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith to commence missionary work in the United Kingdom was a major catalyst for growth as tens of thousands of British converts joined the Church and provided valuable support in the midst of apostasy and persecution in the United States.  Revelation ending plural marriage in the late nineteenth century improved public relations and facilitated church growth and missionary work in the eastern United States and Europe.  The 1978 revelation permitting all worthy male members to receive the priesthood and temple ordinances regardless of race or color stands as one of the most significant revelations that has affected church growth.  This revelation resulted in immediate growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean where thousands joined the Church within the first couple years, including many self-affiliated members who waited years or decades for the establishment of a church presence notwithstanding restrictions on priesthood and temple ordinances.  The October 2012 announcement reducing the minimum mission age for men and women has had a major impact on the availability of mission resources as evidenced by the Church organizing 58 new missions in July 2013; a larger number than any other year in the history of the Church.

There are countless examples of church leaders recounting revelatory experiences for areas within their stewardship.  Many of these examples have had a positive impact on church growth and missionary work.  In the 1950s, early mission presidents in Central America were inspired to reach the Kuna people of Panama[4] notwithstanding no formal proselytism occurring among Spanish-speaking Mestizos in most Central American countries at the time.  Today the Kuna are the only Amerindian people in Panama that have translations of LDS scriptures and receive specialized LDS outreach.  In the 1960s, mission leaders in Ecuador were inspired to target the Otavalo Quichua Amerindians during the initial proselytism efforts in the country.  Some church leaders later claimed that the Otavalo number among the "purest" descendents of Book of Mormon peoples in the Americas.[5]  Today the homelands of the Otavalo Quichua are the most well-reached area by the Church in Ecuador.  In the late 1970s, a mission president in Paraguay felt impressed to begin missionary work among the Nivacle people resulting in the conversion of hundreds of converts by the early 1980s.  By the early 2010s, the Nivacle were the least populous Amerindian people with translations of church materials that received specialized outreach.  In the late 1990s, a mission president in Ghana drove through the city of Nkawkaw where there was no LDS presence.  The mission president reported feeling a strong impression on establishing a church presence and assigning missionaries to Nkawkaw.  The first converts baptized in the city were already reading the Book of Mormon before missionaries visited their home due to an American member making contact with a family that received donated clothing.[6]  In early 2013, the Church had established two branches in Nkawkaw that pertain to a nearby district.

Successful missionary programs rely on both revelation and sound missionary practices in harmony with scriptural mandate such as adequate prebaptismal preparation and the fulfilling the divine mandate to take the gospel to all the world.  Church growth researchers have observed instances when an overemphasis on revelation has deterred church growth as past lessons from previous church leaders are not communicated to their predecessors.  Rather, church leaders are frequently encouraged to seek spiritual guidance prior to first searching and pondering to answers to their questions or concerns.  This lack of collaboration between mission and church leaders in some areas of the world has resulted in inconsistent mission policies that oscillate between quick-baptism tactics to strict baptismal guidelines that reduce the number of convert baptisms to as little as a third or a quarter as during years when investigators are rushed into baptism.  Convert retention rates can vary significantly to as few as one-third of converts remaining active one year after baptism to as many as 80% remaining active one year after baptism.  These challenges point to the need for a balanced approach for church leaders to seek revelation while working within the framework of preaching the gospel as prescribed by the scriptures and church leaders.


[1]  "Revelation,", retrieved 2 March 2013.


[2]  "Revelation," Topics,, retrieved 2 March 2013.


[3]  "Revelation," Topics,, retrieved 2 March 2013.


[4]  Crockett, David R.  "History of the Church in Panama,", retrieved 14 September 2012.


[5]  Wells, Elayne.  "A land of prophecy: in the Andes, 'Lehi's children grow strong in gospel," LDS Church News.


[6]  "Family finds truth in Book of Mormon," LDS Church News, 5 January 2008.

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