A recent conference talk, “Love, Share, Invite,” by Elder Gary E. Stevenson seems to be a refocusing of member missionary work upon becoming more proactive in bringing our acquaintances to a knowledge of the gospel (Gary E. Stevenson, “Love, Share, Invite,” Liahona, May 2022).
For decades we have focused upon friend-shipping and fellowshipping, the former being directed toward people who may become prospective members and the latter being focused upon socializing new and existing members into full participation.
Elder Robert E. Sackley, in talking about his visit to a non-member friend in Cardston, Alberta was told, “I’ve lived here more than 30 years, and no one has ever talked to me about the Church” (Jennifer Sackley Gardiner, “Crossing the Bridge,” Amazon Kindle version, 2021). It has been observed that sometimes we “friendship” people until they pass away, never, never offering the encouragement they need to discover the truths of the gospel.
Elder Sackley, in his assignment as a bishop in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and in missions served in the Philippines, Australia, West Africa and the Washington Temple Visitor’s Centre, developed a 17-step program which he called “Crossing the Bridge.” Through these methods, he, the missionaries, and members who worked with them, brought thousands of new members into full activity. It used friend-shipping and fellowshipping in the initial phases but added specific activities with friends that resulted in highly effective missionary discussions, baptisms, and full participation in the Church.
With the emphasis on loving, sharing, and inviting given by Elder Stevenson, the objectives of the preliminary activities, and the follow-up practices of Elder Sackley, the member missionary program can help improve our efforts. Invitations to participate by crossing the bridge, taking one step further to actively study with the missionaries promises to help us be more effective.
A good example of actively inviting
The case of someone I will call “Dr. Bob” illustrates what this can do. Bob was born in Raymond, Alberta, educated there and in Cardston, Alberta. He earned a B.Sc. from BYU Idaho in microbiology with the intention of becoming a dentist. Initially he had difficulty finding a dental school that would admit him. Fortunately, he was an expert bricklayer and was able to support himself and his growing family with that trade. When the building industry went into a recession, he trained and worked as a respiratory therapist in the Utah Valley Regional Hospital.
His colleagues there recognized his excellent people skills and helped secure his entrance into Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated in dentistry at the age of 41. Within a few years he acquired three dental clinics and staffed them with his three dentist sons. His excellent practice was recognized throughout the state of Georgia.
With experience from his mission and having served twice as a bishop, he maintained his interest in missionary activity. He consistently engaged his patients in conversations about the gospel and participated in community food drives, personally delivering food to friends and neighbors.
At Christmas he routinely distributed cans of popcorn to patients and neighbors. These people came to know that he was anxious to serve them, providing concrete evidence that his commitment to serving others, as is taught by the Saviour, was a deeply held conviction.
Upon his retirement, he and his wife served a mission in Guatemala where he continued to provide dental services to missionaries and others as needed. After a few months, he became ill, returned home only to discover that he had an aggressive form of cancer. It quickly took his life.
Over 500 people attended his funeral. At the close of the scheduled program, the bishop invited any who would like to say something about their friend, Dr. Bob, to come up and speak. Many accepted the invitation. One gentleman told how he had become involved in discussions with Dr. Bob, liked what he heard but would not commit to any further study of the gospel. He became a good friend but that was as far as it went.
Dr. Bob did not pressure him. After he sensed that the friendship was secure, he phoned this new friend and asked him if he would like to see some Church service in action. He informed him that the local congregation was going to rehabilitate a defective residence where one of the members lived. They were going to install a plumbing system and generally refurbish the old house.
Bob’s friend accepted the invitation and reported on the designated Saturday morning to provide expert help where it was needed. When the day was over Dr. Bob informed him that this had been a priesthood project. The gentleman was keenly interested, joined the church, and became an ardent participant. He later served on the high council in the stake.
Dr. Bob very effectively loved, shared, and invited this gentleman to participate in the activities of the kingdom.
It is the practice that all of us can follow as we strive to implement the program described by Elder Stevenson.