Friday, June 29, 2007

Proselytizing in parking lots: not the Church's best idea

We read somewhere a while back -- can't remember where, unfortunately -- that the Church was stepping up its proselytizing efforts. Still, we were both surprised today when, while plugging in the new cell charger from Radio Shack, a young man in a short-sleeved shirt zoomed over to the car to ask if we would like to hear about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We weren't the only ones, we noticed. Missionaries were blanketing the mall parking lot. If someone was sitting in, getting in, or getting out of a motor vehicle, a white shirt and tie was on it. Reactions differed: a kind smile and shake of the head; a hand up with a polite, "Not interested"; and, for one man, "No, no, no, no, no, don't come over here."

We used to hear that LDS missionaries did not proselytize in the Valley. "I think there's a rule," VoU1 said. "I've only been hit up once the whole time I've been here."

"You're never home," VoU2 pointed out. "They come by my house all the time."

Maybe there's more urgency there... Anyway, we think this strategy of approaching people in parking lots (movie theaters? banks? parks?) is a bad idea. For the most part, non-Mormons and Mormons co-exist peacefully in this state as long as neither are, for lack of a better term, in the other's face. A lot of non-members won't care if someone hits them up about the Church and then moves on, but some will, especially because, if you've lived in this valley for any length of time, you've usually had ample opportunity to hear about the Church's teachings. Our Father's Plan? Gift from a co-worker. Book of Mormon? Gift from another co-worker. Come watch Saturday's Warrior with us? Okay...

Part of our concern may be from working downtown for an eternity years. The panhandler gauntlet can make one wary of pitches by strangers. Our bigger concern, though, is the real possibility that being approached in parking lots will irritate otherwise neutral non-members, which seems risky given the cultural makeup of this state.


Anonymous said...

I was hit up in a Sandy parking lot a couple of years ago. I was quite surprised. We never did that when I was out there.

Jesse Harris said...

This makes me think of the old "Good Idea, Bad Idea" short from Animaniacs. And this squarely falls in category #2.

Part of the Plan said...

Frankly, I'm surprised the Church isn't better organized on this. Why don't they invest in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system and provide every missionary with a Blackberry? Most PDA-based CRM's come with GPS mapping and realtime database updating capabilities. They could cover more ground more quickly and they wouldn't duplicate efforts. I hate having to tell so many earnest, eager, fresh-faced young missionaries the same thing...I'm a happy Baptist and my dear late grandmother would roll in her grave if I converted to any other religion.

Reach Upward said...

The LDS Church gives quite a bit of latitude to its mission presidents. But I don't know how much of a free hand the mission president over downtown SLC has. I would guess that he came up with this plan.

Having spent two years doing missionary work, I have to say that I would absolutely hate doing this type of contacting.

I would repsectfully suggest to the mission president that if he is intent on having missionaries work the mall parking lots that they concentrate on helping people get their purchases, kids, elderly parents, and personal effects moved to and loaded in their vehicles. Most of the shoppers already know who they are. Let the shoppers bring up religion if they wish. Otherwise, just concentrate on the service aspect.

Phyllis said...

You have to remember that these are 19 year old boys out one has ever accused them of being brilliant

Alienated Wannabe said...

That does not sound like the usual missionary approach, does it? I wonder what they were doing. If it works, though, maybe we Republicans should start practicing this technique in the Smith's parking lot up in the Avenues:

"Hi, have you ever heard of the Republicans?"


"Well, uh, would you like to learn more?"


"Well, have you heard that Mayor Anderson isn't really going to run for a third term?


"Did you know he never really was even considering it?"

"Ahhhh! Nooooooooooo!"

"Did you know that Derek Jensen's editors at the Tribune just ran with the story because they like to mess with Rocky? Well, did ya punk?"

"Noooooooooo! Nooooooooo! Is there no mercy? Boo hoo hoo hoo! Boo hoo hoo hoo!"

"That's right, take it all in. It's true! It's true!"

"Okay, okay, what the #@!$% is a Republican?"


You know, I think we may be on to something. It just might be crazy enough to work! I think we should definitely run this idea past James and Dana.


Voice of Utah said...

(Now that I temporarily have internet access again) These comments are enlightening. The service idea is a good one; it would leave a positive impression rather than a neutral or possibly negative one. And I can't imagine the missionaries like it, either. At least when we're at home, we kind of expect to have political types or missionaries ring the bell. It just seems to have more potential to irritate people who are in the middle of actively doing something (errands, shopping, whatever).

AW, I can see that you have given this a lot of thought. Admit it, you're already implementing your evil plot to give the Republican Party more influence in this state. Come to think of it, does anyone even know for sure that it was Rocky saying those things? Or was it just a voice on the phone -- an alienated voice, perhaps...

Alienated Wannabe said...

You can't prove that! And, if you put me on the stand, I'll take the 5th.

oussan said...

I was just at the Fort Union Babies R' Us and saw a companionship (or two, maybe?) of missionaries doing "parking lot contacting" as you described in this post.

All I could think was, "In this heat?" I can't think of a worse place to try to start a gospel conversation than a sizzling asphalt parking lot. Well, unless you're trying to get people to think about hell.

Thing is, as a missionary you've got to go where the people are. And you can't really set up shop inside Babies R' Us... and lord knows nobody's actually walking around on the sidewalks in our lovely state. You've got to get to people before they get in their cars.

I served an LDS mission overseas, and it sounds to me like this is a new approach that the local mission president is trying out in this valley. The reality, and missionaries know this, is that knocking doors and contacting people in the streets is not very effective. For many missionaries, these are the most dreaded of missionary activities... but kind of a necessary evil.

Missionaries are also taught that they shouldn't rely upon a single contacting method. I don't think that this new approach shows that there is any "more urgency" than before in our valley - it's simply a recognition of the fact that local missionaries have relied solely upon door-knocking for way too long.

And you're right, this approach will probably irritate some, otherwise neutral, people. That's too bad. There's no harm in simply saying that you're not interested.

Alienated Wannabe said...

Dear Oussan,

I keep wanting to find your blog so that I can read smart RSL commentary. Do you have a blog? There's no link from your profile. What's that all about dude?


oussan said...


I used to regularly contribute to, although I'm not sure I ever had anything "smart" to say. ;)

Her site is still the best place to start for your RSL fix - she's got sharp commentary, daily RSL news links, and links to the rest of the RSL blogosphere.

The only commentary I can offer at this point is that 2.5 years later, somehow RSL's managed to slip from #worst to #evenworse (dang expansion side Toronto FC with its four wins!).


Voice of Utah said...

Just a clarification: The "more urgency" comment was directed at the fact that VoU2 gets contacted a lot more often than VoU1, not Church recruiting in general.

But Oussan's comment does raise an interesting possibility, that people will infer from the new parking lot tactic that the Church is getting desperate or such. I don't know; I just know that the last thing I want when rushing to my car in a hot parking lot is to have my pressing of the AC button held up by a stranger.

oussan said...

lol... I guess I misread the bit about urgency. Funny, when you clarified that it made me think of how some people seem to get specifically targeted by mosquitoes while others are left alone. Not sure if there's any relation between missionaries and mosquitoes.

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