Even though there arguably no huge bombshells coming from the on-going Mormon Leaks, even the small quantity of leaks gives a few snapshots in time on some subjects. One such case is the dealing with Young Single Adults (YSAs). Mormon Leaks released a 2008 video of the top church leaders discussing YSA retention and then recently released a “draft” document from 2005 on the same topic. The picture is clear – the church is hemorrhaging YSAs and this of course concerns church leaders. Statistics such as 72% of YSAs are inactive before age 20 SHOULD be concerning the leaders. Maybe even concerning enough to lower the missionary age?
Ministering to Young Single Adults (2005 Memo)
The 2005 document just leaked breaks the issue of YSA retention into 3 key factors: Mobility, Lack of Responsibilities or Connectedness or Roots, and Little Accountability
The report identifies that young adulthood is a time of real transition from youth to adult: College, work, and lots of moving around. For those not attending a church school, the world revolves less around church activity and for many EQ/RS just isn’t as compelling as YM/YW was. They call out “ward hopping” – that act of attending various wards other than their own. This can be done to have a bit more independence from the “responsibilities” (i.e. callings in a ward), but not out and out becoming inactive and the associated guilt. And of course they are just trying to increase the chance of dates (as was pointed out in the 2008 video that YSAs usually don’t marry within the YSA ward). Can you blame them?
Lack of Responsibilities or Connectedness or Roots
I do think they have also correctly identified PART of the issue in this area.
The YM/YW programs are very structured and have lots of prescribed interactions with church leaders, especially the bishop. The transition into EQ/RS can be an abrupt and unappealing change. The memo instructs that leaders need to keep a connection with YSA’s and that “leaders should strive to let YSAs know that there is still a place in Church for them, that they can be spiritually nourished through their attendance in Sunday meetings.” The document covers some relevant issues, but the one thing that seems to be missing when reading this is much of an emphasis on what most religions would call “ministering” to the YSA. More than an interview with the bishop they want to feel that someone in the ward cares about them. They want and need a non-judgmental mentor, not always a Judge in Israel. “Letting them know … they can be spiritually nourished through attendance in Sunday meetings” doesn’t cut it if they do attend and it is essentially the same lesson they have heard every 4 years for the last dozen or more years. Leaders can tell them that all they want, but if they don’t feel spiritually nourished when they go – they will not stay.
The report correctly points out that YSAs feel less accountability to their bishop (and parents for that matter). They are adults at this point in their life and the bishop’s primary responsibility (so I have been told over and over) is to the youth. The report also mentions that it is just easier for YSAs to fall through the cracks due to YSA wards, conventional wards, and confusion over which ward is “responsible”, and reporting systems that don’t cater to accurately reporting this group. This feels heavy on the “tracking” and light on the “loving” aspects – a bit more like “how can we make them eat their vegetables?” instead of “how can we make the meals tasty and appealing?”
The report recommends
- Continuing the youth pattern of annual or semi-annual interviews with the bishop.
- The stake has the responsibility of the YSAs within the stake and needs to be keeping in contact with all YSAs
- Callings/assignments should be given to every worthy YSA
- Create multi-stake YSA activities
2008 Video of Top Church Leaders discussing YSAs
This video of a discussion covered some of the same topics (Elder Renlund presented a large bulk of the time and he was also listed as a contributor to the 2005 memo). One area that the video focused on was marriage trends. The average age of marriage is increasing in the US and in the church and this is a threat to having a “multi-generational church” which requires (a) Retention (b) Temple marriages and (c) Children. All 3 were not trending well. Retention of YSA is significant and of concern. The later marriage age generally means less children and internationally only 6% of marriages were temple marriages.
A summary given towards the end of the presentation summarized:
- Losing an increasing number of our YSAs.
- This poses a threat to the growth of a multi-generational church.
- Losing them because we are not using them in meaningful ways.
I once again feel a part that is missing in the last statement. Sure involving the YSAs will help many, but the church and its programs need to BE meaningful to them. One statement on the video was that YSAs were one of the most underutilized resources the church has. That to me rings of “man was made to help the church” instead of “the church was made to help man”. Some married people in the church feel that the church worships one definition of the family even more than Christ. That can be a hard underlying message for a YSA. Who wants to go to church every week to get a dose of discouragement?
The recommendation is somewhat the same as the 2005 memo:
- Give YSAs more callings and get them serving members (why not just say “serve others” including non-members?)
- Work on spiritual engagement, not just social.
- The Stake is responsible for coordination of YSA efforts.
Comparison on Statistics
Both the video and the memo included several statistics – probably the most revealing part of the leaks. So in the few years between the two leaked items, did the YSA statistics improve?
Both the video and the memo were not statistical reports, but instead used the grave statistics as attention grabbers on the importance of and extent of the issue. So there are not many specific metrics that can be compared side by side.
It is worth noting that the LDS church is not alone on this issue. It is during the YSA years that the population in the US tends to dramatically drop in church attendance and then begins a slight rises after a few years, especially once children arrive. So in some ways this isn’t surprising at all. It is jarring for many leaders in the church that were possibly used to decades past where significantly more YSAs remained active.
- Do the statistics seem to match what is “on the ground” in your ward/stake?
- Do you feel the memo and video identify the core reasons for YSA inactivity? What was missed?
- Do you feel that the recommendations of the memo and video will be effective in reaching the YSAs and improving retention (and marriage) rates?
- What would you do different with the YSA program?
- What do YSAs think when they see the information leaked about the huge YSA attrition? Are they being asked about how they view this?