I’ve been thinking a lot about the three retention factors David Ostler identified in his book “Bridges”: trust, belonging, and meaning. From the book:

Unbelief (or disengagement) largely stems from one of these three reasons:

  • Losing trust in the Church or its leaders
  • Not feeling a sense of belonging in the Church community
  • Not finding meaning or relevance in the doctrines of the gospel

He provides three statements that he believes all Church members should be able to state about these attributes:

  • Trust. Even with the limitations of Church members and leaders, I have confidence that the Church and its leaders will help me find spiritual purpose and guidance. I trust leaders and other members to help me as I make choices for my own spiritual growth.
  • Belonging. My ward accepts my authentic self and supports me as I develop my own spirituality and relationship to God. I feel like I belong and feel love, acceptance and support–even with my differences.
  • Meaning and relevance. I feel spiritually lifted when I think of Church doctrines and participate in the Church. I feel my most important questions are addressed and answered. I feel closer to my Heavenly Parents and find meaning and direction in the teachings and doctrines of the Church.

I think these categories are broad, but insightful. In particular, I wanted to hear from our readers how you feel about these three categories. So, here are a few polls to gather input.

The next category is Trust, and there are several different things to consider in Ostler’s statement. First, he is lumping Church leaders and members together, and it may be that some people find Church leaders to provide helpful counsel, but Church members to provide harmful or ineffective counsel; just as easily, the reverse could be true. Additionally, he describes the type of counsel being provided to be regarding spiritual purpose and guidance. Someone might find that spiritual counsel given is beneficial, but counsel that seems rooted in political, temporal or other values is not valuable. Answer the poll question to the best of your ability, explaining your answers in the comments.

The category of belonging is likewise a bit more complicated than may first appear. We have often been told that everyone needs “a friend” at church, but is one friend with 20 judgmental strangers really enough? And how do we know whether strangers are judgmental if we don’t really know them? What is one’s authentic self? We all present different versions of ourselves at work or in various social settings, so is it your “authentic” self that is accepted? The line is probably easiest to draw if you become aware that you are acting a part to be accepted, although if you are acting inauthentic, that may be due to your own fear of rejection rather than actual rejection. Additionally, how do you personally feel “love, acceptance, and support”? Everyone experiences these things differently. Do you feel ward members have your back? Do you believe they genuinely like the real you, the you that you like? A lot of people talk about feeling seen and feeling valued for who they really are.

Final category! Let’s talk about the meaning and relevance of Church doctrines and how they apply to life’s questions. There are a lot of open questions in considering this category because there are so many Church doctrines, and each doctrine could be of relatively high or low importance to different people. Additionally, some people consider different things to be “doctrines” that are eternal and God’s will vs. just “policies” that are secular or administrative and time-bound. For example, some view the Proclamation as “eternal and God’s will” while others (like me) view it as “secular and time-bound.” And not everyone will agree on what is a doctrine.

There’s also an issue with how doctrine is presented. The phrase “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture” isn’t just an indictment of “wrong” teaching, but a descriptor of all teaching. Humans write the curriculum. Humans wrote the scriptures. The definition of “doctrine” is just “teaching,” though, so in that sense, anything the Church actively teaches is implied by this statement, and the more “teachings” you consider irrelevant or incorrect, the less likely you are to stay.

Please elaborate your thinking in the comments.