There’s been a recent leak that the Church is about to initiate a(nother) push to reach out to those whose names are in the membership directories, but who don’t attend church, and maybe don’t even really still live there. First and foremost, this is an administrative efficiency issue. The more people quit church but don’t officially resign, the more “unknown” names are in our directories, making the administration of the Church less efficient. Wards are supposed to be based on a set number of members, but if an ever-increasing percentage are inactive (or don’t even live there), the ward doesn’t have the right number of people to function.
I previously read a reddit thread that identified that adult children who are inactive remain under their parents’ addresses in perpetuity, even though they have no intention of ever returning to church activity. This prevents their new ward from “bugging” them, and in many cases (mine included) the parents are not eager to update their records out of respect for their adult kids’ wishes.
These types of pushes tend to have two different mindsets operating as the local wards attempt to do this cleanup work.
- Pastoral. The Church thinks that these individuals will return if members reach out to them
to nag themin friendship.
- Purging. The Church wants to
scold anddump those who are muddying up the rolls.
If the purpose is pastoral, I’m sure there are a few people out there who could be persuaded to attend if they knew someone or felt like the community wanted them. I have personal experience with this when as a visiting teacher I befriended a woman who felt alone, whose marriage was falling apart, who wanted to come to church but she had been inactive long enough that she didn’t know anyone, so coming to sit with me made it easier for her. I know this approach is right for some depending on their situation. I also know that it can piss off people who would rather leave well enough alone, who aren’t inactive because they don’t have someone to sit with, whose lives have never been better since they quit attending, yet who don’t wish to remove themselves from the membership rolls.
It brings up an interesting question, though. Why do some people with no interest in participating in the Church still choose to remain on the rolls of the Church? Well, wonder no longer! Behold, a curated list of reasons that was under discussion online, which is well worth reading through if you are someone about to embark on this push to purge the rolls, or conversely, if you are someone who has unofficially resigned by going inactive who may soon be approached by a frustrated ward clerk wanting to clean up the ward roster.
I’ve slotted the reasons from that robust discussion forum into four categories: family, apathy, access, and sticking it to the man. Here are examples of each:
- TBM family members they don’t wish to hurt by officially resigning. This kind of falls into the “waiting for mom to die” bucket, to put it indelicately. They know how important it is to their family that they not resign their membership which will put them in the “unsealed” category. This is a compassionate stance or possibly a cowardly stance, but let’s be generous and say compassionate. I also know of at least one case where a family member’s “wayward” relatives were approached by the “purge,” and this active relative was incredibly angry that the Church was trying to push her family member off the rolls to make their administrative lives easier. There are church-going families out there who are hoping against all hope that the church will not poke the bear and cause their loved ones to formally resign. This was the top reason discussed, and it wasn’t even close.
- Sealing matters to them, but membership and attendance doesn’t. Some of them might be hedging their bets (e.g. “What if I’m wrong?”) while others may feel that resigning sends a message to family that they are rejecting being sealed to them (see first reason).
- Waiting for spouse to leave. This was also a fairly common reason to keep member records on file. Another twist was in a mixed-faith marriage with young children in which the wife was active, but the husband was a non-believer. The concern was that the ward would cut out the non-believing spouse in the parenting oversight of his children; unfortunately, that fear is not without basis if he were no longer on the rolls.
- Lastly in this category, there were quite a few who expressed the concern that their well-meaning family members would attempt to rebaptize them after they die, so they chose to remain on the rolls to avoid this outcome. This reason sounded similar to me (in kind if not outcome) to those who said they officially resigned their membership to avoid being buried in temple clothes.
- It’s like having a grocery store membership for a store in another state. Why bother? It doesn’t mean anything either way. I’m not going back to that state to shop, but who cares? (Although I should provide the public service announcement that many grocers are part of a bigger conglomerate, and you should always try your code when checking out at a new chain. It just might work!)
- Lazy / it sounds like too much work for nothing.
- Someone else compared it to disavowing your high school after graduation. It was still part of your formation, and you still own that even if you aren’t going to go back to high school.
- Many people on the rolls are inactive (one estimated 70-80% which seems pretty high to me), so what’s one more?
- Interestingly, quite a few people love having free access to the Ancestry app that all members have, and this access was also used as a tactic by believing family members to convince non-believers to retain their membership. It is a cool app, but this wasn’t something I had considered before.
- Others cited access to LDS tools, conference talks, and member directories to maintain social ties. A few even said they liked to attend church once in a while for specific musical numbers or other special events, and they preferred to do so as a member of record (I guess to avoid skipping the sacrament?)
- Anyone who is a non-believer and currently attends BYU puts his or her education in jeopardy if they officially resign. Access to their full transcripts and avoidance of BYU trying to ruin your life were cited.
- A few hinted at wanting to have access to “call in a favor” one day if needed as people who have paid lots of money in tithing over their lifetime. A twist on this that I thought was interesting was that if there is a natural disaster in their area (with global warming effects, this is happening more often), they know the Mormons will have a plan and resources, and they want to be included.
Sticking it to the Man
- A few were eager for members, leaders and missionaries to reach out so that they could educate them on what a fraud the Church is, and to “debate” them. Doubtless, this is the one category that the Church would love to get rid of.
- Some felt that it’s “my membership, my choice,” and they (not the Church) get to decide for themselves whether to be on the rolls or not. The Church doesn’t get to define their membership. They retain that power. (This is the flip side argument of one of the most common reasons members resign: to regain their sense of identity and power). This faction does not want the Church to set the terms or “win.”
- They deliberately want to boost the numbers of Church members who don’t pay tithing or have a temple recommend. This is another variation on the “my terms” argument above, but might also be a reason the Church would like to get you off the roles, although if the approach is pastoral, that’s not smart.
- One person mentioned he wanted the ward to continue to see his name (as former bishop) on the rolls and be reminded that he left. He didn’t want his example and story to be erased.
I didn’t specifically mention the Pascal’s Wager crowd which seemed to cross all these categories. For some, they just figure that “in case” they are wrong, they might as well not resign and undo ordinances. I wouldn’t exactly call them ripe for the picking either, but I suppose they fall into the “where there’s life, there’s hope” camp from the Church’s perspective. Thing is, if the Church approaches them with more of the same, it seems more likely that they will be convinced to rip the bandaid off and resign rather than to return to a Church that has already turned them off.
While there are many reasons that non-believers officially remove their names, one of the chief reasons is for their mental health, so I was surprised / not surprised to see that keeping one’s name on the records is also done by some for this purpose, even though they consider themselves ex-Mormons and have no intention of returning.
Other churches are not obsessed with this type of bureaucratic purging of the membership rolls, and many congregations are more concerned with enticing people to return by considering what could be improved in their community or services rather than haranging them to return or get off the rolls. That’s really never been our approach since our services are run the way they are run, and if you don’t like it you’re the problem. We all know the drill.
It seems that if the Church’s purpose is even partly pastoral, it would do well to tread very lightly with the first category (family), which is the largest group by far based on the online discussion I mentioned. The only group the Church might find concerning from a “protect the flock” standpoint is that last group (Stick it to the Man), but it also is bad form to purge people for pointing out your flaws rather than proving them wrong by taking the high road, but we all know that the Church is not one for introspection, especially since what some see as a bug, others (especially leaders for whom the church clearly works well as is) see as a feature.
- Were there any reasons here that surprised you?
- Did any of them resonate more for you than others?
- What do you think of the Church’s occasional efforts to clean up the rolls? Do you see it as an administrative necessity or a risk not worth taking?
- Do you see the Church being more pastoral in these attempts or more focused on purging to make life easier for the Church?
 Have they tried hot dog eating contests? Violent video games while wearing crocs? Going to Dairy Queen dressed like Russian princesses with the morals of demented stoats?
I’m definitely of two categories – family and access. I’m all out at this point and have a hard time imagining anything that would draw me back. My daughter is all in, but knows I’m out. While I think she would understand, I think it would also hurt her to a degree. That said, as her father is a non-member, she was never sealed to us so if I left it wouldn’t affect her in that regard. My other main reason is the access – although I don’t use Ancestry often, it is nice to have access and not have to pay. Considering how much I’ve dropped into the coffers, it will never be an even exchange, but I’m also not willing to pay for it. A reason I didn’t see mentioned was that previously to quitmormon, it was painfully difficult to remove your membership.
I guess I’m curious about what the intended result would be of this tidying process. My experience over the years was a motivation of purging – unload the unknowns/don’t live here people. The irony is that this doesn’t solve anything. So you send records elsewhere, guess what? Some other ward sends you their unknowns that actually live in your boundaries. All this really accomplishes is a shuffling of records. What would be interesting is if the church reached out to non-attenders and asked if they wanted to be removed from the roles. Hard to see that happening. Perhaps a more reasonable approach (from the church’s perspective) would be to have an asterisk or coding by a name so it’s designated as non-attending. That way when boundaries are formed they can account for enough members to make the unit function.
Good post. To me, this is simply a numbers game that the church is playing; purging rolls and trying to get a sense of membership numbers, etc. It’s never really been about pastoral care. In fact, there are several intersecting threads here that, I think, prevent the church from ever really enacting/understanding true pastoral care:
1. In one of the categories you list, you mention family ties and concern for TBM family members who might be hurt/upset about an inactive person taking their name off the record of the church. One thing we need always to remember is that the church uses and depends upon those exact same family ties in order to blackmail people into staying members. This is essentially the opposite of pastoral care; instead of thinking about how to reach out to members (or even former members) in a caring, loving way , the church uses covert (and overt) threats to keep people members. Membership and its supposed benefits (eternal family, etc.) are used as a stick, not a carrot. It’s sort of the Mormon version of the mob’s veiled threat to a business owner: “You’ve got a nice place (family) here; be a shame if anything happened to it.”
2. The whole notion of church membership in a Mormon context inhibits pastoral care as well. So much of Mormonism constellates around a kind of humblebrag that’s really just arrogance: “We’re the only true church, only we have the true priesthood, only we have all the saving ordinances” etc.. That view of membership is less about community, friendship, mutuality, etc. and much more about being special, chosen, “true”, ad infinitum. That means that the church thinks about membership as being something special and distinct rather than thinking about it being communal and humble. It also means that any approach to names on membership rolls will tend to be informed by a kind of incredulity: “Why wouldn’t you want to be a member of the Only True Church ™? Don’t you want to be part of this special organization?” rather than being informed by simple care and kindness. Not exactly a great strategy.
In my ward there are many young adults on the rolls who do not live in the ward but whose parents live in the ward. As Relief Society President I was baffled about why we couldn’t get these records sent to wherever they were living. Now I also have young adult children who have moved out and whose records remain on the rolls in my ward. Each time the clerk reaches out to try to get their address I tell him they haven’t given permission for me to share that with the church. So it doesn’t confuse me anymore that these records remain in the ward. It’s because these young adults don’t want to be contacted.
Thanks for this great post. Very interesting to me as someone who has not attended church since the last week of February 2020. Not knowing that Covid was coming, I went to the Bishop and told him I wouldn’t be back for a while. I don’t really consider myself as having left the church though. I’d go back next week if I thought I’d it would be different. I’m not sure exactly how to describe what I’d want to feel, but I just hadn’t been feeling what I wanted to feel for a long time.
I understand why some would want to keep their names on the rolls to avoid having their ordinances undone. I too (like almost all Mormons) grew up believing the church was the conduit to God. But now I simply do not believe the church has the authority to undo my ordinances. Since I consider my ordinances to be very personal moments where I made relationship agreements with God, I don’t think the church has any authority to undo that.
Historically the role of the prophets has been to help people ‘come unto Christ’. Prophets were sent to be reminders, and occasionally present a specific message to God’s people. But prophets were never meant to be the doorway to God. And even though I believe all of the Q15 would agree if asked, I also know from personal experience that ‘follow the prophet’ morphs into ‘the prophet is the doorway’ when taught in church.
I’ve tried (and I think I’ve been successful) to evolve my relationship with God to be completely independent of church. For me, church is a place where you can go to be reminded that you are not alone on your journey towards God. But ultimately my journey towards God is a personal one, and I don’t believe anyone else on earth has the power to stand in the way of that.
I think it is wholly a matter of administrative efficiency for the lost records office, to transfer records back to wards. That’s all.
However, it seems all of us have forgotten the Lord’s way, described in D&C 20:84. Maybe we should go back to that pattern, and a member should be received into a new ward only after presenting him- or herself to that new bishop — a member living in a new area should not be assigned to a new ward without his or her own participation — and without that participation, the member isn’t a member of that ward.
I think the lost records office can simply hold the records until the member asks for them, amenable to D&C 20:84. The lost record office’s desire to reduce its holdings is not fair to bishops and ward members in the wards. If a member relocates to a new area but does not follow D&C 20:84, we should respect that person’s wish not to associate with the new ward.
I tried posting earlier, my my comment disappeared and can’t be found even in the spam filter, so here is attempt 2, which is similar but not exactly what attempt 1 said.
For me, I haven’t resigned because of 2 of the categories: family and access. I’m not concerned about ordinances – I like what #Bodensmate said: “But now I simply do not believe the church has the authority to undo my ordinances”. For me, that means baptism. That said, I know it would be hurtful to my family to remove my name from the rolls. As long as the local congregation lets me be, I’m okay with staying on them. At some point, that may change. As far as access goes, I do like having Ancestry. I don’t use it much, but I’m not going to pay for it and with all I’ve invested in over the decades, it’s a small perk.
I am curious about the roll purging though. It seems like it’s really just a shuffling around of records – Ward A unloads 20 records, but then gets another 22 from other wards purging. What’s the point? I wholly agree it’s about administration and not pastoral care. What would be interesting is if the Church reached out to those who have left and actually asked them what to do with their records. Do you want to remove yourself? Do you just want to go in a huge database of “do not contact” not affiliated with any specific unit? I can’t see them doing either, as they’ve never made it easy to leave. Perhaps to make wards more functional there could be some sort of official designation on your records that you’re a member in name only. That way, when forming units you’re only counting actual participants.
“ those who said they officially resigned their membership to avoid being baptized in temple clothes.”
I think you mean “buried” where you said “baptized”.
Great post, by the way.
Wresting the names of my nonbelieving adult children out of my ward list, where I am
able to mediate the level/type of official contact they receive, would be folly. Who knows them best? Who is loving the kids God sent her, whether or not they occupy a Cheerio-dusted pew on Sunday? Who is the one listening as they alternate between angrily venting and fondly reminiscing about growing up Mormon? Who is the one providing a delicate form of pastoral care, possibly stretching for decades, while they establish their lives with evolving and/or calcifying attitudes about the Church?
Many, many wards could warmly and capably welcome back these excellent noodles *once they decide that’s what they want*. Here’s a Martinelli’s toast to all of them. 🙂 But unless or until
my kids do decide to return, I would prefer that they not experience the long arm of the COB by serially arriving on various wards’ radar. Geographically and forcibly reshuffling the deck would be a slap in the face to those of us doing (and, in my case, profoundly learning from) this kind of careful, respectful parenting. Leaders should tread carefully here.
I’m in the first camp, only it’s my children, not my parents who are the concern. My parents no longer believe the truth claims, but church is their social life and they don’t want to find a new social group at 80 years old. My wife and I both left Mormonism a year ago and two of our adult children also left. However, we still have two adult children who believe in it and I want to be kind to them and not eliminate the sealings.
Fun discussion. Some additional categories:
— The new bishop is a jerk, so go inactive for a few years until he moves on to another town or calling. (Not my experience, but yes there are jerk bishops and there are bishops who have grudges against certain ward members based on prior interactions.)
— Boredom. Heard it all before.
I was a ward clerk once upon a time. My idea for “the ward list” was to burn every record in the file cabinet (makes sense with the old paper record system), then stand in the parking lot with a clipboard next Sunday and take names. Anyone who attends is on the new ward list. If you don’t attend, you’re not really in the ward, unless you are one of the few who can’t attend because of physical impairment or family conflicts.
This idea that a list of names where one third aren’t really physically in the ward boundaries, one third are but don’t want anything to do with the Church, and only one third attend and are engaged with the Church is “the ward list” is just bizarre. I think it’s rooted in the Church’s insistence on inflating all numbers that make the Church look good and suppressing or ignoring any numbers or statistics that make the Church look bad.
This raises an interesting and odd question in my mind: Why can’t churches be more like Kroger? There are certain Kroger store brands we like (coffee being one of them), but there are no Kroger stores (or uniquely, any other national chains) here in the KC, Missouri, area. So when we take a day trip 60 miles west to Lawrence, Kansas, we stop in to a Dillon’s. Likewise, on our annual trip to Omaha (for my appointment at the liver transplant center) we’ll go to Baker’s; visiting our daughter’s family in Denver we check out King Soopers; and in Michigan where my in-laws live there are actual Krogers.
Now these stores have a good deal in common but they’re not identical.
Interestingly, I see my own denomination, Community of Christ, easing toward this model as a worldwide faith community. Church services in Africa or India, for example, certainly aren’t reproductions of my suburban US Midwestern congregation. But I think if I attended there I’d still have a sense that “these are my people, too.” Inevitably, there will be theological and cultural issues that threaten to divide. But there’s far more common ground.
And, btw, the CofC created a special category at church HQ for local jurisdictions to transfer completely inactive and forgotten-about members.
Rich, that reminds me of how the Community of Christ and the Church of Christ (Hedrick) apparently used to allow members to transfer their membership between the two without rebaptism. It’d be nice if everyone in the restoration movement treated priesthood ordinances like Kroger, though that would come with its own problems.
My Dad is a Stake Clerk and he mentioned how once the church encouraged Covid-19 vaccines, there was a spike of members making appointments with the Stake President to hand in their temple recommends and remove their records from the church. I think that has more of a “stick it to the man” feeling than leaving your name on the roles.
As a ward clerk, I think I could add just a little bit of clarity perhaps to the church records part of this discussion. Some time last year, the Leader and Clerks Resources (LCR) part of the membership software offered a new feature that is quite helpful. It is called the “Finding Lost Members” report in the Reports menu of LCR. It enables a clerk or bishopric member the chance to place a membership record of a person who has left the ward (but no forwarding address is known) into this special category rather than just simply giving up the hunt for an address and then shipping the record back to SLC headquarters.
As far as I can gather, this enables at least three positive improvements:
1) Let’s say the relief society has wondered why a particular sister who has long since moved on geographically but is still showing up on their roster. Once she is placed in the “Finding Lost Members” report, her name no longer will be mixed in with current relief society sisters anymore.
2) This move therefore increases statistical validity of measurements like relief society and sacrament meeting attendance percentages and the organization of ministering assignments.
3) This report is like a “record limbo” on one level, in that it still allows for more research to be done in case a legitimate forwarding address can be found without just shipping the record off to SLC in hopes that a senior missionary couple would be able to track that person down eventually. I think this would make sense partly because the local ward members and especially family members of that person would have more accurate knowledge of the former ward member’s new address.
So, in summary, I am grateful for the compromise approach of taking these people off of our actual ward rosters, but still enabling us to make a bit more effort over time to get new addresses. It is always amazing to me how many parents have an emotional attachment to a church record of their son or daughter who may have moved on not only physically but perhaps spiritually as well.
It is challenging because parents or grandparents may be respecting the space that this family member might need while wresting with feelings about their church membership. I guess I’m wondering if the “Finding Lost Members” report offers a more gentle transitioning and gives time for either more research to be done or for more acceptance of sharing the forwarding address by family and/or friends when appropriate.
Not an easy discussion/decision at times, but a necessary one if we are going to keep our membership records as accurate as possible while respecting each others feelings at the same time. I hope this added value to the discussion.
I issue my strongest possible condemnation to leaders who seek after self-aggrandizement by keeping membership records artificially high. Instead of facilitating resignation of membership of those who have left and will never return, these leaders make resignation hard to do so they can boast on social media about how many members they have responsibility for.
This is harmful for the Church and the members who should depart as well. Those who have abandoned spirituality for a life of acting like depraved Russian Princesses are better off resigning their membership. Having their names in the records of the Church at that point does everyone more harm than good.
As with one’s career, family life, whatever, people change and evolve. Or they don’t. If you want a hard fast break for whatever reason make it. Same thing if you don’t. I have been everything from inactive, to less active, to fully active, as I am now (unless they come for my iced tea, then I will rethink). Thank goodness I don’t wear crocs, so I don’t call undue attention to myself. Fortunately, I have only been in wards that are happy to respect where I am at. Maybe it’s an administrative headache for the clerks and the higher ups, but the world has bigger problems.
I want to add one to your list. While family and apathy definitely play a part in my decision to leave my records on the rolls, my biggest reason is community. As an adult, I live in the same ward I grew up in. Nearly everyone in the ward knows who I am even though I haven’t attended the ward in over 10 years. If my name were to disappear from the rolls, it’s not like they would think I was a non-member. They all know I was a baptized, married in the temple member. I’ve discovered there is a hierarchy with how comfortable active members are with others. They tend to be most comfortable with active members, followed by non-members (I think because they haven’t “rejected the gospel”), third is non-active members (perhaps they’ve only temporarily “rejected the gospel,”) and finally former members who have resigned (those are the scariest because they have made an official declaration of their “rejection of the gospel.”) While I don’t attend church, I want to have good relationships with my neighbors (who are 95% active mormons). Removing my name has the possibility to hurt my relationships with my neighbors.
Count me in the “I don’t want to harm my family” bucket. I could care less; but some of my family cares deeply. If the Church wants to take me off their roles, be my guest. They can explain to my mom why they instigated violence against our family. But I won’t be doing it. Also, my kids are currently meh about the Church, but that could change. I’d like to know in the future that I can attend a temple wedding if I choose to make a tithing payment rather than needing to get “re-everything” all over again.
My wife’s siblings have been not active for decades. From time to time my wife will get a call from some Church person asking about them. My wife will inform her siblings if she can provide any update. Never once has said
Church person made any reference to removing them from the roles; they were simply confirming contact information.
Fast forward to today, and I think the amount of not active names is getting out of hand and I guess the Church wants to get a better grip on things. But instead of removing names, wouldn’t an annotation system be better?
oh man, I do NOT want to be buried in temple clothes, I’m planning on doing one of things where they compost you or something and they plant a tree where they bury your remains in some wilderness area
I’m curious how much the church pushes on temple cloth burials, anyone have any stories of conflict between someone’s burial wishes vs. church burial proscriptions?
Unfortunately in my ward the EQP sent an email to advise they are starting to interview ministering companionships.
I’m definitely PIMO and my comp and assigned families are all inactive so at least the interview will be quick. But it bugs me that this accountability/reporting is still a thing. Frankly I’m just waiting for a certain temple marriage and then most likely I will shred my recommend and do the quitmormon thing unless I can get an agreement from my local leaders to let me enjoy my local 7-11 and raucous Bon Jovi music in peace.
I missed a different temple wedding in November but had the convenient excuse of just starting a new job.
It might be that your elders quorum president does not understand correct principles. Such interviews are not supposed to be about reporting or accountability — this was done away with when home teaching was retired and ministering was introduced. Rather, the sole purpose of the interviews is strengthening the minister, not obtaining reports or accountability. At least, that was the declaration when ministering was introduced.
This one was insightful to me: “ Someone else compared it to disavowing your high school after graduation. It was still part of your formation, and you still own that even if you aren’t going to go back to high school.”
But I think not wanting believing parents / spouses / children to get upset is a big reason for many or most.
There is a lot of history behind resigning membership and it might be interesting to see how attitudes and policies have changed over time. Unfortunately in the time I have to comment right now I can’t provide research or links to back this up, but I understand that there was a time when there was no way to resign from the church voluntarily. I recall a story of a person who asked to resign and was told that the only way to leave was to hold a disciplinary council and be excommunicated.
Eventually the policy changed, although some people believe it was only because of a Supreme Court decision that ruled that people can’t be forced to maintain membership in a church against their will. Take that with a grain of salt unless we find verification. In any case, certainly the church did eventually allow people to resign from the church without disciplinary action.
Even so, online communities reported that people found it difficult to have their requests processed. You can find numerous stories of folk who asked their bishop or stake president to remove their records only to find nothing happened. In some cases people they were love-bombed, in some cases they were left alone only to find years later that they were still considered members.
Websites and communities began to recommend ways to resign, generally suggesting people send a signed request with certain specific language directly to church head quarters requesting immediate removal and no further contact in order to bypass incompetent or unwilling local leaders.
Eventually attorney Mark Naugle created quitmormon.com to facilitate the process. I think it has been through different phases and revisions of how it works. For example, there was a period of time when the church stopped processing resignations from quitmormon website citing concerns about whether the requests were authentic. Sigh.
Ever since the John Dehlin and Kate Kelly excommunication debacles,many of the high profile excommunicants have said that they felt that church leaders were actually encouraging them to resign instead of going through the disciplinary proceeding. A rather curious about-face from the ostensible reports of a generation or two earlier that supposedly could not resign even if they wanted to.
For myself, I don’t see much benefit of resigning membership. And it would certainly bother my family and damage relationships. So no, I’m not seriously considering resigning. Although I did look into it enough to find out the information (or rumors) that I describe above.
I quit attending four years ago and don’t intend to go back, but I’m not removing my name from the records. Most of it is apathy and the idea that this is my heritage. I like the comparison to being a high school. Yeah, that’s where I was for a large part of my life; I don’t need a formal action to symbolize that I’ve moved on. Culturally, I’m always going to be Mormon, no matter how much coffee I drink.
I’m with you regarding human composting rather than the traditional casket / cemetery approach. I’m not too excited about the expense nor the fact that an average of 1500 gallons of water would be needed to keep my burial plot nice and green on into perpetuity. (Perhaps a problematic way to exit our mortal life in these climate changing difficult days?). Six states are now making this composting option legal (Vermont, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, and New York isn’t far behind. There’s a great New York Times article on this from just a month or so ago.)
Also, if you poke around in the General Handbook inside of the Gospel Library, eventually you will notice that biodegradable temple clothing for burials has been approved and available from the online store. I could be wrong, but I’m theorizing that this is necessary for various European codes anymore since they have reused caskets and burial plots due to lack of space. (I first learned of this while reading Roger Terry’s “Bruder Terry” mission memoir.)
Like you, I have some qualms about being buried in temple clothing primarily because most of my family are not members and I’m just not sure about the tradition. (I’m confident it is merely a policy tradition rather than a doctrine as we can see from the radical shift in the handbook regarding cremation now compared to Elder McConkie’s day.) In reality, we all will decompose one way or the other, so it probably comes down to the other topic of public viewings, which I’ll not comment on at this time.
Sorry everyone for the tangent to the discussion, but I’m fascinated that there is someone else out there thinking about these wonderful morbid issues beside me! :=)
There seems to be two different themes to the OP: Reasons members resign their membership or why they choose not to despite distancing themselves from the church, and the motive behind the church working to make ward membership rolls accurately reflect those physically living within the ward’s boundaries.
I’ll comment on the latter first. I spent over 19 years serving in multiple bishoprics, and cleaning up membership records was declared a priority a couple of times over that span. In one ward, we had over 1100 members, but effectively there were around 90 households in the ward with roughly 475 individuals. The motive for forwarding records was purely administrative. The stake seemed most concerned with the accuracy of the report on members without an active temple recommend and 18+-year-old priests who were not ordained elders, and having lots of membership records who no longer lived in the ward’s boundaries made these reports difficult to use effectively. If our clerk sent a record in question to SLC without a forwarding address, the church would simply return it with a note that said something to the effect of ‘don’t transfer the record out of your ward until you have a new address/ward to transfer it to.” The problem was so big in our stake (lots of transient housing in half of our wards), our ward was encouraged to call two retired couples tasked to sleuthing out where the member had moved to and working to obtain their new address. The second time I recall this request coming from the stake (and undoubtedly from the area presidency) was a decade later, and the task was easier. At that time, we lived in a different stake, one that was extremely stable. In fact, this stake was a bedrock of church activity and a kind of mission president and general authority farm. The process for forwarding records electronically was more simple at this point as well. In this stake, we didn’t have many orphaned records so it hardly needed attention…but our stake president had already made keeping ward membership records accurate a big priority because he was a metrics guy and I sensed he wanted to keep the denominator as tight as possible so key church performance metrics would look as good as possible. (He seemed motivated to impress his church boss.)
@hawkgrrrl, I’m struggling a little bit with your using the word “purge.” I never viewed this push to tighten up the accuracy of ward membership records as a purge. There didn’t seem to be a pastoral motive either; it was all purely administrative, for the sake of accurate record keeping. There was no design to “purge” or challenge a member’s membership status if they were not coming to church for whatever reason.
The only instances I know of where a bishop took action to excommunicate a member who had effectively left church involvement was because they were engaged in behavior that was actively harming others (predatory sexual behavior and other serious criminal behavior) which may also fall into the “harmed the reputation of the church” offense. And this was when I was much younger (late 1980’s in my home ward), at a time when the church excommunicated members more freely compared to today. If this new effort it designed to ask disengaged members to fish or cut bait, to get back to church or resign, I would be absolutely shocked–this kind of effort would be a dramatic shift and I think is unprecedented. I would be very interested in evidence that suggests there is a new effort designed to push disengaged or inactive members to resign their membership or get back to church.
As far as why people leave but choose not to resign their membership, your segments likely capture most reasons–it’s a great taxonomy. That and I’m sure each member has their own deeply personal reasons. I haven’t been to meetings for roughly two years now. My reasons for disengaging are mixed and complicated, but one reason is because I won’t listen to lessons that are oversimplified, defy historical fact, hurt marginalized members, or outright gaslight, and stay quiet about it. When my church leaders softly (I say softly because it was all very passive aggressive) released me from my calling (I’ve served in positions of leadership every year of my marriage until the last releasing) it was because I was vocalizing too much reality. (It didn’t help that at that time I lived in an extremely closed minded, Trumpian ward and stake.) At that point I decided to take a break. Not long after that, Elder Holland gave his infamous musket fire talk, which kind of sealed my choice. We also moved a short time later which created a natural break for us to go off the radar. All of this notwithstanding, I have no intention of resigning my membership. A part of me still believes in what I think the church could be, even if that hope seems to dim with each passing day. I may choose to reengage and be more disruptive before I go quietly into the night. Why? I’m a fifth generation Mormon (yes, I still say Mormon) and this is MY church too. I own a small piece of it. And I still feel morally obligated to make my conscience known within it. This seems to me to be a motive that is different than Sticking it to the Man because I would prefer to see the church change rather than to see it burn to the ground. I guess I consider myself to be a non-TBM oppositional loyalist, if there can be such a thing.
I get why the church doesn’t do a “DO NOT CONTACT” list. I’ll try to be charitable, they don’t want people to miss out on blessings because at one moment they wanted nothing to do with the church even if it might change later. I suggest they do something like the government did with the “DO NOT CALL” registry. You can sign up for five years of not being bothered. Only offer that if people seem agitated. If they ask about _never_ being contacted again tell them they’d have to remove their name. But if you lead with, “hey, if this contact is annoying to you we offer the ability to not bother you for five years. After that we _might_ check in and see if you still want the same.” I’m guessing most people are lazy enough they’d choose that option. The church MLS (or whatever it’s called now) would need to have a field with the date/flag/counter or whatever. But that would reduce the anger all around while still giving the church the chance to not totally “give up” on people (intentional scare quotes).
BigSky, you write “We also moved a short time later which created a natural break for us to go off the radar.” As ji mentions above, maybe we should go back to that pattern described in D&C 80:24, where a member who moves is tasked to get a certificate from the losing bishop and to present it to the gaining bishop, and he is received into a new ward only after presenting himself to that new bishop. A member in a new area should not be assigned to a new ward without his or her own participation. In other words, if you move and want to get lost, you can. You do not cease being a member of the church, but you are not assigned to a new ward without your consent. When you’re ready, you can present yourself to your bishop and can be admitted to the ward.
Typo: make it D&C 20:84.
That is certainly an interesting concept. Much has given way to the corporatization of the church, and earlier church practices have been subjugated to the ideas of maximizing the church’s capital, both human capital and financial capital. It seems everything–including the church’s efforts to clean up membership records–is motivated through the prism of business efficiency. Your comment sparked this thought in my mind, how unchurch-like we have become. I was reading about N. Eldon Tanner the other day, a favorite figure of mine, who was probably the first to bring modern accounting and corporate organizational practices to the church as the 1950s closed out. His rise in power was meteoric by any standard, which probably speaks to the impact he had. He was made a general authority in 1960, sustained an apostle in 1962, and then called to the first presidency one year later by David O. McKay in 1963. While I know correlation receives a lot of attention and credit for creating the current culture of the church (rightfully so), I have always believed N. Eldon Tanner and the business practices he brought to the church underpinned the creation of our culture today, and his impact can’t be overstated. I know we tend to see Hinkley as the one who was the shadow prophet for all those years when he served as a counselor, but Tanner may have had as much impact on the church as a counselor as did Hinkley, Tanner having served in four first presidencies himself. I wish we had a Greg Prince-like history of Tanner. These thoughts are way off the topic of this OP, but your thought sparked them. Thank you.
@Elisa, you mentioned disavowing a high school you graduated from
How many here graduated from BYU and removed it from their resume/linkedin profile?
Fortunately I have 2 post graduate degrees and easier to avoid mentioning BYU
This discussion called to mind at least a decade ago now when one my less active visiting teaching ladies emigrated to Australia; her adult children live there. I was constantly nagged to get an address she would be moving to. I explained she’d already volunteered that she wasn’t sure where she was going to settle, her children living in different states. The nagging annoyed me greatly. She’s an adult woman, with an active social life, so not exactly a shrinking violet, and more than capable of presenting herself to her local congregation in Australia if she wants to..
I think that records should not be moved into a ward without the member’s participation, and I think that follows the scriptural pattern ji described above. I also think that it should be as easy to leave the church as it is to enter. The person presents himself for baptism, and baptism is for the remission of sins and to follow Christ, but there is no enforceable contractual relationship. Membership in the church isn’t like membership at a gym, where one gets access to the facility for a monthly fee (and with cancellation fees for quitting too soon). When followers left Jesus over the eating bread issue, Jesus didn’t condemn them; He let them go. Is that a scriptural pattern? Some of them may even have been baptized by Jesus’ disciples. Baptism requires no paper, no contract, no terms and conditions–only a verbal statement of desire. Should leaving be different? Let him leave, with dignity.
Georgia: if membership in the Church was like trying to leave a gym, they’d make you pay tithing all the way until whatever your annual date is, no exceptions.
I changed my tag for this comment because I’ll be discussing a bit of information that only I am privy to. I’m PIMO but half of my immediate family are still more fully in so I likely wouldn’t ever resign my membership. And although I question temple rituals I enjoy doing family history and would hate to have to give up free access to other partners alike Ancestry.
One of my offspring is planning on resigning, or may have already done so. They’re fed up by the constant contacting every time a new set of missionaries serve in the ward. They have many friends and neighbors who are LDS so they get it but it’s hard to always have to respond to the stumbling requests. They also work closely in a professional setting with people who have been very much harmed by church policies.
@ Dua Lipa – I don’t want to be buried in temple clothes either and have told this to some of my family and also let them know I want to be cremated. I know of a story where a woman in the community died unexpectedly at age 40 and although they hadn’t been active for many years the parents of her husband pressured him to have her buried in temple clothing. Another close relative was very upset because she said that sparkly pink things would have been the deceased style. At the funeral the SP felt inspired to jump up and say something and referred to her by the wrong name.
Angela, thanks. Name is Georgis (m), not Georgia (f), hard g in the last syllable (ancestral name, Greek I’m told). The Church isn’t like a gym and tithing isn’t mandatory, but perhaps we are a little too much like a gym or a cell phone provider (who have enforceable contract terms) in that we sometimes make it cumbersome to exit. I am not sure that we should do that, but I hear that we have.
The Baha’i religion won’t drop anybody from the rolls unless they send in a resignation letter (or e-mail), with the result that everybody agrees that the membership figures are obviously too high, but nobody is sure by how much . On the other hand, we need more categories than “in” and “out” to accommodate nominal believers etc. Too strict, and you’re not counting the number of believers, but the number of…I was going to say “saints,” but you call yourselves “Saints.”
Some New Age groups have paid memberships, with an annual fee + defined benefits. (Yes, like gyms.) They also have larger circles of interested nonmembers who go to activities or buy books.
There used to be a US census question about religion, until the Christian Scientists complained and made them take it off.
OP’: “Many people on the rolls are inactive (one estimated 70-80% which seems pretty high to me)”
There have been many attempts to calculate the Baha’i “discount rate,” so to speak (i.e. a formula for converting reported membership figures into the actual, effective number of adherents) I would be interested to hear any ideas. (The two religions are comparable in some ways but not others.)
BigSky: ” In one ward, we had over 1100 members, but effectively there were around 90 households in the ward with roughly 475 individuals.”
The Baha’is would say there are probably others out there unknown to the ward.
John Charity Spring: “Those who have abandoned spirituality for a life of acting like depraved Russian Princesses …”
Sorry, but I gotta ask: are you thinking of any particular Russian princess? The only one I can name at the top of my head is Anastasia…
I enjoyed reading this post, but I bogged down in the comments. It’s me and my focus challenges, not any of you.
I don’t have the desire to resign mostly because I don’t feel that level of hostility. I accept that the past, for me, is a flaming mess, and there’s no good reason to add to that. And family issues are a factor. Although I’m not the only one in my family to quietly move on, there are active members among our family who might feel it to be a repudiation if/when they learned of it, and I wouldn’t want that. Part of my acceptance of the past is accepting the autonomy of my loved ones in the present who still navigate their complicated covenant paths.
I do hold the church accountable for their past policies that put ward clerks in an impossible position of dealing with clogged membership rolls in the computer system. I also experienced the periodic requests for my adult kids’ information, without their permission to share. I felt bad turning down those requests from the succession of decent fellows who we had known and worked with for decades, but my loyalty to my own kids counted more. I became less of a participant and more of a spectator after my kids were adults, but when I moved out of my long-time ward, I opted to give the ward clerk my new address. Partly out of respect for the nice guy with the impossible task, but also to prevent any more future discussions in various meetings of mine or my kids’ status and whereabouts. Or worse, bugging/stalking my kids for their current details so it could be handed off to an unknown factor. That actually happened to my oldest, who received political emails from a weirdo in her local unit. Somebody somewhere successfully stalked her information and gave it to the singles ward she lived in. She was able to deal with it, and the emails stopped.
But I have no regard for the manipulative policies of the church that allow and encourage trafficking in information about people, from their family members, behind their backs. It’s another of the ways unintended consequences in the church hurts family relationships, and they’re fully aware of it, and don’t care.
I had intended to mention that I’d really love to see statistics on actual attendance or ‘active’ membership. Is that ever published anywhere? The membership count that is given in GC is highly misleading on reality of engagement.
Long ago I when I was only 18 I was the YW’s president in our little branch in England when we were tasked with contacting a long list of people on our rolls who’s membership was a result of the Church’s ‘baseball program’ – or maybe it was basketball? My memory fails me. Thankfully I had a much old counselor who performed most of this assignment. I was mortified at the thought. I know a certain missionary of the era who’s path occasionally crossed with some of these individuals – “oh yeah I was once on your team mate”.
If you move you go to the ward clerk, tell them enough information for them to find your records, and your records are moved. If they can’t find your records, you can present your certificates of baptism (and any ordination). So I find the church to still be fully inline with D&C 20:84.
But in addition to that, members of the church are supposed to feed the sheep. They are supposed to leave the ninety and nine and find the lost one. Christ didn’t teach us to leave the one alone because they are independents adult. He taught us to still search and find them. We can’t even begin to look for the one, if we don’t know that the one even exists. So I think that the church is doing its best to follow Christ’s commands to feed his sheep and following his example to find the one.
Jader, you describe D&C 20:84 as it is designed to work. All good there: a member makes contact with the ward, and then becomes a member of that ward. But what happens when the member moves and doesn’t make that contact? You then mention a great parable, but this parable does not stand alone. It is one of three parables, all of which constitute one teaching and all of which have to be taken together. Sometimes the sheep wanders, and this is the parable of the shepherd that you cite. Sometimes the coin is lost due to the woman’s poor housekeeping, and she needs to get her broom and clean her house to find the coin. And sometimes a young man leaves his father’s house, but the father does not follow his son into the far away country. The man does, however, welcome his son back when he returns, where we understand he will submit to his father’s will: the young man doesn’t bring his wicked ways with him into his father’s house. At the risk of applying labels, every member who is “lost” is one of three: (i) a wandering sheep, who was nibbling the green grass while the flock moved on, who or took a nap, or who followed a butterfly; or (ii) a lost coin, whom the mistress of the house can’t find because he’s fallen behind a piece of furniture, or is behind the TV, or is under the dirty dishes; or (iii) or a grown child who leaves in rebellion, and whom the father allows to leave and does not pursue. Viewing all inactive members as lost sheep does an injustice to the Lord’s teaching, as his one parable contains three ways that we can view inactive or disaffected members. Some we seek out and they return gladly, some require that we put our own house and affairs in order, and some we leave alone until they choose to return. At least this is how I read Luke 15. I have a friend who, in college, confessed to his bishop that he had feelings for other men, and although there had been no physical act, he was brought before the stake president and high council and excommunicated in less than two weeks from his first meeting with his bishop. Now we tell people that feelings are not sin, though acting on it is, and we should not discipline people for feelings. He, in my mind, is a lost coin. He should never have been lost, and perhaps we need to get a broom and clean our house (maybe an apology, although I doubt he’ll return now). Each person is different, and each malady requires a different medicine, and one size does not fit all. I think that if a person wants to disappear, we should allow him to do that, just as Jesus did nothing to bring back those who left Him after His teaching about eating His body. Instead, we minister to those who want to be here. To the lost sheep, we find them and hold their hands and bring them back. To the lost coins, we need to set our own house in order. To the father, we let the rebellious son go. In all three circumstances, we rejoice when he that is lost returns. The Lord have three, and that makes me think that there may even be a few more categories. Seeking a lost sheep will help us find a lost sheep, but it won’t help us find the coin, nor will it bring the son back from the far away city.
This did make me think about Jehovah’s Witnesses. They state, “To be counted as an active member, an individual must be a publisher, and report some amount of time preaching to non-members, normally at least an hour per month. Under certain circumstances, such as chronic and debilitating illness, members may report increments of 15 minutes.”
That translates into Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 8.5M WW members pale when you think of the estimated 5 or so million “active” members of the LDS church.
“What do you think of the Church’s occasional efforts to clean up the rolls? ”
I wish there was a thumbs up for Georgis. After the big purge of 1980, the approach of leaving people on the rolls more or less forever makes it easier for people to return, and if they don’t, oh well.
Based on my experience there are plenty of people who do not attend but still consider themselves Mormon and have Mormon beliefs. I see no reason to base membership just on attendance. If people aren’t asking to be removed from the membership rolls, I think it would be wrong to remove them and obnoxious/presumptuous to try to prompt them to do so.
I think we need to differentiate between (1) removing records from the rolls; and (2) putting records in. suspended status. Some wards may have less than a hundred active participants but over 900 records on the rolls — the 800 inactive names could be hidden (suspended) from the directory and class rosters and so forth, and any name can be moved into activity at any time.