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?