Today I was listening to a recent episode of John Dehlin's popular Mormon Stories podcast - specifically, episode 319: "Changing Mormon Demographics in the U.S. with Dr. Ryan Cragun", in which John Dehlin (with Scott Holley) interviews University of Tampa sociologist Ryan T. Cragun about the latter's work on LDS sociodemographic trends in the United States from 1990 to 2008. It's an episode that's well-worth listening to, and I look forward to listening to episode 320 ("Changing Demographics in the Worldwide LDS Church with Matt Martinich of the Cumorah Foundation") later tonight. But during episode 319, there was a very interesting (to me) interval from 1:29:45 to 1:32:22, which I transcribe roughly as follows; consider it just one of many possible samples of why the podcast is worth listening to:
Dehlin: So this is... well, is it a big deal that the Church's growth is flatlining and maybe been declining? I mean... and, do you get a sense that other churches are more successful at retention overseas than we are?For any of my LDS readers in particular, what do you think of this? Are there disadvantages to the swiftness of baptism in the 'ideal' LDS conversion scenario?
Cragun: Seventh-Day Adventists are. That's... again, it's a paper that I'm working on with Ron Lawson. They still lose members, right, but not nearly at the rate that the LDS Church does, and I think that has to do in part with the way they do about converting members, right? So the LDS Church still has a very specific kind of proselytizing program, and they haven't modified it very much since the 1960s. You've got, you know, a series of discussions – I know they've got a newer version out, and they say that you can kind of go with it how you need to, but the emphasis from the very beginning – I don't know what it was like in your guys's missions, but we were told by our mission president to invite people to be baptized during the first discussion.
Dehlin: Yeah, for sure we were.
Cragun: Yeah, and I don't think they do that now, but there's still very much the push to, Let's get these people to church, let's get them baptized, um, rather than, Hey, let's teach them and walk them through this process and actually make them wait until we know that they've actually had kind of a change in the way that they think, they've been integrated into the congregation, and now we can actually have them baptized. For Jehovah's Witnesses, it's about a six-month process at a minimum before somebody can be baptized. And for Seventh-Day Adventists, it can two years, right?
Cragun: So we're comparing that to, for Mormons, right, six weeks? Eight weeks? Maybe a couple of months, at most? You know, yeah, there are some that linger on and on and on and on, but for many of the converts, particularly when I was serving, right, if we went longer than six weeks with some investigators, we thought, Now they're never going to get baptized, and we would drop them. Well, by the end of my mission, the people I had converted at the beginning of my mission, they were already inactive.
Dehlin: So are we saying that if the Church required a longer time to actually be able to join, and were more methodical about making it harder to join, we would actually see an increase in both number of baptisms and an increase in retention?
Cragun: Yeah, I think that's true.