In a recent survey by pollster Gary Lawrence of how Americans view "Mormonism," a whopping 77 percent said they were not sure Mormons are Christians.
Understanding how the public views us can improve our responses to gospel questions.
1. Be a friend. I joined the church at 18 because a wonderful member-missionary understood that friendship is an extension of Christ’s way of life. My friend’s goal was not to convert me but to love me. Those whom the Lord prepares to hear the gospel will feel that love. Friendship flowing from genuine love is a powerful missionary tool.
2. Ditch the lingo. Gary Lawrence is a respected pollster and adviser to the missionary department. He suggests we use simple terms to which our Christian friends will relate: Use "Christianity" instead of "gospel," "re-established" instead of "restoration," and "men changed" instead of "apostasy."
3. Stay on message. Only 12 percent of Americans know our central message. It is this: We are the re-established, original Christian church. We can share this message through a wide variety of available resources, including the Bible and Book of Mormon, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," "Preach My Gospel" and other scriptures. We should also use social media and the Internet. When we stay on message, our friends will connect our message to a better family life and a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
4. Trust. When we earn our friends’ trust, they will trust our message. Because we are the re-established, original Christian church, we believe the heavens are open. Share the general conference talks with your friends, and invite them to trust that the heavens are open to them.
5. Pray. After praying for a missionary experience, my wife and I found a stray dog in our closed garage overnight. Guessing at the worn dog-tags, we called the pet hotline and discovered the dog had escaped from her trainer two miles away. When the trainer retrieved his dog, I recognized him as an investigator who had cooled to the missionary discussions. God loved him enough to send that dog to our garage so that we might bear a second witness of the re-established church. When I told him that, he could not withhold his tears. When you pray for missionary experiences, God sends miracles — even stray dogs.
6. Invite. Invite friends to family home evening, baptisms and to church and family activities. Elder Ballard taught: "A gospel-sharing home is not a program. It is a way of life" (Elder M. Russell Ballard, "Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home," Ensign, May 2006). As you invite friends into the flow of your life, they will have questions. Invite the full-time missionaries to help with any concerns.
7. Plant seeds. When a young woman gave her friend a pamphlet about the Restoration and Joseph Smith, he threw it on the back seat of his car, reading it weeks later when he was bored. After reading it he told his friend, "No way is Joseph Smith a prophet." Her simple answer allowed the Spirit to do the heavy lifting. "Well," she responded, "he either is or he isn't." For weeks that simple response nagged at the man until he wanted to know more. He accepted the missionary discussions. He serves today as a counselor in a stake presidency.
8. Community involvement. Involving yourself in the community, especially with persons of influence, is a choice. That choice needn’t overwhelm your valuable time nor outpace your resources to give. Many people have a negative view of the church but a positive view of individual members. When they know you by working alongside you in the community, their misperceptions disappear and their attitudes improve.
9. Use humor. Lawrence suggests we not get defensive. When friends ask whether Mormons believe in the Bible, you might say, “Of course we believe in the Bible; we wrote it!” Then explain: "Our brethren in Christ’s day wrote it, and we are Christ’s brethren of the latter days."
10. Access the keys of heaven. Missionary work rolls forth in wards throughout the world. Access the bishop’s sacred keys over missionary work by using the ward council process. As you share referrals with the ward council, you access the bishop’s keys and the powers of heaven for those friends you refer.
When we desire to be missionaries, doing missionary work flows from who we are and the gratitude we feel for the love Jesus offers us. That tops the top-10 list any day.
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches Law and Ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran.