Years ago, I happened to sit on an airplane by a fellow who thought he knew quite a bit about our church.

And in a way, he did!

“I’ve lived around a few of you Mormons,” he said, “and you have some really brilliant ideas.”

He was a sociologist or some kind of behavioral scientist, and he had several observations.

“First of all,” he said, “I don’t know how your church came up with this missionary idea, but it is just ingenious! Most kids are just nowhere near ready to decide on their college major or their career focus when they are 18 or 19, but they go off to college and just pick whatever their first impulse is. You Mormons, though, send them off for two years to learn another culture and another language and to become independent and mature and when they come back they have grown up and are really ready to focus their studies and make their career choice! Brilliant!”

I was about to explain that missions were the Lord’s idea, not ours, but I couldn’t get a word in; he was on to his next observation:

“And who thought of that temple thing?” he wondered. “The biggest problem in Western society today is the older folks who don’t have much to do and just waste away. And you guys have that temple thing. … I don’t really know much about it, but your seniors seem to go there a lot and feel really useful and occupied and important. Just a brilliant idea!”

Again, I wanted to explain a little, but he was just getting warmed up.

“Other churches are withering up for lack of funding, but you have that tithing or whatever you call it! Who thought of that? I mean the old passing the plate idea never raises much money and most churches can’t even pay their bills and you Mormons are building churches and universities and using the return on the invested money to restore blighted inner cities. You must just have some financial geniuses over there at your headquarters.”

Well, I thought, this guy knows a lot — he just needs to know a little about the source!

But before I could tell him much, he was on to his next observation:

“And what about that health thing — where did you get that? Science finally figures out how bad smoking is and you already knew it for more than a hundred years. And coffee and tea, too, and don’t you even have this deal about not eating too much meat? Being a vegan is so cool right now! It’s like you Mormons were about 150 years ahead of all the health trends. Have you got some hot-shot dietitians over there or what? Brilliant stuff!”

So this is what the church looks like to a sociologist, I thought to myself. I was about to ask him what else he liked, but I didn’t have to. He was already talking again.

“Oh, and this one just amazes me! If you turn on National Public Radio or read the trend columns in the press, everyone is getting into fasting. There are all kinds of new articles and books on how missing a few meals or purging or cleansing can help your health, and you guys have been doing that forever, right? I mean, from what I’ve heard, you do it every month or something — from way back in the 19th century you have been having these regular fasts. Who thought of that?

“And you must have some pretty good motivational psychologists over there, too, because the volunteer minister thing you have keeps everyone interested and involved. Instead of one paid guy doing all the work and everyone else just listening or showing up, you guys all have your own little jobs in the church — don’t you? — and no one gets paid and everyone feels needed. That is totally cool, man, I mean, you guys just got it all right!

He shook his head a couple of times, still mumbling, “Brilliant, just brilliant … no wonder your church is growing so fast … someone really figured it out … finally created a church that is actually relevant and that works in today’s real world. Amazing! Brilliant!”

Richard and Linda are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Read Linda's blog and visit the Eyres anytime at