The primary goal of missionary work in the Mormon Church is to share the message of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world and invite all to come unto to Him. According to Mormon doctrine, the way to come closer to Christ is through baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost. Thus, Mormon missionaries aim to baptize as many as possible. Mormons, however, believe that merely being baptized or accepting Christ is insufficient, and a new convert to the Mormon Church must remain active in his local congregation and work toward entering the temple. This push toward keeping converts active is called "convert retention" and was a major theme of President Gordon B. Hinckley's presidency.
Since the 1970s, the Mormon Church has experienced explosive growth, and some Mormon missionaries report baptizing hundreds during their missionary service. However, this exponential growth has led to problems of convert retention as people joined faster than the Church could absorb them. In the October General Conference in 1997, President Hinckley said this:
- With the increase of missionary work throughout the world, there must be a comparable increase in the effort to make every convert feel at home in his or her ward or branch. Enough people will come into the Church this year to constitute more than 100 new average-size stakes. Unfortunately, with this acceleration in conversions, we are neglecting some of these new members. I am hopeful that a great effort will go forward throughout the Church, throughout the world, to retain every convert who comes into the Church.
- This is serious business. There is no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable.
He then outlined what is needed to help new converts stay faithful:
- Someone has failed, failed miserably. I say to bishops throughout the world that with all you have to do—and we recognize that it is much—you cannot disregard the converts. Most of them do not need very much. As I have said before, they need a friend. They need something to do, a responsibility. They need nurturing with the good word of God. They come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. You have people in your wards who can be friends to every convert. They can listen to them, guide them, answer their questions, and be there to help in all circumstances and in all conditions. Brethren, this loss must stop. It is unnecessary. I am satisfied the Lord is not pleased with us. I invite you, every one of you, to make this a matter of priority in your administrative work. I invite every member to reach out in friendship and love for those who come into the Church as converts.
These three things; a friend, a responsibility, and nourishment by the good word of God, have become the focus in the Mormon Church since that time in working toward increased Church activity among new converts. These themes come from the book of Moroni in the Book of Mormon, where Moroni writes that newly baptized persons were "numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith" (Moroni 6:4).
President Hinckley has called for missionaries to be more spiritually qualified and prepared, and for bishops to pay more attention that new converts receive a calling or responsibility, make friends with ward members and continue to study the scriptures and attend Church meetings. As part of this, more of the responsibility for local missionary work has been given to the local congregations so that they will feel more connected to the converts. Formerly, stake mission presidents and stake missionaries did much of the work in cooperation with the full-time missionaries, but now this responsibility rests with the bishops and the congregations. This is to ensure that local leaders are more aware of and help the new converts.