Preach My Gospel 2nd Edition: A Transformational Improvement
2023 Preach My Gospel Mission Program Changes
On June 22, 2023, the LDS Church announced the release of the second edition of the Preach My Gospel (PMG) missionary manual. While organized to cover similar topics to the 2004 Preach My Gospel manual, the second edition involves extensive revision with some sections almost entirely rewritten. PMG 2.0 materially and substantially addresses many of the challenges cited in my November 2022 JMSSA article.
Some of the key changes are as follows. Missionaries are instructed that their success is determined by their own efforts and not by the agency of others, and to engage in sincere discipleship and service (Chapter 1). Baptism is presented as ‘a point along the path of conversion” and not as a “final destination” (Chapter 3). Rather than intending the prior “short versions” of discussions to be adequate teaching of each lesson, the second edition notes that missionaries “will usually need multiple meetings to teach the principles in one lesson” and that understanding can often be enhanced with frequent short teaching instead of longer extended ones. The manual no longer instructs missionaries to ask for baptismal commitments with the first or second lesson, leaving the timing to consideration of individual circumstances and appropriateness with “any lesson.”
Cautions are noted to check that personal spiritual impressions are consistent with scriptural teachings and sober judgment (Chapter 4). Teaching from scripture and especially the Book of Mormon is emphasized (Chapter 5) and missionaries are encouraged to develop and live Christlike attributes (Chapter 6).
The chapter on finding people to teach (Chapter 9) encourages missionaries to use time well, to talk to as many people as possible each day, to try a variety of methods, work to earn member trust, have backup plans if a scheduled meeting falls through, and to consider what has worked in their area. This represents a marked improvement from prior iterations which declared some finding methods to be categorically more or less effective without regard to local considerations, at times leading to nonsensical results. Insights from experience, thoughtful consideration, and responsiveness to circumstances are encouraged. There is also an emphasis on moving on from unproductive situations to meet new people instead of making recurring visits to friendly but non-progressing listeners who put forth little effort.
In regard to “help[ing] people prepare for baptism and confirmation,” the 2004 manual focused on a checklist culminating in baptism, whereas the 2nd edition (Chapter 12) includes these qualifications while emphasizing the longer-term focus on lifetime conversion and continued spiritual growth.
The need for coordination and integration of missionary efforts with local church members and congregational leaders is emphasized (Chapter 13). This contrasts with widespread prior practices of missions operating with little regard for member contacts with prospective converts or integration into local congregations before and after baptism, and even overriding concerns of local leaders and members regarding poorly-prepared converts who missionaries were determined to baptize.
Some of the most welcome and transformational changes regard goal setting and planning (Chapter 8), as these measures set the vision and direction of work efforts.
The six key indicators are (1) new people taught who have not been previously taught in the past 3 months and accepted a return appointment, (2) lessons taught to investigators with a member participating, (3) people being taught who attend church, (4) people with a baptismal date, (5) people baptized and confirmed, and (6) new members baptized within the past year attending sacrament meeting.
Great care is needed in selecting “key indicators” used to measure outcomes that are conveyed to leaders on statistical reports. Any misalignment can distort incentives, leading to adverse selection and principal-agent problems. On the whole, the new “key indicators” fit these criteria admirably well. Lessons taught without a member present, previously reported separately, are no longer noted as a “key indicator,” reflecting the importance of involving members early in the teaching process for fellowshipping and integration.
The focus on convert attendance over the first year after baptism emphasizes the importance of durable conversion. While baptisms remain a “key indicator,” this is better contextualized as a step on the path to long-term member activity. No mention is made of baptismal goals. Instead, the section emphasizes setting goals that focus on one’s own efforts. Regarding hybrid goals such as for individuals being taught and new converts to attend church and for members to participate in missionary lessons, the manual points out that results depend on the agency of others while noting ways in which missionaries can influence and encourage these behaviors.
On the whole, program directives are much better aligned with institutional mission as well as with local congregations and investigator needs than the 2004 Preach My Gospel manual and the 1988 Missionary Guide. It is evident that careful effort has been taken to remove or mitigate mismatched incentives that arose from the prior focus on baptismal numbers with little regard to convert retention. Programs and directives which long institutionalized elements of quick-baptize tactics have at last been harmonized with statements of church leaders eschewing such methods.
These changes reflect a more durable underlying theoretical and practical framework. The importance of developing and implementing positive personal qualities is emphasized. The program is less prone to exploitation by those who may be tempted to place ambition above the needs of those they teach and local congregations. This improved alignment promotes higher ethical standards and reduces the risk of the objectification of prospective converts. Even well-intentioned individuals can engage in counterproductive behaviors when their incentives are misaligned.
The second edition of the Preach My Gospel manual successfully expounds the core principles of outreach. Much will depend on ancillary instructions, implementation, and oversight. There is still room in other works for further exposition of principles and localized data and analysis. Yet the missionary manual’s simplicity and clarity are key. Multiplying content would pose diminishing returns and potentially distract from core focus.
Some residual issues remain for the LDS missionary program. Yet Preach My Gospel 2.0 represents a transformational improvement.