Part one of a series

A new report from the Council of Churches states that while most church membership numbers are declining, Mormon membership is growing.  Mormons are the fourth largest religion in the United States and the church with the highest growth among the top ten this year and second among all churches reporting numbers.

Mormonism has a lot to offer teens and children

Mormonism has a lot to offer teens and children.

Mormonism isn’t an easy church to join. You have to participate in a series of “discussions” about the church first and complete assignments designed to help you learn what you’re signing up for and to help you find out if the Mormon Church is true. To this end, you are required to pray and ask God to tell you, since God is the one source you can always trust when you want the truth. You are then asked to commit to living specific Gospel principles and to live a moral lifestyle.

Then, if that’s not enough, you’ll probably get put to work. The Mormon religion is a lay church, so we don’t have paid ministers, organists, or other workers. This means everyone pitches in to help with one or two tasks. For instance, I assist a toddler with a disability in the toddler nursery each week.

Mormon beliefs don’t allow you to feel okay with just showing up and listening passively through the service. It is really a 24/7 lifestyle—you live like a Christian all the time, not just at church. There are a fair number of rules covering modesty, tithing, diet, treatment of others, morality, and ethics, among other things.

Why then are so many people willing and even anxious to become a Mormon?

People look for churches to join for a great many reasons and sometimes the reason that brings them initially is not the reason they stay. Often, as they learn more, their testimonies increase and they stay because it is right, as well as for whatever reason attracted them initially.

Over my years as a Mormon, I’ve heard many different reasons for initially looking into the Mormon religion. Let’s look at some of those reasons first. Then we’ll examine what makes people join the Mormon Church and stay Mormon.

Many people seek out a church to solve a problem they are having in their lives. Something isn’t working the way they want it to, something is lacking, or something is leaving them longing for more meaning and joy. Often they will know a Mormon and notice that person has what they are looking for.

Many people come looking for something for their children. Often people who are struggling or living in a bad area want their children to have strong role models, a foundation of morality, and a purpose in life. The Mormons have a very strong program for children and youth that appeals to these people. Children begin attending classes at just eighteen months, although of course, the formal lessons are short. They play, sing, color, and have brief lessons, but throughout it all they are learning to be everything God wants them to be.

At age three, they begin regular classes and by the time they are eight, the responsibilities have begun. Mormon boys and girls are baptized at the age of eight and in all their classes prior to that time, they are taught it is their responsibility to prepare for that day. Eight is the age of accountability, a time when you are old enough to know right from wrong if you’ve been taught it. Children are taught to pray and to recognize God’s answers. Their families and teachers tell them to pray and ask God if the Mormon Church is true. By the time they are baptized, they have done this and baptism is a choice they make.

But unlike some churches, Mormons don’t consider baptism the end of the path. It is not the last thing, but one of a series of steps. At baptism, the children (and anyone else who is baptized) promise to take on themselves the name of Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments. This begins an eternal commitment to learn what God teaches and to improve in the ability to keep the commandments. The Bible teaches us we must keep the commandments and once we’ve made that covenant (a two-way promise between God and man) our responsibility grows.

A recently published study showed that many churches require very little of their teenagers. Once they are baptized at age twelve or so, parents decide the child is saved and everything is fine. The study showed teens tended to think of God as a “cosmic butler,” someone who shows up when you need help and goes away when you don’t. They thought of religion as something designed to make them happy. The two notable exceptions were Black Baptist churches and the Mormons. Teens in those churches had a stronger commitment to their religion, more participation, and a better ability to talk coherently and knowledgably about their beliefs.  I can’t speak for what the Black Baptists are doing, but I do know what the Mormons are doing differently.

Mormon teens are kept very busy learning and living their religions. Besides three hours of church of Sunday, they also often have meetings called Firesides on Sunday evenings—lectures or discussions on their faith. One evening a week they attend a meeting designed to help them put their beliefs into real world experiences. Most school mornings they attend a religion class before their traditional school begins. Weekends often find them doing service projects or attending dances or other activities with their youth groups. On Monday nights they have a lesson and activity with their families. Each day they study scriptures and pray with their families and on their own.

In addition to all this, they are taught how to live their lives according to the high standards God sets for them. They are expected to be Christians all day every day and to represent Jesus’ name honorably.

In their youth programs, they are given increasing levels of responsibility. They hold leadership positions, planning their own activities under adult mentoring. They conduct meetings, look after the spiritual and temporal needs of the youth in their own programs and learn how to be leaders in God’s kingdom.

When a teenager has this level of commitment and participation in his church, accompanied by support and Christ-like living in the home, he approaches adulthood with the testimony and skills needed to be good Christians. They are taught to feel their Savior’s love and presence all the time, not just when they call on him.

And so, when they become adults, they bring a fairly mature faith to the table. This mature faith, the exposure to good youth leaders (most Mormon teens have two direct youth leaders, six or more in the entire youth program, a Sunday School teacher, a teacher for the early morning class, and their bishop  as role models), and a set of clear and strong values are what some parents come to the Mormons to find.

Next, we’ll learn about people searching for a stronger family life.

About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.

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