The March 17th issue of Church News included an article about the LDS Church in Yonkers, New York. The article highlighted the work of a senior missionary couple that sparked “needed growth” of the Church in that area.According to the article, Yonkers, the fourth largest city in New York, is “just a few miles north of Manhattan” and home to 200,000 people. Even so, the Church struggles there to have enough active members to keep an English-speaking branch going.
Five years ago, the small Yonkers branch was merged into the Westchester 1st Ward “due to insufficient priesthood leadership.” The article explains what happened next:
Since then, some faithful members in Yonkers simply could not attend Sunday meetings at the Scarsdale meetinghouse…due to transportation issues.”The number of cars among the members is limited. Public transportation is inefficient; with no direct routes, it could take members several hours to reach the meeting house on a Sunday morning,” said President Taylor.
Missionaries stopped actively proselytizing in Yonkers because most investigators simply had no way to get to Church meetings.
I’m puzzled by this. Mormon magazines are always filled with stories of Latter-day Saints who must walk for miles to get to Church every Sunday, or members who travel for hours each way. LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has stated that the reason the Church is so successful in membership growth is because it is demanding and “expects great things” from its members. But because there is no convenient way for the people in Yonkers to get to an LDS meetinghouse a few miles away the missionaries stop preaching the gospel to them?
To me, this speaks volumes. The LDS missionary’s primary message is not “come unto Christ,” but rather “come unto the LDS Church.” The idea that there is no use teaching people about Jesus and His substitutionary atonement unless they can easily get to a meetinghouse is entirely foreign to Christian missions and the Great Commission Jesus gave to His people. “Go into all the world,” He said, “and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Later, the Apostle Paul said, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ,…preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season…do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5).
This illustrates the difference between the LDS missionary system (proselytizing) and the biblical missionary system (evangelizing). One is focused on church growth; the other is focused on sharing the Good News of the Gospel — that Jesus died to set sinners free.