Recently, at Feminist Mormon Housewives, a few relatively heated comments focused on church contact with ex-members. Commenter Tiff wrote:
Try leaving the church . . . . My family and I moved four times in three years. Each time within days the ward missionaries appeared at our door. We told them we werenâ€™t interested and yet they still kept contacting us. . . . The church wonâ€™t leave us alone.
I’ve seen similar statements made by disaffected former members in many other fora. And I must say, I’ve never found these arguments at all convincing. Here’s why: The portrayal is so starkly at odds with my own lived experience as a Mormon. I’m a lifelong member who has attended wards in a dozen states. And my experience with Mormonism is that the church is a terribly ineffective recordkeeper.
I barely manage to do my own home teaching at a minimal level. I think that most wards in which I’ve attended, home teaching has been well below 30%. And that’s often with mostly active families as both hometeacher and hometeachee! In many (most?) ward, even the people who want a visit don’t get one, unless they make a lot of noise.
Add to that the fact that many ward members have only scanty knowledge about other ward members. I know who the members of my own bishopric are, yes. But there are dozens of active ward members in my ward who I could barely pick out of a lineup. I barely know who the names or faces of the people attending my Elders Quorum classes. Do you think I have any idea who any of the less active members are in my ward? I don’t. I have no idea at all.
Finally, I find it absolutely incredible that the church recordkeeping machine moves with this degree of alacrity. I’ve moved from one ward to another several times over the years. The process of getting records moved has often been a lengthy and touch-and-go roller coaster ride. In some cases, getting records moved has required repeated efforts on my part — and this from an active member! And don’t even get me started on baptismal or baby blessing records. I’ve had to work with a clerk to replace those, after some of my own children’s records were apparently misplaced or misentered or mis-something.
Thus, the FMH comment that “My family and I moved four times in three years. Each time within days the ward missionaries appeared at our door” strikes me as completely alien — utterly out-of-step with anything that I’ve ever seen in any ward in which I’ve ever lived. The commenter might as well be describing the surface of the moon. The world in which she lives is one I’ve simply never seen.
It boggles my mind to suggest that a prior ward would have quick knowledge of a former member’s move. If I left my current ward and didn’t tell anyone about it — and if I weren’t the EQ teacher and choir accompanist — I doubt that anyone would notice for weeks, or months. Our support structure just isn’t all that great. And like most other wards, it’s driven largely by information provided by moving memberrs themselves. If I moved and didn’t tell church recordkeepers about it, I would drop out of the ward and effectively out of church records.
In contrast, the record processing suggested by the FMH comment is lightning fast. “Within days” there were ward missionaries? That’s just mind-boggling. It takes months to get my records moved, and I’m an active member. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ward that regularly gets anyone’s records within days after moving.
And of course, there’s the visiting. The idea that someone would move from ward to ward to ward, each of which would have an infrastructure in place to get visits out within days, is far out of step with anything I’ve observed.
This is not to say that it is impossible for such an experience to ever happen. I suppose it’s theoretically possible that a former member could move from the most-efficient-ward-in-the-country directly to the second-most-efficient-ward-in-the-country to the third-most-efficient-ward-in-the-country, all in short order. But the odds of that occurring seem awfully small. And because of that, I have a hard time buying into the church-as-stalker meme. If the church is a stalker, it’s the least effective stalker I’ve ever seen.