Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » How to Be a Missionary, 1936 (1 of 2)

How to Be a Missionary, 1936 (1 of 2)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 17, 2008

Gospel Restoration Themes was a manual prepared by the Deseret Sunday School Union Board in November, 1936, as a study guide for prospective missionaries – a sort of Preach My Gospel for an earlier generation. Most of the chapters are general subjects for gospel study: “Revelation,” “Faith and Works,” “Marriage”; a few lessons concern topics that were real hot-button issues for the day, but which have since lapsed into virtual insignificance: “Does the Presidency of the Church Descend from Father to Son?” and “Was the President of the Reorganized Church Ordained Properly?”

Some of the lessons also deal with the nuts and bolts of missionary labor. Two of them, “The Missionary’s Day” and “Missionary Tools,” are both familiar to anybody who has been or knows a missionary today, and yet different enough that they show us how times have changed. They also clarify for me some of the terms I run across in missionary reports filed during these years.

The Missionary’s Day

Life and Labors of a Missionary

The missionary leads a busy life. That is one reason why a mission is so enjoyable. Then, the cause he represents is the best on earth. That gives him courage to perform every duty pertaining to the work.

The business of the missionary is to proselyte for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. His first task is to find those who may be interested in his message, – the second is to help them know and understand the message, – and the third is to lead such investigators to a testimony of the truth of the gospel restored through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.


People seldom seek out the missionary; he must usually do the seeking; and it is the common xperience that only a few, a very few, of those whom he meets have an interest in his message. Therefore, meet people he must and interest them as well, if he is to accomplish the purpose of his mission.

Tracting has been found an excellent means of meeting people. The missionary starts out with a supply of tracts and pamphlets to visit a selected section of the city. He goes from house to house, rings the doorbell, wisely and politely states his errand. Nearly always are his tracts accepted, and often is he invited into the house to explain his beliefs.

If he tracts properly he goes to the same district again and again, at suitable intervals, until he has discovered those who are friendly to him and his message. Such orderly follow-up tracting always yields the best results.

Street Meetings

Street meetings are also very helpful in meeting people. At regular stated times the missionaries go to the selected corner or place, approved by the police, and there conduct an open air meeting. Th elders sing, pray, sing again and then speak. Ordinarily a crowd gathers to hear what is going on. Very often contacts are made in street meetings that lead to conversions.

Other Devices for Making Contacts

There are of course many other devices for making contacts with people. In one mission, posters announcing Latter-day Saint meetings were printed and pasted on billboards with the consent of the owners. Then, one of the missionaries would look intently at the poster until passersby followed his example; soon a large crowd assembled to read the message on the poster. In another mission where basket ball was scarcely known, the missionaries organized a mission basket ball team, and soon moved toward a championship. In yet another mission, the same was done with baseball. Tennis has been so used. Missionaries have joined debating and other clubs with the consent of the Mission President and thereby have met many people to whom they have explained Mormonism. Book of Mormon exhibits, Word of Wisdom exhibits and other similar devices have brought missionary friends. Illustrated lectures have been very successful in making friends for the Gospel cause. The missionary must ever be alert to meet people. Conversations may be obtained easily if one is on the lookout for them.

Cottage Meetings

The cottage meetings are excellent means for more intimate contacts with friends that have been made. Usually a family that permits a cottage meeting in their home, invites their neighbors and friends – people whom the missionary may not have met before – to be present. Especially is this so, if the missionary is equipped with the recommended small projector and films, with which to interest the people present. Everybody likes pictures, and many who are too busy or do not care to read the missionary’s literature will look at his pictures and listen to his lecture.

M.I.A. and Similar Meetings

These are also excellent places to which investigating friends may be taken. Should the missionary happen to be an officer or teacher in the organization, no harm is done, for it reveals to the stranger more fully the practices of the Church. The purpose of the missionary must be to let the friend see the Church and its people as they are, as well as to learn the doctrine of the church. There should be no later disappointments because the whole truth has not been revealed.

Sabbath Day Meetings

These are the most effective meetings for those who are devoutly inclined. In these meetings the Sabbath reverence adds force to the words that may be spoken. Earnest attempts should be made to bring friends to the Sabbath meetings of the Church.


Some tracting always falls to the lot of the earnest missionary. Sincere investigators desire more informal consultations than can be secured in formal meetings or in the presence of a crowd. members who are sick call for the elders to administer to them. Other similar demands come frequently to the missionary.

Meeting the Press

One of the most important avenues to success in the mission field is through a friendly association with the Press. The newspaper fraternity is made up of kindly, fair minded men and women, who are concerned primarily in securing news, correct news, for their periodicals. Missionaries should seek out the newspaper men in the district in which they labor, supply them with authentic news, and make friends with them. This may require some time and effort in the midst of well-filled days, but will be fully rewarded by the cooperation of the Press in the missionary’s work.

Study and Preparation

It is of first importance that the missionary be able to answer questions propounded to him, and to explain the principles of the Gospel to those with whom he may associate. He must therefore devote some time every day to the study of the Gospel. Such study must be regular and systematic or the information gained will be loose and incomplete.

The Missionary’s Day

The missionary’s day is a busy one. In addition to the time needed for sleeping, eating, prayer and reasonable recreation, he must study, conduct street and other meetings, tract, visit and ever be on the alert for new opportunities for extending his circle of acquaintances. The Church seeks to supply him with the necessary helps, so that he may reap the largest returns from his efforts. These helps are the theme of this series of lessons.

It is hoped that during the year this class will give practical illustrations of the duties that fill the missionary’s day.



  1. Wow, I didn’t know that “Tracting” was so easy and successful!

    Comment by Steve C. — September 17, 2008 @ 7:12 am

  2. Whether or not tracting is easy and successful (I’ve never yet met anyone who whole-heartedly enjoyed it), we sure found that we got more results in an area that had not been tracted for a long time, unlike stated in this publication.

    Comment by Researcher — September 17, 2008 @ 7:30 am

  3. That is one reason why a mission is so enjoyable, Steve.

    We never found an area that hadn’t been tracted to death! I wonder if there wasn’t a difference in tracting once upon a time, though — some of the earlier accounts, like the sister missionary in London in 1852, or the elders in the South in the 1930s, sound as though they were merely trying to drop off a tract, to be followed by a second knock on the door a week later, whereas we were trying to get in the door for a serious discussion at that very moment. Many more people, even in France, might have been willing to take a tract for possible later reading (if only for the sake of quickly and politely getting rid of the missionary at the door) than were willing or able to drop what they were doing, switch mental gears, and have a serious discussion with a stranger who had come by without an invitation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2008 @ 7:31 am

  4. Oh, I guess Ardis enjoyed it. :-)

    Comment by Researcher — September 17, 2008 @ 7:32 am

  5. Well, of COURSE I did, Researcher! What’s not to enjoy? :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  6. My sarcasm about tracting aside and on a more serious note, I find interesting the methods employed by the Church and missionaries during this time. This adds context my research. In going over mission records for the German missions in the 1930s, the term “Friend” was often used. I originally thought it just refered non-members but this suggests that Friends were investigators or non-members who were not antagonistic toward and/or supported the Church. I also found interesting the concept of Cottage Meetings and slide lectures. In the German missions it was common for the missionaries to conduct slide lectures in Cottage Meetings and as part of district conferences. Lectures would be about Utah or the American West and then the idea was to strike up a discussion about the Church. Other times, a “lecturer” would speak about aspects of the Church. In Germany, a non-LDS sociologist spoke at these lectures. He had studied the LDS culture in Utah and knew many GAs. Unfortunately, he also tried to slip in Nazi propaganda. I’m sure those were interesting lectures to say the least.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 17, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  7. Thanks for the write-up, Arids. I love this stuff. The bit about the Press is interesting. If I remember right, this was published just one year after young Gordon Hinckley joined the nascent Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee of the Church.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 17, 2008 @ 10:22 am

  8. J., yes, and in the same booklet with this piece is a script GBH prepared for a lecture (to accompany a filmstrip) on South American ruins and the Book of Mormon, to be used at cottage meetings. If I can get a few of the images to illustrate a post, I’m going to write that one up for Keepa.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  9. Hugh B. Brown told a great story about tracting–in Norwich, where the previous missionaries had been run out of town, and where he was without companion, going from door to door leaving tracts where he got no response.

    Someone got the tract, went to Elder Brown’s address, asked him if he would come preach to them–a group of families that had left their church and were looking for a new pastor.

    He went, preached, miracles occurred, all were baptized, remained faithful, etc. etc.

    A great talk! It must be available somewhere online.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 17, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  10. Mark, I just found it in the April 1974 Ensign at (and I need somebody to teach me how to make links to articles there — my links never seem to work with their long and strange URLs). It’s called “Will You Be Our Pastor?” An excerpt:

    While I was sitting by the little open fireplace trying to warm myself and pondering the folly of the Lord in sending me there, there came a knock at the door. The landlady answered the door and I heard a man’s voice say, “Is there an Elder Brown living here?” I thought, oh-oh, this is it.

    She said, “Why, yes sir, he’s in the front room. Come in.”

    He came in and he had a tract in his hand. He looked at me with a doubtful expression and said, “Are you Elder Brown?” And I couldn’t deny it. He said, “Did you leave this tract under my door?”

    I said, “Yes, I did.”

    He said, “Elder Brown, last Sunday 17 families left the Church of England. We’re all large families, and since I have a large home with a very large room in it, the crowd came and filled my house—all members of the Church of England until that day. We had prayer together, and we agreed among ourselves that all through the week we’d pray to God to send us a new pastor.”

    Then he said, “When I came home tonight I was sure the Lord had not heard our prayers. I was dejected until I opened the door and found this tract lying on the floor. Then, as I read it, I knew the Lord had answered our prayers. I have come now to ask if you will come tomorrow and be our pastor.”

    I hadn’t been in the mission field three days. I hadn’t held a meeting or attended a meeting in the mission field. No one could have been more helpless than I, and yet the man was asking, “Will you be our pastor?”

    I didn’t know what a pastor was, but I did what any elder would do under those circumstances. I pulled in my chin, squared my shoulders, and said, “Yes, sir, I’ll be there.”

    Look up the article to read the amazing sequel.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 18, 2008 @ 8:22 am

  11. Hugh B. Brown was one of my favorite apostles. Just saying.

    Comment by Ray — September 18, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  12. FWIW, one can also listen to a 1967 BYU devotional address in which he told the story (it begins at about 42:40).

    Comment by Justin — September 18, 2008 @ 10:24 am

  13. “For what it’s worth,” he says modestly, as he pulls another rabbit out of his hat.

    Comment by Researcher — September 18, 2008 @ 11:35 am

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