A couple of years ago I interviewed a number of transitioning Latter-day Saints about the obstacles they have faced in trying to become incorporated into a new church after Mormonism. Transitioning Latter-day Saints include those who have made some kind of major break with Mormonism, including significant loss of loyalty or belief, and who have made a commitment to, or are moving toward, the historic, biblical Christian faith.
Because of its scope and design, the survey was not scientifically reliable. But I believe it yields some insights nonetheless. I asked my interview subjects two sets of questions. The first three questions were quantitative:
1. How long was it from the day you stopped attending Sacrament Meeting until you chose the new church you were going to attend?
2. How long until you felt like this new church was truly a family or community to you? (If you haven’t yet experienced this, let me know that it is X months / years and counting…)
3. How many congregations did you try before you settled in to one?
My second set of questions was more qualitative:
4. What were the greatest challenges you faced in the process of connecting with a non-LDS local church?
5. What did churches do that helped (either consciously or by accident)?
6. What did churches do that hindered?
The response to these questions fell into two general categories. One set of obstacles that hindered transitioning Latter-day Saints from connecting with a new church had to do with the difficulty of shedding one religious and cultural identity and adopting another. The second set of obstacles involved negative personal experiences that my respondents had with particular churches or their members.
For example, transitioning Latter-day Saints may have difficulty with a new church because of their expectations of what a church is and does. Based on the LDS experience, it may be expected that the church will provide extensive social structures and activities. One family with teenagers, who came out of the LDS Church in a small town, had a hard time finding alternatives for their teens. In their largely LDS town, the smaller non-Mormon churches simply could not offer the same opportunities as the local ward. This reflects the need to help transitioning Latter-day Saints understand the biblical nature of the church, and develop a new set of expectations for church life based on biblical rather than LDS cultural norms.
Over the next few days, I’ll comment on some of the other challenges that respondents said they faced in trying to become part a non-LDS congregation.