You’ve probably seen the recent story about the LDS Church saving surplus tithing funds and growing a large “rainy day fund”, estimated at $100B. 

The math goes like this. Let’s assume the Church takes in $1B per year surplus in tithing. For example, let’s say the Church brings in $7B in tithing and expenses are $6B. That means $1B is leftover. What do you do with the extra $1B? Options could be:

  • Spend it anyway. That’s what most organizations would do.
  • Give some back to members. A tithing dividend at the end of the year. Might be nice to get a check for about a month’s worth of tithing at the end of the year.
  • Save it to use later. This appears to be what the Church has done.

Saving $1B a year and investing at an interest rate of 7% (the rate the whistleblower claims the Church is realizing on this fund) would grow to about $100B after 30 years. Dang. I wish I started saving like that 30 years ago.

So the Church is sitting on $100B reserves. What to do with all that cash? I have an idea.

Missionary Service

I served a missionary to Korea almost 30 years ago which I loved. My oldest three kids have all served missions in the last few years. I believe missionaries are currently required to donate four hours a week of their time to pure service. Activities include: English classes, visiting orphanages, picking up garbage, yardwork for the needy, etc. These activities were some of the most rewarding moments of my mission.

One of the biggest challenges of my three kids’ missions seemed to be how to fill up their time, especially the day time hours. Most of their evenings seemed to be productive: teaching appointments, visiting new investigators, proselyting during peak hours when people are home, visiting members, etc. A lot of their day time hours were very boring, very tedious, very unproductive.

I propose a radical change to the missionary schedule, shifting their total service hours to 20 hours a week. Four hours a day Tue-Sat (assuming Monday is P-Day). This would be done during the “downtime” hours between 10 am and 5 pm. With over 65,000 missionaries, this equates to 68 million service hours per year! Or the equivalent of a 32,000 full time service work force.

It’s a problem figuring out what you’re going to spend your four hours a week on in service. Bumping that to 20 would put too much pressure on the missionaries to brainstorm service ideas, and they would end up being inefficient with their time. This leads to Part 2 of my proposal.

Capital Budget

With this change, I also propose a capital budget of $1B per year. This could be allocated by taking $15 of the current $100B reserve fund and allocating it to a Missionary Service Endowment fund, which would produce $1B per year at the current 7% interest rate. Since the Church has surplus of $1B tithing already, this $15B would quickly be replaced anyway.

That’s 1,000 projects per year around the world with a one million dollar budget. Every year. This works out to be $2.5M per year for each of the 399 missions. What could one mission create in terms of infrastructure for service per year with a budget of two and a half million dollars? Each stake or ward in the church would call service specialists and leaders to help coordinate missionary time in these various initiatives. Senior missionaries would be called to manage things at the mission level. There would probably be full time salaried positions as well.

Orphanages, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, low cost dental services, low cost basic medical services, low cost housing construction, clean water initiatives, farms and ranches, battered wife shelters, more structured English teaching classes, small public schools in rural areas, marketing to leverage what’s being done and get more people involved.

You combine that capital with the 32,000 FTE service hours and wow, you have a huge positive force for good in the world. Something the LDS Church could be very proud of. Something that would transform missionaries’ lives as well as the people they’re serving.

 

Richard Bushman wrote an opinion piece for the Deseret News where he talked about how LDS are known as the people of good will. We’re known as people that are good and honest and willing to serve and help any good cause. He called this Radiant Mormonism. We do this through our commitment and our competency.

Say you are living in the Ukraine in a time of disaster and a Mormon comes by and offers you help. Will you trust her? You will if you know two things about Mormons. The first is their intentions. They have your best interests at heart. They are not maneuvering for their own gain. They only want to help. The second is that they are competent. They know what they are doing. They have skill.

During Hurricane Sandy, a Mormon developed an electronic system for matching up families with needs for help with the hundreds of helpers who were flowing into the area with their tools and willing hands. A family could register at this center, specifying the nature of the work needed, and the helpers could check in to find the people who needed their aid. It was a Mormon who devised the system and made it work. It is not enough to be good-hearted. We have to know what we are doing.

I believe that radiant Mormonism has as its mission the formation of trust wherever Mormons are. We have to show that we only desire the best for the people around us, and we have to demonstrate our competence.

 

This missionary service proposal steps up Radiant Mormonism to a high level of visibility all around the world.

 

We have the labor. We have the capital. We have the business managers that can put these to use very effectively. Let’s do it.

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