Dave Ostler, who lives in Northern Virginia (Washington, D.C. metro area), was raised in Salt Lake City, served a mission in Japan, married in the temple, and was educated in the Eastern U.S. He and Sister Ostler have lived in New York, Minnesota, England, India, and Sierra Leone, Africa, where they presided over the Church’s mission until it was temporarily closed due to an Ebola outbreak. They subsequently served a mission (one of five for Brother Ostler) with a responsibility for historical sites in Palmyra. More recently they were asked by their stake presidency to explore the reasons some LDS members cease attending church or lose their faith. Brother Ostler has also served as a bishop and stake president. Now retired, he professionally developed research data to help people make better healthcare decisions.

Highlights

3:00 Letter with survey link sent to 700 people asking why they don’t attend church. Conducted focus group and met in non-church setting before forming conclusions. Spoke with ward/stake leaders to ascertain their views.  Recommended a training plan for the stake to address the survey findings.

5:00 Solicited ward/stake leader views with 120 statements/questions. Analyzed 600 responses to compare leader assumptions to responses given by members who had left.

6:27 Anecdotal examples of non-church goer reactions to the invitation to be surveyed.

9:00 What survey recipients want church leaders to know. (Responses to an open-end question)

12:00 Listen as Christ would listen. Don’t respond to fewer actives with an overly prescriptive approach. Avoid the tendency to “talk them into” returning to the fold.

14:00 Faith “transition” (not “crisis”) perhaps has a less negative connotation for some who will transition to a more meaningful faith. Crisis often happens in a compressed time where something causes a person to lose all footing as to what they believe and can rely on. Leaders should avoid overly broad assumptions.

21:45 Summary of common assumptions by leaders as to why people have fallen away, compared to what survey respondents said were their actual reasons. Do the assumptions about members being offended, having conflict with a fellow member or not wanting to live the commandments hold up under scrutiny?

25:00 Discussion of “triggers” that prompt some to lose their faith foundation. What about church history, gender roles, transparency and LGBT issues? Respondents’ views vary by their age and gender.

27:20 Making effective use of the “Gospel Topics” essays on the Church website to provide context and build trust. Some leaders have not read them. Does faith mean having the answers to everything?

32:05 “Social” issues may fuel the fire of someone already in a faith crisis. Building a community of acceptance versus being dismissive. Does the content of church meetings reflect relevancy to help people develop a pathway forward? They want to be able to trust the institution, feel supported and find relevance. Are teachers/leaders tempted to respond to inquiries by testimony alone?  Leader example.

41:00 Protecting the doctrine while also showing empathy as a leader. Teach people, not lessons. Christ dined with the publicans. Are we more accepting of investigators than we are of members? A “culture of certainty” in congregations may, in some cases, diminish the reality of those who struggle.

49:30 Dual nature of a bishop’s role—(a) pastoral and (b) organizational. In sacrament meetings is there a tendency to overuse certain themes at the expense of other relevant topics? Address the issue of faith struggles from the pulpit. Are teachers examples of inclusion or are people induced to form a “foyer ward?” Dealing with these issues in ward council and first-Sunday priesthood/relief society councils. Seeking to understand, not twist arms. Are female views (as opposed to mere affirmation/echo chambers) actively sought in stake/ward council meetings? Admitting “I don’t know” as a leader.

1:01:20 As leaders do we feel threatened by people’s raw emotions, or do we seek to engage and create a ministering relationship while avoiding quick-fix tendencies?

1:08:30 Evolving in our faith journey towards sanctification.

1:10:38 Brother Ostler seeks leader views as to how they have dealt effectively with uncertainty.

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