Linda A. Charney, “Joining the Church,” in Latter-day Saint Essentials: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. John W. Welch and Devan Jensen (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), 162–4.
Converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have various motivations for their initial interest in the Church, and many factors influence them in the conversion process. However, they generally share three common experiences as they seek baptism and membership in the Church. First, most of those interested in joining the Church meet with missionaries for a series of brief lessons on basic LDS beliefs and religious practices. Second, all prospective converts must demonstrate in a prebaptism interview with a Church representative that they are making an informed decision of their own free will and that they willingly fulfill the baptismal requirements. Third, every convert must receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation as performed by authorized representatives of the Church and be accepted as a member of the local ward or branch by the common consent of the members.
LDS converts come from a wide age range and from all socioeconomic groups. Often they have friends or acquaintances who are already members, but sometimes they are located by missionary contacting. They typically have a desire to improve their lives by learning correct gospel principles and by uniting themselves with others having similar needs and attitudes. Thus, the common essential in most conversions to the Church is obtaining a personal conviction that the Church today is authorized by God to teach and administer the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All who are interested in joining the Church must know and understand the responsibilities that Church membership will bring. To this end, they receive a series of lessons from LDS missionaries or from members of the Church. At this stage, prospective converts are called “investigators,” because they are investigating or studying the Church. The lessons are called the missionary “discussions,” because although they cover standardized topics, missionaries are encouraged to present them in an informal, conversational manner. For example, missionaries typically share their personal experiences and feelings about the topics discussed, and encourage investigators to do likewise, asking questions and giving reactions to LDS teachings. These lessons are usually taught in a home setting, to individuals or to a small group.
The lessons teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the nature of the Godhead, the plan of salvation, keeping the commandments, and living a Christlike life. They also discuss the life and mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, and the importance of following the prophets living today.
Investigators are asked to make various commitments during their course of study, which may last a few weeks or several months, depending on their individual rate of preparation toward baptism. For example, they are challenged and encouraged to engage in daily prayer and scripture study, especially prayerful study of the Book of Mormon. Those who wish to join the Church are urged to begin living an LDS lifestyle. This includes striving for Christlike attitudes and behavior in all circumstances; attending Church meetings; abstaining from harmful substances, including tobacco, alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, and drugs; beginning to tithe; living a moral and chaste life; and laboring to serve those in need.
In the interview customarily conducted by an authorized Church representative prior to baptism, the interviewer determines the candidate’s willingness and worthiness to enter into the baptismal covenant. During this interview, baptismal candidates are asked whether they have a heartfelt testimony of the fundamental doctrine of the Church. All baptismal candidates also must declare whether they currently keep, and will continue to keep, God’s commandments through their lives.
Baptism is required for Church membership. It represents a covenant with God whereby the candidate agrees to follow Christ and live his commandments. The requirements for baptism are described in the Doctrine and Covenants as follows: “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church” (D&C 20:37). Baptism symbolizes the washing away of sins as well as a rebirth and the beginning of a new life on earth leading to eternal life with God.
Baptism is followed by confirmation into the Church by the laying on of hands of one holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. During this ordinance, the new convert is confirmed a member of the Church and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is typically a momentous and joyous occasion for all involved. Following his confirmation the convert is presented for acceptance by the local membership as a member in full fellowship and embarks on a life of spiritual growth through obedience to the laws of God and activity and service in the Church.
Rector, Hartman, and Connie Rector. No More Strangers, 4 vols. Salt Lake City, 1971–90.