Elizabeth Montgomery and Dr. Brent Top, Department of Religious Education
Conducting this research project about missionary work in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has been an interesting and enjoyable adventure. The purpose of this report is to chronicle my experiences and to publish a few of the research conclusions we have reached at this point in time. The research is not yet completed, but it is our goal to submit a manuscript for publication in the Religious Educator by March 2013. This report will begin with a discussion of the research process and what I learned from it, after which I will discuss the results as well as the future direction we will be taking.
The process of doing this research was exciting and enlightening, and although the data and results are obviously important, I consider my research experience to have been even more valuable. It all began with a simple question I asked myself in August of 2011: “What do LDS missionaries learn on their missions?” Instead of simply asking around, I thought it would be neat to do a survey. After discovering I needed to get approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to work with human subjects, I decided to expand my research interests even further. In addition to what missionaries learned, I wanted to know what helped them prepare and what they attribute their growth to while on their missions. I pored over all the missionary literature I could find, including other studies similar to mine. My survey was expanded, compressed, and refined as I consulted with my mentor, returned missionaries, and especially by using a pilot study to test the survey. Finally, the survey was everything I wanted it to be.
This was when I hit my first roadblock: approval of my research. All human subjects research must be approved by the IRB, and also (unbeknownst to me), all LDS-centric research must be approved by the church. My project was the first to require this additional approval, and by the time I was informed of it, I had just begun a three month internship in Romania.
I couldn’t do much while 6,000 miles away, but after the internship, I continued full-force in pursuit of approval. Over the summer, I visited with the chair of the IRB assigned to my case, and I considerably revised my survey to be acceptable to both the church and the IRB. (Fortunately and surprisingly to me, I liked the revised survey even better than my original one!) After much correspondence with the IRB, I finally obtained approval to continue my research in the beginning of September 2012. The rest was easy: I announced the online survey and handed out fliers in over 20 randomly selected religion classes. While the return rate was smaller than we had hoped (117 total respondents), it was enough to begin data analysis. Throughout Fall semester, I began to examine and code the responses. Though I still have much to do, Dr. Top and I have discussed the findings so far, and we are very hopeful for the future.
Before discussing some of the results, I want to touch on a few specifics that I learned from the research process. First, I learned that I love doing research. It still amazes me that this all began with a simple question, and now we have generated incredibly valuable knowledge that will be used to improve missionary service and validate the words of church leaders. I feel like I’m giving back to society, and that through this research, I can really make a positive difference in the world. I have loved watching the research evolve and participating in it every step of the way. It’s so exciting to me, and I look forward to the research I will continue to do in my future education and career.
The second significant thing I learned is that a researcher must be very vigilant in their research and make it a priority if they are to succeed. My research was done over a very lengthy timetable, and even though much of this fact is due to the hefty approval needs of my project, I admit that I could have been far more diligent about completing my research tasks sooner. There is a lot to be done in any research project, especially when you’re doing it on your own, and I’ve learned that it’s vital to stay on top of it. I’ve improved on this aspect since the project began, but I know I have a long way to go. I think that being aware of this will significantly help me with future research because I now know hard I will have to work to keep a project moving quickly and smoothly.
The results we have found so far have been fascinating. The crux of the research relied on free response answers from the participants about the top five things that helped them prepare for their mission (spiritually and temporally) and the top five things that they learned on their mission (spiritually and temporally). I have begun coding all four of these sections and have completed the first section on spiritual preparation. Within the responses, three main categories emerged: personal preparation (preparation which can be done on one’s own), social support (preparation through interaction with others), and institutional training (preparation done in a group setting, specifically in church or church-created programs). More specifically, out of 117 respondents, 84 listed gospel study, 54 listed church, 43 listed family, and 41 listed prayer. Other notable responses were seminary (36), temple worship (29), a mission prep class (26), and interacting with current or returned missionaries (25). While these responses come as no surprise to LDS members, gathering this information in the form of data makes it even more powerful.
Another section asked the participants to pick and rank the reasons for their personal growth while on their mission. There were 20 to choose from, and they chose and ranked up to 7. The top three responses were “Having daily, meaningful scripture study” (80 responses), “Having daily, sincere prayer” (72 responses), and “Testifying of the gospel” (61 responses). It is interesting to note that none of these activities are limited to those participating in full-time missionary work, though they are likely done more consistently by missionaries than non-missionaries.
As mentioned previously, Dr. Top and I plan on submitting our results to the Religious Educator, which we both believe will be very interested in this data. The LDS church recently lowered its age requirement for full-time missionaries, making the preparation sections of this research even more applicable and valuable. If possible, we plan on doing another round of data collection to acquire more female responses so that we can better analyze gender differences in the data. And just as in the spiritual preparation section, we expect to see obvious trends and gain helpful information from the remaining sections. Overall, this has been an incredible learning experience for me, and we are very hopeful that our results will be widely known, appreciated, and used.