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Home > Issues > 2012 > Fall > Ministering to Mormons

Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, Glenn Beck, Steve Young, and Donnie and Marie Osmond—the list of famous Mormons continues to grow. So much so that Newsweek recently called this "The Mormon Moment." Behind this sudden public prominence is decades of rapid growth for the Latter Day Saints, and few evangelical churches have much success in reaching them. Alpine Church, a non-denominational, five-campus church in northern Utah, is a notable exception. To understand what it takes to reach our Mormon neighbors, we talked to Steve Bennetsen, one of Alpine's teaching pastors.

What made you want to minister in Utah?

After attending Moody Bible Institute, I worked in a church near Chicago. I enjoyed ministering in that area, but I wanted to be somewhere with greater spiritual need. When I learned that Utah, apart from Mormon wards, is actually the most unchurched area in America, it grabbed my heart. Only one percent of the population attend an evangelical church. Utah is one of America's greatest mission fields. There is a smaller percentage here than in places like Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

To understand the culture. At first glance, Utah looks like any other place in America. But the Latter Day Saints church influences every aspect of the culture, from education to business to government to media. The church owns the major businesses and media outlets. Every night, the news spins a positive piece about the Mormon Church. This religion touches every aspect of society in Utah.

How do you speak effectively within that culture?

Many Mormons believe evangelical Christianity is for morally-lazy people, for people who want to drink coffee and wear jeans to church. So one of the biggest challenges we face is leading people to understand the gospel. The gospel is not about performance or religious ability. The gospel teaches we are sinners and only God can save us. That gospel is a new idea to many people, and many find it offensive.

We ask them if they have had a defining moment of being saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. We tell them that only when they have received a new identity can they begin to honor God. Getting people to understand that sequence is the biggest challenge we face, because they have been indoctrinated with the idea that salvation is linked to works. We want to honor God with our lives. But we tell them we can never earn salvation. Only the Cross can do that.

If we are going to be effective in reaching this culture, we can't simply try to change people's doctrine. While doctrine is important, reaching Mormons is not primarily a doctrinal issue. Mormonism affects a person's entire worldview. So we have had to think deeply about how we address their culture, not just attack their beliefs.

What approach has been most successful?

Historically, most evangelical churches have isolated themselves and served as refuges from the Mormon culture. But we decided to actively engage Mormon culture.

We discovered that a good first step is simply to invite somebody to church. In our context, inviting people to church is not offensive. In Manhattan people might find it offensive, but that's a secular society. Things are different in Utah. It's considered normal to invite someone to church. When they come, we work hard to create a Sunday service that makes sense to Mormons. We want to engage them without being offensive.

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Related Topics:Community ImpactEvangelismMediaSalvation
From Issue:Ministry's Core, Fall 2012 | Posted: October 29, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 17 comments

Mary Darrell

November 25, 2012  5:37pm

Several years ago I turned away from my door two young Mormon missionaries. After closing my door, I felt a rebuke from the Lord. He said: "Don't ever do that again!" I never have. I was not afraid at the time to invite them in nor to engage in discussion as I had both studied the Word and Mormonism. The boys (as they seem to me since I am a senior citizen) are usually surprised when I smile and invite them in. I offer them something to drink and converse casually with them. But I have a strategy now. I don't become involved in the peripheral teachings (which they usually avoid also at first) and try to steer the conversation to one area--Jesus' question to His disciples: "Who do men say that I am?" and then ask them "Who do you say that Jesus is?" Upon this question any religion rises or falls! Eventually I try to bring out the Mormon teaching that Jesus and Lucifer were soul brothers in a pre-existence. Since this is not the same Jesus that I know, a discussion can ensue.

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Hales Swift

November 20, 2012  7:46pm

Overall the article was decently good. I had one significant objection to it: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not obtain W-2 forms from its members and the suggestion that they do is woefully ignorant.

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Marlene Stewart

November 13, 2012  7:58am

Clear, concise, lovingly stated.

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November 10, 2012  6:07pm

An accurate and fair article overall. Although, it is just not true that the W2 forms of the LDS are reviewed by the Church. That’s just nonsense. It's a puzzle to me how such an error crept into your mind. You should know better. Mormons answer the question "Who is God?" with another question, "Who is man?" The non-LDS Christian does not understand the Biblically correct answer to this question, and therefore cannot answer the first question correctly either. The answer to the question, "Who is Jesus?" likewise cannot be answered correctly, by non-LDS Christians, because, again, they don't know the answer to the question, "Who is man?" This is because Jesus was and is and forever will be the “Son of Man.” Christians who reject the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, and the restoration of the house of Israel, taught by the LDS Church, reject the Bible.

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Steve Bennetsen

November 02, 2012  2:00pm

(continued 3 of 3) As for the issue of works and salvation, I certainly don’t want to tell my LDS friends what they believe, but the widely held belief is that one’s good works are a necessary precursor to receiving the grace of God. As the B of M says in 2 Nephi 25:33, one is saved by God’s grace “after all we can do.” So certainly LDS believe that cannot be saved apart from grace, but it something one receives based on demonstrating their worthiness to receive it. This is significant because it is a very different view of grace than is presented in the Bible. Biblically, grace is a free gift one receives based purely on faith, completely apart from works. Our good works are the result of God’s grace in our lives, not the precursor to it. I hope these are helpful clarifications. If LDS readers do not believe these are fair characterizations of LDS belief, please feel free to respond. Thanks!

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