Richard Lloyd Anderson and Worldwide Church Growth
Richard Lloyd Anderson and Worldwide
Richard O. Cowan
My first contact with the work of Richard Lloyd Anderson came when I had the
privilege of serving a summer stake mission in Los Angeles as a high school
youth. I was told about a remarkable new teaching outline that had been developed
in the Northwestern States Mission and was encouraged to write for a copy. Presently
I received in the mail a large envelope containing material in a black folder
entitled “A Plan for Effective Missionary Work.” I was impressed with
its persuasive use of scriptural passages to teach gospel concepts. Only in
later years when I began studying recent Latter-day Saint history did I more fully
appreciate the widespread impact of Anderson’s work.
During the church’s earlier decades, door-to-door
“tracting” had been the primary method by which missionaries
contacted people. The object was to leave a religious tract at every home,
hoping for a possible discussion later if individuals had any questions from
their reading. Often weeks would go by without any apparent results from the
missionaries’ efforts. Not surprisingly, several twentieth-century mission
presidents compiled materials to help missionaries be more effective in their
Still, no organized missionary lesson
plans were available. Many missionaries filled this vacuum by building their
discussions around existing series of tracts. One popular series, “Rays
of Living Light” by Charles W. Penrose, “presented the first principles
of the gospel [but] with little mention of Joseph Smith and the restoration.”
Another series, Elder Brigham H. Roberts’s “Why Mormonism?” gave
more emphasis to “the message of the restoration.”1
Another publication in 1937 was destined to have a long-lasting impact on
Latter-day Saint missionary work. LeGrand Richards, a future presiding bishop
and member of the Council of the Twelve, concluded his presidency of the Southern
States Mission by leaving a copy of The
Message of Mormonism with each missionary. This outline was prepared
to assist the missionaries in their study and presentations of the gospel
in a systematic and logical manner. In twenty-four weekly topics, a missionary
could cover the restoration and basic doctrines of the gospel. Under each
topic President Richards outlined key scriptures, listed tracts or other available
reading matter, and suggested questions that should be answered in the discussion.
The “major emphasis” was on teaching the gospel; “little mention
was made of the need for the investigator to accept baptism at the hands of
During the next several years many other missions adopted this plan. Repeated
requests for copies eventually led Elder Richards to enlarge his material and
to publish it in book form under the title A Marvelous Work and a Wonder.
This became one of the most popular Latter-day Saint doctrinal works of
the twentieth century.
The “Anderson Plan”
Following the close of World War II, the church’s full-time missionary force
soared from 477 in 1945 to 2,244 a year later. This meant that there were
many new missionaries in the field who lacked experience and who could profit
from some assistance and direction. To help meet this need, various mission
presidents compiled guidelines and suggestions that were distributed among
their own missionaries and often in adjoining missions. Without question,
the most widely circulated postwar proselyting outline was that prepared by
Richard L. Anderson.
Elder Anderson built on foundations others
had laid. As a youth he was impressed by accounts of his father’s missionary
experiences in Missouri at the time of World War I. The father and his missionary companion had challenged
each other to memorize one hundred scriptures. After accomplishing this significant
goal, Elder Lloyd Anderson had an opportunity
to employ his newly acquired arsenal while preaching on a street corner. After
the discourse a bystander remarked:
“I never have heard a person quote so many scriptures—and less
said.” Still, hearing this comment would kindle in young Richard a love
for the scriptures.
Richard L. Anderson enlisted in the Navy
during World War II. While stationed at Jacksonville, Florida, he enjoyed
going out with the local missionaries.
It was at this time that he met and was profoundly impressed by Reid E. Bankhead,
an ensign who was also at the Jacksonville naval base. Bankhead gave
a series of fireside lectures on topics commonly discussed by the missionaries.
Anderson was impressed with Bankhead’s ability to select key conversion topics
and to present the scriptures effectively. This experience reinforced young
Anderson’s determination to hone his own skills in using the scriptures to
teach the gospel. While in the service, Anderson visited with many other missionaries
to see what they were doing successfully. As he gathered this added perspective,
the major features of his own future method took shape.3
In the fall of 1946, one year after the war ended, young Elder Anderson arrived
in the Northwestern States Mission. He was now determined to build on the
teaching concepts he had worked out while in the military service.
Under this program, rather than merely handing out tracts at the door, the
missionaries’ objective was to get inside the homes in order to present their
message. “We would better understand our purpose in tracting if we termed
it personal contacting,” Elder Anderson explained. “The Lord tells
us to preach the gospel.
Passing out literature is not
effective tracting—the object is to get inside.”4
Another key feature gleaned from others’ experiences was emphasis on the
Book of Mormon as a powerful teaching tool and key to conversion. Placing
copies was a specific goal of the initial contact. “If the Book of Mormon
is explained in a clear and
distinct way,” Anderson affirmed, “any honest person should want
to read it.”5 Fourteen doctrinal discussions,
beginning with two on the Book of Mormon, were arranged in a logical sequence
to bring conversion.
The plan emphasized the need to secure commitments as teaching progressed.
The first major feature in each lesson was “Agreement to be reached.”6
“One topic should not be left until agreement is reached;
it is pointless to ever hand out information without definite commitment on
the part of the investigator.”7
The main body of each lesson was entitled “Material to discuss.”8
Emphasis was on a logical analysis of relevant scriptures. Open and direct
questions allowed the investigator “to decide what each scripture meant,
and then . . . to express his frank opinion after sufficient proof was presented.”
Questions were designed to foster commitment and belief.9
“Arouse the prospect to active thinking
and definite reaction on each point.”10 No dialogue was provided, but missionaries were
to get the logical sequence of topics in mind and then present the material
in their own words. They were urged to memorize scriptures. “Don’t let a day go by that you don’t
memorize at least one passage.”11
A selection from the first discussion, on the Book of Mormon, illustrates
the plan’s structure and flavor:
Gen. 49:1, 8—10. Jacob prophesies
what will befall each tribe. Judah receives the blessing of kingship—he
will be the political leader. The point of reading this passage is to make
clear the difference in the blessings given these two most important tribes,
Judah and Joseph. (I Ch. 5:2 will often help here.) Gen. 49:22, 23 v.
26. What does the word “progenitors” mean? Who are Joseph’s
progenitors? They inherited the definite area known as Palestine. If Joseph’s
blessing prevails above their blessing, will he inherit a land of greater
scope and extent?12
Still, a key step was missing. During
his first missionary assignment, at Bend, Oregon, Elder Anderson observed
that though the people appeared to believe what was being taught, something
more was needed “to get them out of their front rooms into church meetings.”
Anderson wrote to his old friend, Reid Bankhead, who shared a baptismal challenge
worked out by a missionary companion, Glen Pearson. Inserting this discussion
brought dramatic results.13
Elder Anderson’s mission president, Joel Richards, had a background in the
insurance business. He felt that his call to preside over the mission was
divinely inspired, and he sensed an urgency to apply what he had learned in
the business world. As he rode the train from Utah to mission headquarters
in Portland, he pondered how missionary work could be structured to become
more effective. Upon his arrival, he was excited to learn about what Elder
Anderson and his companion were doing in Bend.
“Sister Richards and I feel that [this] Missionary Plan has come in
direct answer to prayer,” the new president later wrote, “and that
Elder Richard L. Anderson was inspired in its preparation. Since receiving
our call to preside over the Northwestern States Mission, we were very much
concerned as to how we could best help the missionaries in their study and
preparation, and in presenting the Gospel in a logical and convincing manner
so as to actually get results. We talked about it and prayed about it and
just couldn’t get it off our minds. When we arrived in the mission field,”
President Richards continued, “we saw Elder Anderson in action and achieving
outstanding success, having baptized over thirty converts within a year. As
we studied his method we were convinced that it was the answer to our prayer.”
President Richards assigned Elder Anderson
to teach his methods to missionaries in Corvallis, one of the larger districts,
to see if the results would be the same. After three months “the results
were so startling and the missionaries so enthusiastic,” the “Anderson
Plan,” as it was coming to be called, was introduced throughout the mission
As these improved methods were adopted
throughout the mission, the results were apparent. While during the first
half of 1948 the mission had baptized only 158, the number of converts during
the second half of that year soared to 384. In comparison to only 48 baptisms
during the first three months of 1948 there were 225 during the same period
a year later.15 Within the mission the number of converts per missionary
climbed from 1.87 in 1946 to 5.72 in 1949. In this latter year the Northwestern
States Mission baptized 1,001 converts, thus becoming the first mission in
modern times to exceed one thousand baptisms during a single year.16 President Richards also noted some
other benefits: “In holding
missionary conferences and reading the weekly reports and letters, it is most
gratifying to see the change that has taken place in the morale of our missionaries.
They are enthusiastic about their work because they are making progress and
getting results. . . . ‘Nothing succeeds like success,'” he concluded,
“and the missionaries, seeing the fruits of their labours, were eager
to find more contacts and hold more cottage meetings in order that they might
have more converts, and this all led to more hours tracting and spent in proselyting
time.” President Richards gratefully acknowledged that “This rejuvenation
and change in morale was felt throughout the entire mission, and a common
expression among our missionaries was: ‘Oh, if we had only had this plan when
we first came into the mission field, how much more we could have accomplished!'”17
The impact of Elder Anderson’s innovations
was not limited to the Northwestern States Mission. As other missions heard
about the success achieved through these improved methods, they requested
copies of the plan. Although Elder Anderson’s materials were first published
in 1949, by early 1951, “eleven thousand copies of this guide for missionary
work have now been published, and requests for it have come from all over
Statistics reflect the churchwide impact of the Anderson Plan. During the postwar
years 1946 to 1950 the number of convert baptisms had grown from 2,600 to 9,000,
but the number of missionaries had also been growing. Hence the annual number
of converts per missionary remained relatively static, between 1.84 and 1.95—approximately
the same level at which this figure had languished during the previous quarter
of a century. By 1951 the Anderson Plan was being adopted by a growing number
of missions worldwide. In that year, even though the Korean War almost halted
growth in the number of missionaries, total converts shot up to over 13,500
and the number of converts per missionary rose to 2.71.
In wake of the Anderson Plan’s widespread success, the church decided to publish a plan of its
own to be used in all missions.
Gordon B. Hinckley, executive secretary of the General Missionary Committee, interviewed
the individuals who had helped develop the various postwar proselyting programs.19
Richard L. Anderson was impressed with the openness of his interview and with
the intelligent questions Hinckley asked.20
The first of these plans published officially by the church appeared in 1952.
A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel
built on the foundations laid by the Anderson Plan but condensed
the missionaries’ presentation into only seven discussions. The plan’s preface
Experience has shown that it is not always necessary
to take people through an extended series of lessons before they become converted
to the Church. Agreement may be gained on . . . fundamental doctrines in a
relatively short time through a logical presentation of gospel principles,
fortified by scripture, together with reading, convincing testimony, and sincere
There was less emphasis on logic and proofs and more on the force of the
The lessons were written in dialogue
form, but the missionaries were encouraged to give them from their hearts
and to use their own words as they gained experience. Another innovation was
the recommendation that the missionaries sit with the family around a table
and draw simple diagrams on a sheet of paper.
In 1961 church leaders convened the first
worldwide seminar for mission presidents. Under the leadership of the General Authorities the mission presidents pooled
their experience in refining proselyting methods. The result was a new missionary
plan, A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators. Using President David O. McKay’s slogan of “Every
Member a Missionary,” stress was placed on the Saints’ role in finding
and fellowshipping potential converts. Church members were admonished to lead
exemplary lives that would win the respect of others and open the way for
gospel discussions. For some time the referral system, in which the Saints
gave names of interested friends to the missionaries, had proved successful.
Now the Saints were encouraged to invite nonmembers into their homes for “group
meetings” to hear the missionaries’ message. This method proved even
more successful and had at least two important
advantages: Missionaries could use their time much more efficiently, concentrating
on teaching rather than finding contacts. Then, the same families who first
introduced nonmembers to the missionaries could later help these friends make
the transition from one way of life to another and often from one circle of
friends to another. This plan’s six lessons continued to build on principles
developed in the Anderson Plan—emphasis on the scriptures, thoughtful
questions, and obtaining commitments.
A new missionary outline that appeared
in 1973 reflected the growing emphasis on the family. The Uniform System
for Teaching Families suggested
that missionaries might introduce the gospel by working with nonmember parents
in presenting family home evenings. The remainder of
the seven proselyting discussions presented the same basic principles that
were emphasized in previous missionary plans. One significant innovation was
citing scriptures from the Book of Mormon as well as from the Bible—representing
a further development of the Anderson Plan’s emphasis on the Book of Mormon’s
In 1985 the church made further refinements in the teaching process. The
Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel in its six discussions provided
some dialogue, instructions to missionaries, and scriptural resources.
The church has experienced remarkable growth during the past half century.
In 1947, the year after Richard L. Anderson entered the Northwestern States
Mission, the church’s membership passed the one million mark. In 1997 the church
passed the ten-million milestone. Most of this growth has come from convert
baptisms resulting from missionary work. Elder Anderson was the first to insist
that thousands of missionaries deserve the credit for this remarkable progress.
Paraphrasing the words of Paul (1 Corinthians 3:6), Richard humbly acknowledged:
“Others and I may have planted, many others watered, but certainly God
gave the increase.”22 Nevertheless, at the beginning of this era of unprecedented
worldwide expansion, the Anderson Plan laid important foundations on which subsequent
missionary programs have built. These improved methods, in turn, have played
a key role in enabling the latter-day kingdom of God to fulfill the destiny
foreseen by the ancient prophet Daniel—to roll forth and fill the whole
1. Jay E. Jensen, “Proselyting
Techniques of Mormon Missionaries” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University,
2. Ibid., 76.
3. Richard L. Anderson interview by
author, 26 February 1997.
4. Richard L. Anderson, A Plan for
Effective Missionary Work: Prepared and Used by Northwestern States Mission
(Portland, Ore.: Northwestern States Mission, 1951), 3, emphasis in original
in all quotations.
6. See, for example, ibid., 11.
7. Ibid., 10.
8. See, for example, ibid., 11.
9. Jensen, “Proselyting Techniques,”
10. Anderson, Plan for Effective
Missionary Work, 8.
11. Ibid., 9.
12. Ibid., 13.
13. Anderson interview.
14. Joel Richards, introduction to
A Plan for Effective Missionary Work, comp. Richard L. Anderson
(Kaysville, Utah: Inland, 1954), 5.
16. Compiled from Annual Mission
Reports, ms., LDS Church Archives.
17. Richards, “Introduction,”
18. Anderson, Plan for Effective
Missionary Work, i.
19. See Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward
with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1996), 144.
20. Anderson interview.
21. A Systematic Program for Teaching
the Gospel (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
22. Anderson interview.