Haha! MSJ (who is officially my favorite person, by the way) explained that you are a new ward mission leader! How exciting. I am a lowly ward missionary but I do have experience befriending less-actives.
So, I don't know if you have this problem in your ward or what, but our Focus 15 has been--a nightmare to implement. Because everyone on ward council is supposed to be in charge of reaching out to them, it turns out that no one does. Except for us. The ward mission. We've kind of adopted the Focus 15 and we alone prioritize them.
Random notes on the Focus 15: we had a GA come visit a few weeks ago, and he noted that out of the nine wards in our stake, only three had Focus 15 lists at all. I can't even find a link to the training or whatever where the Focus 15 suggestion came from, so I don't even know if your ward does it at all, but basically each ward is supposed to have 15 names (three from the RS, three from Priesthood, and three from Primary) of families or people to focus on, with the goal being reactivation--sort of. One thing the GA pointed out at our training was that the ward is responsible for every human inside the ward boundaries--NOT just baptized members of the Church. He encouraged us to consider placing investigators and others on our Focus 15 list.
SO. I would say I have a few successes with the Focus 15. Some successes I can take credit for and some I can't. In every case, it's the Holy Ghost that does the work of changing hearts, but it was definitely me that spent hours and hours reaching out to people so they could start having changes of hearts!
And now for stories.
LESS ACTIVE #1: #1 was raised LDS, but over the years kind of drifted into inactivity. She started coming back to church on and off, mostly for temporal reasons, as far as I can tell. She had a lot of needs. She made it onto our Focus 15. Now, I began reaching out to her before I was a ward missionary, because I have a lot of success-induced guilt all the time (working on that). So since I always feel so bad about having tons of material blessings, I tend to make myself very available for service opportunities. This lady had a lot of medical problems, and she had like a few months (MONTHS) where she needed rides to doctor's offices far, far away, almost daily. For sure weekly.
My husband and I only have one car, and her appointments were often an hour away, so I'd end up driving my husband to work, then home, then over to this lady, then to her appointment, then wait for hours in the car, then drive her home. I only had one kid at this time and he was just little. Like 4-8 months of age. So he'd just sit back there and scream because we were in the car so much. BUT #1 recognized the sacrifice involved here and she was so super grateful for it. I do believe it helped her feel God's love for her and showed her that the ward cared. She is now fully active and always comes to RS armed with stories about reading the Book of Mormon to her children. This is NOT because of me, or because of me alone at least, but I do think my sacrifices in driving her around for hours for days and days played a part in her decision to come back to church. She talks a lot about how members of the Church are just so giving, she wants her family to be like that.
LESS ACTIVE #2: #2 is still inactive. My BFF here was her visiting teacher for like five minutes, and as a visiting teacher she felt very taken advantage of--you know how it goes, people abusing the system for welfare that they don't really need, etc. So my BFF spent a bunch of time cooking and cleaning for this lady even though it appeared to all parties observing that this level of service was not exactly necessary. And #2 was incredibly ungrateful for it, apparently. Never said thank you or anything. So anyway.
She was on the Focus 15 and I went with the missionaries to visit her one time (after my BFF moved away). Somehow, she and I kind of "clicked." Uh, this was 100% on her end! But she just really liked me and suggested that we hang out sometime. So I said sure, fine, okay.
And then we never hung out, because I had a little baby, and was pregnant, and my brother was dying and I was his primary caretaker, so my life was a little bit busy. But I DID have time to monitor her Facebook page and act on it.
As an example, she posted on Facebook one morning that she wasn't feeling well. I messaged her and she said she had a cold or something and was feeling nauseous. So during my normal grocery shopping, I just went ahead and got a bottle of ginger ale and some Airborne and cold medicine, and on my way home, I dropped it by her house with a note ("Hey, I'm sorry you're not feeling well! Get better soon! Love from Lexi!"). Another time she was sick I spent $2 and got her a box of spaghetti and a jar of spaghetti sauce. BAM dinner. I left it with a nice note. Since then, we've gotten together just to hang out a few times. Each time it has been, I will admit, very awkward for me (we are at VERY DIFFERENT LIFE PLACES) but worth it. I do like her as a person.
I haven't been as good at reaching out to her lately, but this is a good reminder to start reaching out again! It did actually kind of pay off though, in that her oldest son started coming to church again shortly after she and I became actual friends. I do think part of it is that at first my husband was his Sunday school teacher, and now my mother is, so there is this connection between our two families that has been cultivated. Hooray!
LESS ACTIVE #3: I've been visiting teaching this one girl for five years now. She is two years older than I am and we were in high school together. I always thought she was soooo much cooler than me. Unbeknownst to me, she had an autoimmune disorder, and I guess after we left high school it got worse. So not only was she bedridden like all the time, but her health issues caused a rift between herself and God. She was just very bitter about the whole situation (and I do not blame her! Oh man!).
So for the first few years I would try to reach out to her, and just be rejected. So I would "reach out" by occasionally mailing a Christmas card or whatever, and call it good. When I became friends with my BFF who was #2's visiting teacher, she inspired me: my BFF treated her visiting teaching as a sacred calling, and viewed the month-connecting as a bare minimum standard. She was gluten intolerant, but every two weeks she would make cookies for her VTs and drop them all by. Her husband was an angel to his home teachees--he would literally spend hours every single week looking after their welfare (he had some pretty dysfunctional families but he cared about them SO much. It was inspiring).
SO I was inspired by my BFF to do better. I decided to just go to the dollar store once a month and pick up some giant chocolate bars and drop them by about every two weeks. More or less I was good about this. I'd go spend $20 at the Dollar Tree or whatever, and have enough giant chocolate bars to give one to each VT every two weeks for a few months. (I only VT inactives, apparently!) I did this starting in January of last year, as a New Year's Resolution. And when my brother died in August, #3 was the only member of my ward besides my own visiting teachers to come and visit me.
Now, in the meantime, I'd been introduced to jin shin jyutsu and quantum touch by my brother's therapist. She was allegedly a massage therapist, but she never massaged him--yet, my brother responded to her touch in astonishing ways. I asked her to teach me and she did. I discovered that I have a freaky knack for energy work. Like, seriously freaky. Long story. I was so freaked out by it that I went to the bishop about it and the stake president. Both of them concluded it was a spiritual gift and said to follow the Spirit and keep doing what I was doing. So I did and one day, maybe a month ago, I felt prompted to ask #3 if I could try some energy work on her and explained how it worked.
And all of a sudden she wanted me over! Haha! So last Saturday I was over visiting her in person for the only time other than when my brother died. Our session was a great success--I attempted (and succeeded) sedating her spleen meridian, which meant her pain was greatly reduced (actually, she said her spleen stopped hurting entirely--yay) and apparently it jump-started some of her body processes that had been sluggish, so yippy skippy, she is letting me come visit again. Her mother is also having me over to work on her next week. She also let me and my VT companion take her and her inactive sister out to lunch this past week. So this was very exciting. AND they both agreed to help with the ward talent show, which I am in charge of through the ward mission (because our ward is lame and if we want any events done at all, basically I have to throw them myself).
So, success! And also how spiritual gifts are sent to us so we can bless the bodies and spirits of those in our jurisdiction and help bring them back to the fold of Jesus Christ. This week #3 gave me and my companion a list of times she will make herself available for visiting teaching in the future. So this is fantastic. AND because the energy healing I do is 100% Christ-based (although I would not call it "faith healing"), and rooted in scriptural concepts, even though I did not give her a real visiting teaching lesson, I was still able to tie together and relate Gospel concepts in what I feel was a non-threatening way as I explained what I was doing. Obviously she invited me (and my companion) to come see her in the future, so I guess it was fine. How exciting and wonderful. I am so happy about this.
...SO happy about this!
I was going to write a few more stories, but they all come back to basically the same stuff: proactively reaching out with material goods and/or chocolate on a biweekly basis, and following the Spirit about other things. So far, so good. I have been so blessed. When we serve God's children, God increases our love for them, which makes us want to serve them more. The more I reach out to my inactive sisters, be they my visiting teachees, Focus Fifteeners, or just random people, the more I want to reach out to them.
Random things on my ward-mission to-do list that might spark your interest to pursue yourself:
1. Reach out to the local old folks' homes and see if they'd be interested in having volunteers help record residents' family history. Maybe I will finally call them today now that this answer is holding me accountable! Maybe you can write in next week and ask if I did it. Just kidding. I will be back to enjoying my retirement at that point. Although if you did ask I would probably answer via MSJ (did I mention she is my favorite person of all the people???).
2. Get ahold of the ward boundaries and see what other things we could get involved in in our area. I don't think we have a prison or detention center in our ward boundaries, but my friend's church in a neighboring town teaches life skills classes at their local juvie and I think that is so awesome. They are not LDS but their work there opens a lot of Christ-centered conversation and I know that makes Heavenly Father so happy. I hope my ward can be that cool (as is appropriate and inspired).
3. Apply concepts from this book to my work in the ward mission. It's a book written by a non-LDS pastor, but I felt I had moments of inspiration while reading it. It was worth the $3 on Kindle.
I'm so excited for all the good work you will get to do in your new calling! The field is white and we are so blessed to have the opportunity to help God do His work. I feel I can promise you miracles as you magnify this calling. We have no idea the extent to which God will enlighten our minds and expand our souls as we go about His business. The more open I am to being led by the Spirit, and the harder I'm willing to work, the more miracles I see. I know I fall short of God's expectations for me right now, but the blessings that come from just attempting to live up to His standard are nothing short of incredible. And I mean that--I would never believe the things I have witnessed unless I had personally seen them, I think. But that is the miracle of faith. The more faith we have, the more miracles we see.
Well, sorry this answer is approximately ten million pages long! I'll leave you with a scripture that stood out to me yesterday:
Alma 26:22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.
Bringing literal thousands to repentance and true joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ IS within our power--is within YOUR power--and God has given us a blueprint and instructions for how to access that power. It all comes down to humility, repentance, faith, good works, and continual prayer. From my own life I know that this is a true promise. I'm still in the highly imperfect implementation phase, but I have learned such mysteries! And I have felt God's love for my sisters. And it is so beautiful.
Believe! Witness miracles!
- Lexi Khan