by Dennis Gaunt
Whenever I have finished writing a book, the very last thing I write is what is known as an “elevator pitch.” It is a short, carefully worded phrase that says not only what the book is about, but also what makes it different from other books. It is basically an entire book boiled down to one central theme. The idea is that if I were on an elevator with someone who asked what my book was about, I would be able to clearly answer them in the short amount of time we had together.
Missionaries find themselves in similar situations in that the amount of time spent with a potential investigator is often not much longer than a ride on an elevator, averaging only about 30 seconds—if you’re lucky! Given that short amount of time, what is the most important message that we can share? When someone asks the question, “What makes your church different from all the others?” what should we say? What is our “elevator pitch?”
When I was a missionary, we were taught to always try to build on common beliefs. That is, if someone says they believe in the Bible, then we were supposed to point out that we, too, believe in the Bible. The idea was that the more people realized what we had in common, they less suspicious they might be towards hearing our message.
It’s an idea that worked okay back then, but there is a much better option. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the very first lesson in Preach My Gospel is titled “The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The fact that we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is what sets us apart from other churches. Everything else that we believe stems from that idea. It is our “elevator pitch,” if you will, to the entire world. If we only have 30 seconds to talk to someone, we ought to leave them with that seed of truth.
“No matter where you serve or whom you teach, center your teaching on the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. ‘The Lord will bless you as you teach the message of the Restoration to a world that desperately needs the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (‘Statement on Missionary Work,’ First Presidency Letter, 11 Dec. 2002). As you study the doctrines in the missionary lessons, you will come to see that we have one message: Through a modern prophet, God has restored knowledge about the plan of salvation, which is centered on Christ’s Atonement and fulfilled by living the first principles and ordinances of the gospel” (Preach My Gospel, 6).
Understanding this fundamental principle will also help in answering people’s questions about the Church. Rather than pointing out the ways we are similar at first, we should be emphasizing the ways we are doctrinally different. Any question asked of us by an investigator—ranging from simple questions about why we don’t drink coffee or shop on Sundays, to deeper concerns about plural marriage, the temple, or the authority of the Priesthood—can all be answered by using the Book of Mormon and the message of the Restoration, using this simple five-step process:
- The investigator asks a question.
- The missionary gives an answer from modern revelation (The Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price, or words of the living prophets).
- The missionary explains that the correctness of the answer depends on whether or God restored the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
- The missionary explains that the best way to know whether that is true is to know whether the Book of Mormon is true.
- The missionary invites the investigator to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.
As we can see, the only real question that needs answering is about revelation. As missionaries, we ought to be finding the quickest and most direct route to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, because that is where the strength of our message lies. It is not only what sets us apart as a church, it is also the key to conversion. Truly, as the Prophet Joseph Smith stated, the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 57).