The challenges we face in accomplishing Quorum duties such as Home Teaching lie in how we see our mission. If we are too focused on certain outcomes we will most likely continue in the mediocre status quo. If, however, we take a different view of our calling we will thank the Lord for not only the squirrels and draft horses, but also the ducks, eagles, skunks and poodles.
For the moment, and for the sake of this discussion; let's forget about numbers for a while. With that objective removed, what are we hoping to accomplish in our Quorums? I can think of a few things. I suppose you'll probably add to the list as well as you seek the Lord to guide your stewardship.
First, we are called to strengthen our brethren. When the Savior gave that admonition to Peter, (see Luke 22:32), I think He also had us in mind. Our assignment is to strengthen our brethren, not change them. We are not called to turn draft horses into squirrels or vice versa. Each Quorum member has unique gifts to bring to the whole, which will be best used if we do not try to get him to "fit the mold." The first order of business, I believe is not to get our Home Teaching done but to strengthen our brethren. If we are to rely upon them to bring again Zion we must prepare them for that responsibility. One of the key responsibilities of a Quorum Leader is to prayerfully consider the resources he has and match them with the needs that arise. Try not to favor the draft horses over the squirrels. Each has a unique and beneficial role he can play.
Second, I believe we can change the focus of the stewardship interviews we hold with those in our charge. If we remove numbers again, we will see that the focus of that interview ought to be one of what I as a leader can do to assist him in his calling. Meet with the brethren one on one. Begin with a prayer. Ask the Home Teacher to offer that prayer. As he prays you can begin to take his spiritual temperature and discern what he needs in order to become a greater servant of the Lord. If you don't get such revelation, then ask the brother himself, "What can I do to assist you in your service?" Or, "Are there obstacles to the accomplishment of your duty that I can help you surmount?" Or, (if he's just not going) "What is it that makes you resist the fulfillment of your assignment?" I guarantee you will discover things you had not known and things you can do to help him overcome even the scariest problems. Remember the focus needs to be on preparing and strengthening the Home Teacher. If he is not prepared, he is not going to adequately watch over the families he is assigned.
Third, please don't micro manage your Home Teachers. Please. Begin by giving them the latitude they need to teach by the Spirit. If we insist on drawing a detailed picture of what good Home Teaching looks like and refuse to let our Home Teachers color outside the lines I guarantee our Home Teaching will be less effective than it can be. If, for example, you have a Home Teacher to travels on business frequently and the only way he can visit his families is on Skype then by all means encourage him to do it. His family needs the time he is at home and what fun it might be to be Home Taught over the internet with Hong Kong in the back ground.
Fourth, we seldom see our Home Teaching and other Quorum assignments as team projects. A little correlation and communication could go a long way toward making that happen. If we were to take a moment in Quorum meetings to coordinate and deal with pressing problems we could cover Home Teachers in a scheduling crunch, give suggestions for sticky challenges, swap companions for a night... the possibilities are endless. No Home Teacher should feel like he's out there on his own. He should have the comfort that his Quorum is backing him up - all the way. For example, on a third Sunday, someone might say, "I've tried to get with Sister Williams all month and just discovered she's been in intensive care in Salt Lake City. Is anyone going that way who might have time to stop in to check on her? Someone might respond. Or maybe someone else knows her daughter's name and a number he could call. That phone call, or that visit by one of his Quorum mates is surely effective Home Teaching. How about this one? "Does anybody know where and when Bill hits the coffee shop on Saturday mornings? I'd like to stop in there and see if that might be a way I can spend some time with him each month." Someone might answer, "Yea, hope they have Postum on hand for you! I see him pull out at about 7:30, follow him." Someone else might say, "I think he meets Joe there, maybe I could come too!"
Fifth, take a moment at the beginning of each Quorum Meeting to invite someone to tell a Home Teaching success story. Nothing spawns imagination, courage and continued effort better than witnessing success. Ask questions like, "I saw Paul out to Sacrament Meeting this morning! What's going on?" The Home Teacher might say, "I was as surprised as you are!" Or maybe, "All I did was invite him." Or "When he and Sharron were over to dinner, my little Mary asked him if she could sit by him in Sacrament Meeting. What else could he do?" Some Home Teacher in the Quorum might be wondering about a couple he is assigned and realize that inviting the Whosits over for a barbecue, just might actually count as Home Teaching!
Sixth, there is something for everyone. All who run may win the prize. Perhaps you'll assign more families to your heavy haulers than you do to your squirrels. Maybe you'll send a draft horse with a squirrel. The horse might carry the weight, but maybe the family would rather have a nut. What if a retired gentleman is wearing out his junior companion with the eight families he's willing to teach. Maybe you could give him two companions (four families each). I have a potential Home Teacher who is homebound with poor health. Could it count as Home Teaching if he wrote personal notes on the Ward News Letter and posted them to families who won't (yet) let Home Teachers in the door? I think it would. What about Walt who won't go Home Teaching. Maybe he'll be Sam's companion at the Coffee Shop visiting Joe and Bill. I can just hear Walt say, "Now this is what I call Home Teaching!" Now Walt is helping carry the load (even if he orders coffee instead of Postum.) Guaranteed his senior companion isn't perfect either. Okay, so it's more like Coffee Shop Teaching, but which is better, the coffee shop or nothing? I do a fair amount of Home Teaching in driveways and on sidewalks this time of year.
Now a final few thoughts. One of the things I like about going to 12 Step meetings is that no one shows up and brow beats me or tells me what to do. The tradition is to simply share our own experience, strength and hope. I never feel like anyone is "Holier than Thou." We would do well to adopt that pattern in our Quorums and in the homes we visit. We would do well to take the word should out of our vocabulary. People already pretty much know what they should do and don't often need someone naggingly coming around every month to remind them. The reason we don't use should's in 12 Steps is because we believe that God will use life to prepare each person with sufficient humility to take necessary steps and that the preparation for humility is God's job, not ours. We need to accept the fact that we are not in a position to fix anyone but ourselves. It is time we quit trying. God does the fixing.
So, back to experience, strength and hope. When we share our Home Teaching success stories (in humility, I hope.) We give the audience a chance to examine their own circumstances and accept the Spirit's invitation to emulate the good and success they see in the examples given. They remain free to choose and often enough, will choose well. That is if they don't feel manipulated, guilt tripped, arm twisted, carrot and sticked, into doing something they're presently uncomfortable with. I once made this suggestion to a brother who jumped right in with the protest, "But what about D&C 20 where we are counselled not only to be with and strengthen, but to expound and to exhort? You are asking us not to exhort." I realize the dictionary defines exhort as to: urge strongly, give warnings or advice. But, it was not always so. Most New Testament instances that were translated from the Greek as exhort held a quite different meaning. In the Greek, παρακλέω meant to call near or invite to come with, accompanied by strong connotations of lending comfort and encouragement. Quite a different view of exhortation, don't you think? I believe that definition more closely parallels the counsel we are given in D&C 121, where exercise of the Priesthood is to be done by:
persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—If we are about enlarging souls we will be successful. We can now put numbers back into the equation. Numbers will naturally follow strong and strengthened Quorum members. That's where numbers should be, behind people, not before them. Putting numbers first is Spiritual Dyslexia. It is putting the cart before the horse (or squirrel.)