Wonder-Morm Powers… Activate!

August 26, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 4:41 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

The Baron over at Millennial Star has put together a nice series on the subject of member activity and retention in the Church. This is a lingering response to press that came out several weeks ago claiming that real church growth has been flat for several years. We Mormons have become very proficient at wringing our hands over losing active members to inactivity (or less-activity depending on the situation and the point of view). I have a couple of worries about the current paradigm in the church. One is I’m not sure exactly what active means. The Second is that I worry that we are so focused on getting people “active” that we may not have much of a plan to move from that point to the final end God has in mind for the saints.

What is active?

Is there an official definition of what “active” means in the church? My guess is that at a minimum it means that a person attends a sacrament meeting periodically (depending on who’s measuring I guess). At the maximum it means a person holds a current temple recommend and is actively and heavily engaged in church participation. Full-time missionaries might be the most “active” of all members. But have any of you heard if there is an official definition?

Active to what end?

A major focus of the leadership of most every branch, ward, and stake in the church is to bring inactive members back into activity. The ultimate goal would be for 100% of members on the records in any stake to be active in the church. So my question is: If there was a ward where in fact 100% of the members in the ward were active, what would be next? Perhaps you will say the leadership in that ward would set a goal to help them remain active. Ok, let’s say that 100% of them do remain active – what’s next? In other words, what is the goal of activity? Is being active an end in itself or is it just a means to a larger end? If it is the latter, what exactly is that larger end? Is that larger end measurable? If not, what are we as a church (who worship at the Alter of Measurement) to do?

18 Comments »

  1. I think we equate activity with exaltation (i.e. if someone’s not active, they won’t make it to the celestial kingdom). We want members to be active because we feel it important that they are saved in the end (the worth of souls is great and all that). I don’t think getting someone active is necessarily a step onto something else.

    Perhaps this is where Lehi’s vision could be used as analogy. Those who are active parallel the less active as those who are no longer on the path (let alone still holding to the iron rod) to the tree of life. We want them to get to the tree of life, so we try to help them be active again; try to bring them back to the path.

    At least that’s the way I see our current response to it.

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 26, 2005 @ 5:09 pm

  2. Here’s an idea. Let’s say that presently 40% of members are active and paying a 100% tithe. If we could get 100% of members fully active, we could all pay a 40% tithe and still maintain the same overall revenue stream for the Church and its leaders. We can avoid building extra chapels to deal with the flood of new bodies on Sunday by cutting the block schedule to 80 minutes and fitting twice as many wards into a chapel on Sunday. Call it the “more actives, less tithing, and shorter meetings program” and I think people would get excited about it.

    Comment by Dave — August 26, 2005 @ 5:15 pm

  3. Kim: I think we equate activity with exaltation

    Yikes. That is a dangerous assumption to make. Activity does not equate exaltation… But exaltation is the goal. My worry is that we focus all of our energy on a checkpoint and then very little on that next major gap — the gap between being just active and being Celestial in our natures.

    Dave – I always appreciate creative thinking, but there might be a few glitches with your plan. For instance, last time I checked the contract, being fully “active” means we agree to give 100%, not 4% or 10%… (You know — the whole consecration thing…) But I do like the shorter block idea. We’re already down to 2.5 hours in my area. I could lie with some more being shaved off of that.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 26, 2005 @ 6:15 pm

  4. My husband was on the high council for five years, then a bishopric in a university stake for three years. During that time, we met at the 9 am slot a couple of times. I miss church half the time when we meet early and it was easy for my daughter and I to sluff, I did it more than she did because she was going through a period of spirital uh, well she was in seminary and all excited about church.

    I was in a Relief Society presidency during that time, and had all sort of callings, busy all the time, but I missed church fairly regularly due to health problems, mostly. When her seminary teacher asked her if she came from an active family, she said, “no, I’m the only active member in my family.” I don’t know how her mind works, she’s sort of brunette Jessica Simpson, we never figured out what she thought was active.

    I think I’m active, we have recommends, we have callings, we pay tithing, suffer through church meetings with the occasional spiritual up-lift. I think if you think you’re active, you are. Which is to say, perhaps, doing the best you can at the time. Nobody else gets to say.

    Comment by annegb — August 27, 2005 @ 6:49 am

  5. “That is a dangerous assumption to make.”

    Yet it is made nonetheless.

    We have a tendency to think that if someone is active (i.e. paying tithing, going to church, attending the temple, going home teaching, etc), then they will receive exaltation for their obedience. If someone is not active, we have a tendency to believe they won’t.

    “But exaltation is the goal.”

    I completely agree, and tried to express that in my previous comment.

    “we focus all of our energy on a checkpoint and then very little on…being Celestial in our natures.”

    That’s because we can measure checkpoints. We can determine if someone has been baptised, or received the priesthood, or received a calling, or is going to church, or has been to the temple, and so forth. We cannot determine if someone is being celestial; it’s not measurable. We focus on the measurable because it’s more practical, right or not.

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 27, 2005 @ 8:03 am

  6. I’m frankly appalled by this drive to shorten meeting blocks. I am proud of the effort and time we put into our relationship with God and each other.

    We send our children to school for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week to educate them in the ways of the world. We spend 8 (or often more!) hours a day, 5 days a week earning the money to care for our families’ temporal needs. Spending three hours once a week sharing the Spirit with each other is hardly a burden.

    Comment by harpingheather — August 27, 2005 @ 8:35 am

  7. Since our children don’t go to public school, they don’t spend 35 hours in school every week. If I could shed some more hours off my 35-hour work week at my ultra-boring job where I often fall asleep, I would. It’s too bad church is actually more than three hours per week. I wouldn’t mind the three hour block if I actually got more out of it. In particular, I would love to see Sunday School scrapped. I get more out of personal scripture study than I ever do in Gospel Doctrine. From my point of view, it’s a waste of an hour.

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 27, 2005 @ 8:58 am

  8. Geoff, Dave’s idea is brilliant enough that it might be worth reworking the contract…

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — August 27, 2005 @ 9:10 am

  9. I always thought active meant the ward budget got 47 cents because you showed up at Sacrament meeting. If we had 100% activity the ward would have enough extra money they could buy the indulgences needed from the Catholic church to save everyone.

    (Hopefully no one takes offense at this…it’s meant as a joke!)

    Comment by don — August 27, 2005 @ 10:21 am

  10. Kim: We have a tendency to think that if someone is active (i.e. paying tithing, going to church, attending the temple, going home teaching, etc), then they will receive exaltation for their obedience.

    Good point, I think there is that unspoken assumption that many in the church make. I don’t believe it though. Do you believe that assumption? I think that becoming a celestial being requires living the celestial law and that list isn’t quite doing it.

    harpingheather: I’m frankly appalled by this drive to shorten meeting blocks.

    Wow! Appalled? That seems like a pretty small thing to warrant actually getting appalled about… The problem with the logic you present is that if more time in church equals more righteousness then why do we stop at a measly 3 hour block? Why not go for a 5, or 8, or 12 hour block each Sunday? And how about 3 hours on every week night too? My point is that longer church does not necessarily lead to greater righteousness. The primary reason for the block is to take the sacrament. That happens in about 20 minutes. All other parts are appendages to that. I can tell you that in our area I have not seen a drop-off in righteousness since we moved to a 2.5 hour block…

    RT: it might be worth reworking the contract…

    Sounds easy enough — just go talk to the Author of the agreement and have Him let us know when he changes his mind. (Our agreement is directly with Him after all…)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 27, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  11. I can’t wait till we go to the shorter meeting time. I really feel for the women and men who serve the YW/YM organizations, they take hours every week. I think if sacrament is limited to the sacrament, we will take the sacrament more seriously. I think I will.

    Doesn’t it say somewhere in the scriptures that time will go faster in the last days, or maybe some GA said it, I can’t remember. But it seems like there is less time than there used to be to get stuff done. Even with all the modern conveniences.

    Comment by annegb — August 27, 2005 @ 9:52 pm

  12. I think if sacrament is limited to the sacrament, we will take the sacrament more seriously. I think I will.

    I think the evidence speaks against people taking the sacrement more seriously when that’s all there is to a church meeting. Look at “mainstream” Christianity. An unhealthy number of these people are “Twice a Year Christians” or “Sunday Christians.” Church seems to mean no more to these people than school does to your average teenager. I.E. “*sigh* It’s something I have to do. I can’t wait until it’s over and I can hang out with my friends!”

    I’m aware that by my argument we ought to have longer meeting blocks. I don’t know that I’d mind if it came to that. I do know that I’d mind if we became another group of “Sunday Christians” who breeze in for their “hour of God” and then go back to their “normal” life.

    Some of you may find that solitary scripture study is what works best for you. That’s fine; everyone has different learning styles. I don’t think it’s right to deny other people the classroom environment simply because a few other people find it “inconvenient.”

    Comment by harpingheather — August 28, 2005 @ 7:30 am

  13. I think that becoming a celestial being requires living the celestial law and that list isn’t quite doing it.

    I think, however, that list brings us closer to living a celestial law than not doing them. For example, if we do our home teaching, we may get to the point where we do it out of love for those we visit than because we have a priesthood leader harping on us for it. If we pay our tithing, we may get to the point where we pay it because of covenants we have made to sacrifice for the building up of God’s kingdom than because we are commanded to. And so forth. I am doubtful we can get any closer to living celestially by not doing anything on that far-from-exhaustive list.

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 28, 2005 @ 7:05 pm

  14. I agree Kim. My follow up posts will explore the details of this.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 28, 2005 @ 7:22 pm

  15. [...] and being Exalted. Active until Death = Exaltation? Kim Siever suggested some interesting things: We have a tenden [...]

    Pingback by New Cool Thang — August 29, 2005 @ 10:57 am

  16. I don’t know, chris. Here in my part of Arizona all of the stakes have 2 1/2 hours meeting blocks. It’s pretty cool. The only bummer is for wards with great Sunday school teachers because the bell rings just when things get rolling. But great Sunday school teachers are unfortubately a rare breed. (I know one that recently got released as Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward after a short stint for reasons that remain inexplicable to him. I suspect he knew too much doctrine and that made the bishop nervous — either because of too much influence or occasionally going over the heads of some class members or both…)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 6, 2005 @ 10:14 pm

  17. With regard to the three hour block and everything else that is programmed in to Mormon life, didn’t Joseph Smith say, “teach people correct principles and let them govern themselves?”. I don’t understand why the Church has to have so many programs and why members are asked to spend so much time in meetings.

    I have been married for years and while my wife and I (both from Mormon families, both BYU grads, etc.) never really got much out of Church as a couple (for a number of reasons personal and organizational), its become even worse now that we have kids. My kids are bored in primary and don’t often make it through Sacrament.

    I love the gospel, but the organization is falling behind and members are dropping out. I know there will be a response that addresses spirituality, humility, etc., etc., but even taking all that into account, the Church needs to consider the managerial issues facing this organization.

    I recognize my own shortcomings, but looking beyond my own family, I see a persistently growing problem.

    Comment by ne — November 5, 2005 @ 4:34 pm

  18. ne,

    Sorry about the delay in responding to you…

    While I like our 2.5 hour block in our stake and I like to joke about even shorter church times, I think one thing that we must keep in mind is our responsibility to build up the church and zion (especially those that have been to the temple). It is easy to focus on how church is boring and not serving me, but I have decided it is more important to focus on the covenants I have made to strengthen the church. When I attend with a shepherd’s mindset then I look to improve things there. When I attend with solely a sheep’s mindset it is nearly impossible to not be bored and disappointed. I think this is a large part of the reason God has always wanted his church to be a kingdom of priests.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 7, 2005 @ 10:59 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.