Where Have All the Young Women Gone?

President Monson’s call for “the less-active, the offended, the critical, the transgressor” to come back to the fold gained strength in an interview of Sister Elaine Dalton, President of the Young Women. She was asked by the media, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune “how they [the new Young Women’s presidency] planned to cope with the fact that as many as 80 percent of the single Mormon women between 18 and 30 are no longer active in the LDS Church”. She reportedly responded that she did not know.

At first the number in the question surprised me. Is the inactivity rate for young women really that high? That number needs to be placed in a context. It is a number that refers to young women in the whole Church.

If, as in Mexico and some other countries, only some 20-25% of the people listed on the roles of the Church claim membership when asked by census agencies then the number does not sound so alarming. It is akin to what one would expect. But not all countries are showing such high discrepancies.

In the US, the Pew Trust Religious Landscape Survey shows that 30% of those born in the Church, in their sample, change their religious affiliation. 70% remain. The percentage that leaves is lower than that of other non-Orthodox Christians. Mormons born in the Church stand out for their religious loyalty.

But that percentage is only for those born in the Church. 26% of the Pew Surveys Mormon sample were converts to Mormonism from other traditions, about half Protestant, roughly a quarter Catholic, and about a fifth from the ranks of the disaffiliated. Those registered in the sample are the ones who chose to stay and claim Mormonism as their religious affiliation.

The Pew Survey does not tell us what percentage of the converts in the United States, to our highly missionary Church stay. It emphasizes changes from the tradition of birth to the religion one holds at the time of the survey. It does not pick up what anthropologist Henri Gooren calls ‘religious careers”, i.e. the multiple affiliations people may have over the course of their life.

The Pew data do show that Mormons do show a net decline from 1.8% of the total sample compiled for childhood religion to 1.7% of adult religion. While this decline is much less than that of many non-Orthodox Christian groups, it is also higher than many. We are not converting enough to replace our losses and, as a result, show a one-percentage point decline in our total standing. This suggests that most converts probably do not stay in the Church.

However the Pew Trust does show that the broader Mormon tradition which all these numbers refer to, although the LDS Church is by far the largest in their sample (about 94%). We do not know, as a result, how different the patterns of retention and disaffiliation are for the Utah-based Church as opposed to other Mormon Churches and what impact those differences might have on the trends cited above.

Nevertheless the Pew data are a wakeup call. That one point net loss over time suggests difficulties in the US. It also makes us ask about other countries, where converts make up a much higher percentage of the membership. What are our retention rates of converts and of those born in the Church?

We need more studies of what the sociologists are calling “disaffiliation” and of Gooren’s religious careers to understand how Mormonism is or is not fitting and staying in people’s lives.

While the context I find for the question posed to Sister Dalton suggests the issue is not that of young women alone, we can ask if women or men show higher rates of inactivity or religious switching. The Pew data do not give us numbers specifically for Mormonism. The Survey does say, “men are only slightly more likely to switch affiliation than women (45% vs. 42%)” (p.33 of Chapter 2). Nevertheless it is possible, given the social place of women and the emphasis given on women’s roles (e.g. Elder Ballard’s address) that young women may show higher rates of inactivity and abandonment than may young men. I do not know.

If so, the 80% figure quoted by the journalist is alarmist. It overstates the issue in relation to a general context of very high inactivity. Nonetheless, it is important to ask if Mormons buck the general trend that men show greater rates of disaffiliation than women.

I do not know and I wonder what people are seeing in their neck of the Mormon woods. Is it fair to ask where have all the young women gone?

Comments

  1. I believe the statistics. I was in a singles ward in Utah in the late 80s that was 90 percent inactive. The bishop cited indifference, boredom, irrelevance of the Church in their lives, late marriage, mission shellshock, education, skepticism and agnosticism as reasons.

  2. Norbert says:

    Nevertheless it is possible, given the social place of women and the emphasis given on women’s roles (e.g. Elder Ballard’s address) that young women may show higher rates of inactivity and abandonment than may young men. I do not know.

    I’ve never seen any data or had any experience that would indicate more women are inactive or leaving the church than men.

    In our stake (Helsinki FI), YSA rates are 40% for men, almost 50% for women. Of course, our youth activity rate is a whopping 85%.

  3. david knowlton says:

    Why do you think, Norbert, there is the higher YSA rate for women than for men in your stake? I also wonder how you understand and explain the very high youth inactivity rate?

    Are other wards facing similar rates?

    What does everyone else think of the reasons listed by Cindee for high inactivity rates in her Utah singles ward?

    They are really a complex bundle. I have to think more about them.

  4. I have never in all of my research seen any data that suggests that 80% of unmarried women from 18-30 are inactive esp in the US. When I saw that question I immediatly chalked it up to SLTRIB anti-LDS bias

    Women are more likely to be active then men. The PEW study showed a 56-44 gender inbalance in favor of women. The real question is where are all the single Men?

    I am sure that JNS and Kevin will weigh in here

  5. Eric Russell says:

    The baseball baptisms have all grown up.

  6. My experience has been that in-active single women ages 18-30 are mostly in relationships with non-members. Either living together and not married or previously married to a non-member and now divorced. I would say those two groups account for 70% of the inactive women I’ve known for the last 30 years.

  7. Steve M says:

    I’m not sure whether the 80% figure is accurate, but assuming that it is, there are many possible explanations. Here are a few, off the top of my head:

    – Serving a mission may be a good predictor of future activity. Since more men serve missions, they may be more likely to remain active.

    – It is often asserted that, in practice, young men are treated as if they were “more important” than young women in the Church. This also may contribute to young men’s activity.

    – Perhaps we focus too much on activation and retention of men rather than women, on the false assumption that women are more spiritual, less likely to sin, and less likely to fall into inactivity.

    I’m just throwing these explanations out there. I realize that they rest on a number of problematic assumptions, and I think they paint a too simplistic picture (and may be totally erroneous). But my point is that, if the 80% figure is accurate, I think there are lots of potential explanations.

    Perhaps implicit in this post is the idea that young women are naturally less likely to go inactive. That may have to do with notions that women are inherently more spiritual, less likely to question or rebel, etc. Were the statistic 80% inactivity for young men, I don’t think we would be as surprised. Rather than scratching our heads, we could easily point to a number of explanations: p0rn, inherent male un-spirituality, etc. I think we need to question our fundamental assumptions about male and female spirituality.

  8. It is worth noting that the number is not being compared to the male number, it is just being offered up on its own. Speaking to someone who worked with many stakes in the Utah Valley, singles wards have more women than men. This is, I think, pretty commmon. If so, it strongly suggests (though does not prove) that activity rates are higher among single women than men.

  9. I heard the question, and was surprised by the 80% number and wonder where it came from. But I can’t disprove it through any statistics in stakes where I have lived. Many, many young single adult membership records end up in the “address unknown” file. I recently dealt with an example: a woman who grew up in my ward, went away to college and quit attending church, then last summer moved to a large city where a recently calling gave me Church contacts. I determined that her membership record had not followed her – the stake where she lives had never heard of her. (They have now!) Had I not taken the initiative to get the information to her new ward, I wonder how many more years it would have taken for her records to catch up with her. I have wondered how many others among those who grew up in my ward are now “lost,” not just in terms of Church participation but even the church knowing where they are.

  10. Oh, and I have no idea if the 80% is right or not.

  11. The number that regional Church Authorities have floated in our area is activity rates between 8% and 14% for the YSA in US, depending on the stake. I have talked to several Stake Presidents who have verified that.

  12. Perhaps they go inactive because of the same type of insensitivity that was displayed toward children in one of yesterday’s conference talks. Someone has posted a “What Children Know” rebuttal in response:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2008/04/07/what-children-know-a-childrens-rebuttal-to-elder-ballards-conference-talk/

  13. Steve M says:

    The reporter did not indicate that the 80% statistic only includes American or North American Mormons. If accurate, it presumably reflects a church-wide rate of inactivity (although, the difficulty of determining a church-wide statistic would cast doubt on the accuracy of the figure).

    But assuming that the statistic reflects church-wide inactivity rates and is reasonably accurate, then it might make more sense. On my mission, teenage girls were a major demographic among the mission’s convert baptisms. A very substantial portion of them went inactive within a year of their conversion. If this trend is consistent across other missions, then the 80% figure may be reasonable, even if it doesn’t reflect the average composition of American singles wards.

  14. David, while I agree wholeheartedly that retention is a huge issue that must be addressed in each and every unit in the Church, there are some major disclaimers that need to be mentioned in the context of the question if we are to address this issue in any meaningful way. Just from the stakes in my current area:

    1) 80% inactivity might be accurate for YSA (18-30 year-old unmarried members), but it is not accurate for those younger, those married to another member at that age and those older – and the latter is intriguing. Iow, many of those who are inactive from 18-30 return to activity after 30.

    2) This age group corresponds perfectly to the time when a student leaves home and gains a far greater degree of independence. It is the age range dominated by political liberalness, for example, as college students fight to establish their own identity outside of “the system”.

    3) Ironically, the YSA group in our smaller campus branch has a MUCH higher activity and conversion rate than the large singles branch that includes multiple campuses **and those who are not students on any campus**. I think this speaks to the issue of belonging, since it seems to indicate that those who are more narrowly associated with a dominant organization (the college in a more isolated town) are much more likely to remain active than those scattered throughout a city with no ties to a dominant organization – and mixed in with a MUCH larger population, overall.

    4) The inactivity rate among our YSA women is not higher than our YSA men. That, imo, is true elsewhere. Just as our activity rate is higher among our YW than among our YM, it is higher among our YSAW than among our YSAM.

    5) The largest number of those who are inactive as YSA were inactive as YW/YM. The critical years for most of these members is 12-18, not 18-30. Also, the vast majority of those who are active YSA come from active families, and the percent who drop into total inactivity as YSA from **fully-active** families is relatively small.

    6) Finally, women simply are waiting longer to get married than they used to do. This means that there are MANY more YSAW than ever before who are not married but not old enough to serve a mission – who are, in many ways, “in limbo” in the traditional structure of the Church. They are not YW, but they don’t feel like the married women in RS. Singles units were established to fill that void, but if transportation is an issue (for any number of reasons) there is little choice where a YSAW can feel comfortable “among others like her”. (Similar to African-American members in areas where I have lived, these YSAW sometimes slip into inactivity just prior to another YSAW appearing on the scene. It’s a vicious cycle, since there would be an abundance of similar members if all remained active for 5 years, but they tend to leave shortly before the desired “one like me” arrives.) This points to Elder Worthlin’s description of those who don’t have huge doctrinal issues, but rather simply feel like they don’t fit in because they are different.

    Sorry for the length, but that’s what I see in the stakes around here.

  15. Norbert says:

    I think we need to question our fundamental assumptions about male and female spirituality.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with it. More likely, the church provides a social bonding based on shared values, which I think women are more likely to find attractive.

    david: that’s 85% active, not inactive. I don’t know why, except that Finns are family-oriented and committed. And they tend to get their names off the records rather than languishing in inactivity.

  16. Tanya Sue says:

    How are we defining activity? I think the church technically defines activity as attending Sacrament once a month (a friend in the bishopric told me that, but I was unable to verify).

    I can say that being a single woman in the church can be pretty brutal. I think it is easier to walk away than to deal with it. As someone who is trying to decide if I want to continue to be a member or not, I can say my path is much easier as a single person to leave vs. someone who has an active spouse. I don’t have a spouse or kids to worry about. Some people want to leave but cannot because of spouse, and that may help them stay and work through their issues instead of walk away.

    It is really hard to be single in a married church. Women are told their divine purpose is having children,but when they are not doing that it leaves them wondering if they have a place in the church, and what their divine purpose then becomes.

  17. Single Sister says:

    I have never commented before, but this thread struck home with me. I went inactive for several years in my twenties. Mostly because as I grew into my late twenties, I knew I wouldn’t be getting married and I became depressed and upset that I was considered a “failure” by so many members. (When asked who my husband was one day by a sister, I said, “I’m not married” and the woman grabbed my arm, gave it a squeeze and said “Oh my dear, I am SO SORRY”. She never spoke to me again – she just didn’t feel I was worth the time, I guess). I still feel a failure sometimes at church (and I’m much older), and I’ve walked out of talks on marriage and children especially when they say stupid things like someone a few weeks ago – “I really pity those people who are not married and don’t have children”. So I understand why single sisters go inactive and I can sympathize with their reasoning. When I was in my child bearing years and all I wanted to do was get married and have children, being a member was not easy, and I left for a number of years because of it.

  18. In my last paragraph, I meant to add at the end: This would explain why some come back when they get married. Now, even if they are married to a non-member, they “fit in” within RS.

  19. Steve M says:

    Norbert,

    My point that we should evaluate our assumptions about female and male activity didn’t have to do with explaining the statistic (as you point out), but with explaining our apparent surprise in response to it. As I mentioned, I don’t think this post would elicit the same interest if it cited a statistic that 80% of young men are inactive in the Church.

  20. Steve M says:

    * My first sentence in comment #18 should read “. . . our assumptions about male and female spirituality . . .”

    Sorry.

  21. “I don’t think it has anything to do with it. More likely, the church provides a social bonding based on shared values, which I think women are more likely to find attractive.”

    I would think that social bonding based on shared gospel values would lead to greater spirituality.

  22. Sterling says:

    David,

    My mind went to the same questions this morning. Let me share some stats I pulled together yesterday and today. We were told yesterday that there are 554,600 Young Women in the church today. That number represents all of the 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and half of the 18 year olds (the other half of whom are presumably graduated from high school and entering Relief Society). This means about 85,000 YW in the Church turn 18 each year.

    Now consider the “Increase in Children of Record” reported yesterday. We were told that 99,638 eighty-year-olds were baptized in 2007. Of this number, about 50,000 eight-year-old girls are baptized in the Church annually. I checked and this number has not been this high since at least 2000. So we see that about only 58 percent (50,000 out of 85,000) of the young women born into the church are getting baptized when they are eight years old.

    Now compare the numbers of YW to the number of missionaries reported yesterday. We had 52,686 missionaries in the field as of 31 Dec 2007. At most, this means, on an annual basis, 26,343 young men are turning 19 and entering the mission field. What is more likely, given the increasing numbers of single women and couples who are serving, there may only be 20,000 young men in the church who are entering the mission field each year. Now let’s assume the number of young men and young women in the church are about equal. This means only a quarter (20,000 out of 85,000) of the young men who are born in the church are serving missions. (This percentage of young men serving missions could be lower if the proportion of missionaries who are female has been increasing since we raised the bar in 2002.)

    I am assuming, also, that very few of the young men who choose not to serve missions remain active in the church.

    So if the retention rate of our youth is only 58 percent at age eight, 25 percent at age 19, is it that hard to believe that only 20 percent of the men and women ages 18-30 in the church are staying active?

  23. Ardis Parshall says:

    Except for a very few months immediately after my mission, I was completely inactive for the whole decade of my 20s, and well into my 30s. I was always a believer, and always considered myself a Mormon, but there was no place for me at church. There still isn’t, really, except that now I’m more self reliant than I could be in my 20s.

    It would be very, very interesting to be part of a candid study of young adult inactivity.

  24. In the twentieth century, between 25-35% of young men in the Church eventually served missions. Between 15-20% of all missionaries were single sisters.

    Again, the Church’s own data is that between 8-14% of all YSA are active, depending on the stake. I’m fairly certain my stake is on the low end of this. This of course doesn’t include missionaries and those who are married.

  25. david knowlton says:

    Just a quick post to say I am here and reading. This topic exploded while I was at class. I have work I have to accomplish right now and so will not be able to comment for a while. This is a topic which engages lots of interesting issues. There is actually a lot I want to comment on. yikes.

  26. Single Ward Veteran says:

    I think part of the problem is that singles in the Church often perceive that the Church–its programs, lessons, culture, practices–infantilizes adults of any age who have never married, and to a degree the doctrine also casts aspersions on those whose marriages have failed, and have not remarried.

    For divorced singles, the doctrine of eternal families and the practice of keeping sealings intact can pour salt in open wounds, and they would rather not bother going to church. For singles who never marry, constantly being given “chastity talks” or invasive interviews, or harangued about needed to date are definite downers.

    I was in a singles ward once where the bishop and his wife said they considered us their children. This was very, very creepy, especially since this was an older singles ward (25-40). The bishop’s wife was a notorious matchmaker, and they both would do anything (including betray confidences) to try to marry off the ward members. A lot of damage was done.

    Another example of this infantilization is that many singles events are administered by married people, including chaperones of dances, etc. A newlywed couple in their late teens or early twenties is often considered more mature and authoritative than a single counterpart twice their age. It is extremely humiliating for an older single to realize that they are assumed to be inept or irresponsible just because they don’t have a spouse.

  27. Single Ward Veteran says:

    continued

    When single LDS are navigating their regular world (work, socializing outside LDS wards, etc.) and weighing it against the singles environment, it’s not hard to see that the singles culture in the Church leaves a lot to be desired. Some leave and return when they feel they are stronger and can handle it, some leave and return when they are married, and some never return at all.

  28. Sterling,

    I think increase in number of children of record indicates children born and placed on the rolls. That is how I have always understood it.

  29. Sterling says:

    J. Stapley: Wikipedia says about 30 percent of young men in the Church served missions, which seems to agree with your numbers. I don’t think it said anything about the percentage of missionaries who are women. The figures I am talking about are 21st century. Have you seen the missionary service rates for the last decade? I am also including all men and women ages 18-30 (single, married, divorced, separated, widowed, etc.) in my numbers. Do you think your low-activity YSA percentages (8-14 percent) average with the higher-activity married percentages (maybe 30 percent) to equal the overall activity rate I came up with (about 20 percent)?

    bbell: “Increase in Children of Record,” as I understand it, means children who are baptized between the ages of 8 and 9. The moment these children turn 9, from what I remember as a missionary, their baptisms count as “converts” and not as “children of record.” Can others verify this?

  30. Kendall Smith says:

    Sterling:

    Children of record can be any of the following:
    1. Children who are blessed in the LDS church
    2. Children of converts who aren’t blessed but are younger than 8 years old
    3. Children whose parents consent to their being on the rolls of the LDS church as long as a)at least one parent is LDS and b) both parents concur.

    Children of record are counted in the membership statistics of the church–if they’re not baptized by their ninth birthday, however, they are dropped from the rolls.

    The church stopped counting baptisms of 8 year olds some years ago; instead they report the children of record.

    My source for this is the CHI that can be found online.

  31. Married activity rates are definitely much higher then for singles. In the US, I would suspect that they are well above the 50% mark, though I haven’t seen the numbers.

  32. As J. Stapley said above, 80% would be an improvement to the situation in the Seattle area.

    Additional reasons I have heard from inactive young women: the boredom Cindee cited above cannot be overstated, women appear to them to be devalued in the organization and parlance of the church, many of their talents (especially executive) will never or seldom be put to use in the Church (wouldn’t God want their talents?), the Word of Wisdom seems untrue in light of recent scientific studies of tea, coffee and red wine (so how can they trust other revelations?), they marry nonmembers with no interest in the church (love and children seem much more important than religion as the biological clock matures), they have had an affair and fear or don’t have faith in the repentence process and they have felt betrayed by new information regarding subjects like the Book of Abraham, feel betrayed and distrustful and leave. Though no one has voiced this to me, I think many never learned the gospel or our history well enough as children, wake up to adulthood in a culture apathetic or antagonistic to religion and simply haven’t the knowledge, including spiritual knowledge, to confront issues like those above or to sustain interest in religion.

  33. Sterling says:

    Kendall Smith: Thanks for the clarification. That must mean that only a fraction of the “Increase in Children of Record” numbers reported annually in general conference represent baptisms of 8 year olds. If so, that must mean less than half of the people who are born in the church end up getting baptized in the church. I think this is significant, because, by my estimation, only a quarter of the YW in the church are converts.

  34. Sterling says:

    I meant to say only a quarter or less of the YW getting baptized in the church are converts.

  35. Single Ward Veteran says:

    There’s a difference between YW (Young Women, which the Church defines as 12-18) and YA (Young Adults). Some in the Church–even in our written communications, as seen above!) lump any unmarried members as teenager/other/”youth”. It’s very telling.

  36. Researcher says:

    If these figures are accurate (I can’t grant that since I don’t know where they’re from) I think it might be time for church leadership to reconsider the Relief Society as the default for female adult (18+) activity.

    Yes, the Relief Society is inspired. No, that doesn’t mean that it always forever has to be the only option.

  37. Sterling says:

    Single Ward Veteran: Great point. I was trying to distinguish between YW (ages 12-18) and what I was calling “women ages 18-30.” YSA, I gather, does not include the married women ages 18-30 in the church.

  38. This is an important and vexing question that I’ve spent some time wrangling with. My own experience (admittedly anecdotal) confirms the languishing activity rate for YSAs in the Church, with no obvious difference based upon sex or a person’s having served a mission. The overwhelming majority of YSA LDS I know personally — RMs and non-RMs alike, male and female — are not active, for any number of reasons and by any number of definitions. And, off the top of my head, not a single one of them has “lost faith” in the sense of rejecting the truth claims of Mormonism. All of them are sexually active (mostly in committed monogamous relationships), some gay, most straight, and all of them routinely engage in some form or another of WoW infraction (usually social drinking).

    This is a phenomenon I have not come close to wrapping my head around, but SWVs comments in # 26 and 35 seem very insightful.

  39. Single Ward Veteran, I spoke insensitively in using “young women” referring to younger adult women, 18-30. Sorry. I actually don’t think of those we call young women as women at all, but that’s the term and I should have been more exact. You make an excellent point about infantilizing language and activity.

  40. I think trying to have this discussion in the Church also runs the risk of letting it devolve into an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecy. We say that the world is uniquely evil and horrible and that there’s so much pressure on our youth, and then when confronted with stats like these, we can simply point to the mess and say “we told you so.” That absolves us of the responsibility of pointing the finger in our own direction, enabling us to point the take-no-offense finger of shame at the other 80% and shake our heads in frustrated sadness at the wickedness of the world.

    I admit this is an extreme characterization of only one possible reaction and something of a strawman. I’m just highlighting the kind of thinking that I think a productive discussion of these problems must avoid.

  41. Dude, Ryan, did you miss the comment where I said the Church hierarchy itself uses the 8-14% number? They have spent a lot of time on this problem and though I haven’t seen their methodology, I do suspect that numbers so dismal were fairly vetted, your speculation notwithstanding.

  42. Jennifer in GA says:

    #30- Children of Record are not taken off the roll if they aren’t baptized by the age of 8. They remain on the rolls until they turn 18, and there is a star by their name on the rolls denoting their member status as Unbaptized Children of Record.

    I’m not saying what you found online is incorrect, but I’m looking at a YW class roster right now, that is current as of this month, and it lists the Unbaptized Children of Record. We are instructed to count them in our attendance records.

  43. Sterling says:

    J. Stapley: Maybe some of the disconnect comes from regional differences in experiences of members of the church. Is the activity rate for YSA about the same in Mexico, Brazil, the Phillipines, Europe, Utah, urban American West, east coast, etc.?

  44. Sterling, those are the numbers the Church has used for the US, I don’t know about outside the US.

  45. I will probably repeating some of what my mother wrote above, but although a man, I was raised in the church and with three daughters consider myself to have skin in the game. Oh, and for what it is worth, my wife converted after our 5th month of marriage.

    First, the church youth programs amply demonstrate the “amature” nature of our organization. At school, in athletics, pursuing music or art I was consistently encouraged to work hard and challenge myself to do my best. When I attended church functions I saw events where lack of effort, and acceptance of mediocrity (if not lower standards) were the norm. This was not the case in friends’ churches or my high school (which was Episcopalian). These standards were, and are, no more clearly demonstrated than in the manual’s and my former (and alas current) teachers’ complete unwillingness to intellectually challenge the members.

    Although the above critisism is by no means reserved for young women, if you combine that with what I perceived as a young man to be a pervasive notion that women were first-and-foremost baby-makers rather than individuals…backed up by the whole “the priesthood is only for men” and “the man is the head of the household”…schtick and I can understand young women electing to chose the world to explore their individuality and define themselves rather than a singles ward.

    I can’t say I attended services on the first Sunday of my freshman year because of an affinity for the church as an organization, because the church as an organization made me more complete, or because it played a vital role in my daily life. Instead, for me it was purely faith in certain aspects of the gospel instilled in me by my parents that overcame what was at that time distain for the organization. Had I been a woman, I think it would have been significantly harder to make that choice. To be fair, now that I am older I have more appreciation for the difficulties inherent in an all-volunteer church. I have been (partially) assimilated.

    Finally, I found it extremely creepy when moving into a new singles ward, the stake president put his arm around my shoulder, walked me through the halls to the chapel, and started talking to me about all the attractive women in the ward. I remember thinking, “Is he going to show me their teeth…how can I tell how old they are without looking at their teeth?” Who wants to go somewhere and put of with that attitude?

  46. Single Ward Veteran says:

    No offense taken, Molly Bennion and Sterling. I just wanted to point out that the problem with single adult inactivity starts with how we define and treat them.

    There are married people among us who shake their heads and tut-tut about the wayward single youth. No matter how old we are–even if the single adults are our peers or older than us–, sometimes the tendency is to think of singles as troubled young post-teenagers who just need to get their acts together and come back to Church.

    No matter what the reason for this dire statistic, it is no small feat for someone who doesn’t believe the Church is fulfilling his/her needs to maintain interest in going or even belonging. There are many who still find value in the Church nonetheless, but many other’s can’t and don’t, particularly while they are single.

  47. Ty, it took you five months? Impressive skills.

  48. Some Guy says:

    80% seems high. Here’s one thought. In a Utah-valley singles ward that I was in, lots of people seemed to feel free to go visit other wards–often for months. It seemed more common for women–lots of girst would come to our ward right out of high school, stick around for a few weeks, go somewhere else for a few months, and sometimes come back. They weren’t inactive during these months–they were just at other wards. But they wouldn’t show up as attending a ward.

    Maybe a good number of the “inactive” people are just going to other wards and not moving their records around with them.

  49. StillConfused says:

    I see a huge difference between inactivity and abandonment. Inactivity sounds temporary in nature — for instance “just taking a break”. I was inactive until my children were born. This may sound bad but I really didn’t see much point in going just for myself.

  50. Some Guy says:

    Just a clarification: in my comment in #37, I do not want to downplay any of the excellent reasons listed in #32 or other posts (I am particularly aware of the importance of boredom). I just think that some of the 80% are plenty active.

  51. Some Guy says:

    J. Stapely- I shamefully admit that I just skimmed your post, then jumped right in. Had I been more diligent, I could have saved valuable seconds for many people. I like to think, however, that I provided fun-filled anecdotal evidence that explains what those 8-14% are up to.

  52. Kendall Smith says:

    Julie in GA:

    The CHI says that records are maintained on children of record not baptized by age 9; even though the records are kept, those people shouldn’t be counted as members.

  53. Kendall Smith says:

    Sterling:

    In the current scheme of things, the baptism of a previously blessed 8 year-old doesn’t change anything. He or she was counted as a member the day they were blessed or otherwise entered into the system.

    If they aren’t baptized by their 9th birthday, they aren’t supposed to be counted as members anymore, but they are on the rolls, as Julie in GA says.

  54. Jennifer in GA says:

    Kendall Smith: Could you please point me to where it says that on the church website, because I can’t seem to find it.

  55. As a Young Woman, there’s a lot of pressure from the members of the Church to be something I’m not, nor do I have any desire to be. That, combined with the fact that my parents are non-members, is a tough line to walk for a 16 year old convert.

    But I love the Church, and I love my leaders. They have helped me learn to be my best self in a world where people would have me be THEIR best selves. And I think this past General Conference, more than any other, has made the effort to get the Saints to make that distinction.

    But I’m still wary. I’m now 18, and I have to decide whether or not to move up to Relief Society before I go to college. None of my girl friends have successfully made the transition in my branch so far, and I’m thinking it’ll serve me better not to try.

    This is the kind of stuff that causes inactivity: when attitudes within the membership make being a member seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

  56. Kendall Smith says:
  57. StillConfused says:

    I spoke with my 20 year old daughter about this as well. She said that many of her friends feel that they are pressured at Church to marry and be moms. They drop out of Church while they are pursuing their education and careers and come back into the fold once they are married or ready to get married.

  58. Steve,

    We dated 3.5 years before marriage. Which reminds me of Fletch:

    Fletch: “Oh, it was. Yeah, it was really a shame. To go so suddenly like that.”
    Dr. Joseph Dolan: “He was dying for years.”
    Fletch: “Sure, but… the end was very… very sudden.”
    Dr. Joseph Dolan: “He was in intensive care for eight weeks.”
    Fletch: “Yeah, but I mean the very end, when he actually died. That was extremely sudden.”

    I’m a natural missionary. It must be my gentle good nature and deep and abiding spirituality. Who else could convert their sole-mate in just under four years?

    Ty

  59. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, Ty. Dr. Rosen Rosen. I’ve also heard that the legendary seductive powers of the Bennion Eyebrows played a role.

  60. I have noticed that the Church sometimes has a I have noticed that the Church sometimes has a one size fits all way of organizing it’s membership.

    Example #1. Young men at nineteen go on Missions. Women are not allowed to go on a mission until they are twenty one just in case a young man needs a wife when he returns form his mission. Young man and young women marry, he goes to school, they start to have children and the life goal has been reached. They live happily ever after.

    Oops! Young man or young women now thirty not married what happened? How can we fix this unsettling state of being? We live in a more complex society. Time to deal with it.

    This second example I have heard fabout four different times by various locale leaders in talks and in private. I don’t know where it originated.

    Example #2 “Convert the investigator, baptist them, confirm them and give them a calling. After one year get them to the Temple and then they are ready and on their own.”

    Oops! They where told they are now part of a larger family, feel abandoned and found the back door leading to their old life and friends. Many converts here in Santa Fe tell the story of moving to Utah to be around more Mormons and that it was one of the loneliness times of their life. Sorry Utahans, I’m just relating what I have been told a number of times. maybe they weren’t converted in the first place or there are other reasons we are unaware of but we still need to deal with it.

    As for me I left the Church in 1967. I couldn’t deal with it and it couldn’t deal with me but like I said it was 1967 and you can maybe figure out from that what happened. I returned to activity in February 2001.

  61. I can’t help but think that women are under a lot more pressure nowadays then men are.

    While men historically have high inactivity rates then women, recently their has become a division among US women that does not exist among men.

    In the larger US society, women seem divided into two camps. One camp holds to old traditions that view motherhood as an indivisible element of womanhood. The other camp rejects motherhood as a source of feminine identity, instead arguing that fulfillment as a women is found in intellectual or business pursuits in the workforce.

    While most reasonable people would recognize that they should not be mutually exclusive positions, the current climate is such that women are often shoved into one camp or the other. For example, my mother was regularly patronized and treated with condescension by working women because she was a full time homemaker- despite the fact that my mother was highly educated and worked as a computer programmer before having children.

    The fact that she understood the workforce, and came from a family with a long line of feminist women meant nothing. Simply by choosing children, she had chosen sides.

    I am sure other women in the other camp who work have felt similarly ostracized and forced into a position of conflict.

    What happens to a Mormon woman who professes allegiance to more traditional views of womanhood but can’t find a husband? Where does she fit in?

    Women used to support each other much more than they do nowadays. Many women (such as my mother) look to their husbands to provide validation of the worth of their activities, as traditional sources of validation from other women are no longer reliable.

  62. Another thing that has changed are the large number of women who are consciously deciding to put off marriage until after graduation. (As opposed to those who are willing but can’t find an acceptable mate).

    Since this is clearly at odds with the counsel given by the Priesthood and the Church, it is not surprising that some women decide not to regularly attend church.

  63. Jennifer in GA says:

    I’m sorry, Kendall, but I think that website is wrong. I just put in a call to our stake clerk who told me that children who

    – have been blessed (therefore creating a membership record)
    – are between the ages of 9-18
    – and have never been baptized

    are absolutely counted as “children or members of record”, and are *included* monthly attendance records that are turned in to the stake (until they turn 18), and I would imagine contribute to the statistics presented in the opening post.

    Believe me, I wish these COR weren’t included in the numbers, as the average attendance of the Primary I’m in charge of would leap from 25% attending at least once a month to 80% attending at least once a month.

  64. Eric Russell says:

    One thing the church could be doing a better job of is helping people move out of the “me-serving” mentality and on to the “other-serving” mentality. One with an “other-serving” outlook will stay in church while those who fail to get beyond the “me-serving” perspective will begin to drop as soon as it rains.

  65. Also, how can any discussion of this topic in the blogernacle avoid the temptation of touching the third rail of Mormon culture.

    Looking at this logically from a perspective of simple incentives, I can not help but realize that there is a policy that would radically change current incentives towards encouraging marriage and greater activity by young single women:

    Polygamy

    At least, that’s what all the period Relief Society writings defending the doctrine seems to suggest.

    Let the true firestorm of controversy begin!

  66. Cicero, what you’re talking about is not a new suggestion. Suffice it to say that it would not entirely solve all problems.

  67. Women used to support each other much more than they do nowadays.

    Women who fit the mold find an exceptional support system in RS today. Women who don’t, mostly don’t.

  68. Eric Russell says:

    Single Ward Veteran,

    In what ward is there a singles ward of ages 25-40? I am highly skeptical that such a ward exists in the US.

    On another note, it is true that a young married man could be called into the bishopric of a singles ward and be younger than some of those in the ward. It is also possible that he, joined by his spouse, could attend a singles dance in his leadership capacity. But I don’t think that makes him a “chaperon” per se, at least not in the traditional sense. The statement “A newlywed couple in their late teens or early twenties is often considered more mature and authoritative than a single counterpart twice their age.” is downright false.

  69. So Elder Wirthlin was right; some people feel like they don’t fit in. Let’s take his counsel a step further and create an atmosphere in which they do fit it.

    1) I would love to see singles units dissolved. I don’t like the natural meat market mentality that is so hard to eliminate. There is so much that YSA can add to a ward – and even more so to a branch.

    2) Hold separate YSA Gospel Doctrine classes – at the very least – and establish YSA Relief Society and Elders’ Quorums groups, if supported by the numbers. Call 3rd Counselors, again if supported by the numbers. We’re separating them currently, so it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t separate them in a ward. The YSA SS class was done in our ward before the encouragement was solidified to attend the singles branch, and it was very successful.

    3) Actively call YSA women into RS Presidencies and YSA men into Branch Presidencies and Bishoprics – at least as Ward Clerks and Executive Secretaries. Married status has no bearing on real spirituality and overall worthiness, as evidenced by the callings extended in singles wards and branches.

    4) Retain an absolute minimum of callings as “married-only” – perhaps only Bishop and Relief Society President.

    There are more things that can be done, but treating YSA as normal, individual, non-special people would be a nice start, imho.

    We can’t water down the doctrine that makes us unique, but we certainly can teach it in a more conducive *structure*. If YSA are valued more within the visible organization, it might rub off on the general membership and lessen the condescension too many express.

  70. Yeah, it’d make single young men even more alienated. Not to mention those ‘over 25′ guys.

  71. Kendall Smith says:

    Julie:

    Next Sunday, ask to see the CHI and you can verify for yourself. As it says, those young people should have membership records but shouldn’t be counted among the 13.1 million members of the church.

  72. Mark IV says:

    Disagree, Eric. It happened to me when I was assigned by a high councilor to chaperone a SA dance. I was younger than most of those in attendance, but because I was married, it was assumed that I had a better handle on chastity and morality and was therefore qualified to oversee people twenty years older than I and make sure there was no hanky-panky. It was really weird, and I don’t think my experience is uncommon.

  73. Tanya Sue says:

    Eric,

    In my stake they have the mid-singles group. All people between 30-40 (I cannot remember the exact upper number) are put in the same family ward together. At this point most of the members are the singles.

    Not the one he was referring to, but close. It is super bizarre though. They have a seperate temple night, etc. They did finally stop seperating the married/singles for Sunday School. The married members of the the ward referred to the singles as youth.

  74. Ray,
    In my last three wards, the RS president has been unmarried, so that calling doesn’t fit the married-only requirement (not to mention that it’s always an unmarried woman in singles’ wards).

    Eric,
    Until say three years ago, Manhattan had a singles ward for ages 27 (or 28; I don’t entirely remember) and up. According to my sister, Palo Alto had roughly the same thing (although maybe the dividing age was different). Manhattan’s is gone–everyone over 30 is in the traditional wards–and I’ve never lived in Palo Alto, so I can’t speak to them, but it’s not an unreasonable proposition that there existed a (or multiple) singles ward(s) that appeared to be for people roughly 25 to roughly 40.

  75. Eric Russell,

    In Boston there are two singles wards for people ages 25 and up. People 31 and older are not required to attend family wards, and in fact I know of a few people older than 40 who still attend the singles wards. However, your intuition is largely correct: in most areas singles wards are now limited to people ages 18-30.

  76. #68 – Eric, perception is 9/10’s of reality – to twist a familiar statement. Don’t discount the frustration felt by a 30-year-old single adult at seeing a 23-year-old and his 19-year-old wife attending a YSA dance. In many cases they are there on assignment as “leaders” – and it really is comically painful in too many cases.

  77. In what ward is there a singles ward of ages 25-40? I am highly skeptical that such a ward exists in the US.

    The 8th ward in Provo is basically that. Not exactly. There are some under 25s. But not many.

  78. Eric Russell says:

    Ray, #1 couldn’t be more wrong. That’s the absolute worst thing the church could do. Aside from a very slim, but sometimes vocal minority, single people prefer to go to church where they can be with other singles. What the church needs to do is increase singles wards. As the single population gets older, there ought to be shifts to take that into account. In highly populated areas there ought to be 27-37 year old singles wards, instead of forcing singles out into family wards the day they hit 31.

  79. Sam, that’s my point – that YSA men and women serve in leadership callings in singles units; why can’t they do the same in non-singles units? (and, btw, I do not object to having single women serve as RS Pres.)

  80. I would love to see singles units dissolved. I don’t like the natural meat market mentality that is so hard to eliminate. There is so much that YSA can add to a ward – and even more so to a branch.

    The anti-“meat market” bit gets to be a bit silly (IMO). Look. For most under 25 they are dating a lot or at least interested in dating. It might only be a fraction of everyone but they like to date a lot. And lots of people are interesting in “finding the one.” There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s far less of a meat market than say an LDS dating site.

    Yeah it can interfere and frankly some of the shenanigans of the 19 year old girls and recent RMs can be annoying – especially around BYU. But I’m not exactly sure how you think one could eliminate that, keep folks dating and so forth.

    In my experience most single adults in regular wards get ignored because (a) there are only a handful in a ward of 300+ people and (b) most families with young kids barely have time to socialize with their spouse let alone lonely young singles. Give the young adult a calling in primary and they’ll disappear off from the radar of the ward. Don’t give them a calling and they feel left out and go inactive.

    I remember doing both the regular ward and single ward things back when single. As bad as the single wards sometimes were the regular wards were far worse.

  81. I have no idea whatsoever how typical this situation is, but I have a daughter who is about to graduate from college (not BYU or other church school). She goes to church somewhat regularly, because she believes the church is true. But she hasn’t been impressed with any of the YSA wards she has attended.

    Let me rephrase that. She hasn’t been impressed with the guys at YSA wards. Her impression is that the typical YSA male is not interested in getting to know his female counterpart as a friend, only as a future wife. If she goes out on a traditional date with a guy (as opposed to hanging out with a group), the guy won’t leave her alone afterward because all he thinks about is wanting to get married like his mission president told him he needed to do right away.

    She basically feels that the singles wards are designed to get people married off rather than helping them grow spiritually.

    As a result, she says that if she comes to live with us after graduation while she looks for employment before going to live on her own, she says she’ll attend our ward, not the singles ward in town. She does want to marry sometime, but when she’s ready, not because she’s expected to fill some RM’s one-woman quota.

    Like I said, I don’t know how typical my daughter’s experience is. But if it’s true that single women are treated only like future wives and mothers, and not being appreciated for who they are, I can see why inactivity rates could be so high.

  82. Ray,
    I’m sure you don’t object, and I totally agree with you—I guess my point is, why should Relief Society president be on the list of must-be-marrieds (given that my last three non-singles wards have had unmarried women as RS presidents)? So I wasn’t actually disagreeing with you.

  83. Tanya Sue says:

    Eric (#78), I disagree (as a single person), I would love nothing more than to be able to attend a family ward and be welcomed and utitlized. My current choices is the mid-singles group and the family ward (where the former bishop told me they were not equipped to deal with singles).

    I agree with treating the singles as any other member of the church. Sure, have lots of activities for them to meet people. But the point of church is to worship, feel the spirit, etc. not meet people in order to get asked out and date. I find it bizarre to be in a church where the clergy says from the pulpit “guys ask girls out, girls, say yes” or the bishop witholds temple reccomends from men not dating enough.

  84. Ray, they can in regular units. I’ve been in quite a few wards with singles in the Bishoric and singles as RS Presidents.

    However typically there are (a) far more married people than singles making such things improbable and (b) a concern of whether singles would understand the needs of married people. (A valid concern – I consider myself thoughtful and so forth, but being married is eye opening and having kids amazingly eye opening)

  85. Eric, we simply disagree on this one. If our activity rate is 8-14% when we are using singles units for those 18-30, but those rates increase *significantly* after age 30, I have a hard time thinking the numbers will drop without those units – especially if YSA are treated as adults and integrated into wards and branches as normal members – with the opportunity to meet as a separate group in SS, RS and PH where the numbers merit it.

    Your response mis-characterizes my proposal, since my proposal explicitly allows for YSA to meet and worship with other YSA.

    I might be wrong, but continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results . . . I don’t like quarantining people away from those who are different – for way too many reasons to list here, not least of which is the chance to observe and learn (both good and bad) from those who are different – including, in this case, those with children.

  86. Tanya Sue says:

    E-From talking to lots of other singles, it really depends on the area and the leadership.

    The last singles ward I was in had a bishop that felt people’s problems would go away if they would just get married. In my current area women being sex objects is first and foremost, wife and mother second. Lots of plastic surgery (implants) and eating disorders-including the common knowledge that the bishop paid for his daughters.

    I attened a different singles ward a few cities away and felt the spirit the strongest I ever have. The focus was truly on developing a relationship with your Savior and you God. It was beautiful. Another ward near me was all about the education a woman had. So really, each wards “flavor” is different.

  87. Single Ward Veteran says:

    Re: singles wards for 25 and older–

    There are MANY singles wards across the US that serve older singles. The leadership has tried to disband them, but there have been official and unofficial ones for decades.

    I have been a member of/attended “older singles wards” or “…branches” in the following cities:

    San Fransisco, Boston, Chicago, Manhattan, Salt Lake City, Park City, Midvale, Arizona.

  88. Single Ward Veteran says:

    Oh, and of course, there’s a gigantic, thriving “mid-singles” program in Southern California, which typically sees a large turnout for its annual conference/retreat (numbering in the hundreds, sometimes thousands).

    Then there are even older wards and branches (we used to call them “forty ’til death”.

  89. I recently was involved in a over 31 singles conference and dance. The married members of our stake who helped put on the dance and conference were not chaperones. I would call us workers. We set up, fed, DJ’d, took pictures and cleaned up afterwards. Nobody told us we were chaperones and nobody acted like it.

  90. I am fascinated with the changes people talk about over the course of a life; being active, inactive, and then active again over a life. I know people who have been in the Church, had their names removed, joined another Church, then rejoined Mormonism, become inactive again and participated in another Church and so on. I wonder how many people actually stay active in the Church over their lifetimes. It is probably a small minority.

    How do you know when someone has “abandoned” the Church or even just disaffiliated? People have complex levels of involvement and engagement. I know one person who hasn’t been to Church in a decade or more and yet, although non-compliant with the Word of Wisdom, believes strongly in the Church and has a testimony. I know another person who is active and yet does not believe as firmly as the first person. We presume we know what these categories, active and inactive mean and the kinds of persons they apply to. But other than in a quantitative sense of participation we do not.

    The levels of inactivity y’all describe for young men and young women fascinate me. I see two issues here, coming from the sociology of religion. One talks about how a demanding Church builds more inner commitment by removing the complexity of the free rider problem—i.e. those who participate but do not pay tithing, or do not follow the commandments. As a result they are arguably more marketable.

    But that also comes at a cost. It may be the cost is the loss of a certain number of youth. If convert growth is greater than the loss then the Church continues to grow. But if not, then it declines.

    So there is another variable here, at least: the demand for the religious good (sorry for the jargon) in the broader society. Another way to say this is the fit between the social situation of enough people and the Church such that the Church is attractive and meaningful.

    Another variable is the barrier between the members of the Church and the broader society. If that is broad, and enforced from both sides, then it is hard for people to leave and go anywhere, even if there is not a good fit, once they are inside.

    However one can look at this religiously, where the entire field of humanity is God’s kingdom and the problem is one of ministering to all His children and bringing them to the Lord. It may be tempting to close up into a smallish group of the saved. But if the goal is finding ways to bring a message that is intelligible and meaningful to the “sheep not of the fold “ then one has to scrutinize the structure and offering to make it meaningful to as many people as possible.

    The Church seems caught in these issues and seems looking for the latter without compromising the commitment and sectarianism of the active.

  91. Jennifer in GA says:

    Julie:

    Next Sunday, ask to see the CHI and you can verify for yourself. As it says, those young people should have membership records but shouldn’t be counted among the 13.1 million members of the church.

    With all due respect, Kendall, isn’t it possible that you might be misinterpreting the CHI, given the fact that you have addressed incorrectly as “Julie” three different times? At this point, I’ve got the word of my stake clerk that COR are indeed counted, as compared to your unknown source on the internet. Please understand that I mean no disrespect. Surely there is a ward or stake clerk here who coud weigh in with a third opinion? ;D

    It’s is entirely possible that my stake clerk is completely wrong, and I’ll gladly eat crow if you are right. Right now, it’s easier for me to believe him and take your info with a grain of salt.

    As to the question at hand, I think church leaders are well aware of the loss of young women as they make the transition from that organization to Relief Society. Up until last October, I was a leader in the YW organization for the past seven years, both on the ward and stake level. In 2002, we received a letter from the General YW and RS presidencies reminding us how valuable AND vulnerable these YW are, and giving ideas to make the transition smoother.

    I can tell you first hand that both the RS president and the YW president have a lot to do with how a young women responds to the transition. In the wards where the girls were encouraged to move on to RS, and welcomed, made to feel important, and given an opportunity to serve in some capacity, they usually stayed active. If the girl was encouraged to stay in YW as long as possible, and/or basically ignored once they went into RS, then they found other places to be.

  92. Btw, attending wards with everyone else doesn’t mean disbanding stake or multi-stake or regional committees and activities.

    Does anyone have access to the activity numbers of YSA prior to the establishment of singles units? I know the world was different then, but that would help see things historically.

  93. Tanya Sue said:

    I attened a different singles ward a few cities away and felt the spirit the strongest I ever have. The focus was truly on developing a relationship with your Savior and you God. It was beautiful.

    That’s good to hear. I hope that’s more typical and that my daughter has run into the exception.

    Cicero said:

    Another thing that has changed are the large number of women who are consciously deciding to put off marriage until after graduation. … Since this is clearly at odds with the counsel given by the Priesthood and the Church, it is not surprising that some women decide not to regularly attend church.

    Where has that counsel been given?

  94. The gender issue is a different one. Y’all are talking about the differential loss of relevance of the gospel to young people because of a poor fit between their social needs and the Church or because the Church’s organization is off-putting.

    This intrigues me. Traditionally the language used to describe people who stray from the fold is one of sin. Y’all are mobilizing a different language. Maybe y’all are just more sociological or something.

    I think the pressures faced by young women are different than those faced by young men. They fit differently into social discourses. They also carry a different ideological weight and pressure, because of reproduction, than do men. Today, women are more likely to attend college and may soon be earning more than most men. Will this/ does this make a difference in terms of LDS thinking and practice?

  95. Along with all the other reasons they go inactive, I have to say it’s just so freaking easy to stop going. In cities with large singles wards, there is a huge turnover all the time. people in and out for school, jobs, internships whatever. As noted above, there are a lot more women than men. I’m talking a huge number of women. So, you’re bored, you hate being talked to like a child, you don’t think you’ll find a Mormon man (your chances aren’t good), you stop believing, you’re tired, lazy, feel undervalued, you don’t have any friends, the doctrine doesn’t seem to apply to you anymore, anything, you can just not go one Sunday and unless you’re in a visible calling (chances are you’re not bc there are so many people) NO ONE really notices if you don’t go. Then one week can turn into two or a month or whatever.

    And because of the huge turnover, it’s hard for anyone to keep tabs on who’s really around and who’s not.

    It’s easy to lose people this way.

  96. David – on your question about activity rates over a lifetime, Albrecht et al’s study on inactivity found that about 78% of Mormons are inactive at some point in their life. I discussed the study a bit more here at Mormon Mentality about a year ago.

  97. David, this is going to be a difficult analogy to make properly, but I’m going to try. I apologize in advance if I butcher it:

    In Ohio, the legislature decided to raise significantly the level of reading proficiency necessary to leave 4th grade. After the first year of the new standard, the percentage of students who failed the test jumped from less than 20% from the previous year to over 60%. The irony is that during the exact same year, nearly 95% of the students who took the reading portion of the Ohio Graduation Test passed it. Iow, less than 40% of the 4th Graders were considered successful readers, even though only 5% of them would be considered failures 8 years later when they took the graduation test.

    The proposed solution for these “at-risk kids” (who weren’t “at-risk” under the previous standard) generally was to remove them for 30-90 minutes each day from the classroom with the “successful kids” and give them small group intervention. That’s fine in theory, but almost nobody stopped to think that “slowing down the instruction” meant not only that these kids would be missing the regular instruction (putting them behind the others by default), but that slower instruction actually *accelerates* the learning acquisition gap. The “solution” to isolate literally solidified the original gap and made it almost impossible to re-integrate the kids back into full classroom instruction. **It also separated them from their peer role models**, and labeled them all as problem children (those who needed special attention and treatment “normal kids” didn’t need – meaning there was an increase in socialization difficulties. The solution, imo, should have been to fix the core classroom instruction that was causing the problem in the first place, not create an intellectually and emotionally gratifying system that actually contributed to accelerated failure – when failure would not have been the result under the original measurement system.

    My point? There was a disproportionate expectation put on those 4th graders that singled them out as failures, even though, treated as perfectly normal, they would be considered just fine a few years later.

    I understand the pain we feel over inactivity, and I support *fully* efforts to reach out to those who are disproportionately more inactive than others, but sometimes I think we focus so much on the “YSA problem” that we end up creating complex situations to handle it – when proper implementation of the core organization would work just as well, if not better. Many of those who struggle in that age range will struggle no matter what we do, but holding them to an unrealistic standard, isolating them, condescending to them and sending them the message that they can’t succeed in the “normal” church . . . I just have a problem with that.

  98. One thing the church could be doing a better job of is helping people move out of the “me-serving” mentality and on to the “other-serving” mentality. One with an “other-serving” outlook will stay in church while those who fail to get beyond the “me-serving” perspective will begin to drop as soon as it rains.

    I agree 101% that the gaining of a other-serving mentality is critical. But to say that the Church has to do a better job of it then negates the whole point (the Church should serve me up a new other-focus mentality on a silver platter).

    When I was in college, and single, I served as Elder’s Quorum president along with a Single RS president (local professional woman) and a Single YW’s president (newly converted college student), all in a family ward. That period was one of very fond memories of gospel service and friends.

  99. #95 – Amri, that is another reason I don’t like singles wards. The turn-over rate almost guarantees nobody notices when someone stops attending.

    Thank you for mentioning that. I can’t believe I forgot to do so.

  100. Single Ward Veteran says:

    bbell, when you presided over/chaperoned/managed/coordinated a singles activity as a married man with other married people, it’s possible that the impression was given that you were in charge BECAUSE you were married. After all, most (99.9%) of the bishops in the Church are married. Stake presidents are married. Mission presidents are married. GAs are married. These are the people (I’m putting on my cynical hat; I don’t really believe this) who can be trusted to organize, run, oversee, etc. Babies, children, teens, and..oh yes, the single people..just show up.

  101. Tanya Sue says:

    Amri-and let’s be honest, the leadership and members don’t have time to outreach to those who are not going. Even if they were to notice someone isn’t there, they don’t have time to call and check in, etc. I flat out told my bishop I was questioning my membership and whether I would continue to even be a member. He talked me into a blessing and no showed-completely forgot I brought it up and now haven’t heard from him in over a year. He isn’t a bad guy, he just has to pick and choose his battles.

  102. Eric Russell says:

    MAC, I agree with your comment 102%. I just phrased it that way to try to avoid being accused of blaming the victims who choose to go inactive.

  103. Matt b. Yes…but the Albrecht et al. study is already old. We need more material and more work. I think that is clear just from the conversation here. For example, the 78% over a lifetime is precariously close to the 80% cited by the journalist above. Yet the one is contemporaneous and the other is over a life time. I do not think the numbers could be simultaneously accurate.

    It may be that the issues around inactivity have changed, since their study, meaning we now face a different situation.

    Ray. I hear your point loud and clear. I was just arguing there is another concern. If the current situation leads to a net loss in members and a decline in overall membership in the US as the Pew numbers seem to bode, then other approaches than stay the course might be merited. However I am advocating neither approach.

    I have no mantle under which to advocate.

    Your example is good, but is religion really like teaching literacy? Only if you absolutely know, in advance, the code that the people must obtain. Otherwise the metaphor is perhaps stretched. The absolutely know is more the sectarian model I sketched above. It works but also has some strong limits.

  104. #101 Tanya Sue-

    I don’t feel any blame on the leadership for that. They are monstrosities (these large singles’ wards in metropolitan centers or Utah) there’s no way to keep tabs on everyone and keep up with callings, interviews, etc.

    I’m just saying it’s easy to go inactive. Some people that are inactive are there bc it was so easy to get there.

  105. also Tanya Sue, my condolences. It sucks to be told to turn to your bishops in crises of faith but not have them available because they’re so swamped they forget your crisis. That really sucks.

  106. David, just a minor point, but one that is important: If I understand correctly, the study doesn’t show a net loss in members or a decline in overall membership, but rather a decline in *relative* membership – a lower percent of the total population. Is this incorrect?

    Everything I’ve seen indicates that general activity rates are fairly steady – that real attendance is increasing, even as relative membership is flat or slightly decreasing. If anyone has numbers that would help see that more clearly, it would be helpful to answer what you just mentioned.

  107. #105 – Amen. That just hurts to hear.

  108. Tanya Sue says:

    Amri-It’s cool. I took it as a sign that it was ok for me to take a breather while I figure things out and what I actually believe. Him and I were actually really tight at one point-I just think he couldn’t deal with this because he never saw this coming from me. Everyone else did, but he didn’t.

    I agree it is easier to go inactive in a singles ward. I am not sure what the solution is there. I am not sure if it is better in a family ward or not (as a single that is).

  109. Kendall Smith says:

    Jennifer:

    Sorry for the error, I’m posting in fits while trying to supervise a work crew doing something else.

    As I said before, the info comes from a copy of the CHI; if you don’t think it’s correct, you can always ask to see a physical copy the next time you’re at church and see a ward clerk or a member of the bishopric.

    They are probably still tracking those blessed but not baptized young people, but they shouldn’t be counted as members.

  110. I was trying to restrain myself from trotting out my pet theory, but Amri and Tanya Sue have raised some of the same points, so here goes:

    Dissolve singles wards. Form singles branches.

    1. Easier to form close friendships. It’s just too daunting to try to get to know ~300 people well, especially if your ward/branch has a high turnover rate. Many people give up and socialize with a few friends, not bothering to reach out beyond their circle. Other people fade away entirely. It’s a lot easier to know everyone in a branch of 100-150, and a lot harder to disappear.

    2. More meaningful opportunities for service. In a branch where there are fewer people to fill callings, it’s more likely that people will feel that their contributions are valued and needed, rather than feeling that they were given a made-up calling.

    3. Possible lessening of the “meat market effect.” Because it is hard to get to know people in a group of ~300, there is a temptation for people to make decisions about whom to date based on first impressions and superficial characteristics. In a smaller group, as people get to know each other more deeply over a longer period of time, friendships and relationships develop more naturally. (I know some will object that people are less likely to date and marry in a smaller “pool,” but in my experience the quality of one’s interactions with members of the opposite sex matters more than the quantity.)

    4. More manageable workload for the leadership. In a family ward with 300 people, the number of family units is actually far less than 300. But in a singles ward with 300 people, each individual is in a sense a family unit. Think what that means for a bishop of a 300-person singles ward doing tithing settlement, or how hard it is to have a good handle on how all the members of his ward are doing spiritually.

  111. David – True. As I note in the link, we need something that takes into account 1)Converts; 2)Non-American Mormons; 3)The impact of the Internet. But for the time being, I suppose, it’s the best we’ve got.

  112. Tanya Sue says:

    Anna-I don’t know about the calling…I always felt that Assistant Nursery Coordinator for HFPE was really needed in the mid-singles/family ward I was in(not!).

  113. The problem is that singles have more time than married folks. There’s simply a massively different dynamic. Yet simultaneously the older you get the fewer social opportunities are there. The problem is that if we want to socialize with Mormons there are huge problems. You can have your ward as a social nexus or you can go elsewhere. Even in Utah if you are over 26 chances are your out of the ward socializing will have far more to do with non-Mormons and inactives than actives. Which can lead to other problems.

    But let’s be honest. If the issue is having a social life there is ultimately only so much the Church could ever do.

  114. Ardis Parshall says:

    I like Anna’s thoughts. We used to say — haven’t heard it in years — that “we divide to multiply.” That is, it was better to divide most wards before they were really large enough to form two wards, because the newer, smaller wards somehow rapidly filled to capacity when, among other reasons, people who had been overlooked in the big ward were suddenly sincerely needed in the new small one.

  115. Ardis is right — Anna has some very interesting ideas. Thanks, Anna.

  116. Sterling says:

    Kendall and Jennifer in GA: Wikipedia says “Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1″ was issued in 1998 and 2006. So maybe is quoting from the outdated version and Jennifer’s clerk is following a new policy contained in the 2006 version. Can anyone else verify this hypothesis?

  117. Sterling says:

    I meant to say “maybe Kendall is quoting from the outdated version”

  118. david knowlton says:

    Ray. You are, of course, right. I was pushing the issue further to make a point at the extreme.

  119. I concur with the idea of making singles units smaller. It think the BYU singles units are smaller now than when I attended BYU.

    I question whether dissolving singles units would solve the problem.

    I don’t think the attendance percentages for unmarried members over 30 is any higher than for those under 30. I know that each time the singles ward in our stake has “kicked out” those over 30 or 31, most of the “refugees” quit attending.

    I also know that the Church has historically been ambivolent about singles units and language units. About 30 years ago, the Church disbanded the ASU stake and wards, so that students could go to their “family” wards or their stake’s singles unit if it had one (most did not, at the time). Over time, more singles units were formed in the stakes, and the university stake reconstituted about 5-10 years ago.

    An area presidency in California strongly encouraged the dissolution of singles and language units 8-10 years ago. Many were dissolved, and many (some would say most) of the former singles ward and language ward units stopped attending. A new area presidency changed the policy, and many of the dissolved units were reconstituted.

    My guess is that the social science research division of the Church has done or is doing studies on the effects on Church participation of singles units versus singles programs in “family” units. I suspect that, if there are results of any such studies, they are inconclusive, or the Brethren would likely have taken a more firm stand on the issue.

  120. Researcher says:

    Since the point came up in the discussion, I’ll mention the following.

    1 Tim. 3:2. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

    Single RS Pres, yes. Single EQ Pres, yes. Single bishop, no.

  121. Jennifer in GA says:

    No worries, Kendall. I will definitely check the hard copy (so to speak) next Sunday.

  122. My wife sat next to our brilliant, lovely, and single RS President in a meeting where the leaders were stating the umpteen reasons why single members aren’t active (connections, feeling like they don’t belong, exclusion from callingsm and so forth). This RS President leaned over to my wife and said, “Look, it’s sex. Can we just stop beating around the bush and admit it’s sex?”

  123. As a single woman in my late twenties I definitely feel like I’m being treated more infantile than other women my age with children. At least in my area, Institute is taught more like seminary. The CES teacher is probably only a couple of years older than me, but yet I feel like I’m being taught down to, so I don’t go. The activities for the YSA are the same activities that I went to as a 14 year old (dances – with the same music too!, firesides, etc…). There are Enrichment activites in my ward, but most of them occur during the daytime which accommodates stay-at-home mothers but not graduate students such as myself. Maybe if there were more interest based groups within wards (sports, book clubs, etc…) where both men and women could participate, it could break down the barrier between married and single and I would feel more valued to the ward. I think the same principle could work for activities for the YSA. I think a lot of young singles are lost because of the “boredom” factor of feeling like you are perpetually going to Mutual.

  124. I just want to thank everyone for your comments. We have been discussing this issue for the last few months in our stake, and I just shared some of these comments with a few of the key leaders.

  125. Ray, as someone who is young, single, in college, and in a regular ward, I have to say I like all of your suggestions. And here’s why. My ward is amazing. The YSAs are a generally a pretty close group. We have responsibilities in our ward that tie us to other members. You start to see church as something special, and value the interaction with people who aren’t like you. Its not common life experience that ties us together, its the gospel. All of my YSA friends value and enjoy church on Sunday. I feel like an important part of my ward, and I’ve never felt marginalized because I was single (this may be because I’m 20… nobody really expects me to be married yet. I am open to realizing that experience might be different for people a few years older than me).

    Last summer I lived in Provo for a couple of months. Church became just another thing that people did. It was nothing special and nobody really seemed to enjoy or treasure it. It was a lot more bland and a lot less spiritual, even if there were no screaming children in the pews.

    I don’t like the typical singles ward dynamic. I like the idea of living in an area with a higher concentration of young, single LDS people, and I’m sure I will after I graduate next year. However, I know such a move will come at the expense of something I treasure. I feel wanted, needed, loved, and utilized in my current ward. I’m not sure even the most amazing singles ward in the world is capable of matching the experience I’ve had in my current ward.

    And the saddest thing about singles wards is missing out on getting to know the really cool people around you that are already married. There isn’t currently an option for me to go to a singles ward (there aren’t any in the entire state where I live, and the closest ones are about an hour away), but even if there was one here, I’m not sure I’d go. My ward has so many really great people, especially the married grad students and their families, and since they live so close to me, I’d be missing out by not knowing who they were.

  126. Left Field says:

    When I was single and in my early 30s, the stake singles decided to take an overnight trip to Sea World. The stake insisted that we had to have “adult chaperones”, despite the fact that many (perhaps most) of the participants were over 21 and adults by any reasonable standard.

    One of the “adult chaperones” was (I kid you not) a recently-married 20-year-old sister–chaperoning grownups nearly old enough to be her parents.

    There’s really no way to explain that, except to conclude that married people of any age are considered adults, while singles of any age are not.

  127. Neal Kramer says:

    I’m jumping in here without having read each post carefully, but you may be interested in the experience of a 55-year-old Utah County resident with five daughters.

    In my experience, ward and stake leaders, with a considerable push from their area presidencies are simply trying to locate YSA’s. They have a tendency to disappear. Some of you have suggested that YSA’s disappear because they are invisible. I think that is true to some degree. They also disappear because they do not wish to be seen. The reasons for that are as varied and numerous as the young people themselves. Most of us have limited anecdotal evidence for people we know, but our experiences do not translate into easily generalizable data.

    The Church, quite obviously, has not found an institutional solution to the problem. One rationale for the Church trying to maintain YSA wards is to try to bring enough young people together under a single roof to increase the odds of meeting a marriage partner. Changing social mores in the United States challenge this rationale. More young people prefer to remain single well beyond their late teens or early twenties. Age differences in these wards are often magnified, making it difficult to keep and maintain friendships, especially when some friends marry and others are “left behind.”

    I want, however, to suggest a different reason for the disappearances. One group we haven’t mentioned here is the significant number of returned missionaries (male) who disappear. This number has everyone very concerned indeed. No one seems to have an explanation.

    Here is my interpretation. I believe that the youth programs of the church, including seminary, leave our kids spiritually barren. The programs tend to emphasize “activity,” “scripture reading,” “wholesome entertainment,” speaking pat testimonial phrases, but make little real effort to introduce kids to much more than sentimentality. They remind me of the phenomenon the English have called enthusiasm. In such a milieu, it’s very easy simply to fit in with the crowd or to be turned off by the absence of real depth.

    I think the same thing continues for many missionaries who go through the motions but experience no real change of heart. It also happens to the people they teach who quickly fall away.

    I guess I’m saying that there are some institutional practices that keep kids active while not fostering conversion. Adolescence and young adulthood should be a time when people are invigorated by spiritual communication, personal inspiration, respect for differences, and profound questions. Instead, it has become a time for rigid social conformity, a time when social pressure replaces attempts to guide young people toward experiences that strengthen true testimonies. No wonder our kids say they are bored. We offer them empty cisterns.

    That is at least a partial explanation for what has gone wrong. Our own culture, paradoxically, leads kids away from the kinds of experiences that lead to true conversion.

  128. Neal gets the prize for most perspicacious comment.

  129. #127 – I said that once to someone in my ward and got called in for an interview with the bishop the next week.

  130. sister blah 2 says:

    Amen, Anna #110, a thousand times amen.

  131. chimera says:

    I think the high inactivity rate of YSA’s (men and women) is incredibly scary for the Church – especially the women being so inactive – traditionally the church has relied a lot on the young women to keep the young men active. Although hopefully some of these people will return to activity after marriage and families start – still, with the high inactivity rate and falling family size – a significant decrease in children BIC could result – and with the admittedly less than stellar retention rate of new converts, this doesn’t bode well for growth. Perhaps I am biased, because all of my young adult children (5) went inactive during my divorce. The church/ward did nothing at all to reach out to them and try to help them maintain their membership. It was really sad for me to watch. Frequently children of divorce fall away, because of Elder Wirthlin’s idea they don’t fit in. I have struggled so to help them return, but so far no luck – they are just making lives for themselves outside the church. I see even very active families having 2, 3 or even more of their children falling away. It is a big problem all over the church. I don’t have a clue how to solve it.

  132. I have no experience in a single ward but from some of the descriptions among the comment, they begin to sound like the ghettoization of unmarried members. Is that to harsh sounding?

  133. sister blah 2 says:

    Clark #80:

    The anti-”meat market” bit gets to be a bit silly (IMO). Look. For most under 25 they are dating a lot or at least interested in dating. It might only be a fraction of everyone but they like to date a lot. And lots of people are interesting in “finding the one.” There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s far less of a meat market than say an LDS dating site.

    Hopefully I can manage to disagree without being disagreeable (sometimes I struggle with that :-) ) here goes:

    I vehemently disagree with this comment. To me (and I’m willing to admit that this reflects a strong bias towards my personality and experience) this is the exact mentality that leads to the de-spiritualization of single’s wards, the removal of real meaning and ultimately making people (me at that age, for one) not feel like it is valuable and something they want to participate in.

    YES, people under 25 like dating. YES, want to “find the one.” But here’s thing thing, I don’t want to go to a 3-hour Sunday block to do those things! I go to church to take the sacrament, to feel the spirit, to serve in my calling, to be instructed in the gospel and unite with a community of saints.

    There are plenty of other hours in the week to date and find the one. Why can’t church be church, and when I want to date I go to a dating website?

    Explicitly meeting-other-singles weekday activities are one thing (note that these could happen for singles while they attend a family ward), but conflating the Sunday rituals with a single’s bar mentality seems very wrong-headed to me. As a single person, I felt like “the system” set up this way wasn’t valuing my spiritual growth as much as it was just pushing me to hook up.

    The idea that I could be in a (singles) ward council meeting, and in addition to providing single-minded service to the Lord, I’d be noticing that the EQP is really hot, is a little jarring and almost creepy to me, like workplace sexual-harassment-y or something. Now this is where I’m willing to admit my strong emotional reaction could be an individual thing, maybe I’m just not good at multi-tasking? But I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this, and this kind of “those 25s always have dating on the brain!” notion is the vehicle though which I personally experienced that “infantilizing” vibe that many singles talk about.

  134. I am currently a Bishop of a YSA ward, so I will chime in with a few general comments.

    1. There is no one size fits all. Some YSA members would thrive in a family ward, others would not and vice versa.

    2. I am quite confident that if our Stake dissolved our ward, we would lose a significant number of our members to inactivity. A few might benefit, but most would not.

    3. Our activity rate is between 40% and 50%. That is about average for YSA wards in this area, and I am astonished by the low numbers I see quoted above. I am not sure I believe them, although I have no way of knowing. The large majority of those on our ward list who are inactive became inactive long ago, likely in their teenage years. I can’t think of any active members we have lost to inactivity, but I can think of a few inactive members who have come back into activity. It is doubtful that they would have become active in a family ward, although I obviously don’t know that.

    4. We have about 90 active members. We know them all, we miss them when they are not there, and they are much less likely to get lost in our ward than they would be in a family ward. However, I don’t think I could say that if our ward was twice our size, as is the case in many YSA wards.

    5. I don’t particularly like the “young single adult” title. My ward members are adults in every sense of the word, but they all have their stories of being patronized and condescended to. Our relief society president once thanked our Bishopric for treating them like adults. I was stunned that being treated like an adult would be worthy of mention, coming from a 26 year old professional.

  135. sister blah 2 says:

    Hm, re-reading my own comment (trying to diagnose if I was too disagreeable :-) ), the term “family ward” really jumped out at me. Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty divisive term. I’ll have to remind myself not to use it anymore.

  136. YES, people under 25 like dating. YES, want to “find the one.” But here’s thing thing, I don’t want to go to a 3-hour Sunday block to do those things! I go to church to take the sacrament, to feel the spirit, to serve in my calling, to be instructed in the gospel and unite with a community of saints.

    The problem is that this is not only why people go. There have been a fair number of surveys on people leaving the Church and social connections is usually the root cause.

    If you don’t have a social connection you will go to Church out of a sense of duty and that can be hard to maintain.

    The problem is that as singles get older it becomes harder and harder to maintain this.

    Trust me, I got the boot from singles wards when I turned 30. It was tremendously difficult. I felt an emptiness in “regular” wards. I talk to my single friends who have recently gone through this and there’s the same thing. I’ve heard from a few people that when the Area Presidency around here got strick with the 31 age limit that those booted (who were primarily active) ended up with huge rates of inactivity. Heck, I probably was considered inactive despite having a strong testimony.

    It’s not just about dating. It’s about the social connections.

    Now it’s fine it you don’t want those things at Church. Just be aware that most do and when it’s not there they fall away.

  137. Thomas Parkin says:

    Neal,

    Amen. I very much wanted to say, basically exactly what you’ve said, but couldn’t navigate my thoughts around it.

    The only thing I disagree with, and that ever so slightly, is here:

    “Our own culture, paradoxically, leads kids away from the kinds of experiences that lead to true conversion.”

    I’ve long thought that the best teaching can do is lead us horsies to the water. It can talk about the water, and talk about drinking,- though historically there has been too little of this,- but can’t make us drink. And there has been, in the past slowly fading away, _something_ about our culture – probably at least in part the fact that there _is_ a culture, a way of communicating and appearing to value – that causes us to think that being lead to the water, and standing there, is the whole point.

    We need spiritual sustenance. And it is to be had in the church. The deepest well is right here with us. So, it seems to me, the better part of the problem isn’t only how people are made to feel welcome – as important, in fact essential, as that is – but how to foreground spiritual matters,- not only in theory but in experience,- in such a way that it becomes obvious they are the whole point. And that being in the vicinity, and neighing like everyone else in the vicinity, is not the point.

    *end straining of metaphors*

    Except to say that I think the leadership of the church is doing so so so much better at this than they did when I was a kid. Of everything that impressed me about this conference, the best thing was seeing the human side of President Monson. I ws somewhat afraid that he wouldn’t do that. I was so greateful that he did, and feel so much more love for him and dedication to him, because he did. This willingness to bare oneself, including whatever woundedness is there, to be truthful, really, says so much more than only commenting on this or that subject. And I see all the GAs, and especially the 12 and the FP, doing it to a degree that would have astonished me in 1983.

    ~

  138. To add, I think the big problem is that the Church ultimately can’t provide this. There is no answer for this problem.

  139. Thomas Parkin says:

    Dear powers that be,

    Please give these blogs an editing function.

    Thanks muchly,

    ~

  140. sister blah 2 says:

    Clark, thanks very much for not taking offense at my response.

    It may be that this is partially a difference in gender, and of course my individual personality (really not a good multi-tasker). By gender I mean that, as a woman, dating-oriented encounters are often experienced as something that is unwanted being done TO you. I’m not talking violence or even harassment. I’m talking just a friendly, wholesome singles vibe–it is not entirely benign to me.

    I remember feeling like I wanted to hurry up and get married because I was just completely exhausted with being looked at (with more of a leered-at slant), chatted-up, and all the rest of it. I just wanted men to leave me the he** alone, frankly. I wanted to be seen for ME, smart, a valuable contributor, etc, and not as a sexual object. (don’t ask me why I thought that marriage would magically fix this–that part was sort of delusional, although the ring helped)

    Maybe I should have just gone to my geographical ward (better term than “family ward”?), which I guess was certainly my prerogative. It didn’t really occur to me. Or bought a fake ring to wear around haha.

    So when you talk about all the social connections being *essential* to the ward experience, believe me I feel you very, very deeply. But to me, sexual-tinged social connections are not benign, but something that carries an undercurrent of alarm/keeping the guard up. I’d rather there be just regular all-walks-of-life social connections, zero undertone of meat market, because everybody is all together and valued for who they are, not pressured to be make-up and styled hair to be “finding the one.” (that’s another thing that is gendered about the single’s ward experience–I don’t care how careful you are with your shaving and cologne, guys’ normative grooming level is a thousand times less labor-intensive than women’s normative grooming level, most especially in the church) I guess there’s all the people-with-kids-too-busy-to-be-friends and a thousand other barriers.

    I don’t know what the solution is.

  141. There is no solution that I can see.

    This is the biggest problem the Church has faced and I think there is nothing the brethren can do. I totally feel for them because there are people out there with needs that they expect the Church to fulfill when that is unreasonable.

  142. Has anyone ever wondered how the pattern of labeling and segregating at every level in the church impacts the problems addressed in these numerous posts?

    Everyone is always dividing up! Literally and figuratively. Men go here, women go there, YSA in some mysterious place elsewhere. On down the line to the youth; Priest, Teacher, Deacon; Laurel, Mia Maid, Beehive. God forbid a 15 yr old should attend the 16 yr old Sunday school class because they feel they might get more out of it personally. Then for the next 4 years we have Cub Scout activities every week for the boys, but Achievement Days only twice a month for the girls. Heck, our divisionary tatics start before potty training! In Primary, you sit in your assigned row of chairs, facing front, and are forbidden to talk to anyone in the effort to be Reverent above all else. What makes it unnatural is the small numbers of the groups we divide. In school, you have 20 kids to form a social group from within your class and you are likely to be shifted around by the teacher quite often. At church, the numbers are probably half that, and the boys are on one side and the girls on the other.

    Then we wonder why the youth groups aren’t more cohesive? Why YSA find it so easy to drift away? Why do YW hate moving onto Relief Society? Well, what row of chairs should they sit in? Who wants to sit next to a 30-something or a Senior Citizen when your whole life you have always sat next to the same 3 gals!

    And what if you were never really accepted by your row of peers (or their parents)? Well, is it so hard to see why those who felt different, who wanted more, very reverently went away?

    Divide and conquer works well to maintain a house of order, but maybe not so well to meet the very human need for love, enjoyment and companionship. It is the Plan of Happiness after all.

  143. Eric Russell says:

    Sister Blah, the solution is to just relax and have fun. It sounds like you probably haven’t gone to a church school, because everything you say about the ward could be said about school. “I don’t want to go to class to be looked at, to find the one; I just want to get an education.” Most people do go to BYU or what have you for education, just like they go to church to worship, but the opportunity to meet and interact with lots of Mormon people of the opposite sex at the same time can be a great thing – and is for most. The pressure to try to impress others is only as great as what you put on yourself.

  144. JA Benson says:

    Wise words Cici.
    Instead of teaching our kids to create large circles of influence we have instead taught them ways to exclude.
    I think what Cici has said is a big part of the problem.
    I also think that a lot of young adults are victims of too much choice. They spend too many Sundays ward hopping to try to find that special ward in which to fit in. It is so easy for them to be lost in the cracks.
    Like Cici says this problem starts way before they are 18. I think that it starts in Primary and Ym/YW. We need to make our youth programs fun. This was why Primary and Mutual were created; a fun way to engage the youth of the Church. Testimonies can be planted and grow if the atmosphere is conducive to the spirit. We may have to spend some money to do this, we may have to totally overhaul the programs.

    If kids have warm feelings and memories about the church as adults they may stray, but eventually they will return. If all a young adult remembers was shame, boredom and mean kids/adults; the church is the last place they will want to return to as adults.

  145. JA Benson (#142),

    I agree with you that we need to give kids “warm feelings and memories about the church.” I hated Primary, and rarely went. That was hard to do when we lived across the street from the chapel, but I would just cross the street and hang around in the parking lot until I saw the other kids leave the building. That would be harder to do now that Primary is during the Sunday block, but I would have tried.

    For much the same reason, I rarely went to Mutual. Neither primary nor mutual was fun for me. I was always the littlest kid, and so always picked on. I don’t know why my teachers never told my parents I wasn’t there. If they did, my parents never asked me where I went when I left home and walked toward the chapel. I still have trouble making social connections at church. If my wife weren’t such a naturally giving and loving person, I probably wouldn’t talk to anybody at church–if I were still going.

    That is the main reason why, whenever I have taught in primary or sunday school for other than adults, I have made one of my main goals that the class be fun. I know the kids won’t remember much of what they learn, but they will remember how they feel. If they can look back and remember they felt good, they will have that connection to lean on when things get rough. I had exactly one sunday school teacher and one mutual leader that made me feel like I belonged, and I treasure them both.

  146. Carol F. says:

    I agree with Neal and Cici (and JA Benson and CS Eric). My reward in YW for being very good and playing the piano and going to everything and being kind was to be paired with either inactive or mentally disabled YW for camp and all else. In hindsight I feel completely taken of by the leaders. When I graduated from BYU at age 21 I was sorely aware that I now had more education than most of the adults out there and that being an adult was seriously just a farce–so little separated youth from adults yet I had done everything I was told by the “adults”.

    Even now, I cannot believe the mantras that the Primary and Youth are expected to take up all the time. “I will go, I will do…He wants me to obey.” “He has shown the way, and through all my days, I’ll follow Him in faith.” “Shall the youth of Zion falter in defending truth and right?” Far more in the music are mantras and themes than actual specifics of what it is they are supposed to do, I feel, anyway. As Primary chorister for about 18 mos, I was disturbed by it and went way out of my way to teach some specifics–Word of Wisdom, honoring the Sabbath, kindness, reverence, cultural diversity, songs about Jesus’ life. Some songs for the Primary Programs have been good and have some specifics built in, like “Scripture Power” and the kids really love it. This year I noticed they are doing a song about Christ’s life but it has tons of difficult words and phrases so who knows what they are gaining by it.

    And don’t get me started about the formula for a “good” Relief Society lesson: the definition, the list, the story, a few comments, the tears, the handout. Or the “good” Sacrament talk: the call from the bishopric, the dig on their spouse, the story from who-knows-where, the droning on and on, the no scriptures, the brief testimony.

    You’d think we all had nose rings.

  147. Carol F. says:

    Just to clarify, I love the scriptures, I love the temples, I love good leaders, I loved Sister Beck’s and Elder Ballard’s talks, I love specifics, I love diversity, I love learning and I love thinking. I almost always get kindness at church, and occasionally I get the other things as well.

  148. CS Eric #145
    I went to after-school Primary too. I loved it. The difference between your experience and mine was the “mean kids”. Well “mean kids” are from the loins of “mean parents”. This is what I believe to be the biggest challenge in the Church. We do so much to alienate our own people. We are trying to find ways to exclude rather than include and our children learn our ways.

    I am so thankful that you survived your experiences. You are doing exactly what I have told my children, “take your pain and use it to help others”.

    Carol #146
    Thank you for your goodness. I agree your good nature was taken advantage of, instead of teaching the other girls to do likewise you became the band aid for the problem.
    I agree the “formulas” can get trite and boring. Truth and “being real” are better teaching tools.

  149. Been There, Done That says:

    I have approx 30 cousins on one side of my family. We are the spawn of Boomer parents who were all married in the temple (and all still married); all of our father’s served missions; and all of our parents are still very active in the church.

    At a recent family reunion it was interesting to note that of my 30 cousins, all of whom are now between the ages of 20 and 35, approximately two-thirds were active, and one-third was inactive.

    Those that are active are all married (or single and on missions or single and attending college at BYU); and those that were single or divorced, and over the age of 23 or 24, were all inactive.

  150. david knowlton says:

    Thank you Been There, Done That. Your family data is interesting. I am also very intrigued with all the comments that have been made on this post, and the chains of ideas. It seems evident that there are increases in inactivity among young women and young men. Y’all list some of the likely reasons. To second Neal Kramer, I know that I see lots of inactivity among my male RM students and my female students both in Utah and Salt Lake counties. But I have always wondered if that was not because the students I saw were social science majors and they seem to tend to higher inactivity. Your arguments make me want to look more closely and start accumulating data.

    The realities in people’s lives and in their family’s lives on inactivity are agonizing. Yet they are also an important part of the drama of contemporary Mormonism. Thank you all for your responses to this post.

  151. After wading through most of the comments:

    1 – All the YSA and mid-singles units in the SF Bay Area are composed of (or at least, were composed of 5 years ago) only active members who show up at least once a month. If the member stops coming, then the bishopric bounces/d the records back to the geographical family ward.

    2 – Clark Goble, just because a person is single does not mean he/she has more time than a married person. There is just as much work/study to be done, someone must to the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the car maintenance, the grass mowing, etc. Plus, of course, the dating, the church callings, and the extra firesides and activities for singles. When you’re married, you can stay home and do the laundry while the wife goes out and shops for groceries (getting twice as much done in the same amount of time). FURTHERMORE, if the single person is a single parent….. well, you should get the picture.

    3 – YW in the USA grow up in a society where every door is open to them: They can be astronauts, teachers, firefighters, seamstresses, and presidential candidates. They get the same rewards for their leadership skills outside of church that the boys do (and, if you examine things like law school attendance, the YW are taking advantage at higher rates than the YM in many cases). When they come to church, all of those “board room” talents and skills are put on the shelf. They do not receive “warm fuzzies” and pats on the back for leading, negotiating and working with other adults in nearly the same percentages as they do in society-at-large.

  152. David, #150

    But I have always wondered if that was not because the students I saw were social science majors and they seem to tend to higher inactivity.

    Why are you inclined to make that correlation?

  153. Great site. Great subject. What to do with singles of all ages IS the biggest problem in the Church today.

    In my opinion, until the Church leaders actually ask the singes themselves what they think can be done…than nothing that IS done will make any difference. As a late 30-something single, I have just about had it with all arenas of meeting Mormons. Let me make it real: It’s either an activity with 7 people there, and half of them are in your ward and the other half in your stake. Or its a dance, or a singles conference with 300 people. You can be just a as alone in a crowd as you can on a desert island.

    Having said this, I believe the solution for YSA, Middle Singles, and Senior Singles lies in their empowerment. What I mean by this is that we should all be able to meet new people in a fun atmosphere that includes between 10-30 people at a time. No more than 30, because it becomes a crowd.

    How is this done? Well, if we got creative and decided to work together, we might make “game nights” at people’s homes the new single institution that dances are now. If all of the ward and stake singles reps. in a given city were were form a rotation list that identifies another ward/stake that they are assigned in a given month…then singles get to meet new people and have their “wing man/woman” there too. The next month, rotate to another ward/stake. If the entire region were doing this in tandem, we might see some success in the singles program.

    I am convinced that, short of this, there is no solution. Certainly, such an idea would have to come down from Church leadership or it would likely get nowhere.

    Remember, the pioneers had to get creative too. And they succeeded, it is safe to say. Here we are with the interenet and the combustion engine…and we can’t figure out a way to get people to meet eachother in a way that suits their tastes.

  154. MikeInWeHo says:

    Single Mormons should blog more, with each other.

  155. Eric Russell says:

    Good idea Mike, but it would appear that singles prefer family blogs.

  156. Tanya Sue says:

    Mike and Eric-Is there a reason they cannot choose which blogging experience better fits their needs?

  157. Re: singles wards. In our large urban area, there is a singles’ ward that serves several stakes. Very few of the YSA in our ward attend. The singles ward will only accept your records if you are active. Once you stop attending, the records are sent back to your ‘home’ ward.

    I would say our activity rate is on the low end, or even lower, than 8-14%. Most YSA on our ward’s records fall into one of two categories: converts baptized as children who no longer identify themselves as LDS, and BIC who have moved to the big city and away from church (gay, single, etc). Since the interest level is so low, our ward does not try to maintain a YSA program anymore (resources are spread pretty thin).

    Interestingly enough, a fairly large percentage of our active members are single, but over 30. We particularly seem to have a large percentage of single men.

  158. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 157

    What city, Claire?

  159. Certainly, such an idea would have to come down from Church leadership or it would likely get nowhere.

    I don’t understand this. Why not just do it? Why does it have to come from above?

  160. david knowlton says:

    Mac the correlation between social science majors and lower commitment to the Church comes from Armand Mauss’ the “Angel and the Beehive”. It is also something I dealt with in my article “The Glory of God is Intelligence: Mormons, Education and Orthodoxy” (Dialogue 31:1:1-14). If you want I can send you a copy.

    In the article I explore some push and pull factors that might explain the general pattern that Mauss and others identified between different majors and levels of religiosity.

    In my classes at the University of Utah, such as my anthropology of Mormonism class, where everyone’s religious experience becomes evident to everyone else through conversation, it seems that in a class of some twenty, maybe three will be non-Mormon (move-ins to Utah interested in deepening their understanding), maybe four are active LDS, and the rest are in varying degree of activity. The active are definitely in the minority. But the problem, of course, which such observations is that they have limited generalizability.

    The experience of Young Women today who are in or heading toward professional schools fascinates me, in part because of the gap between their professional and educational lives and their Church experience. That gap, it seems to me, can easily become a push factor, pushing people to inactivity.

    Of course in the conversation above people have listed many other push factors.

    An aspect people have not mentioned openly is the growing culture of individuality in the United States, reflected in increasing rates of “spirituality” over “religion”. This idea was embedded in the conversation over “other” orientation, or the commitment to serve others.

    This notion of other orientation runs counter to the quest for self that seems so dominant in the US. The seeking of self seems to take on mythological and heroic proportions and finds grounding in so called spirituality and not so much in institutionalized religion of the traditional sort. Pentecostalism’s boom and that of evangelicalism also emphasize, within religion, though, the self in ways more formal, institutionalized religion has not.

    From the Pew study it seems that Mormons who disaffiliated it seems that about half of the disaffiliated join another Church and half become members of the category “no religion”.

    I wonder if people are tending to become more evangelical or if they move towards “spiritual”. I wonder if that, in part, is the guts of the category “no-religion” for people who diasaffiliate with Mormonism.

    I also wonder if alternative forms of being LDS do not open themselves for people, such as blogging or participation in other internet based groups and conversations, rather than participating in wards as active members.

    The conversation on this post suggests that there are far more people who are inactive than those who disaffiliate. I wonder how those who are inactive experience their Mormonism. What role does it play in their lives? What ever else it is, it does not seem to be ward-based Mormonism. Is it an empty space typified by non-participation, or are people doing things as means of living and being Latter-day Saints?

  161. David,

    Your time to answer my question is much appreciated. I would enjoy reading the article if you don’t mind sending it.

    macthenaif at gmail dot com

    Thanks in advance, it is very nice of you to offer.

    Mac

  162. MikeInWeHo says:

    “……or are people doing things as means of living and being Latter-day Saints?”

    I can state from personal experience that at least some of us are.

  163. david knowlton says:

    Sure Mac. I will send it to you shortly, once I get a pdf of it made.

    MikeInWeHo What kinds of things do you see people doing in this extra-Church way of being LDS?

    WeHo–fun place BTW

  164. MikeInWeHo says:

    Gosh, David, that would require a whole additional post to discuss. I’ve met people in Affirmation who have a strong testimony of the Restoration and BoM and think of themselves as Mormon, but who are no longer active members of the Church because they are gay. That’s just the example that is closest to me, but there are others. There are probably plenty of lurkers here in the Bloggernacle who are inactive. They should speak up!

    WeHo has its advantages but I’m sure will be struck by a comet someday nonetheless. It works out well for me and my family though.

  165. david knowlton says:

    Thanks Mike. You are right. That is the topic for a much longer post. I too have met many LDS people who are Gay who have a testimony and many who don’t but still feel some attachment.

    I am glad WeHo works out well for you and your family. It is really a fascinatingly complex area. Thanks for answering.

  166. I’ll attempt to answer Norbert’s #159:

    First of all, I appreicate the question. The answer is at least two fold. First, making an activity dynamic that works is very volitile. Let me explain. Say you want to do a regular game night in a given city, where only 30 people or less show up at each one; and you want different groups of people at each one (instead of creating a clique of regulars…which tends to kill this sort of thing anyway.)But in the current structure, you are either apt to have the same people at each activity, or you are getting 75 people at your house. This is because the only way to currently get an email or phone number of new singles (as in those of another stake than your own), you have to go through the current powers that be (Ward and Stake Singles Reps.)

    This brings us to problem number 2: These same Singles Reps. will ALMOST ALWYAS feel like you are competing with what they have going on, and they either resent you silently, or outright “tell on you” to Regional Leadership. I personally have seen good “underground” singles stuff get shut down BECAUSE of their success level.

    There are other reasons that you want to keep the offical program people (Singles Reps.) out of the game. They tend to want to take the thing over…which does little else than bring in “Official Church Rules” into the game. (Talk about a kill-joy.)

    On a whole different level, suppose a single man and woman have a relationship…and many other singles know it. If they break up, everyone knows it (and often the reasons why.) This, in turn, can affect how these two are seen in certain pockets of the region after this.

    Then, suppose (for many reasons) an active member decides to date non-members after having played the de-humanizing games that get played in the Church Singles Program. Most people think you are crazy to ask them to “wait until marriage.” Most people want to live with you for a while, test drive the merchandise, and so forth. Is there any wonder why singles go inactive.

    (I am not even bringing up the “revolving door” of baptizing singles over age 30, or single parents.) That’s another story. Suffice it to say that until we find a fuctional way to get singles together, we can forget fixing our retention problems after baptism.

    Finally, there are so many inactive singles out there who have given up on Mormonism because (let’s face it) it comes down to God or a love-life for many, many people.

    Again, maybe singles do need their own blog. But more than this, they need to be given “air-time” with Church leadership. When a single person goes to their Bishop or Stake President, what happens? Can any local leader fix the problem? No. What we need it something to the equivilant of a “Singles Bill of Rights.”

  167. Before casting a final vote against the “Institution”, I think the efforts of other Faiths should be reviewed. Are they doing things totally different, yet coming the the same results? Or, if more successful, why?

  168. A “Singles’ Bill of Rights”? That means . . . what?

  169. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 167

    I’m hardly a fan of the Evangelicals, but they’re all over this topic.

  170. sister blah 2 says:

    The experience of Young Women today who are in or heading toward professional schools fascinates me, in part because of the gap between their professional and educational lives and their Church experience. That gap, it seems to me, can easily become a push factor, pushing people to inactivity.

    I’m not inactive, but YES.

    Although I find that there are some men at church who treat me very noticeably differently after they find out some about my resume. Then it’s like my gender actually changes in their eyes and I’m “one of the guys” and they start using big words and complex thoughts in my presence. Ok, that’s a little tongue in cheek, but does convey the general mood of the shift in treatment. It’s pretty sad. I can email you if you’d like to talk more offline. I’m not big on divulging too much identifying information on blogs (Blah 2 is not my real name :-) )

  171. “Blah 2 is not my real name.”

    Sigh, disillusioned again.

  172. Tanya Sue says:

    Sister Blah 2-A good friend of mine is the same way (but it is when they find out she makes lots of money and owns a house) and it is amazing. She goes from being a smart beautiful woman to “ball busting *****” in about 2 seconds.

    David-It is hard to be a feminist in an actual ward. Patriarchal practices are very difficult for me, and I encounter them much more in a ward than online. Attending another church seems so final as far as leaving goes. I am not ready to do that yet-that is why although I don’t attend my meetings in the LDS church, I also do not go elsewhere. If I were to tell someone I have issues with women not having a “voice” they would label me a freak-while they may do that online, I don’t have to see their faces while they decide.If you want to discuss further give me your e-mail and I am happy to.

  173. sister blah 2 says:

    Tanya Sue, that’s a bummer about your friend. Maybe I was unclear, but what I was trying to say is that some men treat me much BETTER when they find out about my resume. Instead of being talked down to like a child, they treat me like a human being. Which is good. Except that apparently by default they treat women like children, and only treat me well when they basically view me as a man. Obviously that’s bad.

    I’m trying to think if anyone has ever treated me worse…and I don’t think so. I do try to blend in at church though. I have a (hard earned) reputation for being a strong testimony, obedient, cheerful, contributing ward member. So when things do leak out about my feminist/Democrat-voting/job-having :-) alter ego, at worst people think I’m a freak but in a respectful way, like, “you’re different from me, but in a weird way I kinda respect that.”

  174. Tanya Sue says:

    Sister Blah-In my friends case, they definitely have a lower opinion (or they are just intimidate). She is the first to sign up for a service project, has a strong testimony, etc- very good person. I think lots of men view her as a threat somehow.

    And yes, if they treat most women like children instinctively that is bad.

  175. Can we object to people calling us a cult, when our members do things such as what is disclosed in #9?

  176. David B,

    It depends on how we and/or they define the word “cult.”

    Usually it’s just meant as a thoughtless slur, in which case I would say we can still object. But if you/we/they mean something else, then you might have a point.

  177. Single Ward Veteran says:

    I have been thinking about this post, and have a few more thoughts to add:

    1. I hope we all realize that it’s not just a “young single adult” issue or problem. The problem extends to older members of our Church who are single as well. It’s even easier in some cases for older single members (divorced as well as never-married) to slip quietly away and never return. Sometimes it’s shame or complications of divorce. Sometimes it’s boredom, empty-nesting (i.e. kids are gone, I can leave the Church since I’m by myself anyway); sometimes it’s wanting to have a social life at a post-high school level.

    2. For those who find (1) hard to believe, log onto a singles website catering to LDS and look for older singles. Wait as you are preyed on by 40- and 50-something former bishops, EQ presidents, counselors, etc. A friend of mine–never married at 40–joined LDS singles and during the course of a year had been seduced by and succumbed to seven formerly stalwart LDS men 40-60 years old.

    3. Non one is addressing, paying attention to, admonishing, caring about these individuals.

  178. A “Singles Bill of Rights” would begin by putting Middle and Senior singles on the map. As of now, according to LDS.org, there is the Young Single Adult Program, and the Singles Program. If you are over the age of 30, you are lumped in with those who may be 90. That is a problem.
    “Middle Singles” is an unofficial program, if that.
    As a 39 year old single male, it is very discouraging. It is hard to make things happen when the program does not really exist according to Church leadership. We can begin by actually existing on paper. That would be a good start. There is much to be done from there. Obviously.

  179. david knowlton says:

    Tanya Sue. I would love to hear your experiences. They are important. Especially for my understanding of the complexity that is the LDS experience. My email is knowltda at uvsc dot edu. Please do write.

    MikeinWeHo: the link you post illustrates why the Evangelicals are so successful. They have quickly become perhaps the largest force in American Protestantism and are growing significantly overseas. There are many keys to their success: the entrepreneurial nature of pastors who have to find ways to build congregations; their borrowings from popular culture; their individualist focus; and so on. They have a strong fit with our contemporary society. Yet they are also complex. For a while, as an anthropologist, I attended an evangelical church in Bolivia. That experience left me with lots to think about.

    Singlewardveteran, the problems of older singles you address are also critical. Activity rates are highest, I believe, among those who most fit the family and class norm. Those who don’t face a series of pull push factors. The push are significant, as sisterblah eloquently notes. I am troubled, but also not surprised, at the stories of older LDS men and the experiences many women have. Male sexuality and the church is another really complex topic.

    As JZ notes there are also problems faced by single men above young adult age in that they do not fit easily into the established programs of the Church. The discouragement is real.

    The Church faces difficulties in its attempt to build a universal community. The religious groups that are most successful these days—Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism—are those that are most flexible. They are able to adapt to ranges of social situations quickly and provide religious value. The LDS Church is not able to do that.

    Nevertheless it is fascinating to me how strong people’s commitment is to Mormonism, in spite of the difficulties, such that it continues to have force in their lives whether they are able to be part of a ward or not. There is really something amazing here.

  180. #169: Mike, I am glad I asked the question. and that you added much great value to it by your link.
    I guess we will have to watch Burger King, who says they are redoing their image to big screen TVs and a hangout format, centered on this age group.

  181. David, Thanks for the back-up. I agree with you that other churches seem to have this problem more or less worked out. We face some special conditions with regard to singles, though.

    We believe in celibacy until marriage (or else.) This, to my knowledge, is rarely the case with other versions of Christianity. I am not complaining here; but just wanting to point out that one would think (because we do hold far higher moral standards) that we would pick up the other end of the stick and provide better ways for singles to end the dreaded condition.

    Instead, we have this dirty little secret that people appear not to want to address on any substantial level. I think I speak for others when I say that I have heard the “You can always wait until the next life to get married,” one too many times for it to be anything other than a bludgening cliche serving no one but the speaker of it.

    What amazes me is that many of those who defend the way things are for singles over 30, are those who appear to be the most alone, with the least dates, and the longest time being single. So it is.

    I agree with you that it is a curiosity that people often stay in the Church amid great challenges. It is indicative of its truth.

  182. Steve Evans says:

    JZ, I don’t think celibacy before marriage is that rare amongst Christians, really. Besides, never discount the [edited alternatives].

  183. The article of David Knowltons in Dialogue that he references in #160 can be found here. It’s a fascinating article.

  184. Steve,

    You may be right. But having gone back to school for a second career I have recieved an education on many things. I can only speak for those I know, but I have met more than several single and active Christians who live together.

    Maybe you and I come from different parts of the country, and that explains it. I can only speak for Denver.

    Off the subject, but I think someone said earlier that there “are alot of Middle Singles wards in the U.S.” I have heard there there are twelve such wards from sea to shining sea. That seems like an insultingly few Middle Singles wards to me. But maybe I am old fashioned. I don’t believe that you should have to move to another state in order to meet a potential spouse. But, then again, I AM single….

  185. Echoing JZ, I currently live outside of the US. Here, practicing, believing Christians generally put no emphasis whatsoever on celibacy. One’s personal relationship with God & family seem to be the driving aim of Christian religious expression. Whereas Christian lip-service toward sexual “morality” is common in parts of US where I have lived, I do not see it anywhere here. Local worship/observance has more to do with love/charitable giving, observance of holidays and family events, prayer, singing and church attendance–and of course, repeated expressions of gratitude for Jesus. I should add that in New York and California, the two areas I have mostly lived as a single, that any lipservice to sexual “morality” was limited or non-existent, occurring, it at all, mainly in (very conservative) family-style ministries that people grew up in from only a few (and not most) youth pastors. Even in such congregations, it is the exception and not the rule. Among evangelicals/pentecostals, if you don’t like your youth pastor/minister/youth-group, people just found a new one.

    On the balance, I would say that even among conservative Christians (including Evangelicals) we LDS are uniquely obsessed with sex–and uniquely obsessed with preaching about sexual “morality.” Althought Evangelicals fret constantly about their own “youth” and the “next generation, ” we LDS are also uniquely obsessed about fretting about the “singles.” By comparison, my Evangelical friends’ attitude toward unmarried people seems to be: we just want you to come be fellowshipped, to pray, to come out and strum a guitar sometimes–and to eventually raise your kids Christian (and maybe vote with “us”, in some cases).

    Lastly, I’d say that part of the plight of single women (and men) is realizing how few active LDS are able to live up to our impossible standards (then again, who wants to marry someone sexless?). Meanwhile the people hammering home sexual morality (bishops, stake presidents, high councillors, etc.) are uniformly old married men long-removed from single-dom who exhibit a great fond-ness for raising the bar (past where it was in their day). Having old leaders presents some problems. Being policed by people who are married and younger than you, as discussed above, presents other problems.

  186. Dear Neal,
    Thank you so much for your post.
    May I add as a return missionary who spent almost a decade teetering at the edges of church activity that I think that the post-mission vacuum is very disheartening. I spent my entire youth preparing for this rite of passage/adventure/pilgrimage and then came home to . . . YSA representative in a ward with no other YSAs.
    Sort of lost my sense of meaning there. In retrospect, it was good for my ego, but at the time it sure made church unappealing.
    Single Ward Veteran–I couldn’t agree more.

  187. As for 154, 155, & 156

    I wonder why you would imply that this is only a family blog? Those are just the things said to and about singles who get sick and tired of being treated like children though life has brought maturity. You discuss much, yet do nothing. How would you like to suffer as these singles? God forbid!! Get off your computer and DO SOMETHING!!! Nothing will change without action. Who cares if the statistics are 1% or 80%? Does not each person have value? Are they only important because there are so MANY of them? Christ said each of us is important. I believe Him.

  188. #185 – “broadside” = “a simultaneous discharge of all the guns on one side of a warship”

  189. david knowlton says:

    Thank you Kari for the plug and the kind comments on my article. Unlike most things I have written that one is fairly personal.

    I want to second JZ’s comment. Although chastity is rising as a social movement among Christians, it is able to do so because the dominant norm of pre-marital sexual activity is found even among most Christians. And I suspect pre-marital sex is increasingly common among YA Latter-day Saints, if what I hear in Orem and Salt Lake is any indication.

    Bit, I think you are right about the “post mission vacuum” as you call it. You are eloquent in describing and analyzing the issue. You are not alone in the issue, believe me. I live in Utah but see many returned missionaries struggling with the vacuum.

    Sylvia. From my perspective every person does have value. On that point I could not agree with you more. But I think by blogging people are doing something, although not a traditionally approved something. They are seeking and building a kind of community that suffers similar problems found in other communities virtual or not.

  190. Sylvia’s anger is founded…whether or not the author of 154-6 was intending to be rude or not. Again, I think that there is a firestorm of hurt, anger, and apathy that surrounds the issue of singles in the Church (particularly over age 30.) And I agree with her in that nothing will get done until SOMETHING gets done. Talking about it on a blog IS a beginning…but only that. Those who care at all should go to thier Bishops, Stake Presidents, and Regional Singles Leaders and make their feelings known (and no longer accept their plattitudes as salving answers. We have had enough of that kind of thing.) I am all for singles themselves (and marrieds) writing the Prophet and the Apostles on the subject. I have.
    One thing is for sure. If all we do, ever, is talk about it, then we will all eventually get sick of the subject and it will become one of those “unspeakable” subjects that people learn not to bring up in any setting. Have we reached that point already?

    For those of you on this blog that are single…what would you want in a Middle Singles Blog? What would you want discussed/ not discussed? What would you expect from such a blog, and do you think it could help the situation in any way? If so, how?

    Oh, Snoop Dogg just joined the Church. Wow.
    Check it out:

    http://www.benderboyz.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/Music/04/01/

  191. If Snoop really is a convert…we all better shape up.

  192. That sounded bad. What I meant was that if we have really become a celebrity church that attracts those also have a following on their own…we better fix our glitches. No?

  193. StillConfused says:

    I am pretty sure the Snoop thing is an April Fools joke. Though Mo-Tab would never be the same if he came on board, that’s fo sure!

  194. I kant type: Again, if we have really become a celibrity church that attracts those who also have their own following, we better fix those glitches of ours? No?

  195. StillConfused says:

    I go “inactive” on occasion (or as I put it “go on strike”) when the politics of Church start to get in the way of my spirituality. I take some time and spend my Sunday mornings on long hikes in the mountains and get back in tune with things. Then I am ready for another go-round at Church.

  196. StillConfused says:

    This is my favorite Snoop Dogg link: http://www.wildutah.net/9-12-01/htmldocs/Snoop.htm (I hope that shows up)

  197. StillConfused says:

    p.s. The link above is in Snoop’s native tongue so if that language offends you, please don’t go there.

  198. Eric Russell says:

    Sylvia and JZ: I have no idea what you all are going on about. There’s quite obviously no such thing as a “family blog” in the same sense that there are family wards.

    In any case, if anyone happened to be under the impression that this was indeed a family blog, Steve disabused us of the notion with comment 181.

  199. I’m not sure so much that this may or may not be a “family blog,” but it is clear that the LDS church is a “family church.” If you aren’t part of the Traditional Family, husband/wife/kids, then the best you get is an occasional “You’ll have that opportunity in the next life” bone thrown at you. But even with that, it is clear that the Church doesn’t really have a place for you unless you are fortunate enough to have a bishop/branch president/relief society president who takes extraordinary steps to make sure you are included.

    I was pushing 30 when I got married, so I have a taste of that. We have had the experience of “belonging” when we were newlyweds, or whenever we got pregnant, but with the miscarriages and stillbirths, we never really got to join the club all the way. It is some comfort that we believe we’ll be able to raise our children in the next life, but in the meantime, we don’t fit.

    Some days I wish the Church would be more honest about that. I remember my active duty days in the Air Force. We were stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, NV. As you drive in to the front gate, there is a sign that says, “Welcome to Nellis AFB, Home of the Fighter Pilot.” That made it clear that if you were a fighter pilot, you were home; if you were not a fighter pilot, you were in someone else’s home.

    Sometimes the Church feels that way. If you are part of a traditional family, you are home. If you are single or childless, you are in someone else’s home.

  200. Eric Russell, you know exactly what Sylvia and I are “going on about.” Your and Tanya Sue’s comments appeared condescending and cliqueish…as if married people were putting on some banquet called “Where Have all the Young Women Gone”…as us singles snuck in through the back door uninvited….as if our side-talk about the singles program was horning in on some higher, prior communication or something.

    Call us sensitive, or whatever. But that’s what the message appeared to be in 154-56. I apologise if that is not what you both were incinuating. But that is certainly how it appeared. It is also what the singles get from most married people in the Church anyway(but who’s counting?)

    Sore subject, I suppose. And I wouldn’t want to tire anyone. We can certainly move on to other things….

  201. JZ, I think you might be mistaken here. I can understand the sensitivity, but in this case I dunno…

  202. Why?

  203. Tanya Sue says:

    JZ-I am a single mormon woman of 33. I was joking, and I believe the other’s were too.

  204. That’s fine. No problem. Chalk it up to the limits of communication rendered by the internet. (Tone and syntax are limited.) :I

  205. Oh, and sorry for getting all worked up…

  206. Tanya Sue says:

    It is fine, I just thought it important to clarify. This seems to be a personal issue to you that is very imporant, and I can respect that.

    I actually hate even having a singles program in the church. I almost feel it is special ed for mormons. I would much rather all the singles be in their normal wards and have activities to meet people if they desire. I have found that singles wards start to lack the spirit and turn into a social opportunity as opposed to a spiritual experience. As I have shared here before (but you may not know), I was basically kicked out of a family ward because they “were not equipped to deal with singles”. All I wanted to do was come to church and be a normal member.

    I don’t think the problem is actually the program. The problem is that there is a program. It implies that single members of the church are not grown up or a part until they get married. I have seen it make singles in my stake think they deserve special treatment. I feel that we need to appreciate that the purpose of church should be to grow closer to God and the Savior, and not find a mate.

    Now a mid-singles blog? How about just a blog that we can share about our experiences that might focus on the experiences of single members of the church. All members were once single. If you want to talk about it more you can e-mail me at tanyasue at tanyasue dot com.

  207. First time commenter. Just wanted to say thanks for this discussion. Despite the digressions, it has been useful.

  208. Eric Russell says:

    JZ, if you had read the rest of the thread that preceded it, I think you would have realized it was a joke. Also, I too am single, if that makes a difference for you.

  209. Lulubelle says:

    I haven’t had time to read all the posts but I totally agree with the stats. In my single days, I went to church a cuople times a year and pretty much only when I was visiting my parents. I thought single’s wards were horrible and married wards had absolutely nothing to offer me, a single professional woman. This is bizarre, as my closest friends went to “normal” churches with a normal congregation demographics but then there was a single’s group that was part of the church as a whole. The topics they discussed in their activities were real world topics, as opposed to the topics taught ad nauseum for singles that are almost impossible to live and give huge guilt trips to those who don’t: only date those of the faith, find a mate to marry in the temple, no petting or sex, no masturbation, 10% tithes, eternal progression, etc. It was guilt guilt guilt, preaching about motherhood (not a mother now? you will be in the eternities. or… all women are mothers in some way!).

    Agree or not, this is what many singles feel. I knew very few singles who actually went to church on a regular basis.

  210. Tanya Sue,

    I am really interested in your thoughts on not needing a Singles Program. I sort of agree with you but for complex reasons. I think it has gotten to the point that if the singles program were burned to the ground, there would be no other direction but up (which is nearly what it is now…except no one knows it.)

  211. Tanya Sue,

    I’ll email you in the next few days. The computer I am at right now does is not letting me email. but I will do it. :)

  212. Tanya Sue says:

    JZ-I look forward to getting your e-mail.

  213. 1) Amen to the abolition of singles wards. They are ghettos which infantilize singles and deprive everyone else in the Church of single members’ service, talents and fellowship.

    2) Although this post is about how single women are treated in the Church, I would note for the record that technically older single men are more disrespected than single women. All callings in the Church which are open to women are open to single women (up to and including president of the entire Church Relief Society). On the other hand unmarried men or umarried men over 30 are barred from numerous callings available to men. This includes not just presiding positions such as bishop, stake, mission or temple president, or GA, but also temple worker, bishopric counselor, or stake high councilor. I recognize that the bar against women having the priesthood is an overarching discrimination. My point is that within the terms of the Church’s own internal structure the message is that single men are untrustworthy.

    3) Also, just for the record, at least here in my town, single women in the Church seem to recieve as much respect, responsibility and service opportunity as married women.

  214. Given what my younger daughter (22) has experienced in her attendance at our stake’s single’s ward, no wonder we have singles who become “less active”.
    On the other hand, members of single wards in areas of the Church within the U.S. where the Church population is large enough to support single wards have no clue as to what it means to be a young single adult member of the Church in areas where the only event causing enough members in that bracket to get together where they have any opportunity of meeting and interacting with others in their own age bracket (beyond the five or ten or twenty in their stake) is when regional(=multi-country) YSA conferences are held, e.g., So. Germany, Austria, Switzerland. That’s what my wife and I learned while visiting So. Germany two summers ago.
    And many of them shared with us their sadness at how the GAs from Utah had no comprehension as to how impossible it was for these YSAs to seek a spouse, let alone go on a “date” with someone of the same faith. Rather, the visiting GAs seemed to ignore the reality of what these YSAs face in seeking to date, let alone consider marrying, someone of their own faith.
    They face the predicament of either choosing to remain unmarried for their life because their prospects of finding someone of the same faith along with everything else that goes into making a relationship is slim to none or marrying someone they have “fallen in love with” even though that potential spouse will be of a different faith. That does have a significant impact on the activity rate of YSAs in areas where the Church has been and continutes to remain “small”….

  215. From my own experience in various BYU student wards I have a couple of observations/feelings to share:

    1) I would disagree, from my own spiritual experience, that singles wards lack the Spirit. I know that every ward can veer off course if the members are not coming with devotion in mind, hoping for some sort of gospel idealism, or a lack of encompassing direction from ward leadership.

    2) Singles wards can be exclusionary, which feeds those festering feelings of offense or doubt. In my 4 years at BYU/UVSC wards have attended only a few activities (which I feel have little relevance for my own life) yet really “lucked” out when I met my fiance at the closing Christmas social. Ha.

    Anyhow, I see the arguments for a abolishment of singles wards as they seem to create a special education program for some, though I would disagree with a previous comment that teachings/sociality should not focus on marriage. We have a eternal framework to reference, that of eternal families, and of course it’s hard when we don’t fit into that mortal framework as of yet (homosexual, 30+ singles, etc.) but the Lord has programs in place for the progression of all His children, though they may be poorly administered by us, the mortals, as some have argued.

    I realize my post is quickly though through, so go ahead and take it to task. I enjoy this discussion and thank all of you, sincerely.

  216. One small addition to my #1:

    I meant to finish the thought by sharing that I have had some of the most overwhelming experiences in the meetings with the young adults of the Church. I especially enjoy sacrament meetings, wherein I have been reborn multiple times, something I am really thankful for. I feel that at least on one occasion, this was facilitated by the reverence and devotion of the unified saints in the room. When you can get all those yappy kids to quiet down, the Lord really can flood the room.

    Something like that…

  217. “When you can get all those yappy kids to quiet down, the Lord really can flood the room.”

    Yes, it’s a good thing that the Lord hates children, and that those in Kingdom of Heaven have little to do with them.

    I’d recommend that you think things through a little bit more before commenting, Tod.

  218. Ha.

    I don’t mean children. I mean the young adults. And I appreciate your concern for children and the hate of them, that seems an ever increasing trend.

    I would also clarify that revelation can come within a storm, rattle, or calm. When one is accountable to be reverent I think most people would expect 18-30 year olds to be able to concentrate on the ritual at hand.

    Cheers Steve.

  219. Just re-reading my posts:

    Sorry for the vague language Steve. That was a major blooper. You are a gentleman.

  220. Oh…

    There is a distinct difference between children’s noise and irrelevant chatting. That was more my point. Which I will heartily confess as a sin of mine today at church. I had lots on the brain and didn’t listen to the talks. But, I don’t mean for the discussion to digress about my personal views on worship and “reverence.”

  221. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, Tod — no worries. Now that I know that “kids” = young single adults, I tend to agree with you.

  222. Amen to #207. I have nothing to add, but thanks to everyone who wrote on this thread. You all have given me lots to think about. I particularly appreciate reading everyone’s personal experiences and I appreciate you sharing them even though it sounds like so many have been painful.

    CS Eric (#199), I love your description:

    Sometimes the Church feels that way. If you are part of a traditional family, you are home. If you are single or childless, you are in someone else’s home.

  223. I am beginning to believe that everyone in the Church needs a support group.

  224. Nora Ray says:

    I think this is symptomatic of a much more basic problem. The World is winning! I don’t have the exact quote, but Joseph Smith said something to the effect that a religion which does not require sacrifice will never have the power to save men’s souls. We have tried to make things so much easier on families that I fear we have made them too easy. Instead of encouraging our girls to attend YW activities, we nod understandingly when the parents say it is too much trouble to take them. It isn’t too much trouble to take them to play HS volleyball though or participate in play practice every week night for 6 weeks. Those things are good too in the right proportions, but our youth develop their priorities based on ours and if the church meetings are seen by us as too much trouble, that is what they become.

  225. Really. Until we begin to take other’s (and our own) compaints seriously, we only drive the problem(s) deeper.

    I am not saying this as a judgement on anyone’s comment in this discussion. Rather, I am just saying that there are alot of unhappy people in the Church, and until we figure out why, little improvement will take place.

  226. I think it was the TV that got us. Cable and commerical. Something happened between the sit-coms of the 80’s and the evening dramas we see today (Desperate HW’s, Sex in the City, etc…) Then there is the worship of mediocrity and idiocy: (American Idol, The Bachelor, Dancing with the Stars.) It’s no wonder we have the trouble we have in the Church. Look at our cultural mirror.

    All I know is that when I was a kid in the mid 80’s, every Stake in our region had something going on each summer. If is was not a Broadway Musical (and well produced), is was a Multi-Stake Road Show. Now?

  227. david knowlton says:

    JZ, something has changed. The consolidated schedule changed the amount of time people had for non-Church activities. Extra Church culture became more important. People moved to the suburbs and a different kind of Church was born. Time commitments and financial commitments prevented people from giving the time to the Church. As a result it is structurally different, and perhaps weaker, than when I was a kid.

    Nora Ray captures some of the issues in people’s lives.

    Catholicism has also faced major changes and has lost enormous numbers of members, as have the mainline Protestant denominations. If it were not for immigrants Catholic numbers would have declined. Religion, it seems to me, faces a changed society and finds a changed place in it, as a result. There is lots to develop here, but for now this is just a small overview.

    Tod, I hope you feel better. Thanks for the comments. Poems in sacrament meeting, man. Cool.

  228. I have to agree with posts #26 and #126 as well as others regarding the infantilizing of single adults. For many in the church, the attitude is that if someone is not married they are perpetually a priest/laurel no matter what the age.

    I have witnessed occasions where a married couple was assigned to “chaperone” a single adult dance. Keep in mind that the single adults have homes of their own and if they wanted to sin they would not need to sneak off to the primary room during the dance.

    I had a bishop in a singles ward tell us that we should not live alone. We needed to have roomates (same sex of course) to help keep us from transgressing. At 26 I could afford my own place and I was sick and tired of roomates. I was ready for some peace and quiet when I got home from work.

    When I had to go out of town for work, that same bishop told me that I should not stay in a hotel room because of all the temptations it would present without adult supervision. I told him I had adult supervision, me. He suggested that I contact the bishop of the local area where I was staying and make arrangements to stay with members of the church. Of course I told him no way, no how. I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself.

    My sister and some of her friends decided to go on an overnight temple trip. This was not a church sanctioned function just some single women who had been through the temple going on an excursion. The bishop got wind of it and tried to shoot it down. When he couldn’t talk them out of it he suggested taking one of the married sisters in the ward to accomany them.

    These attitudes can drive a person away. I know that the gospel is true and that should be first and foremost in our thoughts, but when we are met with stuff like that it is hard to keep things in perspective.

  229. Sam Kitterman says:

    #224 I can appreciate your position when one is in a ward where you have enough active YW or YM so activities can function. Yet, what about wards where the numbers of active YM and YW can be counted on two hands or less? We experienced that with our own children after it was split and 80% of the families with youth were moved into the other ward. My son and one other were the only teachers, there were maybe three active priests and at the time, enough deacons to pass the Sacrament. We now have but two deacons (EQ and HP called upon not only to do Sacrament but help with Fast Offerings), no teachers and two priests.

    The activities the Church offers on the local level can be great when you have the numbers but when not, then parents must look to other “wholesome” activities for their children to participate in and sports is a big one.

  230. 80% of single women 18-30 are inactive? Actually that stat seems accurate. In my stake the inactivity rate for ysa is about 90-92%.

    It’s kinda sad considering the church-wide rate is only about 40% (last i read). such is the side-effect of a family-oriented church where singles take a backseat

  231. Exactly, Thomas. I think that if the Church wants to fix missionary work, retention, and a dozen other ills, it can kill them all with one stone: the Singles Programs (YSA, Middle Singles, and Seniors.)
    Strange that this idea is so seemingly foreign to Church culture.

    It makes you wonder, “By refusing to see the problem, what are we protecting here?”

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