An Incoherent Analysis of Ward Activities

Scott B is an economist in Southern California. He writes about economics and Mormonism (and Ikea merit badges) at his blog Dead Seriously. He’ll be joining us for the next week. Welcome, Scott B.

Several years ago, my DW and I were called to be the Activities Committee Chairpersons in our ward. I will always remember that to be the moment I realized that the Lord loves irony. I don’t really like going to activities, because I don’t get on too well in social situations—as an economist, I rarely have anything useful, interesting, or clever to say (my wife has lots of useful, interesting, and clever thoughts; however, she is from Finland, and doesn’t speak in public as principle of national pride.). After a quick perusal of the handbook and consideration of the various wards I’ve lived in, I came to a couple of conclusions. First, every ward I’ve lived in has had the same basic activities:

1. A BBQ/Dutch oven party. This typically takes place in the nearest available canyon, or, if you live in SoCal like I do, at the beach. Because the local beaches are extremely crowded and fire pits are reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis, you typically have to show up early in the morning and squat on it for the entire day. Sunburns. Heat stroke. Good times.

2. A pancake breakfast on the 4th or 24th of July. Cold, nasty, store-bought syrup, mass-produced Krusteaz pancakes, and High Priests trying to convince people that such scout-camp food actually tastes good. My brother describes this activity in Haiku form:

3. The Christmas Party where everyone sits awkwardly with the non-member friends they were told to invite (and to whom they promised a “traditional, Bible-based Christmas party”) while the Bishop reads a few chapters from Helaman and 3 Nephi. Since my birthday falls close to Christmas, I try to schedule any celebrations for the night of the Ward Christmas party.

4. Prop 8 Phone-a-thons Ice Cream Socials. These are pinnacle of Activities Chairperson self-loathing. They usually take place following some other, more important, activity, such as ward temple night or primary board meetings. Two buckets of ice cream. Six attendees, including the organizers.

5. Potluck Linger-Longers. The instructions are clear: A-G bring a salad, H-M bring a main dish, N-Z bring a dessert. So why is there never anything but cookies, Jell-O, and two vats of chili sitting on the table?

6. Trunk-or-Treats. I’m not even going to bother describing this, because a) you all know what it is, and b) it’s too painful.

Maybe the ward you live in has some activities that do not fit these categories, but I’m willing to bet that this group fits the vast majority of LDS wards. The second conclusion I came to is that, in skipping activities, I wasn’t missing much because they were all pretty lame—outside of the always-impressive “free food”, none of the activities really catered to any of my tastes and preferences. More importantly, it seemed odd to me that the same boring, run of the mill activities were regurgitated and spit out upon the membership year after year with little or no innovation or variety to be found. Thinking about these two in tandem led me to the discovery that Church activities resemble the output of a centrally planned economy; that is, there is very little innovation, there is very little variety, and there is a constant calculation problem that results in either over- or under-supply of almost all goods and services. In short, individual preferences are sacrificed for a collective least common denominator. The resulting activities do not allow members to align themselves based on shared interests (which would likely facilitate more bonding and fellowship), but force them together on the basis of a single—and oftentimes socially irrelevant—characteristic: membership in the ward.

The reasons for this bland assortment of activities are clear: The task of deciding what several hundred people think is “fun” is placed in the hands of a couple of people who have (arguably) the least information about members (and their respective preferences) of anyone on the ward council. After a couple of activities that inevitably don’t go exactly as planned, the Activities Chairpersons will no longer directly seek to maximize the total utility of ward members. Rather, the underlying incentives will point them toward the intersection of effort-minimization and attendance-maximization. The key concept here is that activities are unique in that they are the only part of the Church where the success of a given activity is measured in large part by the popularity of the activity.

(Wouldn’t it be cool if the whole Church worked this way? First, President Monson could receive a dozen or so different revelations on diverse topics sometime in late January. Then, during February and March, Public Relations majors at BYU would conduct focus groups and surveys among members to determine which three revelations should be revealed at the April General Conference. Endless fodder for the bloggernacle.)

Although other factors may contribute or detract from the success of a given activity, but at the end of the day, there is nothing worse than putting your heart, might, mind and strenth into an activity and having no one show up for your event.

The realization that Activities Chairpersons are not actually seeking to maximize our welfare has huge implications: The goal of getting as many members of the ward to attend an activity requires that the menu be disutility-minimizing (read: child friendly): Nothing weird, fancy, or exotic can be on the table, or it will face widespread rejection among children, resulting in crying toddlers, early departures and subsequent non-attendance from families with kids. In this context, we can boldly overthrow the long-standing belief that Mormons love Jell-O and corn flake potatoes: At best, all we really know is that no one really hates them.

After thinking through this, we came up with a plan to allow markets (interests) to dictate what activities should take place. After conducting surveys to extract information on preferences, we eliminate the big quarterly activities—which no one likes, but everyone tolerates—and replace them with weekly interest-based activities designed for 6-10 people. A week later during tithing settlement, I explained our plans to the Bishop, and we were released the following week (after 1 month in the calling. I am not making that up.) I wasn’t upset, because I didn’t really want to be the Activities Chairperson anyway. I was a bit miffed when, a year later, the 1st Presidency and General Relief Society ripped off my plan without citation when they disassembled the old monthly Enrichment night and started the now-thriving Relief Society Enrichment activities.

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Comments

  1. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks, Scott, and welcome!

    I agree with you. For a church that claims to believe heaven will be an extension of the same sociality that we enjoy here, we sure have lame social activities. I think your idea of sponsoring or allowing smaller, interest group activities is a good one.

    One month in a calling before you are released, that is harsh.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    It’s too bad that you were released before you could get that program up and running. It would have been cool to see how it worked. Fascinating analysis.

  3. I think you might have reached different conclusions if you had conducted your analysis from the perspective of a child.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    OK, here’s an example of a good activity.

    Once our ward made a list of all the “lost sheep” — people nobody had seen for years and people whose address we were no longer sure of. On a Saturday morning, we met at the church and were given a list of two or three names to go find. We met back at the church at 11:30 when we had lunch, and folks that wanted to play volleyball stayed even longer.

    This activity was good because:

    1. It had a purpose. It made the clerk’s and bishop’s jobs much easier.

    2. We accomplished something, rather than just sitting around eating, although we did the eating, too. (Make-your-own subs, with cookies for desssert).

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    Painting and sewing,
    Enrichment Night creation
    Pink. Not in my house.

  6. Great story.

    Your downfall was running it by the Bishop before implementation. I’ve found it’s always better to do first and ask later (or not at all).

  7. A friend had an idea that wards within a stake should do more niche activities and publicize them throughout the stake. Then people could shop around. I think it already happens with the Mothers’ Club and EQ fishing activities.

    Of your five types, of activities, the only one we have is the Christmas party, but without the Heleman. All of our ward activities are annual traditions: ice skating in February, picnic in August , etc. We aren’t pretending the activities are going to be wall-to-wall fun, just a pleasant evening together with the extended family.

  8. @ 1 & 2-
    I’m in a capacity in my current ward where I’ve started to implement something similar…results forthcoming.

    @3-
    “When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I stopped having any fun.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

    @5-
    Ooh…maybe this year my family will do RS Haikus instead of Pancake breakfast poetry…

  9. I have to disagree with the assumption that nobody really hates Jello and Cornflake Potatoes. I really, REALLY hate them. Yuck.

  10. Here’s an idea for activities everyone can enjoy (including the people on the committee).

    Get the food CATERED! Good food = big draw. No setup/cleanup = even bigger. Lots of other churches do this, at least for an event or two a year. But alas, we don’t decide how our financial contributions get allocated. Centrally planned economy, indeed.

  11. esodhiambo says:

    Mark Brown–did anyone return with any lost sheep?

    Activities Committee is my nightmare calling. I had a friend who had it and she told me it was really all about doing dishes. That didn’t help.

    I say you dodged a bullet.

  12. Being nigh unto New Orleans, the ward activities I’ve been to have often had excellent food. Every year we have a crawfish boil at a local park with a bounce house and a water slide for the kids (biggest problem: adult supervision). In 2007 at our ward Christmas dinner we had prime rib, catered. It was cooked too rare for most people, which meant those of us who like medium rare meat had all the meat we wanted. Yuuuuuum.

    In 2008 the Christmas dinner was ham. I skipped it.

    I really enjoyed being activities committee chair, because it was a chance to participate in the life of the ward without having to bear testimony of anything. I also saw it as an important way to build community.

    If we have small group RS activities in my ward, I don’t know anything about them.

  13. Nice post, Scott. Glad to see you here at BCC. But you weren’t incoherent. Too coherent, actually. And even brutally honest as I’ve come to expect you to be.

    The small focus group is bound to work well for developing certain types of friendships, especially among people of similar tastes and demographic. I’m all in favor of them.

    But I think that the awkward entire-ward parties serve different purposes. One purpose is that they function like a ritual. We all manifest our commitment to being a ward family. Sort of like a Christmas dinner at the grandparents with those cousins you don’t really know.

    If you want to get released sooner than one month, just recommend a casino-themed ward party next time.

  14. My last two wards have had chili cook-offs, which I think should be made an official church-wide event with regional championships.

    In my current ward the elders have taken matters into their own hands and started informal (and often officially unofficial) “manrichment” activities that vary enough that most people will want to come to something. Recent examples include kung fu movie night (official), scenario paintball (unofficial), and extreme pinewood derby (official, except for the use of rocket power…). Fulfilling cultural activities are always a grass-roots thing.

  15. Great post, Scott. Welcome!

    Our ward has exactly two activities where all ward members, i.e. families, i.e. children, are invited: the annual Christmas dinner and the 4th of July breakfast–the latter of which is technically not a ward activity but a community activity that the ward is heavily involved in. All other ward activities are adults-only. No child care is provided. This is because our ward has something on the order of 160 children in the primary, and about 48 babies. They’ve tried providing child care in the past, but it doesn’t really work because a) people don’t use it and b) the kids refuse to stay in the nursery (which explains (a) to a large extent).

    The result is that we have some really nice activities in this ward that are only attended by people without kids at home or people whose kids are old enough to be left home alone. We’ve enjoyed attending some of these activities on those rare occasions we’ve been able to get a babysitter (you know, one who’s not a ward member)–but frankly, if we’re going to spring for a babysitter, we’d rather do it for something more exciting than the Chili Cook-Off. That’s all.

    Getting called to the Activities Committee is one of my church-calling nightmares. The other is being called to be Activity Days Leader.

  16. @9-That’s because you don’t have a testimony. Go home and pray, then come back and we’ll talk.

    @13-Maybe “Incoherent” is the wrong word…nevertheless, it started out (in my mind) as an analysis of how centrally planned economies succeed in doctrine and fail in activities, and ended up as a theory for sustained Jell-O consumption in Mormon communities.

    @ 14-This is similar to what I’ve been trying to implement in my current ward; we try to keep all the activities “unofficial” so that no one feels obligated to go…thus only people with an actual interest show up. Activities thus far include fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles.

  17. This Friday is a ward activity-Family Feud. Our family was asked to be one of the families competing, but we also have luxury box tickets for the Sixers game the same night. We put the matter to a family vote, complete with secret ballot, and the Sixers won: 3-2. (I think it was the luxury box with the ability to watch cartoons instead of the game that tipped the voting.) On Friday we will escape the planned economy and head for the underground economy.

    Funny post.

  18. Fletcher says:

    Scott,

    You market based economics-monger.

    Though I have never been a bishop (and would be happy for the rest of my life if that mantle never stopped on my shoulders), I can see why you were released after the proposal of you plan. From his perspective, the interest group activities as replacement to larger group functions would (in his mind) reduce the feel of a ward family. Atop of all his problems with individuals, the bishop might have to deal with coalitional conflict, e.g. “The basketball group gets a disproportional time in the cultural hall compared to the aerobics group.”

    Me shooting from the hip here.

    The reason (IMHO) it works in RS and (hypothetically) in priesthood quorums too is that the sum of the interest groups is still homogeneous in nature and most of the functions take place outside of the official church time blocks. Anyone observing your ward activities would think that your ward is dysfunctional because there are no super-group gatherings outside the worship services.

  19. …And if there is a polynesian family in the ward, you get them to host a stereoytpical luau.

    It’s true. The main thing keeping me from activities is the lack of interesting activities. Ever. But I guess if we did do something I found fun (pinewood derby, something artistic, etc.) other people would think it was lame.

    Could we please everyone? No. Could we mix it up a bit? Yes.

    Also I am two weeks in to my new primary calling. Maybe I should recomend some radical restructuring to the bishop so I can get released soon.

  20. Latter-day Guy says:

    19, How ’bout a “NT Greek for 7-Year-Olds” class? That’ll get you released.

  21. @15- “We’ve enjoyed attending some of these activities on those rare occasions we’ve been able to get a babysitter (you know, one who’s not a ward member)–but frankly, if we’re going to spring for a babysitter, we’d rather do it for something more exciting than the Chili Cook-Off. That’s all.”

    +1 here. That’s the primary (unstated) reason I don’t like to attend activities: time away from work is scarce, and I prefer to use it with my spouse/kids rather than in a echo-filled cultural hall.

    @17-It’s a shame that the vote was only 3-2. Who are the two people with messed up priorities?

    @18-Although I don’t disagree with your assessment of the Bishop’s viewpoint, I think the train went off its tracks that day when I said something like “We need to allow market forces to dictate what activities we hold instead constantly serving up the same old can of creamed corn.”

    @19-The Polynesian Luau. I KNEW I was missing one somewhere…

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 20, not if your name is Julie Smith.

    Scott, terrific post. Another one you forgot is the Halloween trunk or treat party. In my ward, we combine that with the chili cookoff, so it’s a twofer.

    I was Activities Chairman once when I was in a married student ward at BYU. We had an activity up at Sundance where we watched a video of Young Frankenstein. All I remembered was that it was funny as hell; I probably should have thought to screen it for church standards first, though. We had several people walk out of the showing. Fortunately for my goose, the bishop was cool about it.

    One year I was in charge of the ward Xmas party. I made it a medieval English theme. We had an appearance by “first foot.” That’s a tradition where a guy dressed up sort of like Robin Hood goes around collecting money for the poor in his hat (I had put pence by each setting for people to contribute), and then puts his foot first over a line which begins the festivities. We had a great catered meal of roast beef with all the trimmings. We had Christmas crackers for everyone. The local HS madrigal choir came and performed, and then later we all sang traditional English carols. For weeks leading up to the party I used snippets of actual medieval English Christmas literature over the pulpit to advertise it. It was the best ward Christmas party ever.

    Of course, that was back in the old days when we were able to charge $3.00 per person, and even then we needed a financial angel to kick in $600 to make up the difference. We’ll never see another party like that again under the new budget guidelines.

  23. We’re having a progressive dinner on Friday – small groups of 3-5 couples, then we all gather back at the Church for a common dessert and some get-to-know-you game. It’s no children, which normally drives me nuts.

    I like these types of dinners, as long as it is with different people each time. Once a quarter is about right.

  24. Chad Too says:

    But Norbert, your ward activities include naked sausage eating. :) Try getting *that* through Ward Council in Payson…

  25. Cynthia L. says:

    Nobody else is going to join me in contributing original works of Haiku? :-( C’mon, BCC readers!

  26. Shorts and Tanks Are Porn
    So says a guy at the Y
    I’m a proud Aggie

  27. John Scherer says:

    I think I might hurl.
    Potluck bounty is not my friend.
    Who brung that Chili?

  28. (I should have linked here in my Haiku)

  29. We had a ward Bunco night last week. I thought it was hilarious, considering that there are stakes where bunco is banned (being that it is technically a gambling dice game). :)

  30. I recall a regional training session when someone from the Gen’l RS or YW presidency observed that activities should be held because of inspiration and not tradition. Or perhaps it was that tradition is the worst reason for a Church activity. Something like that anyway.

    But frannkly, I find the whole discussion to work from the wrong premise. Like individual ward organizations, the activities committee (or the ward council) should start not with activity ideas, but with specific needfs to be addressed — presumably the needs of particular, named individuals in the ward. Once the needs have been identified, the activities committee can consider what (if any) activities can and should be held to meet those needs. Success is then measured by whether the need was met — NOT by how many members showed up.

    I suspect that most ward activities would disappear and be replaced by smaller events, often (or always) sponsored by ward organizations (RS; priesthood quorums; etc.), were that approach really taken.

    I say that despite the desire by some to have activities where “the whole ward is together.” First, because that never eally happens; even the best-attended activities don’t reach most of the ward. And second, because all-ward activities are seldom the most effective method of working with individuals. I’ll use our ward’s traditional Christmas dinner as an example. Families (admmittedly, some how seldom come on Sundays) show up with their contribution to the pot luck, stake out their 8-person round table (just enough to accomodate 1 extended or 2 smaller families, but no “strays”), talk among themselves, line up for food together, eat together, listen to the program together, then leave. But for the bishop and others sticking their heads uninvited into the family circle, they interact with almost no one. Is the effort required for such an activity really worth it?

  31. Bro. Jones says:

    #16 Torture as an activity? But that’s what the three-hour block schedule on Sundays is for. [drum hit] Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week long!

    The trouble with most activities I’ve been to is that they focus on making people socialize rather than focusing on a task, goal, or something else fun that leads to socializing. “Mandatory fun” is not fun.

  32. The best thing our activities committee ever did was to divide activities into “Adult Only” and “Everyone”. We had an adult only game night with 8 Wii’s set up in the gym and multiple other games too. It was fun to watch the old folks rock the Wii Sports. Our Family activities include renting out a pool in the summer, trunk or treat, and an Easter egg hunt. Simple and kid friendly. Adult activities generally draw a large crowd and nobody wants to leave at the end of the night.

  33. I love this list. Until my current ward many of these applied for sure. My current ward has about 12 small enrichment groups, 4 of which were created over 7 years ago due to the foresight of an amazing Relief Society President.

    I think the problem is two fold:

    1) Lay clergy. It always comes down to this–people who have the skill to do something way different usually do. I have been to some different activities in wards with a stronger activities leader and then in other wards it is: default, linger longer.

    2) In some areas there are frequently children without parents in the ward who show up to these activities and this becomes a management issue for the people in charge when they don’t have the skill/capacity to create events for the needs of these kids. When they try something new and the kids are running around with bloody noses, it makes people think “oooh I shouldn’t have deviated.”

  34. Last month, our Activities Committee decided to hold a Ward dance! Yes! A dance! Who does dances anymore? Wow – was this going to be good. Our kids were very excited for it.

    In the end, it was the most poorly attended Ward event I’ve ever been to. No offense intended, but it stunk, but mostly because no one was there. So, yeah, I can see why Activities Committees stick with the lowest-common-denominator food-related faux-activities.

  35. We have a dinner thing coming up where one family will host dinner for two other random families in the ward. It’s called GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. But the thing is, my wife is the only black person in the ward. So it’s going to be weird.

  36. A Ward dance event.
    Wow! Something out-of-the-box.
    Everyone stayed home.

  37. Bruce Rogers says:

    I will invite you to our next ward dinner. The last one included a variety of tasty caseroles, salads, deserts and vegetables. We have some fine families who want to share with others. Maybe that is why people get up in testimony meeting and say that it is a friendly ward.
    Make sure that your family brings a good caserole and salad to your next dinner. That will set an example.

  38. Get lots to attend
    Goal of ward activities
    And church meetings too

    I’m not sure if that’s true, though.

  39. I always feel so inadequate when people start breaking out the haiku. It’s like being back in middle school, when it seemed that everyone else knew how to breakdance.

  40. @ 37: “I will invite you to our next ward dinner. The last one included a variety of tasty caseroles, salads, deserts and vegetables.”

    As I once said when I was 18 and someone told me that Joseph Smith had 25+ wives:

    I don’t believe you.

  41. StillConfused says:

    I was in the activities committee once. The first leaders said they were inspire by God to only have family friendly traditional activities (aka, the really boring lame stuff). Then they were replaced by a couple who said that God told them to only have adult only music themed activities. Either way, my duties were: washing dishes.

  42. Our elder’s quorum is hosting a pinewood derby for men. No restrictions (except that it has to fit on the track, be built (at least partially) from a kit, and nothing can emit fire). We will have fun!

  43. 42 – That is awesome. One time in EQ we had a vote. I submitted the idea for a Pinewood Derby.

    I think only one other guy voted with me.

    Everyone else wanted Halo Party.

  44. Menrichment: The once a year Elders-only activity, in which we eat all the baby-back ribs possible. It is my favorite church activity, ever.

  45. Bro. Jones says:

    #35 That’s AWESOME. As another man with a black wife, I salute you. :)

  46. We had a mini menrichment in my ward last week. Bunch of us got together ate brisket and brought our coolest firearms for some show and tell.

  47. In its own odd way, the Mormon wedding reception belongs on this list. It’s not something the activities committee plans – but has the same predictable characteristics.

    Assuming I enjoy hanging out with the people in the ward, I can manage to have a good time at most of these activities.

  48. We used to take some of our non-member friends to an EQ dinner group thing. Then one month we had a last-hour conflict and couldn’t go, but our friends decided that they should go to the EQ dinner without us. Funniest thing was, the EQ didn’t know they weren’t members…

  49. In its own odd way, the Mormon wedding reception belongs on this list. It’s not something the activities committee plans – but has the same predictable characteristics.

    Depends. The growing trend in North Texas is to NOT use the building for wedding receptions. And once a couple gets away from using the free building, they stop inviting the entire ward (which is just as well).

  50. As for menrichment – our ward used to have too many people and not enough callings, so the EQ president called an “EQ activities specialist”, designed solely to come up with menrichment activities. They ended up mostly being bike rides and the like, but it’s the thought that counts…

  51. How about Human Foosball, facilitated with a bunch of PVC pipe, some tape that shows you where you have to keep your hands, and a nerf soccerball, so less chance of injury?

    However, I’ve seen far too many of those Krusteaz pancakes, green jello, and red Mormon Punch to last an eternity. Is correlation=doublespeak for centrally planned economy, and extend beyond the millennium?

    Our ward used to have ad hoc Halo parties, until there was an actual divorce over Halo.

  52. Alpha Echo says:

    And all of these are nothing to the awkwardness of a poorly planned Singles ward activity. Luckily my current ward has had a few fun activities. The annual ward camp out is fun and the time we went to a live theater performance was good too.

  53. @22 I am utterly ashamed at myself for leaving out the trunk or treat. If I had editing capabilities as a guest poster, this error would already be corrected.

  54. So, do I understand this right?
    1) Nobody wants to be on the planning committee.
    2) Mormons lack social skills (Scott Bosworth said: “I don’t get on too well in social situations”) and don’t seem to keen on making the effort.
    3) No beer
    So is it any surprise that ward activities = no fun?
    Not for me. I like ward activities. Given the choice, I’d take a Saturday night potluck with 30 bad casseroles over the Sunday block. I’d rather talk to people over bad food than sit next to them during a dull sermon.

  55. @54…

    No no no no no no. You’ve confused “effort” with “success”. I make all the effort in the world to be social. My sparkling, economist personality just gets in the way of progress.

  56. sorry….hit the button too quickly. I don’t think that effort or (excluding myself) social skills are the problem at all–my point is that Mormon activities attempt to align people based on something that has nothing to do with forming quality relationships.

    The kinds of activities we see in Mormon wards do not facilitate fellowshipping very effectively, but rather encourage (as a few people have suggested) people to strengthen pre-existing cliques by sitting with close friends at tables in the cultural hall.

  57. BYU activities
    Are like the ward ones
    Plus a pile of hormones

  58. I slaved o’er gourmet
    Others barely boiled water
    Potluck? Rotten luck.

  59. My most successful offering at a potluck started out as a joke. I was trying a new recipie the week before the potluck, and the bishop said he didn’t wany any experiments at the potluck. So, to be sure I didn’t try anything new, I brought PBJs. That was the first thing to go, and the only thing that a lot of the kids ate.

  60. One key is non-ward-sponsored ward-level activities.

    For several years now (and in two different wards, back in DC and here in Colorado), my wife and I have been doing BBQs at our home that aren’t official ward activities but are nevertheless announced over the pulpit and in the ward bulletin. (Here’s an example of one such BBQ a few years ago.)

    Because we do these on our own — they are not done in coordination with the ward, they aren’t “church” activities, and we don’t apply for reimbursement for anything — we’re free to run them as we see fit. Our experience over several years is that members come and have a great time just talking to each other. We’ve also had non-member neighbors come and have a great time just talking to other people there. Nope, no talks, spiritual thoughts, organized games, or anything else (though we do bless the food). We usually have name tags, mostly to help the newer members of the ward figure out who everyone else is. Kids are welcome, everyone can take off their shoes if they want, and there’s no agenda or schedule at all, beyond when I think food will be ready to serve.

    People do like to contribute something, so we tell them it’s a true potluck: they can bring whatever dish they’d like (appetizer, salad, side dish, dessert, chips, etc.) or nothing at all. But we provide all the main food, drinks, and fixings. We use paper plates, paper cups, plastic utensils, and foil serving trays, and we usually have exactly one dishwasher load of dishes even when we’ve fed over 70 people. (We do, however have several large bags of garbage.)

    The constant feedback that Sandra and I have gotten over the years is that people absolutely love these BBQs, that they’re able to mingle and talk with other ward members in a way that they don’t seem to be able to during official ward activities. Our current bishop has expressed how these BBQs have brought the ward closer together, and our friends from our old ward back in DC tells us how much they miss the BBQs.

    The point is that there’s nothing particularly special about us, other than our willingness to open our home to the ward on our own. There are other families in this ward that do exactly the same thing, and their parties are equally anticipated, well-attended and praised. No one comes out of a sense of guilt, obligation, or support of the ward activities chairpeople; no assignments are involved; and the people who gather, gather because they just like being around each other. People can come when they want and leave as soon (or late) as they want.

    Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I smoke a mean beef brisket, not to mention turkey breast, leg of lamb and even marinated elk roast, and that I’m great over a hot grill (ever had grilled peach slices?). Or that I absolutely love cooking for 70 people. (Yep, I do all the cooking at these things; my wife “just” focuses on getting the house straightened up.) But we could serve nothing but hamburgers and hot dogs, and it’d still turn out great.

    Food for thought (so to speak). ..bruce..

  61. CatherineWO says:

    Cynthia L. #5–priceless!

    My biggest problem with church social functions has always been the food. Why does food have to be the focus of every ward activity? For families with food allergies, it’s the pits. When my son (with peanut allergy) was growing up, we didn’t dare go to ward activities. And three of us can’t eat wheat. Even if we bring our own food, we end up sitting around explaining the food allergies or listening to others telling how good the food is that we can’t eat. I’m all in favor of activities that have a good program or other activity attached, but when food is the whole point of the activity, I really can’t see the point in going.

  62. @61

    Oh come on Catherine. Everyone knows food allergies are just a myth. Why do you *really* hate ward activities? :)

  63. Oh, and looking at Scott B.’s comment (#56) brings up one other reason why our BBQs here at home don’t result in “strengthen(ing) pre-existing cliques by sitting with close friends at tables in the cultural hall” (and I know and agree with his observation): it’s too crowded and casual.

    We have our own furniture (living room, bar stools, dining room table, deck furniture, and some folding chairs we put out), and that’s about it — and it’s not nearly enough to seat all the people who come. Also the food is spread out in several locations, the drinks are in a cooler out on the deck, and we have the air hockey and ping-pong tables (and kids’ toys) downstairs.

    As a result, people are constantly walking around, standing, changing location, and so on. I’ll notice a few people (usually the more ‘elderly’) who will stake out a specific chair or seat and stay there most of the evening, but even they have an ever-changing flow of people around them. ..bruce..

  64. Steve Evans says:

    I have a testimony of Bruce’s BBQ, although I have never partaken of it myself.

  65. Steve Evans = D&C 46:14

  66. Steve:

    Out of (or into?) the mouth of two or more witnesses….

    Seriously — next time I do a BBQ, I’ll post it on AIM (you folks all do read my blog, don’t you?), and y’all are welcome to come. Seth R of Nine Moons came to one last year, though it was sparsely attended (it was combined with General Conference, and I misunderestimated how many people did not want to change their GC routines). ..bruce..

  67. Jennifer in GA says:

    I turned down a calling to be the Activity Chairperson in my ward about a year and a half ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the calling, but I knew that in this particular ward that if it wasn’t done “the way it had always been done”, then the activity would be a no-go with the bishop and first counselor. I didn’t want to deal with the frustrations, hassles and headaches of trying to explain it wasn’t necessary to do a Trunk-or-Treat AND a potluck dinner AND a ward talent show all on the same night (Halloween, and who cares if it was a school night??).

    A few weeks later the calling was issued to a friend who I work with. More than once she has shown up to work in tears after finding out some portion of an activity she planned had been changed without her knowledge. For Instance, turning a ‘Christmas Around the World’ Christmas party into a sit-down dinner followed by a CES speaker.

    The latest change to this summer’s Pioneer Day activity- the bishop and first counselor, inspired by a tri-stake youth pioneer trek last Saturday, have decided that the ward should trek the two miles from one member’s home to the Bishop’d home two miles away. While pulling the handcart. In the middle of the day. In south Georgia.

  68. “ward talent show”

    Awww crap. A 4th one I missed in my list. Seriously…I need editor privileges over here. Is there a batphone to Steve’s mobile?

  69. Chris P. says:

    If I read into the comments following your blog correctly, I see that you have been released from your calling. That is what I call divine revelation on the part of your Bishop. Who knows what would have happened to your ward with such ideas put into practice.

  70. Steve Evans says:

    1800-GOT-JUNK

  71. My husband’s Elders quorum had a shooting day and a video game playing/swap night. DH loved those. Plus, they did the “sister’s please watch the children” thing in the program. It makes me laugh that parents need to be reminded to support their spouse.

    Another great activity: Games and Junk food night. Everyone was to bring their favorite game and junk food. There was no meal served. You rotated through the stations, sometimes starting the game over, sometimes picking up where they left off (ala Monopoly).

    I’ll admit I was fairly weirded out when the ward 1)threw a sedar. 2) not during passover, and 3) the recipies were not kosher… meat and milk in the same dish.

  72. Chris P. (69.)-

    I totally don’t get your comment. Can you help me out here? I think you’re suggesting that something awful did/might/could happen if something I mentioned takes place, but I’m foggy on the details.

  73. Mike McBride says:

    Scott, You never told us what your new calling was after the one month activities stint. Maybe you weren’t released for anti-magnifying but were instead being promoted.

  74. Mike,

    Unemployed for 4 weeks (between callings?), then Stake Sunday School Pres.

    While that looks like an upgrade, if you ever scan the CHI for Stake Sunday School, you’ll find that it’s the big non-calling in the Church.

    Maybe it was an upgrade, really…

  75. Chris P. says:

    Totally!

  76. Stephanie says:

    Menrichment – I love it!

  77. A few years ago our ward activities committee at the request of the bishopric planned a “Marriage Conference”. This was held at a local resort in a canyon. A nice hotel and conference rooms. We stayed on a Friday evening through Saturday at noon. We had a nice catered meal on Friday evening and then a course on marriage topics taught by some CES type folks or whoever the activities committee chose. For the rest of the evening each couple was instructed to enjoy each others company in any manner they chose to do it. Some chose to stay in the conference room with other couples and play games or just socialize. Others chose to use the facilities of the hotel or golf or hike etc…

    Saturday morning we had a breakfast and had several courses all related to strengthening families. (Finances, Communications, Encouraging the development of talents, and many others) Each couple could choose which course to attend. 3 courses, 1 each hour.

    We then rapped up the conference with a testimony meeting and some of the attendees decided to attend a temple session after the conference.

    This was quite well attended by the members of our ward. I felt like the singles in the ward were sort of left out. This was the only thing I did not like about it.

    We have done this every year for the last 4 years.

  78. “This was quite well attended by the members of our ward.”

    So what you’re saying is that a paid mini-vacation at a resort was well-attended? Shocking.

    Seriously…what ward do you live in that has a budget for that kind of thing?

  79. Menrichment – I love it!

    This must be a meme that’s going around the Church. My ward’s EQ/HP are currently planning a “menrichment” activity (yes, that’s the term they used in ward council) to go fishing together somewhere (lots of locations here in Colorado). I haven’t been fishing since my mission, and I’m even looking forward to it. ..bruce..

  80. The best manrichments involve belching and beek jerkey.

  81. … and even beef jerkey sometimes.

  82. What you don’t want at a ward activity are people sharing “embarrassing” things about each other (they asked for anonymous input and then everyone had to guess).

    Some people really don’t know that they should not share certain types of detail.

  83. @14, @42 We just had an extreme pinewood derby last week – the winner had a motor on the car and was talking about using compressed air next year! We did have about the same rules @42 has, however.

    I didn’t bring a car – ended up being the judge.

  84. Scott, I totally aspire to be Stake Sunday School President.

  85. StillConfused says:

    #61 – I hear ya. i am lactose intolerant. Are there any ward activities that don’t involve ice cream or cheese?

  86. Norbert,

    Everyone should. After a year in that calling, the only thing I knew for certain was that we were supposed to meet once a month as a presidency…but since we had no agenda or anything else to talk about, our “meetings” usually involved video games and junk food.

    However, the REAL benefit is that the Stake Sunday School President has a permanent hall-pass during Sunday school. If I got bored in a meeting, I would just go visit another meeting in the building. And by “visit”, I mean “wander around outside”.

  87. I think counselor to the stake ss president would fit me better, avoids the heavy burden of presiding and leading…

  88. Mark Brown says:

    Stake Sunday school secretary is even better.

  89. I enjoy your sense of humor. Things are always the funniest when they are too true. I’ve seen so many activities just as you described. Fortunately, we’ve also lived in wards and areas where there were innovative, great activities…but they are few and far between. Now that the kids are grown and gone we find even less reason to go. Oh well. Some how we do get to know and love the members of our ward anyway.

  90. Steve Evans says:

    We had a pretty great activities committee in my last ward. Halo parties, menrichment, swap parties… you name it. Very creative and thoughtful activities that brought us all together. In this ward in Connecticut one time we did a “get-to-know-you” exercise where everyone would put their keys in a bowl and randomly draw them out to take people home. We all got to know and love the members of our ward.

  91. Re: pinewood derby. The best no rules-pinewood derby car I have heard of was put on the end of an arrow and shot from a bow.

  92. From my activities kommitteh chairman:

    If this economist’s solution to the problem of boring quarterly activities, is to replace them with weekly -repeat, weekly activities in the self-interest of small groups of members, then he hasn’t spent much time thinking about the self-interest of the activities committee chair. Seems like parties with the same self-interest (hiking) could use their agency to get together and go do it (go hike, say), thereby not wasting the ACC’s time trying to organize things that self-interested parties should do anyway. What’s that you say? – half the Ward doesn’t even know the names of the other half of the Ward, never mind what they are interested in? Well, I guess that what you hold the big activities for, except that everyone sits with the people they know and are comfortable with and doesn’t speak to anyone they don’t already know – which includes people who have been around for a long time but are intensely shy (did you notice —- sitting with her daughter by herself at the international dinner we just held? – we did try to correct that one).

    So, the answer is not making the ACC’s life more miserable by creating a weekly hell of small activities, but rather creating larger activities in which everyone is forced to get to know everyone else, whether they like it or not. This might be done by getting everyone involved in forced labor (like the upcoming clean-up project -brought to you by one of my all-time favorite co-opters of everyone’s scarce time – the Stake). Or perhaps we could create a giant progressive dinner, where all two hundred active Ward members descend on the basement apartments of selected unsuspecting students and newly married couples demanding immediate sustenance. The ensuing commotion would probably attract enough neighborhood attention so that those in attendance would get to know each other very well before their disbelieving non-member friends (you know, the people you really know well from outside the church) bail them out.

    So we come to the conclusion that the only way to create a worthwhile Ward AC activity is to generate a full-scale crisis in which people have no choice but to work together to get out of it. Example: do you know the name of the current Secretary of the U.S. Treasury? See – a crisis does create familiarity – although of course it may breed contempt too. But – let’s use Ward AC events to create familiarity. We can reserve the contempt for later – after we become friends.

  93. Steve’s swap and keys-in-the-bowl-get-to-know-you parties are kind of creeping me out.

  94. Branch birthday party tonight for those born in March & April. Since we have never done this before, and may never do it again, I feel very sorry for us Septembers.

  95. Paul B-

    You have fallen victim to my shortness in writing–the true plan was not to overwork the AC, but to call several other committee members (Scott = Job Creator!) who would then head up the smaller ones.

    The “big” activities were then to be used normally–as big get togethers. The only difference is that no one would be pretending that those were good opportunities for fellowshipping anymore.

  96. I had a Stake President once explain that activities were optional, and only to support those families that did not have regular family activities. If my family was doing fine, I did not need to attend. Smart Man!

  97. My dad’s favorite calling of all time was being the Sunday School President. Then he got called to be the Stake Sunday School President. That calling was even better. He misses those callings to this day, and swears about it every third Sunday when he has to write another talk on a subject he didn’t chose.

  98. - Kite flying
    – Wood Cutting
    – Skeet Shooting
    There are others, but I can’t be bothered to think too hard ;)
    We’ve done these things as a ward, in addition to all of the ones you listed.

  99. Elphaba-
    Seriously. I know his pain–it is the single greatest (non-leadership) leadership position in the Church. You get to completely make it up as you go.

  100. Kenny Brassen says:

    100 comments! Hooray! I vote Scott B. for perma.

    Anyhoo, the best (or at least the most memorable) ward activities should involve fire, or some other risk of physical danger. My favorite ward activity was an impromptu vehicle donut/brody competition in the snow covered parking lot. It morphed into a hooky-bobbing (grabbing the rear bumper of a car and being pulled along as your feet slide on the snow) race.

    Only Cory Evans ended up in the emergency room. He got first place though.

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