RAF recently wrote an interesting post on ‘the secret of measuring success in the church’. Almost everyone will have their own ideas on a topic like this and very often they will be quite different. Despite this, considering such questions can be worthwhile because they orient us toward that which is most important. As such, I thought I would try my hand at coming up with a measure of the success of the church.
It is this: the success of the church is measured by the extent to which members of a particular ward/stake eat together in each others homes.
First let me explain what I mean and then why I think this is important.
When I use the word ‘extent’ I do so with a particular view in mind. The networks of food sharing in an area should be both broad and frequent. In other words, wards where people eat together regularly but only within a relatively narrow group of associates within that community are not (or better, will not be) as successful as wards where a broad range of people (preferably the whole ward) are included within the list of possible invitees. This list of potential guests should not just exist merely as a vague preference but rather it should be manifest in the people who have actually eaten in our homes. This should nearly always be reciprocal. Almost everyone should both invite others into our homes and be invited into the homes of others.
The extent to which members of a particular ward/stake eat together in each others homes is the best measure of success because it is one way of observing the social boundaries which divide the body of Christ. Therefore it is a good measure of the degree of fellowship that is experienced among ward members.
It is a commonplace insight that who we eat with and how is one way of enacting society. Downton Abbey is a popular example of just this type of idea. Class and gender divisions are given a tangible quality through eating rituals. Those whom we eat with, particularly if we eat with them regularly, are often those we consider to be our peers, our friends, and, by implication, our equals. Invitations to dinner then become one way of reconfiguring the divisions which define our societies.
Part of the reason for this reconfiguration is that when we eat with others we offer them our labour and our time. We present gifts to them that are then commonly received with thankfulness. This sharing also very often encourages conversation which can lead to greater mutual understanding. Although this may all sound a little idealistic I sense that this understanding is the basis for spiritual fellowship.
Fellowship is the key to the success of our communities and is therefore the primary reason why it would be important to be sensitive to the amount of food-sharing in a ward. What does this fellowship consist of? Mormons love to talk about their religion. When we eat together the topic of conversation almost always move toward our faith. As people sit and talk about their religion in a setting that facilitates sharing and gratitude it is not uncommon to find increased openness and vulnerability. Thus in response to giving or receiving of gifts there is very often a genuine bond that is forged. People who have shared this type of experience, I propose, are more likely to serve and love one another. They are more likely to be willing to yield to the needs of others and be sensitive to those needs in the first place. In short, they are more willing to treat each other with Christian love. The greater the degree of this social mixing via food the greater the degree of fellowship that will exist in that ward.
All of this is quite obvious and yet I rarely hear food discussed as a mean of encouraging Christ-like virtues or spirituality in a ward. Of course, I am not suggesting that eating together will solve all the spiritual problems the inflict the body of Christ nor am I suggesting that a formal metric should be used to capture the breadth and the depth of this food-sharing. But if a selection of members can look around their congregation and see that, say, only a third* have been in their home for dinner, then I think that is a pretty good indication of some problems in that ward. In fact, resolving this might create a situation where some of the issues in Elders Quorum or Visiting Teaching or Sacrament attendance resolve themselves.
Living the gospel should be something we do together; if we are not doing it together then perhaps that is the reason people are struggling to live the gospel.
* It is difficult to put a number on this simply because our wards varies so much in size. In smaller wards, the proportion should be higher.