Religious Belonging & Dunbar’s Number

Everyone must stay in these arbitrary groups we’ve created.  Don’t cross the streams.

A few years ago I read a great book by Nicholas Christokis and James Fowler called Connected:  The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks.  There are a few points about social networks that I’ve been thinking about as relates to our social networks like the church, Facebook, and the blogs we frequent.

Given the findings of the book, the most important aspect of our church life is our local ward.  At work we used to say that to an employee, their direct leader was the whole company, for good or bad.  The same can be said of our local wards:  to members, the experiences in those local wards are the whole church experience (or nearly so).  Having a ward you like and where you feel accepted is therefore pretty important.

Human beings cluster in communities of about 150 (Dunbar’s number).  Even if a community has more than 150 people in it, we really only mentally keep track of about 150 anyway.  When people lived in small towns, this made it easier for the community to self-police, to know who was safe and who wasn’t.  With urbanization, people stopped knowing their neighbors and crime became harder to manage.  With the internet, we find our virtual networks maxing out similarly. Likewise, when you consider the people you really know at church, 150 is probably about the maximum range, even if the ward is much bigger.  Most people only have 4 “strong” ties in their network (people who truly know them intimately).  Weak ties (our broader social network) are how information and ideas are passed along and adopted.  In networking, weak ties are actually the most important.

Who’s in your Dunbar’s number?  Also, why is there a guy in a rabbit suit in there?

We are influenced by those in the community we perceive to be superior.  Credibility may be based on intelligence, attractiveness, charisma, wealth, “coolness,” social skills or whatever else is important to us individually.  We all have people we look up to whose opinions we prize.  If they share an opinion, we immediately try to understand why they are right because in our view, they probably are “righter” than others.

We influence those who perceive us to be superior.  What they base this perception on may differ from what’s important to you.  These are the people who give us a “thumbs up” or who “like” our comments or posts on Facebook.  They may be the ones who go out of their way to praise our talks or lessons at church (and really mean it).  These folks may praise the wisdom of our ideas.  These accolades cause us to feel that we are valuable contributors to a given community.  Being ignored gives us the opposite feeling.

When we perceive someone to be inferior or not credible, we are dismissive of their influence.  Sometimes we form this judgment immediately.  Sometimes something a person has said or done changes our view of them; they fall from grace.  When we read their comments or hear them speak, they rankle.  We subconsciously look to find fault with their arguments.  This is a natural reaction to marginalize their influence in the group because we feel they are not valuable contributors.

Here’s the tricky part.

We gravitate toward groups where we are somewhere in the middle of the pack, but slightly above average – where we are both able to influence and be influenced, but we still feel just a little bit superior to the majority of the group.  If we are too high in the pack, we deem the group not valuable to us because we’re always the smartest (or coolest or whatever) person.  If we are too low in the pack, we may feel intimidated by the group or as if we are not accepted or valued because of our inability to influence.   The greater the disparity we perceive between ourselves and the community, the harder it will be to stay in that community.

Do these two ends of the spectrum equate to being prideful (feeling superior to the group) or offended (feeling inferior to the group) or are they just a normal evolutionary psychological phenomenon that protects humans from bad or dangerous influences?

Face facts. Some people at church aren’t that cool.

Many disaffected people share negative stories on the internet about experiences in their Mormon communities:  family and ward members who say ignorant things, lack social skills or who otherwise make them feel embarrassed to be a Mormon because of their intolerance of others.  Without these horrifying folks, I question whether the bloggernacle would exist.  Many who have left the church are surprised that others with similar issues still find value within the church.  One key difference is the “150 people” who constitute their Mormon community.  Depending on who we know, where we live, how we were raised, my Mormonism may truly be a very different culture from the Mormonism someone else experiences.

If the church wants to retain and grow, it has to have enough “cool” people in it.  If we distill our ranks to only include the most uptight orthodox members, we substantially lessen our influence among those who don’t find those folks influential or who feel dismissive of them.  Likewise, we will be unattractive to converts whose social networks mostly consist of non-Mormons unless they perceive the Mormon community they are considering joining to contain a superior network of contacts (more wealthy, successful, intelligent, attractive, cool or whatever).  For this reason, the “I’m a Mormon” campaign is pure genius for attracting non-LDS people.  Visitors to the site can select the members they want to “meet” virtually based on their own criteria.  However, if they then attend a local ward that is not like the idealized virtual ward they’ve read about, they may feel disappointed.

An interesting byproduct of the “I’m a Mormon” campaign was some of the initial negative reaction from members.  Some felt that such diversity was an indictment of their milquetoast lives; they felt marginalized by the cooler group being touted to appeal to outsiders.  Others said they wished the Mormons they knew were really like that; they perceived their own community of Mormons to be inferior.

Geographic ward boundaries should usually create more effective social networks because members are more likely to attend with their socio-economic peers.  Wards that have more mixed socio-economic groups may encounter more difficulty with cohesion.  For example, in a ward with (apartments + houses) or (marrieds + singles) or (students + older families), there may be a tendency for some to feel dismissive or inferior along socio-economic divisions.I recall in my very early married life, while we were still students commuting from north Salt Lake to BYU (me) and U of U (hubs), being in a local ward with apartment-dwellers and home owners.  Based on my own upbringing, I saw the home-owners as far less educated and financially successful than what I was accustomed to, but they saw the apartment dwellers (like us) as inferior (transient, unreliable, young, no children).  The ward even segregated the Gospel Doctrine class into a class for those living in apartments and one for those living in houses.  Within a month, we were completely inactive in that ward and eventually transferred to a student ward across town, a much better fit.  In their minds, this doubtless proved they were right, that apartment dwellers were unreliable flakes.

I am outta here!

In another ward, I really struggled in the second and third hour because I was the only woman with a career and one of only three sisters in Relief Society who had served a mission; only two of us had finished a college degree.  I found most of the comments in class lacked insight.  Often people simply resorted to standard answers or the teachers just failed to prepare well.  I fluctuated between boredom and being appalled at the views some fellow ward members expressed unopposed.  One gospel doctrine teacher actually opined for the days when it was permissible to hit children in school and blamed rape victims due to how they were dressed.  Most ward members either chuckled in agreement or didn’t want to say anything because they were in awe of this person who said it.  I was at church every week, but my mind was elsewhere.  My husband enjoyed that ward because the men were plain spoken salt-of-the-earth types.  He found them to be good-hearted and willing to help others.  I think he was right.

In yet another ward, I remember having this strange sensation of finally hitting the right mix.  I felt a little in awe of some of the successful, educated, well informed, articulate people around me, yet I also felt that I was listened to when I gave a thought provoking comment.  Just like Goldilocks, I felt I had found the ward that was “just right.”  However, at the same time, my husband struggled because the men were likewise well educated and successful, but they often seemed to be status seekers who were cold and arrogant and too busy or important in their careers to show up to help people.  I theorized that perhaps education and success elevated women while bringing out worse qualities in their husbands.

  • Have you left a community because you felt that you didn’t get enough out of it or because you felt intimidated by the group?  What types of things make you want to divest from a group?  What makes you want to stay involved?
  • What have your experiences been in various wards?  Do you prefer similar people or diverse wards?
  • How does your view of people in your church community affect your membership and desire to participate?  Do you feel their opinions are valuable?  Do you feel you have influence?
  • Does the church’s stance on attending in your geographic area improve retention or create attrition (including going inactive)?

Discuss.

Comments

  1. John Taber says:

    First off, I envy my in-laws’ ward, which covers the entire area in and around their town. That way there aren’t boundaries slicing communities, or wards with strikingly different levels of income, education, or number of children. Everyone belongs, and everyone who participates learns from each other. (Yes, there’s also a Spanish-speaking branch covering that area but there’s some fluidity between the two based on individual needs – they share a Primary and youth programs.)

    I like what you have to say about groups of 150. The wards in my stake with sacrament meeting attendance around that number seem to be the most cohesive. The ones with less seem to struggle more and it doesn’t help to go to their meetings and find the (stake center) chapel half empty. My ward has more and despite having so few youth that the quorums and classes meet together for “third hour” – in my ward that’s first hour right now – it’s getting harder for me to keep track of everybody. I can see the recent converts having difficulty trying to fit in. Even though I knew some members when I moved in to this ward I had trouble fitting in as well. (Despite a boundary change along the way, attendance then was about what it is now.)

    On my mission in Italy I was never in a congregation with attendance higher than about 80, but because of that low number they were so interdependent they were generally willing to welcome another set of hands and help them belong. I was once in a ward with attendance around 300 and I felt like I belonged but I really didn’t know everyone.

    At times, I’ve struggled with attendance. That often came from feeling like I didn’t belong with the main group for one reason or another, whether it was being single, not feeling comfortable with the political rhetoric (I’m so glad people aren’t talking about Syria in church the way they did about Iraq), or living a good distance away (and in a different kind of neighborhood) from the ward’s core. At my BYU wards I saw ward members (male and female) a lot during the week and that helped me feel like I belonged, even if I felt like I was on the margin for one reason or another. (I was never that good, beyond my freshman year, in coming out for home evening.)

    Later I was in a YSA ward elsewhere where I was almost the only male student not in college (and some people looked at me funny because I was a BYU grad) and one of the very few who hadn’t grown up in the immediate area. I left that ward after six months for the ward with 300 coming out. (I’d moved, and could have stayed in the YSA ward but I didn’t think it was worth the drive. Plus I felt the Spirit more in my new ward.)

    I think using geographic boundaries (when drawn right) prevents popularity contests. It makes it clear that the ward at least ought to follow the classic non-LDS definition of a ward – a community. It keeps people from flocking to where they feel more comfortable, because that would make some people less comfortable. And to meet individual needs, there are (when there are enough bodies for them) YSA and language units. I think having elders’ quorum and high priests’ group meet separately and do some things separately (with cooperation – one group is not more important than the other) helps with cohesion among the brethren. There’s some demographic overlap, but the two groups overall are at different stages with age, maturity, and time in Church activity.

    Incidentally, my sister (1/8 Swiss like me but it shows more in her) and her husband (1/2 Maori) are both on the “wall of diverse faces” at visitor centers and on pass-along cards.

  2. John Taber says:

    I meant “male ward member not in college”.

  3. Interesting dynamics, so almost any ward is right for a number of it’s members and if it’s not right for us it’s because we fall outside the sweet spot. That begs for the return of parables as a teaching method doesn’t it?

  4. marginalizedmormon says:

    interesting that the word “offended” would be used as an opposite of pride–

    Thanks to Brigham Young and his ubiquitous speaking on the sin of being offended, will this ever go away?

    answers–if you want them:

    –never left a church (ward) community, but it’s the same as if I had; my being there is no different than if I were not here at all–Sundays are highly stressful, with a lot of negative emotion–

    –have been in some gems of wards and branches–am currently in a ward that is not a ‘fit’ in any way, though there are a few people who are exceptions, very few; like us they are well-educated and well-read, but poor–
    (generally the poor in our ward just go inactive; we have a lot of wealthy people, but we are geographically in a place where it is impossible to attend another ward or branch); our wealthy people are, generally, very TBM, though they like to think they are sophisticated–

    –I have no influence and no desire to participate; I stay in, because I have prayerfully been told to stay in; it’s a very painful experience

    –There are a lot of ‘humble’ people who join the church here and quickly leave; retention rate is close to zero–

    There are people in this ward who feel it is a nurturing, loving place–but those people are the LDS adult equivalent of ‘mean girls’–

    This is a very fascinating discussion; thank you for it. I wouldn’t dare to say where I live or what my real name is, even though I rather doubt anyone in my ward does much with Mormon blogs–

  5. it's a series of tubes says:

    MM, for someone who feels he has been “marginalized”, you sure do your fair share of blasting your fellow local saints. Kettle, well met.

  6. Fascinating post. Raises several very important and useful (to think about and use as an analytical model) points. Thanks.

  7. Meldrum the Less says:

    This blog: Pure BCC gold.

    In comparison to other churches we Mormons are unique in being strongly encouraged to attend a geographic ward and discouraged from “ward hopping” or “ward shopping.” If you do not attend the ward you are assigned you may be tolerated and form a few friendships, but you stand little chance of ever breaking into the central “same ten families.” Modern transportation systems have rendered the geographic factor rather obsolete in many areas. With a few notable exceptions most of us are within reasonable commuting distance of several ward options.

    I think that we marginalize many people and completely lose not a few by our insistence on this strict geographic compliance. Allowing people to select their ward, (and indirectly their ward meeting time) is probably the easiest way we could increase attendance. I can think of several members in my extended family who are less active because of boundary changes or displeasure with their assigned ward preferring another (often previous) situation. Admittedly these additions would be relatively weaker in faith and zeal; they may not increase tithing revenue very much.

    Another mistake I think is the use of something close to the Dunbar number of 150 as the typical size of the active ward membership. Other successful churches in my area generally number a few thousand and this allows the formation of several sub-groups of around 50-150 people according to stage in life or other characteristics. This allows more people to find the social group where they feel most comfortable and to more smoothly move from one to another when necessary.(Divorce, death of a spouse, children born or grow up, etc.)

    Of greater concern are the youth who are much more strongly influenced by peer group interaction. My experience in youth organizations indicates that having somewhere around 1/3 to 1/2 that Dunbar number in the youth organizations is preferable. It is a huge mistake to organize many wards in an area each with only single digit number of youth. We need to either unite these wards with few youth, change our youth programs to be far more appealing to large numbers of non-LDS peers or else scrap our youth programs to join hands with those better functioning in other nearby churches. I have found that I can have more than a little influence in youth groups in other churches. (This is the best alternative for me at this time).

    The excuse I hear for perpetually dividing wards is that over about 400 people is too many for a bishopric to manage. Are we that co-dependent and dysfunctional, that 400 of us invariably runs a bishopric ragged, to the detriment of our youth programs? The current size of our wards also makes sense when you realize that about 20% of the church members pay probably over 90% of the tithing. So give them all important sounding positions and titles; to hell with the rest of the faithless congregation.

    For several decades we have been constructing cookie-cutter bland church buildings of little value on the open market and realistically too small for the number of people that would be ideal for our wards. To increase the size of our wards would be prohibitively costly for this reason alone. We are stuck with the poor choices of a previous generation.

  8. My husband is in the military and so we have been in a lot of wards over the years. The only one that we didn’t really feel like we fit in was in Mesa, AZ. Most of our wards have covered a pretty large geographic area because they were out in the mission field, but the Mesa ward covered just a fraction of our neighborhood. Everyone was just so much the same. They had the same houses and drove the same cars and participated in politics the same way. The contrast between us and everyone else was pretty stark. Everyone was really nice in the ward, but we just didn’t belong and it made me wonder how well we would have fared if we had had to stay for more than a year.

  9. I’ve lived in a couple of Mormon Corridor wards that are geographically split into two. The more popular part of the ward is the richer suburban section. The less popular is either a large number of apartments or an older, poorer suburban section. In both cases, the two areas were not located next to each other.

    I have enough experience with that kind of arrangement to know this: It doesn’t work. The poorer section always suffers. Sense of community is lost, and many in the poorer section drift away. Personally, I stayed active in both wards, but it was a huge struggle to show up every Sunday.

    If a stake is worried about enough qualified leadership in one geographic area, they’d be much better off shipping a couple of people from the rich area to the poor area to fill some of the leadership needs–much like what is done in a single’s ward.

    I’ve also noticed that smaller wards tend to care a lot more about reactivating less actives, fellowshipping new members and less actives, etc. A large ward with a geographic and economic divide has a hard struggle to avoid losing active members.

  10. I recall reading articles about Christokis’ and Fowler’s book when it came out and immediately aligned Dunbar’s number with Ward size as you have done here Angela.

    Outside of the Mormon Meccas in North America, the average Sacrament meeting attendance of a well functioning Ward tends to be around ~150 in my experience living in various parts of the US and visiting many other Wards as I travel. Every Ward I visit it’s an immediate question I ask the Ward Clerk or Bishopric member. In my experience, generally successful Wards require about that number to support the faith community effectively and build cohesiveness. It’s possible to succeed in smaller and larger numbers but that size usually allows for everyone to have a calling beyond HT / VT and no one to be overly over burdened. It also, depending on how the Ward boundaries are structured, allows for a diversity of members where everyone can find 2 to 4 people with whom they closely identify.

    I live in a very diverse Ward with widely distributed wealth but the bell curve places us definitely middle class with a broad mix of education levels and age ranges. The Bishopric and Relief Society have worked hard to encourage unity within the Ward and visitors and those who move into the Ward comment regularly about how accepting it is. Though it is apparent that some still feel marginalized.

    As I contemplate how well I fit to any particular Ward I regularly reflect back on Eugene England’s comment that,

    We [the majority who set the cultural tone of the Church] are the ones who must constantly remind ourselves that the Church is not a place to go for comfort, to get our own prejudices validated, but a place to comfort others, even to be afflicted by them. It is a revealed and effec­tive opportunity to give—to learn and experience the meaning of the Atonement and its power to change us through uncon­ditional love. It is a place where we have many chances to re­pent and forgive—if, for a change, we can focus on our own failings and the needs of others to grow through their and our imperfect efforts.

    It is not an easy proposition but I do believe that the greatest changes I’ve encountered in my life have been through the close connections that have developed with members I would never have considered as one of my close four but instead someone who lived on the fringes of my initial comfort levels.

  11. Caffeine Drinker says:

    @ Mossbloom

    Please elaborate on Mesa, Arizona wards. This is relative to my interests.

  12. Carmen Lopez says:

    No wonder the city of Zion hasn’t been built yet. We need Zion people (pure in Heart) devoid of all these petty thoughts. More full of love for their fellowman and their needs, and less worry about whether they fit or not. I know people like that, no matter where they go, they always fit, because they are there to be of help and edify others, to learn and to teach, to love.

  13. The funny thing is I used to attend Saddleback Church, It’s a Christian mega church in Orange County, CA that has a weekend attendance of over 20,000 at the main campus spread over 5 convenient meeting times with several choices in music venues all watching the same sermon. The music and sermons were regularly outstanding and uplifting, I felt the Spirit many, many times per visit and always left feeling good about myself, others and God. I always felt welcome never judged or marginalized, I never felt out of place regardless of the meeting size.

  14. marginalizedmormon says:

    @it’s a series of tubes–

    You are a smart one. What do you have against me? Why does anyone discuss anything on here? I haven’t gone into detail. I haven’t pointed fingers at an individual. Unless you are a moderator, you don’t even know what part of the country or world I live in–

    You’re doing the same thing with me; had you realized that? What do you have against me? You have NO idea what my story is. I haven’t told even a fraction of it.

    I wonder how many ‘it’s a series of tubes’ guys the lepers in Jesus’ time and the poor Zoramites in Alma’s time had to deal with before someone who was Christlike came along, saw their dilemma and ministered to them–

    What is the point of Mormon blogs if it isn’t to share experiences (even if not going into detail), opinions, beliefs, etc.?

    Anyway, you’ve really got it out against someone you don’t even know. Maybe it releases some kind of pain inside you to poke at me. If so, I guess I serve a purpose on here.

    Why would my name: Marginalized Mormon–

    mean that I can’t express what I see as the reality in my ward. You think that if there are bullies and ‘mean girls’ nobody should talk about them. Yes, don’t tell anyone. Be quiet and stand still, and it won’t hurt so much.

    Why do I let a completely anonymous person bother me? I hope you’re getting your kicks out of this–

    I keep promising myself I will never come back to this blog/discussion group–

    and then I see something that really intrigues me, and I comment on it–

    and *you*, whoever you are, come along–making my day brighter. *sarcasm*

  15. marginalizedmormon says:

    @series, I just realized that it really bothers you that someone would call him/herself ‘marginalized’–

    why?

    Do you believe that nobody is ever marginalized?

    Why, oh, WHY, do I come back to this blog?

    I know why, but I can’t tell anyone on here–

    and I need just to stop–

    a series of tubes (sp?) will miss out on a chance to persecute a little, though–

    but maybe that’s a good thing; maybe I’m a stumblingblock for it’s a series of tubes–

    and he or she can live a more righteous life, if I’m not around–

    speaking up–

  16. it's a series of tubes says:

    Meldrum:

    It is a huge mistake to organize many wards in an area each with only single digit number of youth.

    I agree, wholeheartedly. Critical mass is important here.

    Are we that co-dependent and dysfunctional, that 400 of us invariably runs a bishopric ragged

    It only takes a few people to run a bishopric ragged, depending on how problematic they are :) As to the question of size: yes, it is difficult to ADminister a ward with many hundreds of people. Just my .02, given my perspective of having been, over the last 10 years: exec sec, finance clerk, ward clerk, and counselor in a bishopric. Your ward mileage may vary (YWMMV).

    MM:

    You have NO idea what my story is.

    Agreed – and I don’t need to. When you post things like “our wealthy people are, generally, very TBM, though they like to think they are sophisticated”, they speak for themselves. When we seek charity / Christlike treatment from others, we would do well to extend it to them in turn (and I recognize that I regularly fall short in implementing this principle myself).

    I wish you all the best. At the same time, I wish your ward members the best also.

  17. Good post. Interesting thoughts. Twice I have been in a ward that split, and both times found the smaller unit way more comfortable and enjoyable. I thought it was because I was able to find and connect with people my own age, with kids the age of my kids, and more things in common to have more fun. And I felt more needed, rather than the large wards with made up callings to try to include me when I knew the calling was a stretch.

    I would think commonalities would be more important the the 150 number, however, it did seem I wasn’t able to find people with commonalities when I was lost in the crowd of bigger wards. This post has made me think, maybe the number does impact whether I can find people to connect with. But I doubt it guarantees a connection…just provides the opportunity better perhaps.

    I think we can be influenced by and influencing to others when we feel comfortable with them. There are valid points about feeling inferior to others that limit influence, I think.

  18. Carmen Lopez: speechless

  19. Good post. It’s been a while since I can remember feeling like I fit in at church on Sunday–not that I feel ostracized by any means, just not surrounded by people I’d normally associate with if we didn’t happen to share the same religion and live near each other. Partially that’s due to my raging heterodoxy, and partially my own introvertedness, I think. I tend to consider the Mormon blogger community “my” ward, even though I really don’t really know many people in it very well either in real life. Simply being immersed on a loose community of people I perceive to be like me provides a greater sense of community than my actual wards usually do. Whether that’s a good thing or bad I’ll leave to others to decide :)

  20. Fascinating. Thanks for this new lens.

  21. We have moved more than 12 times in our marriage and as a kid I changed wards at least 3 times (one was a cross country move). My experience has included both coasts as well as Utah Valley (CA and PA, MD and UT). In all those moves, I’ve only had one ward where I felt that I didn’t “fit” in. Most of the women had not been to college and I felt we had almost nothing in common. They were super domestic and quite good at parenting. But most of them had grown up in the area, graduated from the local high school and just never left. I was a complete outsider. I went back and forth from being bored, lonely and feeling inadequate at my lack of homemaking skills. However, what I learned there has been true everywhere we have lived since. I realized that I needed to jump in and get invested. When I searched for a true friend, I found one. She was quite a bit older than me and was the Relief Society president. We almost never had occasion to talk, but one day, we ended up on a long drive together planning an activity. It was awesome. I soon made it a goal to serve people as much as I could. As I look for ways and people to serve, I forgot about my loneliness and boredom. Chamber orchestra and book group started happening. I taught voice lessons. Sure, it was hard, never easy. But, I began to truly love the people there. They were “salt of the earth.” When it was time to leave that ward, I was actually very sad.

    Since then, I have been in wards with more educated people and I have loved many aspects of those wards, but I have also been left out of “mean girl” cliques, etc. Nevertheless, there are two things I have come to realize: 1) Most EVERYONE feels left out and lonely, “marginalized” at some point in their lives in any ward. I think that is part of the human experience! And we need it to help us become more compassionate, etc. and 2) Our ward experience truly is what we make it. We can serve and “lose” ourselves or we can focus on our own needs and feel lost.

    I am not diminishing anyone’s real pain. This blog is a great place to share true feelings because it should be safe and a place for us all to learn and help each other. I am only sharing this to offer help to anyone really seeking it. For example, I am currently in a ward where I have struggled for a few years. But I am slowly remembering to apply my own advice. And it is slowly working. I am growing to love and feel loved. One step at a time! I think the current ward system is brilliant (geographical). I think it would be less meaningful to attend church with a bunch of people who were just like me in every way. I only want to be “one” with my ward in our hearts. And that can be achieved anywhere in my limited experience. And it can start with just one person. As the saying goes, “If both of us are exactly alike, one of us in unnecessary.”

    I am grateful there are so many of you out there who truly care about this subject! Best wishes to all as we truly “bring Zion” through our own actions/hearts.

  22. I wish this post could stay visible for long term discussion. I have been trying to figure out for some time why this ward/stake is so stagnant. I wanted to blame the cessation of the Activity Committee, or the Member (not)Cleaning the Building Program, or the Mormon Standard Time adherence or the auxiliary budgets so small one purchase would use the years allotment. Our ward based in a University town covers over 20 townships, youth in single digits who are each the only Mormon in their school.
    When I resumed activity about five years ago, I pleaded and sought from the Lord how to do this outside the formal church structure. An online ward sounded like what I wanted but I could not find such. I took it upon myself to not ignore those visiting or were shadows in the pews and had a fairly good response. I was hoping it would catch on, but I think there was a general relief that that role was being met. Our congregation is so small the the “Same Ten People” is down to five. The Bishop is carrying so much of the load on his shoulders, I think it is a matter of time before he caves too. The strategy of making casual members into High Councilmen hoping to cause them to grow, resulted in diluting the respect of the position instead.
    However, in Testimony Meeting I have heard the most touching and sincere feeling shared from the shyest. It is without doubt my favorite hour of the month. I would still be interested in the online ward thing though.

  23. Sorry, but you sound very picky. I think Jesus’ approach to our church attendance would revolve very little around how cool we thought our ward is, and very much about how we can bless whoever we end up with. Part of the genius of the church is that we don’t “choose” our ward, (beyond choosing where we live).

    That said, the first bits of the article were excellent, from a sociological standpoint, whether or not they apply to the church. Thanks.

  24. Thank you for your open discussion invitation. I feel like I am in Gospel Doctrine class already.

  25. I feel like I’m in Gospel Doctrine class too. Oh wait, I actually am in Gospel Doctrine class right now (Dangers of using the netbook for online scriptures…). Does that count as a substantive comment?

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