What a wild year it’s been. Never has Mormonism been so culturally relevant, and never has the undulating curve of popular opinion shifted so wildly, so quickly. As the year draws to a close, I think we’re safe in naming 2011 “The Year of the Mormon.” The BCC permas have picked out a few reasons why:
We tried this on a 5th Sunday in EQ last year and I thought it went well. Our bishop at the time wasn’t a big fan of ward-level 5th Sunday meetings, so we often had to improvise. One 5th Sunday we brought in an iPod playing hymns softly and spent the time in quiet devotional. It was a reminder to find quiet times of contemplation, reading, studying, and prayer.The only thing that derailed it a bit was my forgetting to exclude MoTab’s latest rendition of “Amazing Grace”–complete with bagpipe accompaniment–from the playlist. (Scottish reverence isn’t.) Fortunately, we were all reminded that the Spirit is not, in fact, a rodent to be scared off at the slightest disruption, so no harm done.
In our ward council last month, the ward mission leader gave a short address on the importance of setting achievable goals. He’s new in the calling and in the ward, and because our ward doesn’t baptize much, momentum is somewhat against him.
As a first step toward reversing this, he assigned us to go to our quorums and auxiliaries and set specific goals for each group, which he can then collate into an all-up ward missionary goal for 2012.
The key to baptisms, he told us, is to set achievable goals and work toward them with faith. It’s a quantitative message which I’ve heard in countless missionary-themed meetings, as I’m sure you have too.
I’ve generally rolled my eyes at such talk, but the way I think about goal-setting has changed significantly in the two years since I started working in the ad industry. You might not know it from watching TV commercials, but good ad agencies are experts at setting goals and measuring results.
BCC reader Joanne has an easy way to fill out too-short sacrament meetings (we’re assuming there is such a thing):
When the Sacrament Meeting talks finish unexpectedly early, why not fill the time with impromptu music instead of impromptu speaking? The person conducting Sacrament Meeting could invite all willing congregants to come forward and sing a hymn of their choosing as a group. Those folks would have one minute to quickly decide how to sing the hymn (1st verse unison, 2nd verse men, etc.).Another alternative would be for the bishopric and music chair to ask (in advance) a few versatile, confident musicians to prepare a few simple backup musical numbers for these situations.
Testimony meetings that are about anything but testimonies seem to be a common problem. In college, a few of us were very concerned about this after a particularly bad testimony meeting. My good friend had an idea he’d seen done in another ward–he suggested it to the bishopric, they implemented it, and it worked fabulously!It’s simply this: print a nice picture of Christ (here’s one that’s high-res enough for printing), and then beneath it, print these 3 steps in a very large, plain font:
- Tell us your name.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Tell us how you feel about the man in the red robe.Put it in a sheet protector, to keep it nice. Each fast Sunday, put it on the pulpit. The first time he does it, the conducting bishopric member could explain it, and it may even be appropriate to explain it each month, so people are aware it’s there when they come up.I love that the 3rd one doesn’t say “talk about Jesus” or something like that. It requires just that little bit of extra cognitive effort to make the association, and get’s them thinking a little more, rather than just skimming it and going ahead with what they planned to talk about.
“Today I caught a guy calling other member’s phones during sacrament meeting, at about 11:05. (We start at 10.) He said he always starts when a speaker has gone over and doesn’t look like he’s about to finish. He feels like the ringing phone triggers the speaker to wrap it up. I did not discourage him in this practice.”
It’s the ultimate church-hack, harnessing a wireless network to trigger on-site devices to trigger a reaction from the speaker. Brilliant!
And now, an ethical question: Is doing a service to the many (the congregation) justification for rudeness to the one (the speaker)? Is the one’s own rudeness sufficient to justify a retaliatory rudeness? And is rudeness an appropriate word when talking about efforts to end or prolong sacrament meeting?
I don’t know if it’s because of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, or because my part of the country just went through a freak earthquake and hurricane scare in the same week, or because I’ve been watching the market a bit too closely, but the idea of American decline has been on my mind recently.
An article in this week’s New Yorker says I’m not alone. “Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat,” by Adam Gopnik, is a jaunt through the long history of American “declinism” (new word?) and the popular literature of the declinist movement.
I haven’t yet read the books Gopnik examines except Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, but the article grabbed my attention by speaking to some current cultural memes:
- Is America going down?
- Is the Western World as a whole in decline?
- Is such a decline inevitable or can we slow/stop it?
- Why are we so obsessed with envisioning our own downfall?
Church history would be so much easier to understand if we had a social media record to look back on…
For awhile my husband was in charge of the program for our ward. I got bored one day and ran some calculations on how much the program was costing the ward yearly. For our ward it was costing about $240. With that I talked my husband into using a two-sided half-page format by ditching the cover image and most of the blank space on the back. (What really sold him on it was that using that format he could use the paper cutter in the library instead of sitting and folding nearly 100 programs in half).
The cost savings, efficiency and enviro-friendly aspects of it made me all warm and fuzzy. But, what we really needed, I thought, was to ditch printed programs altogether.
This week’s church-hack comes to us from Connie Chung:
When my old singles ward started letting speakers choose their own topic, the quality of talks went up. Sacrament meetings became an opportunity for ward members to speak about something they felt strongly about and could knowledgeably share.
When people couldn’t think of what to speak on, the executive secretary offered a topic or asked “What do you like about being a Mormon?” to get the juices flowing.
It’s also great because with the knowledge that you will inevitably be speaking, you can start working on a talk whenever inspiration strikes.
I can see this working in my ward, with only a couple exceptions (I’m one of them). How about in your ward? And what topic have you been waiting your whole life to give a talk about in Sacrament Meeting?
This week’s Church-Hacker is inspired by a comment left on a post I wrote a few months ago. Thanks Zefram!
The next time you’re assigned to give a Sacrament Meeting talk on “families,” with the Bishop’s permission, share a one-minute testimony on the value of family time and end the meeting 15 minutes early.
You’re only giving 15 minutes back, but I bet a sizable chunk of the congregation will think differently about that sabbath day with their families.
If nothing else, you’ll spend a week as the ward’s favorite speaker.
Several years ago our stake reversed the order of meetings. We now start with RS/PH, then Sunday School, and last is Sacrament Meeting. No class goes overtime when Sacrament meeting is the finale; it just doesn’t happen, it is too obvious that a teacher isn’t letting class out in a timely manner if the class members straggle into Sacrament meeting.
At first people were getting to RS/PH/Primary/YM/YW a little late, but when the leaders started on time, folks started getting the idea that their children would miss their assignments, and announcements would be made whether they were there or not. A miracle occurred as after a few months, people were getting there on time. Sacrament always starts on time and ends on time except for the rare occasions when we get out of Sacrament meeting 5 minutes EARLY. Families are not late for Sacrament meeting or trailing in from the parking lot. [Read more…]
I had a teacher once who, you know, actually did something other than beg to try to help his class read ahead and participate in the discussion. Nearly every week around mid-week I’d get an email like this:
Dear Gospel Doctrine Class,
For those of you who missed class on Sunday, we hope to see you soon. We had a great discussion on [insert lesson name with hyperlink to lesson and related scriptures], in which we focused primarily on x and y.
As a reminder, for Sunday we’ll be covering [lesson name with hyperlink]. I’d like to spend some time discussing a and b, but we’ll see where the discussion goes. Hope to see you there.
Have a great week,
It was never particularly long, worked great for when I was in toddler limbo, and was a great way for me to at least glance at the lesson ahead of time via hyperlink. I also understand that the teacher made it a point to include on the mailing list those whose callings keep them from attending Sunday School, to help them feel included.
Occasionally the teacher would also include links to talks or other resources related to the subject matter, probably depending on how much preparation had already been done by email time. The teacher would often also include attachments or links to resources and/or quotes used in lesson prep in lieu of or in addition to handouts. There are always the folks who don’t use email and I’m not sure what the teacher did to help them.
Love the idea. And if sending the email becomes a part of a teacher’s regular lesson prep, it might not even be that much of an extra burden. The only issue for me would be revealing my sources (I wouldn’t be able to crib quite so liberally from Feast Upon the Word Blog and Wikipedia anymore).
Teachers, would you be up for this level of engagement with your class members? And class members, would you care?
This week’s Church-Hacker is a celebration of summer by BCC perma Aaron R:
I love one of the stories Mark Richards recounts of a time when Eugene England was his Bishop. Bishop England ‘suggested we take the ward up Provo Canyon and hold our meeting in the Sundance amphitheater.’ Although some ward members were worried that ‘it was improper to hold sacrament meeting in the canyon… Bishop England responded that chapels are merely buildings for us to meet in and that the pioneers and other early Saints worshiped in Heavenly Father’s true chapel, nature.
This week’s Church-Hacker was submitted by BCC reader Raymond, and should immediately be instituted in every ward throughout the church.
Why is it acceptable to go over the allotted time in meetings, but taboo to end early? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
It kills me whenever I see a teacher nervously look at the clock wondering how to “fill” more time. Just stop. No one will complain if we finish early. Another recurring problem is teachers who can’t stop until they get through their material. We appreciate the effort you put into preparing your lesson, but we’d appreciate it even more if you stopped on time. I tune out the teacher as soon as it’s time to leave anyway.
A great discussion or lesson in priesthood meeting can be the highlight of my Sunday, but it’s tough to squeeze a great discussion into the small window that quorum teachers are allotted. Sometimes the teacher has as little as 15 minutes left by the time priesthood opening exercises are over. And yet the brief window doesn’t have to be a limitation—I can think of several ways we can use that 15-30 minutes to strengthen the quorum. Some of these ideas involve looking outside the classroom/lesson paradigm we’ve adopted for quorum meetings, but maybe that’s OK.
This week’s Church-Hacker idea comes from BCC’s own Kevin Barney:
My ward has a tradition that every Fast Sunday, the conducting bishopric member reads excerpts from letters sent home by the missionaries from our ward out serving in the field. This might not be practicable in a Utah ward with a dozen people serving, but we’ve never had more than three so it works for us. I love it. It helps us remain connected to our young people so far away, and when we hear the things they are going through it gives us a greater appreciation for their sacrifices. And this is far superior to some strained “missionary moment” in priesthood opening exercises.
Think this would work in your own ward? Already tried it? Let us know in the comments.
Talk about overexposure: Newsweek and BusinessWeek in the same week! Prevailing wisdom in media circles is that once the newsweeklies have picked up a trend, it has reached it apex—so I guess the church’s slide back into obscurity starts now. (Don’t worry, Russell!)
What’s striking to me has been the reaction to the different stories. From what I’ve seen in my own social circles on Facebook and elsewhere, we’re supposed to be mad at Newsweek and thrilled about the BusinessWeek article.
But that’s exactly backwards.
The reasons for the ire against Newsweek seem to revolve around the cover and a few snippets of text within the article. Let me briefly debunk two of the phrases I’ve noticed Mormons getting hung up on:
This week’s Church-Hacker idea comes from BCC reader Chris Gordon:
We make it a tradition on 5th Sundays to swap presidencies in Elders Quorum/Relief Society. The RS president comes to priesthood to teach and vice versa.
The focus is generally on something family-oriented, but it’s been fun and enlightening. The best, though, was in an early iteration when it was done in lieu of a first Sunday presidency message. The visiting rep from the RS wrapped up with 10 minutes to spare for testimony time. The class enjoyed 10 minutes of crickets chirping as the brethren stared blankly at this development.
Think your ward could benefit from this leadership swap? Already doing it? Enlighten us with a comment.
This is the second installment in our new series of tips and ideas for optimizing the three-hour block of Sunday meetings. The first installment (and the full explanation) is here.
There exists a state of limbo for children who are too young to attend nursery, but too old to sit quietly in the adult classes. These pre-nursery children and their parents are neither here nor there; they’re lost in the fog of the foyer, the parents chasing their toddlers around and sympathetically rolling their eyes at the other parents in a similar state.
I was recently one of those parents. Once Sacrament Meeting was over, if I wasn’t responsible for teaching a lesson, I had to decide between ducking in and out of class with my rambunctious daughter, roaming the halls with her, or just going home. Church was at 11, so most Sundays I headed home after Sacrament Meeting and put my kid down for her nap. And why not? I wasn’t going to be in a class anyway.
We’re running low on recurring series here at BCC (Scott B., I miss our Thursday Morning Quickies terribly), so I’m launching a new one. It’s called Church-Hacker—it’s basically Lifehacker, but for church. Each week, we’ll post an idea that you can try in your ward or calling to make the meeting block more engaging, more spiritual, or even more fun.
I stole today…during church…in the church building…in front of the young men I was about to teach a lesson to.
Our stake is collecting donations for a rummage sale/street fair that we do every year, and the donated stuff is sitting in the room where the young men meet for priesthood meeting.
Sitting right on top of the pile this morning was D. Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. I figured it was an odd choice for a donation, and an even odder thing for our stake to sell for 50 cents to some guy munching on a funnel cake.
So I’m sitting in a two-hour stake priesthood meeting, looking around the chapel, and trying to calculate the opportunity cost of such a meeting. [Read more…]
I participated in a BYU-Idaho student documentary about Mormon art (probably because I wrote a blog post agreeing with a Slate blog post about the lack of great Mormon artists). It’s well done and it’s embedded below the fold…give it a view and a good rating.
The documentary starts with a famous quote from Orson F. Whitney, a leader in the church about a hundred years ago: “We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.”
The question the Slate article addresses and that I address during my comments in the video is simply “Where are they? Why hasn’t our culture produced them yet?” [Read more…]