What if They’d Had Facebook in Kirtland?

Church history would be so much easier to understand if we had a social media record to look back on…

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Church-Hacker #13: Programmatic Change

This week’s geektastic Church-Hacker was submitted by Starfoxy:

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.

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Mormons are Taking Over the Internet!

The Washington Post has an interesting article about the church’s success with search-engine optimization, PR, and “controlling its image” online. There’s plenty of hyperbole in the article (have we really “infused SEO into [our] culture?” C’mon), some sloppy sourcing (of course a Protestant digital strategist says Mormons are taking over the web), and a misuse of the word “bloggernacle.”

But there were also some nuggets we can learn from, and plenty we should be discussing.

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Church-Hacker #12: Freedom of Speeches

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?
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Church-Hacker #11: Isn’t It About…Time?

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.

____________

Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (The church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

Church-Hacker #10: Church in Reverse

BCC reader Katie W. says we should go to church backwards. What the what?

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...]

Church-Hacker #9: For Type-A Teachers

When I taught Gospel Doctrine, I completely gave up hope that any class members would ever read the material ahead of time. BCC regular Chris Gordon says there’s another way:

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,
Teacher

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?

____________

Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (the church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

Church-Hacker #8: Take It Outside

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.

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Church-Hacker #7: The End Time

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.

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Church-Hacker #6: Make ‘Em Pray

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.

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Church-Hacker #5: Missionary Moment 2.0

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.

Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (the church-hacking guidelines are here)

Our Week in the Media: Small Stuff and Big Stuff

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:

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Church-Hacker #4: The Fifth-Sunday Swap

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.

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Church-Hacker #3: Speaker Upgrade

This week’s Church-Hacker idea comes from BCC reader Gdub:

This is something that a former bishop of mine did, which greatly improved the quality of speakers in our ward. [Read more...]

Church-Hacker #2: The Romper Room

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.

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Church-Hacker #1: The Guest Professional

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.

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Theft at Church

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.

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Brandon Davies, Twitter, & Whaaaa?

Seriously: for the past two days, brandon davies has been a trending topic on Twitter. That means, in the entire worldwide Twittersphere, with violent upheavals in the Middle East, a new iPad announced, and Charlie Sheen redefining “radical,” Brandon Davies is one of the top 10 topics on Twitter.[1]

This follows the ESPN story divulging Davies’ Honor Code violation: he had sex with his girlfriend. The chatter on Twitter is deafening and polarized, with SocialMention.com reporting that he’s getting tweeted about every 7 seconds. From what I can tell, half of the tweets are “Good for BYU,” and the other half are “Whaaaaa????”
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Technology, Humanity, and Jeopardy

The inevitable future, as depicted by Matsby

All the hubbub around IBM’s new Jeopardy champ has stirred up talk in pop-futurist circles of the coming Singularity—the idea that one day humankind will create a machine that is intelligent enough to build an improved version of itself, which will then replicate and improve itself in the next generation, and so on until eventually humans are rendered obsolete.

Another vision of the Singularity is that human consciousness will somehow be “loaded” onto machines, freeing us from the bonds of biology and anatomy.

Both are fun theories to think about, and form the basis of lots and lots of bad sci-fi stories and a few good ones.

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On Time for Priesthood Meeting

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...]

Where Are the Great Mormon Artists?

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...]

The Perfect Diet for Mormons

Recurring Guest and BCC Man-Crush Kyle M returns with honor.

I haven’t had a carb in over a week now, and you know, it hasn’t been that bad. December might be the perfect month for Atkins or South Beach Diet, because I’m literally surrounded by carbs and sugar for a whole month—sugar cookies, candy canes, hot chocolate, seasonal peppermint ice cream (the best kind). If I can forgo all the carb temptations of December, that’s like skipping carbs for two regular months, and as a reward to myself, I won’t set New Years resolutions.
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Satan and I Have the Same Job

I made a career jump about four months ago, switching from the publishing world to the “dark side”—advertising. Despite the fact that my paycheck has always been furnished by ad dollars, part of me has felt all along that advertising is the main culprit behind the materialism, financial indiscretion, and covetousness we see so much of in our culture.

I felt good about making the career change though; it was a friend and member of my bishopric that recruited me for a job at his agency, and I’m working with a client whose products and services I genuinely believe in. So while I don’t take much pride in telling people I’m in advertising, at least I can sleep at night. (You lawyers know what I’m talking about, right? Right?)

I’ve been pondering on one of the stories from last week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson (the one Steve blogged about), and it’s made me think even more critically of my newly adopted industry. The lesson dealt with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and their first confrontation with Satan.

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Elder Scott Hits Me a Week Later

BCC friend and guest-blogger-at-large Kyle M returns with a post that reads like a journal entry from EFY. Enjoy!

Man, the Spirit always speaks to me when I least expect it. I was sitting in Elders’ Quorum on Sunday, just like I do every Sunday, and a member of the EQ presidency was in charge of the lesson, just like on most Sundays. The quorum was split into small groups, and we were discussing different conference talks, with the expectation that each group would later give a synopsis to the whole quorum. [Read more...]

Brand Management vs. Member Missionaries

Kyle M is a Senior Editor at PC Magazine and bassist for the band Mere, returns for another guest post here at BCC (previous posts here and here).

I participated in an interesting focus-group discussion this evening that I would like to continue with all you brilliant BCC readers. A young man from some Church research department was flown to New York City to talk to members here about how the Church is perceived in the local community, and how the Church can better get its message out.
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Did John the Revelator See My iPhone?

Kyle M, is a Senior Editor at PC Magazine and bassist for the band Mere, returns for another guest post here at BCC (previous post here).

Happy iPhone Launch Day, everyone! Hopefully it’s a day of jubilation and good tidings of great joy from Cupertino. Maybe Apple will add video-recording abilities, and perhaps a compass function, along with the cool iPhone 3.0 software.

Or course, this is not the forum for that kind of speculation—this is the forum for a different kind of speculation: Is the iPhone foretold of in the scriptures?
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The Faith-Building Power of Cognitive Dissonance

Kyle M is a Senior Editor at PC Magazine and bassist for the band Mere, which you’ve probably heard in a cheesy commercial on TV that plays during all the Jazz games. In his free time, he likes to break expensive tech gadgets, watch arty movies that his wife sneaks to the top of their Netflix queue, and Twitter his brains out. Welcome Kyle M!

I’ve been playing the Mormon apologist a lot lately in casual and not-so-casual conversations with friends and coworkers (Thanks Prop 8! Thanks Big Love!), and inevitably, they get around to asking a question for which I have no answer except to shrug my shoulders. And yet it’s not a defeated shrug. Sometimes shrugs can be a sign of faith, right?
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