Are We Deliberately Inefficient?

So, I got a call the other day from a stake representative who wants to meet with me on Sunday, 15 minutes before meetings start (8:45 a.m. — groan…. ). I said to him, “why don’t you just tell me what’s going on now, so that we don’t both have spend the time at this meeting?”

His reply was unsurprising, but disappointing: “I think we’re supposed to meet in person for this kind of thing.” I shrugged and agreed to meet him.

WHY? I don’t think The Manual speaks to this point directly (though please correct me if I’m mistaken), but in any event I’m sure the rationale is that our communications mean more when done in person, or something similar. You know what would mean more to me? Fifteen more minutes of sleep on Sunday morning. Are we afraid that people will be offended by telephone or email communication? Is this some sort of anti-efficiency movement?

I see little tokens of inefficiency like this all over the church: insisting on meeting in person, guarding secrecy around callings for needless reasons, rearranging your stuff so that you can pass the sacrament with your right hand, etc., etc. It makes me wonder if we’re holding on to these cultural inefficiencies for some greater purpose, as if we were deliberately trying to slow down our relations with each other, and make Church a longer experience. I’m reminded of the famous story about why we have QWERTY keyboards, a sort of inefficient but necessary relic. Although that story has been largely debunked, I wonder what the obstacles are to having a more streamlined, efficient church administration. If God is directing this Church in its structure, are the inefficiencies deliberate?


  1. D., you’re right — I can see the need for a face-to-face when we’re dealing with something very, very serious. But that’s not what this is.

  2. Kristine says:

    D.–speaking in Latin makes EVERYTHING better. I’m considering requiring my children to fight in Latin when they get to be teenagers :)

  3. Face to fact meetings take a good deal more time for the leaders, who are the ones who have the least amount of time.

    The poster was right, however, when he said “It’s considered more respectful to tell someone something in person.” and much of what is going on is maintaining respect for those whom leaders are supposed to be serving.

    Not to mention, people turn down callings less often when asked in person and sometimes they just need to see you to make sure you really said yes.

    I’m still not sure the Bishopric really believes that I said yes to teaching the 4-5 year olds. But I had my oldest daughter’s class (right after Jessica died they called me to teach Heather’s class and it was an extremely good experience) and I’m very pleased to be teaching Rachel, who I think needs a parent teaching her class.

    The alternative would be to have her mom teach the class and to make me take over her class in Sunday School. I’d rather the four year olds, having taught both.

    BTW, formalism, in some cases, also serves to help everyone fit into place more comfortably.

  4. D. Fletcher says:

    Hey, Chad,

    How would you know the calling was true?




  5. Kristine says:

    I think it’s interesting how personality-driven this kind of bureaucratized formality is. Elder Packer clearly values formal protocols (at a recent conference he conducted in our old stake, he sent a big fat packet of material in advance, detailing exactly how he should be hosted in people’s homes, that he should be called either “President Packer” or “Sir”, etc.), as does Elder Oaks. I get the feeling that Elder Haight doesn’t bother too much about such things, and that President Hinckley is pretty willing to be flexible.

    Anyway, Steve, be sure and let us know what your new calling is so we can cybersustain you (not sure how that would work–tell you to quit blogging so much and do your church work?)

  6. I think part of the reason for face to face meetings is to get a better feel for what is going on and thus help inspiration. If anything, I think far too many Bishops don’t meet and get to know the people in their wards. So any opportunity to avoid that and get to know who is in the callings is good.

    On the other hand though there certainly are too many meetings far too often. Sometimes leaders are efficient in their meetings, more often than not they aren’t and meetings often involve too much chit chat, too little preparation and not enough “get on with it.” I also think that many leadership training meetings are little more than Sacrament Talks that happen to deal with the importance of leadership. With missionaries we at least try to teach skills and techniques. I think a little bit more of that would probably be useful.

    But then I’ve never been a Bishop or in a Stake Presidency. So perhaps things are different in practice. But that sure seems like my experience thus far…

  7. I’m to be the Stake Blogger. I will blog on behalf of our stake. Check it out: (no, it’s not a real link).

    I wonder if John’s right, that our inefficient formalities are the result of our efforts to add airs of authority to our acts in the Church. It sounds like a reasonable concept to me, albeit a bit disappointing when the formalities are silly. Then again, that type of formality and chain-of-command thinking is certainly doctrinally sound and all over the Church (the Temple certainly reinforces this way of thinking)

  8. Jennifer J says:

    I’m willing to bet that the value we place on face-to-face communication is a spillover from our anglo-protestant culture and not a mormon specific thing. It’s considered more respectful to tell someone something in person. It shows that you care enough to take the time to meet someone to discuss some matter. I think it’s the ease of efficiency that makes a non face to face encounter feel callous or unimportant. If a church leader wants a member to take a new calling seriously, isn’t it best to treat the matter as something important when offering it to the person, something important enough for the leader to take the time to meet with the callee. For those of us who have been in church all our lives for enough years to understand what the responsibility of calling means, this seems like a superfluous act. But to new members who may not yet appreciate what it means to have a calling, the face to face interview is probably essential. We have a really hard time getting new members to take their calling responsibilities seriously in our branch.

  9. If it makes you feel better, Steve, my wife was called to be Primary president over the phone a few months ago. Maybe it’s a some new pilot program.

  10. In my experience (second ward boundary shift in 9 months… why don’t they consider what this does to a Bishopric!) there are people who really want the full sit-down Cecil B. DeMille thing to happen when they get a calling. One sister complained to the Bishop that we discussed her new calling in privately in the hall instead of finding an empty room somewhere and having prayer together first. Yeah, YOU go find an empty room during the Sunday School hour…

    I think its one of those things that eventually feeds upon itself; that everyone deserves the full treatment a la Mrs. Nesbitt in the movie “Arthur.” Personally, the only calling I’d need the full treatment on is if I got called into the nursery. Then I want absolute proof that the calling was from the Lord! ;-)

  11. It does seem similar to the cyber-worship thread, but I’m actually talking about cultural quirks and inefficiencies rather than a new form of worship.

  12. Logan, that’s strange that your wife’s calling is the exact same as my new calling!

    Actually, it’s not quite the same. I’m the Manhattan 1st Ward Primary Latin Instructor. Apparently Kristine’s suggestions carry a lot of weight with the Brethren.

  13. Much as it may contribute to inefficiency, there are people who feel a lot more comfortable discussing things face-to-face — not necessarily only callings, but as a general principle.

    I imagine it has something to do with the fact that it’s a lot easier to gauge someone’s reaction to something when you’re actually talking to them. Whether you want to trade that for streamlined efficiency — well, that’s another matter.

  14. No, bleeding from gashes in your body is what comes *after* getting a nursery calling. I’d settle for a good bosom burning. ;-)

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    One of the things I’ve always valued in our Church is its lack of slickness. I think it makes many of the talks and lessons more sincere, and better communicated.

    But it’s a double-edged sword. Lack of slickness promotes lack of preparation, which in turn promotes guilt for same.

    It might be better actually, if we had to wear robes and speak Latin.

  16. D. Fletcher says:

    Perhaps the issue at hand is serious, and your leader doesn’t want to minimize it into “gossip” by doing it over the phone. It needs to be a face-to-face communication. I understand that, though I would like a little more sleep, too.

  17. Someday someone we know will have a calling extended to them by e-mail … if it hasn’t already happened.

  18. Steve,

    I’m wondering if your question ought to be whether we are needlessly inefficient. Since church and worship is, for us, such a communal enterprise I would think that inefficiencies are often chalked up to the warm fuzzies we get by interacting with one another. Of course your first example might be in a different category since you might see it as a purely administrative function that isn’t likely to end in a lovefest.

    Why are you so interested in this question? This looks like a weak version of your advocacy of cyber worship.

    On a different note, it seems that the church as administered from SLC is a pretty efficient organization. I know people who still view correlation as a tragedy, but it definitely made administration of an international church much easier.

  19. Steve, I think you’re onto something. I would argue the inefficiency comes partially from a talk given at BYU by Elder Packer called the “Unwritten Order of Things.” This was the talk that said we don’t sustain “Suzy” or “Bob,” but we sustain Susan and Robert. He also said we talk too much about the deceased at funerals and not enough about the Savior and Bishops and Stake Presidents need to maintain strict control over funeral services.

    In philosophy of religion, there’s an actual term for what Packer’s doing. I don’t know what it is (Dan Wotherspoon responded to the talk in a Sunstone session a while back – he’s an expert on this sort of thing) but it’s basically when you take stuff that doesn’t matter and try and make it sacred so you can be reaffirmed in your beliefs.

    Since Mormonism is the “one true Church”, there must be a “one true way” to do most everything. Members see the inefficient things (taking the sacrament with the right hand) as further evidence of the divinity of the Church.

  20. Tell you what… I’ll switch your 9:00-12:00 morning church schedule for our 3:00-6:00 afternoon church schedule.

  21. There’s a management saying: “Don’t hold a meeting if a memo will do; don’t write a memo if a phone call will do.” Seems like a lot of Church meetings could be downgraded to letters/memos or even phone calls. Of course, once that process starts it might be hard to contain.

  22. When you meet in person, both you and the stake official are in uniform (suit and tie, you maybe shirt and tie, or in California at least a button-up shirt). The appearance of inspiration is maintained if one is in Sunday attire. By phone, all bets are off. If you opened it up to “phone callings,” you could get this scenario:

    Stake Official (SO): Hello, Brother Jones?
    Brother Jones (BJ): Right here, SO (aside to waiter: “I’ll take ranch on the salad, please.”)
    SO: After hours of prayerful consideration (aside to wife at poolside: “I think you missed a spot with the tanning oil, dear”), we feel inspired to call you to be the Chief Stake Usher, BJ.
    BJ: Why, I’d be delighted (sound of munching).
    SO: Marvelous (big splash in background). Consider it done.

  23. Y’know, you can always say, “No, that’s not convenient for me. How about ________” (insert convenient time here).

    Back when I was a newlywed, and devout, I was stunned when DH told our new bishop that we wouldn’t be able to meet with him on a weeknight, but that Sunday would be fine. When I asked why (which he didn’t volunteer to the bishop) he said it was because the World Series was on.

    If you would rather sleep, just find another time. Just because people want to meet with you face to face doesn’t mean it has to be on their terms.

    I’m not just being contrary. I’m not saying refuse the meeting. But if it has to be a “meeting,” vs. a phone call or a memo/e-mail, then it should certainly be at a time that’s mutually convenient, not just convenient for the person who’s requesting it.

  24. thequeen says:

    you all have good points on being polite, making the call a formal issue, and the lack of efficiency when both parties understand the levity of the “call” or other communication. I am a president and yes, the Bishopric contact me via e-mail for information and calls instead of over the phone… so tada! it has happened. I think the HUGE difference or reason for this is the long term friendship I have with all 3 members of the B-ric, they are all very close friends and we all understand the seriousness of the business of the church, but all feel free enough with each other to allow this convenience to take place in regard to “us 4”. I do not believe other presidencies have this relaxed situation. I believe this is also due to a tremendous respect between “us 4” and therefore the e-mailings and relaxed atmosphere are still held to high standards and confidentiality.