Recently the Manhattan stake where I live has undergone a surge of growth. In response to the influx of new members, new wards have been created, buildings have been erected, and there is every appearance that the stake will soon divide.
The surge of members in New York City is undoubtedly exciting. But these members are also shaping a Mormon community that looks scarcely like the one I grew up in. The majority of these members are, like me, young singles, newly weds, or parents of young children who come to the city to pursue school or professional goals. They are also unlikely to settle in NYC permanently. Even those who do stay in the city for several years often switch apartments frequently and thus migrate from one ward to another. If NYC wards are anything, they are resoundingly transitory phenomenons, with congregations whose faces change almost monthly as huge intern populations come and go.
It is a truly remarkable experience to be part of such a vital community that is home to so many intelligent, motivated members. But until I became a Young Women’s leader in one of the newly created wards, I did not notice that this growth has some decided downsides when in comes to nurturing today’s young adults.
Because the majority of the growth comes from a young, transitory population, the new wards that spring up have very few long-term residents in them. As wards divide, those few permanent families with young adults become spread through the wards so that each ward has extremely few young men and women. Consequently, it is very difficult to actually maintain functioning youth programs or even to fellowship the youth with other members. It is not uncommon for there to be just a single young women every Sunday, and it is also not uncommon for the youth leaders to constantly change.
Reflecting upon the fact that NYC’s wonderful growth is also inadvertently causing large problems for permanent residents and the youth, I wonder if it is not time to consider dividing wards with some attention to needs in addition to geography. Already, the church has singles wards – and people might certainly debate their usefulness – and perhaps we should also consider assigning families to wards in part based on their family’s status in places that face such rapid development. Perhaps, for example, families with youth could go to designated wards so that there are enough youth to run a steady program. In NYC, paying attention to facts other than geography when creating wards makes additional sense if the goal is to foster wards stable enough to function, because renters tend to move apartments, and hence wards, so frequently.
Although making geography only one consideration when assigning wards would undoubtedly have issues, perhaps it is time to consider some more innovative ways to draw our boundaries so as to promote communities where change rapidly occurs. Until then, however, we will just have to find ways to thrive within the current system.