Church-Hacker #14: Ender’s Game

Here’s a mischievous (but useful!) idea from our very own Norbert:

“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?


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


  1. this is awesome. this needs to go viral. the end.

  2. I’m more annoyed by speakers who feel what they have to say is more important than the scheduled break at 5 after the hour.

    I’d prefer that the bishopric member rise at 5 after and body slam the speaker into submission and then reverently close the meeting with a hymn and prayer.

  3. How does this work when all members of the congregation, before meetings began, conscientiously set their phones to vibrate?

    Oh, wait …

  4. My mom was the last speaker in sacrament meeting and was so nervously engrossed in following her notes, she didn’t realize she’d gone ten minutes over. In a ward that had afternoon church, with sacrament meeting was last. Her loving children waved to get her attention and pointed to the clock. This was back before cell phones could fit in your pocket, and a buzzing phone would have been less obvious, and less embarrassing for all of us. So for those who don’t realize they are going over, it’d be a nice reminder.

    For those that do realize it and don’t care, no buzzing phone is going to make a difference. At one minute over, I think the ward organist should just start playing the prelude to the closing hymn, giving the speaker a few seconds to wrap it up before the bishop turns off the mic.

  5. #4
    “At one minute over, I think the ward organist should just start playing the prelude to the closing hymn, giving the speaker a few seconds to wrap it up before the bishop turns off the mic”

    Jamie FTW

  6. Oo, I like Jamie’s suggestion. The music would resemble the wrap-up music you hear on the radio when the interviewer needs to end in time for news, etc.

  7. This reminds me of the times that LeGrand Richards would put his hand over the light on the pulpit in the Tabernacle when his time was up at General Conference. Rather than be upset that he was going over his time, I was amused at the efforts others on the stand took to try to rein him in.

    At least he was an entertaining speaker. We don’t have very many of those in my ward’s Sacrament meetings.

  8. Chris Gordon says:

    The rudeness towards the many outweighs the rudeness toward the few–or the one.

  9. Thank you for tackling the weightier issues, Chris Gordon.

  10. We have a ward member who tries calling the cell phones of the bishopric members every now and then to see if they have turned them off or not. But using this trick to get the long winded speaker to sit down is a great idea!

  11. Can we just call the speaker on HIS phone?

    I do feel sorry for concluding speakers who have their time completely used up by earlier speakers who don’t manage their own time limits — part of good Sacrament Meeting planning (though even the best laid plans of bishoprics….).

    I remember a stake PH meeting where I was speaking third from the end. One or two speakers before me took much longer than he should have. I cut my talk by two-thirds, and a counselor in the SP did the same so the president (who we would happily listen to for hours) could have his full time.

    I wouldn’t mind having “the light” come back to the pulpit.

  12. It is better that one speaker should perish, than that a whole congregation should dwindle and perish in overtime boredom.

  13. I think it is up to the bishopric to better enforce the timings of talks.
    Just a couple of weeks ago we had a meeting with only 2 speakers. 20 minutes each. When the first speaker was getting near 25 minutes I (hopefully quite discreetly) leaned forward and put a note on the top of their notes saying “You have 2 minutes left!” They still took 3 minutes to wrap it up, mind.

  14. I’m more annoyed by speakers who feel what they have to say is more important than the scheduled break at 5 after the hour.

    Most people just have difficulty timing a talk. They might even give it at home and not be aware that in public it typically takes longer. Throw in the fact that the concluding speaker doesn’t have a fixed time and have to adjust on the fly and it’s pretty difficult. What’s surprising to me isn’t people who go over but how few in practice actually do.

  15. #13 ldsbishop: Your comment reminded me of a sacrament meeting my freshman year at BYU. We were in one of the MARB classrooms for sacrament meeting, and the wards were stacked on top of one another like sardines. A middle speaker ran way over, and the concluding speaker had just a minute or two. The bishop let him start, and the speaker looked at the clock and said something about moving quickly.

    Not quickly enough, I guess. The bishop stood up and whispered in his ear that he needed to finish and sat down. The young man said, “Well, let me just finish with this one story…”

    The bishop stood again, put his arm around the young man’s shoulder and smiled. They young man said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen” and sat down.

    I felt sorry for the young man and the bishop; both were good natured about it, fortunately.

  16. Or to avoid this entire issue of timing, have every Sunday be Testimony Sunday.

    Then again, I’d much rather sit in a chair for an extra five-ten minutes than listen to another “my dad, my children’s grandfather, died…..(insert story of how he died)………(how mom feels about it)…..(I’ve fallen asleep somewhere before here)…..and he’s with Jesus, Amen.” story.

    Any chance this hack can be expanded to where all the cellphones go off? Is there an app for that?

  17. @Paul: the bishop should have just let him give his talk another week. What a waste to prepare a whole talk only to give 1 or 2 minutes of it. If somebody has done all that work, put them in a future slot and spare somebody else having to fill that slot–win-win.

    Plus where was this aggressive timing control on the middle speaker?

  18. I can’t remember if he got to speak again — I suspect he did. (I hope so, anyway.)

    As for middle speaker controls — I agree that’s important. When I was in a position to give talk assignments, I’d encourage a middle speaker to be done by a certain time to allow time fo the concluding speaker. It didn’t always work, but often did. Often people (especially nervous ones) don’t notice when they start, so they don’t really know how long they’ve been speaking.

  19. haha I love this… I’ll start with my Bishop’s cell next Sunday! :D

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Paul, that’s a great idea. Instead of just saying “You have ten minutes,” which a lot of middle speakers don’t seem to process correctly, tell them “You have ten minutes, which means you need to finish by 9:45.” Giving them a time makes it more concrete for them.

    If everyone has theire phones off, you might need to arrange for a coconspirator to keep his on for just this purpose.

  21. My favorite idea from this thread is to just have the organist start playing them off the stage like they do in the awards shows. Though that only works for the last speaker, and there really needs to be a solution to keep the upstream speakers from running over. So maybe a phone/organ hybrid strategy for middle/end speakers, respectively.

  22. “Or to avoid this entire issue of timing, have every Sunday be Testimony Sunday. (NewlyHousewife)”

    Pretty much all our meetings go over. It’s a surprise when they don’t, but what do you expect with a youth speaker, a high council speaker, and two additional adult speakers? (Or two youth speakers and two adults.)

    But fast and testimony meetings don’t seem like the solution. They can be some of the longest in our ward. I don’t know why people think it’s okay to come up to the stand at the time that has been stated as the end of the meeting. Is it a passive-aggressive thing? Have they been meaning to come up the whole meeting and couldn’t find the motivation until the meeting was ending? Do they perhaps think it will boost the stature of the meeting if so many people get up that the meeting can’t end on time? Evidence that it was a good meeting, or something?

    If that’s the case, it would be a funny way of looking at things, since I have rarely heard anything during the last painful 10 or 15 extra minutes that was worth the hassle to members of the congregation with small children and worth taking the time from the Sunday School teachers. Hopefully it is worth it to the people who get up and spend too long talking — hopefully it does something good for their spiritual welfare.

    And it’s probably a good thing that I was recently released as ward organist, or I’d be sorely tempted to try Jamie’s suggestion in comment 4.

  23. As bad as it is when meetings go over it has one benefit of classes for the young kids being shorter. Seriously while nearly an hour for a lesson is great for adults it can be trying for young kids.

  24. I do something equally as subversive. If it is 10 past the hour, I stop reminding my kids to be quiet.

  25. Stephanie FTW

  26. #20
    Just make sure that your friend’s ringtone is Nananana Nananana hey hey hey goodbye.

  27. They should put the speaker’s cell phone number in the program, right under their name.

  28. Chris Gordon says:

    @Kyle M, you’re welcome. :)

    I do think that there has to be a charitable way to handle this, which is why I really like Cynthia L’s take of inviting the poor speaker batting cleanup to speak another Sunday so as not to waste the preparation there.

    I’ve rarely come across bishoprics who really use the speaking assignment as a means to teach, instruct, and uplift ward members. (I did have a bishop tell me once that he wanted to make sure we told lots of stories because he personally gets bored with lots of scriptures and stuff, but that’ll be for another thread….)

    I’m sure even veteran/comfortable speakers could benefit from some coaching, guidance, and encouragement, even if it’s just insight as to why the topic was chosen, who else is speaking, etc.

    Even just preparing the speaker ahead of time for some method of letting him or her know about time and making it a custom for ANY speaker would reduce the awkwardness some.

  29. wreddyornot says:

    Speakers know the dynamics of the meeting and should plan accordingly, no matter what/who comes before them. The Spirit is the best alarm made. Charity includes taking only an alloted, preplanned time. The ending time should be kept. This past week a professional (seminary/institute teacher) spoke last in our ward and had plenty of time. At a couple of minutes past the hour when the meeting should have ended, he annouced he had just five or six more points to make. I told my daughter we were leaving and stood up and left. It worked better than me bothering others who wanted to stay and listen with a phone call. I’m capable of humming my own hymn and saying my own closing prayer.

  30. For the bishopric members reading, here is the proper way to conclude a testimony meeting. When there is time for one more testimony, stand up, take the pulpit and say, “Thanks for everyone who participated. We have time for only one more testimony, so we’ll hear from Susie Johnson [or whoever was moving to the pulpit when you raced her there], and then we’ll sing hymn number 385, and have a closing prayer by Steve West. I’m afraid we don’t have time today to hear from everyone else on the stand, but we look forward to your testimonies at our next meeting.” Then turn to Susie and whisper, “You’ve got 3 minutes, bitch.”

  31. Chris Gordon says:

    I’d love to hear hymn number 385.

  32. Hymn number 385 is a personal favorite of mine, too, Chris.

  33. StillConfused says:

    Can this also be used for the last meeting of the day? I have one RS teacher who always goes over. Not sure why. She just always does. All of the primary kids are outside the door screaming for their mommies etc. I personally excuse myself and leave but the mommies never do. It is quite a ruckus.

  34. If you think hymn number 385 is good, you should see Susie Johnson.

  35. When sacrament meeting is last (as it is in Zion wards), it’s a whole different ballgame. When the time has expired, people just get up and leave. Problem solved.

  36. Yet Another John says:

    What about a blog post and comments that go on too long? I know I can just get up and walk away, but somehow I feel guilty if I do so, just like in church.

  37. In the ideal situation everybody have their phones on silent. Assuming this is the case one have to listen the ring tone of ones own phone and pretend someone is calling to it. That’s how one can pick the tone, too.

  38. Which hymn number 385 though? There are several options.

  39. Exceeding your assigned time limit is certainly inconsiderate of other speakers and possibly the congregation if going past the meeting block. We regularly pass a note to the speaker when they are over by 2 minutes. We simply say, “Please conclude your remarks”. We also do this on Fast & Testimony meetings when someone locks themselves into the pulpit and proceeds to give an uninvited 10 minute talk.

    I love the cell phone ideas. I wonder if anyone would notice the bishop dialing?

  40. No need for the bishop to do it: he can assign his executive secretary to do it.

  41. Butch Bowman says:

    I think it’s sad that only one of 40 posts mentions the Spirit. Certainly, the Holy Spirit should dictate how a meeting is run, and the Bishop/presiding authority should be in tune enough with that Spirit to make sure it is run well. When all we can talk about in a thread like this is how tiresome, boring, and painful our meetings are, it should tip us off to the fact that something is wrong. If our meetings were truly Spirit-filled, maybe we wouldn’t be so anxious for them to end. What happened to the zealous spiritual spark that led our people to sit for hours packed in narrow pews in the feezing cold to worship, sing, preach, and prophesy?

  42. Butch, You may not know this but back in the day people didn’t have anything else to do on Sundays but go to church–and with travel time church really was scheduled as an ALL DAY event. Meeting were also held at someone’s house during winter, though I suspect that for some weeks families were instructed to worship amongst themselves during times when it would be unfeasible to travel.

  43. Butch Bowman says:

    Newly: Sorry, but your patronizing comment simply makes no sense to me. Nor does it even address the point I was trying to make. In fact, your comment reinforces my point. Somehow, I just don’t see Brother Brigham speed dialing Brother Hyrum in order to interrupt Sidney Rigdon’s sermon. It’s just sad. This whole thread is sad.

  44. You asked “What happened to the zealous spiritual spark that led our people to sit for hours packed in narrow pews in the feezing cold to worship, sing, preach, and prophesy?”, I gave you an answer–1) Church was already scheduled to be an all day event so the audience was prepared, 2) If it were freezing cold outside chances are it was held at someones house barring any request to worship among your family to avoid travel dangers.

  45. 41/43: Yes, it’s sad. But given that we now have 3 hour blocks, with many who have prepared well for their assignments in the second hour, and multiple wards in a building so that respecting the time limits established, then we don’t have meeting structures that support a long discourse from the prophet.

    That said, if a general authority came to my ward to speak, I’d happily listen to him for hours. But just ten days ago, a member of the general YW presidency was in my ward and was invited to speak. And she made sure the meeting ended on time.

    I think it’s a mistake to assume that we ignore the spirit because we want to adhere to the schedule. And it’s a mistake to assume those leading the meeting were not inspired to assign the speakers and topics they did. And maybe even the speakers were inspired in their preparations.

    I remember hearing an apochryphal story when members of the general authorities were asked to submit their talks early for easier translation. One reportedly lamented that he prefered to speak by the spirit. His presiding leader recommended he invoke the spirit earlier in his preparation instead.

  46. One of the best lessons I ever learned was when the teacher improvement instructor told us that one key to teaching effectively is to not exceed the time allotted.

  47. StillConfused says:

    Not all general authorities are good speakers…. just saying

  48. But all GAs pretty much adhere to the time allowed. You never see general conference go overtime. Only sacrament meetings where the speakers aren’s as disciplined and considerate as the GAs are.

    John K. Carmack gave a talk in my mission and said that going over your time limit when you are a speaker is one of the most inconsiderate things you can do. I don’t think you can have the spirit when you are being rude to the entire congregation and failing to follow the guidance of the person called by God to preside over the meeting.

    Does that answer your question Butch?

  49. Butch Bowman says:

    I apologize for being abrasive, Newly. Darn, I always get myself in trouble on these things.

    I actually agree that sticking to the schedule is important, in general and relatively speaking. My concern and comment were more having to do with the attitude I was perceiving in the comments in this thread. It seems everyone’s primary concern is “getting through” the meeting, so it can be over. Many people referred to the “painfulness” of the meeting, or at least of certain common situations. I think the early saints had long meetings, not because they had nothing better to do, but because they enjoyed them. And so they planned longer meetings. Of course, today we have lots of restless children, and their needs have to be taken into account. But, when did sacrament meeting stop being a joyful, fervent worship and start being an arduous chore?

    Now many people are probably going to respond and say how much they love sacrament meeting. Certainly I appreciate that. I love sacrament meeting myself. I love attending with my wife and children and helping my children learn how to sing the hymns and listen to and get something out of the talks. I love the symbolism of the sacrament ordinance.

    It just seems to me that calling someone’s cell phone during the meeting in order to create a disturbance (even though the meeting is running over time) is grossly inappropriate. It seems to me to be taking lightly something that should be sacred. And it seems to me very sad that a discussion of this topic should elicit so much moaning and complaining.

  50. When I’m the last speaker I always say that I serve ravioli at home by 12:30pm so the Spirit is literally gone by 12:00 noon.

  51. Jim Donaldson says:

    We used to have a stake president who, when he conducted stake conference, would announce the speaker and the speaker’s time limit, to wit: “We will next hear from Brother Blowhard. He will address us for 12 minutes.” And if Brother Blowhard wasn’t finished in his 12 minutes, the SP would stand and lay an arm around him and whisper [something]. Whatever it was, it worked every time. It didn’t take many overages before the culture developed to time your talk carefully, or sit down when the time had passed, finished or not. Although the stake president continued to announce every speaker’s time limit, he rarely had to do more.

    It was all kind of entertaining, really.

  52. Chris Gordon says:

    I’ve got a take on the Spirit and punctuality and an anecdote: part of the challenge is that leaders themselves often seem at a loss as to how to appropriately handle the situation. Part of following the Spirit and being sensitive to it is knowing what types of things it could communicate to us, sort of in the same way that we should pray for things that He is already willing to give us and not just random wishes or desires. The posit, then, is that the Spirit could in fact prompt a leader to make a correction or find a way to keep the speakers on task and within polite, proper, orderly, correlated (just thought I’d sneak that in there) bounds. :)

    Anecdote re: General Conference. I sad on the “sideline” more or less oof the conference center for a priesthood session once. Had a clear line of sight to one of the “on deck” chairs for speakers or those who are to pray wait their turn. Also had a clear line of sight to Elder Packer. Saw him lean over to get to the attention of the on deck pray-or, hold his thumb close to his forefinger, and mouth the words “short prayer!”

    Love it.

  53. GST – Your comment cracked me up. Very funny!

  54. I’m guessing this thread is tongue in cheek. Otherwise, I agree with Butch. I can’t believe we have become so obsessed with the clock. That kind of obsession is usually lampooned here, in favor of the spirit. That said, speakers should generally watch their assigned times, and GST is funny.

  55. Oh, and check the sidebar for The Equinox And The Tyranny Of Modern Time.

    What would Abraham do?

  56. “And it seems to me very sad that a discussion of this topic should elicit so much moaning and complaining.” (Butch) “I can’t believe we have become so obsessed with the clock.” (Clair)

    Oh, but you’re missing the point that people who make comments on discussions such as these are most likely idealists, and spend their lives comparing the world as it is to how it could be. If the majority of speakers in sacrament meeting actually (a) made a habit of making their talks organized and to the point, (b) made them personal to themselves and to the congregation (about the gospel, not about TMI stuff like in the other discussion right now on BCC), (c) told appropriate personal stories that illustrated gospel principles, and (d) wrote their talks with sections marked that could be left out if time is short, I doubt we’d be glancing at the clock.

    But even more important than some basic principles of public speaking is a principle that Jacob mentioned: “Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord.” How many speakers go first and obtain their errand from the Lord? It involves time and work and lots of prayer, but if speakers remembered to do this and remembered basic principles of public speaking and if the people coming to the meetings came in a spirit of prayer and thanksgiving or supplication, we would have more powerful preaching and testimonies of the Savior and less time sitting in meetings wondering when the boredom would end.

  57. Researcher, with such unorganized, self-centered, lazy, ungrateful fellow saints, what good is it for the sacrament meeting to end and an equally bad Sunday School lesson to begin?

  58. Hey, they aren’t ALL bad …

    /s/ Sunday School Teacher

  59. This problem really is one that is caused by both speakers who don’t follow their designated time, and bishoprics that don’t hold them to it, particularly the “middle speakers.”

    I remember a ward I served in on my mission where the final speaker stood up with 4 minutes left in the meeting. He began his talk by saying, “Bishop Smith asked me to speak for 15 minutes, and I intend to do just that.” You could see the look of shock on the Bishop’s face, but he never stood and told this speaker to sit down early. We just ended late that day.

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