Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Improving Our Sacrament Meetings

Several months ago our bishop started off a combined 5th Sunday (3rd hour) meeting showing a PowerPoint of data his counselor had crunched. Sacrament meeting attendance (along with home teaching and other statistics) has been trending down ever since our ward was created over a year ago.

The bishop, who isn't known for his sense of humor (or warmth, for that matter), asked: "What does this mean?" I quietly leaned towards my wife and jokingly said: "Time to fire the bishopric". Thankfully only the couple in front of me heard, and I'm glad they laughed because it truly was a joke--obviously it's not all the bishops fault. Yet at the same time, while sacrament meeting "worship" is largely a personal experience, I do feel more can be done to improve the quality of the group "worship" experience during our sacrament meetings (and consequently improve the attendance at those meetings).

The bishop then asked us all why we thought this downward trend was happening. A few answers were given, none of which seemed to resonate with anyone, including the bishop. He went on to speak about "rescuing" and how we need to "rescue" others so that they come to church--which struck me as the wrong answer simply because they're not falling overboard--they're jumping ship. People have come to expect lifeless and sub-par sacrament meetings and don't seem to miss much of a spiritual experience when they're not present. As the bishop continued, he mentioned that it's his responsibility to oversee gospel teaching in the ward, and I agreed and raised my hand. Here was my chance to say what I was thinking by piggybacking on his comment.  I said:

"I think you've hit the nail on the head with the importance of teaching. Too often we content ourselves with boring and lifeless meetings rather than fill them with meaning and making them truly edifying. I'm reminded of the quote by President Kimball where he said that "We often do vigorous enlistment work to get members to come to church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come".

I recited it by heart because I had just barely looked it up on my smart phone to make sure I got it right. But the full quote would have been great too:

"Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents, please take a particular interest in improving the quality of teaching in the Church. The Savior has told us to feed his sheep (see John 21:15-17). I fear that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or meeting, and they then return home having been largely uninformed [Elder Holland uses the word uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time when they may be entering a period of stress, temptation, or crisis. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous enlistment work to get members to come to church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come." ~ Spencer W. Kimball, "Ministering to the Needs of Members," Ensign, Nov 1980, 45.

In response to my comment, the ward clerk (who admits to being a grumpy kind of guy--"I don't smile") states from his seat up on the stand a familiar platitude, something like: "It's our fault if the meeting is boring, because it's an individual responsibility to get something out of the meeting".

I secretly roll my eyes and wait for him to finish before offering a rejoinder:  "I agree with you but only up to a point.  I do believe I have a personal responsibility to worship and get the most out of a meeting--yes. But if I were sick and go to a doctor, the doctor isn't going to tell me 'well, it's your responsibility to get well. Come on--what's wrong with you?!' There is a TWO way relationship and responsibility there. And sometimes I think the sentiment you expressed is used as a cop out to go ahead and be content with boring meetings."

Thankfully another sister, whose husband is not a member but attends sacrament meeting with her, spoke up and agreed with me (although she put things much nicer and far less bluntly)--mentioning that her husband can't possibly be expected to know how to "get something out" of a sub-par meeting by himself and feel the spirit on his own.

Apparently it took my speaking out to break the ice. A friend and former counselor in the pre-ward-split bishopric then spoke out and shared something with the large group he had shared with me before privately. "I personally feel, Bishop, that I'm getting that spiritual nourishment in our Sunday school class. [He's told this to my wife before too because she was the teacher of the class]. But I've been struggling with our sacrament meetings".

Felt good that I wasn't alone.  Another stalwart sister in the ward, who also happens to teach some popular institute classes in our stake, chimed in to say probably the one positive thing she could: "I do feel that this ward does an excellent job, better than any ward I've ever been a part of, of having a very reverent passing of the sacrament. It's always so quiet and reverent during that special time". (What she didn't say is that it often feels like a funeral the rest of the time.) But after the meeting she quickly came up to me, shook my hand, and simply said "THANK YOU". It felt good to have her validate my comment.

My point in sharing all this is that I sense there is much room for improvement in our sacrament meetings. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, for in that very discussion...well, out of the mouths of two or three witnesses.

And just this past Sunday during a dinner conversation with some new members in our ward, they began talking about the great Sunday School class they had attended, which up through that very day was taught by my wife (she was a magnificent gospel doctrine teacher for all the right reasons but after church on that particular Sunday accepted another calling), and how the atmosphere was exactly what teaching improvement coordinators had aspired to.  I decided to ask the question: "How can we get our sacrament meetings to be more like that?"

I was thrilled to hear this new ward member (who had served in a bishopric in Louisiana prior to moving to Texas) tell me that in his previous stake, the stake presidency and bishoprics had begun receiving training from their area presidency on how to improve the talks in sacrament meeting. Apparently they were using Gene R. Cook's excellent book/CD "Teaching by the Spirit" and focusing on changing the culture of sacrament meeting talks so that people more often share how a particular gospel principle has affected their life rather than just present some research compiled on the particular topic (and which is quite impersonal and boring).

I thought this sounded like a step in the right direction, and was glad that any area presidency would be trying to emphasize this important approach in the stakes and wards throughout the church. I'd like to know if that was just a local area emphasis or if it might also be receiving more widespread attention throughout the Church.  While it's a good start to emphasize this first to stake presidencies and bishoprics, I'm not quite clear on how bishoprics are to then transfer that perspective and train the members in the ward who'll be speaking.  Perhaps a sacrament meeting improvement class could serve a need similar to the "teaching improvement coordinator" concept of yesteryear. Whatever the case, I'm sure smart people can think of something. Obviously this isn't a "new" idea, but about now I'm open to ANY ideas and approaches that might make our meetings more edifying, nourishing, vibrant, and worthwhile--as they should be.


the narrator said...

This post reminds me of a post on the Church's media blog a while back, where they asked for opinions on the new Gospel Principles manual. While most complained about the stupidity and overall crappiness of the manual, a few jumped in saying that it was wonderful and criticizing anyone who would didn't like a book that had been approved by "The Brethren" (tm).

There is a certain mentality among many in the Church--an Orwellian brain-washing of sorts--that makes it so that no matter how sh***y a talk (especially from on of "The Brethren" (tm)), lesson, manual, video, or whatever may be, the person will respond to it with praise and amazement of how wonderful and spiritually edifying the piece of crap was.

In a similar discussion in Sunday School a year or so ago, I made the point that if the value and spiritual edification of a talk were really just up to the listener, then we should just do away with talks altogether and pass a stone around (no allusion to seerstones was intended) and just expect everyone to get the most out of it.

The sad thing is that I think a large percentage of Mormons, after passing the stone to the next person (Oh how Sunday School lessons feel like passing a kidney stone), would remark on how wonderfully edifying and spiritual the lesson was.

dltayman said...

Of note, Elder Ballard just came to our Stake, and said he'd been in several wards recently where he was pretty sure the Savior would have been quite displeased with the content and lack of preparation in their Sacrament Meetings. He sounded quite pissed, actually.

Ben said...

Excellent post. Often the issue for me is how to frame discontent in a productive constructive way, "lest [they] esteem [me] to be [an] enemy." If I can't do that, I keep it to myself.

Reminds me a bit of the comments about "unmotivated exposure" by Elder Hanks ( http://www.patheos.com/community/mormonportal/2011/01/17/quotes-of-note-marion-d-hanks-and-theological-illiterates/ )

BHodges said...

Good discussion.Blaming the victim is a sad but frequent strategy when crappy church meetings are discussed.

Papa D said...

I have said for a long time to a lot of people that the ONE thing we can do to affect church attendance more than any other is to understand and value the nature of our different meetings, especially Sacrament Meeting.

Until we make Sacrament Meeting a true WORSHIP service, until the local leadership stops treating it like another Sunday School class in the way they assign topics, this won't happen. In the wards I've attended where this has happened, the results have been flat-out amazing. Retention, reactivation and conversion ALL have increased - much more so than in wards I've attended where extensive time was spent crafting creative programs to rescue people.

aquinas said...

I really like this post. If anything, it shows that often what we really need is more honesty in our participation. All too often, we sugar-coat our true feelings and use softeners instead of being honest. This doesn't mean we have to be combative or abrasive, just honest. The more I have done this in my own lessons and as a participant in lessons, the more enjoyable my experience has been. I'm really glad you spoke up and said something. Change will never occur until individuals and organizations are honest with themselves.

Anonymous said...

A few suggestions for improvement:

* Ban the use of all Conference talks by anyone -- youth or otherwise.

* Have couples speak regularly -- including the long-timers -- and let them reintroduce themselves to the ward.

* Let speakers choose from a menu of topics, increasing the probability of something that the speaker actually cares about.

* Primary programs are always popular. How about a couple a year -- rather than one.

* Invite music groups from other denominations. Imagine a black Baptist choir . . .

* Revise the hymn book. Limit the number of hymns more than a century old to half the number.

* Ditch fast and testimony meeting and incorporate testimonies into regular meetings.

* Expand the use of musical instruments. Ever heard "Oh, My Father" on the guitar?

Anonymous said...

Papa D - how do you feel that the leadership could turn Sacrament meeting into a worship meeting?

Anonymous said...

In our ward a speaker is typically given only one week's notice. Quality does not come from desparation.

Kellie, said...

Last week was one the only sacrament meetings that I have been to in my ward that I was glad I didn't miss. As I read the list of ways to improve the meeting by anonymous I realized that the speakers did most of these. It was an older couple who spoke, they have been teaching the temple prep class for about five years and spoke about the temple. They only used one quote between the two of them from the talk they were asked to springboard from. They spoke about their experiences with the people they had taught and their own lives. I was glued to the speakers and couldn't believe it was time to go when they wrapped up. I wish more of our meetings could be like this. All I can say about most of the rest of the meetings is thank goodness for my nursery calling.

ji said...

It is sad to say, but I have been in a few (?) sacrament meetings where the name of Jesus Christ is mentioned only in the ordinance of the sacrament and at the end of the talks. Many of our talks are academic or didactic; few are worshipful or testimonial. We would do better with more worshipful and testimonial sacrament meeting talks.

I like all of the anonymous suggestions except regarding the old hymns -- I generally like the old hymns better than the new songs [I dislike some old hymns and like some newer songs, but generally I tend to favor the old hymns].

Michael said...

When we come to Sacrament meeting on Sunday morning we are there to worship our Lord and Saviour. But Mormons have a very limited perspective of worship. If you ask a life-long member what it means to worship the Redeemer, they will most often use the word service - to become like Him in serving others. In other words, to emulate his attributes and personality.

However, we don't approach such emulation from an individual focus. Instead, we place the attributes within the context of the ideal perfect family. We emphasize our roles as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons & daughters, husbands & wives. We rarely focus on the individual as an individual. We have become SO focused on family that it crowds out the individual. I have always had a hard time with this because our progression and judgement will be based upon personal initiative and personal emulation of Christ, not on the family collectively.

Additionally, there is another aspect to worship that is not embraced by Latter-day Saints, that is, adoration of our Lord. Worship can be defined as emulation AND adoration. Many other Christian denominations have a much more Christ-centered service which includes adoration and praise of the Lord from a communal standpoint. Latter-day Saints do not do this. If you have ever attended a Catholic mass or Evangelical service you would be able to see the difference quickly.

If we focused more on adoration during our Sunday services we would end up talking much more about Christ and his life. We would offer greater praise and more discussion on His role as Redeemer, Saviour, and Comforter. We would dissect his life, his teachings, his miracles and his godliness. We would make Him much more involved in our thoughts, prayers and utterances.

The emphasis we place solely on emulating personality attributes and on service create an impression of self-worship and make our services seem devoid of Christian adoration. This is why so many non-LDS have a hard time seeing Christ in the LDS Church. Instead, they see a focus on the role of prophet and on the ideal family instead. It is not easy to find discussion of the Atonement other than as an afterthought.

When was the last time we celebrated Holy Week or Easter Sunday in our Church to the same extent we celebrate General Conference?

Kurt said...

Great post! Very insightful and something that everyone (especially a bishopric) needs to hear.

It's tempting for a leader to look outside themselves when the ward is not having the success it should be.

Another anonymous said...

Anonymous said: "In our ward a speaker is typically given only one week's notice."

Only a week? That would be an extraordinary length of time in my ward.

I also want to hear from Papa D about how we could be more worshipful.

The main change I'd like to see is an updating of the music to something other than what was popular in the 19th century. Almost every non-LDS church I've been to (even ones that are quite traditional in many ways) has more uplifting music than we do. We need to get away from the idea that the only way to be reverent is to sing to the tunes of a monotonous organ.

I also think it would be a good idea, if the ward has someone with the right background, to call someone to the position of helping people learn how to give talks. Alternatively, invite the local Toastmasters club to put on a workshop during a fifth-Sunday meeting.

Every time a speaker gets up and starts out with something that gives the message of "I have nothing worthwhile to say," my reaction is "Why should I listen to you?"

Clean Cut said...

Excellent comments--thanks everyone. Feels good that you have my back. :)

Narrator--I'm with you. And I loved what you said about passing around a stone and trying to get the most out of it. It reminds me of the scripture that talks of being given stone for bread. Some of the stuff we're being fed just isn't that nourishing. And when we ARE given bread, too often it's stale.

dltayman--I'm so glad to hear about that experience with Elder Ballard and that he wasn't too happy about the status quo either! Thanks for sharing that.

Ben--you're absolutely right about walking a fine line in what you express publicly. I often remain silent, but some things are just worth speaking out about. It's a challenge though, to figure out the right way to express oneself. But you're right--there's too much "unmotivated exposure". This needs to change.

BHodges--you nailed it for what it is: blaming the victim.

Papa D--ditto. I have had amazing sacrament meeting experiences and many more less than stellar sacrament meetings experiences. Knowing that the "sweet" is possible makes it that much harder to accept the "bitter".

aquinas--thanks. You know I'm with you on the honesty thing.

Clean Cut said...

anonymous--great suggestions!

I'm too am not a fan of the recycled general conference talks. I'd like to hear more personal inspiration from my sacrament meeting speakers. Therefore, I LOVE the idea of using a menu of topic's to choose from. I know using menu's is the wave of the future in education and differentiated instruction, rather than using a "one size fits all" assignment. What a great suggestion. (Especially when some bishoprics continue to pick topics like "food storage" and "obedience" more often than they assign more meaningful and sacrament meeting appropriate topics like the "Atonement" or the "Grace of Jesus Christ"--or simply on "personally applying [some teaching of the Savior]".)

Menu's would allow people to excel and capitalize on their individuality rather than confine and conform. And I believe we REALLY need to take to heart Elder Wirthlin's counsel in "Concern for the One", where he says:

"Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole."

Let's unleash some of this in our sacrament meetings! The current climate is often too restrictive to allow for more some divergence in our worship. Especially if we take the quote literally and disallow some really appropriate instruments that are currently never seen in sacrament. I'd love to hear a guitar version of "There is a green hill far away" in sacrament meeting.

Papa D said...

About making Sacrament Meeting a worship service:

I am NOT suggesting that we Protestantize our SM in such a way that we focus on boisterous displays, "professional" sermons, or anything like that. My suggestions are much more fundamental than those things, in and of themselves.

1) Sing spirited music more often (as well as many of the wonderful hymns we have that are more muted and quasi-solemn). Invest in lessons for those who play the piano or organ, if necessary. (For example, I played "The Spirit of God" in a Priesthood Leadership meeting at full tempo and with volume contrast, and the Stake President told me it was great to sing it how it was meant to be sung.)

2) Assign topics that explicitly focus on God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ. They can be about Gospel principles, but they should be focused on "worship". Sunday School is about teaching; Sacrament Meeting is supposed to be about testifying, witnessing, sharing insight and experiences from real life, sharing of how struggles have lead to greater understanding, etc. Every single talk should be about drawing closer to God in some way.

3) STOP assigning talks that are better sutied for the second or third hour of church. That includes things like emergency preparedness, the Word of Wisdom, tithing and fast offerings, Home / Visiting Teaching, and SO many more. It's not like there is a shortage of topics that are God- Gospel centered.

4) Stop equating reference with silence. I'm not into "Hallelujah worship" and emotionalism for the sake of emotionalism, but total silence can be irreverent.

5) Focus MUCH more intently on teaching people how to speak in public. It is a skill that can be learned, at least to a degree, by everyone - and we shouldn't emulate the General Conference tele-prompter delivery in Sacrament Meeting.

6) Insist that if a GC talk is the focus of a SM talk, there are to be NO quotes from the GC talk used in the SM talk - or limit it to one quote of no more than one paragraph. I don't mind the concept of using a GC talk for inspiration, but . . . seriously, give an explicit limit to how much of it can be quoted - or even summarized.

7) Model testimony as testimony - and repeat every, single Fast Sunday the admonition to avoid long testimonies and what I call "mini-talks". Be explicit about avoiding travelogues, thankamonies, multiple stories, etc. - and don't be afraid privately to pull aside a member who says the same old same old every month and ask them to allow other members to use the time available. (Obviously, I wouldn't say it that way to the individual, but it can be done kindly and gently - and in a way that makes it acceptable to sincere people.)

8) Insist that the person presiding and starting the testimony time models what I just said. There's nothing worse than encouraging others to testify in that manner, then have the leader give a 5-10 minute talk that only inclues a testimony at the end.

There's more, but I would start with those things.

Clean Cut said...


EXCELLENT suggestions. Seriously. Amen, amen, and AMEN! (And I wouldn't have hesitated to say an amen out-loud if you had just said those from the pulpit). :)

Did I mention I completely agree with you? Thanks for putting those down on the record so they can be referred back to in the future.

Clean Cut said...

Papa D--when you complete your excellent sacrament meeting manifesto, please let me know so that I can nail it to my bishopric's office door.

Clean Cut said...

Kellie--I wish that were the norm rather than the exception!

ji--I hear you. It's also sometimes surprising to listen to how many testimonies shared during any given fast and testimony meeting mention "the Church" or "Joseph Smith" without even mentioning "Jesus Christ", except for when they close their testimony. That is sad.

Michael--excellent observations, as usual. I, for one, am open for change.


Thanks for the comments, everyone. Some REALLY good feedback here.

Remember that as we all seek to be leaven for improvement, we must be patient, but we need not be passive. As Richard Poll once said, our leaders are entitled to our support, sympathy, and our suggestions. :)

Richard Alger said...

Generally, I think there are good recommendations here.

There is part of me that does not feel comfortable with some emotionalism that I have seen in some other churches. Perhaps Mormons do not express adoration to God enough. I think that God is more pleased with the child that turns his heart and hands to Him more than the one gushing praises to Him while remaining in the path of sin. We need more of both. More praising of His grace and more following in His ways.

Thanks again. This is a very important topic. Let's invite all to Christ by having our meetings filled with the Spirit.

Papa D said...

I like Elder Bednar's wish that we have fewer "meetings" and more "revelatory experiences". That's a really good description of what I want.

Anonymous said...

A few other ideas:

* Place a picture of the Savior (ideally different ones for each building) in the chapel.

* 90% of our hymns are NOT funeral dirges. That means a great number of conductors and organists need a metronome.

* Have primary and sunday classes take a topic and have each classroom member provide a 30-60 second thought based on personal experience. A way to involve the youth in the meeting directly.

* Incorporate scripture and poetry reading every week. Possibly set to music.

* We desperately need to learn the hymns. When I was growing up, our ward would practice a hymn for 5-10 minutes after sacrament meeting before breaking. Was a great way to learn something new.

* Encourage the use of visual aides during talks.

Clean Cut said...

anonymous (wish you weren't anonymous), your suggestion to place a picture of the Savior in the chapel is one I've longed for as well. We must be on the same wave length there.

Our chapel has very bland (and boring) cinder block walls. The one redeeming feature in it is a nice pipe organ. But I sure wish there were some appropriate art of Jesus the Christ that could set a reverent tone for a more Christ-centered meeting/revelatory experience. I'm also jealous of older chapels that have windows up high, and especially old stain glass windows. These simple changes dramatically affect the atmosphere to create a more worshipful experience--and that's based on personal experience (ex: inside our temples celestial room). Why can't our chapels be more like that? They can still be multi-functional without being bland.

One more thing--I know most Mormons wouldn't go for it (at least yet), but I personally would welcome the simple and solemn symbol of the cross. After all, if the sacrament is to "shock us, to evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude", then this would be one more way to shock Mormons into remembering what sacrament is really supposed to be about--that "infinite and eternal sacrifice" (Alma 34:10). I guarantee that a physical reminder of the Atonement like that would prevent another sacrament meeting from ever again being focused on "emergency preparedness" or "the law of tithing".

Ideally: "contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering should shock us, humble us, and evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude." At least for me, adding that visual reminder to the sacrament setting would help accomplish that ideal.

Regardless, another quote from The Root of Christian Doctrine would fit well here:

"I will confess to you that I have participated in—indeed, I have taught—many lessons that, although interesting and motivational...had 'no life nor substance nor redemption in them' because they weren’t directly linked to the Atonement of Christ. That’s a serious criticism of much of what we do, and I believe it’s on the mark. I believe that one way...at getting the gospel down into our hearts and the hearts of those we love and serve is to focus all we do on the Atonement of Christ."

Our sacrament meetings can and must improve, and they must boldly change to become more like THAT.

ji said...

Our meetinghouse chapel has windows on all four sides -- wonderful! It's a log building.

Regarding music, I think part of the reason for quiet organ playing in many wards is the example of the tabernacle choir, but this is misplaced as an example -- when supporting a choir, the organ should be in the background -- but when leading a congregation, the organ should be leading. I love bold and expressive organ music. In my ward, we have several organists and all play with expression (me, too!). Many people who have visited the center place come back and make note of the quiet organ playing there. There is great power in congregational music -- and music properly done is worship, not a chore.

Clean Cut said...

"There is great power in congregational music -- and music properly done is worship, not a chore."


Music is a huge point. I'm a singer, but sometimes I just can't even bring myself to pretend that it's worthwhile to sing when a hymn is done excruciatingly slow. It actually has the reverse affect on me--distracts from the worship. Like you said, it becomes a chore rather than an opportunity to worship.

Before our ward split, we had the best organist I've ever witnessed in our ward. What a treat it was--made a HUGE difference. I always left after the closing hymn feeling energized! Now it's more like I'd rather be euthanized. End the misery! :)

Because it meant so much to me, I'm still bummed a year and a half later that he stayed in the old ward when our new one was created. Just hasn't been the same since--not even close. A couple sisters try hard (bless their hearts), and I really am grateful just to have the organ, but I wonder whether or not it would be better to simply not use the organ at all if a beginning organist can't keep up with the proper meter/speed on a particular hymn.

Tim said...

I'm not certain of this, but I think the reason why most organists play so slowly isn't lack of talent, but simply because they believe that the hymns should be played at a slow speed (despite what the hymnbook might say). The young organist in my last ward always played at the right speed; we recently moved, and the organist in our new ward plays way too slow. A couple of old ladies do the music, and I'm not sure how with it they are--one of our sacrament meeting hymns today is found twice in our hymnbook, once as a congregation hymn and once for men only. The organist played the men's version...
This new ward has three or four times the sacrament meeting attendance and a quarter of the musical talent of my last ward--and the meetings suffer because of it.

Could it be that your dropping numbers are a result of move-outs? My last ward was split right before I got there, and a huge percentage of the ward, including new move-ins, were quickly made ward leaders. Sacrament meeting attendance dropped 40% in about three years, mainly due to a lot of move-outs and very few move-ins. I think people were reluctant to move in because they knew they'd be asked to be the next EQ President, YW President, etc. within a few months, and they didn't want that responsibility. Instead, they moved to another part of the city where they could be a part of a larger ward. Thus, dropping numbers had nothing to do with the quality of church and everything to do with the fact that the ward was too small.

Clean Cut said...

"they believe that the hymns should be played at a slow speed (despite what the hymnbook might say)"

Maybe, or maybe they really do just need a metronome, like anonymous suggested. Perhaps they just don't know how fast the number posted in the hymnbook actually is. I have no clue if our buildings or ward libraries stock a metronome, but surely that's a little thing that would make a HUGE difference. I've been to funerals that are more lively than some of our sacrament meetings! (I'm just serious). :) Music, done right, really has power change that.

"Thus, dropping numbers had nothing to do with the quality of church and everything to do with the fact that the ward was too small."

That's an interesting thought. I'm not sure about the move-outs, but I do think there's something to the quality of church and the ward size right now. As to the probability of being called into a position of greater responsibility, I know that some people would welcome this while others would run from it.

In our ward, our new primary president was called into that position only about two weeks after moving here. Fortunately she's very good, and like our previous primary president, handles it with such grace--but you're right, others might be reluctant to be given such responsibility right away. (Hey, I'm reluctant to have heavy church responsibilities anytime!)

Lately I've wondered about the wisdom of the (seemingly current) fad to split wards once they start to get some size to them. I'm not sure I understand or agree with it. I understand that church leaders wouldn't want to be overburdened with too many numbers, but a small ward creates greater burdens on everybody else as well.

I know it's assumed that splitting a ward gives people opportunities to "step up" and "rise to the occasion" (one High Councilor told me that, at least). Whether or not some may or may not "rise" to the occasion, why make a change just to see "what if" when it can also make more people feel overburdened (and affect the quality of the church experience?) I don't know the reasons, and as far as I can tell, nobody who was in on the decision to split the ward have ever felt the need to share those reasons publicly.

In my experience, our ward splitting (whether or not it was necessary or appropriate is beside the question) has not improved the quality of the Sunday worship experience. Maybe it's just me--it seems I prefer larger wards (the more the merrier!)

TexasCrane said...

What a great discussion. One of the best comments here is the one noting that local leaders need to stop treating Sacrament Meeting like another Sunday School Class and treat it as a WORSHIP Service. Did you ever stand outside a Baptist Church on a Sunday morning? What do you hear? PRAISE! PRAISE! PRAISE! Not praise for the stone that just got passed around, but TRUE PRAISE for the SAVIOR. And, they shout, and sing that praise without inhibition. I just saw yesterday a program on the missionaries and saw how a group of LDS missionaries in Africa were singing "Called to Serve" and the chorister was not just waiving his arms .. . he was moving and swaying . . . and SHOWING praise. What a value music adds to the praise we should be showing in our worship. Engage the congregation in the worship ... not just lecture on a given topic.

TexasCrane said...

Regarding the Organ -- most organists are really pianists -- I know, that's me! BUT, if you take tips from that one grand organist you run across in your life, take the one I was given -- the organist, or accompanist, must play ahead of the congregation in order to keep them moving. The organist cannot wait for the congregation. That's what slows the whole thing down. If the organist can do that, no matter the meter, the hymn will have energy. Playing with the feeling that the hymn gives you as the organist is another thing. You don't necessarily need a metronome, if you play the hymn with the spirit it was intended to exhibit.

jamiegilson said...

Wow this was fabulous. I've been looking up how to give a good talk in Sacrament Meeting from a GC talk and came across your article cleancut. As always, excellent insight that I totally agree with. The article and comments have been amazing. I know exactly how to focus this talk now. Thank you all for the inspiration.

Clean Cut said...

Cheers, Jamie!

Amazon Mama said...

The comments about organists really bother me. You are obviously not organists yourselves, or you would understand how difficult it is to play the organ, especially at higher speeds. Stop judging the organist or learn to play yourselves!

Amazon Mama said...

The comments about organists really bother me. You are obviously not organists yourselves, or you would understand how difficult it is to play the organ, especially at higher speeds. Stop judging the organist or learn to play yourselves!

Tom Rockwood said...

Find 160 Christ centered sacrament meeting topics here