Homework Assignment for this Sunday’s Testimony Meeting

AndrewMormon 25 Comments

Every now and then, you can find me sitting in testimony meeting with a note card on my lap and a pen in my hand, tallying the number of times that various phrases are repeated. I started doing this on my mission in a particular ward where Jesus’ name was notoriously absent from testimony meetings, with the exception of the standard closing line.

As I’ve continued this exercise on and off throughout the years, it’s been interesting to watch the trends. I’ve noticed testimony meetings can often develop themes, with one person’s testimony triggering a flood of thoughts and feelings that others in the congregation feel moved to express on the same topic. And of course, the handful of phrases that have more or less become the standardized, expected professions of belief in any testimony are always present as well.

But I’ve found over the years that despite occasional slight fluctuations, the ranking of phrases that get repeated the most often stays pretty much the same. I don’t want to spoil it for you, and I don’t want to bias the results, so I thought maybe we could all take a little homework assignment with us to testimony meeting this Sunday.

When the first person gets up to bear his or her testimony, take out your notecard and, on the left hand side of the card, briefly summarize each point the speaker makes. Then, as each succeeding speaker gets up at the podium, tally the number of times those points are repeated. If a speaker bears testimony on a point that is not already on the list, add it. By the end of the meeting, you’ll have a ranking of which elements of a testimony are expressed most often.  Then, come back on Sunday or Monday and post a comment on this thread to Return and Report your results.

One important thing to keep in mind is that you’re not tallying how many times people literally say exactly the same phrases (although that may occur), you’re looking for people expressing the same idea.  For example, if one person says: “Jesus is the Christ” and another says “Jesus is my Savior,” that’s basically the same idea, so on my notecard “Jesus is the Christ” would get two tally marks next to it.

Oh, and this is the most important part of the assignment: if you catch yourself feeling uninspired or frustrated by the results you’re compiling, get up to the podium yourself and bear testimony of what you feel most strongly about.

Okay, that’s it. Have a great weekend.

Class dismissed!

Comments 25

  1. “tallying the number of times that various phrases are repeated. ”

    Oh man, you know and I know that there are certain phrases that are constantly said. It is amazing how cliche some of these phrases have become.

  2. I always think this is a highly entertaining meeting. Both the expected redundancy and the inevitable “left field” content crack me up. But I’ve never thought of actually analyzing content in this way. I’m going to do it (as long as my wife lets me) 🙂

  3. Ann (2), Very funny! Actually, that’s another reason I do it; it makes me stay tuned to the meeting!

    I forgot to mention a funny anecdote. One Sunday there was one of those uncomfortable lulls in the testimony meeting where nobody was getting up. I looked across the aisle at an old friend who has never been baptized, but who attends every Sunday (his wife is a member). As I looked at him, I motioned up toward the podium with a sideways nod of my head, so as to suggest that he go up and bare his testimony. At the time, he had his cheek resting in the palm of his hand, and in response to my invitation for him to take the podium, he slowly cranked up the middle finger of the hand in which his cheek was resting. As I silently laughed, he whispered across the aisle to me: “Hey, write THAT down on your notecard!”

  4. Keeping score in testimony meeting? What’s next? You and your friends hold up cards after each testimony like Olympic figure skating judges?

    Imagine how outraged people around here would be if they learned that their Bishop or Stake President routinely did this.

  5. Another fun game: Make a bingo card and write down the names of the people who are going to give their testimony. The center square is free. You can also use something a bit generic like “7-year-old boy”. Do it with your family and see who wins. Barrels of fun.

  6. Once I kept track of the time each person spent giving their testimony. At the end of the meeting I plotted the results, which ended up being a normal distribution.

    That was in a student ward. I would think that the child testimonies would skew the distribution in a family ward.

  7. Thanks for the link to “Adventures in Arizona,” Ray. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. I added three posts at the end of that link. We live in a great ward so our testimony meetings are great. I travel extensively, and of all the wards I’ve visited, I’ve enjoyed Las Vegas wards the most. I would highly recommend them to anyone.

  8. It’s interesting to me that even though my faith in the theology has changed considerably over the years, I still can be defensive about how the church and it’s quirks and foibles are perceived. I know you’re supposed to be able to laugh at your self but I’ve never quite gotten used to being laughed at. Oh well.

  9. I just got back from church, and I am happy to report that of the roughly 12 people who bore their testimonies only 2 of them didn’t include Jesus directly – and that Jesus and the Atonement was the overwhelming winner in the tally.

    I really like this ward so far.

  10. Report from the Atlanta Ward:

    Savior/Atonement 6
    Book of Mormon 5
    Brothers & Sisters/All of you 5
    Joseph Smith 4
    Bishop/Bishopric 4
    Only True Church 3
    Blessed 2
    Trials 2
    Feeling Spirit 2
    Scriptures 2
    Family 2
    Weaknesses 2
    Temple 2
    Growing testimony 2
    Restoration 2
    Other sheep/Lamanites 2
    Folklore/Legend 2
    God loves us 1
    Adam & Eve 1
    Satan 1
    Humble 1
    Apply gospel 1
    Unnoticed service 1
    Family history 1
    Keeping commandments 1
    President Monson 1
    Plan of Salvation 1
    Prayer 1
    Going to Hell 1
    Hurting self/others 1
    Belief 1
    Gratitude 1
    Golden Rule 1
    Employment 1
    Conversion 1

    This was very enjoyable!

  11. Today’s testimony meeting was very uplifting and inspirational for me. (Maybe paying closer attention to the speakers has something to do with it?! :)) It another strong example to me of how I really get a “spiritual buzz” from being around folks with good hearts who are giving genuine expressions of their faith. It also drove home to me that although sociological experiments can and have been able to reveal a lot of interesting details that we might not have realized about ourselves, or that we might take for granted, there is still no scientific way of measuring and analyzing the spiritual experience each of us has when we participate in a testimony meeting, or other such meeting. So although an exercise like this can identify what convictions Mormons are most motivated to share with one another, it’s unfortunately incapable of conveying the spiritual impressions that both the speakers and listeners experienced when those convictions were shared.

    That said, back to the experiment of identifying what convictions Mormons are most motivated to share with one another, here’s the results from my ward’s testimony meeting today. I’ve attempted to group them into General Categories with related Sub-Categories to give you a better idea of the specific messages. Overall, today’s testimonies were highly individualized, meaning that few speakers repeated each other. I love those types of meetings because I feel like each speaker is providing a genuine glimpse into his or her soul. Anyway, without further ado, here are the results:

    We need to be kind/help each other: 2
    Jesus is Lord/Creator: 1
    Jesus is our Savior/Redeemer: 1
    Grateful for knowledge of the Atonement: 1
    Gospel is true: 1
    We need to have love/charity: 1
    We need to forget material pursuits and follow God: 1
    We need to forgive, and forget about those who have hurt us: 1
    We need to be kind at home to enjoy fruits of the Spirit in our lives: 1

    God answers prayers: 2
    God lives: 1
    God loves us: 1
    God works miracles: 1
    God intervenes in our lives: 1
    God is our father/we are children of God: 1
    God communicates with us through revelation: 1
    God has given her peace and comfort that she will be accepted if she dies: 1
    “God’s math is awesome.” Recent convert’s story about being greatly blessed financially after paying fast offerings: 1

    Thomas S. Monson is a prophet: 3
    Joseph Smith was a prophet: 2
    Grateful for members of ward: 2
    Church organization is here to help people: 1
    Revelation guides leaders of Church, both general and local: 1

    Grateful for temple: 1
    Family received great blessings after working at temple open-house and dedication: 1

  12. Here are my notes with subjects listed in the order they came up. For topics mentioned by more than one speaker, parenthetical numbers indicate the number of speakers out of ten who brought up each topic. This was a returned missionary’s first Sunday home, so several people brought up missionary work in their testimony, though oddly, not the missionary himself. Not all topics got equal weight in the testimonies. “The church is true,” for example was always mentioned without elaboration. Some other topics were discussed in detail in some testimonies.

    Savior’s blessings
    We should remember Jesus
    Sacrament prayers
    The Lord loves broken things (bread, hearts, ourselves)
    Savior lives and loves us (4)
    Family (4)
    How do we show love for Jesus?
    Jesus gave his life for us
    Holy Ghost
    Missionary work (3)
    The church is true (5)
    Jesus is our Savior (4)
    Four standard works
    Living prophet (5)
    Local leaders called of God
    Joseph Smith was a prophet (2)
    We need to become like Jesus
    Refiner’s fire
    Book of Mormon
    Temple (2)
    Family home evening
    Our country

  13. Reporting from Philly, here are mine in order of the speakers. Dashed line indicates a new topic from a new speaker:

    Atonement 2
    Plan of Salvation 2
    Living Prophet 1
    Modern Revelation 1
    Scriptures 1
    Temple 3
    Sealing/Eternal Families 10
    Persecution 1
    Walk with Jesus 1
    Fellowship 5
    Missionary Work 3
    “Sweet Spirit” 1
    Heavenly Father 3
    Personal Revelation 3
    Faith 2
    Baptism 1
    *Farewell to the Bishop 3
    Being an Example 1
    Youth 1
    Letting Go to God 1
    Utah 2
    Jesus Christ 4
    Children 1
    World-wide church 1
    Covenants 1
    Roles of Men/Women 1
    Becoming Christ-like 2
    Priesthood 1
    “True” 1
    Repentence 1

    * Our bishop is moving next week, so at least some of the testimonies included thanksgiving to the Bishop for his service.

  14. I also enjoyed F&T meeting today. I love hearing about spiritual experiences especially when they are highly personal. It makes me feel like I am receiving a piece of that person that is special and conveys meaning about their life.

    So now, reporting from Livermore, CA, this F&T meeting actually didn’t have much of a theme either. Or rather, it had several main themes. Recently the YW went to Girl’s Camp so that was a main theme (thankfulness for Girl’s Camp coupled with spiritual experiences from the same). Also we had a baby blessing today so approx. 3 testimonies revolved around motherhood and being thankful for children. The final, main-ish them was storytelling. I guess a few people have ended their summer with a vacation and did a sort of return and report with some stories from their vacations. Some of them were spiritual in nature, others I was like “okay, what does this have to do with anything.”

    Anyway, here goes:
    Jesus is Savior (Atonement) = 5
    Repentance = 2
    Bishopric Mtg (someone had a testimony of the importance of the meeting) = 1
    Heavenly Father, Christ live = 2
    We are here to be tested = 1
    We are all children of God = 2
    If we’re obedient we’ll return to live w/God = 2
    Blessed for going to seminary = 1
    Church is true = 9
    Scriptures are true = 2
    Heavenly Father always there to guide us = 1
    Gratitude = 14
    Story-mony = 2
    Missionary Work = 1
    Ward family = 1
    Priesthood Blessings = 2
    Joseph Smith is a prophet = 1
    Young Women Camp = 3
    Babies/Kids = 3

    I noticed that many people started out with what they were thankful for. I like this, even if it isn’t necessarily part of a “testimony.” Also, most people tend to include something about the church being true, but as has been pointed out there isn’t much elaboration. For the most part I would say people testify of experiences in their lives and what they’re grateful for rather than testifying of Jesus, God, the Church, Joseph Smith, etc. People seem to be more interested in how they are impacted personally by God, HG, living correct principles etc. rather than any organizational truth claims (although those are always present but are more of a by-product). I like this as it lends itself to the idea that people’s testimonies are based on how they benefit from their current course of action rather than some analysis of historical claims.

    Finally, I also paid attention to how many people claimed to “know” things vs. “believe” things. Every single person, save one, claimed to “know” the things to which they testified. The one lady who didn’t said she had a “testimony” of her truth claims. Also, we had 3 small (under 10) children bear testimony in the normal fashion.

    Thank you for this exercise, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  15. This took place awhile ago but I took my non member mother smoker with me to sacrament meeting. Big mistake. She could not maintain so I had to take her outside to smoke a cigarette. The first thing she said was the church is true! The church is true! And then she puffed away after saying a few choice words. I thought it was funny that she noticed a phrase said over and over again. Other things you hear alot.
    I love the bishopric.
    I love all of you even if I don’t know you.

  16. Romford England:

    I can clearly see the logic of Andrew’s way of breaking this up. I wish that I had done it that way. But here are my groups. We did have a Missionary return to the Ward, very rare for England.

    Love to Serve: 1
    God’s Love: 11
    Miracles: 2
    Prayer: Answers to – 5
    Jesus Christ: 12
    BoM: Christ – 1
    BoM: Help Life – 5
    BoM: True – 1
    JS Prophet: 4
    Restoration: 7
    Priesthood: 3
    Baptism: 1
    True Church: 6
    Monson: Prophet – 6
    Service: 4
    Bishop: 1
    Fellowship: 4

    Jesus, God’s Love and then the Restoration of the Gospel take places one, two and three.

  17. MrQ&A’s Anonymous Ward, England:

    Christ – 9
    BOM – 4
    Love All of you – 2
    JS – 7
    Prayer Answers – 2
    Bishop – 1
    Only True Church – 2
    Trials – 4
    Family – 6
    Perfection – 1
    Temple – 1
    Heavenly Mother -1
    President Monson – 1
    Conversion – 5
    Missionaries – 4
    Handsome Young Men – 1
    Belief – 2
    Spirit – 6
    Satan – 2
    Weaknesses – 2

    My favourite moment : “I love my Heavenly Parents, that’s Father & Mother”.

    We had a really good start from the Bishopric that really help set the tone for the meeting.

  18. I didn’t get to finish reading this post Saturday so I didn’t catch the homework assignment. I like reading the bottom of the list topics on others homework such as “Handsome Young Men” and “Going to Hell”. I’ll have to try it next time…only 3 weeks until the pre-GC testimony meeting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *