Okay, so our meetings are dull. Complaining about it is dull. I’ve been wondering though, what about the wards that have better meetings? What makes them better? Whenever this topic arises, people want to toss around blame. Either the church or the individual members are responsible. After all, if the church is run by God, if the meeting is boring it must be YOUR fault.
I think there may be some truth to that.
But only a little.
Based on my own experience in church, as well as counseling outcome research (i.e. what factors contribute to success in mental health counseling–that’s where the percentages are coming from), I would like to propose the following mini-theory of the four main factors that contribute to the vibrance/dullness/spirituality of our meetings. The percentages aren’t that important as the actual factors though…
Factor #1: The Individual Members (40%)
This includes each individual member (including leaders) and what they bring to the table: their backgrounds, viewpoints, attitudes, individual preparation, chance events in their lives, etc. In a sense, if you don’t have a good experience at a church meeting, you (or just your life or circumstances) may be at least 40% responsible for that outcome. Seems reasonable to me. How prepared are you for the meetings? How prepared are you to receive spiritual promptings or experiences? How prepared are the speakers and teachers? A lot of us can improve on this.
Factor #2: Relationships (30%)
This includes the relationships between the leaders and regular members, and individual friendships in the ward. I know I tend to listen a lot more earnestly (and have better experiences) when a close friend is speaking or giving the lesson. Not that we all need to have close friendships with everyone in the ward, but I believe the better our relationships are, the better our meetings will be. We listen and participate more when we care more. Do we truly have empathy and respect for other people in the ward? Relationships also include a general agreement on the tasks and goals of our meetings.
Factor #3: Techniques (15%)
This is the area that I think gets debated the most, perhaps because it stands out the most: Simplified Gospel Principles manual? Do we have to stick to that? What hymns are we singing? How many? How many talks? What kinds of instruments are allowed? White or blue shirts? Snacks or no snacks in primary? PowerPoint in gospel doctrine? The point here is not that any one of these decisions is necessarily better than other, but to suggest that ultimately whether we decide to allow guitars or harmonicas, ban blue shirts from the sacrament table or ban visual aids from the pulpit, it will not have much influence on the overall outcome. Most techniques or teaching methods that are intended to be edifying will be, equally so.
Factor #4: Faith & Hope (15%)
How much do we really expect out of our meetings? Do we expect to receive spiritual guidance? Do we find hope there?
We get caught up in debates about who is to blame for our meetings. I personally believe that God has granted us the agency to have bad meetings, just as we can exercise our agency to make them great. Let’s be mindful of the various factors that may contribute to the outcomes of our meetings, and what our individual and collective roles are. Let’s make sure WE are prepared when we speak, give lessons, or participate in the music. Let’s work harder at building relationships in our wards, beyond the home-teaching assignment or the sometimes shallow greetings of the ward activity. Let’s put debates about specific techniques in their place–important, but not as much as other factors.
Using this mini-theory, it makes perfect sense why some people, non-members, ex-mormons, and even some active members alike would find the meetings to be boring: They may not be prepared themselves or be a type of person who would enjoy the meetings anyway, they may not have decent relationships with ward members (or may even have poor relationships there), and they may have little hope or expectation in the church. OF COURSE that is going to lead to a generally dull or even negative experience.
- What do you think contributes to a successful and/or spiritual church meeting?
- How much of it is on the individual and how much is on the speaker or teacher, or the institution of the church?
- What do you think of the idea that we are all contributors to our collective experience?
- Do we neglect the powerful influence that interpersonal relationships have on our meetings?