From the Outside Looking In

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Arrakeen
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From the Outside Looking In

Post by Arrakeen »

It's been strange for me recently realizing that in the past year or two since I stopped going to church I have become an outsider. I no longer believe the same things, I no longer know what was said in general conference, and many aspects of church culture now feel foreign, even though I spent most of my life living in it. But there are still things I miss, which is why recently I have been looking to try going to some YSA activities in the area. Which leads me to the point of this post:

For a church so focused on missionary work, it seems we do an absolutely terrible job at advertising local wards, events, and activities. Even as someone who knows all the church websites and has an LDS account, it's nearly impossible to find information for anything other than sacrament meeting (and even then I would worry about showing up when it happens to be stake conference or something). Maybe it's just my generation, but I typically expect to be able to find most information online these days and not have to drive somewhere and hear in person what gets announced over the pulpit on Sunday. But other than the main worldwide church websites, there's nothing.

Of course wards and stakes have Facebook pages, but these are all private and only local members can see what gets posted. They are more for communication between members than outreach and don't give the church any exposure among nonmembers. Even if someone is interested in the church, the lack of public-facing events or pages doesn't exactly give a welcoming feel. It makes you wonder if the place is still open, or if it closed down 10 years ago. There's also the missionaries on Facebook, but do people not set their privacy settings so they don't end up getting messages from random people they've never met? I certainly would never encounter missionaries on social media the way I use it.

Do we only want visitors at sacrament meeting, not at any other events? As a missionary it seemed like we always had more success inviting people to activities that were much more interesting to the average person than Sunday services. But the only events ever listed online are sacrament meetings, general conference, and maybe a devotional or two.

This seems to be a major blind spot in the church's outreach programs. Do members just not realize how little exposure the church really has online? Has the church still not fully adapted to the online world? Or do we actually not want outsiders showing up?

It just seems so bizarre to me, since when I was an active member I remember leaders constantly begging members to do missionary work. But now as an inactive member it seems even if I do want to attend something, it's very hard to even find out about it.
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DarkJedi
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

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You do make a good point Arrakeen, and while mileage may vary a bit depending on where you live and your specific ward or stake in general I think what you're saying is correct. I can pretty much drive by any church in my area and know when they have worship services. The church closest to my house (Methodist) has a sign out front that has activities as well as service times on it - it's always advertised what's going on there (dinners, holiday programs, etc.). Many local churches also post ads about activities, and some even do doorstep ads (we always get invites to family events at the local Baptist church even though we've never been to anything there and don't know anybody there). The Nazarene church heavily publicizes their youth activities.

My own ward publishes a monthly newsletter that's emailed and it does have a calendar of events. Not sure if they actually print copies for the older people and Luddites, but at least it's something. That's also a rather recent development in the last year when regular church resumed. I agree with you, without that it would be very hard to know what's going on even with my account and access to the calendar. Even if something is on the calendar it often lacks time, location, and other details (like what to bring).

I know it's kind of rhetorical, but no, I don't think "the church" knows or recognizes how inward we really are. It would seem like in the information age it would be easier to find out what's going on. As an outsider, I might not want to jump right into the unknown of a worship service where I don't know anybody, but a church picnic might be a more informal introduction. As an aside but related to this, I also know people in my own ward who would rather not have "outsiders" (including inactives) at activities because the inner group works and deserves it more (not stretching here - I have heard one woman say on multiple occasions how she's disgusted by inactives who only come to the Christmas party for the free food and don't come to anything else or even help out).
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nibbler
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

Post by nibbler »

DarkJedi wrote: 16 May 2022, 08:21 I have heard one woman say on multiple occasions how she's disgusted by inactives who only come to the Christmas party for the free food and don't come to anything else or even help out).
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Roy
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

Post by Roy »

I have been a participant in several area churches for more than a decade. I have taken note of the differences that you describe.

I think the biggest contributors are 1) our volunteer church, 2) with top down authority, and 3) our church model of testimony and duty.

1) Our church has lay/volunteer local leadership. This means that there is nobody that is wholly dedicated to local congregations. Everybody is contributing extra time that they might not have and can feel pretty stretched thin. Adding and maintaining websites or social media accounts takes time and knowledge that is in short supply.

2) Our church is structured as top down. I think that if any ambitious individual were to say, "Hey, I have the time. Let me create and maintain a website for the ward." that their offer would quite possibly get declined. Getting permission for one unit of the church to do something unusual that the corporate church might not have much control over (in other words - what would the URL be? Is it owned by the church? Suppose there is later a falling out with this individual and the church, can the individual take the website with him and start posting things that are not favorable to the church?) would be a hard hill to climb.

3) I believe that our church model is that people are so convinced as to the rightness of our church that they are willing to endure the unpleasant meetings and environment. Some other churches have a model where it is just the opposite, that the meeting and environment are so pleasant that you may choose to participate even if you are not sold on the doctrine.
This fits in really well with our missionary posture. We send out young people to proclaim our doctrine and they are trained at converting individuals as to the rightness of our doctrine. They then ask those individuals to begin making sacrifices or lifestyle changes based on that doctrine.
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nibbler
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

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I've noticed that issue too Arrakeen. I don't know why we do the things we do, I'm just going to throw lots of stuff against the wall to see what sticks.
  • It's used as an artificial reason to get people going to church. If you want to be in the know, you gotta show up.
  • I don't really know what the established pattern is. We're lucky to have three activities a year, 4th of July breakfast, Trunk-or-Treat, and Christmas. Many years it's only the last two.
  • People are worn out by life. Not just juggling church priorities but life in general. That's commentary on a lack of activities in general rather than lack of getting the word out about the activities that we do have.
  • If I as a member have trouble knowing what and when our activities are, a non-member doesn't stand a chance. I take that back, maybe non-members stand a better chance in some ways because I think the chain of information comes from ward council and often dies there. If the missionaries attend WC they know better than I do about any activity and they're probably the primary dispensers of invitations to ward activities.
  • However bad of a job we do advertising activities we do a far worse job announcing when they're cancelled or plans change.
    We had more activities in the past and there were several times where two or three families showed up only to find out that they had cancelled the activity and hadn't told the non-cliques.
  • It is still amateur night at the Apollo.
  • They did purposely torch the activities planning committees some time ago. That sends a signal that activities aren't wanted (or a priority) and it also makes it harder for people to plan activities.
  • The master plan feels like redirecting energy away from anything that doesn't directly impact growing the church or making some report look good. Ironically, if we dedicated more time to activities and socializing I think church leaders would see more growth. If church meetings are only about meeting church goals (lecture on serving a mission, attending the temple, ministering, etc.) then there's not going to be much of a desire to go to a meeting.
    Building a community through socializing is a gospel purpose. Upping the percentage of endowed members with an active temple recommend is not.
  • Once bit, forever shy. A decade into this website thing the church still didn't have an online presence. Many wards called people to be a website specialist. Someone that made a ward webpage and kept it current with the goings on of the ward. After a few years of that the church clamped down and put an end to all of that. I guess it was too much to correlate or it introduced too much risk. People may still be reluctant to return to the local online presence or maybe it's still not allowed.
  • I think word would get out better if our activities didn't stink on ice. No one tells me about an activity because they're not very interested in it themselves. People don't recommend bad restaurants.
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Arrakeen
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

Post by Arrakeen »

Roy wrote: 16 May 2022, 11:00 3) I believe that our church model is that people are so convinced as to the rightness of our church that they are willing to endure the unpleasant meetings and environment. Some other churches have a model where it is just the opposite, that the meeting and environment are so pleasant that you may choose to participate even if you are not sold on the doctrine.
This fits in really well with our missionary posture. We send out young people to proclaim our doctrine and they are trained at converting individuals as to the rightness of our doctrine. They then ask those individuals to begin making sacrifices or lifestyle changes based on that doctrine.
This may be the way missionaries are trained, but not always how it works out in practice. Personally I'm not sure any of the people I saw join the church on my mission were drawn in first by the doctrine. A lot of them came to church because there were friendly people and fun activities, and later became interested in the beliefs through that. I think a lot less people these days are looking for the one true church with the most correct doctrine, and many more people are looking for ways to meet other people and make friends "in real life".

It does seem like we don't put much importance on making the church experience enjoyable. In fact it seems like some view it as a badge of honor to be able to put up with boring meetings, and others are blamed for not putting enough effort in to get anything out. The whole "I've never been in a boring sacrament meeting" story suggesting it's up to us to not be bored.
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LDS_Scoutmaster
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

Post by LDS_Scoutmaster »

Roy wrote: 16 May 2022, 11:00
... I think that if any ambitious individual were to say, "Hey, I have the time. Let me create and maintain a website for the ward." that their offer would quite possibly get declined. Getting permission for one unit of the church to do something unusual that the corporate church might not have much control over...
Interestingly my father in law told me how in the ward he was in, Mar Vista California, they as a stake started a young adult program which he claims was then picked up by the SLC church leadership and then officially spread through the church. I don't have any way to verify and it could be that his stake had an official pilot program for the what the YSA would become.

I wonder how much the church was open to new things and ideas before the correlation committee was organized.
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Arrakeen
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

Post by Arrakeen »

nibbler wrote: 16 May 2022, 11:02 The master plan feels like redirecting energy away from anything that doesn't directly impact growing the church or making some report look good. Ironically, if we dedicated more time to activities and socializing I think church leaders would see more growth. If church meetings are only about meeting church goals (lecture on serving a mission, attending the temple, ministering, etc.) then there's not going to be much of a desire to go to a meeting.
Building a community through socializing is a gospel purpose. Upping the percentage of endowed members with an active temple recommend is not.
Of all the issues, this one is actually the one that makes me most pessimistic about the future of the church. The community aspect has long been one of the biggest strengths the church had, and now it seems like it's getting axed. All the activities are getting refocused around a spiritual purpose, and there is no longer room for having fun just for the sake of enjoying life with other members of the community.
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DarkJedi
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

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I do agree with the waning aspect of social activities at church has been a detriment. I have become more curmudgeonly as I have aged, but in my younger days I did enjoy more church activities. I think this was especially true as a young convert when I had newly discovered my tribe and mostly liked them. My ward is basically down to a Memorial Day picnic and Christmas party. The stake has an end of summer picnic in late August. Other than that it's meetings, unless you're involved with youth or Primary - but even they have fewer activities than in the past.

I also think it would benefit the church were we more involved in community service. Not the "helping hands" disaster clean-up kinds of things where we're all wearing yellow vests identifying ourselves (although I think that's OK), but more day-to-day public/community service where we're not advertising "Hey, look at us Mormons - er members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - and what we're doing!" Things like helping at soup kitchens, the homeless shelter or cemetery cleanup and just talking to and being with people outside our tribe without the aim of trying to convert them. The Baptists and Methodists and Catholics who already work together on those kinds of projects aren't there to convert each other, but they do respect each other and they learn from one another.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Arrakeen
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Re: From the Outside Looking In

Post by Arrakeen »

DarkJedi wrote: 19 May 2022, 06:38 I also think it would benefit the church were we more involved in community service. Not the "helping hands" disaster clean-up kinds of things where we're all wearing yellow vests identifying ourselves (although I think that's OK), but more day-to-day public/community service where we're not advertising "Hey, look at us Mormons - er members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - and what we're doing!" Things like helping at soup kitchens, the homeless shelter or cemetery cleanup and just talking to and being with people outside our tribe without the aim of trying to convert them. The Baptists and Methodists and Catholics who already work together on those kinds of projects aren't there to convert each other, but they do respect each other and they learn from one another.
Yes, I have always been disappointed with the church's approach to service, even when I was an active member. Service projects were often things like getting the youth to weed the young mens leader's garden, even though their family was wealthy and could easily hire someone.

In one of my BYU wards they put me on the Elder's Quorum service committee. When we had the planning meeting I was thinking something like soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or some kind of community-oriented service. But what they ended up going with was starting a rideshare program for the men to give the women rides to and from campus. I guess they thought women don't drive? Like, they didn't even discuss who owned cars and who didn't, they just assumed women needed rides and men would provide them. And of course in a singles ward you know what the real motivation was.

It sometimes feels like instead of trying to be an active part of the community the church tries to replace it with an alternate, insular community. Taking "in the world, but not of the world" a step too far, to where we try hard to not even be in the world anymore.
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