Saturday, June 04, 2016

Let's Do Less: Towards a Heuristic Theory of Ward Activities

What do you think of this idea: We should have fewer church activities.

While you're thinking about it, let me tell you two things.

1) If I lean a particular way, I lean towards being more anti-social than social. I like discretionary time. It makes me happy. I don't need to feel really busy to feel good and I believe that unscheduled time often leads to great ideas and important, unplanned moments.

2) In retrospect I can see that planning, attending, setting up for, serving during, and cleaning up after activities I didn't want to go to is good for me. In fact, aside from having and raising children, this aspect of the church—doing what you don't want to do—is the only thing that has made me a better person over the years (still not that great though because, as you'll see, I'm going to complain about it).

So, basically, I recognize that I enjoy activities less, probably, than the average person while also acknowledging that attending church activities is, generally, a good thing.

But still, what if we had fewer church activities? How would that be?

In his talk, To the Saints in the Utah South Area, Russell Ballard said,
"Now, some of you may be overprogrammed with lots of activities, including good ones. Please be careful not to overprogram your children. Turn off social media and other outside distractions from time to time to sit and talk and enjoy each other’s company.You don’t always have to fill up your schedule totally. Please carefully look at your calendars and consider where you might cut back a little and enjoy a less hectic life more fully. The Lord counseled us to find time to “be still, and know that I am God.”
For example, this week we had a ward campout (which we couldn't make it to). My daughter, a Young Woman, had a stake campout the same night. My 9-year-old had a movie night the previous evening for Activity Days. My husband has a 4-day campout next week and my son, age 13, has a different campout next weekend. We also have YM/YW every week and church on Sunday (obvs). I'm visiting 2 wards this Sunday for my calling and since I'm certified Telestial, that maxes me out church-wise. Also, we just spent Memorial Day together as a family. Then my husband left town for a business trip and I went to The Cure. My daughter gave me the concert tickets for Christmas and I went with my sister—All good things which kept us plenty busy.

One way of looking at this embarrassment of riches in terms of family activities is that it is wonderful. We have all these options of things to go to and do. But are we being spread thin? Are we engendering FOMO in our children by underestimating the value of free time? Are we just trying to kill time and fill up every second? Should we consecrate our time and resources more intentionally?

I've noticed that much of what happens in the church happens in meetings where very good, well-intentioned people say things in order to participate that they don't really feel that strongly about. We've all done it. The youth are notorious for it, especially when it comes to food. Mark my words—they'll say they want more variety than just chocolate chip cookies at the multi-stake dance, but inevitably all that will be leftover at the end of the night will be cranberry-white chocolate and peanut butter cookies. Mark my words.

Activities get planned because we find ourselves in meetings to plan activities. And we should definitely have activities. But I think we could have fewer. When you have less it means more. Plus, you spend less money, burden busy families/people/leaders/kids/parents less, and allow for spontaneous connections and fellowshipping to occur organically, much like Clayton Christianson describes in his book The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Sharing the Gospel.

Are we leaving room for that kind of thing? Yes, I do want to get out of going to so many activities. But it's still a real question.

In addition to over-scheduling, which I view as an extension of my generation's tendency towards hyper-parenting, I think we sometimes stuff too much into activities as well. And, like our parenting style, it's not that we don't care. We care a great deal. In fact, our greatest fear might be seeming like we don't care.

So there's a program and decorations for everything. Some people like to do these kinds of things and some people get stressed out by it.  As with any large group of different personalties—different strokes for different folks.  For the most part in the church we can  accommodate different personality types by being observant and thoughtful and by not being pushy. But occasionally the less showy but more thoughtful approach gets dismissed or devalued because it doesn't look like a lot of effort. I heard about about a time in a BYC meeting where a thoughtful young man got uncomfortably grilled on the "spiritual value" of  a "just for fun" activity which he had carefully planned and carried out to appeal to his less active friend in the ward, which it did, which, hooray! "That's what I'm talkin' about," says Jesus.

(When I was in Young Women our theme for camp was Care Bears. And we picked "Party Bear." It was a blast and I'm still active. So.)

What do you think? Is more more or is less more? Should we provide as many options as we can for all people of different types and phases in life and let everyone opt-in or opt-out as they please? Or should we just have fewer activities? Ahhhhh. Doesn't that sound nice?

23 comments:

  1. I agree, less things. Make the activities we do have more quality. And also, maybe we could relax on the cultural pressure of feeling like we have to go to everything.

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  2. It's time for a cultural shift. People who want to get together find a way. Doing more things as neighbors (versus wards, stakes, etc) has a gospel-centered meaningfulness that we undervalue. Also, you propose less, not either/or. Those who disagree can organize activities and parties on their own which has many benefits.

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    1. So well said. (That's Lisa for you.)

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  3. AGREED. Too much. Way too much. I'm notorious for saying "sounds fun, I'll try to make it". But I know I won't. I highly, highly value unscheduled time. My favorite thing is to wake up and have NOTHING urgent to do. I prefer taking our time at dinner and just being. No rush rush rush. I'm so sick of rushing.

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  4. I definitely vote for less! It feels unbalanced to me to have too much of my time filled up with church activities.

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  5. We already did this in our ward and stake. The past few years we've tried to have a big ward activity monthly(to invite friends and neighbors to), plus scouts/camps, yw, RS, etc...This year they went down to every other month. Seems good so far. The stake went to a three-year cycle of youth conference, girls camp, and trek rather than all 3 every summer (is this church-wide?). I'm with you on all of this pretty much. Less is more. My only "con" is I like having an activity to invite my non LDS friends to, but I will just have to start planning cool FHEs and Potlucks and Family Dances myself. I'm lazy, but seems like that's what Jesus wants us to do.

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  6. We already did this in our ward and stake. The past few years we've tried to have a big ward activity monthly(to invite friends and neighbors to), plus scouts/camps, yw, RS, etc...This year they went down to every other month. Seems good so far. The stake went to a three-year cycle of youth conference, girls camp, and trek rather than all 3 every summer (is this church-wide?). I'm with you on all of this pretty much. Less is more. My only "con" is I like having an activity to invite my non LDS friends to, but I will just have to start planning cool FHEs and Potlucks and Family Dances myself. I'm lazy, but seems like that's what Jesus wants us to do.

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  7. A robust "Amen" from the congregation here. The modern age is getting progressively busier. We use social media to serve as a synthetic form of real socializing, which real socializing takes longer. Must. Fit. More. In..... Must. Schedule. To. The. Nth. Degree.....

    I think large families are feeling the crunch on this first. It seems that many of the well-meaning ward activities are targeted toward people who have more spare time than a large family might. I think grandparents possibly forget this after their own children have left home.

    Before long, even families with no children will begin to feel the crunch. It is possible to over-schedule. And often it's best to just say "no". We don't have to make an appearance at every ward function to show how righteous we are.

    Things really were simpler a few decades ago. The Internet is one manifestation of and contributor to the frenetic pace we find ourselves in. We never said to our parents "I'm bored...." Being alive was enough. And sometimes even breathing was optional. Those were the days....

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    1. Great points. Thanks for always/still reading and commenting, Rusty.

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  8. Yes! A resounding yes! "isn't it about, time?"

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  9. As an introvert YW president I agree with you wholeheartedly. I feel like a party planner and I never not ever wanted to be a party planner. It's good for me to go outside my comfort zone. I would just be happy to go outside my comfort zone half as often.

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    1. I feel exactly the same. Half as often would be optimal.

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  10. Whew!! Some one who understands!!

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  11. Replies
    1. This amen is so validating. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  12. I think either less or more expectation that not everyone needs to come to make it a success. I try to remember that there are some people who really need the activities, for whom a ward Christmas party, for example, might be one of their only celebrations rather than just one of the dozens of obligations a family like mine has in December.

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  13. Please, please, please let your wish come true.

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  14. I would also like to cast my vote for two hour church.

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