Planning the Perfect Ward Activity: Asking the Right Questions
by Clark L and Kathryn H. Kidd

There are as many different ways to organize a ward activity as there are people to do the planning.  Some may sit down with a Franklin planner and treat the whole concept of having a party as seriously as they’d plot a military campaign – leaving no detail to chance.  Others may plan a party in such a haphazard way that they might as well be throwing darts at a dartboard – choosing menus and activities seemingly at random. 

When you’re organizing a ward activity, the final result is more important than how the decisions were made.  If you’re a dart-thrower, go ahead and throw the darts.  If a military campaign is more your style, pull out the Franklin planner and get to work.  But if you’ve never planned an event before, we have some suggestions that will help you organize your activity.  No matter how big or how small your event, the best way to have a successful activity is to start by asking yourself the right questions.  Here are the first two.

Who Will Attend?

This question may seem like a no-brainer.  If you’ve been assigned to plan an activity for the Primary, you’re obviously going to focus on the Primary children.  If you’ve been assigned to plan an Enrichment activity for your ward Relief Society women, you’re obviously going to plan an event that appeals to women ages eighteen and up.

However, things are rarely as easy as they seem.  “One size fits all” never fits everyone, and in some cases it may end up fitting no one.  An event that appeals to eleven-year-old Primary children is going to be far too advanced for their four-year-old brothers and sisters unless you’re careful to plan different activities for different age groups.  By the same token, all Relief Society women are not created equal.  An activity that focuses exclusively on young mothers is going to exclude people who have never been mothers, or who haven’t had children in the home for so many years that mother-related activities are no longer of interest.  Your job as an event planner is to know your audience.  If you can appeal to the interests of the people you’re serving, you’re going to have a successful activity.  If you can’t find a focus that will offer something to everyone on your potential guest list, you’re going to have an uphill climb.

The best way to attract participants is to make sure your event doesn’t exclude large segments of people in your target audience.  If you’re planning an event such as a dance or a sports night or a poetry reading, people who don’t dance or who aren’t athletic or who don’t like poetry are going to find excuses to stay home.  You can’t please everyone all the time, but you can make an effort to find themes that don’t exclude vast numbers of your potential participants.  For example, a Nephi’s Shipbuilding Party may appeal to a broader base of potential guests than a softball game, simply because everyone who attends the shipbuilding party is at an equal disadvantage, and it presumes very little athletic ability. 

If you must have a sports night or a dance or a poetry reading anyway, do a little thinking about how you can appeal to the broadest base of your ward population.  For example, non-dancers can be recruited ahead of time to help with the music or award creative prizes to the best dancers.  People who aren’t athletic can serve as scorekeepers or referees or an enthusiastic cheerleading squad – complete with pompons.  And non-poetry readers can be enticed to the poetry reading if it’s broadened to include an on-site haiku contest or humorous material in addition to the more traditional stuff.  If you make an effort to include everybody, everyone will feel wanted.  But remember to let everyone know ahead of time what you’re doing to include everyone.  If you plan for non-athletes to be cheerleaders but don’t announce it when you publicize the event, your cheerleading squads won’t be present when they’re needed.

When you’re planning your event, don’t forget to include people from non-traditional situations in the planning process.  Single church members can be great resources, and you’re overlooking a great asset if you leave them out.  Even if you don’t put a single on your committee for each activity, making your activity enjoyable for single and childless members should always be a consideration.  People who aren’t members of traditional families have a hard enough challenge without also being expected to attend ward activities that are designed exclusively for members who are part of a traditional family unit.

Finally, you’re going to need to decide early on whether children should be welcomed to your activity.  Ours is a family-centered church, and there are many ward activities – perhaps the majority – where children should be welcome.  That being the case, some people believe children should be present at every activity.  But there are some situations where adults should be allowed to interact with one another without having children as a buffer.  (Read on for an example that may illuminate the situation for you.)  When you’re planning ward activities, use your common sense and determine whether the event would be enhanced or ruined by the addition of children, and plan accordingly.  Even in the face of opposition.

What is the Purpose of the Activity?

If you read our first column on ward activities, you know there are legitimate reasons why we have ward social functions.  Those reasons are important to you as a person who plans an activity, because the motivation behind an activity will make a big difference in the event you plan.  Whether you’re organizing a sleepover for seven Beehives or a harvest dinner for the entire ward, you can’t plan the best activity for your group unless you know why you’re having the event in the first place.  You may think the reason you’re having an activity is no more complex than, “We’re having it because we’re supposed to have an activity in February.”  But do yourself a favor and ask the question anyway, because if you scratch down below the surface the answer may surprise you.

For example, let’s say you’re the ward activities committee chairman, and you’re thinking it’s about time to have another get-together.  You ask yourself who the party is for and why you’re having it, and you come up with the obvious answers.  The activity is for the ward, you say, and the reason you’re having the party is that the ward hasn’t had an activity in a month or two.  That sounds reasonable. 

Using those answers as a springboard, you think a ward dinner might be a good idea.  After all, everybody likes food.  An informal dinner is more fun than a formal affair, and because it’s summertime, a barbecue sounds like a great suggestion.

Naturally, your first reaction is that because the barbecue is for the ward, all ward members should be invited.  If you think no farther than that, you may go right ahead and plan a party that will be successful, and that everyone who attends will enjoy.  But as you’re busily planning your barbecue, you may remember hearing a complaint that new ward members don’t feel at home in your ward, and that old ward members don’t make the effort to make new ones feel needed and welcome.  You realize the ward could benefit from an activity where new ward members could interact with old ones, building bridges between the old members and the new.

Suddenly, the complexion of the ward activity has changed.  When you were planning a party just to have a party, it was fine to have a barbecue and invite the entire ward.  But when the kiddies are there, families tend to sit in family groupings so Mom and Dad can feed the children and keep them out of trouble.  By the end of the evening, it’s possible to have eaten the food and participated in the merriment without ever interacting with people outside the immediate family circle.  This party may be a lot of fun, but it won’t help new ward members get to know the old ones.   

If you organize your activity around the goal of making new ward members feel more comfortable, the party you plan may be quite different.  Perhaps you’ll decide to have a barbecue without children, or maybe you’ll give up on the barbecue idea altogether and come up with an event that calls for more active participation than sitting down and eating.  Maybe you’ll design a progressive dinner, where participants are asked to move to a different table for each course of the meal – forcing them to interact with many different people throughout the evening. 

This doesn’t mean a barbecue is a bad activity.  In fact, under different circumstances a barbecue could be a great idea.  Perhaps your ward does a good job of welcoming new members, but the parents in your ward have a hard time finding opportunities to spend time with their children.  If that’s the situation in your area, a family-oriented barbecue could be just the ticket.  But unless the organization planner takes a few moments ahead of time and seriously determines what purpose the party should fulfill, you might find yourself having a barbecue when what your ward needs is a temple excursion or a romantic dinner-dance.

2003 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.