Why Bother With Ward Activities
by Clark L and Kathryn H. Kidd

In an age where television and soccer games rule, it seems to be a growing trend in these days for Church members to ignore the social aspects of the LDS culture. In every ward there are active Saints who have no interest in participating in social events, and who view ward activities as an optional part of living the gospel. Even if they can be enticed to participate in a ward activity, they resent the imposition on their time. Some even use the Church to rationalize their antisocial behavior, arguing that it’s more important to cocoon themselves away with their families than to waste time at yet another ward activity.

Unfortunately, these scoffers may not be just a few miscellaneous nay-sayers. In some wards, even the bishop isn’t keen on having ward social functions. In those wards, those poor souls planning activities have two strikes against them. The bishop sets the tone of the ward. If the bishop doesn’t support ward activities, most ward members will follow his example. If you need a little ammunition for converting the unconverted to the value of ward activities, here are some things we wish every Church member would consider:

ACTIVITIES BUILD WARD UNITY

Feelings of unity can arise from any ward activity – even those just designed to provide an evening of fun for ward members. You can sit next to someone in church for years, but you see him in a whole new light when you wash dishes together. These opportunities help you develop a new appreciation for someone, as your conversation turns to topics that are not typically discussed in Sunday meetings. As you participate, you’ll invariably learn something new and interesting about everyone who crosses your path.

The people in Enoch’s day were translated because, “.they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them (Moses 7:18).” If we are to reach that goal, it is essential that we develop absolute unity with our fellow worshippers. We can only forge those bonds if there are opportunities for ward members to socialize and work together. If there were no other reason to hold a ward activity other than to strengthen ward unity, that would be reason enough.

ACTIVITIES PROVIDE MISSIONARY OPPORTUNITIES

Although many outsiders would be interested in learning more about our faith, most of them aren’t ready to get into a doctrinal discussion with the missionaries. Ward activities provide the perfect setting for a non-threatening introduction to the Church. The non-member doesn’t feel threatened because nobody will be pushing a sales pitch in his face, and the member doesn’t feel threatened because it’s a lot easier to invite someone to a party than it is to challenge him to baptism.

If ward activities are planned and executed correctly, nonmembers will be able to feel spiritually uplifted as they attend the activity. An investigator who attends ward activities may realize that the Church could provide something that is missing in his life. The recognition of this need will open the door to traditional missionary discussions.

Even if you’re one of those unbelievers who hate ward activities, your attendance is worthwhile because you enhance the environment for missionary work. You may not say a single word to outsiders, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the nonmembers who attend see the spirit of love and fellowship that are found among Latter-day Saints. If you stay home and the party fails, any nonmembers who are brought to the activity will go home with an unfavorable impression.

ACTIVITIES BUILD FRIENDSHIPS

Ward activities can also provide a non-threatening environment to reach members whose testimony and commitment have faded over time. Activities can attract these marginal members, and the spirit of fellowship they feel may bring them back to church again.

Saints who usually don’t attend church may have talents that could be shared with other ward members. Such people will often be honored if asked to participate in an activity where they can help out. This may open the door to friendships and feelings of belonging that will lead to increased involvement with the ward.

Even for active members of the Church, moving into a new ward is difficult. Sometimes even active Church members get discouraged and fall away after a move. But involvement in ward activities can help new ward members get acclimated to their new surroundings and find new friends, saving people who may otherwise leave the fold.

ACTIVITIES STRENGTHEN TESTIMONIES

Many activities are designed to build the spirituality and strengthen the testimonies of those who attend. Most wards provide regular youth firesides where teens can meet to hear a variety of speakers. Many wards offer similar programs to all ward members, where they can meet for an inspirational program, followed by the traditional refreshments.

Activities with a spiritual theme tend to be more informal than regular Sunday church meetings. Participants can receive spiritual food in a setting that is a little more comfortable for members and investigators who are not ready to attend church on a regular basis.

ACTIVITIES PROVIDE A SOCIAL CONNECTION

Maybe you’re so busy that you don’t have a free night for three months. But not everyone is so lucky. For other ward members, the ward potluck dinner that you consider to be so dull will be the social highlight of the month.

Here’s another scary thought. Even if you’re the most popular person in town, your luck may not hold out forever. Take an honest look at the members of your ward. The stereotypical Mormon family (Mom, Dad, and a gaggle of kids) may be found in great abundance, but you will also see a lot of families that don’t fit that mold. You will find young adults away from home for the first time, newlyweds, childless couples, older singles, empty-nesters, and many other combinations of non-traditional families. In some wards, non-traditional families outnumber the traditional ones. One day, you may find yourself in their shoes.

The location of your ward may offer new opportunities – and new needs – for activities. Although a post-Thanksgiving dinner may never be popular in Utah, it could be a lifesaver in wards where most members are living far away from their extended families. In fact, wards fill the function of families in many cases.

As pathetic as you might consider your ward activities, ward members who feel isolated and lonely may anticipate them as one of the few events on their social calendar. So if a particular activity doesn’t meet your needs, take consolation from the fact that you might be doing a great service to others by providing them an evening of much-needed social interaction.

ACTIVITIES EDUCATE

Clark once taught a class at a Relief Society meeting that involved making stained-glass butterflies. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening, and some of the butterflies were almost good enough to sell. The next time Clark bought supplies at the stained glass store, the employee who helped him was one of the women who attended the class. She had enjoyed the evening so much that she took some classes. This led to a new career. It was a world-class example of how something learned at an activity could alter the course of a person’s life.

Although there will probably be few such life-changing experiences associated with your activities, ward members can still derive much enjoyment from learning new things and developing new talents. We have all caught ourselves saying, “One day I would really like to learn how to so-and-so.” Ward activities offer an opportunity to fulfill these wishes on a small scale.

ACTIVITIES MOTIVATE

Those who plan ward activities should consider the power they have to motivate people for good. Our ward set a 90-day goal for members to read the Book of Mormon. Bookmarks were distributed to remind participants of weekly reading assignments. The Sunday bulletin reminded readers of next week’s assignment, and provided interesting facts about that portion of the scripture. There was a party when the program ended, as well as a testimony meeting where participants told how the program had changed their lives. The program was such a success that it was repeated twice in succession, so others could get that same feeling of achievement. Many participants said it was the first time they had read the Book of Mormon all the way to the end.

ACTIVITIES TEACH SERVICE

One of the major themes of the Savior’s ministry was service to others. Members of the LDS Church are expected to follow that example.

Although many types of service activities can and should be done on a small scale, organized service activities provide new Church members with a comfortable introduction to what service is all about. When Saints are engaged in a good cause, miracles happen. Not only does service make the participants feel closer to God, but it also helps them develop ties to one other because they are rendering service together.

A popular youth activity is to participate in a “Service Scavenger Hunt,” where teams of youth knock on the doors of total strangers and ask if they need any help performing small household tasks. The short-term goal is to win a prize by being on the team that performs the most acts of service in one evening, but the more important goal is to learn the value of service and build good will in the neighborhood. Your neighbors will be astonished to find a group of youth willing to help others with no expectation of reward.

ACTIVITIES PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING

Non-LDS beneficiaries of our service projects have a much different impression of Latter-day Saints than they did before we arrived. Service-oriented activities help dispel false beliefs and open the doors to understanding with those who are not LDS.

Probably one of the best examples of this occurred during 1997, when each ward was asked to perform some type of community service project. Many wards responded, and hundreds of thousands of hours were donated throughout the world. This resulted in a flood of favorable publicity, as government leaders praised the service that was rendered. Many officials said that members accomplished in one day what would have taken years to accomplish through normal channels.

There are many ways that wards can reach out to their communities. We’ll give you examples in future columns. One ward in our stake recently started giving free English classes to immigrants. These classes attract so many people that other wards have been recruited to help out. Everyone who attends will walk away with a more favorable impression of the Church.

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When you support ward activities, you educate, motivate, provide social connections, strengthen testimonies, build friendships and understanding, promote missionary work, build ward unity, and help others.

Did you catch it this time – that common theme of service? Here you thought all along that ward activities were just for your enjoyment, but the real benefit has been to provide opportunities for you to serve others in many different ways. Even if we didn’t convince you that you can have fun at such activities, we hope you can now see that your participation can be a great blessing to others.


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