Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Bottom-up, again

No, this is not a post about drinking games.

Back in April, I asked about whether a bottom-up approach to things in the Church fits with our model of revelation. My recent reading has led me to consider this topic again.

I'm reading The Price of Government: Getting the Results We Need in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis, and enjoying it quite a bit. One of the principles discussed is Budgeting for Outcomes, or, in other words, determining what the desired results are (and what their priorities are), what the available budget is, and then allocating budget toward achieving those results. The authors emphasize that the desired results are not those desired by the governor or political parties, but by the public at large.

So I started to wonder to what extent we can and should take this kind of approach in the context of Church government. I asked my wife, who is on the ward activities committee, if the committee has a good sense of what the ward members want from ward activities. She answered, “No, but we have a good idea of what the bishopric wants.” Apparently, the bishopric has given fairly specific direction about what ward activities should accomplish and how they should do so (as well as what not to do).

Given our model of revelatory stewardship, I think we have to have room for this kind of top-down direction to some extent. But if the ward members aren't getting what they want from ward activities, they simply won't come. Then, no matter how inspired the bishopric's counsel is, very few people will benefit from it. So I thought perhaps the activities committee could come up with a survey of ward members, asking them what they wanted out of ward activities. The question is, even given decent feedback, how is this best meshed with the bishopric's stewardship?

It seems to me that this approach is modeled at the highest levels of the Church, who have done surveys for many years. In fact, the Church has an official online survey website at (apparently an invitation “coupon” is required to register for the site). The Welfare Plan was developed after the Church conducted a survey of members. The changes to the temple ceremony in 1990 may have been influenced by the results of a 1988 survey that included questions about the temple. More recently, in May, 2001, the Church surveyed women members about their experience in the Church.

The Church seems to be setting an example of “studying it out in your mind” as an essential part of the revelatory process. Can we effectively do the same at the local level?

And, of course, this applies to far more than the activities committee. One of the biggest struggles we had in our “Perfect the Saints” priesthood committee was figuring out what we were supposed to do. While I thought we came up with some pretty decent ideas, and had some direction from the bishopric, I think we could have been much more effective if we had been able to know from ward members how they felt we could best help them. And the same goes for Relief Society (imagine Enrichment nights based on a survey of what sisters want Enrichment nights to be like!), youth organizations, and so forth.

So don't delay; find out how you can be more effective by getting your organization to do a survey of your ward (or stake) members. Oh, and let me know how it goes...

1 comment:

  1. Excellent news for me to read that others are being more proactive in their approach to church doctrine. Honestly, the Church is an institution that really was designed for the well-being of its members. I think all to often we are used to the hierarchy and put more emphasis on the leaders than on ourselves.
    I can remember when my good father was called as the stake executive secretary for a stake of over 6,000 members and a soaring activity rate. Also, the president of the stake wanted to meet with every new convert and then some. As the president magnified his calling, my father's calling took more time. On top of this, temple recommend interviews were happening once every year, so you can imagine how often our phone rang.
    Then, the stake is reorganized, and my dad goes from a seemingly "low-profile" calling to being called as a bishop. So many of the members ask, "So, are you holding up with the more time-consuming calling of bishop?" and the eyes roll. As the stake secretary, he spent twice as much time as he does as the bishop. It's this paradigm we have that bishops and presidents take out so much more time. Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate the good service of these men. But if we're going for the Zionistic ideal, we will all be looking at each other equally. And our concerns will be as much for the members "beneath us" or under our stewardship as for the direction of the bishopric.
    Every member is just as important as any leader, so let's give them some of our attention. I vote for getting to know folks, and the survey idea is superb.