Our stake just underwent a huge boundary change. Did I mention it was huge? To quote Donald Trump, it was YUGE!
We’ve been through many boundary changes in my lifetime of church attendance, and they are never very easy, hardest of all on the teens it seems, and yet, all my teens have been in wards that experienced splits. The ward we’ve been in for 10 years split once before when it started getting too big, and the other ward got more of the youth than we did at the time of that split which was quite a blow. Then we moved to Singapore, and that ward split leaving us once again in the area with fewer youth–a LOT fewer. I went from teaching over twenty 12-13 year olds to teaching 7 youth between the ages of 12-16 in a combined class. This time, all but one ward in our ten ward stake were impacted, some with building changes, several with new bishops, and a few (like us) were simply sucked into existing wards, like we moved, but without actually changing where we live.
It’s very easy for church members to feel pushed around in these situations, shuttled from one ward to another, out of their comfort zone, away from close friends or from their kids’ peers. We are often reminded that we attend within ward geographic boundaries, not just wherever we would like, because we need to bloom where we are planted, not shop wards like consumers. But it can feel a little hard to take when you feel so much change, not all positive, immediately thrust upon you. In our changes that just occurred, there were 100 people across the stake released from callings and new people called as ward boundaries impacted bishoprics and every auxilliary presidency but one ward. In recognition of the need to incorporate newly assigned members to leadership positions to solidify their commitment, many of the new callings went to individuals who were brought into wards from areas that were previously outside the boundaries. This should help with traction and retention. Good move.
Our Singapore expat ward was expert at this. Since most expats are only in the country for a few scant months or maybe 2-3 years for long-term assignments, ward leadership quickly sized people up and gave them callings generally within a couple weeks of being in the country. Everyone was visited by the bishop within the first week, and then there were some getting-to-know-you interviews as well. People who were willing and able to take callings were never idle for long, and callings generally turned over every 6 months or so because of the transitory nature of people’s jobs. Changes were taken in stride, and everyone welcomed everyone each week. We were all temporary. We were all the new person as well as the veteran. We were both the welcoming committee and the welcomed. Holding on to the same pew from week to week was nearly impossible given all the change.
Given how well Singapore did at handling change, I wasn’t expecting much when these boundary changes were announced.
I’ve been very impressed with how our stake handled these changes. It’s a good example to me of how to make the best of a difficult situation. Boundary changes are often necessary, but these are some of the lessons they took to heart that they did really well:
- Clear Communication. Everyone got a map with the new boundaries. They made enough copies for all. They cancelled 2nd and 3rd hour meetings the day of the announcement and had a stake meeting that was only 1 hour in the evening. I call that a savings of 1 hour. Score! 
- Dissenting Votes. There were some vocal dissenters, which they actually seemed to anticipate. They were respectful and told them how to address their concerns. While that may seem like a blow off in many church settings, I know this stake has made boundary exceptions in some cases, so given the history, I didn’t take it as a complete dismissal. Plus, what else can they do? Turn the mic over to the nay voters?
- Cross Leadership. Giving leadership callings to those who were “brought in” from outside the previous boundaries increased buy in for everyone.
- Youth Outreach. The youth take these changes the hardest. They haven’t been through them before, and they are generally more invested in their friendships. Youth leaders were quick to make home visits and get contact information. The new bishop even reached out to my son leaving for college to make sure he was ordained an elder before he leaves. They didn’t want the youth to fall through the cracks.
- Leadership Visibility. Leaders from the new ward came to our home the very next day. The bishop’s family and the Relief Society Presidency as well as the Youth leaders all visited us during the week. We were loaded down with treats, not a bad way to get over the sting of loss.
- Get-to-know-you time. The entire second hour on the first week was dedicated to everyone in the room, not just the new people, introducing ourselves. Now doing that another 30 times might really solidify all those new names in my head.
What have been your experiences with ward boundary changes, the good, the bad and the well done?
- Were there some that went really well? Some that didn’t?
- How did it affect your family?
- Are there any specific things your stake or ward did that made the change easier to handle?
 Plus, during the meeting, someone set a lure on the two Poke-stops at the stake center. I’m not sure who it was, but it was a genius move.
I used to live in an area called “green valley”. It experienced tremendous growth and ward boundaries changed three times in two years.It all depended on the ward and the people if it turned out to be positive.
I think the reason wards are set geographically is it easy to set up and maintain for Church leaders. I have come to think that it may not be the best way and most certainly is not inspired. It creates segregation along all kinds of lines. Why not let people go the ward they want? Since the Church is really a major corporation, then maybe they would be more responsive to members if choice was given.
Mike, while I like your idea, the church has never operated on supply and demand capitalistic principles.
#2 …but is there anything spiritually fulfilling in being forced into a spot that isn’t a good fit or wrested by fiat from a community that does feel supportive and uplifting?
I can’t think of another Judeo-Christian denomination that assigns congregational membership and I can’t think of anything doctrinal that decrees it for wards and stakes. So maybe it’s time to reconsider. I’m not suggesting anything Ordain Women or anything, but why can’t there be some measure of continuity and comfortable relationships if we taut something called agency?
There was some major multi-stake reorganization in my area recently. As part of it, our ward was dissolved, and the pieces were absorbed by neighboring wards spanning 3 stakes. I welcomed it, as our previous ward was gerrymandered in such a way that it was almost an hour drive from one end to another. The new boundaries are distributed fairly evenly around the chapel. Our leadership kept us well informed of the changes, with plenty of advance notice. There was a special Sunday meeting to officially announce the changes, similar to the way described in the OP. They also put up a special website showing detailed, color-coded maps of the new boundaries. They even warned us ahead of time to download the ward directory, because we wouldn’t be able to look up our old friends’ contact information on LDS Tools once the ward was disbanded.
Effectively, our family and 4 other families from the previous ward were absorbed into an already functioning ward in another stake. The gaining ward made a good effort to integrate the new families–they immediately put us into leadership callings(presidencies, bishopric), even bumping established ward members out of those positions to make room, which is commendable.
They told us in the meeting that part of their motivation for making the changes was to even out the distribution of members per ward, because many wards in the area (like ours) had gotten too big, but not quite big enough to split; bishops were overworked and there weren’t enough callings to go around. My only complaint was that there was a general lack of transparency–nobody knew what the exact changes would be until they were revealed at the big meeting. And as far as I can tell, they didn’t consult with the rank-and-file members, the ones who would be affected the most by the changes.
Still, despite the occasional hiccups, it seems to be working well.
I went this at Mormon Matters in 2008 about the same sort of thing, http://www.mormonmatters.org/2009/05/08/when-the-ward-splits/ We are awaiting a Stake split here sometime soon, though not sure when.
We just did another Ward breakoff last year to create another ward and we are already beyond the number we started with when the break occurred. We lost some good friends from the Ward, but we see them on occasion now.
Like I said in my piece, it is far different than the always combining that we experienced in California. That has just as many challenges to incorporate folks and give them callings.
hawkgrrl, as I have commented more than once in the past, I really enjoy your essays and almost always really agree. However you said: “Dissenting Votes. There were some vocal dissenters”
I was at the meeting. I was one who voted in objection. The president said there were (plural) votes in dissent (which to me was heartening), though I didn’t look around and saw no others in front of me. I left a few minutes early–but at least 30+ min after the “voting.” I heard no one vocalize (publicly) their dissent. That would have been exciting.
While we Mormons have long been socialized (or the more pejorative “indoctrinated’) to accept such changes as (at least) endorsed by God and continue on, make new friends, serve in callings, etc. That doesn’t mean the changes are “inspired” as one of the stake precy emphasized. These and similar boundary changes being made in many stakes–at least in “the Valley of the Sun.”– arise either because stake leadership wants to convince SLC to give us a new building (the motivation behind the changes that took place locally in Feb 2010), or out of some misplaced notion that wards have to be numerically “small” in order to best address the various members’ needs for service, or unity, or something.
That notion is misplaced because up to a certain point in size (about 250-300 “ACTIVE” members), all those issues can be managed by a bishopric that pays attention to them and carefully addresses them. But, then the stake precy might have to actually do some hands-on training of the Brics–which is not what goes on in the so-called “Bishops Training” meetings the stake holds. Those are best characterized as simply the fast, pray, listen to the Spirit meme.
I have been in leadership with 7 bishops, in small, very small, and medium-sized wards. In the small and very small wards it was always a struggle to staff the wards. We spent an inordinate amount of time in bishopric meetings discussing “who can we call to be the ______.” The set of adults that will even accept, let alone work hard at, callings is very limited in small wards. And, so, inevitably, the burden falls disproportionately on those STPs (“same ten people” syndrome) that have been continuously filling callings (usually multiple callings) all their adult lives. And, worse, that small size makes it very hard on any socially-challenged youth that have a small number of contemporaries with which to be friends. That is a recipe for dropping out.
Further, after being moved upon by the Holy Ghost that the wards are too large (in fact, due to activity levels, 5 of our wards were too small and needed an infusion of bodies–which they received), the specific decisions of where to draw the lines comes down to relying on the data. The records in our stake were/are not up to date. There are too many records of people that no longer live where their records state. Without periodically checking, we don’t know if inactives are still here. And, various other records issues that … (to simplify) the Spirit had somewhat bad data upon which to make His (?) decisions.
All that practical drivel aside, we will soldier on. The church is no less true. All those actions that your new Bric took to make the new members feel welcome were outstanding. In my ward the Bric hasn’t even announced new move-ins for about the past 5 years!
My experience with this is somewhat limited. In recent memory I’ve been through it once, a decade or so ago when my ward was dissolved. This was not for growth, but for attrition. More changes may be coming, as our stake is definitely shrinking. When people move out for jobs or whatever, they aren’t being replaced at the same rate, because housing is more expensive in our area than you can get if you go a little further away from the City.
I was happy about the dissolution. I was the youth SS teacher: five kids in a combined class of all high school aged students. The youth program was almost non-existent because we just didn’t have the bodies. For me the transition felt pretty seamless.
Interesting aside: I’m now in the Schaumburg 2nd Ward; the one that dissolved was the Schaumburg 1st Ward. As I understand it the Church doesn’t recycle names, so we will continue to be the 2nd Ward even though there is no 1st Ward any longer. We’re sort of like Fifth Third Bank in that respect.
I kind of like the geographic organization of our wards. If planned well, they can force the affluent and the less so to learn to love and serve each other in a way they would never self-select.
Kevin: Yes, count me in the group who generally likes the principle of geographic boundaries vs. self-selection. There should obviously be exceptions allowed for severe personality clashes, bullying, ex-spouses, etc., but as a rule, I think the “bloom where you’re planted” mantra helps integrate us, not divide us. On the whole. Unfortunately, there are some who are very unwilling to allow for exceptions, and again, generally, I think we need to respect that people have good reasons for what they feel their family needs. We shouldn’t assume they are children to be scolded into submission. But bishops vary.
fbitsi: Did I already know you are in my stake? I’m getting forgetful perhaps. I would ask you which ward but given the changes it’s a confusing question! I was in the RS room (softer chairs), so I didn’t personally see how many stood up to dissent, but I heard what sounded like several chairs in the back of the gym as people stood to disagree, and the amount of time he paused to “count” dissenters seemed to me to be 5-7 people. I could be wrong. Do you mind sharing the nature of your dissent? If it’s too personal, please don’t feel pressured. I was just curious from a discussion standpoint.
One reason the church does not let people choose what ward to attend is that we have a lay leadership at the local level. This means little or no training for Bishops, and bishops with charismatic personalities would have lots of people in their ward, and bishops that are dull, overbearing, and have no idea what they are doing would have few people attending. This would require the SP to only call qualified people to be bishops, and having been a bishop myself, I know for a fact there are not enough qualified men to fill that position (me being exhibit A).
We recently dis-established 3 wards in our stake, from 12 to 9. In our town we went from 6 wards to 4. One building on our town has a mold problem that affects certain people. After the change, several people that were now required to attend the “mold building” would not attend. The SP made the right call and said anybody that does not want to attend the “mold building” for health reasons can have their records transferred to another ward that meets in a newer building. This was easy way to solve the problem. Kudos to the SP for making it easy.
Hawkgrrrl: Based on a comment you made a year or two ago about some minor TV star being in your ward, I knew which ward you were in–in my stake. I have never revealed my location, knowingly, in my comments to any posts.
But, to your question. I raised my hand–don’t know that any actually stood up because I didn’t turn around–in dissent. My reasons: 1) I do not accept the premise that wards have to be small (as supported by my earlier comment), 2) Record keeping in many wards is so poor that the “stake” doesn’t really grasp how small a ward is and therefore cannot make rational decisions in that regard. Inactives may be a high number, but that isn’t indicated on their record their existence in the directories is only indicated, externally, by sacrament meeting attendance percentages. Worse, some wards don’t even do an actual count at sacrament meeting and may well be padding their attendance numbers in order to garner more budget funds (which is based on a fixed amount ($) per person in sac mtg, YM, YW, etc. via the statistical report required each quarter). 3)Leaders in general, but particularly when doing something as disruptive as changing boundaries, ALWAYS claim inspiration in order to better persuade the masses that this change is God’s will–pure hyperbole. Which is not to say their intent is not righteous, just that is not necessarily the right thing to do. In short, bad assumption, bad data = the wrong thing to do, IMO. So, I was not willing to sustain it.
The last boundary change left one of the affected wards with only 110-115 at sacrament meeting (not a rumor, I spoke to the ward clerk and the bishop there several times). This declined to less than 100 on summer/holiday weekends. That is very much too small and they suffered for 6.5 years until just now when they got an infusion of 33 more households. Two other wards received 126, and 98 additional households. So, I guess God finally noticed they were too small! AND, we needed a 10th ward? All this speaks to a lack of “inspiration” and I chose not to “sustain” these leaders in this regard.
My brother’s ward went through a boundary change that was very controversial. Basically the new boundary lines were drawn perfectly along the streets, with the exception of one house that was purposefully excluded from splitting from the ward. That house was the home of a very active family with lots of kids, the parents were in presidencies and apparently the leadership felt like they really needed to stay. Problem was, those parents didn’t, they really felt singled out. Everyone else in their neighborhood, other than them, were in the new ward.
I assumed when boundaries were drawn it had more to do with numbers, neighborhoods, and street names. To decide who is “in” and who is “out” based more on activity and preference by leaders doesn’t sit well with me, and I can see why the parents were upset.
I’ve been at a leadership meeting with 70s present discussing re-organizations. The discussion was primarily on establishing specialty units (singles wards, spanish branches, etc.) One of them pointed out it seemed like every decade in our area there’d be a shift. First, it’s incorporate the Spanish and Chinese speakers into the English wards, then when they see the resulting problems, it’s split them back out to their own little branches, until they’ve seen those problems for the next decade. The question is where’s the revelation involved? The problem is that no matter what you do (assuming it’s rational), there are trade-offs, and sometimes some people are benefited and others hurt, and sometimes the opposite. There’s not necessarily a “right” option to reveal. Mortality is expected to be messy, and the church is full of mortals. The same applies to boundary changes — sometimes there just isn’t a “correct” arrangement. The other thing is that even if something is inspired, it doesn’t necessarily mean things are going to work out for the best, not in the short (or even intermediate) term. People still get to make choices.
In my personal life, when I’ve taken things to the Lord and asked him if a choice I was about to make was right, the answer I’ve felt I’ve gotten was “sure.” Not “Yes! You got it!” or “Nope, bad idea – stupor of thought”, but “sure. acceptable choice.” And I’ve been very frustrated, because I’ve felt like those decisions would have far-reaching consequences. The answer hasn’t been “sure. whatever.” either. It felt like it mattered to God, but that He’d weighed in all He was going to. At least, that’s how I’ve felt.
When we were split a few years back we went from having a modest but healthy ward youth program to having barely enough YM to bless and pass sacrament each week. And after a few months one of the other wards involved in the split had to have two deacons quorums. This was hard on my YM children. For me the real slap in the face came a few years later when they had to redraw boundaries again but they didn’t even try to help strengthen our program. Let’s just say I don’t have a testimony of these changes.
Maybee, when they redrew our ward boundaries the map looked a little bit like one of those gerrymandered political maps, with odd bubbles and intrusions here and there clearly meant to pick up specific famlies.
fbisti, all else being equal I actually prefer a large ward to a small one. I dislike having multiple callings, as I do now (and truth be told I’d be happy not to have any calling at all), but apart from that it seems to take a certain critical mass for a ward to operate smoothly.
About 4 years ago we suffered a ward split that remains destructive. The problem began with changing ward demographics and a building that became the wrong configuration. We went from a moderate number of families with several children to larger numbers of fairly transient young single adults and newly married couples, a few with a small child or two. Numbers of youth dropped into the single digits. The classrooms were too numerous and mostly empty while the chapel was overflowing into the gym.
To make matters worse the bishop and many of the young guys loved to play basketball. But this love did not extend to setting back up (after taking down) the large heavy padded chairs. (We could have switched to soccer on the ample front lawn, a better missionary tool and left the chairs up all the time.) We could not seem to get anyone to set up the chairs consistently. We tried crowding into the front half of the chapel only to be constantly interrupted, usually during the sacrament by tardy members opening the noisy metal curtains and setting up chairs in haste. The solution was to split the ward so it would only barely fill the chapel and basketball proceeded without the interruption of moving furniture.
This was devastating to the youth. One new ward had only one young man and a convert at that. We joked about the Young Man’s presidency instead of the Young Men’s presidency. He along with at least 3 girls in part-member or mixed marriage/divorce families stopped attending. They quickly reunited the youth with only one small group meeting on Wed night but split on Sunday. The numerous transient young adult members easily populated 4 YM/YW presidencies with about a 5-7 adult to 1 youth ratio. These 4 presidencies of as many as a dozen members each did not communicate well, with constant bickering and hard feelings and resignations. But all these problems soon moved away taking their bad experiences and accompanying attitudes to other wards to be replaced by new ones moving in.
Then there was dissension over when to start early morning seminary (some private schools start as much as an hour earlier and traffic complicates the matter) and a split of that already too small group put youth going to reluctant teachers’ houses and it mostly unraveled.
The youth are now extremely disengaged, seldom attend and the LDS peer group has ceased to function. Our youth are primarily attached to other peers at school. This is followed by the expected experimentation with alcohol, marihuana and sex which was much more unusual before the split. None of these few youth will serve missions, attend BYU or marry in the temple. In some cases back-sliding college age offspring lead to less-active parents.
Most permanent members of the ward agree in private the split was a huge mistake and desire a reunion. The combined attendance of both wards is about 2/3 of what it was just before the split. But any open talk results in loss of callings and associated status since we have many new people constantly moving in (and out) to fill them obediently, at least at first.
The Protestants allow people to select their church at will. We don’t have to speculate about potential problems, they have already blazed this trail for us. It usually works better with some exceptions. It creates religious market forces that drive improvement or oblivion. It doesn’t have to take one bishop to shepard (control?) 200-300 people. Other social constructions are developed that work better. The music improves and specializes in many new directions. The youth programs grow to fit the youth instead of forcing youth into pigeon holes they too often dislike. The community service also increases if that is what is valued.
I know of a congregation of about 500 active members that has constructed 30+ houses working for Habitat for Humanity in the last 10-15 years. (If you like to do home repairs they will teach you and let you practice elsewhere before tackling your own projects.) I can not imagine an Elder’s Quorum far removed from the Intermountain area strongholds able to build one house in 30 years. We can’t even handle the janitor duties foisted upon us.
As a general rule when Protestant congregations split they count on about a third going one direction, a third going the other direction and a third going away. Most splits are due to conflict of various sorts but some outgrow historic buildings and a few decide to “plant” another church.
As for my household: My wife attends an evangelical church. We both go to sacrament meeting and then her worship service. We have hopped around a handful of congregations. My daughter is fiercely defensive of Mormonism but it is sort of like brand loyalty and she seldom actually attends. They kicked her out of the singles ward. Her fiance is unaffiliated, tolerant and will go maybe once a year. My son did not serve a mission but does hang out with LDS graduate students. Another adopted daughter married in the temple but the exclusion of her mother-in-law from the ceremony ate at her husband and he grew gradually bitter. Without his support she can’t (or won’t) manage their 5 rowdy children in boring meetings and they are about 99% out. (Very little of this family history happened after the split but it grew in the same acidic soil that sprouted the split.) I am sort of on the back row with a bogus scouting calling in a bogus troop.
The trouble with bloom where planted is that too many people wilt and die. We don’t need church to make our lives more difficult. Church doesn’t have to be all ease and entertainment, some sacrifice is required. But it needs to be worthwhile sacrifice, not obviously pointless and not thwart spiritual growth either.
A lot of the reasons for not letting people select their ward sound more like excuses to me than good reasons, when viewed from the perspective of experiencing what a handful of evangelical churches have done. Why not let ward leadership bloom or wilt where planted?
fbitsi – very interesting. You’ve got more of the history in this case than I do! If we ever get a chance to meet in person it would be great to catch up. Your call, though, as I know people like their anonymity.
The question of large wards vs. small wards is also interesting. I think I prefer smaller ones, but I know that when the youth program is too small it’s a hardship on my kids.
I think the merging of wards where I am (http://www.wheatandtares.org/16174/merging-wards-a-change-in-strategy/) has been very successful on the whole. Leaders were selected from both former wards when it happened, and that certainly led to a smooth transition. It’s better for the youth as it is, and in fact the youth also get together on a monthly basis with the very few youth in the neighbouring branch. I prefer bigger wards by far.
Our Stake is in desperate need of realignment. Unfortunately our Stake leadership has said it is too much work. We have almost no youth and our SM attendance is less than 100. That makes me angry as i have watched my children choose non-member friends and refuse to attend activities where only 2-3 youth show up. Not that I blame them. Geographic boundaries are damaging my kids testimonies.
Maybee says: I assumed when boundaries were drawn it had more to do with numbers, neighborhoods, and street names. To decide who is “in” and who is “out” based more on activity and preference by leaders doesn’t sit well with me, and I can see why the parents were upset.
In decisions like this in which I have either taken part or discussed with ward and stake leaders afterwards, the overwhelming consideration has been active holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood. For better or worse, you can’t run a ward without ’em. However, considerations such as a family with a large number of Primary or Mutual aged children would also be a factor if the geography worked out to leave a fair-sized ward with a very small Primary or Mutual (likely to be a self-correcting problem in a very few years out here in the land of 300-sq-mile wards, but less so in Happy Valley). Lines along roads and town boundaries are convenient but take a back seat to making sure that a ward has the people it needs to function.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of the geographic method. Historically, churches were the congregations of cities (in NT times) and the reason that Catholic bishops preside over city-based sees is that historically they presided over congregations in cities. Catholic parishes are, or were, nominally geographic as well, at least as late as my mother’s girlhood in the 1940s. Counties in (largely Catholic) Louisiana are called “parishes” for that reason. We didn’t invent the system; we’re just the only ones who still use it. Our wards are called wards as a hangover from Nauvoo, where they corresponded to the political subdivisions of the city. In many cities in the US, “aldermen” or city council members are still elected by ward.
Can you imagine the chaos if we allowed people to go anywhere they felt most comfortable? You think we have doctrinal issues now, with a simplistic approach to repetition replacing inquiry and real learning? Wait until people go to Bishop Jones’ ward because he has a real good choir and his Gospel Doctrine teacher is young and trendy, and then Bishop Smith has to keep up somehow but he can’t pay anyone, so he makes sure that lots of money gets donated to the Scouting High Adventure in the Appalachians every summer, and Bishop Johnson has nothing to offer so his home teaching report is always perfect because the homebound and folks in assisted living can’t dodge their appointments but sacrament meeting attendance is way down. Nope, you guys in favor of the Popularity Contest Ward Attendance System simply aren’t thinking it through.
Besides, Mormon bishops are like Minnesota weather. If you don’t like them, wait a little while. They’ll change.
Martin said: when I’ve taken things to the Lord and asked him if a choice I was about to make was right, the answer I’ve felt I’ve gotten was “sure.” Not “Yes! You got it!” or “Nope, bad idea – stupor of thought”, but “sure. acceptable choice.” And I’ve been very frustrated, because I’ve felt like those decisions would have far-reaching consequences. The answer hasn’t been “sure. whatever.” either. It felt like it mattered to God, but that He’d weighed in all He was going to.
Yeah, this tends to drive me nuts. Then I remember that all the things that seemed so important to my kids when they were six seemed like no big deal to me, and plenty of things I lost sleep over when I was 20 (or 30, or 40) are now shown in retrospect to be much less important than I thought at the time. And I conclude that most of the time, what I do isn’t nearly as important as how I do it, and to Heavenly Father, it’s no big deal.