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.