The LDS Church is a data-collecting machine. Hundreds of minions in the bowels of the Church office building are constantly poring over quarterly reports from wards and stakes around the world. How well are particular wards and stakes doing? The inquiring minds of the General Authorities want to know!

The Ward Quarterly Report is the main source of metrics the church looks at. It’s the usual stuff:  how many MP holders, how many active MP holders, how many women, how many full tithe-payers, average church attendance, etc. Pretty mundane, bureaucratic kinds of metrics. Totally uninspiring.

The Church is clearly interested in how well wards and stakes function. Are all the Church programs up and running? Are visits being made? Are new people being baptized?

I content that a ward could be fully functioning, but still be a lousy ward. That means we have to define what makes a great ward. I imagine we all have stories of great wards we have belonged to, and others maybe not so good.  Wards where we felt embraced, and wards where we might have felt less at home. Personalities of ward leaders as well as members likely contribute to this. [Mormons like to paraphrase Will Rogers and say if you don’t like your bishop, just wait a bit – he will be changed. Just like the weather!]

Now maybe a great ward is like what a Supreme Court justice said of something else—hard to describe, but I know it when I see it.

During all of my years in bishopric service, all of the bishopric training meetings, all the personal interviews (ppi’s) with the SP, etc., have all revolved around the kinds of metrics discussed above. The General Handbook has always loomed much larger than the scriptures in these kinds of meetings. Rarely, if ever, did I hear anyone say anything about ministering in these meetings; it was always and forever about administering.

So that is what I propose here is a discussion about what kinds of wards and branches we really want. Are there metrics that might actually help us foment better wards everywhere, in spite of problematic leaders and members? I am not saying the old metrics should all be thrown out, but I contend they do us no good on center stage.

We might be inclined to say a good or great ward is one where we feel the spirit – at least some of the time, maybe most of the time. Something we can perhaps all agree up, but very difficult to measure.

I suggest our baptismal covenant may shine the best light on what makes a great ward. Mosiah 18: 8-9 lays it all out for us. A great ward is one where we keep that covenant by bearing each other’s burdens, by mourning with those that mourn, by comforting those that need comfort, and by standing as witnesses of God.   By this description,  a great ward is basically one where the pure love of Christ or lovingkindness abounds. Bearing burdens, mourning, and comforting  –sounds like major involvement in peoples’ lives.

So is any of that measurable?  Or is this one of those things that you can’t measure without changing what you are trying to measure? Maybe some kind of spiritual Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal at work here?

But lets say you were a Generally Authority who recognized that lovingkindness was the master variable, and you really wanted to have some kind of a metric, even if indirect, that gave you a feel for how much “charity is spreading itself abroad” in the unit of interest?

What could you look for?  Where would you look?  Probably the Relief Society would hold more answers than whatever the Elders Quorum is doing.  But what kind of indicators or predictors would we be looking at?

From the point of view of individual members and families, friendship would have to be a key variable. Toward the end of his life, the prophet Joseph focused on the 2 grand fundamentals of the Restoration. Friendship was one of these. Friendship, not the degrees of glory, not Kolob, not even the priesthood. Not even the Temple, although Joseph likely viewed the sealing ordinances as a key part of an eternal network of friendship.

The ward my wife and I currently attend appears to be about the worst ward we have ever lived in. Hardly anyone said a word to us  for several months after we moved in. We have been in the ward just about two years now, and so of course we can recognize that there are some find folks here.  But how could an investigator survive this kind of reception?  They answer is they don’t have very many baptisms.

I think Brother Joseph may have been trying to say there might be something more important than teaching gospel principles in our church meetings (not discounting the need for some instruction). Maybe friendship and fellowship are a bit more important.  What would church meetings feel like if friendship were the guiding principle?

Picture from Pixabay