A few weeks ago I wrote about the podcast where a person that worked for the Church listed the top ten things he learned in his first year of employment. The one I wrote about was how employees must always spin things to make them positive. Another of the ten things that jumped out to me was the following: “Inefficiency can always be tolerated when there is no cost”. He said that there was incredible inefficiencies in the Church, but when you are dealing with an all volunteer workforce, you don’t care.
He talked about how hard it is to hold somebody accountable when they are just doing the job in their spare time with no compensation. I saw this first hand many times as Bishop. I would ask somebody to do something, but I couldn’t “make” them do it.
My dad was once in a bishopric many years ago. He would come home from bishopric meetings so frustrated. The bishop, who was a good friend of my father, had no administrative skills whatsoever. The most glaring example my father would give was at the beginning of each meeting, the bishop would have a stack of mail and stake paperwork that had arrived during the week. He would then open each envelope, read it out loud, then decide what to do with it. This took up much of the meeting time.
I often wondered how the local Church administration would change if the local leaders were paid from Salt Lake an hourly wage for the time they put in. The endless meetings would disappear in a minute. Most business would be handled by e-mail. Meetings would be limited in time, with only things that could not be handled by phone covered. The bathrooms would be cleaned by professionals! But, when the labor is free, none of this happens.
The missionary model, based on free labor, is massively inefficient. If the Church had to pay for this workforce, the cost of “customer acquisition” (to borrow a business term) would be unstainable. Most low producing missions would be closed.
What inefficiencies have you seen in the church that was the result of a volunteer workforce?
Are these to be expected in a volunteer organization?
Is there a way to mitigate these inefficiencies without having a employee/employer relationship?
LDS leadership meetings are: to have a meeting to plan for the next meeting, and talk about the future meetings.
One time, when in charge, I had a meeting that finished in exactly 20 minutes. Those around were stunned, with the attitude you can not end now, you HAVE TO do exactly 1 hour. That is not LDS leadership ! There was literally nothing else necessary to talk about. Especially when the council does not come prepared for the meeting.
It used to make my wife upset that when asked how were the 2 hour leadership meetings before church. I said, NOTHING valuable happened. She would be upset for me in attending, instead of being home and helping with kids. She was right. We are so conditioned for this inefficiency, and when we oppose, we are not following the Q15 mandate.
This is first learned on the mission. Long endless mission/zone/stake conferences that are meaningless, then passed onto weekly district meetings. Some thought better to be in conference than in the heat/cold than knocking doors. I actually hated conferences/meetings, because it was about leadership gloating.
I especially questioned how YM presidencies/bishoprics automatically “volunteered” their summer vacation to attend scout/girl camp. “Volunteering” in a LDS setting, is a misnomer when a temple covenant obligates it. Having a paid ministry would correct some of these issues, but create other new ones. I especially loathe how Bednar just clarified tithing donations as generous donations from members.
There are literally few “volunteers” in a LDS setting. And when you do volunteer out of goodness, they want and expect more, until the idea of volunteerism is lost.
I refuse to attend any meeting except Sacrament. There, I practice Zen meditation & mindfulness, and contemplate the admirable personality of Jesus, who kept a broad , loving perspective and did not let a whole lot rattle him, temple moneychangers notwithstanding. Sunday School I’m in genealogy library learning about my scary Sicilian OGs. I am happy to clean the chapel, and do a darn fine job on those toilets thank you very much!
We don’t need to change the volunteer model; rather, we need to change the appreciation model.
Nothing in the church is supposed to be based on dominion, compulsion, and so forth — everything is supposed to be based on kindness, persuasion, gentleness, long-suffering, patience, and so forth. Church members are not employees of stake presidents and bishops, but are volunteers. A stake president or bishop who demands “efficiency” or other immediate compliance with instruction is wrong. I do not want a system where church members are cogs in the wheel to be commanded to produce results for the satisfaction of higher-ups. Hurrah for volunteers, who do church work (I don’t like that term) on the side while also doing more important work of earning a living, building a family, and so forth.
Stake presidents and bishops need to be appreciative of any little offering made by a church member — they can demand nothing, but must ask. They do not imperiously make assignments; rather, they should ask if someone will do something — if the answer is no, then the stake president or bishop asks someone else, does it himself, or lets it go.
Our model is broken, but I do not want it fixed in a manner suggested by the original posting. I do not want stake presidents and bishops to drive their members to produce results — I want them to serve and love and sustain their members. I want the entire American business mindset to be erased from all pastoral church settings. For me, absolutely no to an employer/employee relationship.
I heard a temple matron in a talk say once that when her husband was called as temple president that she thought “we could do this work much more efficiently” until she had the prompting that God wasn’t interested in efficiency.
That encapsulates the prevailing attitude I believe. Our stake High council meetings are 2 hours much of which could be spent in emails. The branch I attend has 2 hour council meetings 3 times a month – and it’s a freakin branch with half the things to plan. I suggested they reduce it my 75% within 6 months and it sounded to them like I was suggesting they climb Mount Everest.
It’s a volunteer organization run by untrained volunteers, many of whom view inefficiency as a virtue. A couple of ideas not requiring pay:
• Start modeling from the top (start with 4 hours of general conference instead of 10)
• Solicit feedback at all levels no of the church
• Require all meetings to last no more than 1 hour, starting with temple work
• Permit remote meetings
Note: I am all in favor of fewer and/or more efficient meetings — please! I don’t like ward council meetings where there is a lot of talk about people, but no actions or decisions. My posting above was about relationships and attitudes, not mindless meetings.
To me, a ward council is not a bishop’s executive staff meeting — rather, it is an opportunity for ward organization leaders to coordinate among themselves. There should be no reports and no taskings.
Having an elite, central governing body mandate how much time individuals and congregations can spend engaging in service to their fellow man seems about as far from what Christ would advocate as we could get.
Sorry if the discussion deviated to only meetings. Most people when they think of church volunteer, it would be a soup kitchen, homeless center, illiteracy classes, over seas home building mission trips, medical doctor/dentist without borders. All those are absent in LDS church. Other than obligated monthy moving, or the rare yellow helping hands for photo ops by assignment, most LDS volunteerism has little real value.
We used to think these greater missions were being handled by the larger church, but know we know not even that is happening.
We can not get the Q15 to promote child malnourishment campaigns or earth stewardship.
If we are discussing Return On Investment ROI:
When the organization has a HUGE rainy day fund, I guess the cost of mission vehicles is immaterial.
I am biased but I think the fund should divert some money to BYU football.
Thinking about mass email requests to help somebody move or for local church welfare projects. Also if I am a volunteer I am free to ignore text messages for updates on my ministering efforts.
At one point I had a stake president who was in sales and also well aware of his ecclesiastical “non-producers.”
Um, am I the only thinking that even if everyone was paid there would NOT be a reduction in useless meetings, and in fact that there might be even more useless meetings? If you’re paying by the hour, there’s gonna be meetings. The corporate world is full of useless meetings, as we all know, and we generally don’t care, because we’re being paid to sit in on those meetings.
I know some anecdotal stories about damage done by volunteer senior missionaries who are thrown into heavy assignments without training. I’m not blaming the missionaries AT ALL. All the responsibility goes to the Church for assuming that “whom the Lord calls the Lord qualifies” and then hands difficult projects over to short-term volunteers. The Church gives jobs that require specialized training and knowledge to people who don’t know what they’re doing, and then calls it persecution when the Church gets bad publicity for royally screwing something up.
I had a friend who worked at the Church Office Building. She said it was pretty common for someone to have a retirement party, and then show up for work the next Monday with a name tag and do their job for free. That’s wild. Why would you retire and then volunteer to keep doing your job without the paycheck or health insurance? I wondered if the Church mandated the retirement, and then talked up the blessings of volunteering.
I also personally heard someone in his 80s say that he was never going to retire because he knew that, as soon as he did, he would be called on a mission to do exactly what he was now doing, only without getting a paycheck or vacation time anymore.
About 40+ years ago, I was Primary President over a Primary of 100+ children. (Very large group of teachers, etc.). The General Primary Presidency was going to visit our stake and each Ward Primary was asked to submit questions for them to answer. At our ward Primary inservice meeting, everyone prepared their questions and we collected them. I told everyone present that the General Primary Presidency said the meeting was mandatory. Instead of speaking to myself in my head (which I should have), I wondered out loud how anything could be mandatory in a volunteer church. When it came time for the anticipated meeting, my counselors and I attended. None of the members of my ward’s primary board showed up. Once they saw themselves as volunteers, the stayed home and made efficient use of their time spending it with their families.
Another reason for inefficiencies in the Church is a lot of the volunteers are assigned/called to do things that either they aren’t very good at or that they really don’t want to do.
My dad was called to be the ward activities leader back when the calling existed, and while my he is a very smart and talented person, he is definitely not the type of person you want to be organizing parties/activities. He hated the calling and just did the minimum required to get the job done. As a result, the ward activities were lower quality than usual while he was in charge of them.
When I was 12, my family moved to a ward that for some reason or other didn’t have a functioning scouting program running for a number of months. As a result, my parents put me in a non-LDS scout troop (this was far from the Mormon Corridor) for about 6 months or so. The non-LDS troop was run by volunteers that actually wanted to run a scout troop. There were lots of great campouts and activities, and we actually learned things and developed real skills. When we earned merit badges or rank advancements, the leaders actually held us to a standard and wouldn’t just pass us off if we hadn’t truly met the requirements. Once my ward got its scouting program running, my parents switched me over to the ward troop, and the difference in quality was immediately obvious. Fewer campouts and activities and much lower quality. It wasn’t necessary to complete the requirements for rank advancements or merit badges since the leaders would just pass us off anyway. I really missed my “real” non-LDS scout troop. What was the difference? The LDS troop just called some guys as scout leaders who really didn’t know much about scouting and/or who didn’t really want to do scouting, but they felt they had to accept the calling because good Mormons don’t turn down callings. (Another difference is that I’d say that about 50% of the boys in the ward troop weren’t really that interested in scouting–a better troop/leaders might have caused some of these to become interested, but there are some some boys who will just never be interested in scouting.) I don’t think my LDS scout troop was an anomaly. Here in Utah, when the Church still participated in scouting, the non-LDS scout troops knew that the LDS scout troops weren’t doing “real scouting”–they were kind of a joke.
I’ve often wondered how much better a ward might function if at least some of the callings/assignments were truly volunteer assignments–like, you know, where people actually get to choose what they’d like to do. It seems like people would generally do a better job in assignments that they actually wanted to do and that they felt they were good at, so that would improve efficiency in the Church. However, there might be callings that people would never volunteer for. For example, would people actually sign up to be nursery leaders, chapel cleaning coordinator, etc.? I don’t think we’d want people to be able to choose to be in the “big” leadership positions like bishop, relief society president, primary president, and elders quorum president, since in my experience, the people that actually want those callings are just the sort of people who I don’t think should have those callings. I’ve seen a lot of people who really aren’t very good teachers called to be teachers over the years, and we just end up with boring/low quality lessons as a result. Would the people who actually are good teachers be willing to sign up to teach, or do they need to be compelled to teach as they are now? Occasionally some people only discover that they enjoy/are good at certain things by being forced into them through a calling. Would they ever discover these things without being forced into them?
Based on all of the examples above, it seems obvious to me that efficiency isn’t the goal of Jesus’ church. Perhaps it’s a consideration, but probably way down on the list. That would lead to the question, “Then what IS the goal of Jesus’ church?” –> “To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”. Maybe inefficiency is an integral part of bringing this to pass. Maybe it’s part of the learning and growing process. Maybe those of us who hate inefficiency can learn something by witnessing it and participating in it. Maybe we can carefully and politely help others learn to be more efficient. Maybe…
When I was a teenager and I’d complain to my parents about not being fair and so forth my dad would always tell me, “You know, we’re just unpaid amateur volunteers. If you want better parents, you’ll have to hire professionals.” I recently used this statement as the basis for a sacrament meeting talk and took the time to thank the branch members for being beautiful amateur volunteers. I also took the time to thank the branch presidency and district presidency for the countless hours they spend as amateur volunteers to keep things running. I sort of kept a tone of “Let’s all give one another some grace” with an undertone of “I know this sucks for everyone, but I really appreciate all that you do (especially those who teach and do activities with my kids).” From what I can tell the talk went over really well with the members and the leaders.
My big idea on what the church should do: Set a rate of $15/hour or $20/hour and allow any volunteer time spent be deducted from the amount of tithing members are asked to pay. It would not have any administration costs or tax consequences (like paying members for their time would), and it could be implemented immediately, with just one statement from the prophet. I realize that it’s not a perfect solution, and there would be some problems with this program (like the members who will surpass 10% of their income in volunteer hours at that rate), but I still think it would be a big improvement and make a big difference for a lot of families’ finances. Plus, everything would still count as volunteer service because the church isn’t paying anyone- and if you’re the type of person who believes in “blessings”, you could still get those blessings. I just see it as a win-win for the membership of the church.
We could be alot more efficient if we would just be honest with each other. The bishopric shouldn’t be expected to read people’s minds through the Spirit. They ought to actually find out who is available on Wednesday nights to work with the youth instead of guessing and praying over it for three months. Members ought to be honest right back and clearly say that they are unwilling or unable to do callings instead of pretending they will and then failing to show up.
The bishopric shouldn’t waste so much time praying over assignments, and then claiming they are from God. This stifles honesty. Call someone and give it a go, and release them right away if they say they can’t do it. Don’t try to pressure them to say yes. Work for the opposite honest response. Ask them to tell you everything that stands in the way of doing it.
I am not saying callings aren’t from God. I am saying God supports all of us working together to make our community work and we can expect divine help with this, no matter our calling. The focus on each individual decision being from God stifles honesty.
mountainclimber479, interesting you mentioned about letting people volunteer for callings. When I was bishop and would meet people for the welcome to the ward interview, I would ask them what callings they wanted, and which ones they did not want. Of course many would give the party line answer “where ever the Lord wants me”, but some had real opinions, and I would then try to accommodate them. If they want the job, they will do better! WRT nursery leader, I announced over the pulpit that the calling would only be for six months, and then they would be released. I never had anybody turn down nursery, and in fact had one sister tell me she did NOT want to be released.
I’ve seen a few commenters here who seem willing to tolerate inefficiency at Church. I respectfully disagree. As much as I despise the MBA mentality (with its accompanying prosperity gospel) that often creeps into Church culture, I am very much a fan of eliminating and mitigating waste, especially the waste of other people’s time. Church members who serve willingly in unpaid positions give freely of their most precious commodity–their time–often at the expense of time for themselves and their families. Church leaders thus have an unspoken obligation to be respectful of that time. I’ve lost count of how many Church meetings I’ve sat through that could have been an email instead, or were otherwise unnecessary. And many, many times I’ve either been stuck in a meeting/lesson that went over its alloted time, or I’ve been stuck waiting for a family member who was in one.
Hindus have a basic code of ethics called the Yamas and Niyamas, which in many ways parallel the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. One of the yamas, Achourya, is a prohibition against stealing (similar to “thou shalt not steal”) but many Hindu adherents interpret it as an injunction to not steal time from others. When we show up late for appointments, or go beyond our allotted timeslots for anything, we are actually engaging in wholesale theft. When a teacher allows the EQ/RS lesson to go 5 minutes over, he or she is stealing time, not just from the respective class members, but from the primary/nursery leaders who have to wait that much longer for people to come pick up their unruly kids, which compounds into many cumulative person-hours of time lost. Like the Hindus, I consider stealing time to be an egregious sin, and I have no reservations about walking out of an inefficient Church meeting, or not going in the first place. I wish more bishops would consider the value of their members’ time this way, and would feel themselves to be under constant threat of commandment violation for wasting time. And I wish more members would stand up to leaders who abuse members’ time.
For a Church with large numbers of MBAs and business executive types in its leadership, we still like to cling to inefficiencies for the sake of tradition. Getting rid of the 3rd hour was a step in the right direction, but it took many years (and the deaths of many old heads) for us to get there.
@Jack Hughes – Definitely agree that the people in charge of meetings should respect other’s time and adhere to schedules/expectations. I don’t agree with it being compared to stealing. Stealing is taking something from someone against their will. If you’re in a church meeting and the hour is up, just get up and walk out. If it’s a small group of people in the meeting, maybe just quietly and politely excuse yourself. You know, whisper to the bishop, “Hey, I’ve gotta run”.
The person who was texting on their phone while on the freeway and caused a 10-car pileup … that person stole my time. I’m stuck in traffic for 30 minutes and there’s nothing I can do about it. But not the EQ/RS teacher who went 5 minutes over. I can do something about that. I can quietly get up and walk out.
@Bishop Bill, I’m glad to hear that you considered peoples interests when making assignments and callings. I’d love to see more of that in the Church. The only time that I can remember being asked about my preferences was at the beginning of fall semester in one or more of my BYU wards. At least in those cases it was acknowledged that the bishop wasn’t going to get inspiration on what callings to give to several hundred BYU students that he’d never met before.
I was recently released after three years as an activity days leader (the replacement for cub scouts). I guess it’s standard procedure in our ward to release people after 2 years in that calling, but they left me in for 3 since we had to slow things down during covid. My understanding is that this calling isn’t exactly a favorite for people to get, and it’s common for people to turn the calling down. We have quite a few kids this age, and I noticed that some of the other leaders I worked with got pretty stressed out with the rowdiness that always comes with this age group. I’m pretty sure that one of them requested an early release. I personally didn’t mind all of the noise and short attention spans. I just tried to make sure that each kid had a good time when they were there and felt loved and valued. One of the highlights was when we made rice crispy treats in the kitchen in our church building last summer. For some reason, we had an extra large turnout–30+ kids were there. It was mass chaos, and a couple of the leaders were really frustrated. I thought it was great because the kids were just having a blast, and so was I. I took a big group of kids outside to play Simon Says when it wasn’t their turn in the kitchen, so that a couple of the other leaders wouldn’t feel so stressed about all the noise in the cultural hall. In any case, I think this calling is kind of hard to fill in our ward, so had my bishop (who I really like) asked me if I wanted to be released, I would have said no, and he could have had a reprieve from having to find the next person willing to accept. I haven’t been given my new assignment yet (we have a big ward), but it’s almost certain to be something I don’t like as much as activity days leader.
The reason initiatories are now separate from the endowment was to increase efficiency. When my parents went thru, the endowment was 4 hours long. That’s incredibly inefficient if you want people to do proxy work. Taking it apart into meaningful chunks makes it possible for more temple work to be done.
The obsession with meetings is just a byproduct of how we expect “businesses” to run whether that’s a company or a ward. A lot of it could be replaced by group text or emails. Even doing it all via Zoom rather than at the Church would improve efficiency, but there is possibly a benefit in having people in a room together. There are always trade-offs. I think most of the egregious inefficiency is because we put unskilled people in roles and then just let them do what comes naturally to them, all while telling them that God wants them to do it however they want to do it. Realistically, maybe that’s best for the one in charge, but it can irritate the crap out of the rest in the meeting who have to put up with it.
About meetings that go over and is it theft:“But not the EQ/RS teacher who went 5 minutes over. I can do something about that. I can quietly get up and walk out.”
But the Sunbeam teacher has to stay later when the parents aren’t there in a timely manner to pick up their children. They end up staying ten, fifteen minutes, or more. If they have lots of time to spare that might be okay, but some have constraints that make it difficult to stay later than expected.
One inefficiency is poor use, at times, of professional resources.
It’s lovely, in many ways, to see a lawyer bagging noodles at a food production plant the church welfare system operates, but it could make more sense to see that person using their legal skills through an organization that helps vulnerable populations with serious legal needs. When a family is facing an unjust eviction, I would much rather see a lawyer helping them out than sweeping the floors of a food production facility.
I’ve noticed that meetings often lack efficiency because there is an enormous social/emotional component. Many LDS meet their social needs by attending various meetings. I also know more than one bishopric member who extends meetings because the alternative is returning home to a poor marriage or family life.
In a very real way, LDS leadership meetings serve the same role as bars, pubs or social clubs serve in non-LDS cultures.
re: Old Man. That is an amazing, prescient observation. As one who has endured 30+ yrs of various church meetings (leadership or otherwise), you’ve finally cracked the code.
The Pandemic cured me of further attending pointless Mormon meetings, at least as meetings are generally understood: purpose, agenda, follow up etc. However, as a type of Mormon social lubricant, those same meetings take on a new meaning. Not enough to get me to go to them anymore (no more 6:00 am bishopric meetings, stake leadership meetings etc.) but looking back I can see the dual purpose of many of those meetings that were, for me at least, inefficient or a waste of time at first blush.
Yes Old Man, there are other purposes for the meetings. I like your take on it. I would pick up my 1st counselor for bishopric meetings at 6:30 am on Sunday mornings, and in our short 10 min drive became better friends and talked about anything but church.
I wouldn’t put temple worship in the same category as a meeting. One of the main purposes of temple worship is to commune with God. I’m not sure that needs to be “efficient”.
From the current issue of LDS Living magazine-
98% of Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert performers are volunteers.