Light the World is a social media campaign encouraging people to help others and hashtag about it during the holiday season. On the one hand, it looks almost pretentious and does not affect non-members.
On the other hand…well, that is what this essay is about.
To get people to help others, research shows that sermons are useless. That is, preaching at people that they should help others makes pretty much no difference in whether they do or don’t help.
Even preparing a sermon on the Good Samaritan was useless in motivating people to help when checked by observational testing. Having people prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan in divinity school makes no statistical difference on whether they stop to help someone in need on their way to deliver that sermon.
On the other hand, some things made a huge difference:
First, having time. Those students preparing sermons who, as they left to deliver them were told their time slot had moved fifteen minutes or more were much more likely to stop and help. People who plan time to help others are much more likely to help.
Second, having a social model (having helping part of the social norm) helps. If it is socially expected and everyone is doing it, you are more likely to help others too.
Third, having a model for how to help makes a difference. People need to have a real or practice model (having someone else show you how it is done). Tangible examples give people a handle on service. Both practicing helping and seeing the specifics of what someone else has done makes it more likely you will help.
You want kindness and outreach?
Then you need socialization—making it an observed norm (something you know everyone is doing and expects). With examples (of how it is done).
Light the world creates socialization and examples of things people can do by showing what others are doing
It is actually an excellent tool to get people to do things that help others.
Since it really doesn’t do more than look quaint to people on the true outside, it is harmless for secondary gain. As a result, in practice it doesn’t seem to be advertising for outsiders so much as guidance for those doing it.
If you were trying to get people to help others, what would you do differently?
I agree, the light the world campaign targets members and is a nice way to encourage service. I do see people promoting it on their Facebook accounts, which I’m sure they’re encouraged to do and it’s not a bad optic. In Washington, D.C. the only location for a Light the World Giving machine is at the DC Temple visitors center. They do get a lot of traffic for their annual light display and Christmas concert series. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone, but it’s a mix of members (bringing guests!), friends/family of performers, and people enjoying a free holiday concert. In this case, having the Giving machine at the Visitor’s Center seems to target non-members as much as or more than members.
We could help others by changing some fundamental views which in turn may affect change- mainly address the binary “othering” issue in our church- us against the world rhetoric and address systemic racism especially in the form of white saviorism.
I run a youth development program and we do service projects monthly. About half the time we work at the local pantry. The way I get new members to join is by having the older members ‘report’ on how fun and rewarding our projects are, which is essentially what you described as socializing. Our yw/ym program seems to do the same thing. Very effective and important.
I’m kind of meh on the Light the World campaign. I’m also kind of meh on the vending machine giving. I will admit it’s much better than doing nothing. And there is definitely a time and place to simply write a check if you don’t have the capacity to give time performing meaningful service. But I think time-based service should be prioritized in the campaign over money-based service. That’s just my opinion and YMMV.
I think the best solution for our congregations to get involved in service is to partner with other charities and commit to long-term service opportunities and foster relationships with the organization. For example in our stake there is a battered women’s shelter. Our youth for youth conference helped with some light renovation tasks of one of their facilities. There is so much need there, including financial education, preparing and serving meals, day care, cleaning, and providing clothing for job prospects. It seems we are starting to partner with them and I sincerely hope it continues.
My nephew’s service mission in the greater Houston area included partnering with the Catholic charities. I would love for the church internally to really start branding and promoting more about the actual day-to-day logistics of service missions, though I think they are hesitant as their goal is for service missions to be second class missions overall to proselytizing missions.
These are my ideas.
A friend commented that her in-laws asked in lieu of Christmas gifts this year, extended family perform acts of service and then report what they do and how it makes them feel. I like the first part of this idea: giving service. The performative aspect? Not so much. Yes, service given to please someone else or make yourself feel good is still doing something for someone else (that is hopefully what the other person needs/wants), but making it about yourself or other people’s feelings doesn’t sit right with me. Sometimes an act of service absolutely hits the mark for both giver and receiver. I do, however, think it’s valuable to learn that sometimes service doesn’t look like or feel like service. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Sometimes it’s unappreciated. Sometimes it backfires (for either recipient or giver.) It’s not always accompanied by warm fuzzies. I want to clarify that’s I don’t think service has to an anonymous to be valid. I think a push to give service can be helpful. But maybe after that nudge, stand back?
I agree with Chadwick that the Church ought to consider facilitating congregations becoming involved in service for people who really need it. The Church decided a few decades ago to eliminate much of the social aspect of local congregations: sports, parties, road shows, fund raisers, etc. were all eliminated. When I was growing up everyone in the ward knew each other on a personal level because of all of these activities. Nowadays, I know people’s names, but there are only a few people in my ward that I know at more than a very superficial level, despite having lived in my ward for over 20 years. I don’t think I want to return to the days of ward parties, road shows, fund raisers, etc. because these things take a lot of members’ time, and I don’t think that’s how I would choice to spend my time. However, I think that having local congregations involved in service could be a way for members to once again develop relationships with each other. If the service provided was truly making a difference, I would probably be willing to give of my time.
The Church actually has provided a lot of service opportunities for members for many decades in the form of its welfare operation. I don’t know how Church welfare functions these days outside of the Mormon Corridor, but there are very regular requests for help on various projects in my ward. There was recently a request to have people help package cheese, for example. I don’t usually sign up for these opportunities these days because:
1. Lack of transparency. In the back of my head, I wonder if the Church producing its own cheese, canning its own tomato sauce, etc. is the most efficient way to provide these things to people. Would it be more efficient for the Church to just purchase these items from a large supplier at bulk wholesale prices? Maybe producing our own food is cheaper–I honestly don’t know–but if it isn’t, then this seems like a waste of time to me. Every month during second hour, we are asked to sign up to help for a few hours on welfare project X. It just seems like the Church expects its members to give their time to these projects because the hierarchy tells them its their duty to do so. The Church needs to spend more time and effort explaining why their way of doing things is worthy of my limited time. Other charitable organizations are much better at this.
2. The times available for these projects are very often during work hours, so it’s not a good time for me (and most people) to help.
3. My understanding is that the Church limits/restricts access to the cheese, tomato sauce, etc. that is produced to active members. I’m actually not even clear on what the Church policies are on this, but it just goes back to transparency again. There is only so much the Church can do with its resources, so maybe I could buy in to it prioritizing members over other people, but I don’t know if I can buy into it unless they tell me exactly how they do things.
4. When I have participated in these activities, there really hasn’t been much of a social aspect to them. I might have been the only person from my ward there, and I’ll likely never see the people I worked with again. The social aspect to service isn’t my top priority, but it would be nice, and it would attract more people if it were present.
5. The service I provide is always indirect–I never see or interact with the people I am helping. These projects typically have me showing up, given a few instructions on what to do, and then I go home. I never see how people are being helped. I realize that there is a great need for people to serve in ways that they will not interact with the people they are helping, but it would be nice if this happened at least some of the time. Also, when serving in ways without this interaction, it would be nice to be provided with the big picture of how my actions did eventually help someone else.
6. Sometimes members are threatened that they will be “assigned” to a welfare service time slot if not enough people volunteer. Sorry people, but threatening coercion is never a good way to get people excited about your service opportunity.
7. There is very little choice and variety in the Church welfare projects. Every person is different, so having a variety of very different projects would be a good idea.
The Church probably doesn’t want to get actively involved in any more big service commitments when it currently has such a hard time getting people to help with its existing welfare projects. However, I feel like if it addressed the problems above that more people (myself included) would be more likely to help. As it is, I now just donate my time to non-Church charitable organizations because they are a lot better at these things.
One other way to help Mormons have more time for service is to deemphasize temple attendance. I don’t understand why we spend so much time “helping” dead people when the living people right around us have so much need. Well, I guess I do understand the official Mormon reasoning for spending time helping dead people, it’s just not something I believe in at all any longer. After deconstructing Mormonism years ago, I have found value in many aspects of Mormonism as I’ve reconstructed my new faith. Spending so much time helping dead people isn’t one of them. I very much doubt that dead people require any help from the living.
Here in the UK some amazing things have started to happen very quickly mostly spearheaded by elder members in modest health, in partnership with existing charites and churches. Youth projects are beginning to get involved and this is bringing us very much more into the community. I’m astonished, and it’s beautiful. Not sure how sustainable it is though in terms of maintaining our commitment, but it’s helping me feel better about the church and it’s leadership, and it really helps me re-locate the church in my children’s minds. Difficult to knock it really.
The Church gives precious little to charity, yet it it is very, very rich by any matrix. Yet it still requires a 10 percent tithe. This limits how much money members can give to humanitarian groups. Redefining tithing would be a good step toward further encouraging members “to love their neighbor,” even global neighbors.
Investing in member humanitarian projects would also help. Too frequently, the mantra not “the Lord’s way” is used to not support member generated initiatives. As if one size meets are global needs. That’s ridiculous. Now the Church seems over invested in working with Catholic Charities, UNICEF, etc. Members are doing great things. Just think how much more they could accomplish with even a little support.
We need to quit wasting the time of proselytizing missionaries. Young missionaries should spend at least half of their time on humanitarian projects. The Church needs to turn the members loose, to do great things.
Roger Hansen is right – that 10% tithe soaks up money that members could otherwise donate to charities that would spend it on charitable projects.
This post made me think about service within the ward. When I was at BYU, the visiting teaching got assigned round-robin style. We were basically in a group of 8 sisters, and we were to visit teach each other. It was awesome. There was none of the awkwardness of feeling like someone’s service project. We all hung out and called each other when we needed help. I was talking up that style of visiting teaching in another ward and someone said that wasn’t Handbook approved. Service is supposed to be a hierarchy, not a mutuality. That makes service kind of difficult to accept, you know? I’ve been a service project. It’s awkward. More back and forth of giving help and receiving help makes for much stronger relationships.
These suggestions for more meaningful community service are great too, the post just made me think of service within the ward.
Roger a similar thing seems to be happening in effect in our stake and includes some relatively large donations from the church in relation to refugee organisations. Keeping us fairly busy.
Wayfarer, I think it’s the fact that it’s refugees that’s the magic key for your stake. Our ward here in the uk tried to get funding via the stake from the humanitarian aid fund for work we’ve been doing with a local ecumenical religious group in our city helping homeless people in the city, supporting them into jobs, housing, mental and other healthcare etc. Really working to get them back on their feet, something you’d have thought would be totally in line with church views on developing self-reliance.. It was at the instigation of our youth that the ward began to get involved.. but we were refused any support from the substantial uk humanitarian aid donations that have be accruing for years (and which has now I gather been sent to the black hole of Salt Lake according to the most recent accounts submitted to the charities commission).
Apparently, if it was refugees, we could have had the funding, they said. But homeless people are apparently not a humanitarian problem!