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300px-Kuznetsk_Alatau_3Programs and lifestyle are the main repositories of culture in a community. Programs are optional. Lifestyles are not. The person who declines to participate in a program still gets to sit in the audience at the awards ceremony. The person who declines to participate in a lifestyle is excluded from the flow of community life.

In the church we have plenty of programs — a temple program, a scouting program, a missionary program, a youth program, etc. We also have a lifestyle, one that is built on Sunday meeting attendance. A person who attends Sunday meetings is (more or less) plugged into the church community, even if he or she ignores all of the other programs.

Conversely, a person who participates in all the programs but never comes to church on Sunday (hypothetically speaking  that is — obviously you’d have a hard time getting a temple recommend or serving a full-time mission if you don’t attend Sunday meetings) is not likely to hold an effective place in the community consciousness. (Yes, I know there are exceptions to this rule. However, a quick perusal through a list of less-active members will show that most of them are essentially unknown to anyone in the ward.)

Program and lifestyle are both purpose-focused. They both have cultural structure and hierarchy. The key to distinguishing between them is that programs are socially optional, while lifestyle is not.

Programs address diversity in a community. Recall the finding that friendships are based more on shared interest than shared affiliation. This fact, I believe, helps explain the social dysfunctionality found in many wards — an ingrained institutional expectation that everyone will have interest in every church program due to our shared affiliation.

Understanding the role of programs — promoting enrichment and development by appealing to individual interests — is one of the keys to maintaining cohesion in a diverse community. To my mind, one approach to addressing the needs of the diverse members of an intentional community is to offload as much cultural expectation as possible from lifestyle to program, while retaining enough in lifestyle to maintain the fundamental values of the community.

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15 comments for “Program

  1. Let me mention again that the lines between lifestyle, space, and program are very blurry. I expect some of you will say, “The mission program is not optional in my ward/region/family!” And you’re right! Some of the areas I’ve identified as programs may be lifestyle where you live.

  2. Makes a lot of sense. Kind of sounds like the divide between Mormon culture and Mormon doctrine.

  3. That’s a good distinction, and one that could help with the pressure to try and do it all. I don’t have time or the interest to participate in all the programs, and yet teachers and leaders frequently insist that if we have a testimony, we will be anxious to participate in every program, or at least in the program they are focusing on at the moment.

    It would be refreshing to hear someone say, “if you’re interested in doing family history research, come to these activities and classes” rather than “if you aren’t interested in doing family history research, then we question your entire testimony.” I’m not interested in every program all the time.

  4. Dane, I agree social dysfunction can
    occur when too many lifestyle chooses become required programs within the community.
    Why then, do you say:”offload as much cultural expectation as possible from lifestyle to program”? I can agree with that only if the programs are voluntary.

  5. Good point, Bob — the word “program” kind of has a compulsory connotation. As I explain in the OP, I’m using “program” to refer specifically to voluntary opportunities.

  6. Hey all – I’ve never commented before on this board but read it often. Just wanted to say the best advice I ever heard was from our Stake President when he said “the Church will take all the time you are willing to give it. It is up to you to limit that amount of time to maintain balance in your lives”. No more guilt for me. I focus on the programs that my family is involved in knowing eventually as situations change we’ll move on to the next program. Thanks for so clearly articulating the distinction between program and lifestyle.

  7. Dane,

    I will have to disagree with your terminology. My Sunday attendance is worship and edification, not lifestyle or program.

    As an Catholic convert to the Church, I find the need to socialize and the denigration of our Sabbath meetings to lifestyle “catch-up” occasions to be most strange and bizarre. I am used to Catholic mass which is a worship service. One does not go to Sunday worship service to maintain a Catholic “lifestyle”. That lifestyle is lived within the walls of a Catholic family’s home. I did not treat attendance at mass as a meet and greet occasion.

    It is my opinion that the irreverent approach we take to our Sunday meetings is directly correlated to the lack of depth in testimonies and in members’ lack of knowledge of true gospel doctrine. If we treat the Sabbath as a lifestyle event, then our worship, adoration and edification of the Lord will remain low and our children as well as visitors will find our meetings less than enticing.

  8. It is my opinion that the irreverent approach we take to our Sunday meetings is directly correlated to the lack of depth in testimonies and in members’ lack of knowledge of true gospel doctrine.


  9. “I’m not interested in every program all the time.”
    I do agree with this. And yet I feel completely obligated to help others as they are participating in the programs, by supporting youth fundraisers, volunteering to substitute in Primary, be an easy home teachee, etc. I think it’s difficult if not impossible to completely divorce oneself from all of the programs, even if you don’t actively participate.

  10. Michael, I think worship is an important aspect of our Sunday meetings. But I simply disagree with your overall characterization. Depending on what exactly you mean, there’s a couple things to say. First, the level of worship and devotional practice that I think you describe takes place at the temple, not our meetinghouses on Sundays. I would agree that a lack of worship there would be a significant, critical lack. But so would not having the “lifestyle catch-ups” you seem to disapprove of. One of the glorious parts of our “true gospel doctrine” is that religion and exaltation is not merely a matter of doctrinal knowledge and individual devotion to God; rather, it’s about building celestial societies. Related to this, there isn’t a separation between the temporal (e.g., social catch-ups) and the spiritual (e.g., devotional worship). Rather, there is more than one aspect of living our religion – and the social aspect ought not be denigrated below the worship aspect.

    I’m thrilled you find meaningful worship at church a possibility – that’s sometimes a hard thing to do. I hope you’ll also learn to recognize the value of our gathering often to discuss the welfare of one anothers’ souls.

  11. Dane–
    You’re drawn an interesting distinction between “lifestyle” and “programs.” Although I attend sacrament meeting occasionally, and participate in service and social activities in the ward, I believe my non-regular attendance at Sunday meetings offends ward members.

    Mormons are taught that the LDS lifestyle is the only path to happiness. Members and former members who live fulfilling lives outside that lifestyle are evidence that this belief may be less than accurate.

  12. I’ve always thought that there are as many people active in spite of church programs as because of them.

    As lame as sacrament meeting can be and often is, when I miss one for some reason or another, I notice having missed it. If I miss one of the other meeting, I usually didn’t miss a thing. I go to them mostly because I’m already sitting in the building. I doubt I would drive across town for Sunday School. I think public worship, while perhaps not as spiritually rewarding as private worship, still has an important place. As weird as this is, worthwhile content is just gravy, a lucky break—neither essential or even frequent.

  13. Jim, that’s been my experience as well. I feel whole-er for having attended church, regardless of what’s presented.

    Michael, I don’t mean to reduce our religion to lifestyle and programs. In these posts I am only addressing the community aspects of the church. Worship, reverence, and salvation are far more important than anything I’m writing about here, but they are also outside of the scope of the green hill topic I’m fleshing out.

    James, I love the temple.

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