Dogs’ Ears and Retention

A brilliant and faithful friend of mine was musing on the pattern typical to new converts in her ward.  With her permission:

Our ward has brought in a bunch of single females into the baptism font recently and the trajectory has been almost identical for all of them:

Phase One:  Missionaries love me. I feel the pull of the truth and the Lord’s love.  Church members are coming over in droves to listen to me talk for 90 minutes about the inside of my dog’s ear if I want to, waiting to get a niblit of gospel teaching into the conversation. I love the church.
Phase Two:  Excited, everyone showed up at my baptism and I’m willing and eager to learn a new life with new friends and the ward family I was welcomed into.  This is gonna be so great.  The Church is true.
Phase Three:  They are now letting me know that the Jesus I shared my love for doesn’t want me alone and won’t let me hang around unless I’m married and my chances of that are slim to none.  I explained I had a horrible marriage, divorce, abuse situation, etc but they summarily dismiss that and insist on family as the ultimate reason to exist and praise Jesus. Redemption and repentance are important but only as paths to get to family.  Not to live with the Savior, but to live with my family.  I sit in sacrament meetings all about forever families, but I can’t be sealed to my own children.  The “it will come later” explanation seems the same sort of mystery that they said wasn’t good in my old church.  But people are nice and seem devoted, at least to their own family.
Phase 4: This is very differerent than my first month here.  They don’t know I’ve gone back to my old church to visit.  Everyone here is too busy protecting time with their own insulated families.  We had prayer circle on Wed and I loved it.  I felt like a real family of worshipers again.  No one from the new church comes to talk or listen anymore, missionaries stopped coming and the assigned teachers don’t seem to have a genuine interest in anything but the magazine they read from.  They don’t come other than that.  I thought all that was the beginning of new friendships but I guess not.  I don’t know what happened.  We had such a good time talking last month.  I have friends at my (old) church without even trying.  They seem to need friends too so we all have that common support for each other.  They have families too but are more open with their time.
Maybe the baptisms serve to help us not have so many to do in the millenium but they don’t seem to be much more than that.  While I don’t want to be the socially favorite church, it sure seems like investigators don’t understand what they are getting into and either don’t have the motivation or don’t have the skills to withstand the isolation we put them through as singles.
While Sis Beck talked about the women flooding into the church as we found our vision of RS, I don’t think she meant they would come for 4 month stints and leave.  It’s so frustrating and heartbreaking.  The ones most attracted are those that need a community and think they’ve found it as the missionaries are so very attentive.  Then they get suddenly ignored.
So solutions?  Still pondering what to do.  Reading through some RS histories to try to get some ideas.  [She here names a few women in her ward who do a good job maintaining relationships with singles.]  Some friends from Utah do it well.  It’s far more rare than it should be.  And mothers/families suffer from the consequenses of being so isolated from others and overly insulated as a family.
When I was new to the church, I was convinced the choirs needed robes.  I’ve since realized that was just my own wish for something familiar in an unfamiliar religionworld.  Is this just a choir robe issue or do we really need to be more of a community?  Will a community distract from our duties and abilities to care for our families?
“No success will compensate for failure in the home.”  If I hear that quote one more time over the pulpit… I may scream.  I don’t think they were talking about saying no to callings or spending time with new members.  I can come up with example after example of pioneer stories that WE promote in our talks and lesson, about people inviting refugees into their home nad having all their kids die of smallpox.  Of wagon company members sharing food with others and suffering terribly.  Missionaries going on 3 yr missions, leaving women and children, sick and pregnant behind.  The list of overdramatic stories we love are rife with sacrificing for others.
And the rumor is that “singles” are selfish or overly self-concerned.  Oh brother!

56 comments for “Dogs’ Ears and Retention

  1. We see the patterns we want to see.

    That’s nothing like the patterns in our ward, where sisters whose relationship with eternal families is somewhat bleak are the most faithful converts we have.

    Its comforting to think, however, that there is some simple explanation for our problems, including problems with convert retention.

  2. Or, perhaps, Adam, there are different patterns in different places and we might learn something about how to better minister to the Saints in a certain place by learning from the weaknesses of the pattern in that area or the strengths in another area.

    Please share with us what factors/policies/attitudes/etc. make the “bleak sisters” in your area the most faithful converts so we can model that elsewhere.

  3. I think male converts fall into this pattern, also, so this isn’t really a gender thing.

    How do we as individuals (most importantly) and as an institution (secondary importance, in my mind) help make every other person feel welcome and needed? Is it even possible?

    I like choir robes, too — but I realize they’ll never happen.

  4. We see the patterns we want to see.*

    *Except for Adam G., who sees that other people just see patterns that they see, whereas he sees the whole picture and is thus qualified to make such a judgment, thus dismissing the feelings of another human being…

  5. Hi everybody. I am a single adult male who has been a member of the church since I was eight. I am not able to marry. I moved into a new ward about two years ago. I desperately need friends and fellowship, but the families are just too unwilling to be inclusive, and they are incentivized by rhetoric that encourages them to hunker down with their nuclear families and not be open to friendships outside of that. This is a very common issue in the Church.

  6. This is not limited to the church. It is a common pattern that anyone goes through when embarking on a new venture. Think “new job”, “new hobby”, really anything. Early excitement followed by some level of lowered enthusiasm as the newness wears off.

    Your point is well taken that we spent lots of effort on recruitment, but less on retention. Retention is hard, because frankly “endure to the end” isn’t a catchy come-on. New converts must be given meaningful callings ASAP. Not just some pablum, a real calling with some real responsibility. Team teaching in Primary, as long as they can make their own Sunday school as well.

    The other issues you brought up regarding mechanistic home-teachers and formulaic talks in sacrament are something only your ward leadership can deal with.

  7. Recently church leadership has made a point of saying that all the church programs exist to support the family, not the other way around. Which I guess is supposed to keep us from neglecting our families. I’m totally about not neglecting our families, except when we need to. The point of church, and the reason any church program should exist, is to worship God and to support each other. I mean, I think that’s in the scriptures. I’m not a scholar, but I’m pretty sure. (Maybe I’ll get back to you on that.)

  8. I think this issue has very little to do with church teachings about the importance of families, and everything to do with the realities of being a parent, in or out of the church. It’s a cultural cliche that the still-single friend can’t get a minute of time with his college roommate who’s now married, changing diapers and coaching little league.

    My question is why the single sisters in the original post didn’t find *each other*? I would expect that the world over, the best friends of singles would tend to be other singles.

  9. “I would expect that the world over, the best friends of singles would tend to be other singles.”

    That’s just it–there are lots of single women with whom I have nothing in common except singleness, and yet everyone expects/hopes that we will be best friends because it would be convenient for them if that were the case. It turns out, actually, that I’m more than a demographic, and friendship is sometimes inconvenient.

  10. Convert retention is, for me, one of the most difficult and discouraging problems in the church. We work so hard to find people, and genuinely try to show love to them… and it is genuine. But that transition from new member to experienced veteran is a difficult one, and often includes a period of inactivity. Sometimes you have to sort-of join again, but the second time on more realistic terms.

    Our very married culture can be alienating to those outside of marriage. So here are a few ideas, which I am afraid are hopelessly trite, or unoriginal. I know, for my part, that I can work on these things, as can others:

    1. For those of us who are married itis important to constantly consider how a policy, a teaching, a talk might sound to a single person. For example, we know how difficult it can be for someone on Father’s day or Mother’s day to hear a talk about how much God loves us… to send us to strong families for example. But consider someone who was shattered by an abusive parent. S(he) may wonder: “Does God love me, if he sent me to this shattered, ruined, dysfunctional family?” So one must be careful about what is concluded about our happy state (if we are in a happy state.) Is our self-satisifaction a sign of God’s approval? If I were to say that I believe that God led me to my (very talented, gracious, and wonderful) wife, then is it possible that I am saying to those who are single: “God must not love you like He loves me, because He hasn’t led you to anyone good… yet.” So, be careful about what you say… and what you believe about such things. (I could go on here for a long time about such things: As another example, the idea that God sends his most select spirits to Mormon families, etc.)

    2. We have to make special efforts to call single people into positions of authority and leadership. EQ President, HP Group leaders, Bishopric, High Council. We aren’t doing this as an exercize in tokenism, but because we recognize that we can’t function without everyone. One of the reasons that I don’t worry too much about extreme forms of religions sweeping over the earth, is because those cultures which forbid taking advantage of the talents of large numbers of their own people operate at a significant disadvantage, which they of course are blind to. Our own church can be guilty of this, but perhaps I won’t say more as that isn’t the point of this thread. But the point is, we need to make singles feel welcome by actually using them and their considerable talents. We can’t afford to waste someone’s gifts because they are single, ugly, fat, or even not-so-bright, liberal conservative, etc. I yearn for the day that Bishops, Stake Presidents, and GAs can be single. We need to understand that we can and must learn from everyone and not just from those from a particular demographic niche. We can’t control the church, but we can go a long ways in controlling our wards, our organizations.

    3. We need to figure our how to “innoculate” our new members against what they will be hearing from their dear friends and family members about our church. Many Times and Seasons posts have discussed this issue of innoculation. I believe that we all go to the internet for information now, and it is much easier for new (and experienced) members to read accounts of non-Mormons, ex-Mormons, angry Mormons, etc. We need some sort of innoculation. Something better than the Gospel Essentials Manual which for me is insultingly insipid.

    Finally, I am interested in the comment about being “overinsulated as a family.” What do you make of that? What is she getting at?

  11. I think the OP brings up some good points that should be duly considered. I would say that it’s a mistake to dismiss someone else’s experience as simply “what they want to see”. While not having the same experience with single females, necessarily, I have absolutely seen families in my ward become very insular and family focused almost to the exclusion of caring for or about anyone else, and it has really hurt our ability to support each other in the ward, much less baptize anyone. Our baptisms have ground to a halt. Is that the only reason for the problem? Probably not. But it is a huge problem and it needs to be addressed.

    Retention is indeed hard, but members of a ward excluding singles, or anyone at all, makes it much harder than it should be. Enduring to the end does not have to be done alone, and indeed should not. And I’m not speaking solely of marriage here. The fellowship of the saints is not only desirable, but necessary. Zion must be established and that cannot happen with a bunch of families who just happen to meet in the same place once a week for a few hours.

  12. “It’s a cultural cliche that the still-single friend can’t get a minute of time with his college roommate who’s now married, changing diapers and coaching little league.”

    Heck, those of us marrieds-without-children can hardly get any time with our friends who are marrieds-with-children.

  13. “We see the patterns we want to see.”

    You’re exactly right Adam. But the same could be said of you and your ward, couldn’t it? Do you know all of the converts and members in your ward and their experiences and reasons for their levels of activity in the church? I don’t think that the post is trying to categorize single women converts’ experiences, but is merely an attempt to share what is a common problem in retention of women in the LDS church that often goes ignored in leadership circles.

  14. I really agree with your friend’s comment about families. I love my family very much but one of the most important things I can teach them is the importance of loving others, including those who aren’t in the family. I have heard too many parents excuse their children from service projects, mutual activities and similar church things because they have play practice, or cross country practice or baseball practice or plan to work in the garden or go on a bike ride. That is fine on occassion but when those things take over then the family is not receiving a benefit either. Sometimes we need to look outside our selves even if it is inconvenient.

  15. #7 – “the reason any church program should exist, is to worship God…”

    Ah yes, but how does God say we ought to worship?

  16. When my children were very young (4 of them from age 9 down to age 1) my wife and I felt compassion towards a single sister in our ward who seemed to love kids alot and didn’t seem to enjoy being alone. She was our age, too, and very well read, so we had a lot in common to start with. We started including her in our family, having dinners together on Sundays, then socializing during the week playing cards and such, and definitely including her at our table during ward functions. She babysat for us. Our two young girls seemed to admire her and our two boys loved to be around her. She took in a room-mate, another single sister who also enjoyed children. We enjoyed socializing with both of them, and thankfully my wife wasn’t jealous about me being friends with these two single sisters as well as my wife being friends with both of them. It became a genuine friendship with both of them, though I admit perhaps we were trying just to be dutiful when we first started the relationship. When we decided to have a 5th child, our single friends through us both a shower, and came to stay the night with the kids when we went to the hospital. They babysat for us often so we could go out. We were so sad to see the first single sister move away, and then the second one, too. We kept in touch through many years now, and we all look fondly back on those fun years. Friends, indeed.

  17. Ah yes, but how does God say we ought to worship?

    I don’t know. I haven’t looked up the scripture yet.

    Seriously, I don’t think having a Christ-centered worship service is going to hurt anyone’s family. I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in my ward’s sacrament meeting (too focused on my own family), but given how much single people complain about feeling marginalized at church–when church ought to help them feel closer to God–I think that warrants some reflection on how, exactly, we’re worshiping in reality. God wants us to love and serve our families; I don’t think he wants us to worship them. Most people are in families of some sort; it makes sense to talk about things in terms of family sometimes. But church is for us to enjoy the fellowship of saints. As a community we should be an extended family for those who don’t have family of their own or for whom family is not enough. (Personally I don’t think family is enough for anyone.) Part of being a family is not making people feel lonely when they’re with you.

    I’m not intimately familiar with the pain of single church members. It’s been a long time since I’ve been single. But when someone tells me they’re in pain, my first instinct should be to wonder what I can do or change to alleviate or get rid of that pain. Sometimes the answer is “nothing.” But not usually.

  18. I would suggest Sunday “worship services” are where we gather together to strengthen and learn from one another, and renew our convents to give us power to actually perform our real worship — living a consecrated, Christ-like life every day of the week. I think how we worship is reflected in what we do every day. At least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to be when we consider the concept of consecrating our lives.

    The role of Sunday services, for me, are to strengthen me in doing so. It’s not the culmination of worshiping, but the foundation which I go and build on the other 6 days.

    I don’t personally consider “worship” to be talking about how great our family is, or even how great God is, although both of those could be aspects of what we do when we worship. But when we strive to make ourselves worth to receive the spirit to help us recognize what Christ would do, and then go and do it (teaching, service, prayer, meditation, sacrifice), then we are worshiping.

  19. How much responsibility does the convert have to reciprocate by going to visit members, or inviting them over, and engaging with them? Perhaps the sister of the OP addressed this when she wrote that “Everyone here is too busy protecting time with their own insulated families.” If that is the case, and her efforts at fellowship were rejected, then she has a very good point. But if the expectation is that she’d always be at the center of the ward’s attention and affection, well, that wasn’t a very realistic expectation, now was it?

  20. We can talk around it all we want, but the elephant in the room, so to speak, is that in our church, unless we are married and part of a family, we are not really in the church, not completely, not fully. We are an oddball, someone to pity, an assignment, someone who needs extra love and care because of our blighted condition. Much as I admire those single members who find happiness and joy and a sense of belonging in the church, I cannot help but feel sad for all those who do not. And that extends not just to converts, but women — mostly — who are lifelong, devoted, active members and lose a husband and who feel they no longer fit in.

  21. My question is why the single sisters in the original post didn’t find *each other*? I would expect that the world over, the best friends of singles would tend to be other singles.

    I’ve never understood this oft-expressed idea. What is it about singleness that you think draws singles together (other than for possibilities of marriage, which in this discussion is irrelevant)?

    Do married people do nothing with their married friends but sit around and talk about being married? Maybe that’s the case when in the first few years of marriage you’re making life adjustments, and sharing children’s milestones and your parenting philosophy, but after that? and as the sole basis for friendship? Or do you pick your friends because you like the same movies, go to the same sports events, have employment in common, were old school friends, share political views, and have other shared traits that make for good conversation, enjoyable social activities, and meaningful civic involvement? Those same things draw singles to our friends, too — and the shared trait of singleness has nothing to do with that attraction.

    Most singles, in fact, are as dull, lifeless, and uninteresting as most married people — of the 50 or 60 singles I know in my general area from church or work, only two of them are *not* so boring that I would even consider a real friendship (in contrast to the civil behavior I usually display toward most people most of the time, but with whom I share no interests and have no basis of genuine friendship). When I pick a friend, the only time marital status, or even gender, enters into it is because of the “what will the neighbors think?” barrier that supposes that of course I should stick to “my own kind” — other single women.

  22. “They are now letting me know that the Jesus I shared my love for doesn’t want me alone and won’t let me hang around unless I’m married.”

    This is a weird thing to hear at church – probably a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase of the underlying message of church culture?

    This issue comes down to true charity. If an individual (single, married, old, young, etc., etc.) feels valued, he or she will stick around. If an individual feels like a label, burden, assignment, interloper, or outsider, he or she will be more likely to leave. What’s wrong with us human beings – why can’t we just welcome and like each other?!?!?

  23. “Over-insulated families” = having people outside our families in our homes requires an invitation, a calendar entry, and preparation. The house needs to look nice, the guest needs to leave at an appropriate hour so we can get back to what we really want to do (which always requires being alone), and most real life needs to be hidden for the duration. Our family totally does this. Each house is a little bubble. It certainly isn’t just the LDS living like this, but whatever it is, it isn’t Zion.

  24. building on what Owen just said, would we have better communities if we had smaller families?

    or do we all just need to learn to relax and let our untidy lives hang out more.

  25. Ardis and Kristine, I questioned why the single sisters in the OP didn’t find each other for two reasons.

    First, as a rule we would expect that the more characteristics two people share, the greater the likelihood that they will be friends. Friends would be disproportionately likely to live near each other, be similar in age, interests, education, etc. So what I know about these particular women (all female, all single, all recent Mormon converts, all live near each other) makes them more likely to become friends with each other than with a random people they see on the street.

    Second, friendship is also driven by necessity, so people who are shopping for friends at the same time, as these women appear to have been, would be more likely to make a match. I probably met half of my law school friends in the first 30 days I was there, in part because after I had a certain number of friends I had less need to meet more.

  26. It’s the “interests, education” part that is a mismatch, Matt. Location and age are hardly anything to base a friendship on once you’re older than, say, 6.

  27. #25 and 26–I also wonder what affect rampant porn/lust addiction has on ward social relations.

    Our LDS culture heavily emphasizes appearances. That raises the bar for how clean is company-worthy clean. That’s a high bar for me–I have 6 kids, including a baby–not to mention the expense of a company-ready meal on our strained budget.

    I could try to get over myself and give the gift of authenticity and serve a new convert lukewarm ramen in a messy house–hey, that could even be fun, with the right people–except for the larger issue: so many LDS people, especially husbands, wrestle with sex addiction. The numbers are pretty high.

    My husband’s one of them. His 12-step recovery is spiritual chemotherapy and missing meetings is not optional. Pretty much all our time is devoted either to church things (Mutual, Primary activities, Scout) or to recovery, which is at least a part-time job. Between the two we have hardly any evenings at home as a family.

    It’s exhausting to pretend to be normal all night for a stranger’s sake and I don’t have the bandwidth to do it. Getting close to other women, especially single ones, is not compatible with my marriage’s boundaries. If that disappoints lonely sister converts, I assure you, I’m disappointed too.

    I wish I were the exception to the rule, but the LDS counselors and bishops I’ve spoken with lead me to believe my family’s situation is all too common. And it would go pretty far to explain an apparently mystifying new insularity surrounding LDS families.

  28. having people outside our families in our homes requires an invitation, a calendar entry, and preparation

    But why does having people over have to be a big production (dinner, clean house, etc.)? I mean, that’s cool—back before we had kids, we had people over for dinner once a week, give or take. And, for various reasons (most of which are cute and younger than 7), that’s not really viable (on a weekly basis, at least) for the near future. But not every social occasion has to be a big production; we’ve taken Sunday afternoon walks around the neighborhood with friends. We’ve had people over for dessert. Heck, my wife gets together most Sunday nights with a couple friends. They started out watching Downton Abbey. When it ended, they started watching some other BBC show on DVD; I joined in this last time as they watched the last episode of Sherlock. My wife provides the root beer, they bring the popcorn, and they all have an hour or two that they can just hang out. The kids are in bed, I’m in the other room (except for when it’s Sherlock), and they have a good time. No clean house or massive preparation necessary.

  29. Sam, that works for established friendships, not necessarily with people you’re first getting to know (especially not in a culture where women are frequently judged based on their homemaking skill).

  30. Kristine,
    “… judged based on their homemaking skill”.
    Are you saying there something beyond “Can she bake a cherry pie”? :)

  31. Kristine, the movie thing, maybe (although I’ve seen it done even with acquaintances). Dessert or a walk? That’s definitely doable as a get-to-know-you thing, at least in places I’ve lived. There are plenty of low-effort, low-stress ways to get to know people that don’t involve cleaning or cooking an elaborate meal. (As the weather in Chicago has moved from winter to 90s in the last couple days, maybe substitute “picnic” for “movie,” though picnics aren’t a great option like 8 months of the year here.)

    Even if in Mormon culture that dinner at a clean house is the only option, though, why not treat this as a normative suggestion? It seems like moving away from a judging-women-on-homemaking-skills culture would be easiest done with people who are new to the culture. (And, whether or not homemaking skills are a principal point of judgment in Mormon culture, they clearly aren’t in the broader culture from which we draw at least some portion of our converts.)

  32. I should add that the friends my wife has over she largely got to know outside of Church from a love of food. They’ve got a dinner group that, once a month, gets together at a different restaurant. That’s not entirely unproblematic—it clearly excludes people who can’t afford a meal out or who don’t find value in mid- to upscale restaurants. But I suspect there isn’t One True Solution to the problem of people feeling left out. But between the movies and the picnics and the restaurants and whatever else, there’s plenty of room for people who aren’t or don’t want to be homemakers to nonetheless put themselves out to become friends with people of diverse backgrounds.

  33. “Do married people do nothing with their married friends but sit around and talk about being married?”

    No, actually, we talk about nothing but our children. It is positively stultifying.

  34. “And, whether or not homemaking skills are a principal point of judgment in Mormon culture, they clearly aren’t in the broader culture from which we draw at least some portion of our converts.”

    What culture do you live in? I don’t know ANY women who don’t feel some anxiety about the state of their home…

  35. ” I don’t know ANY women who don’t feel some anxiety about the state of their home…”

    Maybe this needs to be a separate post, but can we talk about this? Where does this come from and HOW DO WE MAKE IT GO AWAY?

  36. Julie’s “brilliant” friend here. Author of the post ideas. After reading the next comment or two, you are going to want to email Julie the real definition of brilliant. Posting scares me enough to make me want to pee my pants and that requires laundry. I love reading but mostly sound like a dork when I write, so I never do. I just think inside my head or have conversations where I can see faces and voice tone. This may require Tide but here goes…

    #1 Adam – What I “want” to see is families that hang a bit more together, without official assignment to do so. It’s not that common. Why?. I saw several other churches “hang out” together pretty easily.

    Is it that there’s too many of us? Are we afraid someone will see us in our natural habitat? Are we afraid “social” time means we aren’t busy enough earning our familial salvation?

    When I was first in a “conventional/family” ward, I was foolishly convinced that everyone was having fun at all those week morning play-dates and couple dinners. Au contraire – I soon found many tears, much isolation, amazing loneliness rampant in the married women, not just in the singles.

    Foolish act #2 – I thought to myself “Why are all these women alone when they all have children, SAHM status, the church, neighborhood etc. They should all be best friends. (easy to think, right?)

    Community is devalued, unless you are talking about an organized, sponsored and assigned visit or service project. We speak frequently about our children’s friends, but rarely about adult friendships.

    What is up with that?

  37. OMGoodness, I actually hit the post button. Here goes again.

    #3 Ji – Right O – Not a gender or marital status thing necessarily. I have thought that singles become the canary in the mine and if singles are coughing, you best not get mad at them for making noise but pump fresh air into the mine shaft for everyone to breath easier.

    Red silky choir robes with white lapels at Christmas – Oh how I miss those – And handbell choirs. Fond memories, sigh!

    #5 Jeremiah – Yup – pretty common in our sphere, but pretty uncommon other social groups. Why? Are we bootstrap believers in the extreme? What is it?

    #6 Craig – Good point – Excitement about something new is limited. Catchy com-on’s comment is great. But… (and you knew this was coming) There is plenty o’ new to keep someone excited for at least a year’s journey to the temple. So wide and deep, this gospel. It was all new to me for a very, very long time. I didn’t mean to call undue attention to their excitement, as much as their feeling they were part of a new community that wasn’t at all what it appeared to be. Members got suddenly too busy for all the chatter about her dog’s ears and poof, evaporated into thin air. No one actively developed anything in common with her that would last past the newness. And oddly, that evaporation coincided with her baptism.

    I do not believe anyone involved did this deliberately or even thought it through. They were very aware of what would entice her to let them back in the door to teach her. As I’ve tried to connect her more broadly to others, post-baptism, I get responses like “Aren’t her HT/VT/committee-members-with-her-calling, RS prez, EQ, HPriest group leaders talking with her and answering her questions? I have a calling.” It was absolutely no problem inviting someone to visit her pre-baptism. That kind of community was understood as necessary. Again, I don’t believe anyone does this deceptively.

    Where does that understanding of the need for community go after you are baptized?

    Nope on the Leadership comment – Leadership is getting work done through other people. Every member a ward leader (ship)!

    Yup on the retention being hard, needing a friend, a responsibility and an ongoing conversation about the gospel and its life changing impact.

  38. On a roll.. I really love reading the comments. Hope this doesn’t spoil them. I’ve learned a couple things so far.

    #7 Rebecca – I like that thought. Trust falls are overrated, but there is something to be said for knowing if you fall yourself, you will be caught in strong arms. I think of Pres Monson’s 84 widows – caught and carried in strong arms.
    If we create a community web/bond, anyone who falls, will fall on other’s shoulders and not between any cracks. We will all be safe as families, as parents, as teens, as singles. The old description of a small town where you couldn’t do anything wrong as a teen without your parent’s knowing well before you got home. Not a community of tattling, but a community where that support is foundational and strengthening to all it’s members.

    #8 Peter – Muddling yes, on so many levels. Lay ministry – not a chance. Some volunteer callings though. Nice folk.

  39. #9 Matt – Realities of being a parent – I agree and add that I know lots of people who do make time for other than family friendships and know more of them outside the church than inside.

    I myself (brag, brag) have been a blessing to many/some/at least a few families and not so much of a hindrance to their parenting. I’m actually helpful to families as a single rather than a burden, hindrance or whiney distraction. I should rate slightly higher than a new puppy, I’m pretty sure. So I’m at least worth making as much time for as a new puppy.

    There, I said it, I’m less maintenance than a puppy, if that’s a selling point at all. hehehe

    Why do you think that single sisters don’t find each other?

    Some possibilities:
    The new ones are too new and not staying long enough. It’s very jarring, confusing and embarrassing to hit that wall & figure out that all these new friends aren’t really that interested in your dog’s ears after all. I’ve noticed it makes them more susceptible to critics of the church’s complex teachings. And now they have no informal access to “mormon” friends to chat this out with. We typically tell them to go pray in a corner by themselves until they have a testimony. Not helpful.

    So maybe Preach My Gospel can include a chapter on what to do when you are suddenly alone to keep your newfound faith. (jk)

    2) You are suddenly put on a new playing field. I’ve been genuinely asked “If we can’t wear pants, can we wear red dresses or is that forbidden? One of them thought a jar of homemade jam with a bow on it delivered to her doorstep around Easter was a blood atonement symbol from her new church and called me asking bizarre questions till I figured out what had happened. The collection plate non-thing we do, choir robes, meetings on Tuesday nights, the “Teaching home comers” she called them the first time. So even if they knew how to make friends before in a church group, we don’t emphasize it nor encourage it. She’s given a calling that’s only half explained, a vt assignment that wasn’t explained at ll (She called me to ask about “that piece of paper with someone’s birthday on it). One sister set out a 3 course meal for her first VT’rs. How would I know to find a friend, how to or even if there was one there to find? So many singles are inactive. Too new, too peculiar.

  40. #10 Kristine
    This is a common issue. Friendship is so poorly understood and stereotyped.

    #1 A mother of 6 called me and begged me to do something about this new convert that kept calling her. She didn’t have time for these twice weekly, hour long conversations due to dinners, scouts, callings, housework & homework. I started to explain why the new sister thought they were friends. Ward sister actively sought convert sister out in the investigation process and repeatedly expressed interest the new sister took for genuine friendship.
    Then the ward sister went on to explain that she thought I was one of her best friends because she trusted me with her kids but I didn’t call her every week. I responded “Sister, you and I have never, in 4 yrs, even had lunch together or talked outside of a church hall or calling”.

    She didn’t get it. Some people don’t define “BFF’s” unless they have actually spent some time sharing. That concept was absolute mystery to her. She insisted that she and I were best friends. She wasn’t even on my top 100 list of friends (hope she’s not reading this) because I don’t spend time except to babysit her kids or sub for her calling. For me, that is NOT besties. She doesn’t talk to me unless she needs something. I don’t mind that too much, but it doesn’t make us friends, only acquaintances. She never offers to do anything for me (too busy with her own children). Hard to explain why I don’t think she’s selfish after saying it this way. I don’t. We are church co-workers and I can help her get the work done and I like her company.
    No reciprocity involved. She thinks she is doing childless me some sort of favor by letting me visit with her children while she attends the temple. And I love her children. But I don’t consider that “reciprocity” and she does. So many women in the church are that way. For so many years now, I’ve come to terms with it. I make my own “friends”. I love these women and cherish the opportunity to serve, despite the difference of definitions. I love the cards, comments, letters and hugs from the children. Ward women don’t understand and I’m sure I sound conceited to some of your reading this. It’s just life as I’ve come to know it. I’m lots of people’s “best friend” and that’s a plus.

    #2 Friends among singles – I live alone and would prefer another heartbeat in the house. When I hear a noise at night, I can pretend it’s my housemate instead of a burglar. It’s easier to sleep when you can pretend. I’ve had several housemates since college. One had cocaine in the house. Some had clandestine overnight male guests, claiming he was a “brother”. All of these women looked “normal” in church and like they could have been great best friends for me. Not so much.

    So while many are called single, few are chosen to be good best friends, even though for two hours in primary, they are lovely church citizens. That’s not the norm though, just an example that narrows what seems to be ample wheat field ready for harvest. Many fine single women who aren’t troubled to this extent. Just not all of them.

    #3 Like married sisters who feel judged, single sisters do likewise. They don’t/can’t walk around a museum due to poor health, bad knees or weight issues, don’t want to be exposed to someone who might not like their interests or be patient with them, feel overly awkward and can’t subject themselves to one more imagined or otherwise perception about how they aren’t good enough to be a married member.

    #3 One sister was a fellow temple worker, fellow seminary teacher, fellow single, approximate age. Perfect storm to have many things in common right? Glued to her single mother, would not even go out to lunch with anyone else. OK. Another single sister with like interests is self-isolating daily working late. Another sister has 10-12 nieces and nephews in the area that she constantly babysits and doesn’t have/make bandwidth for friendships outside her family ties.
    All single sisters in one stake, approximate ages, some with like interests – Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

  41. Wait – I think I just made myself sound like a Nerd that obviously nobody wants to be friends with, for reasons everyone is privy to ‘cept myself.

    (this is why I don’t post-I’m a communication dork.)

    I do have friends though. Not just imaginary ones. I’ll stop digging the hole now.

  42. As a convert, I know that this is not a Mormon phenomenon — among all peoples in the United States, we are all becoming more insular. In the old days, before television and so forth, people looked forward to seeing other people to talk and visit. But since television, we get all the interactions we need with all the electronic stimulation, and we don’t need to talk to anyone else so much.

    Remember from your readings about the old days? Someone new comes into the village, and he is the most popular person there for a while as he tells his stories about other places and happenings. Now, we already know everything because we heard/saw it on television/radio/internet. So we don’t need neighbors for social stimulation anymore. Similarly, air conditioning means we no longer need front porches on new houses and don’t use front porches on old houses. And so on. How about us? Right now, we’re interacting with electronic screens instead of real people.

    I’m speaking generally, of course.

  43. It took a minute to remember where this discussion had taken place, but I wanted to come back and let you know that thanks to this discussion and a little bit of inspiration my husband and I invited a recently divorced brother in the ward and his kids over to dinner this weekend. A small thing, to be sure, and the house wasn’t immaculate and it wasn’t a fancy meal but the kids had fun and we had a nice visit and heard lots of very funny stories. Thanks for the post!

  44. Single sisters are a big concern in my ward, since we seem to have a lot of them (56, which is about 1/3 of all the families in the ward). They have so much variety in circumstance and meeting attendance, I have a hard time even learning who they are, much elss what I can do to help them feel more a part of the ward. The best I’ve been able to come up with is to try to invite them to dinner with our family, just to get to know them better.

    What more can we do on an individual level?

  45. I heart researcher! If you will permit some tent stake spreading on a beloved addage

    So settle down cobwebs,
    Dust go to sleep
    I’m feeding Thy lambs
    And sheepies don’t keep.

  46. Frank–just the fact that you/we think of “single sisters” and count them is a problem. Do you know how many “married sisters” there are in the ward? Probably not–married people are known by names, callings, personalities, weird noses, etc., while single people are identified primarily demographically. I want to go back to being “the one with dishwater blonde hair and a big nose who plays the piano”!

  47. married people are known by names, callings, personalities, weird noses, etc.

    Unless they happen to be married to a non-member, that is.

  48. Kristine – the only reason I know the number of single sisters in the ward is because the Bishop mentioned it to me. I was surprised, as an Elder, to be assigned to Home Teach a single sister, since that tends to be the assignment of only High Priests.
    If you showed me any of the sisters in my ward, I’d have only about a 1 in 10 chance of knowing if they were married or not, much less who they were married to, and I’ve been in this ward 4 years now. I’m horrid with names.

  49. kaphor – I -really- don’t know what you’re talking about. You seem to think I go about counting to see how many single sisters we have. The only reason I’d even care if they were single or not is so I know to ask if I should expect anyone additional when I invite them to dinner with my family, so we can get to know them better.

  50. Err.. it was a joke that plays on the parable where the Lord talks about numbering his sheep.

  51. I am a month late here, and the conversation seems to be over for some time now. But I must add my two cents. In any case, here’s to the six-million pound invisible elephant who wreaks true havoc on the Church and who is on a first-name basis with the Devil himself:

    The reason singles of either sex leave the Church, (whether they be converts or life-long members) is because they see no way to find love in their lives in while remaining LDS. They may find other reasons why the Church annoys or offends them, but the biggest problem in any single Mormon’s life is how to find a spouse.

    There are many reasons why the program is dysfunctional, but here are a few reasons that all should be aware of:

    1) The current model for activities are dances and firesides. Each of these are a horrible way to meet anyone.

    2) Singles really have next-to no ability to make any real change in changing the type of activities that are offered.

    3) Singles are seen as “less-than” in the Church because of thier marital status.

    4) There appears to be a corporate mentality within the Church with regard to making real change regarding singles activities. IOW, singles have no influence on change even though they intimately know tha problems and possibly the solutions. Middle management (priesthood leaders who run the singles programs from a stake or regional level…or even higher) are out of touch, or do not know the perameters of their jobs. And Church leadership is running alot more than a singles program.

    Here is a letter I wrote on this subject last year on another blog. I believe it is the best hope of all singles in the Church. Seriously, if there is a solution for singles, it likely resembles something similar…if solutions are what we are really seeking. It could be generated through Facebook on a ward or stake level, and it could be done with or without permission from the powers that be.

    Here is that letter:

    To Whom It May Concern: June 28, 2011

    The inactivity within the Church for singles over thirty is at least over 80%. It’s unreal. It’s surreal. It’s tragic. And it is largely invisible. Without a doubt, I am convinced that this is the largest problem the Church faces today. It is a legitimate crisis. If you have come to believe otherwise, then you have been acclimated and blind to the biggest problem in the Church today. The problem with age thirty-plus singles inactivity affects every other program in the Church. It touches missionary work, temple work, Home and Visiting Teaching, the ability for wards to fill callings, and the list goes on.

    I think I have a solution to the singles problem for people over age thirty in the Church. In my experience, I have both seen and heard many people complain about the Mid-Singles Program (and for obvious reason.) It seems painfully obvious to me that no matter how many problems exist in the program, there remains one problem which, if fixed, would make major improvements to the program as a whole and, hence, people’s lives.

    Here it is: If we found a way to get small numbers of singles together on a regular basis to have actual fun, while simultaneously allowing them to meet new people on a constant basis, then we will have done something.

    The reason the standard activities are non-effective is because they are geared toward large numbers of people. No sane person would ever go on a first or second date to a Church dance or Fireside. Ever. They are anti-social, confusing, usually embarrassing, and usually no fun. And most importantly, they are no place to meet or get to know anyone. Yet, this is really all the Church offers at this point for singles over thirty. Those activities do not provide an atmosphere conducive to finding an eternal companion.

    THE STAKE ROTATION SYSTEM: Let’s use my city as a template. For example, there are some sixteen stakes throughout the Denver, Colorado region right now. What if each of these stakes was to be paired off to have activities with another stake in the same region for three months? Then three months later, each stake could switch and pair off with another stake in the same region for another two to three months. This process could be repeated throughout the region until all stakes have spent time with each other. For Denver, on the three month model, everyone in the region would have the opportunity to meet every other single in the region within a two year period. Then, hopefully, the number of singles would shrink for the right reasons, for once.

    Granted, the corresponding stakes would have to communicate with each other in order to plan activities, (and get permission from whomever), but the advantages are clear:

    1) The numbers would be smaller by far. I believe that 20-25 people are a perfect number. There is real potential for good conversation, along with the ability to get to know someone.

    2) Anyone who went would be meeting people they already knew from their own stake, as well as new people. A perfect mix!

    3) Because the stakes would be paired off for two-three months, anyone who was interested in someone would have the opportunity of meeting them two or three more times…even if the two stakes met only once per month (three activities.) Who can’t get a phone number in that amount of time?

    4) Because the groups are small, they would have more freedom to do things that actually foster good conversation (i.e. game nights, hikes, restaurants, etc….)

    *Number four is important. People need something to get them talking…something that makes them be their fun self. Dances usually don’t do it. Firesides never did it. (How could one person talking while a hundred others sit and listen ever be anything remotely social? And don’t give me that bit about meeting in the foyer afterward! The very definition of lame.) And, honestly, volleyball barely works either, say what you will. I swear, if all we did was game nights with this rotating stake idea, we would improve the collective situation 1000%. Believe me; I have seen evidence of this so many times at game nights with less than twenty-five people.

    PART II: And now for the rest of the story. I pitched this idea in a letter to Church leaders in 2007. One of the Seventy called me about it several months later. He seemed to like it a lot and mentioned that they might try it in Boston as a test city. Obviously, I was very excited.

    The General Authority also told me that the Brethren had some reservations about it because they preferred activities be held in Church buildings as opposed to people’s houses. That way they could have more control over potential mishaps like stalkers, immorality, and whatnot. I sent him another letter disagreeing with that idea. I told him that I personally felt that there was more control in a home because stalkers can’t really do their thing, and as far as immorality goes, people tend to leave the party before anything like that happens. But I could be wrong. Anyway, that was the last time we spoke.
    Nothing ever came of my idea. There was no test in Boston and I have not heard from them again.

    I know personally that the Brethren care a great deal. They are running a worldwide Church, however, and singles are just one element of what they are called to manage. But there remains a palpable gulf between them and the singles. And the wheels of change seem to be a bit gummed up. Somehow, the communication lines between Church leadership and the singles in the Church remain a bit inoperable.

    The result feels as if we, the singles, have no real representation within the Church at all. Yes, we have plenty of people to tell us that they care, and we believe that they do. And we all know that, yes, if we do not find a spouse in the world, we will find one in the next. Still, some of us cannot help but look over the situation and think, “Yeah, but does it really have to be as bad as that? Can’t we at least make some sort of collective attempt at fixing the problem now (in this life), so at least some of us might enjoy the fruits of marriage in this life? Isn’t it logical to believe that if the program got better, then maybe some of the inactive singles might come back, thereby improving the program just by adding to our selection of potential mates?”

    It is for this reason that I ask each reader who agrees with me on this, to please pitch it to everyone who will listen. Everyone in the Church should be aware of both the problem and its potential solution (s). Once we have a collective conversation, something might just get done. We, the active singles, must stop being ashamed of ourselves. We have to make our local leaders and the members of our wards recognize us as a force to be reckoned with… that we are neither an embarrassment nor a tragedy, and that we will not allow ourselves to be disenfranchised. In fact, those of us who are active remain some of the most devout people in the Church.

    Our call to worthiness is a higher one than those who are married. We work, raise kids, and perform the business of life, without the blessings of a spouse. We deserve to be respected and heard. If we are expected to be married eternally in order for us to fulfill our desired destiny, then we deserve a functional means to bring that to pass.

    Please, stop being scared. Open your mouth. You will not get excommunicated for telling the truth in a respectful way to the very people who claim to care and who have the means to help make good changes. You will not go to hell for stating the obvious in an effort to help the Church retain its members and help them get married. Let’s not let another generation of single Mormons suffer this deplorable situation. Finally, if you believe that the idea I have shared with you might make a difference, please give it a try. Present it to local leaders, and do what you can.

    Thank you and Godspeed,

  52. The issue of single sisters in the church (previously married, especially) is a unique one, I think. A blind spot in our gospel. It’s awkward for older single men, too, but I think more awkward for women, because we are constantly expected to interact with priesthood, ie men. (Hometeaching. Counsel from Bishop, and other stewardships.) I think that, unless people in the ward are especially open and easygoing, it’s going to be a problem for any woman who is older and single, wether convert or long-time member. I was a single parent in a family ward for a while. It felt like nobody knew what to do with me. I have a friend who just became a single parent (both of us life-long members). She feels the same.

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