Ward capacity

It seems like ‘church capacity’ would be a useful concept. In parallel to ‘state capacity,’ church capacity might describe the ability of a religious organization to carry out its missions, promote its doctrine, gain adherents, participate as an entity in broader society and accomplish its other purposes.

For the Church as a whole, we can see how resources are organized and utilized on a large scale – think of the whole missionary apparatus, for example, from the MTC to mission presidencies down to local companionships. If the kingdom of Prester John suddenly asked for missionaries to be sent, could the Church respond in a timely way, and to what extent? And the answer is yes, the Church could dispatch 100 or 1000 missionaries fairly quickly by pulling them away from their current assignments, or 10,000 with extreme effort, and have a regular program to train missionaries in the relevant language(s) within a few years, while 100,000 missionaries would exceed the Church’s capacity. What the Church could accomplish would also depend on the abilities of the individual missionaries and companionships.

But I’m more interested in the concept of church capacity on the local level, where it seems like the capacity of a ward or branch would be a cross product of several inputs, including the sheer number of members participating; their degree of personal commitment; the level of relevant talents and experience available; socioeconomic resources; and probably several other things as well. It’s easier to stand up a ward choir for a community sacred music festival, for example, if you have a lot of members with musical experience who are motivated to participate and who have leisure time in which to do so.

In general, it’s better for a ward or branch to have higher capacity to be able to accomplish the Church’s purposes in the world. It’s better to have more members, with higher personal commitment, with their talents well organized and adequate time and resources.

Over the long term, it’s not usually possible for a ward or branch to operate beyond its capacity. An approach that works well in one ward (“assign everyone one day per month when they will be available to go with the missionaries if needed”) can’t be pasted onto another ward whose circumstances are substantially different (“check with me a half hour beforehand, which is when I’ll know if I’ll be working that evening or not”).

It’s important to normalize things that increase church capacity. While the circumstances of individual people and their schedules will differ, in most circumstances people need to show up, accept callings, and contribute useful talents, rather than feuding with other members, causing scenes in Sunday School, or other actions that diminish church capacity.

Socioeconomic factors matter, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. A ward can do more if its members are educated, have stable employment, and build significant relationships in the wider community. Speaking from experience, though, and mostly to myself: Not all jobs are equal. Unpredictable hours and schedules that conflict with church meetings have drawbacks compared to a 9-5 job. All-consuming career paths with modest financial reward like many academic careers aren’t as useful as other options. I could have been much more useful to the Church (and society as a whole, and just about anybody else) as a dentist or electrician than as an academic.

High church capacity, being a ‘high functioning ward,’ isn’t the same thing as being Zion, and shouldn’t be mistaken for it. I’ve been in wards overflowing with young married couples, and others with vast numbers of stable families, and others with staggering amounts of wealth. Each one was different, and each accomplished some amazing things. The capacity to bring casseroles on demand, or staff organizations and host memorable events, or organize and contribute to international relief efforts, all while serving as a deep reservoir for stake callings, were impressive in their own way. I hope all those wards continue to do amazing things.

My current ward isn’t like that. It struggles to staff organizations and provide casseroles in a timely manner. We should try to do better. People’s work schedules change unpredictably and sometimes conflict with Sunday meetings. We couldn’t stand up a community choir on demand. But it’s no less a part of Zion – not through its mere existence as a ward, but for what the members manage to do with the ward capacity available.

10 comments for “Ward capacity

  1. I am cautious of a perspective that looks on a church ward as an organization for production or output, and church members as essentially employees in that organization who are marshaled to maximize productive output. I prefer to think of a church ward as being made for members, rather than members as being made for the church.

    I know my perspective is not common, but it impairs my ability to embrace the original posting.

    I don’t want to think of wards in the heights as being intrinsically more valuable (more capacity = more value?) than wards in the valley, so to speak.

    Rather than a bishop looking on members as employees or tools to help achieve the bishop’s production goals, I wish a bishop would look on members as equals whom he is called to serve and minister to.

    I appreciate the opportunity for discussion.

  2. Well said ji.

    I’ve been in probably 20+ wards in my lifetime. Looking back, my favs have been the ones who have focused on the people more than the programs. To me, it feels like the programs have turned into the gospel in the church. Not a fan of that. I am sure that some of the programs have brought people in and stay in the gospel too so I am not saying all programs must die.

    I would prefer that programs go away if a ward cannot meet the resources for them instead of combining wards to meet the programs. But I get the other view as well.

  3. JI: If you don’t want large, well-off wards to be seen as intrinsically more valuable (which isn’t the point of the post – go back and read it), then you need some concept to describe what it is that those large, well-off wards do well. If nothing else, it will help you avoid mistaking a large, well-off ward for whatever it is that you want a ward to be doing.

    And it does matter if a ward is good at doing whatever it is it’s supposed to be doing. If you’re bringing casseroles to the needy, it’s not just the thought that counts – hungry people can’t survive on good intentions. Things that increase my ward’s capacity to make casseroles for the needy, and the quality of those casseroles, are probably good (if casserole making is one of the things we’re trying to do), and we should be suspicious of things that diminish our casserole-making capacity. A ward that produces 100 casseroles isn’t intrinsically better than one that makes 10, if that’s the limit of its capacity. But trying to get up to 11 is still a worthy endeavor.

  4. We haven’t coined the term like you have, but my ward talks about “ward capacity” all the time, and I think the concept looms large for any understaffed ward, especially for those of us that were raised in larger wards; we’re constantly having to decide what things we have to learn to do without simply because we don’t have the bandwidth.

  5. I have had similar thoughts, and I especially like your point that high capacity is not the same thing as Zion.

  6. Stephen, “bandwidth” is a term I’ve also thought about using. It’s a pretty good fit, at least for individuals.

    Bill Joyce, I’m not sure what discussion your comment is part of, but it sounds interesting. Could you elaborate?

  7. I can’t speak for Bill, but I will paraphrase my own understanding on light of my comment: the church was made for man, and not man for the church.

  8. This is a discussion we have often in our ward council as well-our ward capacity is not always big enough to do things in the way we would like (providing program and serving individuals) so we are always trying to think of out of the box ideas to increase our capacity. (Youth serve quite a bit in various capacities to fill in).

  9. On Amanda’s note, one time in our ward none of the other bishopric members or EQ presidency showed up to Church, so the Bishop invited my Deacon’s Quorum President son to sit with him on the stand. Having lower “capacity” does provide some unique experiences for the youth.

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