Competing for Members

January 19, 2004 | 14 comments
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Yesterday, my bishop announced that our excellent Primary chorister was being released from that calling so that she could serve as the Ward Communications Specialist. Her new job is to provide content for the ward website. After putting the kibosh on local websites a few years ago, the Church has recently begun to encourage their use. What I found most interesting about my bishop’s remarks was the marketing motivation for this move: in a ward that is leanly staffed, we are putting one of our most competent members in charge of the website because we want to attract move-ins.

We live in a wonderful ward and we recently moved into a new stake center, but we all would like more members. My daughter’s Mia Maid class consists of two young women, one of whom is less engaged than we would hope. My son is the Deacon’s Quorum President, and the three members of his quorum make up the quorum presidency. From top to bottom, the ward has this sort of profile. We have held ward fasts for move-ins, and we were all happy to see a new young couple arrive this past Sunday.

While I tend to be supportive of markets, I don’t normally associate ward activity with competition, even though wards obviously compete for members. Indeed, we have always investigated and compared wards when moving to a new city. Still, in my experience, competition among wards has usually been pretty subtle. Websites could raise the stakes by making information (comparison shopping) more readily available. Is this a good thing?

The Church has already standardized the look and feel of ward websites, and content is regulated to some extent by the pre-defined links and formatting. I suspect that part of the motivation for these moves is a desire to place boundaries on inter-ward competition. If my ward is any indication, however, competition will spring up.

There are larger issues in play here. U.S. members tend to be very fond of markets (count me among the biggest fans), and we observe that Gospel-centered character traits like honestly and diligence are valued in the marketplace. It is easy to forget that the Gospel is not a spiritual competition. The tools of the marketplace may be inappropriate in the chapel. In the end, therefore, I lean toward competition suppression among wards.

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14 Responses to Competing for Members

  1. brayden on January 19, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    This is an interesting perspective. It is not abnormal to think of congregations as competing in a market for members, but it is more unusual to think of Mormon wards as competing in this same way. There is a sociologist in my department who studies U.S. congregations. He was rather surprised when I told him that my stake had recently reorganized and that members were expected to attend their new designated wards, regardless of personal ties and loyalties to other wards. He asked with amazement, “And people actually comply?”

    Yes, we tend to follow our leader’s directions when it comes to ward boundaries (although the exceptions usually draw a lot of attention), but there has never been any direction given from church leaders regarding personal moves across boundaries. In other words, the General Authorities express great concern when members start contesting boundaries, but they have kept their mouths shut about inter-ward migration, although this has a similarly derogatory effect on a ward condition.

    I say this because we happen to live within the boundaries of a “service” ward. We are surrounded by much more materially prosperous and leadership-rich wards. We struggle to bring in members who would be potential new leaders. This is not due to a lack of nice communities within our ward; we have plenty of those. We have engineers, doctors, and lawyers in the ward. We also have doctor and lawyer-types who have expressed (privately) that they want to leave the ward because of the time and energy drain.

    What is to be done? Clearly there is competition among wards in my city for “hyper-active” members. I wonder if the websites will only intensify this competition. Who knows?

  2. clarkgoble on January 19, 2004 at 2:08 pm

    If you are moving I can certainly see worrying about ones ward in where one is moving. There was a thread along those lines here a couple of months ago. It focused on “burnout” in more difficult wards. The problem of course is that I don’t think web pages are terribly helpful in determining what ward to go to. I think most people are sophisticated enough so as to recognize that what’s on a web page doesn’t always correspond to reality.

    I should add that I find that having to know ones record number to access the web pages is rather a pain and is why I’ve not gone to most of our ward’s page. (No idea what my record number is)

  3. lyle on January 19, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    here, here Clark. I don’t know my record number and would prefer not to have one…unless that means non-member status. lol.

    I understand Brayden’s concern…I live/attend an inner city branch here in philly; although i could attend the singles ward. however, the branch needs people; half of our adults have ‘callings’ from the stake/suburban wards to help us out, and the other 40% are Wharton MBA students who disappear every summer and after 2 years.

    re: inter-ward moving though…this is a rather interesting idea. lately i’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t make plans to move to some country where the Church doesn’t have a missionary presence/many members, get dual citizenship, and work to build zion there…kinda like a reverse Utah migration. am i just nutz?

  4. Grasshopper on January 19, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    Clark, I found out as I began the process of renewing my temple recommend yesterday that your member number is now on the temple recommend (written in when it’s filled out).

  5. Renee on January 19, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve never heard of recruiting move-ins, just working within ones boundaries already to convert neighbors.

    We went to Rapid City, SD on vacation last fall. I pointed out to my husband something from the bulletin that struck me as funny. It said:

    Rapid City First Ward
    “The Friendly Ward”

    We wondered if the other wards of Rapid City were more or less friendly. :)

  6. cooper on January 20, 2004 at 2:02 am

    The church isn’t encouraging wards to have their own personal website. They are asking each ward and stake to participate in a church sponsored website. About the only things that can be prgrammed on them is a calendar and a picture or two. There is a capability to put addresses and phone numbers, but the only people that will have access to that section will be those that have been approved and then provided a password to gain access. In the spirit of true websites, this isn’t it.

  7. Clark Goble on January 20, 2004 at 3:46 am

    I should have looked at my recommend. Wow. Kind of a religious SSN now, eh?

    The advantage (in theory) to a ward web page is that activities and such not can be found there. Of course many wards have a hard enough time *having* activities let alone advertising them… (grin)

  8. cooper on January 20, 2004 at 11:44 am

    :o) very true Clark!

  9. Melissa Daams on June 10, 2005 at 6:05 am

    In your statement – you said “After putting the kibosh on local websites a few years ago, the Church has recently begun to encourage their use.”

    I have been looking for an official statement by the First Presidency in which they said not to use ward websites — because I started a website being powered by myfamily.com calling it the Eindhoven Ward Family site — but I did put a disclaimer on there saying that it was not recognized by the Church, not sponsored by the Church, not an official Church – ward website, etc etc…

    So, I’m wondering if it is still okay to go ahead and run this site. The reason why I’m doing it is because even though the Church has their own official church websites — for wards — I believe they are only in use for wards within the United States and Canada — my ward is in the Netherlands… and also, I believe those LDS sponsored sites are only for calendar of events – Firesides, etc.

    But using a site like myfamily.com — we can share pictures and chat and just be friends – ya know?

    So, I’m basically wondering if I’m going to get into trouble for this…

    please help me find that official statement by the Church… b/c I haven’t been able to locate it.

  10. alamojag on June 10, 2005 at 10:48 am

    Melissa,

    I remember seeing the statement in the end section of the Ensign, where they put the news of the Church. The guidance, as noted above, was revised to allow unit websites within the approved format.

    I am of the school of thought that what is not forbidden is approved. It seems a “Ward Family” website like myfamily.com would not be on the forbidden list.

  11. Jim F. on June 10, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Melissa, like alamojag, I don’t think that the Church’s statement was intended to forbid the kind of web site you have put together.

  12. A. Greenwood on June 10, 2005 at 11:54 am

    I believe that what the Church put the kibosh on was ‘official’ ward sites that came in a number of non-standard varieties. Now that the Church has guidelines for official ward sites, they’re up and running again, but none of this should affect an unofficial site like yours, in my opinion.

  13. mike on June 10, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Here is one statement from the Ensign on Stake and Ward Web Sites

    News of the Church,” Ensign, May 2003, 128
    “In a 22 January 2003 letter to priesthood leaders in the United States and Canada, the Presiding Bishopric announced that branches, wards, and stakes in these areas may create Web sites for their units.

    “In March 2001 wards and stakes were asked to discontinue Web sites, pending a policy established from the Church. With this new announcement, the Church has made available templates and content guidelines for Web sites that can be tailored by each unit. They may post news, announcements, calendars, directories, and meetinghouse schedules on their sites. “This system is the only authorized way for local Church units to have a presence on the Internet,” the letter states.”

  14. mike on June 10, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    And the original letter from 2001

    Policies and Announcements
    Discontinuation of Local Church Unit Web Sites

    “News of the Church,” Ensign, June 2001, 79
    The following letter, dated 15 March 2001, has been sent to local unit priesthood leaders by the Presiding Bishopric:

    “As you know, the Church has developed several official Church Internet sites. These sites contain approved, correlated material that the Church has deemed appropriate for the Internet. New and updated material will continue to appear on these sites.

    “As the Church grows, it is very important that information presented to the world be accurate and dignified and that it represent a single, unified Church voice. In addition, it is imperative that the rights of third parties be protected and respected through strict compliance with applicable laws.

    “With this in mind, a policy for the creation, operation, and maintenance of local unit web sites is being developed and will be sent to priesthood leaders. Until the policy is established, the First Presidency has requested that local Church units and organizations should not create or sponsor web sites. They have also determined that existing sites should be discontinued. If you have questions pertaining to these instructions, please call 1-801-240-3678. We request that local leaders give appropriate attention to this matter.”