Committees and Technology

March 9, 2004 | 11 comments
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We’re all aware of church committee meetings, the bane of our existence. (The oft-recycled joke is that the “Fourteenth Article of Faith” goes something like “We believe in meetings, correlation, committees, sub-committees, . . .”). In a recent thread, Steve Evans comments:

My suggestion: embrace technology — the e-committee is the future of the Church.

Is the e-committee — having meetings through chat, e-mail or IM — a good idea? I can think of reasons that it might not work well –the digital divides between rich and poor and between young and old; lack of knowledge of computers; potential difficulty in feeling the spirit in discussion via instant message; church hesitancy to endorse the Internet given potential problems the Internet brings into households. Yet I would be thrilled if I could have more church meetings via e-mail, IM, or chat. And it seems quite possible that the church will move in that direction. (Or perhaps the “committee blog” is the future of the church. Hmm . . .)

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11 Responses to Committees and Technology

  1. cooper on March 9, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    I like it! I have always thought we could curtail the length of meetings if we could justget a lot of the groundwork out of the way quickly. This could easily be done with email, IMs or chat sessions.

    With the announcement of the end of KYR this month due to declining attendance and satellite or interent broadcasts I think the church is leaning far into technology. With the onset of ward home pages and calendars online I think the church has raised the bar and is hoping the members will follow. The internet is available in every public library. If a family does not have the resources available for home computers the library has been the answer when the need arose. So I think you’re really on to something Kaimi.

    I really like the idea of a closed blog for committee meetings.

    Think of the possibilities!

  2. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    Kaimi,

    While I don’t think technology can currently replace all meetings (can you imagine a temple recommend interview over email?), it’s proven invaluable for following up on home teaching, distributing reading assignments, and other small tasks. If I were a leader I would definitely consider assigning smaller responsibilities via email. I was joking with our bishop that for the year-end tithing interview, we’d just have an e-settlement (but secretly, no joke — I WANT IT!).

    Trickier, however, is the interaction of the Spirit over typed, electronic media. Can a bishop reasonably exercise the gift of discernment as a judge in Israel based on email, or even a video conference? It seems to me warm, human interactions are a key component to the Church’s raison d’etre. This blog is great, for example, but could it really replace sharing testimonies face-to-face? I’m doubtful.

    In sum, this is my position: smaller tasks, the meaningless committees, the HT assignments, these can (and perhaps should) be taken care of electronically. Interviews, church courts, and other individually-focused circumstances can’t be put on the information superhighway as of yet. All of this is offered with a grain of salt — the personal follow-up is still essential.

  3. Kaimi on March 9, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    Perhaps this is a good way to deal with the problem Julie raised in another thread of pestilent commenters in class. (See http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/000505.html#005582 ). Instead of Ichabod tying up 10 minutes of Elders Quorum with a long, meandering diatribe about his argument with someone on the subway, Ich will have to type up that diatribe. And even after he types it, others can simply choose to skim over or ignore it completely.

  4. brayden on March 9, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    I know that the Church is strongly encouraging members to access the church website more regularly. They are trying to make a lot of web resources more accessible to the general church membership. Replace the bad with the good….

    My ward frequently uses email to discuss issues and circulate information about happenings in the ward. If someone moves in the ward, all the presidencies get an email informing them of the move-in. Often email is used to remind the elders’ quorum of the reading assignment for the up-coming week’s lesson. These are all reasonable ways to use the internet to enhance our service and church experience.

    Perhaps e-committees are just around the corner.

  5. Taylor on March 9, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Kaimi, someone has already beat us to the punch:
    http://www.i-church.org/ hosts an entirely online parish. Here is an article about it: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3534017.stm

  6. BDemosthenes on March 9, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    This reminds me of Elder Ballard’s comments from Counseling with our Councils. As I recall, he tried to emphasize that council meetings should be used for couseling together–discussing significant goals, problems, and solutions under the influence of the Spirit. Calendaring and other business items shouldn’t be the focus of council meetings, but should be taken care of as efficiently as possible. I suspect that technology, used properly, will allow these routine business items to be handled more efficiently, freeing up what council/meeting time remains for more important matters.

    In terms of using the official stake/ward websites, my impression is that they would be quite useful in organizing such routine matters, but I don’t know from experience since my ward hasn’t started using it yet (you would think that at BYU, of all places, having enough tech-savvy people to make it work would be no problem). My impression, therefore, is that the major digital divide is not so much computer availability but knowledge/willingness to make the switch. It seems to me that a critical mass of church members is not yet comfortable using the new website system, which limits its usefulness.

  7. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    BD,you’re correct in your reference to Elder Ballard’s remarks — a good reference, I think.

    But the official ward/stake websites are a mess. Here’s why:

    1. Obscure password protection based on member IDs (which most members don’t know unless they dive into the church MIS system)
    2. Lack of relevant, up-to-date content
    3. Lack of posting technology (no official ward blog, nor will there EVER be)
    4. Inadequate cross-linking between local, stake and global LDS sites.

    In other words, not only are official church websites difficult to find and difficult to access, there’s currently no content up there that warrants visiting the sites in the first place. http://www.lds.org is the exception, because the Gospel Library is a great service and the newsroom is fairly interesting. That’s the great hindrance in my mind, not “knowledge/willingness to make the switch.”

    I believe what will happen is that local leaders will use independent means of email, blogs, IM, etc. and that the overall church hierarchy will incorporate the most successful of these local efforts. Kind of like the way McDonald’s developed its most popular new sandwich ideas.

    As for reserving council meeting tome for counseling together, I’m all for it — but on a reduced schedule. The idle chit-chat and mechanical planning stripped away, what’s left from a council meeting?

  8. clark goble on March 9, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    The problem is that few people in a ward would use the web page even ignoring the issues Steve brings up. That means only a small minority would use it and they *might* not be monitored as carefully as they ought. (Undoubtedly the web maintance would be a calling and might not be monitored well by other officials) This could result in “odd” things being said there – which is also the reason I think why private study groups are discouraged. A principle which in practice isn’t that big a deal as lots of people get together to study Sunday School lessons during the week.

    It also tends to assume everyone is up on the tecnology. Most aren’t. Perhaps in 20 years when computers are much more ubiquitous than now. Even now among the cutting edge technological people, blogs and mailing lists aren’t used that heavily. You also have the problem of poorer people not having access to the technology, worries about security, and so forth.

  9. Renee on March 9, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    I have attended some meetings where I’m sure a written record of the things said would be a bad idea!

    This is definitely something that would have to be decided on a ward level. The finances would be a big factor.

    Personally, I’d just rather see fewer meetings, especially on Sundays (which have been counseled against anyway).

  10. Grasshopper on March 9, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    I was in a stake mission presidency about 6 years ago where we held some of our meetings via IM, and it was great. We communicated a lot via email and got together in person when necessary, but the majority of what we needed to do we could do using technology.

  11. BDemosthenes on March 10, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    “1. Obscure password protection based on member IDs (which most members don’t know unless they dive into the church MIS system)”

    I don’t think that basing access on membership ID is necessarily a bad thing, particularly given security concerns. At any rate, members ought to be reviewing their IOSes regularly anyway, so I don’t see this as an intolerable burden. Making the password require 8 digits with at least one letter and at least one number, however, is more annoying.

    2. Lack of relevant, up-to-date content
    Part of this depends on the ward administrators’ willingness to use the site. However, I don’t see these as being intended to serve as a broad library of church materials/discussion. In my understanding, they are primarily intended for calendaring, announcements, communication (both via email and through keeping a phone/address directory available), etc. Used properly, this makes communication and routine administrative tasks easier both within the ward and within the circles of ward leadership.

    3. Lack of posting technology (no official ward blog, nor will there EVER be)

    What role would an official ward blog serve? Perhaps the difference here is that I am looking at the official sites primarily as a way to more efficiently do what we already do offline, rather than as a way to revolutionize church administration/experience. Is this the best perspective?

    4. Inadequate cross-linking between local, stake and global LDS sites.

    Elaborate, please.

    The lack of content and the lack of use, I suspect, create a vicious circle. No one uses the site unless everyone is using the site. The only way to solve that, as far as I can tell, is for the ward leadership to decide to jump in and begin using it to the fullest.