Mormons are efficient. We are a large, hierarchical faith that runs like a corporation. The Brethren are powerful leaders with the ability to dictate the minutiae of members lives and call forth vast resources at the drop of a hat. Mormon congregations are well oiled machines. They even have so-called “home teachers” that visit members each month just to check up on them and insure that they are serving their proper roles in the Mormon juggernaut. Something like this image frequently appears in media accounts about the Church, and we as often as not like to repeat some version of it to ourselves. How many times have you gleefully heard members discuss the swift efficiency with which Mormons have sped relief supplies to disaster ridden areas. I have to confess, however, that I don’t really buy this image. The reason is that I actually go to church every week.
I don’t know about you, but the Church that I experience on a day to day basis is quite different than the media stereotype of Prussian efficiency. My ward is run completely by amateurs. My bishop is an accountant who occasionally has a deer in the headlights look as he conducts meetings. My elder’s quorum presidency is not a model of efficiency, even though it surely counts as one of the best run presidencies that I have ever seen. Home teaching in our ward is abyssimal, and we were recently lauded by the stake president as the best run ward in the stake. (Be scared. Very scared for the administrative health of the Little Rock Stake.) There are lots of manuals in our ward library, but I think that I would faint from shock if I was to learn that they were being followed even half of the time. From what I gather from my wife, our Relief Society is well run, but seems to spend a disproportionate amount of energy on center-pieces, hardly the stuff of corporate efficiency. Indeed, the only part of my ward that I can honestly say is a model of organization and the efficient use of resources is the nursery. As near as I can tell, everyone else is making it up as they go along and hoping and praying that no-one finds out. No one, of course, will because the rest of us are slightly panicked to realize that we’re the ones running things. Notice, I haven’t even said anything about the missionary program.
To be sure there is some truth to the journalistic stereotype of Mormon organization and efficiency, but most of the time, I live in wonder at the fact that anything works at all. It would be nice if from time to time the larger public persona of Mormonism contained some acknowledgment that the vast majority of all tasks in the Church are carried on by people who basically don’t know what they are doing.