Winning the Pews
Snide Remarks #201
"Winning the Pews"
by Eric D. Snider
Published in The Daily Herald on August 29, 2001
The church attendance rate among Latter-day Saints is anywhere from 10 to 90 percent, depending on whom you ask and whether they like Mormons. The anti-Mormons tend to put the number pretty low, although I don't know why they'd bother attacking the church if no one's attending it anyway.
In all fairness, it's a difficult thing to measure. There are too many variables. Do we count people who are present in body but who sleep through the whole meeting? If so, then I know of several bishops who are inactive.
However you look at it, not everyone who's supposed to be going to church is actually going, and the problem isn't just among Mormons. Everyone's slacking off. Why, I know some Catholics who only go on Christmas now and are neglecting Easter altogether!
But this column is about how Mormons specifically can increase church attendance. I'm not talking about changing doctrines around, like lowering tithing to 8 percent or having a smoking section at Relief Society luncheons. I'm talking about things we can do within the existing system that will make church attendance more appealing.
My first suggestion should already be in place, and it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: If you can't sing, don't join the choir. I suspect hideous choir numbers is the main reason people leave the church. I cannot cite statistics on that, but my suspicions are not usually wrong, as my friends Fred and Daphne will attest.
Next, I think something has to be done about the way we give talks in sacrament meeting. Specifically, I don't think they should be boring. (Pardon me if I am contradicting scripture here.) The gospel is exciting and has many interesting facets. So quit mumbling and say something interesting, for crying out loud! My goodness, you'd think some of these people had been asked to speak at their own funerals, the way they talk in low tones and stare at the podium. If I wanted to hear people talk about nothing, I'd go back and get my master's degree.
Of course, not everyone is adept at public speaking, which is why I propose we add some enhancements to spice things up. For instance, if you've ever watched a musical, you've noticed that no matter how time-worn or obvious the dialogue is, it can easily be punched up with a little choreography. Now, I'm not suggesting we start dancing in church. Well, OK, I am suggesting that. With better costumes, too.
I would also like to declare a moratorium on a particular genre of sacrament meeting story. It's the kind of story where the speaker tells it in the third person -- "there was a guy who did this and that" -- and then reveals, in a shocking conclusion, that HE is the guy the story is about! It was him the whole time!
I don't know what we're going for here. Do we want a huge "Sixth Sense"-style twist, where the audience goes, "Holy crap, he TOTALLY had me fooled!," and they spill their Tupperware containers of Cheerios? If so, I have no problem with that. Anything to keep us awake. The trouble is, we've heard too many of these stories to be fooled by them. Whenever I hear a story told in the third person in which the main character is not named, I assume the speaker himself is the main character, unless I recognize the story from another source (e.g., if it begins with "In the beginning" or "Once upon a midnight dreary").
Another thing that would bring people back week after week is cliffhangers. Rather than ending each talk with everything wrapped up neatly, speakers should leave off at some dramatic point with a promise to finish it next week. People would walk out of church just itching to return. "Why was there only one set of footprints?!" people would say. "And what happened to that train on the bridge?!!" And the next Sunday, church would be packed to the rafters.
Are my suggestions irreverent or disrespectful? Possibly. But they said the same thing about other men with strong ideas, men such as Galileo and Hitler. And I'll keep going to church regardless of whether any of my ideas are implemented. Just don't be surprised if I bring earplugs when the choir's performing.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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