Listening to a recent Leading Saints podcast with host Kurt Francom and guest Ryan Gottfredson, I was reminded of the impact of creating a space where everyone, regardless of where they are in their faith journey, can come to the table and be nourished.
In the podcast, it was noted that of those who choose to step away from the Church, many do so after they have moved to a new area. They don’t do it in front of people they know and have connections with, but when they move. Ironically, the ward they previously were in often had no idea they had decided to leave the Church.
It is interesting to consider that when someone takes their first step in a faith transition or looking at their spiritually, they often take a step back to look at things but don’t necessarily step away from the Church at first.
However, when a life transition occurs, now there is an interesting phenomenon. Let’s say they are leaving the ward due to a move; they move away from the deeper relationships and it’s easy to just not go to church in their new home. Then, suddenly, they’ve left the Church and can fall through the cracks of the new ward. (Assuming that their records even got transferred to the new ward.) A reset in life and faith journeys can occur here.
Ensuring Support and Safety
What can we do as a ward to insure there is life in our congregations so that we are aware when someone starts to “disaffect” so that we can be a support and resource for them before they step away from regular attendance?
What can we do to create a culture and community where people can say, “Hum, I don’t know?” Whether it’s about a troubling piece of history or the application of a specific doctrine or principle, is our congregation a place where they can talk, ponder and discuss their questions?
For example, when someone bears their testimony they feel certainty and it creates a sense of belonging, which is good. However, it can also prevent others who are listening from bringing up doubts or concerns. How do we create a space between the two where people can have open and safe conversations in their personal journey?
Could we make a comment in Sunday School, elders quorum or Relief Society—or even if we bear our testimony—and share that we know that some folks are perfectly comfortable and “solid” in their religious beliefs, but there are others who may have some questions or concerns? Wouldn’t it be great if we included in our comment an invitation to those who are unsure about a few things to reach out to us and go out to dinner and just chat about it all?
There is so much value in striving to create a community that allows for questions to surface. Then our doubts or concerns can have a space to discuss, ponder, and consider a variety of viewpoints. However, this only happens if people feel psychologically safe.
Ideally, we need to create opportunities for the voices of people who have valuable perspectives but may not be heard. Plus, their voice is important for others who might have a similar voice.
Taking the Risk to Reach Out
Another thing to consider is how can we, as leaders, provide opportunities for people to grow and learn in the gospel regardless of their level of expertise or where they are—or have been—in their faith journey? Let’s consider a few questions:
- Are we willing to take a “risk” on someone whose faith may not be the most solid at the moment, but has so much to offer?
- Do we throw all possible names in the pool of those that could be considered for a calling?
- Do we trust the Lord if He guides us to an individual that isn’t “ideal” but qualified?
Are we willing to risk giving them the opportunity to lead or teach in some capacity in our congregations so that they can not only more fully find a “place at the table,” but be a voice for others who may not be open to sharing a similar voice just yet?
Are We Engaging Our Members?
Is our ward growing and vibrant, or are members just “showing up” out of habit? Are they there but don’t feel a part of a community that feels safe, inspiring, or enlightening?
Before turning on the proverbial revelation machine at a council meeting, it would serve us more fully if we regularly consider taking the pulse of the ward. Discussing in ward council, and other leadership councils, if we truly are meeting the needs of all our members. Additionally, these types of discussions can be had at ministering interviews or other one-on-one meetings with members.
As a ward council or any presidency, it’s important to create a space to ask questions. As we council with one another, we need to honestly ask our team:
- Does healing occur here?
- Are we fostering change?
- Does faith grow here?
Do you come to church and feel hope and redemption? If not, then something is getting in the way. We need to strive to understand what is causing that lack of safety in the ward.
How much life is there in our Sunday meetings?
Pay attention and notice how comfortable it is each week. Does everyone just show up, are some fully engaged, or are others uncomfortably sitting in the back row?
How Do We Support Those on the Fringes?
As we formally meet with questioning members, or have informal discussion, now is not the time for a lesson. Now is the time for a sincere discussion where we listen and ask questions:
- Tell me where you are in your faith journey.
- Tell me how you got there.
- What would be of value for us to help you with?
In the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve made a choice that wasn’t in line with God’s earlier instructions, remember what God asked Adam? He didn’t try and teach him the doctrine of exact obedience, He didn’t scold him, He didn’t encourage him to study his scriptures more. God simply asked, “Where are you?”
It’s invaluable to know where someone is in their faith journey.
A Safety Net for New Move-ins
To take it a step further, it is beneficial to have a “safety net” for those who are moving into our wards. Thus, whenever we become aware of a member moving out of our ward, it’s critical to get their new address to the incoming ward. We could even take an extra step to reach out to the leaders in their incoming ward to make a connection with their new leadership and get things started in a positive way.
Leading Saints shared an article on engaging new move ins back in November 2022.The article gave some great tips on how to help transition new members into our ward.
When we take steps like those mentioned in the article, it creates a safety net for those who have left their ward and didn’t intend to continue attending church. Additionally, consider the impact of having done our homework to have a ward where healing occurs and faith can grow. Then those who may be moving into our area, whether they have intentions of attending or not, will find a safe space to talk about where they are and find hope in where they can be going.
Beth Young is a convert of 44 years; served a mission in North Carolina; has been married for 36 years to her sweetheart, Bob; has five adult children and two grandchildren. She raised her family in Texas for 25 years where she served in various capacities in church and in her community. She moved to Utah five years ago and loves writing, teaching, and inspiring others to make changes to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Beth is the owner of 5 Pillars of Health, is a certified Tai Chi Instructor, serves as the written content manager at Leading Saints, and is a master gardener.