According to Gallup, managers account for 70% of the variance in their direct report’s engagement (emotional attachment to their job and organization, which is characterized by their vigor, dedication, and absorption within their roles). This suggests that if individuals in formal leadership positions within the Church (e.g., bishop, Relief Society president, Primary president, Elders Quorum president, etc.) want those who fall under their direct stewardship to demonstrate vigor, dedication, and absorption within their own callings, leaders need to lead in such a way that the environment fuels, rather than stifles, engagement.

Rather than speak about the generalities of how leaders can create an environment that fuels engagement, let me discuss a specific ward dynamic, with the hopes that the principles discussed can be applied to other dynamics and structures within the church. The dynamic that I want to focus on is ward council meetings.

Ward council meetings are a bishop’s primary interaction point with the members of the ward council. The tone that a bishop sets in ward council plays a significant role in the engagement of the members of the ward council. Thus, if a bishop wants the members of the ward council to operate in their callings with vigor, dedication, and absorption, he must ensure that ward council meetings are a positive, spiritually uplifting, and productive experience for the members of the ward council.

From my experience of being a member of 12 different ward councils in the last 14 years, the “typical” ward council is not engaging, nor does it fuel the engagement of its members. Most of the time, it is a formality that the ward engages in because it is what the handbook says they should do, with little thought and effort put towards the meetings. Here is a breakdown of how most of the ward councils that I have been a part of have been run.

  • The day before the meeting an agenda is sent out — it consists of:
    • Who is presiding
    • The hymn number
    • Opening prayer
    • A slot for a training of some kind
    • A list of upcoming events
    • A list of all the auxiliary leaders (suggesting everyone is allotted time to bring up an item of business or a person/family to discuss)
    • Closing prayer
  • Actual Meeting
    • 9:05: Starts five minutes late
    • 9:05 – 9:12: Greetings, hymn, and prayer
    • 9:12-9:18: Go over upcoming calendar items
    • 9:18-9:30: Time is given to the missionaries
    • 9:30-10:05: Each ward council member is given the opportunity to bring up an item of business or a focus on a person/family. Those who go first tend to take more than an equally divided portion of the remaining time, somewhat as follows:
      • 9:30-9:40: Ward mission leader
      • 9:40-9:50: Relief Society president
      • 9:50-9:57: High priest group leader
      • 9:57-10:01: Elders quorum president
      • 10:01-10:04: Young Women president
      • 10:04-10:05: Young Men president
    • 10:05-10:07: Final comments by the bishop
    • 10:07-10:08: Closing prayer

There are a few things to note about this typical ward council meeting

  • By the time calendar items are discussed, the ward council is 1/3 rd into the meeting time.
  • My experience is that the missionaries take up the same amount of time (approximately 12 minutes), regardless of how many investigators or recent converts that they have.
  • When an individual ward council member is given time, he/she sees that time as their opportunity to ask the bishop (often not the council as a whole) questions that they have pertaining to their calling and responsibilities, making the discussion often between only the bishop and the ward council member.
  • Frequently, there are ward council members at the bottom of the agenda that often get squeezed out.
  • While a training is generally in the agenda, it is commonly skipped.

If your ward council meetings resemble what I have just depicted, your ward council meetings are probably not altogether ineffective. Ward council meetings like what has been depicted generally meet the basic needs of the ward. These types of meetings help ensure that the boat doesn’t sink, but at the same time, these types of meetings don’t necessarily mean that the boat has made any progress. For some wards, this is very much okay; but, that still doesn’t mean that the meetings are engaging or inspirational for its members.

To make ward council meetings more engaging and inspirational for its members, I encourage bishops, bishoprics, and ward councils to ask themselves the following three questions:

What is the purpose of our ward council meetings?

I do not believe that every ward’s ward council meetings need to have the same purpose, but all too often, they do not have a clear purpose. Commonly, little thought and effort is put into them, and because of that, it is not uncommon for ward council members, including the bishop, to walk into the meeting unsure of what is going to transpire or what is going to be discussed. What this amounts to is reflected in one of my most favorite quotes, which happens to be by Stephen R. Covey: “We are either the creation of our own proactive design, or we are the creation of other people’s agendas, of circumstances, or of past habits.”

I encourage bishops to not allow ward councils to be the creation of someone’s personal agenda, the circumstances, or of habit. Rather, I encourage bishops to take leadership and work with their ward councils to establish and communicate clear purposes for your ward council meetings.

Do our ward council meetings support our ward’s mission and purpose?

Working at Gallup, I have learned that the organizations with the strongest missions and purposes are commonly non-profits and religious organizations. They commonly do not have the same resources as large for-profit organizations, and they commonly do not invest in their people as much as for-profit organizations. Yet, despite these factors, the organizations with the strongest missions and purposes often have extremely engaged employees. The moral being that mission and purpose can go a long way to engage organizational members.

Good news… The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an incredibly meaningful mission and purpose: To help others come unto Christ and receive the peace that comes from following Him. This is the reason why so many members are willing to freely give of their time and energy.

But now ask yourself: Are our ward council meetings helping support the ward’s and Church’s mission and purpose? Do our ward council meetings allow the ward to make meaningful strides in helping its membership come unto Christ?

If the mission and purpose of your ward is to help other people come unto Christ, I believe it is important to be open to the fact that there are more ways to come unto Christ than going to church and making covenants. My experience is that when ward councils focus on helping people come unto Christ, they are primarily focused on reactivation and baptisms. But, a focus on these topics (1) may not be what those not attending church need at the current time in their lives, and (2) excludes those who actively attend church and have made covenants, yet still have a need and desire to come closer to Christ. This latter group includes the members of the ward council. There are endless topics that a ward council could discuss related to helping its ward members come unto Christ (e.g., strengthening families, community involvement, general instruction, ensuring spiritually nourishing sacrament meetings, charity, mental health, etc.). Ward council meetings can and probably should be opportunities for ward council members to get spiritual nourishment in a way that they cannot in regular church meetings. Further, ward council meetings should be opportunities for the bishop and bishopric to train and develop ward council members to be better leaders in their current and future callings. But, spiritual nourishment and development are not likely to occur unless ward councils are the result of our own proactive design (see Question #1).  

Does our ward council counsel together?

Council is a noun that suggests a representative body. Counsel is a verb that suggests giving advice. Most ward councils that I have been a part of do not counsel. Rather, ward council meetings are a forum for reporting, organizing, and directing, which primarily involves one-way communication. As discussed previously, that isn’t altogether bad; the ship does not sink. But, that type of communication is not necessarily engaging. When you think about your ward council, how much discussion, deliberation, and advice-giving occurs?

Like most wards, my ward has started doing monthly teacher council meetings. In these meetings, we do not have a “teacher” who is designated to teach those in the class to be better teachers. Rather, we have a facilitator who guides a discussion on a topic. Oftentimes in these teacher councils, the class will break into small groups to ensure that everyone in the council has an opportunity to voice the opinions, give advice, and connect with others. While these teacher councils aren’t perfect, those in the class are engaged. A primary reason for this is because they are given the opportunity to add their voice to the group. Allowing people to have a voice is a sure way to ensure they are engaged and invested.

This is evidenced in some of the research I have done while at Gallup. For one project, I looked at engagement survey results for almost 100,000 employees across nine organizations to determine the strongest driver of engagement. What I found was that if employees strongly agree with the question “My opinions at work count,” those employees are “engaged” (based upon Gallup’s assessment of engagement) 92% of the time. Thus, allowing people to have a voice and ensuring that it counts almost always leads to that person being engaged in the work or the meeting they are involved in.

Summary

As I write this, I am sitting on a plane headed home after presenting an organization’s engagement results to the its mid-level managers. After the presentation, and while eating lunch, I was sitting next to a man who said he had been a manager at the organization for four years. One of the first things he said to me was this:

From my experience, I have learned that my job as a manager is so much easier when my employees are engaged. When I first became a manager, my team was not engaged, and my life was miserable. Now, my team is engaged (based upon his team’s engagement score, I knew this was true), my job is so much easier. I am no longer putting out fires all the time. I no longer focus on problems. Now, I can focus on solutions.

Being a bishop or an auxiliary leader is not easy. We have many demands on our time. But, I wonder if we make our church responsibilities more demanding by being a “creation of other people’s agendas, of circumstances, or of past habit,” as opposed to leading through our “own proactive design.”

If you want to ensure that those you lead are operate with vigor, dedication, and absorption within their callings, you must create an environment that fuels engagement. And often, this starts with how you run your meetings and how you interact with those you lead.

  1. Do you have a purpose for your meetings?
  2. Do your meetings support the purpose and mission of the ward?
  3. Do your meetings allow for counsel or is it primarily a forum for reporting, organizing, and directing?

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