Ward families provide wonderful opportunities to worship, make friends, find support, and strengthen your testimony as ward members work, learn, grow, and live together. But speaking as a former long-term member of a young single adult ward and a current member of an apartment-heavy ward with newlyweds and senior missionary couples coming in and out on a regular basis, I know that feeling support and connection at church can be a little more difficult when your ward family is constantly changing. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered that might help both leaders and members create more unity in an ever-changing ward.
As a leader of the ward who is responsible for the care of dozens of people you likely just met or who will only be around for a few months, the task of leading and serving can seem overwhelming at times. Here are a few ideas that might make that constant adjustment a little easier.
Adjust with the Help of the Spirit
Obviously, we have rules within the Church. In fact, there are several handbooks describing them, helping members around the world keep the same guidelines in keeping administration in line with gospel principles and beliefs. But within those guidelines, there are always opportunities to adapt a program or administrative task to the specific needs of the ward. With help from the Spirit and the counsel of other Church leaders, you might just find it’s the perfect way to unify your ward.
For example, when it comes to ministering, perhaps the traditional companionship is not effective when so many people are coming and going and need to be reassigned. Maybe you need to adjust the number of individuals ministering together or rearrange how they are assigned. Or maybe your ward is so scattered that it could benefit from occasional ward dinners or small group family home evening activities.
One way my current Relief Society builds unity is through printing a Relief Society program that highlights a different sister each week. This helped me as a temporary ward member get to know the sisters and feel acknowledged and wanted when my spotlight was shared.
Okay, this one might seem like a “Well, duh!” tip, but it’s a very important one. I recognize that this one might be more difficult for some than others, but I know through experience that a calling comes with heavenly help. And sometimes, that means an increased ability to learn names.
Look through the ward directory so you can match faces with familiar names. Call the students by name when you pick them to share a comment. Not only does this help the student feel included in the ward, but it also helps other class members learn each other’s names. Learning names, I believe, is one of the quickest ways to help unify a ward.
Think about the story of the First Sision. Heavenly Father knew Joseph’s name, and He knows our names, too. Having this knowledge reminds us that we belong to Him. Likewise, it makes us feel good when someone remembers our name at church—we feel noticed, included, and known. We feel like we belong.
Broaden Your Lessons and Perspectives
Because you may not know all of the circumstances of the people in your class very well, you may need to be extra aware and in tune with the Spirit to know what assumptions you might be making. For example, using phrases like “we all” can be dangerous, as can talking about issues like mental health in a negative light.
While this kind of care and awareness is a good practice in general, it’s an especially effective way to inspire unity among ward members. You can make others feel included and acknowledged, even if they and their situation aren’t specifically named. You may not be able to avoid saying everything that would ever offend someone, but if you’re paying attention to what you are teaching, the Spirit can help unify the ward with feelings of love and inclusion.
Tips for Ward Members
It’s not just up to the leaders to unify a ward where people are coming and going. They need your help! If you find yourself in a ward with high turnover, or if you are the one moving in and out, here are a few ideas to make sure you’re adding to the unity of the ward.
Don’t Wait to Participate
Sing in the choir. Attend ward temple nights. Comment in class and learn a few new names each week. All of these are great ways to feel unified with the ward. Remember that you are not the only new person in a ward like this, so it’s just as much up to you to reach out and participate.
Also, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the bishopric and ask for a calling. A calling is the number one way to feel like you are a part of the ward and are able to contribute. If the bishopric knows you’re willing, I can almost guarantee they have an available job that needs your willingness and desire to serve and bring the ward together.
Create Your Own “Fun” Crowd
I once received some wise counsel from a bishopric member when my husband and I moved into a ward that was regularly changing. He told us that if we wanted to be in the “fun” crowd, it was up to us to be the fun crowd, because most of the members our age were in the same boat as us: newly married, new in the ward, and probably only there for a temporary amount of time. It was the best advice he could have given us, because it helped us change our perspective from feeling left out or lonely to being the ones who reached out. We made a lot of great friends that way and (hopefully) helped others feel welcome in the ward too.
Look for the Positive and Avoid Snap Judgments
It’s easy to find many flaws in a ward or its leadership when nothing seems very certain, but it’s important to remember that even a constantly changing ward is part of a stake of Zion. In my estimation, it’s even more important in such a ward to avoid categorizing or judging others, because you may not have enough time to get to know them and move past those judgments. Give leaders the benefit of the doubt, and give yourself the opportunity to get to know new members regularly. You might just find some incredible people who are doing incredible things or people who just need some good friends for the time that they are in the ward.
Blessings of Being in a Ward with High Turnover
While the term “turnover” seems to imply instability, if you’re willing to make the effort, a constantly changing ward can be quite rewarding. Here are three of my favorite things about living in a ward that is always changing.
1. You meet people from all ages and stages of life. As a member of a YSA ward with people incessantly coming and going, I was able to meet young adults from all over the world and in all different stages of education and experience that taught me a number of valuable lessons. As a member of a ward made up of largely newly married couples and elderly members, I’ve been blessed with perspectives on a myriad of subjects, including advice and gospel wisdom from older members as well as validation and tips from those my age. What better place to be uplifted by others’ testimonies and feel understood?
2. You have a variety of opportunities to learn and apply knowledge from past callings in a new setting. In many instances, a calling is empty because someone has moved, which means you rarely have someone to “teach you the ropes.” But this also means you have an extra opportunity to rely on the Spirit and try new things! It gives you the opportunity to reapply teaching methods and organizational skills in different ways that can benefit the ward members.
3. You have a special sort of “transient” unity. There’s something comforting about being in a place where there are many people who are in the same situation you are. In this kind of a ward, you are not only surrounded by members of the Church who believe the same way we do, you are surrounded by people who know what it’s like to move from place to place, who are also looking for friends and connections, and who can help you feel not so alone in whatever you may be struggling with. What a unique blessing!