Years ago, one of my roommates was on a date with the man who would become her husband when she texted me saying they had a story idea for me. They had been discussing the benefits of being a member of the Church that we don’t always talk about or focus on. For example, they mentioned that speaking in Church and being asked to give lessons from a young age help us to become comfortable with public speaking and presenting. They rattled off a whole list of examples and I have thought of it frequently in the years since but never wrote the article.
Fast-forward to this week when I was supposed to teach a Relief Society lesson on President Dallin H. Oaks’s talk “The Need for a Church.” As I read his talk, I began thinking once again about all of these less-noticeable benefits of being a member of the Church. I decided to pose the question on Twitter, knowing that, while there would likely be some negative replies, we would also be able collectively to gather a pretty comprehensive list.
In the 1980s, American Express ran an advertising campaign that was the brainchild of a member of the Church named Gordon Bowen—with the slogan, “Membership has its privileges.” Rumor has it Bowen actually pitched the slogan to the Church first, but whether or not that is true, the list I want to share with you based on the replies to my tweet is proof that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints absolutely has its privileges.
I’ll highlight a few before getting to the rest of the list:
- Ability to delegate/organize events on a small and large scale. When I was in Young Women, we put together a day camp for the Activity Day girls that we called our “Girls Camp Preview.” One year my two older cousins and I were responsible for planning the day with the help of our stake Young Women president. I’ll never forget her asking us what we’d need for the meal and telling her “Hot dog buns and hot dogs.” And her repeatedly asking, “What else?” until we’d arrived at paper plates, napkins, condiments, etc.
- Singing skills. Multiple people commented about our frequent and early introduction to music. Someone said their choir teacher loved the Latter-day Saint kids because they all knew how to sing, someone called their Primary a “full-on children’s choir” complete with harmonies and rounds. Another person said they learned to play the piano because it was needed in their ward, a skill that has served them throughout their life. Another said: “My daughter is a HS choir teacher and has said that students who learn hymns as a young child have a tremendous advantage with harmony/rhythm/pitch.”
- Opportunities to discover and develop talents and life skills. A talented artist replied: “Being given opportunities to develop talents that may have lain dormant. If it weren’t for callings and service assignments, I’d probably be a lawyer now, not an artist. I was asked for creative things so frequently that it became apparent that it was my gift in life.”
- Being connected with people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, life experiences, education, etc. Someone commented, “Forced associations with your geographical neighbors and learning to collaborate with and love them. Instead of selecting associations based on your worldview, interests, and personality.” This is certainly a far cry from the social media world we live in where we tend to only follow those whose opinions and life experiences align with our own. Someone else said that these opportunities help us see the value in all human beings.
- The power to be vulnerable. One man replied, “It takes courage to share a testimony. Being around environments where tender feelings are shared helps you appreciate those feelings and people.”
- A group to belong to always. One Twitter user wrote, “Church membership is probably the greatest insurance policy. If you encounter an accident, death in the family, loss of employment, or a plethora of other challenges, there is a team (in most areas of the world) ready to drop everything and help, including providing financial aid.”
- Business leadership skills. Someone I have always admired professionally sent me a private message and said, “Church has inadvertently given me so many skills in business leadership. Church is the only place I know of where you are given a job you didn’t apply for (in some cases you’d never apply for) and you work shoulder-to-shoulder with people you would’ve never signed up to work with. I work with other business leaders, not of our faith who struggle mightily with inheriting teams of people they wouldn’t have hired or working alongside people who are difficult or different. But for me, I’m like, ‘Meh, this has got nothin’ on that time I was called as Relief Society President in my 20s.’”
But the list doesn’t stop there—it just kept going. Some replies were more humorous than others, but all seemed sincere.
- Have a network that is willing to respond and help (personally and professionally) all over the world
- Never have to be church homeless. You immediately move into a new area and locate the nearest congregation
- Respect for other cultures/religions that ask a lot from their members
- Feeling comfortable being different
- Believing something is possible without knowing (helps when setting goals)
- Agility of mind through scripture study and greater understanding of other ancient texts
- Children learn to read well at a young age
- Gain an appreciation for one’s ancestors and help others with their family history
- Interactions and relationships across generations
- Habits of setting and pursuing worthy goals
- Built-in sense of community anywhere in the world
- Work ethic
- Zero cents spent on alcohol, tobacco, gambling
- Foreign language opportunities for missionaries
- Mission helps people overcome shyness
- Selfless service—Not because you want to but because others are counting on you
- Community service opportunities through helping hands, bishop’s storehouse, etc.
- Learning financial skills/how to give and be generous through tithes and offerings
- Self-reliance education—courses and support groups for emotional resilience
- Leadership opportunities at a young age
- Interview well—Look people in the eye, have good conversations, show up on time
- Free activities for children and youth, as well as cheap or free camps
- Waking up early (seminary)
- Learn about home storage and emergency preparedness
- How to conduct and carry out a good meeting
- Learning to sacrifice not just money but time
- Church Education System opportunities—BYU-Pathway
- Comfort and peace of mind when children or loved ones move to a new place
- Children have practice sitting still and being calm at a young age
- A wide variety of mentor figures
- Teaching opportunities
- Emphasis on family
- Avoidance of addictions but also addiction recovery
- Free wedding venue, gorgeous location, access to church buildings for big events, and free clergy for weddings and funerals
- Access to a basketball court for free
- Family services (Therapy)
- Being challenged about your beliefs by others makes you stronger, more resilient, and more educated
- Ministers that check on your well-being
My goal in my Relief Society lesson was to answer two questions: 1. Can you be a good person and not attend Church? 2. Why the need for organized religion?
In his talk, President Oaks answers the question “Can you be a good person and not attend church?” He replied, “I remind all that we do not believe that good can be accomplished only through a church. Independent of a church, we see millions of people supporting and carrying out innumerable good works. Individually, Latter-day Saints participate in many of them. We see these works as a manifestation of the eternal truth that ‘the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world.’ Despite the good works that can be accomplished without a church, the fulness of doctrine and its saving and exalting ordinances are available only in the restored Church. In addition, Church attendance gives us the strength and enhancement of faith that come from associating with other believers and worshipping together with those who are also striving to stay on the covenant path and be better disciples of Christ.”
As for the second question, I think the list above makes a strong case for participating in organized religion, specifically as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But we all know that the privileges are so much deeper than those listed. Up to this point, we’ve said nothing of our understanding of the plan of salvation and our identity as children of God, priesthood keys restored on the earth, absolute truth as opposed to moral relativism, living prophets, or covenants and ordinances. While the aforementioned “perks” of Church membership are wonderful, these doctrines are undoubtedly the most wonderful blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I thought about this over the weekend, I found a question Sister Carole M. Stephens asked in the October 2013 general conference resounding in my head, “Do we know what we have?”
It seems there is a great focus these days on the areas in which the Church could stand to improve. Our prophet has taught us that we are a part of an ongoing restoration, so it should come as no shock that the Church is still a work in progress. But for me, it is difficult to focus on these things when there is so much good to be had.
President Oaks teaches that what we get out of our experience at church is largely up to us. He quoted someone who said, “Years ago, I changed my attitude about going to church. No longer do I go to church for my sake but to think of others. I make a point of saying hello to people who sit alone, to welcome visitors, … to volunteer for an assignment. … In short, I go to church each week with the intent of being active, not passive, and making a positive difference in people’s lives.”
Just last week, I interviewed Terryl Givens for an Instagram live, and something he said has resounded in my head over the last few days: “I am co-creator with God in this project. So why would we focus on what’s wrong or deficient instead of actively being engaged as agents to try to make that better? … Be the person on the pew who gives the visitor or the marginalized member the experience of Christ that he’s looking for. That’s something that is within the capacity of all of us.”
Here’s to being the people on the pew—people who recognize that membership has its privileges, people who know what we have, people who are anxious to share all of it with others.