Yesterday, my bishop announced that our excellent Primary chorister was being released from that calling so that she could serve as the Ward Communications Specialist. Her new job is to provide content for the ward website. After putting the kibosh on local websites a few years ago, the Church has recently begun to encourage their use. What I found most interesting about my bishop’s remarks was the marketing motivation for this move: in a ward that is leanly staffed, we are putting one of our most competent members in charge of the website because we want to attract move-ins.
We live in a wonderful ward and we recently moved into a new stake center, but we all would like more members. My daughter’s Mia Maid class consists of two young women, one of whom is less engaged than we would hope. My son is the Deacon’s Quorum President, and the three members of his quorum make up the quorum presidency. From top to bottom, the ward has this sort of profile. We have held ward fasts for move-ins, and we were all happy to see a new young couple arrive this past Sunday.
While I tend to be supportive of markets, I don’t normally associate ward activity with competition, even though wards obviously compete for members. Indeed, we have always investigated and compared wards when moving to a new city. Still, in my experience, competition among wards has usually been pretty subtle. Websites could raise the stakes by making information (comparison shopping) more readily available. Is this a good thing?
The Church has already standardized the look and feel of ward websites, and content is regulated to some extent by the pre-defined links and formatting. I suspect that part of the motivation for these moves is a desire to place boundaries on inter-ward competition. If my ward is any indication, however, competition will spring up.
There are larger issues in play here. U.S. members tend to be very fond of markets (count me among the biggest fans), and we observe that Gospel-centered character traits like honestly and diligence are valued in the marketplace. It is easy to forget that the Gospel is not a spiritual competition. The tools of the marketplace may be inappropriate in the chapel. In the end, therefore, I lean toward competition suppression among wards.