It seems like ‘church capacity’ would be a useful concept. In parallel to ‘state capacity,’ church capacity might describe the ability of a religious organization to carry out its missions, promote its doctrine, gain adherents, participate as an entity in broader society and accomplish its other purposes.
For the Church as a whole, we can see how resources are organized and utilized on a large scale – think of the whole missionary apparatus, for example, from the MTC to mission presidencies down to local companionships. If the kingdom of Prester John suddenly asked for missionaries to be sent, could the Church respond in a timely way, and to what extent? And the answer is yes, the Church could dispatch 100 or 1000 missionaries fairly quickly by pulling them away from their current assignments, or 10,000 with extreme effort, and have a regular program to train missionaries in the relevant language(s) within a few years, while 100,000 missionaries would exceed the Church’s capacity. What the Church could accomplish would also depend on the abilities of the individual missionaries and companionships.
But I’m more interested in the concept of church capacity on the local level, where it seems like the capacity of a ward or branch would be a cross product of several inputs, including the sheer number of members participating; their degree of personal commitment; the level of relevant talents and experience available; socioeconomic resources; and probably several other things as well. It’s easier to stand up a ward choir for a community sacred music festival, for example, if you have a lot of members with musical experience who are motivated to participate and who have leisure time in which to do so.
In general, it’s better for a ward or branch to have higher capacity to be able to accomplish the Church’s purposes in the world. It’s better to have more members, with higher personal commitment, with their talents well organized and adequate time and resources.
Over the long term, it’s not usually possible for a ward or branch to operate beyond its capacity. An approach that works well in one ward (“assign everyone one day per month when they will be available to go with the missionaries if needed”) can’t be pasted onto another ward whose circumstances are substantially different (“check with me a half hour beforehand, which is when I’ll know if I’ll be working that evening or not”).
It’s important to normalize things that increase church capacity. While the circumstances of individual people and their schedules will differ, in most circumstances people need to show up, accept callings, and contribute useful talents, rather than feuding with other members, causing scenes in Sunday School, or other actions that diminish church capacity.
Socioeconomic factors matter, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. A ward can do more if its members are educated, have stable employment, and build significant relationships in the wider community. Speaking from experience, though, and mostly to myself: Not all jobs are equal. Unpredictable hours and schedules that conflict with church meetings have drawbacks compared to a 9-5 job. All-consuming career paths with modest financial reward like many academic careers aren’t as useful as other options. I could have been much more useful to the Church (and society as a whole, and just about anybody else) as a dentist or electrician than as an academic.
High church capacity, being a ‘high functioning ward,’ isn’t the same thing as being Zion, and shouldn’t be mistaken for it. I’ve been in wards overflowing with young married couples, and others with vast numbers of stable families, and others with staggering amounts of wealth. Each one was different, and each accomplished some amazing things. The capacity to bring casseroles on demand, or staff organizations and host memorable events, or organize and contribute to international relief efforts, all while serving as a deep reservoir for stake callings, were impressive in their own way. I hope all those wards continue to do amazing things.
My current ward isn’t like that. It struggles to staff organizations and provide casseroles in a timely manner. We should try to do better. People’s work schedules change unpredictably and sometimes conflict with Sunday meetings. We couldn’t stand up a community choir on demand. But it’s no less a part of Zion – not through its mere existence as a ward, but for what the members manage to do with the ward capacity available.