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The Pandemic's Lasting Impact on the Church and it's Members


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The Mission Program:

I recently had an interesting conversation with my oldest son who at 18 chose not to go on a mission.  He just had his 20th birthday. While in high school he ran around with a group of 8 great boys, all active LDS.  Of this original 8, 3 decided that a mission was not for them, my son among them, and they decided to go on with university and life in general.  The remaining 5 went on missions. 

One of these boys was called to serve in the Philippians. The mission took a heavy toll out on this boy and he ended up coming home after serving three month.  He tells of having his life threatened several times, of catching worms and other health issues that he’ll be dealing with for years and of an autocratic, heartless mission president who could have cared less for his well being or safety.  After two months he had had enough and asked to be allowed to go home.  It still took another month of asking before his request to leave was granted.

Another of the 5 was called to Mexico.  To his credit he was able to last for 4 months before coming home.  He too experienced harrowing life threatening experiences with guns being pulled on him, verbal abuse of being an American gringo, lazy native companions etc.  He lasted 4 month before he too came home.

Two others were called to serve stateside.  One to a New York area Mission and the other to an Ohio mission.  Both have had similar experiences because of pandemic restrictions. To date both of these boys have stuck it out.  Both have been sequestered in their apartments for nearly all of the 18 months they’ve been out.  They both spend their days in absolute boredom in their apartments attempting to engage with people through Facebook.  When my son was sharing the details of these two it sounded like a hellish existence confined in their apartments and an other wise complete waste of their collective time.   Needless to say neither of these boys has been successful in converting a single person or having a baptism.

The last of these 5 boys also had a bad mission experience and ended up coming home early.  But to be fair it seems that his returning home was more a function of mental health issues than his actual mission experience.  He just couldn’t handle the rigors or should I say boredom of mission life under a pandemic.

I’ve known these boys all of their lives, they come from great Mormon homes.  Their fathers are leaders in their wards serving as Bishops, High Councilmen and their mothers in responsible leadership roles within the auxiliaries. Each of these boys come from families where serving a mission is a family tradition.

Following their return from their mission experiences the three who came home early have either left the church or mentally gone inactive from the church, not formal resignations mind you, but either want nothing to do with the church or inactive. They are completely disillusioned by the church due to their mission experience.  The thing I find so sad is that each of the boys that went out on missions had all looked forward with excitement for the opportunity to serve a mission.  These were boys exactly the youth brought up to serve and yet their experience ended up changing their lives forever in a negative way.

 

The Ward:

So my local ward, along the Wasatch front, has held regular Zoom Church, since the pandemic's outbreak.  Since reopening meeting for attendance, less than 30-50 attend in person church each week  This is a ward with a large activity rate. My very active wife has yet to return and I don’t expect she will until the pandemic war has been won.  I have yet to speak with a ward member who hasn’t enjoyed their time away from formal attendance and having their Sundays free.

Granted my experience is tainted by my own loss of belief and each of these incidences is anecdotal but they do make me wonder how the church will fair once the pandemic ends and what the long term impact will be on the church.

My guess, is that physical attendance of once formerly active members there will be a permanent impacted.  That for many they will never return and for others their attendance will be very sporadic.

The missionary program will also have permanent impact to both missionary numbers as well as church converts.  I foresee a dramatic drop in those willing to serve in the future and it will take years before we see a return to pre-pandemic conversion numbers.

While the church will never disclose this information I have got to assume that tithing numbers have taken a huge hit as well. But again we will never know.

While the church will survive the pandemic, the long term impact will be felt for many years to come.  At least this is my take on things from a completely anecdotal point of view.

Edited by Fair Dinkum
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8 minutes ago, bluebell said:

I’m sure you are right. I don’t think something like this can not have a serious impact, for good and bad.

From my perspective, both the good and bad are expected by God and both serve a purpose.

This is how it has always been (hardship and sacrifice have always driven some away from God while bringing others closer) and I’m sure how it will always be. 

That's an interesting perspective.  Kind of like the Biblical solders who laid down their weapons to get a drink and were sent home vs those who kept their hands on the handle of their swords and were called to battle.  Yes I understand this faithful story.  So for the faithful, this is actually a testimony builder when others fall away. Interesting 🙂 

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42 minutes ago, Fair Dinkum said:

I have yet to speak with a ward member who hasn’t enjoyed their time away from formal attendance and having their Sundays free.

Just to address this point, I think this varies with the demographic of the member.  In my ward members living in a household with other church members (families) have seemed to enjoy the experience.  However, members living alone are not.  They feel that their sense of isolation is increased and they're cut off from their ward family. 

 

42 minutes ago, Fair Dinkum said:

While the church will never disclose this information I have got to assume that tithing numbers have taken a huge hit as well.

Why would you assume this?  With people out of work I would assume that donations would go down, but a "huge hit"?

Edited by ksfisher
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1 hour ago, juliann said:

Or, the longer this goes on the more onerous it becomes and the more a return to normalicy is yearned for. I am only now really beginning to miss Sunday church. I miss the connection with people. Probably the most lasting thing to me is the realization that Sunday is a ritual of mixed meaning and theological necessity. However, this ritual is a practice field for larger things and I feel the lack of that more and more. Now that I think about it, it is somewhat like the gym I quit. I didn't love love love going. But it wasn't the hour in the gym that was the point, it was the difference those working muscles made in my everyday life. 

What hasn't changed,however, is the community, the very essence of the gospel. If you are not active, that wouldn't be a factor for you but I think you are completely missing the major meaning of church attendance for most. 

I think your are correct and I hadn't taken that into account.  There are many that will love for things to get back to their version of normal and will flock back to church

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3 hours ago, juliann said:

 If you are not active, that wouldn't be a factor for you but I think you are completely missing the major meaning of church attendance for most. 

Pre-pandemic I was on the High Council.  So maybe I am one of those causalities of the pandemic, too much time on my hands

Edited by Fair Dinkum
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4 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

The Mission Program:

I recently had an interesting conversation with my oldest son who at 18 chose not to go on a mission.  He just had his 20th birthday. While in high school he ran around with a group of 8 great boys, all active LDS.  Of this original 8, 3 decided that a mission was not for them, my son among them, and they decided to go on with university and life in general.  The remaining 5 went on missions. 

One of these boys was called to serve in the Philippians. The mission took a heavy toll out on this boy and he ended up coming home after serving three month.  He tells of having his life threatened several times, of catching worms and other health issues that he’ll be dealing with for years and of an autocratic, heartless mission president who could have cared less for his well being or safety.  After two months he had had enough and asked to be allowed to go home.  It still took another month of asking before his request to leave was granted.

Another of the 5 was called to Mexico.  To his credit he was able to last for 4 months before coming home.  He too experienced harrowing life threatening experiences with guns being pulled on him, verbal abuse of being an American gringo, lazy native companions etc.  He lasted 4 month before he too came home.

Two others were called to serve stateside.  One to a New York area Mission and the other to an Ohio mission.  Both have had similar experiences because of pandemic restrictions. To date both of these boys have stuck it out.  Both have been sequestered in their apartments for nearly all of the 18 months they’ve been out.  They both spend their days in absolute boredom in their apartments attempting to engage with people through Facebook.  When my son was sharing the details of these two it sounded like a hellish existence confined in their apartments and an other wise complete waste of their collective time.   Needless to say neither of these boys has been successful in converting a single person or having a baptism.

The last of these 5 boys also had a bad mission experience and ended up coming home early.  But to be fair it seems that his returning home was more a function of mental health issues than his actual mission experience.  He just couldn’t handle the rigors or should I say boredom of mission life under a pandemic.

I’ve known these boys all of their lives, they come from great Mormon homes.  Their fathers are leaders in their wards serving as Bishops, High Councilmen and their mothers in responsible leadership roles within the auxiliaries. Each of these boys come from families where serving a mission is a family tradition.

Following their return from their mission experiences the three who came home early have either left the church or mentally gone inactive from the church, not formal resignations mind you, but either want nothing to do with the church or inactive. They are completely disillusioned by the church due to their mission experience.  The thing I find so sad is that each of the boys that went out on missions had all looked forward with excitement for the opportunity to serve a mission.  These were boys exactly the youth brought up to serve and yet their experience ended up changing their lives forever in a negative way.

While I am not sure that describing the impact as negative "forever" is within your reasonable ability to project the future, this certainly fits the overall winnowing process which is essential to soft, modern Mormons.  Making it too easy isn't in anyone's best interest, and there must be real choices along the way.

It has actually been LDS Church experience in recent decades that digital missionary work has been very effective, with better baptismal rates than door-to-door missionaries.  Naturally, individual experiences will vary.  The Pandemic has only increased the speed with which such changes in general Church operations are taking place.

4 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

The Ward:

So my local ward, along the Wasatch front, has held regular Zoom Church, since the pandemic's outbreak.  Since reopening meeting for attendance, less than 30-50 attend in person church each week  This is a ward with a large activity rate. My very active wife has yet to return and I don’t expect she will until the pandemic war has been won.  I have yet to speak with a ward member who hasn’t enjoyed their time away from formal attendance and having their Sundays free.

Granted my experience is tainted by my own loss of belief and each of these incidences is anecdotal but they do make me wonder how the church will fair once the pandemic ends and what the long term impact will be on the church.

My guess, is that physical attendance of once formerly active members there will be a permanent impacted.  That for many they will never return and for others their attendance will be very sporadic.

The missionary program will also have permanent impact to both missionary numbers as well as church converts.  I foresee a dramatic drop in those willing to serve in the future and it will take years before we see a return to pre-pandemic conversion numbers.

While the church will never disclose this information I have got to assume that tithing numbers have taken a huge hit as well. But again we will never know.

While the church will survive the pandemic, the long term impact will be felt for many years to come.  At least this is my take on things from a completely anecdotal point of view.

We will of course be able to assess the overall impact, contrary to your assertion that "we will never know."  The long term impact will in fact become clear.  What has taken place is a forced adjustment to Pandemic restrictions which we would never otherwise have seen.  The LDS meetings (Sacrament, Elders Quorum, Relief Society, Sunday School, etc.) would never otherwise have gone electronic, which opens up all manner of possibilities for the future.  It is also interesting to contemplate a Church in which every priesthood holder has been able to bless the Sacrament in his own home for his own family.

Moreover, contrary to your assertion, I have yet to hear from anyone in my ward who does not terribly miss the camaraderie and social mixing of regularly attended meetings.  Attending because someone wants to be there is far superior in my view to attending only out of habit.  The quality of LDS culture has just gotten injected with some new form of power.

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19 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

While I am not sure that describing the impact as negative "forever" is within your reasonable ability to project the future, this certainly fits the overall winnowing process which is essential to soft, modern Mormons.  Making it too easy isn't in anyone's best interest, and there must be real choices along the way.

It has actually been LDS Church experience in recent decades that digital missionary work has been very effective, with better baptismal rates than door-to-door missionaries.  Naturally, individual experiences will vary.  The Pandemic has only increased the speed with which such changes in general Church operations are taking place.

We will of course be able to assess the overall impact, contrary to your assertion that "we will never know."  The long term impact will in fact become clear.  What has taken place is a forced adjustment to Pandemic restrictions which we would never otherwise have seen.  The LDS meetings (Sacrament, Elders Quorum, Relief Society, Sunday School, etc.) would never otherwise have gone electronic, which opens up all manner of possibilities for the future.  It is also interesting to contemplate a Church in which every priesthood holder has been able to bless the Sacrament in his own home for his own family.

Moreover, contrary to your assertion, I have yet to hear from anyone in my ward who does not terribly miss the camaraderie and social mixing of regularly attended meetings.  Attending because someone wants to be there is far superior in my view to attending only out of habit.  The quality of LDS culture has just gotten injected with some new form of power.

I appreciate your assessment Robert and I acknowledge that you could very well be correct.  If there is a winnowing, those left will certainly be a more dedicated and committed, true believing membership. Perhaps one of the positive consequences from the pandemic for the church.

Edited by Fair Dinkum
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7 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Attending because someone wants to be there is far superior in my view to attending only out of habit.

Yep. We had some missionaries in my mission who were there purely out of a sense of duty. Some of them learnt to love the message and the people, and some just gritted their teeth for two years and forced themselves to work hard. I'm not connected to all of them on social media, but those I can track from the latter cohort have all left the Church. And why wouldn't they? It's a rational decision. Personally, I couldn't have survived a two-year mission if I hadn't learnt to surrender to Christ and let His Atoning power change my heart. In fact, it would have left me 'walking wounded'. Instead, it left me with a mountain of personal encounters with the merciful God from which I continue to draw strength and inspiration and find joy.

We created new wards near the end of 2019, so I don't know all the members very well, but I picked up that a few families in my new ward were quite cynical. One couple that I sat in front of one week, for example, spent most of sacrament meeting making snide comments about every single speaker. Unsurprisingly, we haven't seen that family return to in-person church yet.

Most people I know well have been overjoyed by the return to in-person worship. Saturday evening, I visited a family in our stake, previously in my old ward, to play some games, and they both spoke about how the initial pleasure of home church had worn off very quickly and how grateful they were when we were able to be together again. These are people who always filled me with joy when we were at church together and when we served alongside one another.

Not to be too simplistic, but I fully expect many of those who -- for whatever reason -- weren't enjoying many of the blessings of Church membership before the pandemic not to return. And I think a certain number actually will but in far better shape!

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The quality of LDS culture has just gotten injected with some new form of power.

Indeed. Walking into a chapel full of happy people is both edifying and infectious!

Edited by Hamba Tuhan
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1 hour ago, cinepro said:

The biggest problem my SoCal ward is facing is migration. We've had several families move out. They had been on the fence about staying in CA, and this pushed them over. Personally, I can't wait to get back, but I'm kind of an extrovert and I enjoy the ward community. Hopefully I'm not the exception.

Our biggest problem in my northern Utah ward is the opposite, a lot of move-ins.  We usually have multiple new family records read in each Sunday, and they are building a subdivision with over 100 new homes in our ward boundaries that still isn't done, so it will probably continue as it is for a while.  That's going to be interesting since our ward is already over 500 members.

It's a problem only because it's hard to integrate new people into the ward when the ward isn't functioning normally.  Our ward is split up so half meets each sunday (we have been given the all clear to meet together every sunday but we still can't go over 150 total and since most of the time we have over 90 attending per time, trying to get everyone together right now would mean some people would be turned away).  The only other aspect that is fully functional are youth activities on Wednesday nights.  Otherwise, there are few opportunities to get to know the newbies or integrate them.  

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4 minutes ago, bluebell said:

It's hard to integrate new people into the ward when the ward isn't functioning normally.

We discussed this problem in our stake council meeting two weeks ago. We're a city that people tend to live/work in for a time, and many members have moved away over the past year, in large part to be closer to family. At the same time, people have moved in, and even with our now minimal restrictions, we're struggling to integrate them. I don't like it. It's amazing how useful a handshake can be!

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6 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

That's an interesting perspective.  Kind of like the Biblical solders who laid down their weapons to get a drink and were sent home vs those who kept their hands on the handle of their swords and were called to battle.  Yes I understand this faithful story.  So for the faithful, this is actually a testimony builder when others fall away. Interesting 🙂 

Just to be clear - I don't think having others fall away is an actual testimony builder, though some may act that way.  But I think you meant is that the pandemic some to fall away and some to grow stronger right? 

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Stake leaders have observed that our stake seems to be down about 10-20% week-to-week compared to pre-pandemic reasons. The two biggest causes

1) People being concerned about Covid (generally those who are older, or are otherwise in the at-risk group).

2) Whole families staying away if one member is sick (with anything, sniffles, gastro, etc). So what they should have been doing before, but the pandemic made them realise its importance.

Some appear to have taken the church enforced "no-meetings" period as an opportunity to stop attending, but these are by far the minority.

As the various vaccines roll out and global infection numbers drop, I expect our attendance to return to fairly close to our pre-pandemic levels. I did have some concerns based on online attendance, but our in-person attendance is much higher than online meeting attendance ever was.

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39 minutes ago, JustAnAustralian said:

I did have some concerns based on online attendance, but our in-person attendance is much higher than online meeting attendance ever was.

I'm not surprised. I didn't attend a single online Sunday school class or elders quorum lesson last year -- a choice fully endorsed by my stake president when I asked him about it.

Edited by Hamba Tuhan
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I have to admit I have not missed church at all, but it was not a pandemic problem.  While my husband was getting his master’s degree and working for about 4 years since moving here time with him has become very important to me so I began to really think about my church activities and what was the priority.  I found that few were filling my needs and in few could I fill others needs.  So I cut my activity down a lot.

My biggest need was social at the time and most of our "activities" were lectures.  

Then I wasn't getting much out of sacrament talks or testimonies either.  There were a variety of reasons, but one talk that sticks out to me was our stake president and how he felt that some day we will need armed guards for our church meetings. Not a lot of spiritually uplifting stuff.

The last month though quite a few of the talks have been really good.

Our wards have been back for a long time.  135 people attending in person.  175 were doing it before.  With zoom I would guess about 20 are attending online.  

I find it funny that at the beginning of 2020 I felt I should have the theme of "be still".  Funny how well the pandemic worked with that.  So I have had a lot of time to be still.  I have found I don't miss church attendance as a ward, but I do miss ministering one on one within the ward and with the refugee group I am with.  

I was on the ward facebook group, but one member there became a leader in our ward and if I thought the person was on overdrive before I was seriously under estimating that when the person became a leader.  I had to leave the group because this person didn't allow me to feel still and once I left I rarely heard about things happening in the ward where I might be able to help individuals here and there.  

So long story short the pandemic has not encouraged me to leave, but actually is giving me the break I need to be able to strengthen myself.

Edited by Rain
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7 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

I appreciate your assessment Robert and I acknowledge that you could very well be correct.  If there is a winnowing, those left will certainly be a more dedicated and committed, true believing membership. Perhaps one of the positive consequences from the pandemic for the church.

You may recall from your reading of LDS history that the Saints went through some pretty tough times, with lots of apostates along the way.  Getting from Kirtland, Ohio, to SLC was fraught with many problems and failures along the way.  And, once there, pioneering was so hard that I am just glad that I wasn't there to participate in it.  Lifetimes were spent in hard scrabble existence, bare existence.  Perhaps we have it way too easy in modern times.

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4 hours ago, Hamba Tuhan said:

I'm not surprised. I didn't attend a single online Sunday school class or elders quorum lesson last year -- a choice fully endorsed by my stake president when I asked him about it.

I’m just curious why you would be determined not to attend any of the online classes. We have had some very edifying lessons via Zoom, and after some minimal acclimation with the app, I’ve not had any problem participating as a class member nor, it seems, has anyone else. 
 

Our bishopric has done some very innovative things with our fifth-Sunday lessons. For one, they brought in via Zoom the missionaries from our ward who are serving in various fields of labor. Last month, the senior couple serving at the Sacred Grove historic site took us on a virtual tour via Zoom. 

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44 minutes ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I’m just curious why you would be determined not to attend any of the online classes. We have had some very edifying lessons via Zoom, and after some minimal acclimation with the app, I’ve not had any problem participating as a class member nor, it seems, has anyone else. 
 

Our bishopric has done some very innovative things with our fifth-Sunday lessons. For one, they brought in via Zoom the missionaries from our ward who are serving in various fields of labor. Last month, the senior couple serving at the Sacred Grove historic site took us on a virtual tour via Zoom. 

That sounds awesome!  I wish I were in your ward! ;) :D

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8 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I’m just curious why you would be determined not to attend any of the online classes. We have had some very edifying lessons via Zoom, and after some minimal acclimation with the app, I’ve not had any problem participating as a class member nor, it seems, has anyone else. 
 

Our bishopric has done some very innovative things with our fifth-Sunday lessons. For one, they brought in via Zoom the missionaries from our ward who are serving in various fields of labor. Last month, the senior couple serving at the Sacred Grove historic site took us on a virtual tour via Zoom. 

Not hamba, but I don't like zoom.  I appreciate that it allows people to participate virtually and connect people, but how it all works drives me crazy. I have not done one Sunday School or Relief society either and a good part of that is because of my experience with it in sacrament meetings, funerals, family gatherings, primary singing time and other things. So my dislike for zoom was weighed against the advantages of whatever meeting and dislike of zoom always won out for RS and SS.

Edited by Rain
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37 minutes ago, Rain said:

Not hamba, but I don't like zoom.  I appreciate that it allows people to participate virtually and connect people, but how it all works drives me crazy. I have not done one Sunday School or Relief society either and a good part of that is because of my experience with it in sacrament meetings, funerals, family gatherings, primary singing time and other things. So my dislike for zoom was weighed against the advantages of whatever meeting and dislike of zoom always won out for RS and SS.

I really don't like zoom, and my calling is kind of forcing me to lead a zoom meeting this week and I'm really not excited about it. I just want it to be over.

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9 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I’m just curious why you would be determined not to attend any of the online classes. We have had some very edifying lessons via Zoom, and after some minimal acclimation with the app, I’ve not had any problem participating as a class member nor, it seems, has anyone else. 
 

Our bishopric has done some very innovative things with our fifth-Sunday lessons. For one, they brought in via Zoom the missionaries from our ward who are serving in various fields of labor. Last month, the senior couple serving at the Sacred Grove historic site took us on a virtual tour via Zoom. 

They've been helpful for me as an inactive. I watched a Sunday School lesson last Sunday and many Sacrament meetings before that.  

I wonder if this will be an on going thing for the future which would help the shut in's etc. 

Edited by Tacenda
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