Is Sacrament Meeting Broken?

I have attended some exceptionally inspiring sacrament meetings.  In fact, just this past Sunday we attended my brother’s ward for their baby’s blessing, and the ward presented a fantastic meeting of speakers and musical numbers from a special needs youth group in the Salt Lake City area.  I was near tears at the end because of the Spirit present.

Unfortunately, those kinds of meetings seem to me to be the exception.  I have wondered if sacrament meetings are broken most of the time.  Consider this from marketer Seth Godin, from his blog today:

Broken events = People who don’t want to listen, being forced to sit through speeches that the speakers don’t want to give…

If someone starts by telling a joke that they know is lame or starts going through all the tribulations they had finding something to say, if the audience is checking the time or secretly tweeting, then the event itself is broken. The speaker who discharges an obligation is not a speaker you are hoping to hear.

Maybe obligatory speeches used to have a point, maybe they used to serve a vital function, but they no longer do.

Most Sunday speakers do not seem to want to speak.  It is an obligation to speak, an assignment, that seems to make eyes roll and is a burden (I’ve personally invited many to speak, and was often met with such responses, if not outright rejection).  Consequently, the resulting talks seem to be lacking.  How many times do talks begin with lame jokes, or the endless struggles the speaker went through to find something to say “after Bro. Jones called last Wednesday,” or continue their talk by detailing travel logs, or life histories, or confessions, etc., without getting to anything truly meaningful?  Is this a Utah Mormon condition, or is it more widespread?  Does it occur regularly outside our tradition too?

The ordinance of the sacrament is the most important part of the meeting (if not the block), and the primary reason we hold the meeting, to remember the Savior and renew the covenants we have made with God.  And granted, the speeches often do more good for the speakers than the listeners.  But perhaps there is something to be learned by the mantra “if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all”?  Is sacrament meeting worth holding, beyond the ordinance of the sacrament and testimony meetings, if the messages given are base?  Are sacrament meeting talks a relic of an earlier time in the Church, when apostles and prophets spoke regularly and delivered eloquent discourses fit for scripture?  Do we get points for what Nibley described as “sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom”? (“Zeal Without Knowledge,” Approaching Zion)

Joseph Smith also seem to be troubled by this, even in his time:

“How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending (descending from distinction, yielding to inferiors) for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God…” (TPJS, 137, parenthetical 1828 Webster’s definition added.)

A scripture comes to mind:

Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

If it be some other way it is not of God.

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:17-23)

What does it mean to preach by the Spirit of truth?

On the other hand, perhaps it is me that is falling short; maybe I’m broken.  President Kimball was once asked, “What do you do when you find yourself in a boring sacrament meeting?”  He replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never been in one” (quoted by Gene R. Cook, in Gerry Avant, “Learning Gospel Is Lifetime Pursuit,” Church News, Mar. 24, 1990, 10. Quoted recently in Elder Hallstrom’s talk from April 2012 Conference).

Am I missing something and failing to gain significant blessings?  Do I need to strive harder to find inspiration from our sacrament meetings (and other meetings), regardless of what the speaker is saying?  Maybe the WWF wrestling match with my kids over and under the pews every Sunday is the holdup and distraction?  Or maybe it is a time for meditation and personal contemplation, when the speaker is failing?  Or is there something amiss with the way we conduct our meetings?  How do we produce meetings where “People [are] thrilled to be listening to people who are excited to be speaking,” as Seth Godin says, and where both are edified and rejoice together?  How do you find such speakers?  Would it be better by volunteer sign-up, such that the speakers are excited to be speaking?  Would it be better to shorten sacrament meeting to the singing of hymns, the offering of prayers, the administration of the sacrament, and a short message, and then hold firesides for other interesting messages as they present themselves?

My stake president over the last couple years has repeatedly instructed the leaders in our stake to do much better in training our speakers, helping them abandon the common monotone reading of text on a piece of paper, to more extemporaneous and live speech which is naturally more engaging, even offering a simple formula for success:

  1. Read a scripture and explain it.
  2. Tell how the scripture applies to your life, tell a story.
  3. Testify of the principle, and blessings received.
  4. Repeat from step #1 until your time has ended.

That’s just one suggestion.  How can I do better?  How can we do better to make sacrament meeting a memorable, uplifting, and inspiring experience every week?

This entry was posted in Sacrament meeting by Bryce Haymond. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bryce Haymond

Bryce grew up in Sandy, Utah, where he attended Jordan High School. He served a mission to the El Salvador San Salvador East mission, including eight months as mission financial secretary. Bryce graduated from Brigham Young University in 2007 in Industrial Design and a minor in Ballroom Dance. He loves all things Nibley and the temple, and is the founder of TempleStudy.com, and also blogs at BlackpoolCreative.com. Recently Bryce joined the Executive Board of The Interpreter Foundation, where he serves as a designer and technologist. Bryce has served in numerous Church callings including ward sunday school president, first counselor in the bishopric, and currently as temple and family history instructor. He is a Product Manager and Design Director at HandStands in Salt Lake City, and lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with his beautiful wife, three children, and another on the way!

29 thoughts on “Is Sacrament Meeting Broken?

  1. I guess I would say that it is we who are broken. My perspective is very simple: I am very often bored in Sacrament meetings or classes. When I am, I remember that Sacrament is not about me but about honoring the Savior. When I am bored I sometimes picture in my mind the Savior being there in the meeting, and I concentrate on the feeling of trying to do His will, and suddenly I am not bored. In addition, the Sacrament is a very good time to think about other people and how we can help them and offer service. So, as in most things, if we stop thinking about ourselves and think of the Savior and others, good things will happen. (This is not to say that speakers couldn’t be better or that the format should never change, etc. My point is simply that a lot of seemingly bad things become better if we change our own perspectives.)

  2. I’m not bored in sacrament meetings. I have three pew monkeys 4 and under to wrassle. What we need to do is reinstitute the “crying room” where you can see and hear the speakers, but they can’t hear you. Then I would be much more able to listen to the talks, because I would be less concerned about OTHER people hearing the talks over my kids. I haven’t made it to all three meetings since my youngest was born 6 months ago, mostly because my 2-year-old needs a crying room or a nap, and the only thing available is a nap.

    For a church that so strongly encourages us to procreate, we’ve done a bad job of accommodating the results of said procreation. But this comment might just be a tangent, albeit one that gives a suggestion that would help me get more out the meeting!

  3. Whoo-ee, clapping my hands in agreement here! I know when the speakers start off by saying “When Brother Bishop’s Councelor called and asked me to speak…bla, bla, bla.” I tune out. I hate, and yes, it is hate that. It totally slams the poor councelor just doing his job. If you don’t want to speak, say no! But when it comes down to it, I really think people do not know how to, and/or are very uncomfortable publicly speaking and that’s why it’s bad. Why prepare when you can just read it? Why think of something good to say when you can just quote Justin Bieber lyrics (totally, not lying, that happened in our ward once, oh the pain!). I love public speaking, then again, I am a teacher so it’s been my profression for many years to just get up and talk and make it interesting. Right now I don’t get much from Sac Mtg, though because I’m chasing kids and that’s when I take my turn to chase them.

  4. In a normal distribution, doing exceptionally well will always be exceptional.

    Failure is always an option.

  5. Format and structure matter. The Church has never been afraid to change and adapt and revise; perhaps sometime in the future the Brethren will take a look at it. All I can say is, I completely agree with Bryce’s premise that the current format could be broken. It pains me to say it, but it’s my honest assessment. And I don’t think that the entire monkey is on the individual’s back.

  6. Think of investigators. I’ve seen investigators bolt immediately at the end of sac meeting.

  7. Related note: The people who are late for 9am sacrament are also the ones late when sacament is at 1pm.

  8. If the speaker is ever… uninspired… I try my best to think about what they are trying to say with their topic. If things get really bland, I start thinking about some of my responsibilities in the church, people to serve, etc. But usually, I try to stick it out and follow along and mentally support the speaker.

    In general, I agree with this post, as well as Geoff’s first comment. I do think that if people don’t want to speak, and if most people don’t want to listen, then our meeting is “broken”.

    But the meeting is broken because of us. We are a people by and large who have the blessing of the gift of the Holy Ghost, but do not conduct ourselves in such a way to receive it into our daily lives. We frequently do not live up to our covenants and make excuses for doing so — ie. we are called to a high purpose, covenanted to make ourselves more holy and to dedicate our lives to the gospel, then we go right about our daily business of work, tv, internet, etc. with a little time for the gospel thrown in.

    I think that life pattern is what leads many of us to live without the continual revelation from the Holy Ghost and the ministering of angels that is promised to us. If we were such a people, our meetings would be inspiring, because we would be inspired on a daily basis.

    I don’t exclude myself completely from this description, as I have recognized many moments in my life where I fit this description, as well as risen above it.

    For myself, the key to receiving constant revelation is what am I doing with my spare time, and how am I thinking of others. Am I seeking to bless the lives of others? Actually help out when they’ve suffered some kind of reverse in fortunes… even something as silly as driving in the car (listening to an mp3 player while jogging) what am I listening to and pondering?

    If I’m focused on the gospel in these areas of my life, not out of obligation, but because I want to be, I receive constant revelation about all sorts of things — enlightenment, who I should visit, how I should serve, how I should share the gospel in certain situations, etc.

    So while I think the pattern laid out at the end of this post for how to give a good talk is a good pattern, it’s not very useful for us as a church unless we are living the gospel full time. Since we generally aren’t we have the meetings we generally have.

    I’m also not trying to be condemning here, because the Lord loves us, is aware of our weaknesses, and I don’t think we’re utterly condemned for our “gospel laziness”. I just think perhaps we’re not (often) living up to the level that the Lord is waiting to bless us.

  9. I don’t understand the idea here that sacrament meeting now is different than it was in some past when it worked before it became broken. I’ve been attending since 1977 and the only change is that since 1980 it’s 20 minutes shorter and no longer in the afternoon without cares of Sunday school, Primary, priesthood meeting, or Relief Society occupying the minds of two-thirds of the congregation. Is the idea that people have changed and no longer suitable for the sacrament meeting as it was and is?

  10. Another difference: the ward clerk no longer sits on the stand keeping minutes of the meeting. Anyone remember the particulars of that change, when or why? I never really noticed until a few months ago, I was with a noisy child during testimony meeting in a classroom wired for sound. I wasn’t sure who one of the speakers was, and that uncertainity took me back thirty-odd years to my young self sitting on the stand during a 34th Ward sacrament meeting and Bro. Eliason reaching over to me from his table and asking if I knew who was speaking just then.

    Maybe that’s what people are missing. The particulars of our sacrament meetings are not being recorded as a supplemental testament of the Book of Life, and we perceive the dimished stamp on posterity and eternity, just more tempus fugit.

  11. I have been to many worship services in many churches, and I like our “boring” ones the best. They celebrate people in all their imperfection. While it would be nice in many ways to be entertained at church, I find myself grateful for the opportunity (when I don’t have my kids) to look around the congregation and ponder who might need my service in some way.

    My life is so chaotic, it is nice to have a quiet, “boring” minute.

  12. Some of the common problems referred to seem to be cultural. After hearing so many other speakers decry being called upon to speak the average person likely feels it is part of the formula to do so, even if they really welcomed the opportunity. The routine telling of sometimes hackneyed, sometimes awful jokes also seems based on a formula derived from what is too often done. We don’t go up to the member of the bishopric assigned to the task of filling the program and tell them that we have been working on a scriptural topic and have discovered a profound insight we want to share. I have a son-in-law who keeps a journal of talks he would like to give but which never fit the ‘theme’ when an assignment comes. I enjoy the opportunity to learn about new members of the ward, and more about old members, as they share insights however humbly. We can exercise the virtues of patience and charity with those who fumble the opportunity to bear witness in a way that touches us.

  13. The meeting or format is not broken. Obviously is us the people who are broken and do not have the Spirit with us.

    I have been to sacrament meetings where I have gotten inspiration even out of not so good talks. I tried to be compassionate with members that are not good speakers because public speaking is really an art you have to learn. That is not to say that some people don’t even prepare for talks and that is their loss, they will be accountable for the negligence of their duty. But then again, why do we go to church on Sundays? isn’t it to try to recharge our spiritual batteries in a setting where the Spirit is abundant? To learn and leave with a renew sense of doing better next week? Aren’t we going there to keep the Sabath Day holy? How holy can it be if we are bored. Are we there to be entertained or to be inspired? Let’s think for a minute why President Kimball was never bored, maybe it was because he had a better attitude and knew the reason why he was there.

    I am ever so grateful to attend church on Sundays even on those days where the speakers were not so great and the lessons could have been better prepared, but the SPIRIT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THERE for me at least, and there is no other place besides the Temple where the Spirit can be felt like it is in church. I always leave church renewed and happy that I went and I thank God for the privilege He has granted me.

  14. I can assure you this is the way things are in Texas and NY, at least the meetings I’ve attended. I’ve wondered about this myself, and am still stuck on whether or not I’m prepared enough for the meeting itself. To me, the ordinance is the point of the meeting and block and the talks, classes, etc. are meant to point in the direction of Christ, but are not as important as the ordinance. With that said, sometimes I don’t mind “bad” talks and think on the Atonement or wrestle with kids…:)

  15. Henry Eyring, when confronted with poor talks, would escape into his own mind, ignore the subject, and give himself a talk on the same subject.

    I wish speakers would learn that applicable personal experiences are much more interesting than reading New Era type stories word-for-word (an adult speaker did that in my ward last Sunday — b-o-r-i-n-g).

    I think occasional Sunday School lessons on how to give talks and lessons could be a great benefit. Adult Sunday School, RS, HP, and EQ courses could also use great improvement–teachers need to ask good questions and cultivate discussions.

    It’s easy to blame the listener for not getting enough out of a boring talk. It’s harder to teacher the speaker how to give an effective talk. We can use certain techniques to get more out of boring talks (or basically ignore the talks like Henry Eyring did) but we should also strive to improve the quality of the talks for the benefit of others.

  16. I generally like sacrament meetings. It is the feelings I felt in with the Sacrament as a kid that made want to keep coming back to church. I wish, however that the Sacrament was separate from everything else in the meeting. Why not have Sunday School start with talks and ward business, and let the ordinance of the Sacrament stand alone. At least go right into the Sacrament starting with an opening song and prayer and then do all announcements and ward business and everything else afterwards.

  17. The less-than-enthusiastic attitude of many members on Sundays has led me to the idea of new member branches, to which missionaries would take investigators, and in which new converts would attend for 1 to 2 years after baptism. After the 1 or 2 years, the converts would switch to the regular wards. The “new member branches” would occupy or overlay the same geographical areas as regular wards, either on a one-for-one basis, or one branch overlaying several wards in a bigger city.

    To seed or start the branches, leaders and their families would be called, and transfered from their regular ward to the new member branch.

    I often think that the major obstacle to new member growth is that the fire has gone out of so many longer term members. I believe there are many many non-members who the Lord would otherwise bring into the church as converts, but the local existing members are not prepared to receive and support them.

    Why would the Lord bring more sheep into a fold, if the shepherds (existing members) are not taking care of the sheep that are already in the fold?

    If someone is going to investigate, and get a bad impression of the church and restored gospel, and get turned off due to OUR bad example (and not due to any sinfullness or worldliness on their part) then wouldn’t it be better for them to never investigate at all?

    In the end, most people who accept the gospel do so in the Spirit World. So is it better to go to the Spirit World with no opinion of Mormons, or a prejudice against Mormons based on examples of less-than-valient members?

    When non-members accept the gospel in the Spirit World, or at least when spirit missionaries present the restored gospel to non-members there, will the spirit missionaries, or the angels, or the Lord himself have to apologize to those folks for any legitimate prejudices they have due to our bad examples back here on Earth?

    Of course here in mortality we’re going to offend and turn off “sinners” and worldly people. That’s not the type of non-members I’m talking about. I’m talking about sincere God-seekers, investigators and potential investigators, who would otherwise embrace the restored gospel if they could feel the Spirit, but we’re either shunning them, or offending them with our clannishness, standoffishness, boring them to death, or ignoring them until they get baptized and survive the infant mortality period of new converts.

    What’s an investigator going to think if only the full time missionaries have the Spirit, but the sacrament speakers and teachers don’t ?

    What about sincere God-seeking investigators who haven’t learned to identify the Spirit yet? To them, a “dead” sacrament meeting is a stumbling block. There’s no “Ooh! What was that? What made me feel that way?” moment to prick their hearts. And in addition, Spirit-less boring-ness is even worse. It makes us look like mind-numbed robots, brainwashed, cultish.

  18. I think this is a good opportunity to exercise charity: overlook the bad and look for the good in each talk and in each individual giving the talk. What alternative do we have? Only assign certain people in a select group to give talks? I love that we value the members of our congregations enough to want to hear from each one. Everyone has something to contribute.

    My oldest son just gave his first Sacrament meeting talk. The Bishopric gave him a paper with the topic, a list of articles and scriptures they wanted him to use, a list of dos and a list of don’ts. It was very specific and explicit in what was expected of him. I think that’s a good idea. I had never seen one before, so I asked my husband about it, and he said, “We don’t use them for everyone. Just those we think will need it”.

    Also, when I was a YW Pres, I gave my girls a paper that said,

    “Giving a talk is E.A.S.Y.:
    Share an EXPERIENCE
    APPLY it to a Gospel Principle
    Use the SCRIPTURES to Reinforce the principle
    Bear YOUR Testimony”
    (taken from http://www.youngwomenconnection.com)

  19. I don’t know what to say about this topic exactly because I think often its a hit and miss. There are some really good speakers and there are some not so good ones, and often during the same meeting. On the other hand, I do think that the general membership should find better ways to use the time more wisely when they are bored or don’t like a talk. I don’t agree anything is broken. If we follow how Moroni explains meetings are to be conducted, every week would be testimony meetings like we have the first Sundays of the month. Our time is just not used to the best advantage.

    The number one thing I would like to see is getting rid of the cultural “I didn’t want to give this talk” that spoils everything after no matter how good the rest of it can be. It sets a tone that is distracting and makes me want to run up there and give my own since I like giving talks, yet strangely have only done so a handful of times in my life when many have expressed genuine appreciation for them. I am all for the “sign up sheet for talks” and how many times a year so the leadership can at least work off a list of the willing to mix in with others.

  20. Stephanie, could you please post a copy of that handout that your bishop gave your son? Sounds like a GREAT idea.

  21. Bookslinger, this is what it said. The brackets indicate what was filled in by hand on a preprinted form.

    Dear [name],

    The Bishopric has requested you speak in Sacrament meeting Sunday, [date]. The topic we request you speak on is [Duty to God - Administer Priesthood Ordinances]. The talk should be approximately [length] minutes.

    Please use the following references in preparing for this speaking assignment:
    [Duty to God pg. 24]
    [Speak about how this affects your testimony and completion of your Duty to God]

    No audience participation
    The audience is as varied as the ward, speak to them
    No personal agenda

    Share from your perspective and your experience
    Quote the Living Apostles
    Share a Story
    Scriptures

    Think, Ponder and Pray
    Good talks evolve!

    Sincerely,
    [Ward Bishopric]

  22. Is sacrament meeting broken, or are we broken? To me, it is a distinction without difference since. Either way, for me to make sacrament interesting, which almost always involves me pondering things in my own mind, I have to tune out the speaker to do it.

    There’s a simple explanation why sacrament meeting is boring. We’re amateurs! Almost all of us! Few of us actually want to speak in public. We’ve got lots of things going on and we just don’t care enough to prepare our talks until the last minute. Condemn it all you want, that’s who we are (exceptions noted).

    But just because that is the way we are, and we are bound to be boring [note here: I chuckle to myself when members who don't really know how to give good presentations are put in charge of telling other members how to give good talks], doesn’t mean we can’t make Sacrament meeting more interesting. But it requires changing the format. If you are going to have people talk, first off you have to shorten the talks. Most people have about 5 minutes of interesting stuff to say, and when they have to stretch to 20, they ramble. Other churches do a lot more singing. More hymns would be great. If Church were only 2 hours long, the problem would almost solve itself. Otherwise, they could cut the last speaker and change it into a shortened Sunday school with everyone there. You still have regular Sunday school, but in one you focus on Restoration scripture, while the other is on the OT/NT. The 4 year scripture cycle we do forces us to do incredibly superficial readings of the texts, and this would help solve that (other) problem. There are actually a bunch of ways we could make Sacrament meeting better. Just as spiritual (or more), and much more pleasant for everyone.

  23. Probbaly the best part about Elder McConkie’s 7 Deadly heresies talk is this part:
    “Then when the meeting is over, the “amen” should not end it. We should go to our homes and to our families and to our circles, and we should search out the revelations and find out what the Lord has said on the subjects involved. We should seek to get in tune with the Holy Spirit and to gain a witness, not solely of the truth and divinity of the work in which we are engaged but also of the doctrines that are taught by those who preach to us. We come into these congregations, and sometimes a speaker brings a jug of living water that has in it many gallons. And when he pours it out on the congregation, all the members have brought is a single cup and so that’s all they take away. Or maybe they have their hands over the cups, and they don’t get anything to speak of.

    On other occasions we have meetings where the speaker comes and all he brings is a little cup of eternal truth, and the members of the congregation come with a large jug, and all they get in their jugs is the little dribble that came from a man who should have known better and who should have prepared himself and talked from the revelations and spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are obligated in the Church to speak by the power of the Spirit. We are commanded to treasure up the words of light and truth and then give forth the portion that is appropriate and needful on every occasion”.

  24. Where there is no vision the people perish. When the vision of sacrament meeting is to demonstrate the appearance of obedience, there will be little spirit in the meeting.

    When the purpose of Sacrament meeting becomes saving souls from the jaws of hell which are gaping wide around them, then it will start becoming meaningful. There has to be a desperate desire to save people, even to “stumbling in our anxiety” over their souls.

    A speaker who feels the weight of that mighty moment, to preach the word, sharper than a two edged sword, who has the power to divide asunder, to change people, to direct them away from the paths of sin and onto the paths of righteousness, then he will get the spirit of it. It doesn’t matter if he is slow of speech, or weak and despised. If he is filled with the love of God, and desperate anxiety for people in the congregation, the spirit will be there in a powerful way.

  25. Yes too many times , speakers are boring that’s just the honest truth . People will sugarcoat things and say that is not the case.
    I think it’s time they make some changes to sacrament so that people stop falling asleep during sacrament , and while they are at it they can make a nursery during sacrament for all those crying babies.

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