Ward Activities Committees Make a Comeback in Updated General Handbook… Sort of

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Long live the ward activities committee.

For many Latter-day Saints, the formal dissolution of dedicated activities committees nearly 10 years ago was unfortunate. Such committees were permanent organizations devoted almost exclusively to planning ward events. Since then, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has encouraged ward council members to head up activity planning with their respective organizations, which added an additional burden to already busy leaders in a ward. Those responsibilities have only compounded as ward councils have shrunk in size with the removal of the ward mission leader from the ward council and the dissolution of the young men’s presidency.

While some form of activities committees have lived on based on local need or the makeup of a unit (i.e. singles wards), until today, the Church did not formally endorse a standing activities committee. But an update to the General Handbook of the Church has brought back the activities committee once more, and it is no longer deemed a “temporary” calling.

Let’s compare the versions of Section 20.

Previous

“Before planning an activity, leaders consider the spiritual and temporal needs of members. Leaders seek the guidance of the Spirit to determine what kind of activity would help meet those needs. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that activities accomplish gospel-centered purposes and meet the needs of those who participate.

“Under the bishopric’s guidance, the ward council oversees the planning of ward activities. When an activity is for a specific organization or group in the ward, it is planned under the direction of the leaders who are responsible for the organization. When an activity is for the entire ward, the bishop may assign responsibility for it to one or more organizations represented on the ward council. He may also assign responsibility for an activity to other individuals or to a committee, working under the direction of the ward council. Normally these assignments are temporary for a specific activity.”

Updated (August 2021)

“Ward activities can be planned in any of the following ways, based on local needs:

  • The ward council could oversee the planning.
  • The ward council could assign specific organizations to help plan one or more activities.
  • When needed and where there are enough members, the bishopric may organize a ward activities committee. Youth may be called as committee members. This committee works under the direction of the ward council. The ward council assigns one of its members to be in regular contact with the activities committee.”

Committees were, indeed, allowed, but as we read, they were designed to be temporary. In practice, they were exceedingly rare. (I’d be happy to tell you war stories about the time I was elders quorum president and tasked with handling the ward Christmas party.)

The new language in the handbook eschews much of the section’s initial guidance on careful planning to align with Church goals and gets straight to the point:

Notice the use of the conditional “could” instead of something more direct in the updated guidance. Based on your local needs, you’re now given the option to have the ward council plan the activity, assign another organization to plan the activity, or if you have some spare calling slots to give out, revive the activities committee in your unit under the auspices of the ward council.

It may seem like a small thing, but not requiring the ward council to oversee all ward activities actually lifts a huge burden. Yes, the council will most likely still be involved in an oversight role, at minimum, but this change also opens up the opportunity for members of a ward to head up fun and interesting events regardless of their involvement in a ward council-level organization.

The guidance around the purposes of ward activities has also changed a bit:

Previous

“Activities at the ward, stake, and multistake levels bring Church members together as “fellowcitizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19). In addition to providing fun and entertainment, activities should build testimonies, strengthen families, and foster unity and personal growth.

“Activities strengthen members by giving them a sense of belonging and mutual support. Activities should help members feel connected to others their age, to their leaders, and to their families. Activities should also help members see how living the gospel brings “the joy of the saints” (Enos 1:3).

“Church activities should be planned to fulfill gospel-centered purposes. In addition to the general purposes mentioned above, these include:

  • Participating in service projects that bless others and build community relationships.

  • Developing talents and appreciation for cultural arts.

  • Improving fitness and learning sportsmanship.

  • Gaining education and vocational training.

  • Celebrating special occasions and commemorating Church or local historical events.

  • Developing leadership skills.

  • Developing self-reliance.

  • Participating in missionary work, retention, activation, temple work, and family history work.”

Current (August 2021)

“Church activities bring Church members and others together as “fellowcitizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19). Purposes for activities may include the following:

  • Build faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Provide fun and foster unity.

  • Provide opportunities for personal growth.

  • Strengthen individuals and families.

  • Help members participate in the work of salvation and exaltation (see 1.2).

“Some examples of Church activities include:

  • Service that blesses others and builds community relationships.

  • Missionary work, temple work, and family history work.

  • Opportunities to develop self-reliance and leadership skills.

  • Education and vocational training.

  • Outdoor activities.

  • Opportunities to develop talents and appreciation for cultural arts.

  • Sports and fitness.

  • Celebrations of special occasions, such as holidays or Church or local historical events.”

The changes here are subtle, combining leadership and self-reliance into one bullet and carving out a specific suggestion for outdoor activities. You hear that, elders quorum? No, you cannot simply have everyone log into Steam and have everyone play Counter-Strike.

What do you think? Will your ward bring back its activities committee as a standing organization? Or will new-old habits die hard and the poor primary president will get stuck once again organizing the trunk-or-treat?

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