“Parties, Picnics, and Potlucks,” Ensign, July 2004, 29
Why do wards and branches have activities? Can a ward dinner, talent show, or softball game really help fulfill the mission of the Church—to invite all to come unto Christ?
The answer is yes, if approached in the right spirit. Here members explain their insights into the purpose of ward activities, as well as sharing practical ideas for activities that have been successful. While most of these comments are directed to those planning activities for their entire ward or branch, the concepts can be applied by anyone involved in planning a Church activity, whether it be for the Primary, Young Men and Young Women, the Relief Society, or a priesthood quorum.
When I was first called and set apart to be the activities chair in my ward, my bishop said in the blessing that this calling was a spiritual one and was meant to strengthen individuals and families in our ward. I was surprised. I remember thinking, “How can planning parties be spiritual?” But I took this concept to heart, and I learned a lot along the way.
Our activities helped the members of our ward to love and care for one another and share each other’s burdens. People were unified and talents were multiplied as service was rendered with love. I learned how the Lord works through people to touch others in need. I saw examples again and again at something as simple as a ward potluck dinner. And now I understand why the calling is first and foremost a spiritual one. I know it was for me.
Pattie Moss, Dimple Dell Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent Stake
To help activities committees plan successful and unifying ward activities, we need to eliminate the myths that currently haunt some wards:
Myth 1: A successful activity requires an abundance of food to be served. Where possible, all ward members should be able to enjoy the activities and not be trapped in the kitchen. Simple refreshments such as rolls and chili at a pioneer activity or punch and cookies at a family dance are perfectly acceptable refreshments.
Myth 2: It is impossible to reach the needs and interests of all ward members. To help unify a ward, we must make an effort to help all members feel included. Having a variety of activities will enable this to happen. For example, a regular sporting activity could make some feel excluded, but with a little creativity, this doesn’t need to be the case. You might plan to have the activity at a park where there is playground equipment for the children, grassy areas where mothers can spread blankets, and shady areas where the elderly can set up lawn chairs. Provide megaphones and pom-poms to the spectators, and ask them to make up cheers. Let other spectators act as judges or referees.
Myth 3: The youth can always serve, clean up, or provide child care. Use youth sparingly. We should most often encourage them to participate in fun and testimony-building ward activities rather than always asking them to serve in the kitchen or to babysit.
Myth 4: The longer an activity, the better. Some of the following ideas may help limit the time a ward activity takes: Start the activity promptly. Have the structured, quiet, or spiritual part of the activity either first or last—right after the opening prayer or just before the closing prayer. Keep the activity flowing without long waiting periods between the program, games, speakers, or refreshments. Have a specific ending time and stick to it so that those involved in the cleanup can get home at a reasonable hour.
Myth 5: The only activities that bring people to Christ are firesides, spiritual programs, and temple trips. An activity that nourishes the spirit, strengthens the body, or enlightens the mind can be an appropriate activity. Appreciating cultural arts, developing talents, celebrating holidays and seasons, and learning to work together, serve one another, and enjoy your ward family can help bring people to Christ.
Kathryn Taylor Quist, Fort McMurray Ward, Edmonton Alberta North Stake
As ward activities chair, one thing I found to be particularly beneficial in keeping a ward close was to have traditional activities. Just as traditions bind families together, traditional activities can do the same for wards.
In our ward, traditional activities include our annual chili cook-off (a tasty competition between the high priests and elders quorums), a pioneer picnic on the 24th of July, the annual “ice cream dip” (an ice cream party held at the neighborhood swimming pool), and regular service projects.
One tradition that has been particularly successful in strengthening ward bonds has been the organizing of ward dinner groups. Two to three times a year, the ward is divided into eight to ten groups. Hosts are assigned and given a list of members to invite. The activities committee usually chooses a theme such as “soup and salad night,” “international cuisine,” or “anything goes.” Food assignments are given to the guests so the load is not too heavy on the host families. Mixers are also planned that allow those attending the dinner to become better acquainted with one another. These dinner groups allow ward members to associate with those they might not otherwise know and to mingle on a smaller scale.
Thelissa Y. Zollinger, Willow Creek Ward, Denver Colorado Stake
While serving as senior missionary companions, we have been involved in planning activities to help our small branch grow and become more unified. We have found it doesn’t cost much money to have fun. We often have potluck suppers, which save on cost and cleanup time. Our activities have included a talent show, a Valentine’s dance, and a game night. We have been able to fellowship those who are less active or are not members, and we have seen the attendance in our little branch grow.
Mary Hall Walker and Gayle Robinson, Barnsley Branch, Sheffield England Stake
As the ward activities committee chair, I schedule dates for ward activities with the ward council about six months in advance and then schedule the building, park, or homes of members. We always encourage members to bring friends, neighbors, and visiting and home teaching families. At activities where children are included, I try to have a table of coloring or crafts for them to work on while the activity is getting started.
While most of our ward activities are for the entire family, it is also good to plan adults-only activities to let adults have time to visit without the distraction of children. In our ward we hold a separate pizza party for the children and youth so couples don’t have to get baby-sitters and so the children and youth have a fun event to attend as well.
Cynthia P. Kofford, Crescent 10th Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent Stake
In my ward, we occasionally planned “special expertise spotlight nights.” We would invite someone with a special expertise to give a brief lecture on that topic. Lectures on travel, local history, wills, and so on were well attended. We usually had these events in an individual’s home, and people of other faiths were invited to attend. We also asked people who were not members to help us plan activities. I believe we greatly increased the feeling of unity in our area and brought more people to Christ.
Gordon Wilson, Ensign First Ward, Salt Lake Ensign Stake
Our activities committee had two major goals for our activities: First, we tried to make each one enjoyable so that members would want to be there and would want to invite their friends. Second, we tried to make sure there was always an opportunity to feel the Spirit. Here are two of the many successful activities we planned:
International dinner. At this activity, several returned missionaries entertained us with songs and skits. We ate dishes with international flavor and ended the evening with excerpts from the Church video An Ensign to the Nations (item no. 53980; U.S. $6.00, available at distribution centers), which explains how the gospel was introduced into nations around the world.
Potluck/carnival. Our potluck supper was followed by carnival-style activities, including a mini golf putt and a bean bag toss, which had been set up around the cultural hall. Toward the end of the activity, ward members gathered for a short Church video on families, such as Together Forever (53411; U.S. $4.00) or On the Way Home (53062; U.S. $4.00). It was wonderful to have fun together and then end the evening with the opportunity to feel the Spirit.
Kristy Sawtelle, Buffalo Ridge Ward, Phoenix Arizona Deer Valley Stake
Over the years I have observed that the best ward activities seem to be simple ones that emphasize service, strengthening testimonies, missionary work, and activation. Often all it takes to turn a service project into a fun activity is to provide refreshments and some structure to encourage socializing and fellowshipping.
These are several of my favorite activities:
We have had socials where the entire ward has been invited to meet new converts, less-active members, investigators, and those who have recently moved into the ward. The guests of honor are then spotlighted or in other ways introduced to the group.
We have met together to bake cookies and make greeting cards, and then we break into small groups to deliver these items to less-active members of the ward.
My singles ward often had many records of less-active members with whom no one had had contact for some time. The young adults would meet together for breakfast and then break into pairs with lists of the names and addresses of these members. We would visit them, see if their addresses were correct, and welcome them to the ward. We would then meet back together to share the information. This activity greatly assisted our fellowshipping efforts.
Kimberley Hirschi, San Diego 12th Ward, San Diego California North Stake
“We should bear in mind that the success of a given activity cannot always be judged by its size. Rather, it must be judged by its effect on the lives of those participating.”
President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “Strengthening the Inner Self,” Ensign, Feb. 2003, 4.