The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/ LDS/ Mormon: Are Ward Units Too Big for Real Growth?
If the LDS Church is interested in real growth, would it help to make the wards much smaller? With some of the wards I’ve been in being over 200 active members (according to the church’s definition of “attending once a month”), and student wards having even more; and total membership on some ward rolls being over 600 names, I wonder: are LDS wards too big?
This led to some searching on social numbers, and this is what I found.
“…A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar figured the same principle ought to apply to all primates – human and non-human alike… He then followed suit (abstract) for human primates and came up with a human maximum “mean group size” of 150 and an “intimate circle size” of 12. Hypothesis in hand, he then compared his prediction with observed human group sizes, paying special attention to the anthropological literature and reports from hunter-gatherer societies…
For the most part, his predictions held true. The upper limit for human social cohesiveness was groups of about 150, and this tended to occur in situations involving intense environmental or economic pressure – like war (Roman maniples contained around 160 men) or early agriculture (Neolithic farming villages ran about 150 deep, and 150 members marked the point at which Hutterite settlements typically split apart). Any higher, and it’d be too costly and require too much social “grooming” to maintain the group.
The hunter-gatherer existence self-regulates tribal size, really… A large, ranging, sloppy group would mean more weak links, and in a social framework where every member was integral to the success of the whole, it simply wouldn’t work out. As we see with the Hutterites, a hunter-gatherer tribe that got too big for its britches would simply become two hunter-gatherer tribes rather than languish and fail.
(Overstepping Dunbar’s number might also increase stress. We clearly see that in farm animals. Increasing group size past optimal levels increases damaging behavior indicative of stress: feather pecking in hens and tail biting in pigs. No, we are neither pigs nor chickens, but we’re still sensitive to our environments.)”
Apr 11, 2009
…Recently, academics began focusing on “Dunbar-like” relationships that have proliferated on social networks and MMORPGS (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games), many well above 150…
How did Dunbar arrive at 150 relationships per person?
In 1993, Robin Dunbar studied the social habits of primates. After reviewing 36 primates and the average social group size, he found a strong correlation with the size of the neocortex region of the brain. Through extrapolation, he concluded that human social groups are limited to about 150 people.
In short, it is our brain that constrains the size of our social circles. This limit is only for groups that are physically dependent, paralleling his study of primate group sizes. The real eye-popper is when Dunbar studied historical examples of human group sizes…
Does Technology Raise Dunbar’s Number?
Facebook reported that the average number of friends per account is 120. But those friends with which you heavily interact (write on wall, comment on photos) is only 7-10. But for even those with over 500 Facebook friends, the number only increased to 17-30.
MMORPGs, such as Warcraft, do not suggest an increase either. Average guild sizes are well below 150 for World of Warcraft and Ultima Online, with an average of 17 and a median of 9. There’s a very interesting graph of satisfaction with guild sizes, which peaks at 7 and 50 members. This level of satisfaction has a lot to do with group complexity. Life with Alacrity writes that simple groups will peak at 7 and complex groups at 60, eventually fractioning well before they reach Dunbar’s number.”
What might happen when “social acceptance” numbers are exceeded?
- People don’t bother learning much about others.
- People aren’t really interested in others.
- People gravitate towards those who are like them the most, and who they like the most–more cliques and ostracization.
- People actually don’t like new members (unless they are like them more than others)!
- There is more impetus for negative social disorder–stress, strife, backbiting, etc.
- Bishops and other leaders have a rough time taking care of everyone.
- Newer (and older) members go inactive more and faster, building the burden of the active members.
Is there anything in the Book of Mormon about numbers?
There is, just a little—and it’s quite interesting.
Mosiah 18:16 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about <two hundred and four souls>…
18 And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even <one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God>.
35 And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls.
So here’s the church: Alma is the high priest over 450 people, possibly 204 of them being above the age of 8; and one priest for every 50 people. In current terms, that would be stake president, and bishops. It might be argued that because stake presidents and bishops have two counselors, then that could well be 1,500 people in a stake and 150 in a ward. Even so, 150 is much less than most wards, especially on the rolls! On the other hand, would home teaching make up for it?
Later, there are seven churches in Zarahemla; for the people already there, Alma’s people, and Limhi’s people combined:
Mosiah 25:21 Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; <every church having their *priestS* and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word> according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
22 And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.
23 And now there were <seven churches in the land of Zarahemla>. And it came to pass that whosoever were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God;
It seems like there are many units in each of the seven churches, each with its own priest, and teachers under the priest, as shown here:
Mosiah 26:7 And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and <delivered up unto the priests by the teachers>; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest.
I wonder if the same 1 priest to 50 members ratio was still in effect.
Especially if/as societies break down, would it be better for the LDS Church to prepare now by making the units smaller to stimulate real growth? If each ward had 150 TOTAL members on its roll (or ideally 50-60 adults?), would that encourage the members to bring the less-active members back into full fellowship?
(Soldiers are grouped in 50′s:
1 Ne. 3:31 And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?
2 Ne. 13:3 The captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counselor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.
Mosiah 11:19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites…)
When Jesus comes, there are 2,500 people there:
3 Nephi 17:25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.
Then, more come:
3 Nephi 19:3 Yea, and even all the night it was noised abroad concerning Jesus; and insomuch did they send forth unto the people that there were many, yea, an exceedingly great number, did labor exceedingly all that night, that they might be on the morrow in the place where Jesus should show himself unto the multitude.
How many? I don’t know.
But, the group is split into 12, according to the chosen disciples, in order to teach them better:
3 Nephi 19:5 And behold, the multitude was so great that they did cause that they should be separated into twelve bodies.
6 And the twelve did teach the multitude…