Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Managing by the numbers

A post at Mormanity raises the question of the role of statistics in managing the LDS Church. Statistics are ubiquitous in congregations, stakes, and the Church as a whole. I understand why local and senior LDS leaders rely on statistics, but rarely is the downside of this statistical focus discussed.

On the positive side, tracking statistics is an incentive for good performance and a basis for accountability. If Sunday meetings are worth attending and if individual Latter-day Saints have a commitment to attend whenever possible, then measuring attendance is a useful statistic to help leaders assess the faithfulness of members and their own effectiveness as leaders. Similar arguments could be made for a variety of other statistical categories. So one can argue that taking statistics seriously shows that LDS leaders take their responsibilities seriously.


There are problems, however. How much is too much? In any bureaucratic system, required statistics and reports accumulate and only rarely get purged or streamlined. Worse, the important things (e.g., do visitors feel welcome in the ward? do members of the ward exhibit charity and love unfeigned?) may be difficult or impossible to measure in a statistic, while minor or even irrelevant data (the number of bodies that appear in the adult Sunday School class on any given Sunday) are easily measured and become the focus of reports and discussion. Measuring what we can measure as a substitute for the important stuff we can’t measure is not the best approach. You know the anecdote about the quarter and the streetlight.

Or take the ubiquitous home teaching percentage statistic. I have seen claims made that the home teaching percentage is an inerrant indicator of the spiritual health of a ward or stake. I suspect what it really measures is the commitment of local priesthood holders to do what they’re asked and support their local leaders, whether they think it is accomplishing anything or not. In practice, the home teaching percentage sometimes functions as an indispensable part of the management-by-guilt toolkit: it allows local leaders to rail on the men in priesthood meetings each Sunday, stake leaders to rail on the local leaders, and senior leaders to rail on the stake leaders.

Perhaps the whole statistical approach could use some reevaluation.

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posted December 15, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Excellent points Dave.
Much of the motive I believe is to gain some improvement in some way. I have always believed that to get someone to change for the better, then help improve their testomony. Another thing impossible to measure.

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posted December 15, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Good insights,
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can tell you that this is a topic that has been discussed before. Every organization needs statistics for self evaluation and looking at yourself honestly in the mirror. These Stats don’t get put aside and accumulate dust. They are used I can tell you. Some of the stats are published, such as the annual Church Almanac.
On the flip side of good and accurate statistics the church does need to take into consideration things that you can’t put a number on, just as you mentioned. And I can assure you that the church also takes into consideration these aspects as well. We are constantly admonished on remembering who’s work we’re doing and to remember who we are doing them for.
For example, on my mission, my mission president had us bring a picture of someone who we were teaching or who had just joined the church. We hung them all up on a wall, and our president gave an inspiring talk to remember these people and the reason we want them to know the gospel. Behind all the statistics there is a face. And it is for that face that we compile the statistics in the first place.

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posted December 15, 2008 at 9:13 pm

In any organization, statistics are used to help measure change, hopefully improvement, over time. As the current President of the Church has stated, “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” This is how statistics can help a ward, stake or the Church accomplish its mission of bringing people to Christ.
That being said, the use of statistics is just one instrument in a leader’s tool box. If someone were to only use statistics they would be just as poor a leader as someone that never used them.

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Ed Dart

posted December 16, 2008 at 1:04 pm

If 1/2 of your Wards Home Teaching is quality. Then 1/2 of 20% is 10% and 1/2 of 90% is 45%. Quality Home Teaching is the goal, but without Quantity you can’t have Quality. A poor visit is better then no visit.

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Your Name

posted December 16, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Stats are indicators of trends and other true phenomena. All things can be used for good or ill, just like the Scriptures or any other medium of power.
Nice thoughts. Thanks.

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Kim Siever

posted May 29, 2009 at 11:45 am

Home teaching statistics measure whether a home teacher visited a family. Period. It doesn’t measure a family’s spiritual progress, nor does it report whether the home teacher enquired about the family’s spiritual or temporal well being. It also doesn’t measure service done among ward members who do not home teach each other. It is one of the Church’s most useless statistic.

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