The Optimum Size of Wards: Divide and Conquer?

I’ve noticed that wards in Utah tend to be larger than the wards in other parts of the Church, at least in terms of active, participating members. In one Utah ward we visited, we saw a young married woman sustained as the MiaMaids Liaison to the Ward Activities Committee. My wife and I chuckled since we felt lucky to even have one person serving on that committee – we would never dream of having someone called as the liaison for a single class to serve on what must have been a gargantuan, bustling committee. Ah, the luxury of having a large ward.

Any idea what the optimim size of a ward is? And if there is an optimum size, why does there seem to be such diversity in ward size? I have occasionally heard some local leaders suggest that a good way to foster growth is to keep units small and lean, splitting them as they grow slightly, so that people are stretched and motivated to reach into the ranks of the less active and new converts to get them busy in building Zion. I’m not sure if there’s a solid foundation of data behind that theory – any ideas? If that theory is right, why isn’t it done that way in Utah?

Please note that I speak from very limited experience and may not be adequately characterizing trends across the Church. I’d appreciate your perspectives on how big wards should be and when they should be split. If it helps, our ward has about 350 people, with an activity level that I think is below 50%, and may get a little smaller in a couple months with a new ward about to be formed in our stake. How are things done where you live?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

22 thoughts on “The Optimum Size of Wards: Divide and Conquer?

  1. I had to read your post out loud to my wife after I was laughing so hard about the calling you witnessed. In answer to your question about why we don’t split the wards more here in Utah, she offered a reasonable explanation: it would take too many buildings.

  2. From what our home teacher (also our sealer) tells us, one of his sons lives in Arizona, and his son’s ward has 300 kids in the nursery alone, and divides it up into, like, five different nursery groups. He also says that they can have up to 70 new families named into the ward every month. So it seems that it’s not just Utah with rather large wards (1000 or more members).

    Out here in Missouri, it seems like we have fewer people in our wards. In my ward growing up, we didn’t have very big classes. When I was in Young Women’s, we either had enough girls in each class to have a presidency, but with no girls left over, or not enough to even have a presidency.

    In a way, it was nice to have such a small group of Young Women, but it would have been nice to have more in our group to get to know

  3. I think LDS population density has something to do with it too. Perhaps one reason why we don’t have bigger wards outside of the Wasatch front because it would require driving farther.

    I’ve noticed that the last two chapels built in Indianapolis are the smaller urban style, not the big suburban style of chapels.

    I was used to the older style chapels, and now, having 3 units in this small urban chapel feels really crowded. The cultural hall is not a full size gym. Can’t seat enough people for ward dinners. The kitchen is too small. Not enough classrooms. Scout room is too small. Genealogy library is too small. I think these buildings are intended for very small wards or branches.

    We have a low activity rate, around 33%. (150 attend, 450 members) So when inactives show up, like for Christmas dinners or Pioneer day celebrations, it’s extremely crowded.

    I’m just guessing, but my guess is the number of “stalwart” priesthood holders and sisters is a big factor. The youth leadership (advisors and classroom teachers) has to be filled, the primary teachers, and then the EQ presidency and the RS presidency.

    One wise bishop (or at least I think he was wise) said his number one priority was the youth, and his second priority was home teaching.

  4. My first ward had double Primaries (that is, two junior and two senior Primary groups) because no more than one fourth of the total number of kids could fit into the Primary room for Sharing Time at once. The branch we were in when I graduated high school? I was the Laurel, and the Priest taught youth Sunday School; my younger sister was the only girl in Achievement Days for a full year. Right now I’m in a ward, teaching 8 of the 18 CTR-8 kids (there are 14 CTR-7s, and 10 CTR-6s…) I like this ward better than the first, overstuffed ward I was in, and lots better than our branch (though in that branch, we knew everyone and everyone knew us.) When it gets too small, and everyone has three or four or five callings, and you have to drive for 90 minutes to get to a youth dance location, a lot of kids fall inactive rather than keep fighting for minimal returns. And in that huge ward, I just got lost…

    Anyway, a Primary with 200+ kids is too big, and a branch with less than 50 active members is too small (at least for comfort — realistically, none of those branch members would have been willing to drive to the next nearest building; activity rates in the city further from the building were around 5-10%.)

  5. I’m in a nightmarishly huge ward in Utah County right now. We have a Junior Primary Presidency, Senior Primary Presidency, four counselors in every presidency, five nurseries, four sunbeam classes – you get the idea. We are waiting for a new building to be completed so that they can shift ward boundaries around. Every week, there are folding chairs setup in the FOYER because every other space is taken.

    It’s gotten to the point where it’s a safety issue. The halls are insanely crowded. Little kids are getting pushed and trampled after the block. My 3 year old was slammed into a door by some overly aggressive deacons who didn’t see her.

    After church today, I was very tempted to call the fire marshall to come see how overcrowded the building is. If there was a fire, hundreds of people would have died before they were able to exit the building. It’s insane.

  6. I’ve been in both extremes. From a huge insane ward, to barely surviving scrap of a branch with constant apostacy.

    To be honest, I kind of miss the little branch. I think you can compare it like you would towns. Would you feel safer and more looked after in Mayberry, or NYC?

    As you mentioned. I think in smaller wards there tends to be more of a “we are a big family” feeling than you get in huge monstrous wards. A little more bearing each other up goes on in the smaller wards. That’s just my experience.

  7. Both sides presents difficulties. In a large ward, you are just one record number. There is virtually no cohesiveness. Small branches present problems with seclusion of ‘diferent’ members, i.e., small town, major gossip. Although I prefer rather smaller wards, because people tend to be more mindful and concerned about others. I am sorry to hear about sue m.’s daugther been slammed into a door, but that is the consequence of overpopulation. Yes, financial costs come into play, building more chapels and the time that it takes, etc.

    If you go outside the US you will find that wards tend to be quite smaller. Inactivity is also a major problem, I believe it to be round the 60%. Still you can get a decent attendance of a 150 persons. I guess that deacons are always rude and selfish, even in small branches!! 😉 Yet, to me, the experiences is more about the social cohesiveness that is present in the ward you attend.

  8. I’m pretty sure nobody wants the 1000+ member situation, but it can easily happen under the wrong circumstances. My family’s home ward in Utah County was in a small town (Lindon) that suddenly became *the* place for new houses. We used to walk our dog through entire neighborhoods of unfinished houses, on streets that hadn’t been there a month or two before.

    The Church built a giant stake center to accomodate the new people, only to discover that it was sliding down the hill — the lot was an improperly-filled ravine.

    Once things finally got straightened out, they split our ward into 3 and split the stake — all in one meeting — as well as announcing another new building.

    We now have three buildings in easy walking distance, so it would be tricky to split the wards any smaller.

  9. Everything in the Church is family-oriented, including the ward, though Priesthood holders are also crucial.

    I bet most wards are reasonably uniform if you count families rather than individuals: 75-100 active households each.

    Big families => big wards. There are fewer than 80 households in my family’s ward boundaries, but over 300 people.

    Many outlying areas have small wards (my Pittsburgh home included) because they contain small families and single members. Like people have said, though, you never wonder if you’re contributing to the small ward.

  10. I belong to a tiny branch and agree 100% with Shadow Spawn. We have only been here for 6 months and we already know everyone well and feel that the branch is our family.

    Question: I a large ward, what happens if there are more than 96 elders? Two Quorums?
    An issue I’m sure that I will never have experience with.

  11. When our ward approached 700 members we had 100 Elders. The Stake President formed a 2nd quorum of Elders in our Ward divided by geography with a new elder’s quorum presidency.

    We didn’t reach the extremes mentioned by others, but we did have three nurseries. The main problem we experienced is a lack of classroom space. We used every coat closet and foyer. The Stake Presidency wouldn’t let us use any of the stake offices. The Relief society couldn’t fit in the Relief society room, so they moved to the Chapel. With nearly 400 people attending Sacrament meeting we filled up half of the Stake center. Unfortunately, a lot of good people went without calling. The real challenge was Tithing settlement. It took a full month using Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. When someone complains they don’t have time to home teach, I just smile. I’m for smaller wards of 300-400 members.

  12. I like small wards better just because I like the community feel of them when they are smaller, but it is sometimes hard to fill callings. My ward (in Utah, but a military ward that is mostly civilians but still highly short term, and in the middle of nowhere – in other wards, we’re just weird) has about 600 members I think, but we average 90-100 each week in sacrament meeting. I really like this size.

    However, I grew up in an area in Utah where the wards were huge, then we’d split every couple of years (which I hated, but there was no way around it), and then we’d be huge again before you knew it. It was an area with a lot of new housing developments. I didn’t mind the big wards, but I’m sure the leaders found it a logistical nightmare. Unfortunately, you can only split so often because it takes time for new buildings to be approved and built. From those experiences, I wouldn’t say it is a difference in planned ward size in Utah and outside Utah; it is just how things end up being when there are a lot of new people moving in.

  13. I was in a rather small ward in New Orleans. I was the Singles Rep and the Valiants teacher. It was great. Now I’m in a different state and I feel like I am lost among all the people, also with no calling. Also, I don’t understand why, when the church is completely filled with people from two different wards at two different times, why another church isn’t built.


  14. Sherry,
    As far as I know, the goal is to have at least two wards (or branches) in every building. That makes the best use of resources and money. If you only have one ward per building, then the building sits empty at least half the time every Sunday. Putting two wards per building cuts the building costs in half.

  15. Thank you for these great comments. I can see that there is a real challenge keeping pace with growth in some areas, and that in areas with high LDS population density, larger wards can be an important factor in managing building costs. I do think I prefer the smaller wards for the small town effect.

    What puzzles me still is why small stakes with small wards sometimes get regrouped into even smaller wards in the quest for growth. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I’d like to know if it works or if that tendency is found broadly across the Church, or just a few areas.

  16. In parts of Idaho, the large young single adults wards have been broken up into very small branches. As I understand it, part of the reason it is done is to increase missionary work to inactive members or to encourage people to attend the singles branch instead of the regular wards. My dad’s friend was made Bishop of a very small (I think they had 20-25 people in it) singles ward (branch?) in southeast Idaho. After a year or so they have at least doubled the membership. In talking to friends and family in Idaho, it sounds like the smaller wards “work” or result in growth.

  17. The following are the kinds of things that are going through my mind as I read this thread and the next post on the Second Coming.

    There is soon coming a day, in my lifetime I believe, that people will be joining the church in droves.

    Every baptismal font in every LDS chapel in town is going to have baptisms every weekend. The fonts may be left filled all day to accomodate all the people.

    There will be times when so many people come forward for baptism, that the church will be renting swimming pools at the local YMCA’s, schools, and fitness clubs in order to accommodate dozens of people getting baptized. (Those locker rooms will be nice, as it would be hard for a dozen people to change their clothes at once in those tiny LDS bathrooms next to the fonts.)

    Missionaries will be so busy, there won’t be time to teach just one family at a time, rather there will be missionary lessons given throughout the week to people in filled chapels.

    I believe we will see repeats of the great outpouring of the Spirit as occurred in England in the 1840’s, and whole congregations will invite priesthood holders to come teach them.

    Church growth prior to the second coming may mean that most of today’s bishops will be stake presidents. Today’s EQ presidents will be bishops and today’s valiant home teachers will be branch presidents. Missionaries will come home off their mission and be called to be elder’s quorum presidents in branches and wards filled with new converts.

    Growth will be so fast, that branches will be created instead of wards because they are easier to organize and form.

    Of course, the above is merely my opinion.

  18. I think in the end we need to remember that it is the Lords church and he will set the ward size to whatever fits the needs of the individuals and the areas. Some are large and some are small but the Lord has a reason and we can be at peace knowing he is in charge.

  19. I don’t know whether our ward would have been considered “small”. It certainly wasn’t large… maybe somewhere in between. It was split in a “quest for growth” as you say. It was the youth who suffered. There were barely enough kids in the old ward to have decent YM/YW activities. In our “new” ward we had a good group of girls so my daughter did fine, but our YM program kind of fell apart to my son’s detriment. I got the feeling that the leaders didn’t want to bother for just 1 or 2 boys. And my daughter spent her teen years in a ward with no young men to relate to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.