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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Small vs. Big Wards » Small vs. Big Wards

Small vs. Big Wards

Susan M - January 11, 2007

I’ve lived in roughly 15 wards in the 18 years I’ve been a member of the church. I’ve been in large wards, and I’ve been in very small, struggling wards.

I prefer the small wards.

(I should note that I’ve never lived in Utah or Idaho or any of those places where everyone is LDS. I’ve lived in Washington, Hawaii and California.)

Small wards are cozier. They’re more demanding of their members, and that’s a good thing. They’re less likely to be boring than large wards. The small wards I’ve lived in have had some very colorful characters in them. Really interesting people. They also seem to have more converts in them, in my experience. No offense to you lifers, but converts are…a good thing.

When we moved to California, we ended up in a small ward. We loved it. It was perfect for us. The LDS population down here is huge, but our ward boundaries were very small. Recently, our stake boundaries were reorganized, and we’re now in the largest ward in the stake. People are calling it the SuperWard. My husband was very upset—he thought for sure we wouldn’t get callings and he worried that a lot of people would get lost in the shuffle and slip through the cracks. I had to laugh when he got called to the EQ presidency (which was his calling in the old ward). Now he’s one of the people in charge of making sure people don’t fall through the cracks.

We considered moving when the ward boundaries changed, but our teenagers love the new huge ward—because most of the youth from our old ward are in it, plus a bunch more. So for now, we’re in a big ward, and it’s cool. But there’s a whole ton of people in it I don’t know and probably won’t know anytime soon.

So what do you prefer? Big or small wards?


  1. I am an east coaster, and have never really experienced Utah wards (except student wards…and those are different birds altogether). For kids, I definitely prefer the larger wards. There is something comfortable about having a full primary and a flourishing YM/YW. We recently moved from a large ward (200+ in sacrament, primary of 40+) to a small ward (80 in sacrament, primary of 6-10). I know the kids have felt the difference.

    Comment by Hayes — January 11, 2007 @ 8:39 am

  2. Having never lived in a small ward, I guess I have to go with the big?
    Having said that, I’ve only lived in one big ward where the same people had the same callings for years, many members left, and the inactivity rate was sky-high. I was a child, but I remember my mother’s constant frustration of being the PP in that ward –every week at least 3 teachers, some of the music people, and even one of her counselors would be a no-show. She said it was the hardest thing she had to deal with.

    But the other big wards I’ve lived in (including now) have been amazing. Simply amazing. The Utah ward I’m in now has its share of problems, but the desire to love and include everyone within our ward boundaries –members or not–is an exemplary sight to behold. Nobody goes unnoticed here, and the leadership roles change frequently enough to rid itself of an elitest attitude.
    We may have to move soon, and I think my husband and I are both hoping that his job will bring him close to our city just so we can stay in this ward.

    Anyways, with that said, I can’t say if I would like a small ward better or not –I don’t have the experience yet.

    Comment by cheryl — January 11, 2007 @ 8:52 am

  3. I’ve lived in Small and Big wards, but it really depends on the people in the Ward. If there are a lot of dysfunctional people, a small ward can be extremely frustrating. If there are a lot of highly competant people a small ward can be a lot of fun. A big ward seems to be “better” for teenagers, from what I’ve seen (I’ve never been an LDS teenager, so I am not 100% sure, but that is what the teens tell me) because the less teens there are in the ward, the lower the probability of having any commonality with those people and doing anything with them outside of church. Also, with less teens, it is more difficult to avoid influence or contention from the “bad” ones, it would seem.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 11, 2007 @ 9:04 am

  4. In the past two years, I’ve gone from one extreme to another. Two years ago, we were in an inner city ward with about 130 people at church for sacrament meeting (the numbers fell further after the first hour). The entire primary consisted of about 10 to 15 kids who regularly came. Filling callings was always difficult, particularly those requiring priesthood holders.

    I’m now in a suburban ward that is basically a Utah ward on steroids. As many as 400 people in sacrament meeting, 150+ kids in the primary including 3 nurserys, etc. Home teaching is in the range of 95%+; the gospel doctrine teacher puts together a profession powerpoint presentation every week; the high priest group often has 15 people in attendance (as opposed to serving in callings elsewhere), most of whom are former bishops, high councilors, etc. I could go on, but you get the point.

    Personally, I much prefer the small, inner city ward. So does my wife. But our kids love the suburban ward.

    Comment by Randy B. — January 11, 2007 @ 9:15 am

  5. Small ward for me. I like people knowing when I am sick or missing.

    I also feel small wards give you more opportunity to authentically serve. Nothing says “we really don’t need you” than having a ward large enough to give you a calling as the hymnbook straightener.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — January 11, 2007 @ 10:21 am

  6. I prefer diverse wards to anything else, small or large. Diverse in language, culture, race, and socioeconomic status. And then I like middle-sized wards (you can define that as you will; I’ve been in Utah wards with 600 people and inner city wards and in places with no church organization at all and all have their strengths and drawbacks).

    I think I really just like having the changes though. There are some very nice things about being in a big ward (lots of support and you’re probably nowhere near as busy), but I loved having just our family meeting in our living room too. And I loved our ward in Trenton, NJ. I wouldn’t want to have my children only experience one type of ward.

    Comment by Amira — January 11, 2007 @ 10:21 am

  7. This is definitely relative. 130 people is small?

    I like small wards. In the big wards in which I’ve lived, it was sometimes hard to get noticed, and it seemed like anything that happened, from passing the sacrament to activities, seemed to be big productions. I feel like complacency can be quite high in the bigger wards, and despite expectations, smaller wards can be more tolerant of diversity because there is no single group of members big enough to constitute a majority. I also like the fact that we have an excuse to skip some things we don’t need or want.

    Comment by Norbert — January 11, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  8. I like medium sized wards. Enough where the kids and teenagers have plenty of friends and small enough where everyone feels needed. Sure that’s fairy tale land but we’ve experienced that several times…any we’ve never moved.

    Our area has considerable growth, move ins and some converts. The ward gets split, it’s fairly small and struggles a bit, then grows, then grows more, then too big, time to split.

    We had a period from Jan. 2006 thru Aug. 2006 where new families moved in every week, by the end of August over 50% of the ward had been there less than 6 months. It’s big enough now, we are back into the cultural hall for Sac. Meeting, so we’ll split again soon and start the cycle all over again.

    Comment by Don Clifton — January 11, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  9. Wanna talk about a superward? I was in one where the primary had – and I’m not joking – something like 180 kids. They split our ward in two, thankfully. I remember someone saying – I think either the bishop or a member of the bishopric – that he referred to the Primary President as Bishop.

    Even then, my ward was still big. I’ve never been in a truly tiny ward, but I definitely prefer the smaller ones that I have been in – even though they are probably more medium-sized

    Comment by Meg — January 11, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  10. I definitely prefer small wards. I can get along with people easily enough in either scenario, but larger wards seem to have more transiency (or so has been my experience), so it’s harder to get to know people well.

    Since I’ve been married, we’ve been in three wards: two small and one large. Callings were never an issue as I received similar natured callings in each. I did notice that the larger one made it difficult to get together.

    In the small wards, it’s been easier to get to know people. while our current ward is small, there are still some challenges getting to know people. Since Lethbridge is somewhat of a retirement community, and much of the mature housing is in our ward, we have a high proportion of seniors. The difference in ages presents its own barrier in getting to know people.

    By small, I mean we never had to open up the overflow curtains. By large, I mean, we met all the way to the back of the gym. Every Sunday.

    Comment by Kim Siever — January 11, 2007 @ 12:33 pm

  11. #9-
    That reminds me of my parents’ ward! It was the ward I spent my teen years in, and somehow, after I moved, it grew to be monstrous. I guess there were several new housing developments put in, and the ward just kept growing. Finally, they split the ward, but because of more housing, my parents’ ward is continuing to grow so much and they’re doubling up all the callings. My mom is stressed to the max over it because she is RS pres. Each sister has about 6 to visit teach and the home teaching is about the same! And only because half the ward refuses to do it. Yeah, big wards like that are NOT fun…

    Comment by cheryl — January 11, 2007 @ 5:27 pm

  12. Don’t we have a word for small wards? Something have to do with trees I think…

    Whatever size the ward, I feel the need to move a lot. I mean, even if you don’t date all the girls in the ward, you get to the point where you know you need to move on:)

    Comment by Bret — January 11, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  13. I currently attend a branch with an average Sunday attendance of around 30. It sucks big time especially since the only reason the branch exists as an independent unit was so that the stake would have enough units to qualify for a new stake center. My two older children are the primary most weeks. Even if every member of the branch were “highly competent” the branch would still fail to meet my family’s spiritual needs. On the flip side a little over a decade ago we lived in the ward with the largest English speeking Sunday attendance in North America (Sunday attendance was around 530 and there were 2 EQs). When my wife had our first child no one, including the Bishop and RSP, even knew she had been pregnant. One of the EQPs knew but that was only because he was a partner in the practice where my wife received her pre-natal care. When we showed up at church one week with a baby in tow a lot of people asked us if we had adopted. But if push came to shove I’d choose the larger ward. I don’t have an overwhelming need to be needed and I prefer the anonymity and privacy a large ward offers. My family likes to travel and in a large ward I don’t have to feel guilty about not being at my unit on Sundays. I also don’t have to explain my absense to every busy-body in the ward/branch when I get back. My family also happens to be quite well off and our relative wealth really sticks out in a small unit while if I attended a large ward there would be at least a half-dozen other families in similar circumstances. I also have to echo sentiments expressed by others that large units are better for kids and teenagers. Our two primary-age children really long for a ward with other children.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — January 12, 2007 @ 7:28 am

  14. I have been in both big wards and small wards and I love both of them. I do feel that small wards do become closer knit and more of a family.

    Comment by Melissa — January 13, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  15. I’ve been in branches that have had less than 10-15 people in them. Twice. It’s fun in one sense, but if I’m in a place that even qualifies to be called “ward, ” then to me that is what I call a “big ward”. Coming from northern California, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a mega-ward. Anyway, I like the big wards because there’s more of an in-place infrastructure, and there’s more people around to get things done. And I think there’s more of a chance that there might be someone weird there like me.

    Comment by meems — January 14, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  16. i’m not sure i have a preference. our current socal ward is small-er-ish and it’s comfy. i’m with whoever said they prefer diversity to size. i dig the diverse wards, too.

    susan m, where in hawai’i did you live? we just moved from there!

    Comment by pick a name, any name... — January 14, 2007 @ 9:35 pm

  17. I was only there for 6 months in 1989. I lived in Hauula (next to Laie) for four months, and Aina Haina (near Hawaii Kai–in Honolulu) for two.

    Comment by Susan M — January 15, 2007 @ 9:21 am

  18. well, bummer! i love hau’ula, though. i tried to convince my husband to live further north, but he wasn’t having it.

    Comment by pick a name, any name... — January 15, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  19. Big wards definitely. I like the idea of a big youth program. A lot of teenagers make it easier for them to find a few great friends. Scouting works better in a large group. Early Morning Seminary can be divided into smaller age group classes. I don’t enjoy the pressure of multiple callings. As my mother always says, “Many hands make light work”.

    Comment by JA Benson — January 21, 2007 @ 6:15 pm

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