Having a five star church experience

I love reading reviews. Whether it’s movies or music or food or places, I have always loved reading the opinions of others. I have enjoyed writing reviews from time to time

One thing that fascinates me about the review writing process is that two people can go to the same place or eat the same dish and have such widely divergent reactions.

Even with some of the most famous and 5-star worthy places in the world, there are always those who go and have a 1-star experience

Here are a few of these bad reviews of famous places. Can you guess what each review is describing?

1) “The place was in ruins. Stadium seemed like it hadn’t been used in years. So old none of the seats even remained, had to stand.”

2)“Far too expensive to look at some rocks.”

3) “It’s a bridge. It’s covered in fog. It’s pointless. Buy a postcard you will see more.“

4) If bricks are your thing you may or may not enjoy this (I didn’t), if bricks and walls are not your thing best to avoid, if you can, too big.”

And here are the answers in case you are curious

1) Colosseum
2) Stonehenge
3) Golden Gate Bridge
4) Great Wall of Chjna

I recently wrote about the divergent reviews that members left after a dedicatory service in Missouri. Reynolds Cahoon left a five star review, exclaiming that his “mortal eyes beheld grate and marv[e]lous things, such as my eyes once never even contemplated of seeing in this world.” Ezra Booth on the other hand left a one star review calling the events “a curiosity,” but said that it was “not worth going to Missouri to see.”

What leads one person to have a disappointing one star experience and another to have a glorious five star experience?

And how would we rate our most recent Church experience? How about our last experience in the temple? How about our last scripture study period?

Let’s focus on our Church meeting experience for the remainder of.rhis post.

Of course, there are variables that are outside of our control. We are part of a church led by volunteer teachers and speakers. That means that the instruction quality really can vary. Some talks or lessons simply may not resonate with us. We may come to Church with emotional baggage that is sometimes outside of our control. Our kids may be crazy and make it difficult for us to pay attention and to learn.

But I think that whether we have a 1 star or a 5 star experience is based to a large degree on us, our preparation, and our effort.

One of the talks that has influenced my thinking on this topic is by President Henry B. Eyring entitled Listen Together. This whole devotional is a gem and I would highly recommend it. But I was especially moved by an experience from his youth observing his father (a brilliant renowned scientist):

“Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father, whose name is the same as my own, Henry Eyring. He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a terrible talk. I watched my father, and to my amazement, his face was beaming as the speaker droned on. I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.

Our home was near enough to the ward that we walked home. I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road that wasn’t paved. I kicked a stone ahead of me as I plotted what I would do next. I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting. He said it was wonderful.

Now I really had a problem. My father had a wonderful sense of humor, but you didn’t want to push it too far. I was puzzled. I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.

Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind because he started to laugh. He said ‘Hal, let me tell you something. Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting. When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say. Then once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.’ He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along. Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, ‘Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.’

I don’t suppose he used all of the steps I have described to you. He may very well have prayed for that speaker. Over a lifetime he had studied. When he knew what the speaker was trying to say, he had a deep well to go to so he could give himself that sermon.

My father was the kind of man who would have listened to that high council visitor. If he had felt a little pricking in his heart to do something, Dad would have done it. He could listen to anybody. He used to embarrass me when we stopped to get gas because he would seek advice from the gas station attendant. Dad would always treat him as an equal. Dad would say: ‘Look, I can learn something from anybody. They have had experiences I haven’t had.’

I think you can have faith and confidence that you will never need to hear an unprofitable sermon or live in a ward where you are not fed spiritually.”

Another similar story that really touched me came from Elder Richard G. Scott who spoke of two experiences he had in Sunday School classes. In one the teacher was humble and taught powerfully with the spirit. In the second, the teacher was more arrogant and tried to show off his intelligence to the class. But in both classes Elder Scott got personal revelation because he had prayerfully sought revelation by the spirit.

I’m not nearly as good at this as Henry Eyring or Richard G. Scott. But I have found that when I come to Church with the correct expectations that I have four or five star experiences more often than one or two star experiences. And that is true even though I have three small girls who can be extremely distracting. (I spent a chunk of sacrament meeting today doing laps around the Church building with my 2 year old and 5 year old who was also barefoot, so I mean it).

Here are a few simple things I’ve found make a big difference for me.

*Bring a notebook and take notes in paper. I find that it is much easier to get distracted on my.phone and that taking hard copy notes really invites revelation. That may not be true for you, but it definitely is for me.

*As I listen to talks I try to quickly figure out the message that the speaker is trying to convey. I then pray for revelation and insights on that particular topic.

*I try to come to Church having done scripture study before hand with particular topics on my mind. It is even better when I come with particular questions or seeking direction

• Lately I’ve been making an effort to either talk to the speakers or teachers afterwards and share something I liked about the talk or to send them a text expressing gratitude for the talk. I always appreciate when people do this for me, and I find that doing this helps to crystalize for me something I liked about the talk

• When I attend a lesson, I try to listen carefully for an opportunity to make a comment. My goal is always to comment in a way that improves the conversation or positively contributes spiritually.

• I try to look for small opportunities to serve either by holding the door for someone or simply by saying hello. I think shifting or perspective frok mere consumers of Church to contributors is a very important paradigm shift.

This is not a comprehensive list, but these are things that have worked for me.

What things have worked for you to try to help you improve your Church experience? When have you had a 5 star church experience? What contributed to that experience?

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