Anne Barkhouse from Truro Branch, Nova Scotia, writes:

Help!!! I am the new Activities Chairperson. What to do?

Kathy says:

I think the key to successful activities is to keep them easy, simple, and in many cases, short. We can learn wisdom from our forebears, by getting together for fellowship and recreation without taxing already burdened resources.

A simple potluck can hardly go wrong. Those who love to cook and have the time can bring their specialties. Those who are doing well just to grab some paper products on their way to the chapel can still participate and have a social evening. Chili feeds and barbecues are always popular and easy, with very little set-up and clean-up.

Test the interests of your group. Try setting out board games and jigsaw puzzles, establishing a pictionary corner or a circle of charades, a sing-along if you have guitar players or pianists who can play by ear; line-dancing if you have dancers; hiking, volleyball, softball, etc. if you have athletes; a mom and tot play group in a park or at the chapel; an aerobics group if you have members with experience or credentials; a book club or study group if you have gifted teachers; any number of presentations if you have gardeners, scientists, doctors, attorneys, historians any area of passion or expertise opens up possibilities of pleasant evenings out with the members. You can just pop some corn, provide some ice water or juice, and sit back and listen to your “experts.”

Provide an informal gab-session afterward for those who want to linger, but allow the busy or sleepy people to leave early.

Try a duffer band or orchestra, composed of people who haven't played their instruments since high school. Might as well add a choir that sings only crazy stuff. If the members also add some choreography, so much the better! You can add goofy sports for people who don't excel at the standard games, such as the game of sitting on the floor with legs extended and feet touching those of your partner, and bowling a large play-ground ball at your partners across the room. You can make a large circle of participants of any age or skill level. Try to keep the ball within the area “goal-tended” by your partners' legs. It's more fun than chasing the ball. Set up ping pong or tennis ball tosses or bean-bag tosses. All you need is a projectile, a container, and an arbitrary goal. For fun, bring all the stuffed animals at your house that you don't have room to store and will never miss. Maybe one of the younger couples would love to “win” a few for their babies.

If camp or retreat facilities are available, these are virtually always wonderful ward or branch outings. Many activities chairpersons create women's retreats with an array of activities or lazy hours, whichever the women most enjoy. Family campouts will never go out of style; especially if the “family” is actually the ward or branch. Thank goodness the adults don't need to try to match the spirited shenanigans of Young Women Camp or the grueling merit badge-pursuits of Scout Camp. They can just sing or tell tales around the campfire and enjoy a night away from it all.

Try a fill-in-the-blank theatre, where the key word is always missing. These can get pretty crazy and some people enjoy them.

Don't overlook the universal activity of just eating together and jabbering with the people at your table for a while. Sometimes this is plenty of social interaction, and more fun than playing games.

I think it's important to provide baby sitting and transportation for those who have problems in either area. Often it makes for a nice opportunity to swap services. Lonely widows or older members who seldom drive at night might love to come along and take turns with the babies, and younger couples might enjoy an opportunity to offer a ride to someone who might otherwise stay at home and miss the fun.

The missionaries should always be invited. They can benefit from the free food, and there will often be an opportunity to fellowship members of part-member families. Those who don't attend church will sometimes come along to a party, just to be a supportive spouse or friend and enjoy an evening out. The Elders or Sisters will appreciate this opportunity. I hope our loyal readers will write in with favorite ward or branch get-togethers that were fun and successful. Maybe we can help out our newly-called sister.

Alison says:

This question is particularly timely, especially with the new option that fifth week mutual activities can be extended to include the entire family and can be planned with help from the activities committee.

Kathy wisely mentioned potluck. Let me second that motion. Our former ward in Boca Raton, Florida, has a potluck dinner called “Linger Longer.” It was held once per month immediately following the Sunday block of meetings and encouraged everyone to hang out at church to fellowship. (Apparently someone at ward council quipped, “Hey, Alison is always there anyway, maybe we should encourage others to stay later so she won't be alone.”)

This event was uproariously popular and had the added benefit of increasing attendance on the last Sunday of every month. OK, I'm not sure if free food is the best motivation to attend church, but it was a good way for members to get to know each other better. A couple of caveats: (1) you probably can't do this in most areas where building-sharing is the norm and (2) you need to stress that “potluck” actually means everyone needs to bring something to share, not just to eat or you may end up with lots of mouths and not much to fill them with. More than once this happened in our ward and we cleverly had a few loaves of bread and peanut butter and jelly on hand to slap together if need be.

In my opinion, the best activities are those that included the entire family. Sometimes “adults only” activities are really fun, but think carefully before excluding part of the ward during a “ward activity.” Our old ward planned an “adults only” party for New Year's Eve 1999-2000. There was no way on earth I would leave my kids with a babysitter at home on such a historic day. Apparently I wasn't the only one, as so many people wanted to share that evening with their families that the activities committee downgraded the menu in order to include everyone. It is still a night our children talk about!

Here are a few activities that I have enjoyed, along with any tips I can think of to help make them successful:

Talent show: Make sure you give people ample warning to prepare and please teach and enforce concert manners for the event! I love performing, but I finally swore I would never sing again in a particular ward after spending hours practicing only to have 26 people talk through the entire number, 14 children run in front of me during the number, and two toddlers start tuggin, unimpeded, on the microphone cord. (And I must say that it was worse for children or those less comfortable in front of an audience to some it was downright humiliating.)

Movie night: Rent a reel-to-reel movie (watch legal issues here), invite everyone to bring beanbag chairs/blankets, etc., and serve hot dogs, chips, licorice, popcorn, and soda. Our ward would call it a “drive-in movie” and would include an automobile design competition with members making “cars” out of cardboard boxes.

Trunk-or-Treat: Each Halloween we had a costume party that included decorating cars and children getting candy from each family from the back of their cars. Root beer with dry ice is always a nice touch. One year (and this is a good option for those in chillier states) the kids went trick-or-treating from classroom to classroom in the church (instead of outside from car to car). Each interested family signed up to decorate a classroom.

Fourth of July breakfast:
Early morning, scouts raise the flag, sing the national anthem, eat a ton of pancakes and bacon. Only men allowed to cook. Yum!

Luau: Plastic leis, tropical decor, eat ham and pineapple, and play limbo and other silly, embarrassing games. Hula, anyone?

Dessert contest: This could be an activity all it's own or an add-on to any other. Our ward always did this in conjunction with the annual Relief Society birthday party and it came to be an anticipated tradition and we only allowed men to compete! Once my own Samuel won a top prize! The year of Brother Lewis' green crisp rice treats will not soon be forgotten. Nor the year Brother Fullagar under extreme stress to keep up appearances purchased a beautiful, professionally decorated cake and tried to pass it off as his own. He was soundly disqualified!

Pioneer Day: Dress like pioneers and have country games and comfort food. My ward in Orem, Utah, always had a neighborhood Primary pioneer parade with the children all dressed up and pulling decorated wagons.

Jeannie says:

I had totally passed the baton on this question. However, at the stroke of 4 a.m. D.O.D. (day of deadline), my brain decided it was time to alert me to one or two memorable ideas to add to Kathy's and Alison's wealth of suggestions.

One party idea that we have used throughout the years with large and small groups is the game “I've Got a Secret.” Everyone is given a piece of paper and asked to write something about themselves they are sure no one would guess in a million years. This can be done ahead of time. The committee can screen comments for the best and most surprising stories to be used that evening. The rest of the audience tries to match the story to the contestant. It's hilarious and a great way to get to know one another.

“Grandma's Games” is another suggestion. It takes some time and preparation, but is a fun way to stimulate enthusiasm and appreciation for genealogy. Many of us have diary snippets from our ancestors in which they relate games or activities of the era. These could be set up in “stations” around the cultural hall. This activity is even more fun when those presenting dress in period clothing and relate some interesting facts about their ancestors.

Those of us over the age of forty remember the Church's effort to train us as public speakers. We would have speech classes and contests. In a party setting, when the subject is laced with a large dose of humor, public speaking becomes a much less threatening activity. The moderator can toss out a subject, pick someone extemporaneously or ask for volunteers to expound. Someone could begin a “tall tale” and pick another to continue or finish the story. Drama buffs could create impromptu skits and musicians could produce an improvisational composition with say ?only those things found in a classroom. All of these could be shared at the end of the evening. It's amazing to see what can happen when those creative juices start to flow!

In a ward with multi-cultural diversity (this would be just about any and every ward in the Church), success is guaranteed with a theme-party illuminating this diversity. We just finished a ” River Ridge Ward Welcomes the World” Christmas party. In conjunction with the Olympic theme, we featured different countries and their Christmas traditions. Refreshments and entertainment were centered in these traditions and it was spectacular.

Sisters, in this day of the “consumer,” I believe it is our responsibility to teach our children that great fun can be had with little money, no television or video, and a little bit of creative energy. I'm looking forward to reading your comments and getting some more great ideas for my stockpile of activities.