In LDS meetings there is generally a presiding officer present. It is usually the bishop or member of the stake presidency that is highest in seniority. It is their duty to manage and direct the meeting as they see appropriate,”as they are lead by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God” (D&C 20:45). The presiding officer is constantly measuring the time of the meeting. Will the speaker fill the appropriate time? What if they go over? What to do if they end early?
If you have presided over many such meetings I am sure you can relate.
When you hear the verbal cue, “IN CLOSING….I’d like to share my testimony…” you glance at the clock and notice that they failed to fill the remaining 15 minutes of the meeting. What now? You need to have a plan….and FAST.
1. Look for a Convert
Every ward has recent converts sitting in the pews with an amazing story about their conversion. Typically these personal stories can be shared in 10-20 minutes without prior preparation. These experiences are the basis of the convert’s testimony so they are generally happy to share. This is the easiest go-to when time needs to be filled.
2. Spiritual Milestones
Those that have recently received their endowments or have been married are at the peak of their spiritual lives. They are oozing with the Spirit and can easily express their gratitude about their recent advancement in the gospel. They have usually been through a temple prep class or have studied doctrines related to their recent ordinance deeply so they will have plenty to say about it. They can usually tell the story of their experience and stories are the best way to engage an audience. Be sure to give them a time limit or you soon will wonder how to get them to sit down (that goes for conversion stories as well).
3. Sing a Hymn
The Hymns of Zion aren’t sung enough in church (although some may disagree). If there is time left in a meeting, instead of singing a closing hymn, sing two closing hymns. Not sure what to sing? Ask someone. Instead of inviting someone to stand and share their testimony, invite them to stand and share their favorite hymn and invite the congregation to sing along. One of my time-filling-go-to-hymns is How Firm a Foundation (hymn 85), all 7 verses. The words are powerful! The chorus in the final verse gets me every time.
4. Ask the Missionaries!
The famous words from Elder Nelson ring true in many circumstances–especially when it comes to filling extra time in a church meeting. This is a wonderful opportunity for the ward to get to know the full-time missionaries. It feels like they switch them out of my ward every other week, so an introductory testimony can happen quite often. They are full of spiritual experiences and it is always inspiring to hear their testimonies as it rapidly grows each day.
5. Speak Yourself
Many leaders don’t mind filling 5-10 minutes of time left in the meeting. It gives them the opportunity to give their endorsement of the gospel principles and testimony that was shared by the scheduled speakers.
One thing that will make this easier is by creating your own Topical Guide. If you prepare accordingly, over time you will accumulate gospel tags and references that lead to rich gospel material that is perfect for any sacrament meeting.
When I notice the speaker may be ending early, I go to my Evernote app and look for tags relating to the meeting topic. If the speakers have been talking about the law of sacrifice, I find the note tag related to that topic and have 5-6 thoughts, stories, and quotes that I can share.
6. End Early (yes, it’s legal)
A presiding authority may feel pressured not to end early or not go over time. Believe it or not, when you are presiding you can pretty much do anything you want with the meeting agenda. It’s no secret that most of the congregation is wondering why we can’t just end early instead of filling time with superficial thoughts. If you decide to fill the remaining time with one of the other 6 suggestions listed here, it better be good. People don’t like their time wasted. Don’t hesitate to simply end early. Nobody will complain.
7. Random Testimonies
If the other suggestions don’t work you may need to turn to random testimonies. Make a quick list and line ‘em up! I’d avoid this option at all costs. You are almost better off ending the meeting early than picking random people out of the congregation. It gives the meeting a Hunger Games feel as everyone closes their eyes and prays, “don’t pick me….don’t pick me…PLEASE…don’t pick me.”
However, if it comes to this the best thing you can do is give the random selectee direction as you announce their name.
“Sister Random, I’d like you to share your testimony. If you aren’t sure what to talk about tell us about the impact your eternal marriage has had on your family.”
Now they have a foundation to begin from and they will do great.
Bonus Tip: Mormon Messages
Mormon Messages aren’t appropriate for a sacrament meeting where media use is discouraged. However, if you are in a quorum meeting or a youth meeting (especially a youth meeting), bust out your tablet and hit play. The options are endless and you can search by topic so the message of the video still fits your meeting focus.