March 25, 2019
Writer: Elisa Walker
Since the days of Ricks College, students have gathered at Tuesday Devotionals to be edified, taught, instructed, and unified. However, just as oversized shoulder pads and acid washed jeans have eventually become outdated through time, so have the old ways of Devotional.
Since Henry J. Eyring became president, many changes have been made to the Devotional experience with the goal of increasing attendance and engaging the student audience. Some of the changes include an increase in visual aids, incorporation of more speaker-led audience interactions, greater promotional effort, addition of the Devotional Luncheon, and discussion board.
“Devotional is a high priority for the administration. They actually see it as central to the BYU-Idaho experience for students,” said Brett Sampson, public affairs director.
In the past, Devotionals were often similar to General Conference and sacrament meeting talks with little to no graphics and no audience interaction. Trish Gannaway, guest hosting and institutional events coordinator, emphasized that although Devotional is a spiritual environment, it does not need to be treated like our Sunday church meetings.
“This generation of students is used to a lot of media,” said Gannaway. “We’re asking speakers to appeal to our audience by including more content that grabs both the students’ and employees’ attention and helps them engage better.”
This flexibility has allowed speakers to include visuals in their addresses such as quotes, scriptures, pictures, charts, and more. They are also able to instigate student discussions, congregational singing, polls, musical numbers, videos, and other interactive elements into their addresses.
“University Relations will provide any support a Devotional speaker needs to support their address. For some, that requires building more than 50 graphics. For others, it’s producing a series of videos to intersplice throughout the talk,” said Brett Crandall, media relations manager. “If we have the ability to do so, we will do anything a speaker wants to support their message that will lift and build our students and employees to become better disciple leaders.”
For nearly two years, Devotional has become more of an experience than an event with questions posted each week on the discussion board in I-Learn.
“The Devotional discussion board emulates the BYU-Idaho Learning Model. Students prepare for, teach one another, ponder, and prove the Devotional messages,” Gannaway said.
To keep students engaged throughout the entire Devotional—much like they are in the classroom, Devotional addresses were shortened by five minutes in the Fall 2018 Semester. Now, speakers will be at the podium for approximately 20 minutes instead of 25.
The vast majority of students see value in Devotional and are uplifted when they attend. The greatest struggle students face that prevents them from attending is competing time commitments. To increase interest and bolster enthusiasm, University Relations has worked to create new, individual promotions for each Devotional by producing sharable content for each speaker—usually in the form of a video.
From the first video of the Eyrings talking about spiritual nourishment over a meal of junk food to a more recent video of Elder and Sister Costa laughing their way through the number of takes it took to shoot a promo, these videos have proven to be a great way for students to connect with the speaker and receive an introduction to their message.
“These promos serve to remind students, employees, and alumni that there is a Devotional happening, and if they can make it, they should go,” said Michael Ballard, video production coordinator.
Starting this winter semester, students were invited to a much larger Devotional Luncheon. Devotional Luncheons are not new. The speaker has always been invited to a luncheon prior to their address with school administrators, family, friends, and a select number of students in attendance. It was an intimate setting, always filled with great conversation and food. These luncheons became the highlight of the administration’s week, and President’s Executive Group wanted to extend this opportunity to all students.
For a very affordable price of $3, hundreds of students can now attend Devotional Luncheon and enjoy good food, meet new friends, and get to know the week’s Devotional speaker.
“I can’t image that anybody would come and say, ‘That wasn’t really worth my time,’ because it’s such a wonderful extension of the Devotional experience, with a really good meal; and you can’t beat the price of $3,” Gannaway said. “I think it’s the best-kept secret on campus right now.”
Although the luncheon is directed towards students, BYU-Idaho employees are welcome to attend—especially if they have connections to the speaker.
“It’s great when a BYU-Idaho employee is speaking, and colleagues, neighbors, or ward members come and support them. I think the speaker really appreciates that too,” Gannaway said.
Additional changes are coming in the future too. Starting this summer, Devotional will begin at 11:30 a.m. rather than 2:10 p.m. Moving Devotional to the middle of the day will make it easier for students to attend in between their classes. In addition, with the luncheon taking place after Devotional, students will be able to continue the conversation the speaker starts in the auditorium and ask any questions they might have developed while attending Devotional.
A hallmark of the student experience at BYU-Idaho, employees are asked to encourage students to attend, so they can be edified and yes, even fed at the luncheon.