The gold standard of home teaching of course includes giving the most recent 1P message from the Ensign to each family. If you don’t do that as a HTer, then, as the kids like to text, “ur doing it wrong.” But has it always been that way?
Back in the day, it wasn’t home teaching, but rather “ward teaching.” The ward teachers brought standardized messages to the families they visited–statements of policy or exhortations published in church magazines–and they carried standard report books.
In the wake of the Correlation program, President McKay and his counselors revamped the old ward teaching program, which starting in 1964 was now called “priesthood home teaching” (or just “home teaching” for short). Among other changes, no longer were the visits to center on the delivering of standard messages; rather, they would return to the original scriptural precepts of “watching over the church and being with them always.” President McKay was overjoyed at the prospects of the new work, calling it “not only a wonderful step forward but a bound forward” for the church.
A typical exhortation from this period for how to teach one’s families focused on following the Spirit: “And they should be impressed with the importance of seeking for the Spirit of God to rest upon them in power, to dictate to them the very things that should be said to the family which they visit. The teachings, which might be appropriate to one family, and the very instruction which they might need, would not perhaps be so suitable for another family. Therefore, the necessity of having the guidance of the Spirit of God is apparent.” (Messages of the First Presidency 3:112)
That was the ideal, anyway. But the home teachers were used to not having to think too much about what to present to the family. They missed having those uniform messages in their hip pockets to use as ready-made lessons. So in 1980, President Benson circulated a letter suggesting that the First Presidency message from the Ensign “be considered” for use as a monthly home teaching message. In theory you were still supposed to prayerfully craft a message tailored to each family, but that message might be any First Presidency message (the letter explicitly indicated that they weren’t out of date if presented later). Over time, of course, this has gone from a suggestion to a sort of de facto semi-requirement.
So we went from ward teaching with its uniform monthly messages, to the institution of priesthood home teaching, which did away with such uniform messages–and that cessation was seen as a great leap forward. But the ideal of HTers following the Spirit and tailoring their visits to each family was harder to implement in practice than expected. Originally the use of First Presidency messages for lesson fodder was suggested as a sort of crutch for those who kind of lazily wanted to be told what to teach and not have to take responsibility for crafting their own messages for the specific needs of their families. But that which originated as merely a crutch for the lazy eventually became the preferred model.