Brainwashing for Jesus

I’ve been catching up on General Conference, since I was unable to experience the April broadcast. The other day I was listening to President Eyring’s talk, “Help Them on Their Way Home,” and a particular line caught my attention: “[T]he family has the opportunity at the start of a child’s life to put feet firmly on the path home.” Pres. Eyring goes on to say,

Many bishops in the Church are inspired to call the strongest people in the ward to serve individual children in the Primary. They realize that if the children are strengthened with faith and testimony, they will be less likely to need rescue as teenagers. They realize that a strong spiritual foundation can make the difference for a lifetime.

The reason this caught my attention is that I have been having an ongoing discussion with a friend of mine about how wards are staffed. She thinks that too much emphasis is placed on the youth programs at the expense of Primary, which is actually more important because, in her opinion, if a child is given a firm foundation in the gospel during those years, not only is he less likely to “stray from the path” as a teenager, but if he does stray as a young person, he is more likely to come back when he is older. I think her argument makes enough sense. Certainly there are stories in the scriptures that would support this thesis (if you’re into that sort of thing), notably Alma the Younger, who rebelled against the church as a young man, but later remembered the teachings of his father (you know, after being visited by an angel and being so affected by the experience that he fell to the ground as though he were dead–typical adolescent stuff), as well as Enos, whose righteousness wasn’t anything to write home about until he had his all-night prayer session after remembering the words of his father. I’m not one to pooh-pooh the importance of parental (or other adult) influence in the formative years. I just thought it was interesting that my friend would consider Primary that much more important than the youth program, as I had never given much consideration to either program’s relative importance.

I honestly don’t know whether or not Primary is more important than Mutual, Young Women/Young Men, MIA, or whatever we call it. (What do we call it?) I have noticed that the Primary board is frequently poached to staff the youth programs, at least in every ward I’ve ever been in. Usually the “best people” (you know who I’m talking about, brothers and sisters) are called to serve in YW and YM, while the Primary is always scrambling for teachers. The teenage years are rough, and we worry about losing our young people–especially when they’re so close to adulthood, when they will finally have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they’re going to go to church. It’s hard to blame the ward leadership for pulling out all the stops for the youth program, in a last-ditch effort to cement a young person’s testimony before free will reaches its full potential.

If my friend’s thesis is correct, though, we shouldn’t be wasting so much angst on the teenagers. We should minister to them, of course; we should minister to everyone. But if the formative years of 0-8 are really the most crucial, that is, theoretically, where we should focus much of our energy. I don’t have any particular percentage in mind–heck, I’m not even fully converted to the idea–but I reckon at the very least we should not be poaching Primary for the sake of some snot-nosed teenagers, who maybe don’t need as much attention as we think they do.

I really wouldn’t know. Myself, I didn’t really enjoy Primary or Mutual. I didn’t like Primary because I didn’t like to sing. Mutual was better than Primary insofar as there was less singing, but other than that, I could take or leave it. (Or rather, I could have taken or left it, but you know what I mean.) I went to church on Sunday, and I went to seminary, but I didn’t go to Mutual activities. I know that my youth leaders had angst over my non-attendance at youth activities. I know that many of my adult peers now worry about young men feeling alienated from the church if they don’t enjoy scouting and young women feeling alienated from church if they don’t enjoy makeovers or modesty fashion shows or whatever it is the girls are doing these days. I know that I didn’t feel particularly engaged in church on any level as a teenager, but I especially did not want to spend my Wednesday evenings playing volleyball in the gymnasium and I most particularly especially did not want to go to any box-lunch socials. (Please.) My YW advisers worried about my lack of participation; I reckon they thought it was a reflection of my testimony, or lack thereof. I did lack a testimony in those days, but it had nothing to do with the activities the church was offering. I doubt very much there was any sort of activity they could have planned that would have made any difference in my enthusiasm for the gospel.

I did feel alienated from the church as a young person, and especially so as I became an adult and spent more time thinking about the philosophical problems I had with Mormonism. I was culturally engaged with the church–I considered them “my people”–but all of my close friendships were made outside the church. Eventually I did gain a testimony and became very involved in church as an adult, but whether or not that transformation was due to that firm foundation provided during my Primary years (when my parents still held regular Family Home Evenings–COINCIDENCE???), I really couldn’t say. It didn’t seem to be at all relevant at the time, but what do I know? I was so young when those adults were planting the seeds of salvation in my mind.

All of this is on my mind because I’m currently concerned with disaffected Mormon adults, not rebellious adolescents (of any age). I am thinking particularly of adults who were raised in the church, went to Primary and Mutual, served a mission, came back and were active for a while, maybe even several years, and then, for whatever reason, lost their will to be Mormon anymore. (There are as many reasons, I’m sure, as there are people.) I’m thinking of people who accepted the gospel on faith as children but ultimately could not maintain that faith as adults. I was raised in the church, but I found God as an adult–and I lost Him again as an adult. Because of the stage of life I was in when I lost my faith–married with children, in a committed Mormon family–I was highly motivated to find my way back to a state of grace within the church rather than outside of it, but not every disaffected Mormon adult shares my situation and not everyone would find that situation sufficiently motivating.

On my personal blog I once had a discussion about instilling values in your children via religion as opposed to some secular method, and one of my secular readers said something to the effect that the threat of eternal damnation, i.e. endless suffering as punishment for rejecting a particular belief system, compromises a child’s free will. How can you honestly expect a child to make a rational, free choice when the fate of their immortal soul is at stake? I think there is some validity to this argument. The first time I considered the possibility that there was no God, I felt as though the ground had opened up beneath me; I did not want to stare into that abyss. The prospect of gambling on something so consequential is terrifying. On the other hand, lots of people do it. They grow up believing in God and in a particular theological system because that is what they’re taught, but eventually they question it and decide it is not for them, and it’s not a decision made out of fear. Often people stay out of fear, but they don’t usually leave out of fear. I guess I just wonder what makes these people different. Was their foundation not firm enough? Or is it just that pesky free will rearing its ugly head again?

As I said before, there are as many reasons as there are people, and when Pres. Eyring talks about putting a child’s feet “firmly on the path home,” I don’t imagine that he is talking about a fool-proof (or doubt-proof) scheme, just generally effective principles. Still, sometimes you train up a child in the way he should go and he still manages to depart from it. (Doesn’t seem quite fair.) But I digress.

Since I started out pitting Primary against Mutual, perhaps I should satisfy everyone’s need to take sides or tell me that it’s a false dichotomy. So even though I understand that God wants us to minister to all of His children, regardless of age, I will ask you all what you think makes more sense: focusing on the foundation when they’re young, or on the rescue effort when they’re older? Do you buy the theory that people raised with a firm foundation need less rescuing, and more to the point, do you buy the theory that people raised with a firm foundation who leave the church have the seeds of their eventual return planted in that foundation? How does religious indoctrination work? How does it not work?

[Note: The title of this post is facetious. I thought it was funny. If you don’t think it’s funny, I’m sorry. Please send your angry cards and letters to Steve Evans, c/o the admin address on the sidebar.]


  1. The title of this post sparked my interest right away. Genius marketing strategy.

    As far as the “best” people being called to YM/YW… well, it’s been my experience that a great deal of people are called to those positions based on being young, hip, and cool. Not all, but a lot. But then, I’m probably just bitter because I’ve only served there once. Apparently I’ve lost my street cred.

  2. My 2 cents, from a background of growing up in the Church, going to Primary and YM, getting my Eagle, going on a mission, marrying in the temple, serving in various callings including YM President for 60-70 YM and a Primary teacher now…

    I don’t know that the “best” people need to be in Primary or YM. I do see several points to consider:

    1) You don’t need much gospel background to teach Primary. The lessons are simple enough that you can almost be told the title of the lesson and go from there, especially in the 3-8 age range mentioned above.

    2) I love being with the kids. Some people honestly don’t. They would make a bad fit for Primary.

    3) Someone working in the YM/YW program needs to be willing to spend A LOT of time. Besides the lessons, there are service activities, fast offerings, sacrament to the sick and others, basketball and other athletic programs, regular scouting, venture and Varsity scouting, the Duty to God program, youth conference, camps, etc., as well as meetings ad nauseum to plan all of the above.

    4) Someone teaching YM/YW should NOT have a black and white view of the world. They are starting to explore what being LDS means as opposed to a younger age where they are mostly fed information with some games and songs. A youth leader who actually cares what color shirt a youth wears, or if they have an earring or a funky hair style or color runs the risk of alienating the kid. Let them explore expressions, etc.

    Ironically, after all of these years, I am becoming more disaffected at this point in my life, which seems strange to me. And it has nothing to do with the core of the gospel but many of the peripheral practices of the Church – but I don’t want to sidetrack from the point of the post. Perhaps only to say that doing ALL of the above things absolutely does NOT mean someone won’t become more disaffected as an adult.

  3. Coffinberry says:

    I’d vote Primary every time. Possibly because I’ve served in Primary most of the last 30 years. And never a calling in YW for me. Therefore Primary must be cool, right?

    But actually, my answer to “I will ask you all what you think makes more sense: focusing on the foundation when they’re young, or on the rescue effort when they’re older?” would be “yes.” This I’ve learned as a parent (my last child left primary just last week). And even more important, we (as their parents/spirit siblings) have to rise to the challenge of loving them IN their exercise of free will.

    Not every child is blessed with an ideal-behaving adult. Some adults are lost and confused when raising (or teaching) children. (And some new-convert primary teachers are assigned to teach obnoxious children like I once was to push them over the edge. I’ll probably have to answer for that someday.) So there will always be a need for setting a foundation, and always be a need for rescue. And maybe the same person will need both, at different times in our lives. Hopefully, a bishop will exercise the mantle-gift of discernment, to know which people have which skills to bless which people.

  4. Clearly, the best people should be called into Primary. Of course, in 7-10 years (that is, when my daughters turn 12), I reserve the right to change my mind.

  5. Michael says:

    I, too, detested most YM/YW activities as a youth. I was fine with the Scouting emphasis for a while, but then got the opportunity to work on a much closer basis with the local council and I saw how things were really run. I lost all respect for the Scouting program. Later on, when a Scoutmaster kicked a chair out from under my youngest brother, I saw that adults are not immune from being bullies. A buddy invited me to go to Youth Group at the First Christian Church, and that was more inspirations, more fun, and the kids were nice.

    Seminary was a nightmare for all the kids in my family. One of the seminary teachers famously pronounced that none of the kids in our family would ever amount to anything. (Bank VP, mechanical engineer, PhD, MBA, etc.)

    Primary is there for just one thing – when the child asks himself/herself “Do I like Church?”, the quality of the Primary is going to determine the answer. My daughter hates the “Primary Voice”, loathes the singing, and could take or leave Activity Girls. Right now, she’d probably answer that question with a firm “No. I don’t like Church.”

    An active 16 or 17 year old has already heard every lesson topic, been through the same “Move your wagon” stories, and seen the chocolate cake with just a little bit of dog poo in it. If a Mutual program is going to do anything, it should simply show them that there are other kids out there who can show Christian principles and be good people. We can’t expect the Church to be the full-time activity arm of Life, but we can show teens that it is okay to rise above the environment around them.

  6. I think in order for rescue to work, the person has to want to be rescued. Without a faith background, no one is going to want to be restored to faith, so in that sense focusing on teaching the young is primary. I’ve seen people come back to church after a long time away, and while I can’t say their Primary years were sufficient to motivate them in this, they were probably necessary.

    As for Youth vs. Primary, I’d say our ward has many of the best people in Primary. But this may be because our bishopric has kids all under 8.

  7. Matt W. says:

    The best person in my ward is the primary chorister, IMO. She’s the greatest person I’ve ever met in my life.

    I am the YM President, so hipness is not required. Willingness to spend a LOT of time away from home is required.

    I think the most important calling in the church as far as raising kids go is Parent, and every other function of the church should aim towards strengthening that position. Most of the kids in our ward that are inactive are inactive because their parents don’t drive them to church. Most of the Young Men were inactive long before they turned 12.

  8. So Rebecca J, what’s your other blog address? or is it private?

  9. I liked primary. I guess I’m just totally different, because I actually liked singing…but I can’t say that I learned a lot about anything then.

    I mean, I guess some of my favorite classes and teachers were some of my later CTR (or maybe earlier valiant) teachers…but still, I don’t think I cared or learned much then.

    I liked YM/YW/Mutual’s. But it too was for fun, not so much for learning. Not to say it was the teachers’ fault. I just don’t think I really found church all that engaging. I just don’t know how to describe it.

    I don’t know if anyone’s waiting on the seeds of my return to sprout though.

  10. I think it’s a misconception to say that primary lessons are simple and therefore simple to teach. I think it is difficult to understand something enough to say it simply.

    I agree with the parent thing.

  11. I’ve served in primary, as teacher, pianist, and in the presidency. I don’t think anyone is taking into account the fact that many people do not want to serve in the primary, and therefore turn down the call. I’m the YW president in my ward now, and everyone who’s been called to a position has accepted, so far anyway…

    Even people considered to be “strong” sometimes turn down primary callings. Also, primary often has more callings to fill, and people tend to burn out earlier in primary, imho.

  12. How can you honestly expect a child to make a rational, free choice when the fate of their immortal soul is at stake?

    To which I would respond (not having read any of the comments yet; perhaps this point has already been made), how can you honestly expect a child to make a rational, free choice when FILL IN THE BLANK WITH PRETTY MUCH WHATEVER YOU CAN IMAGINE?

    As much as the philosophical libertarians and Lockeans and other advocates of the-human-mind-is-a-monad may insist, it just isn’t true that there can be any sort of “truly” free choice about ultimate things–not when you have parents, and a language, and a culture, and a history, and a background framework of moral signification, and a hundred other things which condition how we appropriate our environment, interpret it, and respond to it. That’s not to say that there isn’t such a thing as brainwashing, or ways in which expressions of power may short-circuit our ability (whether as children or as adults) to respond to the world in a manner which actually makes use of both all our rational capacities as well as the gestalt which forms our selves. It’s just to say that, so far as I can tell, refusing to teach one’s children (or anyone else, for that matter) in light of one’s full range of understanding of the subject matter in question seems irresponsible and pointless: they will absorb a complete scheme of interpretation from someone or something, whether they know that’s they are doing or not, and thus make judgments, regardless. The only people who make entirely “free”–meaning environmentally disconnected choices–choices are the people we call psychopaths, and if that’s the case, then you have far more important things to worry about.

  13. In my ward, a recent move-in has one of those little “soul patch” facial hair arrangements. So he gets made the new YM president.

  14. Primary is there for just one thing–when the child asks himself/herself, “Do I like Church?,” the quality of the Primary is going to determine the answer.

    Yes, yes, yes. It’s all about one simple foundation: does going to church annoy and bore you, or do you find it tolerable, perhaps even pleasant and informative? If your experience growing up is the former, then your future involvement in the church will have to depend upon a conversion or choice of some sort, built without a prior acceptable foundation. But if your experience is the latter, then no matter what you choose later in life, you at least have a positive memory to build upon, left there in your past.

    Put the best people in Primary. I don’t know what “best” should always necessarily mean: the funniest, the most patient, the one’s most willing to work with kids, the most enthusiastic, the most spiritual, whatever. Depending upon the ward and the needs of the Primary, it could be any of those. But always staff the Primary with good people. Face it, most of the youth will always be annoyed with you, and most of your Sunday school class will always be asleep…but Primary can actually make a difference. (We’ve got one fellow right now in our ward, late 40s, business man, was second-string quarterback to Steve Young at BYU in the early 80s. He’s been teaching Sunbeams for two years now. Fantastic with the kids; Alison and Kristen have both adored him. He’s made Primary, and thus church, worth it for them.)

  15. Russell (11) – I agree. You should have been there on my blog a million years ago when I was having that conversation.

    mmiles (8) – I assume your question was intended for me? You can find my other blog by clicking on my name. (But don’t bother trying to find that post I referenced because it was, as I said, a million years ago, and the comments are archived at another site. Long story.)

    britt (9) – I found teaching YW difficult, but not as difficult as teaching Primary. I think good teachers are rare in any case (and I certainly wasn’t one of them).

    Heidi (10) – Yes, it is difficult to get people to serve in Primary, which is why it hurts all the more when they’re taken out of Primary to serve someplace else!

    That YW/YM requires spending a lot of time away from home implies that we are focusing more of our energy on it than we are on Primary, and more significantly, on home. We like to say that the church programs exist to support the family, that the family doesn’t exist to support the church program, but in practice it seems like if you’re going to have a thriving youth program, it needs to be staffed with people who are willing to spend more time on it than perhaps they ought. I don’t know.

  16. Mike S says:

    I teach Primary and have a great class. They are some great kids. I relate well to them and I think they get something out of our class.

    But I must admit that going to the sharing time part of Primary each week is like having hot needles pushed through my eyeballs to the back of my skull. If they got rid of that as a part of shortening Church, I would be ecstatic. But I put on a brave face and endure.

  17. Dave P. says:

    And here I thought the post was going to be about my biggest pet peeve in any fast and testimony meeting: Little kids who stand up and say (almost always verbatim) “I like bare my testimony. I know the church is true. I love my family. InthenameofJesusChristamen.”

    Sure it’s cute, but to an outside observer, especially an investigator, that is one of the biggest “What the heck?” moments anyone can see. Little kids baring testimony that they very likely don’t even have yet is one of the greatest pieces of ammo that people use against the church to accuse it of being a cult and yes, brainwashing our children.

  18. mmiles says:

    Hey Rebecca, Yep, mixed you up, I’ve been to your blog many times.

  19. I would enjoy teaching Primary if the class could be 20 minutes long. I can manage a class for about 20 minutes, on a good day. After 20 minutes, I run out of ideas and everything goes to hell.

    Primary chorister was an okay calling for me–I didn’t enjoy it, exactly, but I only had to do it for 20 minutes at a time, so that worked for me. However, I could not run a sharing time to save my life.

    I taught one YW lesson that was successful, and that was a lesson for the entire YW (as opposed to just my class). I think the presence of other adults made the girls more subdued. Every lesson I taught to just the Beehives was a disaster. People say they’re still sweet at that age, but in my experience they are actually really horrid.

  20. Dave P (17) – That is a topic worthy of its own post, but I’m probably not the one to write it. My own children would never in a million years get up and bear their testimonies, and I as a child would never in a million years have done it either, so to me it is a phenomenon that is just really weird and which I am incapable of understanding. I didn’t realize that it was anything an outsider would think was creepy until I mentioned it once on my other blog and someone said it sounded abnormal and, well, creepy.

    I think it’s pretty clear that some kids do it because they want to do what the grown-ups do, others do it for attention, others do it because it’s a diversion from what is otherwise an extremely boring meeting, but probably all of the kids genuinely love Jesus at least a little bit, so we don’t want to discourage them from expressing that. I mean, what do we say? “Well, actually, you don’t really know the church is true yet”? Or maybe that is what we should say.

  21. Cynthia L. says:

    Mike, as someone who does sharing time, I would be interested in why you hate it so much. I mean, I think I get it–there are times when others in the presidency are doing it that I am bored. But it seems like something that *can* be done well.

    One thing I try to do is plan it with the adults in the room in mind. Not the focus of course. But maybe a few jokes going over the kids’ heads now and then, or some meat to think about.

    Maybe I’ll do a post that is just a collection of some of my sharing time ideas…

  22. CS Eric says:

    Count me with the “put the best in Primary.” Most of us don’t remember much of what we were taught, if anything, when we were in Primary, but we do remember how we felt. I hated, hated, hated Primary. I wouldn’t go. We lived close to the church, so I would walk to the building (this was when Primary was on weekdays). Then I would just hang out until I saw the other kids leave the building, and I went home, too. Now, when I have a chance to teach Primary, I just try to leave the kids with a few, simple things: Heavenly Father loves them, and Church can be a fun, safe place.

    YM wasn’t much better. Ours operated on what has been called the “Spaulding” theory–if a boy bounces a basketball (made by Spaulding) in the church gym enough times while growing up, he will be an active leader in the Church. My folks worked weeknights, so I didn’t have to actually go to YM either. I would go to opening exercises, then see what they were doing. If, as likely as not, it was just playing basketball, I went home. I had one leader who connected with me, and I thrived when he was there. His job moved him away, and once again I felt like a third wheel.

    If I were to really understand what kept (and keeps) me going, I am sad to say that it is inertia as much as anything. I have had profound personal spiritual experiences, but very few such experiences as a part of a class, congregation, or quorum.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    “Best” is the wrong word. Different classes in Primary and YM/YW require different talents. As the kids get older, “coolness” is definitely a virtue–one that would be lost on the younger kids. But for teenagers you have to be relatable, and if you go around with a stick up your butt or freak out over a second pair of earrings, it just ain’t gonna work.

  24. Adam Greenwood says:

    “As the kids get older, “coolness” is definitely a virtue–one that would be lost on the younger kids. But for teenagers you have to be relatable, and if you go around with a stick up your butt or freak out over a second pair of earrings, it just ain’t gonna work”

    With boys, though, having so much stick that you give the impression that you might just snap and kill somebody makes you cool.

    In my YM days, our most admired adult leader was a guy who gave the impression that he thoroughly despised us.

  25. When I lived in Venezuela, our stake president taught the bishops that they should put the best woman in the ward in as Primary President, the second best as YW President, and the third best as Relief Society President. Of course he knew it was more complicated than that, but he wanted to get the bishops out of thinking that the “best” should go to the adults.

    Another bishop I served with felt like the adults were pretty much where they were going to be, so he let the quorums and the RS worry about them, and he concentrated all his efforts on YM/YW and Primary.

    I’m a big fan of Primary and would love to serve there, but seem always to be in administrative callings instead.

    As for free choice in children — how can they (or any of us, for that matter) choose if they don’t have the righteous alternative as one of their choices?

    I watched my three oldest boys all leave the church at about age 16 — something about 2/3 of young men do. I wish there were a magic formula to prevent that, but I obviously haven’t found it. My next two daughters had much closer friendships among church members, and I think that made a big difference for them. My last two are still rather young, and we are hoping they can maintain good friendships to help guide them through. For YM/YW, I think it’s more about friends than it is about the adults. Unfortunately, you can’t force a kid to be friends with someone any more than you can force him to go to the bathroom.

  26. Oops. Didn’t mean to suggest that 2/3 of YM leave the church at 16, but rather that only about 1/3 of those ordained deacons go on to become elders.

  27. my biggest pet peeve with our current sharing times are that they are not age appropriate. We have TONS of scripture reading to the junior primary and having them read and find scriptures-which is more difficult because we don’t have a sunbeam teacher or a 6yo teacher (we have three energetic boys)…so he primary president and counselors are in the hall looking for subs.

    Our music leader also doesn’t like any active songs. We have sung popcorn popping once…in 9 months. And that was the only active song we’ve sung.

  28. As for free choice in children — how can they (or any of us, for that matter) choose if they don’t have the righteous alternative as one of their choices?

    To be sure, I am a big fan of indoctrinating our children. I don’t suggest we do otherwise. I’m just wondering what makes the indoctrination stick.

    In my YM days, our most admired adult leader was a guy who gave the impression that he thoroughly despised us.

    I imagine that is effective with a great many young men.

    I’m not actually a big fan of putting the young, “cool” people in YW/YM. (Nor am I a fan of putting people like me in there.) I think the youth need mature leaders who aren’t fazed by the usual teen rebellion stuff. That doesn’t mean they’re hip or (worse) try to be hip, just that they’ve been around the block enough times to not sweat the small stuff. I appreciated my older YW leaders a lot more than the young, hip ones. The young ones were nice, but they didn’t have the gravitas of the middle-aged ladies. I really respected those women as wise. (I don’t think, however, that I would have respected them more if I’d thought they were going to kill me.)

  29. nanochron says:

    I think we somewhat miss the point when we say “the best” for the Primary or any other auxiliary organization. Possibly we can say strongest testimony.

    Outside of considering the testimony one may have. I think that different people have talents that can serve different age groups and genders more effectively than others. In general there are some people who work great with little children but would be terrible teaching or working with YM or YW. The reverse is also true. Some people seem to be talented and can serve in any position while others don’t seem to be able to serve in any positions. Or many other possible combinations.

    I think multiple factors must be considered when calling someone into these organizations. This is why it is so important to rely on the spirit when calling people.

    My own opinion about what Elder Eyring is saying is that we shouldn’t just through the leftover people who don’t have callings to the Primary.

    Many people in the church seem to think that it is beneath somebody with a strong testimony to be teaching in the primary. Elder Eyring seems to be saying this isn’t the case.

  30. Both callings require people who will show up and do the job.

    Also, YW leaders always have great breasts.

  31. Young Women leaders in Utah often have breast implants, and that sends a sad message to young women: that we are not good enough, that we need to be well-endowed to be beautiful.

  32. I have no empirical data, but I wonder if part of the catastrophic activity rates among single folks over the age of 18 is a result of the massive efforts poured into the youth program. That is to say that there is all this attention, then you move away from home and then there is very little. I know the church is trying to figure this out, but I worry.

    I think the Primary can be a place where people tend to think it might be a good idea to assign someone that needs something to get them there on Sunday (Primary has about 30 times the number of callings as say Elder’s Quorum). That perspective is a disaster.

  33. ClaudiaHen says:

    “Also, YW leaders always have great breasts.”

    That would explain why I haven’t ever been in YW.

  34. Matthew Chapman says:

    If you have a chance, look at your ward directory – the one that lists the priesthood of each male member.

    Few unordained, lots of deacons, quite a few teachers, not many priests. Most of the names of the elders you will recognize as regular Sunday attendees.

    If you can keep a young man actively attending up to age 16, there is a very good chance that he will remain more-or-less active for life.

    About half choose to effectively leave the church.

    On the other hand, you generally don’t need to worry about a young woman leaving the church until after she turns 16. 16-18 is the big dropout age. The transition to Relief Society is especially difficult.

    Again, about half choose to effectively leave the church.

    You figure out why.

  35. I believe in Primary. I believe in teaching kids.
    But it comes with a cost. What happens as you get older?
    This use to be a Church for adults. People who converted, and built it_ were adults. Missionaries today talk to adults__ what do they have to offer? There has to be more balance if the Church is to grow.

  36. GatoraideMomma says:

    I read #2 and totally agree with Mike’s comments. I don’t have time to read all the comments, but Primary is so important, and too dang long on Sundays. By the time the 3 hour block is 1/2 over all the younger kids know is they want to go home, they’re hungry, they’re tired. Several of us who teach in my ward primary make sure they have relaxing games, coloring, etc., and just talking and being friends with them a lot in that last hour in the classroom for Jr. Primary. Sharing time and singing time is often just about unbearable. What do we expect will happen by the time the kids turn 12 and when they’re going home week after week wishing Church was over? At first the 12 year olds are just so glad to be out of Primary and then many start finding SS and YW/YM Long and tedious. Cut out at least 1/2 hour off the block if not a whole hour and retention will go up.

  37. It is true that fine people go into Primary, as my new call into the Nursery demonstrates. And now after only two Sundays, I’m convinced if we had bubbles at the end of all our classes, retention rates would soar.

  38. B.Russ says:

    Also, YW leaders always have great breasts.

    Now I understand my wife’s new calling. I’ll be sure to let her know that her testimony didn’t have anything to do with it.

  39. I think our culture doesn’t value children. Not Mormon culture, but American culture in general. We like to talk we do, but we don’t, not when it really comes down to it.

    And I think that’s part of why so many people don’t want to serve in Primary.

  40. Primary can also be isolating: when I’ve taught in Primary, my interaction in church is with other Primary teachers and the parents of the kids I teach. Which, for me, is fine–I get plenty of adult contact at work during the week.

    My wife? As a stay-at-home mom, not as much. So, in addition to best people, I think we need more men (and fewer women) in Primary. The most recent time I taught, I was one of two or three men in the Primary. And, of course, our wives had to teach with us (which is really stupid, but which I understand: it’s perceived as reducing the incidence of, or opportunity for, abuse, I assume. But just put in windows, darn it!).

    Of course, I don’t actually mean more men and fewer women; I actually mean more working-outside-the-house people and fewer stay-at-home parents.

    But I stand by my love of teaching Primary and of good Primary teachers. My daughter still, 5 months into her new Primary class, looks for the Sunbeam teacher every Sunday. She loves her current teachers, too, but the Sunbeam teacher just absolutely hooked her with kindness and love.

  41. JamesM says:

    On a serious note, we have been incredibly thankful for a bishop who reassigned a husband/wife serving as counselors in the YM/Primary, respecitvely, to be the nursery couple in our ward. It is entirely likely that the stability and structure they have brought for my kid will reap major dividends in the coming years.

    But SteveP is right about those bubbles. Imagine the possibilities for missionary door-approaches…

  42. I totally agree with GatoraideMomma. A lot of kids are getting turned off in Primary. Most of the program is not child centered. Sunbeams thru about 5-6 is not age appropriate in expectations. Too much sitting and being quiet.

    Other churches have a shorter program with less sitting and listening, and more art, snacks, active games, and enthusiastic music. Fun programs transfer into love of church which facilitates the spirit witnessing a testimony of the gospel. If church is that boring place you have to endure every week; it will kill the ability of the spirit to grow.

  43. Carrie says:

    I’m going to have to really agree with Bob (#35). Right now my kids are all inactive. Guess why? Because they’re all not old enough to drive, and I can’t stand church these days. Truly….create a church, a culture where the parents are thriving, and their happiness, excitement and committment will trickle down to their kids. But what we have now is not excitement so much as put-your-shoulder-to-the-wheel grin and bear it determination. We endure to the end, of every long, painful, drivel-filled sunday school class. And so the church will not grow from my children being there, and even when I have a friend that is actively seeking a new church, I can’t recommend ours. So, put my vote in for putting the best efforts into the teachers and programs for the adults. Including some program that would mean that the adults didn’t have to give up so much family time to run the youth programs.

  44. Karen M. says:

    “Young Women leaders in Utah often have breast implants”

    Where did you even get that information? I’m sure there may be some YW leader in Utah somewhere with breast implants, but you make it sound like it’s an epidemic.

    Anyway, I think the indoctrination only works when the teacher is sincere in their beliefs as well as being sincere in their love for the individuals in the class (even if the kids drive them crazy). And even then, it’s not a given that everyone will grow up and still accept the gospel. I would tend to think that Primary would be the best time to help kids have a good attitude about church, but that may just be my perspective as a mother of young children.

  45. ClaudiaHen says:

    #40, I double triple agree with you.

    I’ve been in Primary for the last five years straight. I have four kids, ages 2-7. I’m with kids all the time. I don’t want to go to church and be with more kids. I love my kids, but I’d really like some time to be an adult. I get the idea of putting people with a vested interest (read children in) the programs, but why does my husband “get” to be in YM and I’m automatically assigned to the Primary?

    And it’s so true that you have fast burn out in Primary. I loved the kids, but it took me a long time to get happy with the idea of being in Primary.

    Maybe this is a post for FMH, but in putting so many women in Primary, with how gender roles are in the church, aren’t we sort of automatically assigning it lesser value, or at least, strongly implying it to the children? Maybe that’s too charged of a question to be asking and my biases are showing. Excuse me while I tuck them in.

  46. Stephanie says:

    I just think that moms of four boys should never be called to Cub Scouts. It’s just cruel.

  47. Stephanie says:

    Re the OP, I definitely agree with the idea of focusing on the foundation when children are young.

  48. In a somewhat similar vein as this topic I remember at one point in my life thinking, “All my life I have been told I’m part of the future in this church, and now that my future is here, I’m kicked to the curb and someone else is being told the same line.” Although it wasn’t so bitter sounding in my head as that looks when written.

    Responding to this in #20
    “Well, actually, you don’t really know the church is true yet”? Or maybe that is what we should say. (to Primary kids)”

    I think this under estimates those kids, and under estimates the Gospel. And I don’t think it’s your intent, but it shows you might want to think about the Gospel a bit more.

    Should the Prophet come to you and down play your testimony because it’s not as great as his? Why would anyone do that to a kid. Not saying you actually would…. but saying that line of thinking is not really thinking through what a testimony is. Something personal that comes line upon line as we act in faith and acquire knowledge.

    That a child’s knowledge, based on their limited excercise of faith is not as great as yours does not make it any less true that they know God lives and loves them and that the church is true.

    On the flip side, I totally see that we don’t just want kids mindlessly repeating whatever you tell them from the pulpit, and it was said as much in general conference a year or two ago, I believe by Elder Bednar. Family home evening is the time to talk about testimonies and learn about what they are, how they grow, and how to bare them.

    But kids know quite a lot. It certainly depends on an understanding of know. But I feel some people get so worried about our inability to transfer our personal knowledge of the Gospel to someone else that we shy away from “knowing”.

    When I hear kids in family say they know the church is true, I know exactly what they mean. And as they grow through the years, their knowledge will expand as their faith does.

  49. I love the children in primary and I can see why some of the children might tire of it. These are a few of my observations:

    #1Choristers spend too much time trying to teach the children the songs to the Primary Sacrament Meeting program. Some of these songs are difficult and frankly not worth the time. I’ve been bored silly with some of these songs. I can’t imagine what some of the kids are feeling. There needs to be more variety in the music.

    #2 Some of the sharing time lessons are very light weight and condescending to older kids. Some times they are not very age appropriate. The ones teaching it really need to try to help the children feel the spirit. Teachers really need to have children actively participate by acting things out or trying to generate a discussion and get children to share their own experiences.

    #3 Teachers often don’t show up and fail to get a sub. The children are stuck with a teacher who hasn’t had time to prepare. You rarely see this lack of care and planning in Relief Society.

  50. It takes a special person to serve in the Primary. It takes a special person to serve in the YM/YW programs. Both Primary and youth leaders need to have patience. They need to have faith. And they need to be able to share their faith with those they teach.

    My wife and I teach the Valiant 10 class in our ward. These kids may be young, but they are definitely in the category of those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness”. They want to know, and they want to know now. There are many weeks when our lessons deviate because of a comment made by one of the children in our class. Primary teachers have to be flexible and willing to follow the tangents.

    This is true for the youth, as well. Those called to serve in the YM/YW programs must love the youth in the ward. I appreciate what Kevin Barney said – youth leaders have to be able to relate. A stick in the mud is not going to do anything to help young people trying to find their place in the world. It isn’t that the leaders are hip, cool, and attractive. It is that they are sincere and willing to listen to the youth.

    However, someone who does well teaching in Primary may not do well teaching in YM/YW, and vice versa. Everyone in the church is called to teach in one capacity or another, but it would be a grave mistake to assume that all teaching is equal. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which is more important. I see them as all important in helping children get started on the right path, and, hopefully, helping them stay on that path.

  51. if we had bubbles at the end of all our classes, retention rates would soar.

    Throw in some coloring sheets, and I’m with you, Steve.

    I just think that moms of four boys should never be called to Cub Scouts. It’s just cruel.

    Definitely with you there, Stephanie. A few months ago someone told me I was destined to serve in Cub Scouts because I had three boys. When I told her I only had two boys, she was somewhat befuddled and no longer certain of my destiny. (Of course, I think I’m going to end up there anyway when my autistic son is old enough to be a Cub Scout. Next year. Ack!)

    That a child’s knowledge, based on their limited excercise of faith is not as great as yours does not make it any less true that they know God lives and loves them and that the church is true.

    You are right, of course. I don’t actually have any delusion that my testimony is greater than theirs. Quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t have testimony-bearing children myself, but I have nothing against them. I understand why it disturbs some people, but I can’t imagine how one would discourage a child from bearing his testimony in sacrament meeting without implying that his testimony is less than an adult’s.

  52. rk (49) – I agree with you 100% about the music in Primary. When I was Primary chorister, it was very frustrating to have to spend so much time learning songs for the annual program. I’ll all for teaching kids new songs, but we have so many good songs to choose from and we seem to repeat a lot of the same ones each year for the program. And the last couple years it seems like they’ve been learning 2-3 new ones, which I think is too many for just 8-9 months’ worth of Sundays. It doesn’t leave enough time to sing just for the fun of singing or to include more variety. I think local leaders have more discretion vis a vis the program than they think they do.

  53. I think about my own Primary experience. I’m a convert to the church and did not start attending Primary until I was about 8.

    I loved the singing time. And I still remember some of the lessons and activities of Primary. It was highly effective at providing me a foundation for the rest of my gospel life.

    I think most bishops and their counselors and organization presidents try very hard to staff their organizations by inspiriation. From time to time they resort to desperation instead, but I think the intent is to match people’s talents, desires and confirm by the influence of the spirit. So someone who is great for Primary may not be great for Relief Society.

    Sometimes when sharing times or music time is awful it’s just because there hasn’t been enough training or guidance, or the adults in charge simply don’t have the vision or ideas to liven things up. We’ve been in some pretty amazing Primaries, and I’m in awe of Primary music leaders.

    I still remember (and sing) the Primary songs of my childhood 40 years later.

  54. J. Stapley…I totally agree with you on that one! I think thats part of the reason they have such a high ‘mortality’ rate, too. Sure, it may work for a few months, but then the person gets bored of it and never comes back. (I’ve been in primary enough to see this happen many times). What those people need is to be in the adult programs so they can make friends. I also get annoyed when they put the newlywed young couples in Primary. They don’t like kids (usually) and don’t take it seriously enough because they don’t understand what its like to have children and want them to have a good foundation. Its all treats and color time for them.

  55. Mai Li says:

    Just my two cents worth about children’s testimonies. Half of all testimonies borne in our meeting last week were children (my husband kept track) all saying the same rote I want to bear my testimony …. I am one who does not enjoy children’s testimonies because I don’t think they “know”. Later my daughter in law who lives in this same ward told me that the Primary president gives a treat to the children who bear their testimonies.

  56. I am one who does not enjoy children’s testimonies because I don’t think they “know”. Later my daughter in law who lives in this same ward told me that the Primary president gives a treat to the children who bear their testimonies.

    Let’s see here…

    1. Puppies are trained to do certain things with treats
    2. Primary President gives treats to kids to get them to testify
    3. Children = Puppies
    4. Mai Li dislikes children testifying
    5. Mai Li hates puppies

  57. Brilliant deconstruction, Watson.

  58. I’m sure I could come up with an opinion favoring putting stronger/more capable/more committed/whatever people in primary versus YW/YM, but what I’d love to see is some data. This should be an advantage of our top-down organized church. Surely if a member of the Quorum of the 12 got a real bee in his bonnet about this question, some stakes in one area could be asked to emphasize teaching youth and some comparable stakes in another area could be asked to emphasize teaching primary aged children. Then wait a decade and follow up to see which strategy produces more activity. And the beauty of the data collection is that the participants would be tracked automatically with their membership records.

    For all I know, I guess, the Church is already doing this.

  59. I just think that moms of four boys should never be called to Cub Scouts. It’s just cruel.


    Both of our ward’s Bear Den Leaders have had three boys and then a baby girl. Both have sons in the pack still. Our Webelos leaders have a boy/girl and 2 boys/girl. Our Wolf leaders have children who are either all gone or have one left at home.

    And they’re all really fantastic and love their callings. One of them is married to one of the cubmasters and another is married to the bishopric member over Cub Scouts.

    Our ward has always put a premium on primary, ever since we had a brother move in and *request* that he serve in nursery/primary. He was amazing; maybe 3/4 of the youth now in 2 different wards in our stake have had him as a teacher. But, it’s not like our adults are suffering. We have an embarrassment of great teachers in our ward. (Which can be a problem, if you’re a newbie to the ward.)

  60. Rebecca J (52) I’m glad I’m not alone. The redundancy of of some of the primary program songs helped send me over the edge as the accompanist. I became extremely bored of playing the same eight songs over and over again. The primary presidency and the choristers I’ve worked with literally take the primary outline as scripture and won’t budge on the music even when the kids have had enough.
    Because of this I kind of wish they would ditch the primary program altogether. It seems to take up so much time and I have my doubts about how much good it does the children.

    I have subbed as chorister a number of time and have picked my own music. I’ve found that the older kids really like the songs that teach the names and order of the books in the scriptures. They also tend to enjoy learning well known hymns. These kind of songs hold their attention so much more than the poorly written and difficult to sing songs they keep coming out with lately. When I was in primary, I seem to recall singing a wider variety of music.

    I’m not opposed to having children bare their testimony is SM as long as it is their own idea and their own words. Preferably, they would have already born testimony in Family Home Evening. Giving treats for something like that is ridiculous. I do think however that even a young child can feel the Spirit at develop a testimony.

  61. I was thinking about the cub scout thing. When I had three boys of cubbing age, if we participated in the school pack we had to volunteer to help. Seems reasonable the church pack would have the same model, since the cubbing program is about boys doing things with parents (more than Boy Scouts, in which the boys become more independent).

    As for testimonies by children. Seems to me there was a letter a number of years ago discouraging the bearing of testimonies by young children, suggesting it should happen at home, instead. The giving of treats by the Primary President for such a thing appears to be out of step with that counsel.

    The good news about children’s testimonies is that they are generally short and to the point. Would that more adults could follow that model…

  62. What does a parent do with a 10 yo who has told them they want to bear their testimony every sacrament meeting for a year? He never has before this year. Every testimony has been brief and slightly different but directly related to the big five (church being true, Book of Mormon true, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, President Monson)…

    In other news…in our last ward, outreach to the youth brough a family back. The dad was awidower and didn’t want to motivate his children to go to church. They became motivated to go to be where they were wanted and welcomed…so they all came.

    Primary is isolating. I’m pianist. I interact with very few people…I sometimes pop in my two bits when our chorister can’t hear what hte childeren are saying. (she’s older than your average bear)

    About the music. There are a few songs “required” for the program…teach the general primary the best three..then farm out a few to classes or small groups and call it good-so you can enjoy singing time more and spend time singing more of what you want. There is not a rule that every child must learn every song in the suggested list. I’ve also seen some wards make cd’s from so the children can listen at home-thus making music time easier. A little ingenuity can make it work.

    yw leaders with breast implants…been in many a Utah ward for more than 10 years…never a YW leader with implants. perhaps you are mistaking the three people you know with a trend…

  63. #62 britt — I say let your kid bear his testimony. When I was about that age, my mother (bless her heart) patiently sat as I bore my testimony month after month. I was not brief, either (but, sacrament meeting was longer in those days…).

    Mom rarely tried to squelch me, though in between we’d talk gently about what a testmony was and what a “good” bearing of a testimony was. I was glad that she was generous with me in that very formative time.

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