Poll: Home and Visiting Teaching edition

It’s that time of year again, vowing to lose ten pounds, read your scriptures daily, hold FHE, and become the ward’s world’s best home or visiting teacher! (poll below the fold)

How does your ward count contacts or visits? How do you count them? Do you care?


  1. I’ve never really understood how home and visiting teaching are counted, probably because it is different in every ward I’ve been in, and every RS President or EQ President does it differently. Some say a phone call counts, some say a if you call but never actually talk to someone that counts. I’m not sure what the point of that is. If that counts why count at all? To make sure we’re trying? I assume we all try ( at least a little bit). But that doesn’t result in watchcare.

  2. Chris Gordon says:

    Yes. :)

  3. Those who believe it only counts if an approved lesson is taught have clearly never taught someone who won’t let you past the door. My own standard is different for each individual. I was responsible for home teaching several dozen families in my last ward. They were spread out over a fairly large geographical area. There was no way I was visiting each family each month, so I made it a goal to visit each family once, and visit each family that actually wanted me there every month. A face-to-face meeting with an unstable man who hadn’t been to church in over 50 years and told me to leave him alone? I count it, and don’t go back. A discussion at a doorstep that never includes a lesson, but isn’t antagonistic? I count it. They’re moving out early in the month and I help them move? I count it. I see them at church and talk to them for five minutes? Probably doesn’t count. If they’re willing to have me over and they’re willing to have me teach a lesson, then that needs to be done.

    It all depends on the person being taught. If I’ve gotten the maximum face time possible in that situation, up to a sit-down lesson, then I count it.

  4. Researcher says:

    Back when I was a visiting teaching supervisor, we would record whether a visit was a “V” (actual visit), “T” (telephone call), or “L” (letter). All three “counted” for statistical purposes. I don’t know if the system is still the same.

  5. I’ve never lived where an “official” lesson needed to be taught (except, perhaps, when we were new members when I was a kid and our home teacher taught from some kind of pre-approved lesson binder back in the late 1960’s). RS always had a little more leeway to count letters and phone calls as “visits”, while EQs & HPGs had to make a physical visit of some kind. (That said, no one ever asks about the “quality” of my visit, so I suppose I could count much more liberally than I do.)

  6. Mark Brown says:

    Here is a way to magically add 15% to your monthly stats.

    The goal of HT/VT is to help people progress in the gospel, to the extent they will allow us to help. So take a look at those 20-30 names on the ‘no contact’ list. Are you helping them as much as they will allow? Answer: Yes. BOOM, count them as visited.

  7. When I was bishop a few years ago, I encouraged ANYONE who made some kind of face-to-face contact with the difficult-to-contact folks to count it as a HT visit. We usually covered those in PEC. I reported anyone I visited as bishop as home-taught to my HPGL whether I was assigned as the HT or not.

  8. Why are the options so different for HT and VT? I’d count some of the things under VT (droping off cookies) and I am sure my wife would count a face to face visit as VT….

  9. Matt W.,
    There’s nor rhyme or reason to it really. Sorry they aren’t the same. But obviously, we should all bake more and drop off cookies monthly like Christmas goodies, looks like it always counts as a visit!

  10. Dropping off cookies totally counts if that is what is doable. They know who you are and that you care. I love it when my VT’s drop off cookies.

  11. The approved lesson doesn’t have to be “taught”, the poll only says “shared”. It can be mailed or otherwise delivered to the members. IMHO the purpose for the visits is to care enough about our sisters/brothers to try to help them, and try more than just once. If they don’t want church contact, does that mean we leave them out in the cold? We can still be their friends…offer to help in some other way than spiritually, remember their birthdays, etc.

  12. Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less what “counts” or does not “count.”
    I personally leave it up to the district leader to decide on how to judge that, and prefer to just tell them what I could do, how my families were, and any needs as succinctly as possible.

  13. Visiting teachers watch your kids?

  14. Anon for this one says:

    I have been fudging the HT records in my ward for ages:

    I have access to MLS in my ward by virtue of a calling. My HT rarely come over, but since I don’t really like them to come over in the first place and kind of quasi-ignore their infrequent attempts at setting appointments, I don’t want the “stats” to suffer as a result of my bad attitude, I always enter them as having visited me.


  15. Can someone clarify this for me? When we turn in our reports – do the statisticians want to know who was visited/contacted, or who was a good girl or boy and DID the visiting? I always send in my reports as to who was or wasn’t visited, thinking that it’s about the person on the receiving end. Is this right? Should I just be saying, so-and-so did their teaching?

  16. What gets reported to the stake (and Salt Lake) are the following

    Home teaching: “Record the number of families who were visited by home teachers during the last month of the quarter”

    Visiting teaching: “Record the number of women with a membership record in your unit who were contacted by visiting teachers during the last month of the quarter.”

    My understanding from reading the handbooks is that for home teaching, a visit should be the home teachers visiting the home. For visiting teaching, it may be a visit, a call, or a letter (I don’t think saying hello in the halls on Sunday counts).

    The most frequent complaint I’ve heard from ward leaders about those definitions is that reporting those measures results in low percentages because some people may be out of town, some people may refuse to be visited, etc, etc, etc. I usually yawn at the complaints and tell them that I don’t care. The number that gets reported to the church is of very little consequence. The information that is more important is

    A) who is being visited (or, conversely, who isn’t being visited)?
    B) if they aren’t being visited, why are they not being visited?
    C) do they really need to be visited, and if so, how frequently?

    None of those items are reported to the church, but all of them can be logged, understood, and acted upon locally. If a stake leader were to ask me why my home teaching percentage was only 25%, I’d proceed to tell him which families we can’t locate, which have refused contact, which have been visited in non-reporting months, etc. If I can report the status and needs of every family in the ward, it’s a lot more valuable than the percentage we report at the end of the quarter.

  17. meems (#15) – All of that and I didn’t actually answer your question.

    When you make your monthly report to a district leader, you should report

    a) if you visited a family,
    b) if not, did you have any other contact with them
    c) did you address any spiritual or temporal needs that you feel the ward leadership should be aware of

    Don’t worry about what the statisticians are look at. The numbers in aggregate can tell a story, but that story is pretty irrelevant at the ward level. Home teachers and elders quorum presidencies should deal in terms of names and conditions and leave it to the ward clerk to convert those reports into the numbers.

  18. I believe it does not matter much how we categorize it, bottom line- it is the contact, however done, that matters most. Having been inactive myself for a little while, you can not even imagine the thoughts that go through me with a letter in the mail, cookies dropped off, My favorite Missionary visits or a face to face. These days we have Texting, Facebook, Twitter, all good tools to let folks know you care and are thinking of them, and gives them someone to call for a need! It makes the lonely feeling not so lonely. And it is especially nice when there is no judgement involved with the visit, just an honest feeling of wanting to know me, see if I’m ok and if they can do anything for me and my family.
    Persistence is the key, and it was through this that brought my family and I back to activity. For those that get discouraged when the door does not get answered or the phone goes dead, don’t be- Letters, TXT, Email etc… are all good and you would be surprised how those letters etc… are kept and read, re-read. The little church cards with Articles of Faith, etc… all add a nice touch.
    I believe that from a personal side it counts when we are able to get into the home, share a message, say a prayer, see how they are doing, help if needed and set up a time for the next month- that is 4.0 for me, anything less is not 4.0 but still a visit. When in my heart I care enough to try any method possible to make a contact that I have done what I could do. That is all anyone can ask.

  19. Sharee Hughes says:

    I am a VT District Leader in my ward. I encourage the VTs under me to actually visit their sisters when possibe, but, if they can’t, a phone call, a note, or goodies dropped off will do. One of the teams under me has an inactive sister who does not want visiting teachers. However, one of her visiting teachers is her neighor and will visit with her in an “unofficial” way, and we count that. My VTs and HTs have helped me with yard work instead of giving a message, and that counts. Today, one of my HTs is coming over to move some heavy boxes for me, and I will tell him to call that a visit.. At least I know they care and that is what is most important.

  20. Actually, Benjamin, that helps me a little. Basically, I’m in the RS Presidency, and every month I have to report to our clerk who has to give the info to the Stake. Sometimes I report to him the names of the sisters who did the visiting and sometimes I report the names of all the sisters who did and didn’t get visited. I was wondering which one was the official preference of the church!

  21. At the risk of sounding like the know-it-all, meems, I’d recommend reading Section 9.5.4 in your Handbook 2. There’s more than what I’m copying below.

    “The Relief Society president gives the bishop a monthly visiting teaching report. Each report includes a list of those who were not contacted. If a sister and her family have urgent needs, the Relief Society president reports this information to the bishop immediately.”

  22. “I’d proceed to tell him which families we can’t locate…”

    If you really can’t locate them, have the names sent back to church HQ. They probably aren’t even in your ward boundaries any more. Efforts in my last ward to track down less-active members resulted in a high number of “no longer lives at this address,” which caused the number of people on our ward list to go down and which in turn caused us to actually surpass our ambitious “percentage of members in church on Sunday” goal. Hometeaching percentages also went up. Wins all around.

  23. Thanks, Benjamin! My RS pres delegated this to me, and I guess I’ve never been given a handbook. Thanks for the info.

  24. Where there sisters counting non-member friends as “visited”? The ridged wording makes me laugh.

  25. Tim #22: We’ve done that in our ward, but many times HQ bounces the record back to us, asking us for additional information since this was the last known address/location. I’ve played that game, and keep sending them back to HQ with whatever information we have/had, which is usually very little (“Moved 6 years ago, current residents do not have forwarding address information/do not know this person/threatened us with shotgun/etc.”).

  26. The whole reporting / tracking part of the HT / VT program is flawed. It all boils down to reporting good stats, regardless of the quality of the contact.

    The entire program should be scrapped and replaced with an emphasis to “Watch over, be with, and strengthen” the people in your ward.

    In the 17 years that I’ve been married and in family wards, I can think of only 3 home teachers that have every truly cared about me and my family. The rest have all been going through the motions so they can report good stats or they don’t show up at all. And I can’t think of a single presiding authority during that time that focused on anything other than the stats.


  27. Sometimes SLC calls us to learn the current whereabouts of my BIL, who is lost to the church and doesn’t wish to be found. At first I worried that he wouldn’t appreciate me ratting him out, but then I realized, who are we kidding, no one’s going to contact him.

  28. A couple months ago someone asked me who my HT’s were, and I realized I had no idea. We hadn’t had a home visit in months, and I couldn’t remember who’d done it the last time we did have one. It turned out that our home teachers are two of my husband’s best friends. So that was a relief. We aren’t being ignored, and it’s been ages since we’ve had to suffer through one of those horrible Ensign lessons.

  29. Meldrum the Less says:

    What planet are y’all orbiting? You missed the most common category.

    I don’t home teach.

    Perhaps things have improved or are different in your ward. (I heard that the church is the same everywhere, although I don’t believe it.) A decade ago and again over two decades ago when I was an EQP we never had more than a dozen men in the ward who were serious enough about home teaching to actually do it. A squirrel –like predecessor of mine gave me copies of hard data that extended back beyond 20 years of his service as a counselor in several presidencies that demonstrated a consistent pattern. Since that time with over 15 EQP since me the pattern continues, now extending across 4 decades. About 20-30 actual home visits are made by a small number of home teachers each month. With ward membership lists of 500 to 1000, this results in less than 10%, although various creative arithmetics are frequently employed to inflate it. In densely populated wards in the West, the reported numbers are higher but so is the lying. I guess the definition of a visit is what is being discussed here, although in 1830 when the word first appeared in DC 20, it seemed pretty clear.

    A well motivated Presidency of 4 men could accomplish 20-30 home visits each month by themselves working only during the three hour block, if they didn’t waste time and energy trying to organize and get everyone else to do it. If they took their wives as companions they could double their numbers and ten times their effectiveness. A few men who served in leadership positions recently have admitted quietly to me that they now agree, the home teaching system is horribly broken. But a path forward is not obvious. I wonder what the church wide home teaching percent happens to be. Out of 14 million members, how many are visited each month? I find it rather curious that it is not to be found anywhere.

    Personal disclaimer: Many years ago, my home teacher in that wonderful Utah ward was about to be sustained as a counselor in the EQP. He had not visited me more than twice in 3 years even though it was frequently reported over the pulpit: 100% home teaching. I was about to cast a dissenting vote to not sustain him and to publically rebuke him for hypocrisy in this matter.

    In that moment, between the yea and nay vote, I felt the Lord pouring a 5 gallon bucket of compassion on my head for that man, like it was icy cold water. I heard a voice in my mind that clearly stated: “Repent of Home Teaching!” It took me years to figure out what that meant and to gather the courage to act, because I feared the man called the EQP along with the social ramifications in the ward, more than the Lord. And it took another two years of testing the word of the Lord in two more wards by doing exactly the opposite of what I was instructed and asking for it to be made abundantly clear what I was to do. It was.

    I am pleased to report that I have repented of home teaching since 1997. It has not been easy. Every newly called church leader thinks he can out-wrestle the Lord and set me straight. I have zero social capital or status in the ward, probably for many other reasons not just this. I have been pushed to the back row, distained and disrespected or generally ignored. I only hope that by tangling with me each leader has been made a bit more compassionate with others in their individual struggles. My current home teacher has never visited us for over 2 years and reports that he does and he is a counselor in the presidency. That is fine with me. I don’t expect anyone to understand me if they have not traveled the spiritual journey I have taken. It is not for laziness, compromised integrity or lack of commitment that I don’t home teach, precisely the opposite.

  30. Ref #26: We have had more than one visiting general authority to stake leadership who said that HT statistics are something God does not care about. He only cares about the souls of those being home taught. But, said visitors, the statistics are for us, because we cannot always keep all the people in our hearts at the same time.

    Nope, HTers aren’t perfect (not nearly as perfect as the visiting teachers, anyway). And there appears to be plenty of variation in what counts as a visit and whether or not some one is visited.

    My sense is that most bishops know the ten or twenty families they need to keep an eye on. They’re counting on home teachers (or others) to alert them to needs in the other families when required.

    One of the best home teachers I knew was years ago when I was an EQP. We assigned each HT 10 families (because although we didn’t expect everyone to be visited every month, we wanted everyone to be assigned). We told HTers that we didn’t expect them to see everyone every month, and if they wanted, we would help them decide which were most urgent to visit regularly (we focused on single moms as most important to see and members of the ward leadership as least, with others in between). This one home teacher saw nearly all his ten families nearly every month. His view was if he could see a family 10 times a year, he was doing pretty well. Heckuva nice guy, too — the one you wish would be your home teacher.

  31. Paul, God may not care but my current Bishop and Stake President sure do.

  32. Tim (22)

    When I was clerk, I sent several names off to the address unknown file. But only after I did a cursory search on whitepages.com. It turns out, most of the people who moved were renters and would move within the ward boundaries (I presume to remain in the same school district). After that initial search, anytime an address was reported to me to be incorrect, I usually only had to wait about 2 – 4 months before their new address appeared in the White Pages. If I couldn’t find them after a few months, I shipped them off to Salt Lake. (Fortunately, I only had a couple returned as in #25).

    The variability of the definition of a visit is precisely why home/visit teaching statistics are worthless. If we could assume that everyone was reporting on the same definition, we might be able to use the numbers to some use (primarily, identifying areas that are doing well so that we can study how they make the program successful).

    In the end, everyone would be far better served if they focused on the monthly reports to the bishop (in the handbooks, these reports are explicitly described as lists of names, needs, and services rendered) instead of the quarterly report (numbers to be aggregated at the stake level).

  33. KLC, that’s my point — we administrators do care. The statistics are for US. And hopefully they help us to understand what kind of ministring we’re doing among the Lord’s flock.

  34. When someone gives me a vt report of ‘I bumped into her in the hall’ I have come to believe that means their purse or some other object hit the sister. That way they can say they made ‘contact’ with her, and spoke to her, usually something like ‘Excuse me’.

    My husband believes saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to his families at the ward party is sufficiently leaving a message of Christ with them. Also, he likes to surprise attack the lost sheep on his list by using our children as pawns in his scheme and takes them trick or treating to his ht families. It’s the one night a year he can usually get them to open the door and then casually walks up for a front door chat. We’re not opposed to using pagan holidays to further the Christian cause!

  35. On a more serious note, I know of a sister who refused to be a VT because she said she didn’t believe in the program. She shared that she used to VT another sister for a number of years and one time when she just dropped by this sister’s home, cops were there. The neighbors were gathered around and told her that it was domestic violence and the cops were at that home 2-3 times a month and they wouldn’t be surprised if she was killed someday. This sister was in complete shock and felt like the VT program was a joke. I think I said something like ‘Maybe your visits were the bright spot in her life that kept her going’, but I remembered they sounded hollow even to me. That was an eye-opening conversation for me and one I have never forgotten it. Since then, I try not to ask the sisters I vt a question they can answer with ‘fine’. I’ve been accused of asking questions that are too personal but I guess I’d rather err on that side than the other.

  36. No Paul, the statistics aren’t for US, they’re for leaders who want to look good in the eyes of their superiors. I’ve never met anyone outside of a leadership position who gave a damn about them.

  37. KLC, by “US”, I mean the humans among us. I’ve never lived anywhere where there was the “look good in the eyes of their superiors” motivation; I guess that’s a benefit of living far from the Wasatch Front. I’m sorry your experience is different.

  38. “Repent of Home Teaching!”

    I’m putting that on a T-shirt.

  39. Paul, I’ve never lived anywhere where it didn’t exist and I currently live about 1000 miles from the Wasatch Front. Using meaningless statistics as metrics of performance is hard to avoid in any large organization, including the church. HT numbers are probably the second most abused statistics in the church, baptisms being number 1.

  40. meems–the whole handbook’s online now, and only presidents of organizations get hard copies anymore. There’s a whole section on lds.com in handbook 2 on visiting teaching. It’s short and open for lots of local adaptation, though, which is a good thing. The whole point of the program is to support each other–be brothers & sisters, show charity, etc. The stats are a less-than-perfect but better-than-nothing way of tracking it. Leaders certainly get a little too carried away looking at them sometimes. But it can be a helpful number when kept in context. As a former RS president, the info I cared most about was the face to face info I got from sitting down with visiting teachers. Instead of asking “did you do your visiting teaching” it was more helpful to ask “how is sister so & so? does she need anything? what can we do to better support & love her? etc.”

  41. Michael G says:

    re #4 – Just wanted to mention that MLS still allows VT to be recorded as Telephone, Mail, or Visit. HT is Visit only.

  42. Thanks, Sara!

  43. Our geography includes the entire north side of Chicago, and most of Evanston…and we really only have about a dozen men we can really count on to HT regularly (most without cars). In situations like that, I think you have to adapt the program a little. We aren’t always able to meet members in their homes…sometimes we have to meet at ward or institute buildings, or burger joints, or what have you. I’ll count a good phone call or a non-home visit as a visit, and I think the others in my quorum do as well.

    I actually think HT is a very valuable program…I think it helps show to the Lord that a congregation is serious about wanting missionary experiences, since they are willing to take care of the members they already have. The exact % isn’t super important to me, or even how they do it. Teaching a lesson is great, but effective HT and VT is about building relationships. However it makes sense to do that is prob the right way.

  44. Matt, you raise a good point. When we lived in Hiroshima, most home teaching and visiting teaching was done at church. It was not common for Japanese folks to have visitors in their homes. Local adaptations like the ones you describe make perfect sense.

  45. StillConfused says:

    I am both a visiting teacher and a home teacher. (Home teach with the husband). We NEVER do the message thing. I find them annoying and simplistic. Instead, we teach practical things. My husband home taught our folks about emergency preparedness and gave them each an emergency whistle. I have done and Advanced Directive (living will) with them. Useful stuff. And NO COOKIES AT THE DOOR. I do not want to contribute to the obesity epidemic. If you get anything edible from me, it will be something fresh and healthy, like my famous fresh corn salsa. (But don’t hold your breath because I don’t do that that often.)

  46. I, personally, would prefer to never have a lesson given to me. I would prefer a home teacher to not visit. If he needs to look good, he can ask me how I’m doing at church (as long as he really wants to know). If he’s around when I need him, that’s good enough for me.

    My visiting teacher is great. She often asks how she can help. She’s been a real friend to me, but not once has she come on an official visit. I hope she’s counting me as “visited”.

    I’m not visiting teaching right now, but when I did, I would give the lesson because my companions expected it. A few times, we didn’t. I just see no reason for vt or ht to read a lesson to me. Why do they need to teach something to me that I can read for myself? Besides that, I get a tremendous amount of knowledge from the scriptures – more than I feel I get from the home/RS visiting teachers.

    If the official reason for their existence is to help us, then ditch the reading of the lesson. Ditch all visits that are done only to report that they have been done. I’m tired of phony home teachers. I’d prefer none over the phony act I have experienced for the last several years. VT seem to be less phony, but the lessons are still boring when they read them (probably because they are also bored by the lessons).

  47. Sorry I’ve been absent from the discussion. For the record, I’m a fan of HT and VT. I think numbers can be valuable if it’s consistent the way they are kept, and we have a clear reason for what we are trying to learn through the numbers. Counting contacts to make sure people are doing their duty seems wholly paternalistic to me. Counting to see how many individuals and families were reached out to be a good reason.

    #12 Josh,
    Ideally yes, but that isn’t what always happens.

    I would if I was yours.

    Benjamin ,
    Thanks for the clarification. I personally feel it makes the most sense to count what families/individuals were contacted. However, I have in the past had a RS President yell at me (yes yell) for not visiting people. And #32, I agree!

    Meldrum the Less,
    The poll was tracking what people are doing, not what they aren’t doing. Who takes the polls seriously anyway?

    “I’ve been accused of asking questions that are too personal but I guess I’d rather err on that side than the other.”
    Do you worry they won’t up to you because you ask too much? I’d err the other way. But that’s just me.

    #40 Sara,
    It has been my experience too that VT interviews can do a lot of good.

  48. Speaking as a membership clerk here …

    One of the side benefits of HT/VT is that if you *cannot* find a family, you let me know, so that I can send the family’s records to Church Headquarters, so that the dedicated senior missionaries with their background check tools can find where they really live.

    1000 people in a ward? Seems unfathomable. There may be members living in our ward we don’t know about/haven’t discovered, but there are no members on the rolls we don’t know about.

  49. On a personal note, we’ve told HT/VTs that they are never to visit on a Sunday. If you’re going to visit us, do it during the week so that we have that spiritual influence during the week. Maybe this is why they never visit.

  50. I have a question. I was just told that on the reports a VT visit counts more than a VT phone call than a VT letter. I’ve never seen the report. Is that true?

  51. For pure statistical purposes, no. The handbook makes no distinction. That said, as a former RS president, often face to face can make more of a difference. And local leaders have the option of emphasizing that as they see necessary. Hope that helps!

  52. Mommie Dearest says:

    VT contacts are entered into the ward database (MLS) as a Visit, Phone call, or Letter, and it only shows that way for the past three months. Prior to 3 months the contacts only show as a numerical statistic, as a percentage from the past 12 months if a sister has been contacted each month. I believe all contacts count the same for this numerical stat.

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