Practical Home Teaching


It finally happened. I had sort of given up hope that it would ever happen. But it just did, moments ago, in Elder Holland’s talk during the Priesthood session of GC.

Priesthood home teaching for a long, long time has in my view been broken. A home teaching visit is a very stereotyped, formulaic dance. There have to be two priesthood brethren, with an appointment made in advance, in the home, with all the family present, the TV turned off, reading a 1P message from the Ensign, half-heartedly asking if the family needs anything, leaving with a prayer. Often this happens at the end of the month. Anything less than this doesn’t count, so if some element of this formulaic play call isn’t going to work, we just give up altogether and punt.

It has been this way for decades. And it has seemed patently obvious to me that this is a big problem. But no one in a position of authority has been willing to stand up at that conference pulpit and say that there’s nothing magical about that particular dance, that you should do what you can, by whatever means is available, whatever will genuinely help the individual or family in question. Until just now, with Elder Holland’s address titled “Emissaries to the Church.” We have now been given the direction and counsel we need to get more pragmatic as to how we go about this important service in the Church.

Elder Holland sets the stage by telling a story:

Not long ago a single sister, whom I will call Molly, came home from work only to find two inches of water covering her entire basement floor. Immediately she realized that her neighbors, with whom she shared drainage lines, must have done an inordinate amount of laundry and bathing that day because she got all the backed-up water.

After calling a friend to come and help, the two began bailing and mopping. Just then the doorbell rang. Her friend cried out, “It’s your home teachers!” Molly laughed. “It is the last day of the month,” she replied, “but I can assure you it is NOT my home teachers.”

With bare feet, wet trousers, hair up in a bandana and a very fashionable pair of latex gloves, Molly made her way to the door. But her stark appearance did not compare with the stark sight standing before her eyes. “It WAS my home teachers!” she later told me. “You could have knocked me over with a plumber’s friend! This was a home teaching miracle;” she said, “the kind the Brethren share in general conference talks! But then, just as I was trying to decide whether to give them a kiss or hand them a mop, they said, ‘Oh Molly, we are sorry. We can see you are busy. We don’t want to intrude, so we’ll come another time.’ And they were gone.”

“Who was it?” her friend called out from down below. “I wanted to say ‘It certainly wasn’t the Three Nephites,’” Molly admitted, “but I restrained myself and said very calmly, ‘It was my home teachers but they felt this was not an opportune time to leave their message.’”

Elder Holland then goes on to say that “Entire forests have been sacrificed providing the paper to organize and then reorganize [home teaching]. A thousand pep talks have been given trying to encourage it. Certainly no Freudian travel agency anywhere could possibly arrange the number of guilt trips the subject has provoked. Yet still we struggle to achieve anywhere near an acceptable standard of performance regarding the Lord’s commandment to “watch over the Church always” thorough priesthood home teaching.”

What are some of the problems we have in trying to do home teaching? Elder Holland identifies several issues:

  • Demographic changes. (The old days of what we used to call “block” teaching are gone.)
  • Often a limited number of priesthood holders available to do this service, which can result in unreasonable assignments (as high as 18 to 20 families in some areas).
  • Long distances.
  • Transportation issues.
  • The length of the work day/week.
  • Cultural taboos.
  • Safety issues in certain areas.

A monthly visit in the home remains the ideal. But there needs to be a greater appreciation that often the ideal is not practicable for any number of reasons. If a monthly visit is not possible, come up with a schedule to make such visits that is achievable. Prioritize the families you visit to those who need you the most—”investigators the missionaries are teaching, newly baptized converts, those who are ill, the lonely, the less active, single-parent families with children still at home, and so forth.”[1]

Elder Holland encourages the use of other forms of contact. Watch for your families at Church; use modern technology (phone calls, texts, emails, social media).

As Elder Holland continues:

Brethren, the appeal I am making tonight is for you to lift your vision of home teaching and in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children. That means leaving behind the tradition of a frantic, Law of Moses-like, end-of-the-month calendar in which you rush to leave a scripted message from the Church magazines that the family has already read. We would hope, rather, that you will establish an era of genuine, gospel-oriented concern for the members, watching over and caring for each other in compassionate ways, addressing spiritual and temporal needs as best you can by any means possible. As for what “counts” as home teaching, every good thing you do “counts,” so report it all! Indeed, the report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location. What matters most is that you love your people and are fulfilling the commandment to “watch over the Church always.”

I want to stress here the words “by any means possible.”

Realistically, until an Apostle was willing to stand up in General Conference and give us some leeway as to what “counts” for home teaching purposes, nothing was ever going to change. And for a long time, no one had the chutzpah to stand up and do it. That has now changed. I understand this direction as empowering priesthood holders to use common sense, to do what the family actually needs without worrying about checking a box, to get creative, to worry more about the health and welfare of a family than going through some meaningless motions.

In my view, it’s about time. I applaud Elder Holland for his practical direction and counsel, and hope that we will follow his call to a greater and more meaningful watch-care over our people.

[1] My wife and I don’t have a significant need for home teachers and would actually prefer something less than an in-home visit, and yet we have often been assigned some of the most diligent home teachers in the ward. This has always struck me as an unnecessary misallocation of a precious resource.


  1. I listened to the talk live but missed the significance of what was happening. Yes, it took some guts to stand up and say what Elder Holland said. Thanks for driving it home, Kevin.

  2. I enjoyed Elder Holland’s talk, as I have come to expect. I find it disappointing that Priesthood leaders require a talk from an Apostle to use common sense to adapt a church program to their area. Or if that is way to unorthodox, to follow the policies that have been in the Handbook for years. But thanks to Elder Holland for making common sense the official doctrine.

  3. Norm Wright says:

    I remember as a young Elder’s Quorum President trying to practice Home Teaching triage in a ward where every active elder would have double digit families to visit with most families living at least a half hour away. When I explained my prayerful approach (visit most active members, strengthen new members with very diligent home teachers, support those who were borderline, prayerfully select a handful of less active members, not assign those who could not be found or who had no interest so as to cut down assignments to a more reasonable five families per home teaching companionship) I was asked by the Stake President how we could ever do less than 100% in the Lord’s work. That was twenty-five years ago. With the backing of Elder Holland, I think I would push back a bit today.

  4. A good and positive reminder. The story was great. The list of “challenges” while definitely real seems to be a little too facile though. I would suggest that the very sterile, programmed nature of home teaching itself is one of the biggest barriers. However, I also think we may be being a bit harsh. I know of few places in Mormondon I have been where the home teachers would have left a family standing in a couple feet of water.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Norm, that’s a great illustration. The “100%” mentality is an enemy to reasonable, effective efforts such as you mapped out.

  6. Caleb Wilkes says:

    Uhh Kevin – I am not sure Elder Holland set forth any new doctrine here. He talked about caring about people, said the ideal is a home visit to every home, and said every effort or attempt to reach out counts as caring about people.

    I think most priesthood leaders who have the spirit of the Lord’s work have been following Elder Holland’s guidelines for years in implementing home teaching.

    Nevertheless, it was an awesome talk.

  7. The problem I see is that all of those common sense approaches to home teaching are footnoted with assumptions. Local leaders have to make the call, but they are often the ones looking for strength and growth, and therefore less likely to authorize a common sense HTing program. That has been my experience, anyway.

  8. I was once chastised by my HT for not making it convenient for him to visit one extremely busy month. He told me he always felt it the duty of those being home taught to make it easy for the HT to visit. I reminded him that in the several years he had been our HT, only once or twice had we not made it “convenient” for him. I really wished he had found out why I was busy and stressed instead of adding to it.

  9. CJG, I’ve had a HTer with that attitude. Really vexing.

    To the OP. Did he mention dress? That’s long been one of my irritations. Who’d feel happy (or feel happy asking folk) in their best clothing and shoes to help clear a flooded basement? Unless they can easily go and change and return, which is only the case for very small distances. I find the ‘dress code’ only increases the formality and artificiality of the format anyway, but w/o any say so from the top some people absolutely insist on it!

    As it happens the wards I’ve been in here in Britain there’ve always been ways of reducing numbers on HT lists, of sheer necessity. Not always the same criteria, but there has always been criteria. My family don’t have assigned HTers at the moment.

  10. What are these “home teachers” of which he speaks?

  11. It’s been in te handbook fur years.

  12. Alpineglow says:

    For the first time in my adult life, I have useful home teachers. I actually feel like I can ask them for help when I need it. They ask me about my life, then send follow up text messages (“how did your event go?”). I’m single, and their families have sort of adopted me into their clan too. The Ensign message is only a small part of their ministry to me. It’s disconcerting, but in a really wonderful way. I don’t NEED this kind of care, but it is really nice. I hope people follow Elder Holland’s advice and more folks can have an experience like mine.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Some years ago senior Church leaders in Japan reached out to their file leader in the Q12 (not Elder Holland). Traditional home teaching was extremely difficult there for some of the reasons Elder Holland itemizes, and they asked to be able to make phone calls and have that count. The Apostle said basically why do you care so much whether it counts? Go ahead and make the phone calls. And I thought that attitude was part of the problem. Leaders care about what “counts” as HTing, because the institution cares and measures and judges leaders based on percentages, or at least that has long been the perception. Telling people they should do all these other things but maintaining that only the ideal will “count” is a recipe for insuring other kinds of contacts and service simply aren’t going to happen.

    Yes, technically there has been latitude for local leaders to approach HTing in this way for some time, but that’s not how this Church works. There had to be someone with the institutional authority of an Apostle to signal that WE REALLY MEAN IT. And before Elder Holland’s talk, that element was missing, and local leaders were never going to take the initiative on their own to implement this kind of practical program. If the Church wants it done this way they have to signal that it’s truly acceptable from the top, and that has now happened. Which to me is a big deal; I seriously had begun to think it would never happen.

  14. I have had some tremendously good HTs over the years. I know during times of need, when I was a single parent struggling, they have made a huge difference in my life and in my kids’ lives. Now that things are stable and more normal for us, I would be happy to pass those excellent, diligent and faithful HT’s on to another family who needs that kind of care. While I enjoy it, we certainly don’t stand in the kind of need we once did. A phone call or a drop-by would be fine for us now, and adjusting things, given the limited resources of almost all wards, is the sensible and Christlike thing to do.

  15. could it benefit others?
    youth being influenced toward and prepared for a mission?
    home teachers need love too.
    strengthening bonds of friendship within the ward (I have no need of thee)
    fire drills are seldom exciting

  16. Kevin Barney –
    Regarding your story about what “counts,” I agree 100% that what “counts” matters, because like it or not, we report numbers and we, being imperfect mortals as we are, are dis-incentivized to visit or share messages with families if it does not count. Over 60% of the individuals and families my quorum is assigned to home teach either want no contact with the church or avoid church contact (do not answer doors and phones and of course do not come to church). I feel strongly that they can benefit from gospel messages, but if providing those messages by email and/or snail mail does not “count,” the truth is they are less likely to get that gospel message.

    There are challenges associated with “counting” less than a sit-down visit, but those challenges can be readily addressed with home teaching priesthood interviews with the EQ presidency.

  17. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    So, changing what counts is the first step, Kevin. Will probably take an act of God (revelation) to stop keeping track of these numbers. Report back to the EQ Pres., absolutely, especially in cases of perceived need. Report these visits/contacts/good deeds as a rate or percentage? Let’s stop with that.

  18. The pilot program that was implemented in south American missions in recent years is an example of how what is measured affects what gets done. The missions put an equal emphasis on reactivation and conversion, but until they started asking missionaries to report reactivations (I think they defined it as having returned to church attendance and gotten some calling or assignment), the missionaries didn’t themselves place as much emphasis on reactivation. Once they started measuring it, it improved.

  19. Joe shmoe says:

    I’ve been HT this way for years, and my EQ has talked about it for quite a while as well.

  20. As the HP group leader in a ward (not in Utah) in the late 80’s, I was so bold (and opposed to all this “counting”) that I did not ask the quorum members if they had “done” their HT. I tried to hold home teaching interviews (then and now misnamed “personal priesthood interviews”)–mainly during class time–to determine whether or not they were doing anything regarding their assigned families. I got so much flack from some of the guys about missing some class time that I gave up. I used the phone for most of the HTIs.

    At that time, the Quarterly Report couldn’t be submitted to the Stake without a number in the appropriate field. So, I would just give an educated guess. And all this was approved by my stake president (and he is now a 70–so not all of the GAs are “church-broke.”)

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