One of our board members recently attended a local council meeting focused on improving the quality of ward gatherings. The brother offering the closing prayer said, “It is easy to fill the time; it is hard to change lives.” This remarkably true statement applies to every class, meeting or activity held at Church.
Activities are an important part of our youth programs, whether it is a regular Mutual activity night or a special event such as youth conferences, camp, trek or other gatherings. It is a good practice to step back and remember the guiding principles behind such activities to make sure we are not just “filling time” when youth gather.
Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 13.1, reminds us that in addition to providing fun and entertainment, activities should “build testimonies, strengthen families and foster unity and personal growth” and should “fulfill gospel-centered purposes.” For our youth, activities should be based on the needs and interests of the youth and should reach out to all youth including those who have recently joined the Church and those who are less-active. Activities are also great missionary opportunities for including non-member friends.
Whenever possible, youth leaders — class and quorum presidency members — should have the responsibility for planning and carrying out activities. Adult leaders can serve as mentors to provide support and suggestions but should allow youth to lead, and avoid taking over.
There are hundreds of ideas for activities found on the Youth Activity Website at LDS.org/youth/activities. There are 13 different categories with numerous activity suggestions within each area. The ideas are all Church-correlated and approved, and each can be adapted to fit the needs of youth groups throughout the world. You may even find additional ideas in the comments from others who have tried and modified the activities to meet their needs.
With the unlimited number of ideas now available online on sites such as Pinterest and Facebook, it may be a temptation to cut and paste the beautiful, color-coordinated, themed extravaganzas that reflect more of the latest trends rather than what the youth actually need to have happen for their personal growth. Don’t deprive youth leaders of the experience of seeking inspiration as to the needs of their class members, planning with a gospel purpose in mind, making assignments, carrying out their plans and following up. As we go back to the guiding purposes for holding activities — to strengthen testimonies, foster unity and provide personal growth — let’s remember that we are not holding activities so we have something “picture perfect” to post; our goal is to touch and change lives.
The scriptures promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). It is the Spirit that will change lives and fortify our youth for the challenges they face now and in the future. The Spirit can come through wholesome fun, meaningful service, building self-reliance and putting gospel principles into action. It comes through moments of informal teaching and testifying as we spend time together. The Spirit does not come through overly sensational or dramatic attempts to manipulate emotion. Let’s be careful that we don’t create experiences in which the youth may mistake experiencing strong emotional feelings such as sadness or surprise for feeling the Spirit. Occasionally we hear of youth who think if they are not crying like everyone else, they must not be feeling the Spirit. Appropriate activities will invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost in sweet, quiet ways, and we all react to those personal feelings in our own ways. Our hope is that our youth are learning to recognize the Spirit of the Lord and will not be deceived by false substitutes.
Remember that there is safety in counseling together. Youth leaders counsel together as they plan, but don’t stop there. The plans for all youth activities should be approved ahead of time. Youth leaders’ plans are approved by adult leaders and by the member of the bishopric or stake presidency who has responsibility for that organization’s event. Such review will help us avoid something that may be unknowingly hurtful to someone in attendance or include pranks and jokes that may cause discomfort or anxiety. Church activities should always be a safe and secure place to be. Counseling together we can also find ways to maintain the reverence and respect so vital to activities dealing with sacred principles such as the Atonement of Jesus Christ or the temple.
There is need in all our lives for wholesome entertainment shared as a group. Opportunities to develop and share talents, play sports, learn new skills, and build confidence have an important place in our programs. There should be balance in the kinds of activities we plan and carry out over the course of the year. A steady diet of one type of activity, week after week, may need to be reviewed so we don’t mistakenly fall into the “filling time” category.
Our youth love the experience of being together in a relaxed social atmosphere. It is often the best setting for creating meaningful friendships and strengthening adult and youth relationships. As we support and help our youth leaders in taking the responsibility to prayerfully plan and carry out meaningful activities for their quorums and classes, we will see miracles happen. Love will be extended, service offered, growth experienced and lives will be changed.