As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prepare to study the Book of Mormon throughout 2024, they’re also celebrating a significant milestone: 200 million copies of the Book of Mormon distributed.
But out of all of those copies, “the most important one is mine, and yours, and all of ours, and the influence it has in our lives,” said Sunday School General President Mark L. Pace.
President Pace recently spoke with the Church News about the “Come, Follow Me” manual for 2024, which focuses on the Book of Mormon.
They discussed why the “Come, Follow Me” program is consolidating its four manuals into one; the importance of every person learning the gospel for themselves; and their personal testimonies of the Book of Mormon.
President Pace also noted that the last time Church members studied the Book of Mormon for “Come, Follow Me” was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Latter-day Saints couldn’t meet together at that time, but thanks to the “Come, Follow Me” study guide, “there was no spiritual famine in the land. ... There was no diminishing of the influence of the Spirit in our lives.”
Why a consolidated manual?
President Pace said that when “Come, Follow Me” was first planned over five years ago, Church meetings were still three hours long. Adult and youth classes were held every week, so having a “robust set of manuals” to address each group made sense.
Then President Russell M. Nelson announced in October 2018 that Church meetings would be only two hours, and Sunday School classes would alternate weeks with other classes. The “Come, Follow Me” manuals went forward as planned, but as the Church neared completion of an entire four-year scripture cycle, President Pace said, the time felt right to consolidate the manuals.
It was also a practical consideration. Brother Newman said the Church translates “Come, Follow Me” into over 70 languages so that members can learn the gospel in their own language; but multiplied over four different manuals, translation becomes a huge effort.
Going to one manual, then, “will simplify [translation efforts] in a pretty significant way,” he said.
No matter what language someone speaks, though, members will study the same material at the same time. Brother Camargo saw the blessing of this kind of unity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as he tuned in to Sunday School classes all over the world via video calls.
From the Philippines and Brazil to Mexico and Spain, listening to members bear their testimonies was “something marvelous,” Brother Camargo said. “We are one Church, one God, one Savior, in one set of scriptures, and we’re walking all together and preparing for the Second Coming.”
President Pace said Church members will become more unified as they study from the same manual.
“There’s power in unity, and we’re rejoicing at it. ... [The new manual] is going to be a great blessing to the Church,” he said.
He also said physical copies of the new manual will go to every active household in the Church. While he’s glad that electronic copies are readily available, he hopes members will each keep a print copy in their home as a physical reminder to be in the scriptures.
“When it’s sitting around, your children [and] youth just might pick it up and read it and enjoy it like that,” he said. “And it’s also a distinguishing artifact of Saints in the household of faith.”
Resources for all ages
President Pace said the best of each previous manual is included in the new, singular manual, with resources for different age groups.
For instance, small blue scripture icons are found throughout the new “Come, Follow Me” manual. These mark the places that youth teachers should study with their classes, President Pace said.
Brother Newman said the new manual includes a section about teaching children, and the electronic version links to a variety of general conference talks, Church magazine articles and other resources.
Another new study element is the Book of Mormon videos, which weren’t completed in 2020 but are now available in the Gospel Library app and in the electronic version of the new manual. Brother Camargo said the new videos are “outstanding” and help youth and children engage with scripture.
During Sunday School and other classes, Brother Newman encouraged teachers to simply ask class members what they learned the previous week through studying the scriptures with “Come, Follow Me.” When that kind of sharing happens, church becomes “a very personal, revelatory experience for all the members in the ward and class,” he said.
Brother Newman added that he sometimes hears people say that the Church is taking away manuals; but his response is, “No, we’re just giving you a better [manual].”
“The most important piece of material that you have is the scriptures themselves,” he said. “The manual is going to guide us to focus on certain things in the scriptures. ... Find out what the Lord wants you to teach to the people that you’ve been given the stewardship to teach, whether it’s your family or students in your class.”
Home-centered gospel learning
Although church classes matter, Brother Camargo said home is the best place to study the gospel. Rather than simply showing up for church lessons, members should learn at home and then share what they’re learning at church, he said.
“Our children can do this at home because the manual is exactly the same. Parents will have access to everything,” he said.
Brother Newman said he loves that “Come, Follow Me” is a home-centered, Church-supported program. He encouraged members to find a study style that works for them and then do the best they can with it.
President Pace particularly emphasized the importance of every member learning the gospel for themselves. He shared what he’s learned from watching baby chicks hatch during the years he’s spent raising chickens.
Hatching isn’t a simple process, he said. It sometimes takes 12 to 18 hours, with the baby chick resting between bouts of pecking the eggshell. And on a few occasions, out of concern for the bird’s life, he’s peeled away the eggshell for the baby chick.
“All I can tell you is that every time I have endeavored to do it for them, instead of them doing it for themselves, they die,” President Pace said. “They make it out, they may live for several hours. But there is something about the physical process of them coming out of the egg on their own that gives them the strength to stand up and walk and adjust to life outside the egg.”
Similarly, people must spiritually “hatch” for themselves, he said. He recalled when, as a bishop, he tried to guide the youth in his ward to develop their own testimonies. “There was no other alternative than their own efforts. ... That’s why I’m so excited about the Book of Mormon this year.”
President Pace also said there are many resources for studying “Come, Follow Me,” but if all someone does is listen to a podcast or watch a video, “you’re missing out on the very best part of studying the scriptures. ... We [can] really understand His voice and can be guided by Him, so that’s probably one of the greatest things that comes to us as we learn to study scriptures with the Holy Ghost.”
He recalled how, as a young boy, his mother invited him to read the Book of Mormon and gain his own testimony of it, a lesson that’s stuck with him throughout his life. Now, as Latter-day Saints study “Come, Follow Me” in 2024, he hopes they’ll revisit the moment they knew the Book of Mormon was true.
“We’re not in the information business. We’re in the inspiration business,” President Pace said. “And we seek to give the Saints an opportunity, as they study the scriptures with ‘Come, Follow Me,’ a chance to draw close to the Lord and feel of His inspiring guidance and influence in their lives. And in that we rejoice.”