At a time when research shows a decline in religious interest and participation among youth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is all in to help the rising generation strengthen faith in Jesus Christ.
Today, one in four Americans are considered “nones” or religiously unaffiliated, compared with 12% 20 years ago, according to findings from the Public Religion Research Institute. Some 60% of those “nones” raised in a faith group abandoned their religious practice before they finished high school.
Amid this religious decline, Church leaders are excited for the new Children and Youth program, which aims to address the needs of each child and youth in a worldwide Church with differing cultures and circumstances.
Beginning in January 2020, Children and Youth will replace all current children and youth programs for the Church. The program is designed to be adaptable for members everywhere and there is no “one right way” to follow it, Church leaders say. Yet the core principles and purpose will remain the same.
In a Children and Youth introductory video, President Russell M. Nelson described a new approach to gospel learning and growth that has been designed especially for today’s children and youth. Instead of specific assignments, they will be asked to counsel with the Lord about how they can grow in a balanced way.
“It will be rewarding and fun, but it will also take some effort on your part,” President Nelson said in the video.
“You will need to seek personal revelation,” he continued. “You will need to choose for yourself how to act on it. Sometimes the Spirit may prompt you to do things that are difficult. I think you are up to the challenge. You can do hard things.”
The 48-minute introductory video, which outlines the vision, principles and initial details for the Children and Youth program, was shared with wards and branches to be presented during the second hour of Church meetings on Sunday, Sept. 29.
In addition to President Nelson, the video presentation also features President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president; Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president; Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president; and Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president.
During a recent interview with the Church News, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Church programs in the past have been more compartmentalized and separated. Those programs were beneficial and accomplished what they needed to, but now the Church is moving toward a more individualized approach.
“This is something that will be different everywhere, but will be equally powerful and spiritual, and will bless the young people wherever they are,” Elder Cook said.
“Once they understand that this program is home-centered and Church-supported, and this is in their hearts, the individual family, children and youth will be blessed,” he added. “The activities portion will be exciting and will build unity and lasting friendships for the youth.”
What will the program look like?
As part of the new program, Fernanda, a 10-year-old girl from Curitiba, Brazil, shared how she set a goal to learn to cook with the help of her father.
“I’m bursting with joy because I can do something that I like,” Fernanda said in the video. “Every time I set these goals, I will always be growing as a person, and I’m also developing a talent that can help me with other things. The Lord wants me to develop. He cares about this talent I am doing because He knows I am doing something that makes me happy.”
The vision statement for the new program is to “strengthen the rising generation’s faith in Jesus Christ, and help children, youth and their families progress along the covenant path as they meet life’s challenges,” President Ballard said.
Following the pattern of changes made in recent years, the new Children and Youth program will be more home-centered and Church-supported and will include a heavy focus on using personal revelation to determine individual and group needs and goals within the program.
The program is centered around helping children and youth to grow in four major areas — spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually –– just as the Savior did, Brother Owen explained.
Within each of these areas, children and youth are encouraged to make personal goals for themselves that will help them to become more like the Savior and draw closer to Him.
As President Ballard described, each of the four areas of growth can be nurtured at home and at Church through three key components — gospel learning, service and activities and personal development. Together, these three components make up the core structure of the program, which can be implemented both at home and at Church.
“Helping children and youth to gain a testimony of Jesus Christ will bless them and all of us all of our lives,” President Ballard said.
How and why is this program different?
Sister Cordon said the significant difference between the new program and past programs is that the new program offers more opportunities to be individualized through personal revelation and choices for how to progress on the covenant path.
In that sense, it goes hand in hand with “Come, Follow Me” and can be used with that curriculum both at home and at Church, added Sister Jones.
For those concerned about changes to the new program and what it might mean for activities for youth and children, the general officers emphasized that activities and service will continue to play an important role in the program — but the types of activities and how often they occur will be determined with more flexibility by both the youth and their leaders at the local level.
Additionally, as earlier announcements about the youth changes have highlighted, youth conferences and treks will continue to be part of the program and will alternate years with For the Strength of Youth (FSY) conferences as they are implemented in the U.S. and Canada.
For Primary children ages 8 and older, Sister Jones said regular activities for both boys and girls will be a part of the new program as well.
Although parents and leaders have always played an important role in guiding the Church’s youth programs, both President Nelson and President Ballard emphasized the necessity of allowing youth in their quorums and classes to take on more responsibility for planning and implementing the activities and personal goals within the new program.
As youth step up as leaders, parents and Church leaders can expect to play more of a guiding role than a directing role which will serve to honor the agency of the youth they work with, explained Sister Bingham.
“This is such an inspired program. I know that as families and individuals take this into their family life … it is going to help each one of us progress,” Sister Bingham said.
Elder Michael T. Ringwood, General Authority Seventy and Executive Director of the Priesthood and Family Department, said it has been inspiring to see what goals the children and youth have come up with in the pilot stakes.
“The simplistic nature is what we’re excited about, that they can set their own goal and move at their own pace, and it can be something they are already doing,” he told the Church News. “Instead of a list of things they need to do, they can choose their own goal and do anything that they feel would benefit them and help them in their life. There’s just a liberating feeling to that.”
Elder Cook said he hopes families watching this video on Sept. 29 will look at the new program and say, “How is this going to bless our family? How, in our particular situation, will this allow for us as a family to step up and have the Church support us and have us do more in the home as well?”
As part of the Sept. 29 presentation, children and youth received an introductory guide to be filled out during the video presentation. Parents and leaders received a separate guide following the meeting for families to review together.
Over the coming months, more information will continue to be released on the ChildrenandYouth.ChurchofJesusChrist.org website as well as through the Face to Face event with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Sunday, Nov. 17.