Why 2019 had a ‘laser-like focus’ on children and youth

Standing at the pulpit of the Conference Center in October, President Russell M. Nelson reminded the worldwide Church of an important invitation he extended in June 2018:

“You will remember that I have invited the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to enlist in the Lord’s youth battalion to participate in the greatest cause on earth today — the gathering of Israel.”

The gathering, he said, is an essential part of helping to prepare the world and its people for the Second Coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. The Lord’s youth battalion is led in each ward by a bishop — whose “first and foremost responsibility is to care for the young men and young women of his ward.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, meet with youth in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Nov. 18, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, meet with youth in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Nov. 18, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

With that backdrop, President Nelson then introduced organizational adjustments intended to do three things: first, help youth develop their “sacred personal potential”; second, strengthen Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Young Women classes; and third, provide support to bishops and other adult leaders as they serve the rising generation.

“We are confident that more young men and young women will rise to the challenge and stay on the covenant path with this laser-like focus on our youth,” said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The year 2019 could indeed be categorized as a year of “laser-like focus on our youth” as changes and events throughout the year have been leading up to a historic day on Jan. 1, 2020 — the launch of a new, single effort to strengthen children and youth around the world. 

Organizational changes: Part of an ‘interlocking pattern’

As announced in the October conference, by January, ward Young Men presidencies should be discontinued to allow bishoprics to focus on the priesthood responsibilities of young men and help them in their quorum duties. Young Men advisers will be called to assist the Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies and the bishopric in their duties. The ward Young Women president will report directly to the bishop. 

The youth is the bishop's primary responsibility. While the elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies can help with ministering, temple, caring for those in need, family history and missionary work, there are some responsibilities the bishop cannot delegate, such as being a common judge, fast offerings and finances.
The youth is the bishop’s primary responsibility. While the elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies can help with ministering, temple, caring for those in need, family history and missionary work, there are some responsibilities the bishop cannot delegate, such as being a common judge, fast offerings and finances. Credit: Church News graphic

The bishopric youth committee will be replaced by a ward youth council. Adult leaders should make quorum and class presidencies a priority, leading alongside the young women and young men as they guide and mentor them to focus on the work of salvation. 

Explaining these adjustments in general conference, Elder Cook said the organizational changes are part of other “profound and comprehensive” initiatives — including home-centered, Church-supported curriculum as well as the Children and Youth program — to help Latter-day Saint youth navigate a maze of choices.

“Each of the adjustments is an integral part of an interlocking pattern to bless the Saints and prepare them to meet God,” said Elder Cook. 

Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, announced a revision to the Young Women theme and class organization. The names of Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurel will be retired and all young women will be referred to as “young women” and organized by age according to a ward’s specific needs.

“At the heart of all we do in Young Women is our desire to help you gain unshakable faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ and a sure knowledge of your divine identity as a daughter of God,” Sister Cordon said. 

Young women talk with one another. The Young Women general presidency invites all young women to study the doctrines found within the new Young Women theme introduced during October general conference.
Young women talk with one another. The Young Women general presidency invites all young women to study the doctrines found within the new Young Women theme introduced during October general conference. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc

Other changes announced during the October general conference include: 

  • Activities for youth are no longer called “Mutual,” but rather “Young Women activities,” “Aaronic Priesthood quorum activities,” or “youth activities.” 
  • The ward budget for youth activities will be divided with equal proportions between the Young Men and Young Women according to the number of youth in each organization. A sufficient amount will also be provided for Primary activities.
  • At the stake level, a high councilor will serve as the Young Men president. With the high councilors assigned to Young Women and Primary, he will be part of the stake Aaronic Priesthood–Young Women Committee. 
  • A high councilor will also serve as stake Sunday School president.
  • Relief Society, Young Women, Young Men, Primary and Sunday School will be referred to as “organizations” instead of “auxiliaries.” Those who lead the organizations will be known as “general officers” at the Churchwide level and “ward officers” and “stake officers” at the local level. 

When combined and integrated with previous adjustments, Elder Cook said, these changes “represent a spiritual and organizational effort consistent with doctrine to bless and strengthen every man, woman, youth and child, helping each to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, as we progress on the covenant path.”

These comprehensive adjustments “will empower and strengthen every member of the Church. Our youth will develop greater faith in the Savior, be protected from the temptations of the adversary, and stand prepared to meet life’s challenges,” he said.

The new Children and Youth program

The four areas of growth in the Children and Youth program.
The four areas of growth in the Children and Youth program. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Beginning in January, Children and Youth will replace all existing activity and achievement programs for children and youth in the Church, including Scouting, Personal Progress, Duty to God and Faith in God. The effort is designed to help children and youth grow spiritually, socially, physically and intellectually as they strive to follow the Savior and grow in all areas of their lives as He did (see Luke 2:52). 

The vision of Children and Youth 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.” The flexibility of the initiative allows it to be adaptable for all areas of the worldwide Church. 

Church leaders held two major events this year to introduce Children and Youth — an introductory video presented in wards and branches on Sept. 29 and a Face to Face event on Nov. 17. 

Joshua, left, a priest from a pilot stake in Columbus, Ohio, shares his love for filming with his quorum. Together they made a video for an activity as part of the Children and Youth program.
Joshua, left, a priest from a pilot stake in Columbus, Ohio, shares his love for filming with his quorum. Together they made a video for an activity as part of the Children and Youth program. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The core structure of home-centered, Church-supported effort is based on three areas of focus: gospel learning, personal development and service and activities. Key principles include personal revelation, agency and building relationships. 

Gospel learning includes “Come, Follow Me” curriculum at home, at Church and in seminary. Service and activities includes activities, camps and conferences for youth and Activity Days for Primary boys and girls, as well as service and activities with their families. Personal development includes setting goals to grow more like the Savior. 

Children from a family in Christchurch, New Zealand, pose for a photo in front of their family Children and Youth program planning board in the laundry room of their home. The children were excited to show Sister Becky Craven how they had implemented the new program immediately following general conference in October. Sister Craven stopped in Christchurch during a visit to the Pacific Area with Sister Sharon Eubank in October 2019.
Children from a family in Christchurch, New Zealand, pose for a photo in front of their family Children and Youth program planning board in the laundry room of their home. The children were excited to show Sister Becky Craven how they had implemented the new program immediately following general conference in October. Sister Craven stopped in Christchurch during a visit to the Pacific Area with Sister Sharon Eubank in October 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

During the introductory video shown on Sept. 29, President Nelson told children and youth that 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,” he said. “You will need to seek personal revelation. 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.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and general officers announced more changes impacting children and youth worldwide during the Face to Face event, including an Aaronic Priesthood quorum theme and camp guide for young men, a new Primary song called “I Will Walk with Jesus” and recognition elements for the program. 

Church leaders also introduced a “Strive to be” logo for the initiative and explained more details about For the Strength of Youth (FSY) conferences. An overview was given of the Gospel Living mobile app designed to help youth live the gospel and access inspirational articles and media. The app has tools for setting goals, recording thoughts and impressions, and messaging and sharing with family members, quorums and classes. The first version of the app will be available for download in early 2020. 

A logo for Children and Youth shown during the Face to Face event.
A logo for Children and Youth shown during the Face to Face event. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

More information and resources for Children and Youth, including links to personal development guidebooks and more than 100 service and activity ideas, can be found on the ChildrenandYouth.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

For the Strength of Youth (FSY) conferences

The Church announced in July that youth turning 14 and older in the U.S. and Canada will have the opportunity to attend FSY conferences beginning in 2020. FSY is a five-day conference modeled after Brigham Young University’s Especially for Youth program. FSY conferences have been held outside the U.S. and Canada for more than a decade. Each stake will be invited to attend every other year. 

FSY “brings you together in larger groups for classes, devotionals and gospel study, and for dances, variety shows, and many other fun activities,” Elder Gong told children and youth during the Nov. 17 Face to Face event. “You’ll love gathering, meeting other faithful youth and new friends, including from beyond your ward and stake.”

Youth form the letters FSY on a field during an FSY conference.
Youth form the letters FSY on a field during an FSY conference. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In order to assist the Church in facilitating FSY, BYU announced it will no longer administer traditional EFY sessions.

“In the United States and Canada, FSY Conferences will be provided by the Church and held locally with the support of BYU. Areas outside of the United States and Canada will continue holding FSY Conferences as they have in the past,” wrote EFY organizers on the the official “Especially for Youth (EFY)” Facebook page after the announcement.

BYU will continue to offer EFY Special Edition sessions at Church historical sites (Palmyra, Nauvoo, Independence, Salt Lake City) as well as EFY Express Sessions.

We are excited to be part of the changes recently announced by the Church! Beginning in 2020, BYU will no longer…

Posted by EFY (Especially For Youth) on Friday, July 19, 2019

Additional details about FSY were released in a Sept. 12 notice. Ward and stake leaders are not responsible to plan or attend the conference. Young single adults are invited to serve as FSY counselors. 

“In the year youth attend FSY, their stakes will not hold stake youth conferences or trek. We do encourage holding stake or ward camps every year, where possible,” explained Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, during the Nov. 17 Face to Face event.

More information about FSY conferences, including a schedule of when stakes will be attending, can be found under the FSY section on the Children and Youth website. 

“Come, Follow Me”

Starting in January of this year, Latter-day Saints worldwide began studying the New Testament with the new home-centered, Church-supported curriculum “Come, Follow Me.”

As a father of a young family, Brent Daire in the Devonport Australia Stake told the Church News that the new curriculum “fundamentally shifts the gospel experience back onto us and gives us the tools and the time to do what the Lord would have us do,” he said. 

The Bake family has a fun time playing game as part of their family "Come, Follow Me" lesson in April 2019.
The Bake family has a fun time playing game as part of their family “Come, Follow Me” lesson in April 2019. Credit: Kevin Bake

“It even facilitates time and gives a reason for us as a couple to sit down and seek revelation together. … Every time we do that, our revelatory capacity and experiences increase, our testimonies become stronger, our marriage becomes stronger. … Home truly becomes heaven on earth.”

Read more: How the ‘Come, Follow Me’ curriculum is blessing families around the world 1 year later

In March, the First Presidency announced the alignment of seminary curriculum with “Come, Follow Me.” Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, fall seminary classes began studying the New Testament curriculum and will shift to the Book of Mormon in January. 

In a video released by Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “We think this is a tremendous development at this time when our young people need evermore strength.

“We think is a wonderful alignment … with what the rest of the Church is doing. And we believe that it’s going to be wonderfully symbiotic with the … Church-supported — and now we add seminary-supported — home-centered, gospel study.”

Young women listen during a lesson on Sunday. Starting in January, "Come, Follow Me" for Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women will place a greater emphasis on participating in the work of salvation.
Young women listen during a lesson on Sunday. Starting in January, “Come, Follow Me” for Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women will place a greater emphasis on participating in the work of salvation. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

During the October general conference, Brother Owen announced that youth curriculum will align with “Come, Follow Me” for individuals and families, Sunday School and seminary. 

While the format for “Come, Follow Me” for Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women will remain the same, the role of quorum and class presidencies has been elevated, and the lesson outlines have been reduced and redesigned. Young men and young women will now be taught from the same manual and follow specific outlines for each lesson. “Come, Follow Me — For Aaronic Priesthood Quorums and Young Women Classes: Doctrinal Topics 2020” is now available on ChurchofJesusChrist.org and in the Gospel Library app. 

Training for protecting children and youth

In August, the Church announced a new training course to help adults know how to prevent and respond to child abuse. The Church asked all adults in the U.S. and Canada serving or interacting with children and youth to complete the course and renew the training every three years.

“We take Jesus Christ’s teachings about children and youth very seriously,” said Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president. “He welcomed them into His presence and gave stern warnings against abusing, bullying, or hurting them in any way. Jesus said of children, ‘of such is the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:14). His deep concern for children and youth must continue to be our deep concern.”

Youth theme

The youth theme for 2019 was “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The 2020 youth theme “go and do” is centered on 1 Nephi 3:7.

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

In an interview with the Church News in August, Sister Cordon said the youth theme for 2020 is about trusting in the Lord and His plan. 

“If you stop and think about everything that this theme has in it, it gives you the whole pattern of what you need to do as you go forward. And as the Children and Youth program comes out, I think we will realize the same pattern of the doctrine of Christ and trusting in the Lord.”

Latter-day Saint youth arrive at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 17, 2019, to participate in what was described as the largest Face to Face event ever hosted by the Church.
Latter-day Saint youth arrive at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 17, 2019, to participate in what was described as the largest Face to Face event ever hosted by the Church. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Brother Douglas D. Holmes, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, said the theme also represents an “affirmation of revelation” that can be received by a prophet, as Nephi received from his father Lehi, or individually from the Holy Ghost. 

“The other aspect of the Children and Youth program that (the theme) reinforces is individual agency and choice,” he said. “Nephi steps forward and says, ‘I’m making a choice of what I’m going to do.’”

Parents and leaders are encouraged to teach principles from the theme at home and at Church throughout the year. The theme will be emphasized during FSY conferences worldwide and can provide a focus for youth activities, youth conferences, camps and devotionals. 

The youth theme song and video were introduced during the Face to Face event for Children and Youth on Nov. 17. Resources for the 2020 youth theme can be found on ChildrenandYouth.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.