Servicemen group

Service Member Groups and Responsibilities of Group Leaders

In today’s complex world, an ever-increasing number of Latter-day Saint service members are deployed around the world. When they are aboard ships or in locations where they are unable to attend the local ward or branch, the appropriate stake president establishes a service member group for them (see “Guidelines for Calling Service Member Group Leaders” below). A service member group is a small Church unit that holds Church meetings for Church members in the military and looks after their welfare.

The appropriate stake president establishes a service member group in the following circumstances:

  1. Church members are assigned to Navy ships that deploy for extended sea duty.
  2. Church members belong to Reserve or National Guard units and participate in monthly weekend drills or annual training exercises.
  3. Church members are participating in short-term training exercises (generally lasting two to four weeks).
  4. A military unit is deployed or will be deployed for contingency or special forces operations to a location where (a) the Church is not organized, (b) members of the unit do not understand the language spoken in the local ward or branch, (c) attendance at local Church meetings is not feasible, or (d) the unit is not allowed to divulge its location because of security concerns.

In the U.S. Army and Air Force, service member group leaders are referred to as Distinctive Religious Group Leaders. In the Navy they are referred to as Religious Lay Leaders. In the military, all religious programs fall under the responsibility of the commander. Therefore, service member group leaders serve upon approval of the military commander and are supervised by the unit chaplain.

Guidelines for Calling Service Member Group Leaders

A service member group leader organizes Church meetings for Church members in the military and looks after their welfare. He does not hold priesthood keys, so he is not authorized to receive tithes and offerings from military members, resolve their serious transgressions, administer Church discipline, or perform other duties that require priesthood keys.

A stake president is responsible for calling and setting apart service member group leaders in the following circumstances:

Navy Ships

When Church members in the military are assigned to a Navy ship that deploys for extended sea duty, service member group leaders should be called, set apart, and trained before the scheduled deployment. The stake president where the ship is home-ported has the responsibility to do this. A service member who lives in another stake and is assigned to the ship may be called as the group leader, but the stake president must first verify the member’s worthiness and coordinate with his bishop and stake president. The group leader reports attendance and group activities to the stake president where the ship is home-ported. For budget purposes, the attendance figures can be added to the sacrament meeting attendance for the ward that encompasses the installation.

Reserve and National Guard Units

Reserve and National Guard units usually hold their drill weekends at designated military installations or armories. The stake president where the military installation or armory is located has the responsibility to ensure that Church services are made available for military members in the units. He should call and set apart a group leader to conduct Church services during the drill weekend, during the two-week annual training, and during any deployment on contingency operations. He may call a military member who lives in another stake after verifying the member’s worthiness and coordinating with his bishop and stake president. If a Latter-day Saint chaplain is assigned to the military installation or armory, he may be called as the group leader, if the responsibilities do not conflict with his chaplain duties. In most cases, the Latter-day Saint chaplain will conduct a general Christian worship service or a non-denominational service, while the Latter-day Saint group leader conducts a sacrament service for Church members.

The group leader reports attendance and group activities to the stake president. For budget purposes, the attendance figures can be added to the sacrament meeting attendance for the ward that encompasses the installation.

Short-Term Training Exercises

Military units routinely conduct field training at designated training ranges. Some training ranges will be within the boundary of the stake that has responsibility for the military unit, while other ranges will be outside the stake boundary. Usually the Church members in the military unit are not allowed to leave the training area to attend Church services at the local wards and branches. In these cases, the stake president should call and set apart a group leader to conduct Church services in the training area. Occasionally, military units participate in large-scale training exercises at national training centers. The stake president should call a group leader to conduct Church services while the unit participates in these types of training exercises. Due to the nature of training exercises, not all members are able to attend the Church services.

The group leader reports attendance and group activities to the stake president. For budget purposes, the attendance figures can be added to the sacrament meeting attendance for the ward that encompasses the installation.

Deployed Locations

Except for Navy ships at sea, all locations to which military members are deployed are within the boundaries of a stake, mission, or area. If priesthood leaders need to identify if there is a functioning Church unit or group in a certain area, they should contact the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division. If there are no established Church units or groups at the deployed location, the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division will coordinate with ecclesiastical leaders over that area of the world to obtain approval for the stake president to call a Church member to serve as a service member group leader. Occasionally members may deploy on contingency or special forces operations and are not allowed to divulge the location because of security concerns. In these cases, stake presidents are authorized to call and set apart a group leader to conduct Church services while the unit is deployed. If there is a functioning group at the deployed location, the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division will give the stake president the contact information for the group leader and the location of the Church services.

Setting Apart Service Member Group Leaders in Special Circumstances

When possible, a service member group leader should be set apart as described under “Guidelines for Calling Service Member Group Leaders” above. When it is impossible to set the group leader apart due to travel restrictions or security concerns in a war zone, the group leader may function without being set apart. In war zones, the First Presidency has authorized the outgoing group leader to set apart the new group leader and give him a priesthood blessing associated with the calling. Latter-day Saint chaplains are also authorized to call and set apart group leaders in a war zone.

Letters of Appointment for Service Member Group Leaders

Each group leader should receive a letter of appointment from the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division authorizing him to serve as the Distinctive Religious Group Leader or Religious Lay Leader. Once a stake president calls a group leader, he should notify the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division so that a letter of appointment can be prepared and sent to the new group leader. The group leader should give a copy of the letter to the unit chaplain or to the commander if the unit does not have a chaplain. Without the letter of appointment, the military will not allow the group leader to conduct worship services.

Resources for Service Member Group Leaders

The following resources are available for group leaders:

  • Sacrament Service Field Kit. This kit includes a combination bread and water tray that is collapsible. It also includes 100 sacrament cups, two cloths, a card with the sacrament prayers, and a case.
  • Lesson manuals. The current lesson manuals of the Church can be ordered.
  • Selected Hymns. This booklet contains 60 standard hymns selected from Hymns.
  • Selected Hymns: Music Only—CD Set. This set of audio recordings contains 60 standard hymns selected from Hymns. The CDs include musical introductions and all verses of each hymn performed with piano, strings, and other instruments.
  • Small Poster. This announces the day, time, and place for LDS Church services.

Responsibilities of Service Member Group Leaders

As a service member group leader, you have the following responsibilities:

  • Represent the Latter-day Saint military members at your location and establish a liaison with local military authorities. To establish a liaison, contact the unit commander and the senior chaplain at your location to receive permission and guidance concerning holding Latter-day Saint services and to arrange meeting times and a location for the group. Provide a copy of your letter of appointment to the unit chaplain. This authorizes you to function as the group leader.
  • Identify and contact Church members in your unit and at the same location. The chaplain may be able to provide a list of those who have identified themselves as Latter-day Saints.
  • Plan and preside over group meetings and activities.
  • Conduct a weekly sacrament service to give members the opportunity to partake of the sacrament. The sacrament is a priesthood ordinance administered under your direction.
  • Ensure that the dignity of the worship service is maintained in both word and deed. To do this, refer to the sacrament prayers to ensure they are said correctly, and ensure that those who administer the sacrament are worthy priesthood holders. Ask members to prepare and give talks on a gospel topic following the administration of the sacrament. And if time and conditions permit, hold Sunday School classes, priesthood meetings, and Relief Society meetings.
  • When feasible, organize home teaching to ensure that all members of the group are contacted and strengthened often (daily, if needed) throughout the deployment period.
  • Report meeting attendance and activities to the designated priesthood leader in your area of operation and to your home stake president. The attendance at sacrament meetings is used to determine the annual budget allocation for your group. In addition, provide the meeting location and time to the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division so that a current group leader roster and contact information can be maintained.
  • If possible, obtain materials and supplies needed by the group from your stake president or stake clerk before deploying. Contact the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division to coordinate required support and resources while deployed. The chaplain may be able to supply sacrament cups and other supplies.
  • Before leaving the deployed location, provide to the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division the name, email address, home ward, and home stake of a worthy priesthood member to serve as the new group leader.

As a service member group leader, you do not do the following:

  • You do not collect tithing or other Church donations. Church members in the military should be encouraged to pay their tithes and offerings. They submit their tithes and offerings to their home ward or online at ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Members who are unable to make donations online should send an email to donationsinkind@ChurchofJesusChrist.org and request assistance.
  • You do not baptize individuals or ordain members to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood, unless authorized. To obtain authorization, contact the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division for guidance.
  • You do not interview members to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood or ordain them to offices in this priesthood.
  • You do not serve as a Judge in Israel in resolving serious transgressions of a group member. You can assist in helping a member through the repentance process, but as a group leader, you do not have the priesthood keys to resolve serious transgressions, which is the responsibility of a bishop or stake president. Generally, you should refer these cases back to the member’s home bishop or stake president.

Locations of Service Member Groups


Groups, branches, or wards are organized in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and ships at sea. Because of military security concerns, more specific information cannot be posted online. To locate a service member group, contact the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division at 1-800-240-2286 or email PST-Military@ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

For More Information


For information about service member group leaders, see Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops, section 10, ChurchofJesusChrist.org, and Principles of the Gospel (part of the military scripture set), pages 4–8. For answers to questions about service member group leaders or resources needed for groups, contact the Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division at 1-800-240-2286 or email PST-Military@ChurchofJesusChrist.org.