“Conversation: Making Family Home Evening Stronger,” Ensign, Dec. 1998, 68–69
“In one form or another, family home evening has been important from the beginning of time,” says Dennis Lifferth, managing director of the Church’s Priesthood Department, which oversees the family home evening program. The Ensign recently met with Brother Lifferth to discuss the importance of family home evening.
Question: Is holding family home evening a commandment?
Response: I view it like anything else the prophets suggest or recommend or counsel. We should follow, and great blessings are afforded when we do.
In this latter-day dispensation, the family home evening program was introduced in 1915, when President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency wrote: “We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families; at the same time familiarizing themselves and their children more thoroughly with the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This ‘Home Evening’ should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation” (quoted in Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols. , 4:338).
In a 1994 letter, the First Presidency reminded all members of the Church, “Local leaders should ensure that Church buildings and facilities are closed, that no ward or stake activities are planned for Monday evenings, and that other interruptions to family home evenings be avoided.” That says something about how important family home evening is.
Of all times and seasons in the earth’s history, family home evening is more vital now than ever because of the pressures of the world on families and children. It is a wonderful blessing to mothers, fathers, and children to meet together on Monday and have a chance to escape from the world, become more united, and share the gospel with each other. The primary purpose of family home evening is to strengthen families through teaching the gospel and growing closer to the Savior.
Q: But family home evening doesn’t have to be long, heavy, or elaborate, correct?
R: Correct. There’s a lot of flexibility in how we hold family home evening. What counts is the effort of getting together, trying our best to follow the counsel, and enjoying the blessings. Even in 1915, the First Presidency counseled that “formality and stiffness should be studiously avoided” (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:338). The Church’s Family Home Evening Resource Book (item no. 31106) suggests: “Relax and enjoy it. The most important thing your children will remember is the spirit they feel in your family home evenings and activities. Be sure that the atmosphere is one of love, understanding, and enjoyment. It is more important to have a good time with one another than to get through a lesson. Don’t be afraid to relax and enjoy your times together” (1983, vi).
The primary purpose of family home evening is to teach the gospel, but families also grow closer by doing fun things together. Refreshments are important, songs are important, and activities are important. Family home evening is probably not a good time to discipline or come down strong on family rules. But it should include serious times when parents can share their testimonies and encourage children to share their feelings and expressions of love for the family.
Q: Speaking of the Family Home Evening Resource Book, what are the best sources for family home evening ideas and lessons?
R: The primary resource should be the scriptures. The Family Home Evening Resource Book is also very useful and includes information about how to use the scriptures. The resource book is easy for anyone in the family to pick up and choose a lesson from. It is well organized and has good suggestions for activities. Topics are timely and important, and in the back it has special lessons for occasions such as baptisms, marriages, and other important events in the family.
Many other resources are available. The Ensign regularly publishes good suggestions for family home evening. The Gospel Principles manual (item no. 31110) has basic lessons on doctrine that can be used to teach the family. A Church publication titled Family Guidebook (item no. 31180) includes suggestions about holding family home evening and is especially useful for recent converts. The pamphlet For the Strength of Youth (item no. 34285) can be used to teach standards for youth from the writings and teachings of Church leaders and from scriptures.
Q: Is family home evening just for families with children?
R: “Family home evening is for everyone,” wrote President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors in the First Presidency in 1976. “It is for families with parents and children, for families with just one parent, and for parents who have no children at home. It is for home evening groups of single adults and for those who live alone or with roommates” (Family Home Evening, 3).
From our very first day as a married couple, my wife and I tried to hold family home evening, even before we had children. By the time children came, it was a family tradition. Some of the best lessons are given by children. Letting them conduct family home evening and teach lessons helps them develop leadership skills and prepare for missions and service in the Church. After children grow up and leave, mothers and fathers can still spend time together on Monday nights to share their testimonies and read the scriptures.
Q: What about using family home evening as a missionary tool?
R: The concept of family home evening—spending time together uninterrupted by outside interests, having activities, sharing ideas and feelings, teaching values—can strengthen all families, not just Church members. We can set a good example by inviting families of other faiths into our homes to teach them this inspired program, perhaps with full-time missionaries present to give a gospel lesson if that is approved beforehand with the guests. However, perhaps a night other than Monday night would be appropriate to invite neighbors and friends over for home evening, because it is important to reserve Monday night for the immediate family.
Q: Would you summarize why family home evening is so important?
R: As we would expect, the prophets have said it best. The 1915 First Presidency letter stated: “If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influence and temptations which beset them” (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:339). In 1976 the First Presidency wrote: “Regular participation in family home evening will develop increased personal worth, family unity, love for our fellowmen, and trust in our Father in heaven” (Family Home Evening, 3). In the current Family Home Evening Resource Book, the First Presidency wrote: “We promise you great blessings if you will follow the Lord’s counsel and hold regular family home evenings. We pray constantly that parents in the Church will accept their responsibility to teach and exemplify gospel principles to their children. May God bless you to be diligent in this most important responsibility” (page iv).