“Young Men Organizations,” Church History Topics
“Young Men Organizations”
During a gathering with young people in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1843, Elder Heber C. Kimball proposed they form a group for spiritual instruction. Joseph Smith further recommended they organize into “a society for the relief of the poor.” The group followed Joseph’s advice and launched the Young Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Relief Society of Nauvoo for single young men and women under 30 years of age.1 This society was short lived, however, as Joseph Smith’s death in 1844 and the departure from Nauvoo in 1846 preoccupied the Saints’ attention.
Nearly a decade later in Salt Lake City, Heber C. Kimball called for all the young men in nearby settlements to gather for special testimony meetings. Other independent groups sprang up with similar intentions to socialize, debate, entertain, and prepare young men for priesthood service and missions. By the 1870s, many wards sponsored similar groups that, like young women’s retrenchment associations, sought to foster the “improvement” of the Church’s youth.2 In 1875 Brigham Young directed Junius F. Wells to organize and superintend what came to be known as the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA). “We want to have our young men enrolled and organized throughout the Church,” Young instructed Wells, “so that we can put our hands upon them at any time for any service that may be required.”3 Such an organization was especially needed at a time when most young men were not ordained to Aaronic Priesthood offices. Wells and other leaders stressed moral improvement and helping one another combat social vices and idleness through learning gospel truth and joining in social activities.
Beginning in 1877, Church leaders encouraged bishops to ordain most young men in the Church to Aaronic Priesthood offices. However, because Aaronic Priesthood quorums were traditionally composed of adult men who led out in accomplishing priesthood duties, most young men remained uninvolved in their quorums. Church leaders became concerned that Sunday Schools and the YMMIA were “doing the work that the quorums should do.” In 1908 the First Presidency appointed a committee to revitalize the work of priesthood quorums. The committee recommended several changes, including establishing a progression from office to office at prescribed ages and designing curriculum suitable to each age group. The YMMIA, meanwhile, continued to operate separately.4
In 1913 the YMMIA obtained a national charter from the Boy Scouts of America. This partnership with the Scouts prompted YMMIA leaders to structure Mutual programs by age group: boys 12 to 16 were designated juniors (or MIA Scouts), boys 17 to 21 were seniors (sometimes called M Men), and those 22 and older were advanced seniors. These age divisions evolved over time and were later aligned with the ages of Aaronic Priesthood advancement, the group names giving way to priesthood offices. YMMIA members took part in a wide range of activities through Scouting. They also participated in annual conferences and other activities with the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association.
In 1931, hoping to increase young men’s overall participation in the Church, General Authorities announced the Aaronic Priesthood Correlation Plan to strengthen coordination between the quorums, the YMMIA, Boy Scouts, and seminaries. This was the beginning of a long-term effort to integrate the Church’s young men’s programs and tie them to the priesthood.5
In the 1970s, Presidents Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball introduced a series of adjustments to streamline the Church’s young men’s programs and bring them “under the umbrella of the priesthood.”6 The YMMIA general board, stake boards, and ward YMMIA superintendent callings were discontinued, and the program for young men over the age of 18 was separated from the program for young men. For a time, the Presiding Bishopric oversaw the newly named Aaronic Priesthood MIA, which included the programs for both young men and young women. In 1974 the name Mutual Improvement Association was retired, and in 1977 the programs were further consolidated and renamed Young Men and Young Women, and General Presidencies and general boards were reestablished.
For many years the Church retained its charter with the Boy Scouts of America in the United States and offered alternatives in other countries. In 2018 the Church announced plans to withdraw from Scouting and implement a new youth program beginning in 2020.7