Lesson 156: Church Organizations and Programs

“Lesson 156: Church Organizations and Programs,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)

“Lesson 156,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 156

Church Organizations and Programs


As the Church has continued to grow, the Lord has inspired Church leaders and members to implement organizations and programs within the Church to bless the Saints. When some of these organizations and programs were first established, they were not critically needed, but as the Church has grown they have become crucial in the Lord’s work for the salvation of His children.

Suggestions for Teaching

Church organizations and programs help us prepare and progress toward eternal life

Begin class by asking students to imagine that a friend does not want to go to her Young Women meetings and activities. She says that they are not fun enough and that they are a waste of her time.

After you present this example, ask students to silently consider what they might say to help this friend understand the purpose of her Young Women meetings and activities.

  • What would you say is the purpose of the Young Men and Young Women organizations?

  • How can knowing the purpose of an organization help those who are part of it?

Invite students to read Moses 1:39 silently, looking for Heavenly Father’s purpose in all that He does. Invite students to report what they find. You may need to remind students that immortality refers to the condition of living forever in a resurrected state. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected, regardless of their wickedness or righteousness in this life. Eternal life refers to living forever as families in God’s presence and becoming like Him. Like immortality, eternal life is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, it also requires our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:3).

  • If Heavenly Father’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children, what is the purpose of the Church?

After students have responded, write the following truth on the board: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assists Heavenly Father in bringing to pass the eternal life of His children. Then ask:

  • What are some ways the Church assists in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of Heavenly Father’s children?

Explain that the Church has a number of organizations—called auxiliaries to the priesthood—and other programs that help us progress toward eternal life. Invite students to name some of them. (Answers might include Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, Primary, and Sunday School and programs such as family home evening and Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.)

To help students understand how Church organizations and programs help us learn and progress in the gospel so that we can receive eternal life, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Explain that this statement is about the seminary and institute programs, but the principle it teaches can also apply to the other Church auxiliaries and programs.

President Boyd K. Packer

“These programs were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel in a most challenging hour” (“Teach the Scriptures” [address to CES religious educators, Oct. 14, 1977], 3,

  • How has seminary helped you prepare for some of life’s challenges?

Explain that the Lord has inspired the many programs and organizations in the Church to prepare us for the challenges of life and to help us progress toward eternal life. To help students discuss the help they receive from some of the Church organizations and programs, divide the class into six groups. Provide each group with a copy of the following questions (or write them on the board) and one of the following historical summaries. Ask students to study the summaries in their groups and prepare to answer the questions.

How did this organization or program begin?

How do you think it prepares us to face the tests and challenges of our day?

How do you think it helps us progress toward eternal life?

Sunday School

In 1849 a Church member named Richard Ballantyne felt that children needed a place to learn the gospel on the Sabbath day. Saints in Great Britain were already holding Sunday School classes, and Brother Ballantyne started the first Sunday School class in Utah in his Salt Lake City ward in December 1849. Soon after that, other wards began to adopt the same practice, each using its own curriculum. In 1867, Church leaders formed the Deseret Sunday School Union, which fostered uniformity in curriculum. By 1870, more than 200 Sunday School classes had been formed. Today, wards and branches have multiple Sunday School classes.

Young Women

President Brigham Young met with his daughters in his home on November 28, 1869, and asked them to be leaders to help their peers gain testimonies of the gospel, be modest in their dress and their actions, and avoid trends and behaviors of the world. In 1870 a formal organization of young women was organized to promote these objectives. This organization eventually became known as the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA), which later changed to Young Women. In the early 1970s, leaders introduced the Personal Progress program. In 1985 they introduced the Young Women values and theme.

Young Men

The Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA) was organized on June 10, 1875, under the direction of President Brigham Young. This organization was intended to help young men develop spiritually and intellectually as well as provide them with recreational activities. In 1913, the Church partnered with Boys Scouts of America in the United States. Internationally, partnerships with other Scouting programs have been formed where possible. The organization’s name evolved as well, first changing to Aaronic Priesthood–MIA, then Aaronic Priesthood, and then Young Men. In 2001, Church leaders introduced the Duty to God program.


In 1877, Aurelia Spencer Rogers “felt strongly that something should be done about the behavior of the neighborhood boys who ran freely through the town day and night. She felt many of these children were not being taught basic principles and values [to prepare them] in either knowledge or behavior to carry the gospel forward, or even to be good parents or citizens” (“History of Primary,” She met with Eliza R. Snow, who at the time was serving as the Relief Society general president, and they obtained permission from President John Taylor to organize a Primary in Farmington, Utah, under the direction of Bishop John Hess. The first Primary meeting, held on August 25, 1878, consisted of 224 boys and girls. In 1880, a Primary general president was called, and Primary classes began to be organized in many wards.

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion

In 1888 the Church established a general Board of Education and Church academies and created religion classes to provide a spiritual foundation for secular learning for those who did not attend Church academies. In 1912 Joseph F. Merrill, a professor and Church member, proposed a plan to allow students in public schools to attend religious classes as part of their school day. It was called seminary, and the first classes were held near Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, with 70 students enrolled. As the seminary program spread, a similar program was established for college-age youth. It was named the Latter-day Saint Institute of Religion, and institute classes began in 1926 in Moscow, Idaho. In the early 1950s an early-morning seminary program began in California, the home-study seminary program began in the 1960s, and seminaries and institutes of religion have continued to expand throughout the world.

Family Home Evening

President Joseph F. Smith taught that Church programs should be “supplements to our teachings and training in the home. Not one child in a hundred would go astray, if the home environment, example, and training, were in harmony with the truth in the Gospel of Christ” (“Worship in the Home,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1903, 138). In 1909 the Granite Stake in Salt Lake City, Utah, began a weekly home evening program, which President Smith said was inspired. In 1915 the First Presidency recommended that monthly home evenings be adopted throughout the Church. The First Presidency promised: “If the Saints obey this counsel [to observe home evenings], 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” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:339). Fifty years later, the Church published manuals for families to use in weekly gospel instruction. In 1970 Church leaders designated Monday evenings for family home evening and announced that no other Church activities were to be held that night.

After sufficient time, ask students in each group to summarize the history of their assigned organization or program and explain their answers to the questions they discussed.

Explain that each Church organization and program originally operated independently. As the Church expanded dramatically in the 1950s, Church leaders saw a need to evaluate how Church organizations were meeting the Church’s objectives. They decided to unify and coordinate all Church organizations and programs both in administration and in selecting curriculum. These changes helped the organizations and programs to better meet the complex needs of the growing Church and to strengthen the family. Under this correlation effort, all Church organizations operate under the direction of priesthood leaders, who hold the keys to preside.

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

“Correlation is that system of church administration in which we take all the programs of the Church, bring them to one focal point, wrap them in one package, operate them as one program, involve all members of the Church in the operation—and do it all under priesthood direction” (Let Every Man Learn His Duty [booklet, 1976], 2).

Write the following principle on the board: As we participate in Church organizations and programs, we receive the blessings available through them. Then write the following questions on the board, and invite students to answer them in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.

How have Church organizations and programs blessed your life? How has Duty to God or Personal Progress blessed your life?

How will you participate more fully in Young Men or Young Women? In Sunday School? In family home evening? In seminary?

After sufficient time, invite a few students to share what they have written. You might also share your thoughts about how Church organizations bless your life and help you and your family progress toward eternal life.

Commentary and Background Information

The importance of seminary

President Thomas S. Monson described the importance of seminary:

President Thomas S. Monson

“Besides attending your Sunday meetings and your weeknight activities, when you have the chance to be involved in seminary, whether in the early morning or in released-time classes, take advantage of that opportunity. Many of you are attending seminary now. As with anything in life, much of what you take from your seminary experience depends on your attitude and your willingness to be taught. May your attitude be one of humility and a desire to learn. How grateful I am for the opportunity I had as a teenager to attend early-morning seminary, for it played a vital role in my development and the development of my testimony. Seminary can change lives” (“Believe, Obey, and Endure,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 128).