Youth activities vary from one area of the Church to another, but their purposes - to strengthen the spirituality of the youths and their families - remain the same, said Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Elder Pinegar, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, said Church leaders have received much instruction on this subject from the First Presidency and Church Bulletins. Recently there has been a significant increase in the number of inquiries from Church members and leaders asking for direction and clarification of what is expected and allowed regarding youth activities."We can't describe the ideal activity, but we can describe guidelines for planning the ideal activity," he said. "One of the purposes of Church activities is to make it possible for youths to apply gospel principles and values learned at home and at Church. This is why activities should do more than merely entertain. They should strengthen a youth's testimony and commitment to live the gospel of Jesus Christ."
He instructed youth leaders to heed the counsel of the prophet.
"If we don't follow him, if we look at Church policy and procedures as simply good ideas or suggestions, we set aside one of the greatest resources the Lord has given us," Elder Pinegar said.
In planning youth activities, Elder Pinegar offered the following do's and don't's taken from statements of the First Presidency and the policies and guidelines of the priesthood handbook:
- Do follow Church policies and guidelines. Give your youths the benefit of the careful and prayerful inspiration given through the leaders at Church headquarters. Local leaders can receive inspiration for local implementation of these policies. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve has counseled Church leaders that following policies and guidelines will help them plan activities that complement the basic routines of life rather than continually interrupt them.
- Do plan with a purpose. Consider what you desire the outcome to be in the lives of the youths, then plan the activity to bring about that objective. At a Regional Representative Seminar, April 3, 1981, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: "These activitiesT are important for the development of our young people and in providing the strength that comes of association with their Church peers. . . . It isn't the place so much as it is the program and the association that make the difference."
Activities are generally more effective if they are held on a local basis and if unusually large numbers of young people are not involved. Local activities, well planned and administered, meet the needs of youths better than activities carried out an an occasional basis on a larger scale. (Bulletin No. 2, January 1984.)
- Do plan activities appropriate to the age-groups involved. Youths under 14 years of age are not to be included in dances and conferences or other mixed activities outside the scheduled mid-week activity night. (Young Men and Young Women handbooks, p. 76.)
- Do involve youths in the planning.
- Do plan activities that include the elements of Christian service. President Ezra Taft Benson said service should be one of the youths' greatest virtues. "I hope that our young people are learning to serve mankind," he noted. "Here is happiness. Here is opportunity for personal growth." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp. 447, 449.)
- Do meet with parents first and get input prior to scheduling an activity. This also will increase parental support for the activity.
- Don't plan costly activities and place a financial burden on Church members. The First Presidency has repeatedly instructed Church leaders to "eliminate expenses beyond that which would be incurred for local and nearby activities. Avoid fees or charges for youth activities. When necessary, these should be funded by ward or branch budgets. . . . Avoid other unbudgeted, out-of-pocket expenses for Church members, including unnecessary time, travel, expensive activities and programs. . . . Stake and ward officers should review budgets carefully and curtail activities that require frequent contributions of Church members." (First Presidency letter, April 3, 1981; Bulletins No. 22, April 1982; No. 3, January 1984; No. 16, March 1985; and No. 1, 1987.)
It is not intended that youth groups raise large sums of money for expensive trips. (Presiding Bishopric Office letter, Jan. 4, 1974.)
- Don't plan activities that require unnecessary travel. In President Hinckley's address to the regional representatives in 1981 he also said, "There is a growing disposition on the part of some bishops to arrange exotic trips for young people. . . . It is not necessary to travel far. I recently attended a Friday night and Saturday youth conference in a California stake. The young people were having a wonderful time, and none had found it necessary to travel more than 10 or 15 miles."
According to the April 1982 Bulletin, "Those who supervise activities for youths and young adults should not plan events that require long-distance travel and unusual expense. Leaders generally should discourage overnight activities for mixed groups." Leaders also were encouraged to exercise wisdom and avoid undue expense and extravagance and to emphasize family-centered activities.