A new feature at LDS.org, the official website for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a wonderful list of 150 meaningful activities for their teenagers to do during weekday meetings. Members of the Church are often nicknamed Mormons. The Mormons have an extensive youth program that includes two age-targeted meetings each Sunday, frequent evening religious discussions, a before-school in-depth scripture study class on weekdays, summer camps, and a once-a-week activity meeting called Mutual.
The activity page is designed to enhance the Mutual program. One day a week, the youth get together to carry out activities that serve a purpose beyond simply having fun. It is a chance to put what they learn on Sundays into practice in a meaningful way. A month is usually divided up so the youth meet with their individual class—grouped by age and gender—twice a month, with all the youth of their gender one day a month, and a group activity with all the youth the remaining week. Teenagers attend this program from age twelve until high school graduation or age eighteen.
The program allows them to spend time with people who share their values and beliefs. Mormons don’t run private schools, and for a youth who might be the only Mormon in school, or one of few, this is a time he or she doesn’t have to constantly stand up for his faith or cope with peer pressure to make bad choices. Youth are able to strengthen their testimonies, make friends, and have new experiences. One thing the youth learn is that fun doesn’t have to be immoral or meaningless. You can do something that matters or that teaches and still have a great time if you’re with people you care about or if you are doing something you know will change your life or the life of another person.
Most people who plan an activity start by asking what would be fun to do. Mormons are taught instead to plan with a purpose. Rather than using fun as a starting point, they ask, “What do we want to have happen in the lives of the teens in our program? Who needs help? What can we do that will matter?” Then they think of an activity that will carry out that purpose. A well-planned activity might fulfill several purposes at the same time.
Mormon youth activities are carried out through shadow leadership. Each class has a three person presidency—a class president and two counselors. The presidency also has a secretary. The young people plan their own activities under the guidance of the adult advisors. By teaching leadership skills and asking appropriate questions, the advisors can help the teenagers plan meaningful activities and to gradually improve their abilities to lead. For instance, when an activity is over, the presidency will meet with advisors to evaluate the event. Instead of leaders telling the youth what went right or wrong, they ask questions. “You reported that everyone had fun. I agree that most people did seem to be enjoying themselves. Did you see anyone who might have felt left out?” If the teens remember having seen Maria on the sidelines, the leaders might ask, if the teens don’t think of it themselves, “What can you do to help her participate and fit in the next time?”
Since they begin serving as leaders when they are just twelve, by the time they leave the program, most of the teens have had an opportunity to lead and have well-developed leadership skills that prepare them for success as adults in their lay church and in the world.
A planning activity might begin with the advisors asking the teen leaders to identify an area in which they feel their group needs improvement or opportunity. The activities on the new website are divided into categories that can be used to help the youth to evaluate their progress in each area.
A group might decide they need more experience in practical life skills they will need in order to live on their own with a tight budget. They might also be concerned that they need more opportunities to serve. A youth in the group is aware of an organization that asks for donations of tote bags filled with items for homeless teenagers and the others may decide they would like to participate in that. To resolve both concerns at the same time, they decide to make the tote bags themselves. However, many of the young people don’t know how to sew. While they are collecting donations of items to put into the totes, they have several sewing lessons and then make the bags. They’ve now learned a valuable life skill–sewing—that they can use to benefit themselves, but that also serves as a way to help others.
Besides offering a list of activity suggestions, the website also allows groups to submit their own activities for consideration. In time, the website will contain a very large collection of youth-tested activities. It also allows those with free accounts to log in and record their events for the use of their own congregation. Everyone who has access can check the calendar to see what their teenagers are doing and groups can also be emailed the schedule.
Visit the Youth Activities site. Many of these activities will be useful to people running youth groups of other faiths, as well.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.