The Home Teaching Problem

June 22, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 9:51 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Ok, I am a nerdy ward clerk, I admit it. This post isn’t about doctrine or theology at all. It’s about practice. If it seems secular and aspiritual in nature, it’s probably because I am a ward clerk and not an EQP.

This week I was asked to help set up the division of households for home teaching between the High Priests and the Elders. This is a challenge for me, and a big one. Ultimately, My solution was to pull about 20 different reports then push it back to the EQP and HPGL to work on, but I’d love your thoughts.

Here’s the problem. High Priests want to home teach High Priests, A recent letter says High Priests are responsible for home teaching Prospective Elders. It is the “rule” in my ward that in families where the woman is young and single (or the head of household due to other reasons) she is to be taught by a High Priest. Also, If the woman is a widow (old and single or old and head of household) she is to be taught by the high priests. In fact, Women in General who are the head of the household are to be taught by the high priests.

Here-in lies the problem. Women represent 40% of the heads of Household in my Ward. Prospective Elders represent 25% of the heads and High Priests Represent 10%. So 75% of the Ward would need to be visited by 10% of the ward, while the other 25% of the Ward only needs to visit itself.

So what of these rules are real and what are imagined? Are there Wards that are able to obey these rules? If not, what are the better work arounds?

Problem #2, Home teaching is done by companionships. Because we have 15 active High Priests, we have stretched them into 14 companionships by either pairing them with their aaronic priesthood sons, pairing them with their wives, or pairing them with an Elder if they have neither of the above. We even have one High Priest who goes by himself. This isn’t that bad.

The problem comes up in Elders Quorum, where the children are too young to go out, and the wife typically can’t go with the husband because of the children. In this scenario, of our 16 companionships, 3 people have no companions, 3 people have active companions, and the other 10 have companions that haven’t been to church in the 3 years I’ve lived in this ward, and I’d lay odds they don’t home teach either.

What are the best practices here? Is it simply better to only selectively home teach? What are the best methods for getting through the list and ensuring everyone on the list actually even lives at the address provided?

(Keep in mind that this is only the visitable ward, as about 18% of the ward is on the “Bishop’s list” anyway.)


  1. Well, I’d probably ask the bishop or the stake which “rule” of assigning they want broken first, because this certainly doesn’t look sustainable to me.

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — June 22, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  2. What are the best methods for getting through the list and ensuring everyone on the list actually even lives at the address provided?

    Matt, just two weeks ago we did this in my ward. The EQP had the list of “lost sheep” and in priesthood meeting, rather than have a lesson, he divided the 16 of us who were there into companionships and gave us each 3 names and addresses. In forty minutes our quorum was able to to visit 24 addresses and verify who lived there, and whether they wanted home teachers. The clerk and the bishop were very grateful.

    Comment by Mark IV — June 22, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  3. It sounds as if Mark IV lives in Utah. It would take us in Florida at least four hours to visit 24 addresses.

    Comment by Michael — June 22, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  4. Have the Bishop read the letter from the Church regarding High Priests and Prospective Elders again, and read it carefully. It does NOT say that High Priests must Home Teach Prospective Elders. It says that the High Priest Group Leader now has responsibility for the PROGRESS of Prospective Elders. It says specifically that Prospective Elders should be assigned carefully to the place where they can be best fellowshipped. Note that there are two pages to that letter, the back page offering helpful hints and clarifications for implementing this change. It is clear that sometimes a High Priest MAY BE assigned to home teach a Prospective Elder. If he is, then he needs to decide if that Prospective Elder will be more comfortable in the Elders Quorum or in the High Priest Group. If he is better fellowshipped int he EQ, it is appropriate for the HP who is assigned to attend the EQ with the Prospective Elder! The bottom line is this, the HPGL is responsible to know who the Prospective Elders are, where they are assigned, and what, if any, progress is being made. They should follow the progress and make the assignments in cooperation with the Bishop and the Elders Quorum President to insure that they have all the best information and make the best possible assignments. I hope this helps.


    Comment by Neal — June 22, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  5. Uuughh. I just moved to a ward were all the singles attend a family ward. For some reason, the high priests have been assigned to the single sisters. Don’t get me wrong, the high priests are great, but it’s a little creepy to have some old married man visit you than the single guys you know well. Is this a policy? In the singles ward it doesn’t seem to be a problem for single guys to be hometeaching single girls.

    Comment by Single in the City — June 22, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  6. Matt,

    We don’t have the same “young and single” rule that your ward does. I agree with Julie (and you I think) that your current set of rules is not workable. One idea I had is that you just have a really really low percentage of home teaching done every month. That is how we solve the problem in my ward.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 22, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  7. Three thoughts:

    1. There is no necessary reason to assign all prospective elders to HPs. I agree with Neal on that.

    2. In my last ward, generally single sisters of any age were assigned to HPs, so that seems to be a common practice, but in my current ward it doesn’t seem to be an iron clad rule. In my last ward I actually ended up HTing a young widow, because I was the home teacher when the husband/father died unexpectedly at a young age. That was actually the best experience I have ever had in HTing, because I was genuinely needed and was able to help that little family survive a traumatic situation. (She has since remarried, had another baby and is doing fantastic.)

    3. My general advice is this: divide the roster into three groups: active people who don’t really need or want HTers (like me), inactive people who don’t want HTers, and active people who really want or need HTers as well as marginally active people who are on the bubble and can be genuinely helped with some focused attention. Then assign your crappy HTers to the first two groups, and your very best HTers to the third group. In other words, good HTing is a very limited resource in almost any ward, so you need to apply that resource where it can do the most good.

    (I’ve got one of the best HTers in the ward. As much as I love and appreciate him, I really don’t care that much; his talents would be much better applied to some other family that has a greater need for the attention.)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 22, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

  8. “The EQP had the list of “lost sheep” and in priesthood meeting, rather than have a lesson…”

    which probably wasn’t prepared in time, so the EQP had to wing it.

    “The clerk and the bishop were very grateful.”

    I bet the guys in the quorum were grateful to not have a lesson.

    I’m not being snarky, that same thing happened in one ward I was in. The two people we visited in our time period told in no uncertain terms, using several anglo-saxon four letter words, not to visit them again.

    Comment by Phouchg — June 22, 2007 @ 7:37 pm

  9. Thanks all for your ideas. They were very helpful.

    As for the one question, Single in the City, I think the issue isn’t single guys hometeaching single ladies. It’s Married Young Men Teaching Single Ladies. I’ve seen situations where young wives can be extremely jealous and accusatory. I think it depends entirely on the single young woman and the single young lady.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 24, 2007 @ 7:37 am

  10. Well, if it’s any consolation, the High Priests also tend to have a bit more time on their hands than the Elders Quorum.

    There’s a reason genealogy and temple work are dominated by the High Priests.

    But I agree it’s a problem.

    Comment by Seth R. — June 24, 2007 @ 8:31 am

  11. In our elders quorum, my counsellors and I make HT assignments and let the home teachers deal with it.

    We try to split up families evenly, with my counsellors and I taking on additional families first when the quorum grows every Septemebr. As the quorum continues to grow, however, everyone else ends up having to take on 5 or 6 families as well.

    At first, I used to stress about this because I knew those companionships never went out. Now I don’t stress out about it. I assign the families, and we teach the brethren. Then we let them take the responsibility themselves. Sure we continue to teach them and follow up with their assignments, but the responsibility is theirs. No use in me taking on the burden of their responsibilities.

    It’s either that, or I visit 50 families every month.

    Comment by Kim Siever — June 25, 2007 @ 9:52 am

  12. I can say that these problems are not unique. I have experienced many of these type home teaching issues in various church units I have lived in on the East coast, Midwest, West Coast and even some foreign units.

    Our stake currently instructs us to assign all less actives to the full time missionaries.

    Anyway, I have a question. How do we encourage those who are at least regularly active to whatever degree to follow through with home teaching responsibilities?

    This is probably one of those great mysteries. As a longtime member of the church I have seen numerous techniques and leadership styles and none to be effective to achieve 100% or even high percentage home teaching consistently.

    As I am the EQP in my current ward I am constantly pressed by my leadership to push up the Quorum’s home teaching percentages.

    I don’t particularly like standing up in Priesthood opening exercise to hound, harp or encourage with guilt the brethren to do their home teaching or even to remind them each and every Sunday to get out their and visit their assigned families like they’re idiot children who don’t know their responsiblity already and need constant handholding and reminding. But it seems that unless I do do this my leadership see me as being some kind of apostate. When our HPGL stands up to beat the brethren about home teaching he is praised and supported by the leadership.

    Well, what do you all think? Any suggestions?

    How should we encourage the brethren to follow through with home teaching?

    Comment by Anon EQP — June 25, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  13. Anon EQP: If it’s the 100% you are looking for, have a meeting with all your Elders about who they want to home teach, and who they are willing to Home Teach, then assign all those families out and leave the rest of the families in the unassigned or DNC group. Then you can send out Ward Missionaries, High Priests, Presidency Members, or even Full Time missionaries to investigate the inactive families and get pretty high numbers because all your hometeachers are teachig who they want to teach, to a certain extent. If I were going after a high percentage, I guess that’s the way I’d do it.

    The Problem then comes when 50% of you ward isn’t assigned hometeachers…

    Comment by Matt W. — June 25, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  14. For what it is worth, there ARE units and entire Stakes within the US of A that have “modified” Home Teaching programs which are approved by the brethren. In these modified programs, the actives are assigned but not visited in their homes. The completely “less-active” members are assigned, but visited once annually. The primary focus of this modified program is on visiting those who have the best chance at transforming their lives. The idea being that once they get active again, we will have a stronger body of Home Teachers who can then reach out to other less active. No home teacher is assigned to visit more than 2 families in their home. We have been on this program for some 3 1/2 years. For the first 2 1/2 years I served as EQP, and saw firsthand how it was working. Instead of of HTers visiting their 10 families with a 30% success rate, they now visit their 2 families with the same 30% effort. No easy answers other than model effective home teaching and hope and pray they catch the vision.

    Comment by GDM — June 27, 2007 @ 12:08 am

  15. Anyway, I have a question. How do we encourage those who are at least regularly active to whatever degree to follow through with home teaching responsibilities?

    Are you asking how to encourage or how to encourage and have it work? Encouraging is very easy. Getting results… not so much.

    As a longtime member of the church I have seen numerous techniques and leadership styles and none to be effective to achieve 100% or even high percentage home teaching consistently.

    You make it sound like there should be some sort of magic bullet that can solve the problem. There is no magic. As long as priesthood holders have agency, some will choose to follow through with their assignments and some won’t.

    As I am the EQP in my current ward I am constantly pressed by my leadership to push up the Quorum’s home teaching percentages.

    I have found the best way to handle this particular situation is to nod your head in agreement during your interview and then promptly forget about it when you leave. You need to buffer your quorum from the statistic-mongers pressuring you. Just go back, teach correct principles, follow the program in the handbook and allow people to choose to succeed or fail. That’s all you can do. Once you realize that, most of the stress over your calling disolves and you can focus on more important things.

    Comment by JM — June 27, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  16. I just wanted to add, you shouldn’t measure your success by what other people are doing. You should measure it based on how closely you are following what you know you should be doing.

    Noah wasn’t a failure because nobody listened to him. He was a success because he did all he was asked to do.

    Comment by JM — June 27, 2007 @ 9:12 am

  17. JM,

    Thanks for the counsel. Much appreciated.

    Comment by Anon EQP — June 27, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  18. If there is a High priest group leader in a ward, can a high priest (AGE 50) be placed in an Elder’s quorum to be called as a first counselor under an Elder in an Elder Quorum?

    Comment by KEN MAC — July 14, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

  19. Anything Can happen. I have a friend who was RS president while he served on his mission in China.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 14, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  20. Brethren, As a Bishop we are given flexibilty. The new handbooks especially make it clear we do the best we can and leave it at that. While most Wards would find it truly impossible. But if each Home Teacher is given 4 families and your EQ and HP presidency are on board and continually follow up and expect accountability you can have almost every home teacher at 100%. The remaining families may not get a visit but they could get phone calls assigned to the Ward Council or PEC or presidencies again holding each other accountable and following up. The calls are not home teaching and do not boost numbers but they are watch care and the Lord would be well pleased

    Comment by Bill — September 22, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

  21. impossible to get 100% of all families visited. sorry

    Comment by Bill — September 22, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

  22. Has anyone heard of having both an opening and closing prayer when you home teach? I was always taught that you just leave a blessing on the home. Otherwise, the kids start to dread your visits as just another church meeting. Thoughts?

    Comment by lance — January 1, 2012 @ 5:54 pm