New Youth Curriculum, and the Digital Facilitation of New Revelation

joseph_phoneI have often considered the massive practical difficulties in regards to promulgation that would be involved if the Church today were to present a radical, paradigm-, policy- or doctrinal-shifting revelation, the likes of 1978’s Official Declaration 2. This difficulty can be seen on a smaller scale, with relatively minor decisions to subtly update the presentation of the modern scriptural canon and normative manuals, such as “Gospel Principles”.

For example, in the recent past, there have been some well-documented updates to some of the introductory material and chapter headers in the Book of Mormon. While some of these changes appeared in some printings of the Doubleday Mass Market edition of the Book of Mormon in 2007, the official church print editions as of yet remain unaltered.

However, these changes are to be found in the current official electronic text, found on, and all of the mobile apps, such as LDS Gospel Library. Which, at least in the wards I’ve attended in the United States, is becoming more and more the standard edition referenced in Church meetings.

This can create confusion. For example, during a recent Gospel Principles class, I was asked to read from the introduction to the Book of Mormon. I read aloud from my official Gospel Library app on my smartphone that the Lamanites  are “among the ancestors of the American Indians.


My wife nudged me, and pointed to her print edition, hinting that I left out the word “principal” as found in her newly purchased leather-bound mini quad.


Both are current and authorized editions of Church documents. While this example can validly be seen as a minor detail , it still raises the question of which is to be institutionally preferred? As far as I am aware, the changes to the explanatory introductory material, footnotes, and section headers [1] have never been officially and publicly announced. As a result, my experience is that, five years after they have been altered, most Church members do not even know that these changes exist.

Similarly, while the publication and existence of the new 2010 edition of Gospel Principles was well known, no official attention was called to the individual changes in wording and emphasis, and what their significance may have been. When the new edition was first released in July 2009, I personally went line by line and documented each and every change, no matter how minor, and documented my discoveries on an LDS Message board. The reason and significance for individual changes was at times heatedly debated. [2] Since the manual’s implementation as an official replacement in 2010, I have seen teachers still content to use the old print edition, thinking any changes were only in form of format and shifting of some chapter orders. They had no significant reason to believe otherwise.


The coming of a new and completely revamped curriculum for youth has been rumored and whispered  about (and clamored for) throughout the web in the past year. Well, it’s finally here, and will most likely be announced and explained in this weekend’s General Conference.

While I’m sure there will be much more to be said about the new curriculum in the coming months before its implementation in January 2013, both by Church Leaders and throughout the bloggernacle, there is one key element about its presentation – and very existence – that I find fascinating, and worth exploring.

The old curriculum for Young Men and Young Women was infamous in some circles for its occasional highly dated cultural and even doctrinal stories and examples. [3] AP_Resource_GuideIn recent years, the Church attempted to update these manuals by issuing print as well as online ‘Resource Guides’, which are supplements with new stories, references, and even suggestions to cut certain lessons from the regular rotation – all while the ‘base’ manuals remained in circulation, and in print.

For 2012, the supplement took a significant step, became purely an online resource, without print editions being distributed to units. While certainly a helpful step forward, somewhat like a software patch for fundamentally outdated version of software (or simply a band-aid), it did not stop many teachers from still simply ‘sticking to the manual’, and rehashing the old quotes, stories and emphases.

come_follow_meWith the introduction of “Come Follow Me”, the curriculum for Aaronic Priesthood, Young Women, and Youth Sunday School is now completely online, and completely dynamic.

The new system is structured around 12 monthly doctrinal themes, which are based on those in the Preach My Gospel missionary lessons, and are minimalistically defined on a page of ‘Basic Doctrinal Principles’ with suggested outlines for discussion and practical application of these ideas.

What struck me the most on first surveying the new material was how versatile and flexible this online system was, in the context of implementing and promulgating the teaching of a hypothetical substantial doctrinal readjustment.

An exercise helpful in recognizing the power inherent in this model:

  • Think of any hot-topic doctrinal principle that, if revised through through a new prophetic pronouncement or Official Declaration, would effect in any degree one of the 12 topic covered in this curriculum.
  • Dig down into the site to see where in the present curriculum the traditional explanation is set out.
  • Consider what very little else may need to be practically shifted to bring what is currently there in line to that new hypothetical revelation.
  • Change a few lines of text. Add a couple words here, delete a few words there, remove this link to Old Reference, add new conference talk and different scriptural proof-text.

And with that, source texts for editions of teaching curriculum used on smartphones, tablets, and other e-readers around the world are automatically adjusted, without remaining outdated print editions to worry about.

If made me realize that if the majority of Church curriculum (and definitive versions of the Scriptures!) begin to move to purely and substantially online content, this facilitates the ability for hypothetical New Revelation and/or readjusted emphases or corrections to quickly be implemented and distributed, and abrogated understandings to be institutionally removed in an incredibly efficient manner. [4]

If I was a worldwide Church leader, and I was discussing the practicalities of advancing a major potential policy or doctrinal revelation if it were to come, such a move to more reliance on dynamic digital curriculum – and deference to it over existing print editions – would be one of the very first things I would look to implement.

While I know there are many church members who do not desire, wish, or look forward to any further paradigm-and-policy shifting revelations, it is fascinating to see a Church that proclaims Living Revelation and Open Canon as a major selling point begin to move forward with a curriculum framework [5] which would practically allow and provide for the efficient institutional implementation of the creedal affirmation that through the institutional Church, God will “yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Articles of Faith 9).


[1] Other examples of electronic-only changes include the removal of the explicit association of skin of blackness with the Lamanite cursing in the header to 2 Nephi 5, and the related change in Mormon 5 which used to reinforce the image of the ‘dark, filthy, and loathsome’ Lamanites. Also,  the FARMS-inspired changed from ‘Nephite coinage’ to ‘Nephite monetary system’ in the header to Alma 11. – one view of the significance and history of this last change was just highlighted again in a recent post at the FAIR Blog.

[2] The thread is now archived, and most of the links no longer work, and the formatting is significantly off, but the nature of discussion can still be seen here.

[3] Such as the manual used in 2011 for Aaronic Priesthood holders discouraging interracial marriage, using a quote from 1977 before the Priesthood Ban on those of black African descent was lifted

[4] Not only would this be helpful for revelation and policy, but for also manuals that include historical or scriptural examples that become unacceptably outdated or inaccurate as scholarship develops.

[5] Which I very much look forward to seeing rolled out into Adult curriculum


New Youth Curriculum, and the Digital Facilitation of New Revelation — 21 Comments

  1. BHodges,

    Oh, I agree. There are (at least) two issues at work here, and I think it will remain to be seen how this is handled.

    The one issue is that of how to keep the materials relevant and living, without the need for a major worldwide publishing effort (which really financially and practically adds up when you add print editions for every language currently functioning with the Translation division), and the other being, in the case of changes without a major New Revelation, how to transition and shift with as little publicity as possible.

    I can see this model being used to slowly transition to (and away from) ideas that will support (or hinder) a Big Change that is being planned to be officially unveiled at a future date. It can also be used to subtly transition away from the official promulgation of what are now understood as unscriptural cultural traditions and unfounded speculative assertions (I believe many of the significant updates in Gospel Principles were motivated by this), effectively widening the tent of acceptable orthodox views.

    I guess two words I could use that might describe the ways changes could potentially be accomplished in this model are ‘efficiently’ and ‘subtly’. I certainly understand how the ‘subtly’ part can be disconcerting to some.

  2. I am very curious about what will be changed in the new editions of the scriptures that have been announced for 2013. Could be interesting :-).

  3. Hey Tom, could you point me to where it has been announced that there will be new scriptures next year? I haven’t heard about that.

  4. There is already a short memory among the Saints about past issues. I meet young people who have no concept of ideas that seemed like essentials when I was growing up in the Church in the 70s. Like the girl in college who had no idea there ever was a priesthood ban on black men. This new approach not only allows the Church to more effectively shift emphasis or doctrine, but allows it to more effectively bury what it wants to forget.

    Another factor to consider is how critics of the Church have capitalized on embarrassing statements in past print materials to advance their critiques, as with the recent dust-up about the priesthood ban. And critics have used the comparison of past and present print materials to demonstrate changes in LDS teaching or emphasis – which some critics see as evidence of fundamental institutional dishonesty.

  5. I discovered a new edition of the scriptures is being prepared when I went to the local Distribution Center a month or so ago to buy new scriptures for my son who is starting seminary. They had a note up to explain the relatively poor selection available.

    I found a similar note online at which said that only a basic selection of scriptures would be kept available between now and late 2013 when the new edition is released.

  6. My Bishop just independently confirmed Tom D’s statement (he had some discussions with Distribution on this subject, to order new scriptures for Seminary). Well, this suddenly makes this weekend much more interesting.

  7. Someone else is now indicating that they were under the impression from Distribution that rather than a new edition, it was simply a new binding (different leather, covers, etc).

  8. Hey, did y’all catch Elder Echo Hawk citing the “New” version of the BoM intro (“among the ancestors”) in his Saturday conference address? Was that the first conference (or official in general) citation of the 2007 revised BoM material?

  9. Here’s a response from the info people at the Distribution website, not too helpful, but I doubt we will see big changes. Perhaps the intro and some chapter headings would be adjusted to match what we see on the website now:

    “We are getting new scriptures at the end of the year. We do not know yet what colors they will be, or how they are different from the old kind. Just that they are coming.”

  10. Also, I just called Distribution myself. The very nice lady on the phone only knew that certain color sets were being discontinued. I asked if that meant only leather editions were affected, and as far as she knew that was correct. She was, however, very open about not knowing anything about it, noting she might be mistaken, and saying “You’ll probably know before I do!”, but volunteered that she hadn’t heard anything about wording being changed.

  11. I personally think that taking well over a year just to change the covers strange. I hope that a bit of work on the text is also in the works. Cleaning up the Bible translation into something more like an NRSV would be nice.

    In any case I think I’ll wait another year to buy a new paper set to mark up. We’ll see.

  12. Nice post, but is noone else concerned about potential issues with the new curriculum? Is anyone here able to answer the following questions i have?
    1. Was this piloted in any units where there are VERY few members? In such units finding teachers to fill all the callings who are capable of a more demanding curriculum may be a major concern. If so, what was the feedback from those units on what worked well for them? I see it was piloted in several states, but that could mean Idaho, Utah & California.
    2. Is this it? Are the topics to teach the youth going to be the same 12 topics every year for the next six consecutive years? This would make for a very narrow/repetitive curriculum.

  13. 1. I’m not aware of all who were tested. I had seen notes online from individuals who were piloting this program from outside the Mormon Corridor, however.
    2. The topics are very broad, and very wide. They allow a lot of room for further nuance and detail as youth grow, get older, and think new thoughts, make new connections. Keep in mind that, ideally, these discussions focusing on a doctrinal overview are being paired with daily (during the school year) plowing through the scriptural canon in Seminary. While I think there are also some significant problems with the current Seminary manuals, my understanding is that some significant updates will be going on in some form with the CES side of things as well. I’m very curious to see how this will work out. I do think it is a very smart decision to have the focus much more strongly on discussing and exploring general doctrinal topics on Sunday, and leaving the exploring of the scriptures to family/daily seminary classes. To a degree, this is what was already happening, but under the pretense that the Youth/Adult Sunday School GD manuals actually engaged one with the scriptures.

  14. Assuming we’re talking of units where providing suitable teachers is an issue, it becomes more difficult to adapt the lessons to youth as they grow older, because a possible scenario is that you end up with one class in Sunday School for the whole age range from 12-18yrs. The same can happen for YM/YW, so while some youth are getting older, you have other new additions to your class coming in at the age of 12. To avoid teaching at a level where everything goes over the heads of the younger students, you have to keep your lessons to a basic level, never changing much the content of what you teach the older ones. The one advantage to the current system is that there is a different lesson for every week for the 6 yrs.

  15. Deraj,

    Is your suggestion a prediction that the 12-17 Youth Sunday school combines for a single class, rather than remain tiered by age as they currently are?

    While I see that as a possibility for small units (where, most likely, that was already done before the curriculum change due to necessity), I think the emphasis on personalized and specialized teaching would point in the desire to keep the age divided classes, and to temper and address the topics accordingly.

    The topics currently are:
    1. Godhead
    2. Plan of Salvation
    3. Atonement
    4. Apostasy and Restoration
    5. Prophets and Revelation
    6. Priesthood and Priesthood Keys
    7. Ordinances and Covenants
    8. Marriage and Family
    9. Commandments
    10. Becoming More Christlike
    11. Spiritual and Temporal Self-Reliance
    12. Building the Kingdom of God in the Latter Days.

    Those are substantially broad, and have plenty of room for innovation, nuance, and even re-definition in many cases as time goes on, and as youth mature. There is amazing potential for good and productive learning there, I think. While this was I think part of the plan before with the Old Curriculum, its set in stone nature made it necessarily static rather than dynamic.

  16. Yes, I agree that the new curriculum is far superior in and of itself. The old curriculum for sunday school wasn’t even designed for youth at all, so i’m glad they’ve finally got rid. However, yes, there has been this problem of classes being grouped together because of lack of suitable teachers or any teachers at all. There are far more of these smaller units in the world than there are of the large units that never face such an issue. The new curriculum being more demanding of the teachers than the old curriculum makes this even more of an issue. This then has the knock-on effect of making what should have been a broad and flexible syllabus, far more limited and repetitive.
    Also, I have some youth in my class, who have VERY limited understanding. I could potentially be teaching 26 at least reasonably basic lessons on the Godhead over 6 yrs. I see a great deal of potential/even need for a lot of repetition

  17. I received some very helpful feedback from the manager of product awareness. You may find it to be of interest:
    “- We did test the program in several areas around the world, including small units that don’t have many leaders to choose from. We understand the challenges that many units face, which you described in your email. The new curriculum will require teachers to prepare themselves for the lessons and will certainly be difficult for many that don’t have strong teaching skills. However, the new curriculum is designed to allow teachers to facilitate discussion much more than to be “lecturers”, which could be a benefit to inexperienced instructors. As teachers study and prepare spiritually, we hope they will be able to identify questions and discussion points that will carry the lesson, and we hope the youth will be speaking much more than the teacher. We know it won’t come easily and we did see many units struggle with it at first. However, our experience has been that after a few months, all the units experienced a change in the way the discussions went. We will continue to add training videos, and teaching tips to each of the lessons, which we hope will help teachers. I will see if we can gather some feedback from teachers and what they did to make things work in their units. Perhaps that will be the most valuable information we can provide to teachers.
    – The age requirements for Sunday school are not set in stone, as outline in Handbook 2, 12.8. It states that “In a small ward or branch, members of the Sunday School presidency may also serve as teachers. Youth classes may be combined as needed. In a very small unit, the Sunday School president may be the only Sunday School leader and teacher. In this case, he teaches a Sunday School class for all members ages 12 and older. When possible, more leaders and teachers should be called.” So you can definitely combine classes if you don’t have enough youth or teachers to have different classes.
    – The new curriculum is an ever-changing curriculum. Lessons and units will change constantly. In fact, the study materials for each lesson will change every six months and will include new references from the most recent general conference. New videos will also be added to the units as they come out. As far as the unit topics go, we don’t have a schedule of when they will be changed, but individual lessons will be constantly changes to adapt to new materials being released by the Church. However, the old format of Church History or specific books (Book of Mormon, New Testament) will no longer be used. Many of those principles can be used in lessons to emphasize certain topics, but as of now, the Church leadership has chosen to go with this new 12-unit format for youth curriculum.

    I hope these answers help a little. Please let me know how else we can help. “