Our Primary children are priceless. The Savior taught, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14). Our prophet also is deeply concerned about the welfare of every soul. He speaks of the tragedy of the loss of even one person, pleading for us to retain those on the records of the Church. I want to share some ideas about ministering to each child in such a way that he or she will always want to stay strong in the Church. I hope you are aware of every Primary child in your unit and are excited about the opportunities we have to love and strengthen each child. It is a sacred trust to be involved in influencing the hearts and minds of children.
As members of the Primary general presidency study Church statistics, we are concerned with the number of children on Church records who have not been baptized. Baptism is a saving ordinance. We know that children under the age of eight are innocent before the Lord and that the Lord has identified eight as the age of accountability. Parents and Primary help prepare each child on the records of the Church for baptism. But where are the children who have not been baptized?
When I think of the children who have been on the records of the Church and are not continuing in the Lord’s way, my heart grieves. Could we do more? I hear in my heart the future plea of those children: “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul” (Ps. 142:4).
May I suggest some things to consider as you make plans to keep every child active in the Church. In Primary we can apply our prophet’s counsel that every new member needs “a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’” (“Converts and Young Men,” Ensign, May 1997, 47). We can do that in Primary.
Primary is also closely tied to the missionary effort. Primary is a model of conversion and retention. We help prepare children for baptism. We attend their baptisms and offer support and encouragement. Then we continue to love and involve the children in meaningful ways as we help them learn how to keep their baptismal covenants. Children are priceless converts. Our children, if kept strong in the faith, can have a lifetime of experience in the Church. They truly will be prepared to be our leaders.
Could we use some of the principles that missionaries use in helping people make mighty changes in their lives and desire to come into the Church by being baptized? Could we use the same principles to help us retain each child? These are true principles that can be applied in all parts of our lives.
The first thing a missionary does after preparing himself spiritually is to build relationships of trust. May I share a beautiful Primary example: “When my first Primary day arrived, I was the first teacher seated in the room. I knew my class would be the youngest, and I knew they were fresh out of the Primary nursery. But the significance of these facts hadn’t registered clearly in my planning. As each child arrived, I was truly shocked at how far down I had to look to find the tops of their little heads. They were just babies!
“The sophisticated lesson I had prepared, as well as my tailored suit and silk blouse, now seemed out of touch. As they gathered around, their faces looked up apprehensively. Do they even talk yet? I wondered, horrified at the possibilities. …
“I went home feeling just as overwhelmed by my Sunbeams as they were by me. My prayers the next week were pleas for help. I somehow felt this was where I needed to serve.
“The next Saturday evening I still had no clear answers. How do I relate to such tiny, tender beings? How do I translate the miracle of the gospel into plain, simple English for three-year-olds? Suddenly my vision focused on a picture on my wall. It was, in fact, my first Primary visual aid, purchased just two weeks before. So beautiful was this portrait of Jesus Christ holding a small child that I had hung it in my bedroom.
“I carefully studied the expression of love depicted in Christ’s eyes. New thoughts filled my mind. How much he must love them! How he desires to reassure them of his love! I then realized with perfect clarity that this was exactly the thing the Savior wanted me to do: I must love them in a way that would reassure them of his love.
“It was such a simple and beautiful answer. But to me, it seemed I had been asked to perform a miracle. Six painful years as a stepparent, and my subsequent divorce, had left my heart numb—especially to the idea of trying to love someone else’s children again.
“Throughout the night I tried to reconcile the conflict between what I knew the Lord wanted me to do and what I felt I could not do. It was only after hours of praying that I was convinced by the Spirit that I could change. The next day, seated on the bench with the Sunbeams, I looked at the questioning faces of the children sitting near me. I felt nervous yet determined as I said over and over in my mind, I’m going to love you.
“From that Sunday forth, a personal miracle began to unfold. Each week during our time together as a class, I was guided by the Spirit in the art of loving. And throughout the year, I was loved in return. There were excited waves across the chapel during sacrament meeting, shouted greetings from grocery store aisles, and gifts of oddly shaped cookies” (Sharon Montgomery Meyers, “Sunbeam Love,” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 71).
We will be better able to keep children strong in the Church when they trust us and feel our love.
The second thing a missionary does is to help others feel and recognize the Spirit of the Lord. One leader shared this account: “In Primary sharing time we were talking about the Spirit and trying to get the children to recognize the times when they had felt the Spirit. We asked the children to think back about how they felt when they were baptized. Ten-year-old Matthew Maughan recalled, ‘I felt like my heart was in an oven.’ It was a fitting description of the more traditional phrase, ‘burning in the bosom.’”
In sharing time and lesson time, use the scriptures, music, stories, and your testimony to invite the Spirit.
A mother reported that reading the scriptures aloud to her children had not only increased their understanding of the Book of Mormon, but “our children are learning to feel the Spirit. After scripture study one night, our son Spencer whispered, ‘Mom, I feel good inside.’ ‘Why do you feel good?’ I asked. ‘Because I feel the Holy Ghost,’ he replied.”
Music can invite the Spirit. One woman told this story:
“As a girl I would sometimes pause while praying and say, ‘I want to sing you a song,’ and then proceed to sing a current favorite learned in Primary or Sunday School, before continuing on with my prayer. I remember one cold, bright, windy March afternoon, sitting in the branches of a favorite climbing tree after school, feeling so free and happy to be outside that I said, ‘Heavenly Father, I’m going to sing for you “Whenever I Hear the Song of a Bird.”’ While singing that song, such a sweet feeling of joy and acceptance flooded my soul that I knew Heavenly Father loved me. I was glad my song made Him happy. As an adult now, I am grateful to see how the spontaneous, unassuming act of an eight-year-old girl allowed knowledge of Heavenly Father’s love to fill my young heart, for this knowledge has been built upon and has sustained me as I have matured.”
Dwan Young, who was the Primary general president a few years ago, shared with me her feelings about bearing testimony in Primary. She said that as a music leader in Primary, she felt that she taught the children in a profound way. She said that when she bore testimony to the children after they sang, the witness of the Spirit was very strong.
As we bear testimony in Primary, the Spirit will confirm to the children the truths we teach. It is important that we teach them how to identify the feelings that accompany the Spirit. Children are more likely to progress in the gospel when they feel the Spirit and understand how the Spirit will help them in their lives.
Missionaries spend much of their time presenting the message as they teach the discussions. We teach in every part of Primary. Another sister shared this experience:
“I was the substitute teacher for the 10- and 11-year-old Valiant class, teaching a lesson about the time when Martin Harris was allowed to take some translated pages of the Book of Mormon and copies of some ancient characters to Charles Anthon. The children were listening intently and all was going well. I read Martin Harris’s account of taking the papers to Professor Anthon and then cross-referenced it to the Bible where Isaiah foresaw someone saying, ‘I can’t read a sealed book.’
“All of a sudden, one little boy became very excited and said, ‘Hey, Isaiah is in the Bible! Lots of other religions believe in the Bible, and right here it tells them about the Book of Mormon!’ It was as if a light had gone on in his mind and he got it! He was so excited. He wanted to make sure both the scriptures we read were marked, and even later when we were all finished and waiting for another meeting, he came up to me and said how great it was that the Bible, which everyone believes in, talks about the Book of Mormon and how people should know about that. It almost made me cry. It was almost like being a missionary again and having a truth click in someone’s mind. He wanted to go home and tell his dad all about what he had found out. It was so fulfilling to me.”
When we teach gospel truths, the Spirit will teach the children. I believe we will retain children when the truth “clicks” in their minds. When lessons are exciting and meaningful, the children will not want to miss Primary.
Another principle missionaries use is to find out if their investigators understand the things they have been taught and if they have any concerns.
In Primary this can be very enjoyable. It is like a treasure hunt, discovering what is in the heart and mind of every child. We can use factual questions, thought-provoking questions, and application questions that will help us find out if we are teaching in a way they understand. We can ask questions to assess the needs of children so we can understand how best to encourage and love them.
Missionaries also include other steps in helping their investigators progress to baptism. They resolve concerns, invite, follow up, and plan.
As investigators feel loved, feel the Spirit, and are taught the gospel, they are invited to make and keep commitments. Similarly, children are able to make commitments at a very young age. They can decide to be temple worthy, go on a mission, be married in the temple, and stay strong in the Church.
All of these principles are ways to show love. I believe that as we love each child, we will be able to retain every child.
Stake leaders can encourage ward Primary leaders to make a plan to keep every child active, especially children who have recently joined the Church. If we do this, soon there will be fewer children to activate.
I know many ward and branch leaders are doing good things to reach out to the less active. One ward presidency was concerned because 29 percent of their children were not attending. May I quote what the Primary president wrote:
“Our presidency pondered goals for our Primary and decided to focus on those children who were not attending even one Primary a month. At a later time, our bishopric adviser gave me a list of three goals he wanted the Primary to work on. One of them was to try and invite one more child to attend each class.
“We had a board meeting to introduce our activation program to the teachers, and the Spirit was very strong. We told them of an idea to use the children as kingdom builders. We talked about lost sheep and gave them ideas of how to involve their classes in this project. We followed up with them on the projects they selected. All of us united in purpose and a common goal.
“The Lord has greatly blessed us. I have learned a lot about working on goals to help fulfill the Lord’s great purposes. My testimony has been strengthened. I am learning the power of children as kingdom builders and the real power that there is when, as an organization, we are united in purpose.”
Children can be meaningfully involved in helping with the work of the kingdom. There couldn’t be a better way to choose the right than to help someone come to Church and learn about our Savior. May I say “hooray” for Primary children who are already helping with this great concern to activate others. How grateful I am that these children are being good examples to their friends, and how pleased I am when they invite their nonmember or less-active friends to Primary activities. Here is a fine example: “Haley Marie Steward lives in Mesa, Arizona. She is four years old. One Sunday afternoon after she got home from Church a knock came at her door, and it was a little neighbor boy from down the street who wasn’t a member of the Church. He asked Haley if she could come to his house and swim in his pool. She explained to him that she didn’t swim on Sunday because it was the Sabbath and Heavenly Father’s day. She then proceeded to get some papers she had received at Primary that day and explained them to him. She then asked him if he wanted to come to their activity day they were going to have that week. He went home and asked his mom, and she said it would be OK. He had a great time, and the following week he and his mom came to Church. The missionaries were then sent to set up a first discussion.”
Assisting parents and helping with our Father’s work is an important responsibility. What a happy opportunity we have to be involved with these precious children. I invite you to put into practice these missionary principles.
Thank you for helping to love and teach each child. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).
Maintain personal worthiness. Love the Lord, pray, study, and always be on your guard.
Support and strengthen parents. Find ways to interact with the children’s parents—work together, share insights and concerns, and share what the children are learning in Primary.
Help children gain a foundation of righteousness. Families are strengthened by their private religious behaviors, including prayer, family home evening, and scripture study. Do the children know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love them? Are the children prepared to be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and keep their baptismal covenants? Are we doing all we can to help boys prepare to receive the priesthood? Are we helping girls understand what it means to be righteous young women?
Reach out with love. To inspire you to reach out to those in need, watch the segments “Teacher, Do You Love Me?” in the Primary Video Collection (53179) and “Activating Children” in the Primary Leader Training Video (VNVV0088).
Share the Church’s vision with ward leaders. Help ward leaders understand their sacred callings and the worth of each child. Carefully study the Primary section of the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2 and other Church-produced Primary materials. Help ward leaders understand the purpose and objectives of Primary: to teach children the gospel of Jesus Christ and help them learn to live it.
Coordinate your efforts in the ward council. Councils are where we work to accomplish the mission of the Church to invite all to come to Christ. A child’s inactivity usually indicates a larger concern. Discussing concerns with priesthood advisers and then taking these concerns to the ward council could result in an entire family being blessed.
Encourage and lift ward leaders. As you help others feel good about their efforts, they in turn will know how to nurture and support children. We all want to do well, and usually we are trying to do our best. Just a little encouragement gives us the courage and incentive to try a little harder.
This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider discussing questions such as:
What does the Savior teach about reaching out to those in need?
Do we know any children who could be invited to a Church meeting or activity? When could we do so?
How can we use missionary principles to help others?