“Key to Strong Young Men: Gospel Commitment in the Home,” Ensign, Dec. 1984, 66–68
The young men in the Church most likely to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, go on missions, and marry in the temple come from homes where they were born in the covenant or later sealed to their parents.
And whether young men take these critical steps in life depends far more on the amount and kind of religious practice and observance they have had with parents in the home, their agreement with their parents’ religious values, and their own private religious experiences than it does on participation in any particular programs as they grow up.
These are findings from two studies done for the Church’s Priesthood Executive Committee by the Correlation Department’s Evaluation Division. In the first study, researchers gathered data through records of ten thousand Latter-day Saint men in the United States and Canada; in the second study, they surveyed a random sample of young men from fifty-four stakes within the United States, as well as their parents and some of their priesthood leaders.
The report on their research was written under the assumption “that there are certain outcomes in the lives of young men which are highly desirable. These outcomes include being ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, the obtaining of the temple endowment, serving a full-time mission, and being sealed in the temple.”
Thus, the purpose of the research was not simply to get a picture of the activity of young men in the Church, but also to help determine why those desired outcomes do or do not occur.
In studying membership records, researchers were attempting to determine what factors in a young man’s history in the Church might indicate his future course. Their findings offered strong confirmation of the effect of parental commitment to the gospel on the actions of their sons.
“Our information indicates that young men born in the covenant (or later sealed to their parents—and the sooner they are sealed the better) are three times more likely to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and married in the temple, five times more likely to go on missions and receive their endowments, and one-third as likely to marry outside the Church. It becomes clear that in order to help our young men (or young women), we must help their parents,” the report said.
In the second study, using questionnaires that preserved respondents’ anonymity, researchers asked young men about their religious activity. Then they combined these answers with responses from the parents and leaders to get a clearer picture of how young men’s experiences were affecting their lives. They found there were two factors which had the largest influence on whether young men desired to be morally clean, serve a mission, and marry in the temple. These were religious activity in the home (family prayer, family home evening, family scripture study), and agreement with parents on values and on goals for the future. In fact, these two things were found to have a greater influence than all other factors combined.
For that reason, the report advised, “Our efforts for young men must more directly recognize the role and prerogatives of their parents.” But, it adds, “Urging parents from the pulpit to spend more time with their children and also giving announcements on activities which will take children away from the parents is a double message which is often frustrating for conscientious parents to hear.”
A third factor which has a significant impact on what young men do with their lives is the contact they have with their priesthood adviser—whether they trust, admire, and feel close to him. When this kind of contact exists, and where he is a strong role model (active in the Church, married in the temple, a returned missionary, for example), then other variables such as his age, occupation, and training seem to have little or no effect on his influence with them. As a young man becomes older and home influence begins to diminish, the association between the young man and his priesthood adviser becomes the best predictor of both private religious behavior and religious experience; and these two distinctive factors were found to be the best indicators of whether he will go on a mission.
“It is not the position that is important, but the person,” the report said. A worthy, outstanding Melchizedek Priesthood holder may not be “fully effective” as an Aaronic Priesthood adviser if he does not have that relationship of trust with the boys. (The report notes additionally that while the influence of the bishop also increases as the boys grow older, the adviser still has more influence with them—probably because of the larger amount of time he is involved with them.)
The associations that advisers are able to establish with young men “are far more important than the content and implementation of the current young men’s programs,” the report noted.
Advisers can help with another important factor affecting the young men, the “estrangement/ integration” factor. This is the degree to which the young man feels he belongs, or fits into the group. “One of the surprising things about this factor,” the report said, “was that it was more a function of [his] association with his adviser … than it was of his peer group.”
Some factors have little effect on whether a young man marries in the temple or goes on a mission: the distance he lives away from the meetinghouse, the number of young people in his school who are LDS, whether his parents were converts, his father’s occupation, or whether his mother is employed. Characteristics of the ward’s activity program—whether the ward sponsors athletic teams and events, schedules “special” activities for youth, or implements Scout programs—while contributing to the general spirit of the ward, seem to have little effect in and of themselves.
If proper attention is not paid to home religious observance, parent-child agreement, leader-youth relationships, and the estrangement/integration factor, the report advised, “we can spend tremendous amounts of time, money, and energy without producing the results we seek in the lives of individual boys.”
One of the results that needs to be achieved in a young man’s life, the report points out, is consistent private religious behavior—personal prayer and scripture study, for example. Like most adolescents who are growing in maturity and learning to apply principles and practices in their lives, the survey shows that “many of the young men who are described as ‘active’ do not engage in private forms of religious activity and are spiritually undernourished. There is a prevalent, but often deceptive sense among local leaders that ‘all is well’ when they see youth participating in meetings and activities.” Though young men may attend and participate consistently, their private religious behavior is a far more reliable indicator of whether they will go on a mission or marry in the temple.
“Like the measure of private religious behavior, the religious experience factor (a sense of closeness to God and of the companionship of the Holy Ghost) … is a more potent factor in the decision to establish missionary and temple goals than program involvement or the frequency of meeting attendance,” the report continued. “Religious belief (in God, life after death, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s first vision, etc.) was quite high, but like public religious behavior was not sufficient, in and of itself, to carry a young man through the critical years of missionary service and into the mission field.”
A majority of the young men surveyed—approximately 60 percent—said they planned to be active in the Church and to be married in the temple, and approximately half of them said they planned to go on missions. Some 32 percent of the young men in the United States and Canada actually go on missions, and 35 percent receive their temple endowments by age twenty-five.
Often it is apparent years before mission age that a mission and Church activity are not a boy’s goals, as his progress in the priesthood slows or stops. Of one hundred boys baptized in the United States and Canada, the report said, seventy-six will be ordained deacons, sixty-five will be ordained teachers, and fifty-eight will be ordained priests.
The survey which provided part of the data for the report also measured the attitudes of Latter-day Saint young men toward a variety of behaviors that would be detrimental to spiritual progress.
LDS young men are much more likely than others their age to say they feel smoking, drinking, marijuana use, and illicit sexual activity are wrong, and they report much less involvement with these things than do other young men their age. (The comparisons are based on national surveys taken in the United States.)
Researchers pointed out that peers were more likely to influence young men in negative areas than in any of the positive outcomes covered in their survey. “This is consistent with findings from other studies which show that negative peer influences are more powerful than positive peer influences. We can’t count on peer groups for large amounts of positive impact, but we can plan on delinquent peers having a negative impact.”
“Although the reported level of deviant activity is higher at school, it is the extent of deviance among one’s friends in the ward that seems to have the strongest influence on one’s own deviant activity. Peers can provide somewhat of a buffer against sin and delinquency, but to depend on peer groups to carry the major burden of developing and applying gospel values would be a mistake,” the report said.
Impact of Leader Qualities and Characteristics on Young Men
Reasons Given by Young Men for Their Good Association with Aaronic Priesthood Adviser
We have fun together.
We joke and kid around.
We have a lot in common.
We feel the same way about most things.
I’m quite a bit like him.
I resemble him in many ways.
I want to be like him.
I respect and admire him.
I feel close to him.
I feel he really understands me.
We have serious personal discussions.
We share spiritual experiences.
It helps me just to talk to him when I’m upset about something.
I feel I can turn to him with my personal problems.
If I had an important decision to make, I’d probably ask for his advice.
If something good happened to me, I’d want to tell him about it right away.