The General Authorities consist of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presidency of the Seventy, the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. (View General Authorities for more information on the roles of these leaders.)
The worldwide Church is divided into geographic areas. For example, “Europe,” “Asia North,” “Caribbean,” and “Central America” are names given to specific areas of the Church. The First Presidency has assigned the Presidency of the Seventy to preside over areas in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere, the First Presidency assigns Area Presidencies to preside over selected areas under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve. An Area Presidency consists of a president and two counselors. An Area President is typically a General Authority selected from the First or Second Quorum of the Seventy, while the counselors can be either General Authorities or Area Seventies selected from any Quorum of the Seventy.
Members of the Presidency of the Seventy or Area Presidency travel frequently within the assigned area to teach and encourage local leaders and members of the Church. Area Seventies are also assigned to consult with and instruct stake presidents in their area, under the direction of the Area Presidency or Presidency of the Seventy.
Most areas of the Church are divided into stakes, which usually consist of five to twelve congregations called wards or branches. The term stake was used by the prophet Isaiah. He described the latter-day Church as a tent that would be secured by stakes (see Isaiah 33:20; 54:2).
A stake is led by a stake president and two counselors. The stake president is the presiding high priest in a stake. These leaders oversee the spiritual and temporal welfare of Church members.
The stake presidency calls 12 high priests to form the stake high council. Under the direction of the stake presidency, high councilors help oversee the work of the Church in the stake by fulfilling many advisory and administrative responsibilities.
Similar to the general administration of the Church, a stake has presidencies for the Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, Primary, and Sunday School organizations. These presidencies advise their respective organizations in each of the wards of the stake.
Stakes also have a patriarch, a man who is ordained to give patriarchal blessings to members of the stake. Patriarchal blessings contain specific, inspired counsel and direction from the Lord to the recipient.
As in the ancient Church, members of the Church today are organized into congregations. Large congregations (approximately 300 or more members) are called wards. Smaller congregations are called branches. A ward is led by a bishop and two counselors, who constitute a bishopric. Branches are led by a branch president and two counselors. The responsibilities of a branch president are similar to those of a bishop, described below.
A bishop has many duties. In addition to watching over all ward members, he has special responsibility to guide the ward’s young men and young women. He oversees teaching, missionary work, and spiritual growth in the ward. He is responsible to conduct worthiness interviews, counsel Church members, and administer Church discipline. He is responsible to care for the poor and needy, and he oversees finances, records, and the use and security of the meetinghouse.
In these responsibilities and others, the bishop is assisted by two counselors, an executive secretary, clerks, and the leaders of other organizations in the ward. Leadership meetings are held regularly to allow the bishop and those who help him to counsel together about the well-being of ward members.
Worthy adult men in the Church receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is authority from God to perform sacred ordinances and to lead in the Church. Men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood can perform ordinances such as bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost and giving blessings to the sick by the laying on of hands. Within a ward, the men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood belong to either the elders quorum or the high priests group.
The elders quorum is led by a president and two counselors. The elders quorum meets each Sunday to study the gospel and be instructed in their duties. The duties of elders include teaching and watching over the members of the ward (see D&C 20:42). Home teaching is one way they accomplish this duty. In home teaching two priesthood holders are responsible to visit members in their homes to teach, watch over, and provide service to them. The elders quorum may also be assigned by the bishop or stake president to carry out specific service projects.
Within a ward, the high priests group is led by a group leader and two assistants (the high priests quorum consists of all the high priests in the stake and is presided over by the stake president). The high priests group meets each Sunday to study the gospel and be instructed in their duties. High priests have the same duties as elders (including home teaching). They can also officiate, or preside, in the ward and administer spiritual things (see D&C 107:10, 12). The high priests group can also be given specific assignments by the bishop or stake president.
All women in the ward ages 18 and older, as well as women younger than 18 who are married or are single mothers, belong to the Relief Society organization. The purpose of Relief Society is to organize, teach, and inspire women to prepare them for the blessings of eternal life. Members of the Relief Society fulfill this purpose by increasing faith and personal righteousness, strengthening families and homes, and seeking out and helping those in need.
The bishop calls exemplary women in the ward to serve as the Relief Society presidency, which typically consists of a president and two counselors, supported by a secretary. Additional instructors and coordinators may also be called. The Relief Society meets on Sundays for gospel instruction and has additional meetings outside of Sunday as determined by the Relief Society president and the bishop.
The Relief Society organization also provides an individualized support network that gives women the opportunity to care for, strengthen, and teach one another. In this program, called visiting teaching, each woman is assigned two other women who visit her home each month to give a religious message and offer help as needed.
Worthy young men are ordained as deacons in the Aaronic Priesthood at the age of 12. They advance to the office of a teacher at age 14 and to the office of priest at age 16. In these priesthood offices, they have the authority to provide the sacrament to the congregation and, in the case of priests, to baptize. The bishop of the ward is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood, and he calls exemplary adult men to serve as the presidency and as advisers in the Young Men organization.
The purpose of the Young Men organization is to help young men learn and fulfill their Aaronic Priesthood duties and to prepare them for future responsibilities as missionaries, husbands, fathers, and leaders in the Church. The young men meet on Sundays for priesthood instruction and during the week for social, service, or cultural activities. During these meeting times—and in their personal time—young men also participate in a program called Duty to God, which helps them strengthen their testimonies and their relationship with God, learn and fulfill their priesthood duties, and live gospel standards.
Young women ages 12 to 17 belong to the ward’s Young Women organization. The purpose of this organization is to help young women build their testimonies of Christ and prepare to receive the blessings of the temple. The Young Women organization also prepares them for their future roles as women in the Church and as contributing members of society.
The bishop calls exemplary adult women in the ward to serve as the presidency and advisers in the Young Women organization. The young women meet on Sundays for gospel instruction and during the week for social, service, or cultural activities. During these meeting times—and in their personal time—young women also participate in a program called Personal Progress by setting and achieving goals in eight value areas.
Sunday School classes are held for approximately one hour each Sunday. Sunday School provides age-specific gospel instruction for ward members ages 12 and older (younger members attend Primary). The ward Sunday School presidency typically consists of a president and two counselors, who are supported by a secretary and by teachers called to instruct various age-groups.
Children ages 18 months to 11 years belong to the Primary organization. Its purpose is to help children learn and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and prepare to make and keep sacred covenants. Children attend Primary classes for two hours each Sunday while their parents participate in other Church meetings. Children also participate in regularly held activity days, which provide them with opportunities to interact with each other; have wholesome fun in physical, creative, cultural, and service activities; and participate in a program called Faith in God, which helps them live gospel principles and develop testimonies.
Each ward has a Primary presidency, which consists of a president and two counselors. These three women are assisted by a secretary, teachers for different age-groups, a music director, an accompanist, and activity day leaders.