Family Home Evening is one of Mormonism’s most important weekly events. It is designed to strengthen the family bond, and has been emulated by other religions and groups over the years. Each week, Mormon families shut out the world and spend an evening together as a family. They follow the basic pattern of a standard church meeting. Each family member is assigned a portion of the meeting to plan and carry out, teaching them leadership while giving them a stake in the success of the meeting. Even small children have assignments, sometimes in partnership with an older helper.
They begin with an opening song and prayer and then announcements. The meeting is conducted by the assigned member of the family, and music is also led by a family member. Following this, there is a lesson on any topic of interest to the family. They might spend the lesson learning about family relationships, and then spend some time working together to create a plan to reduce the amount of bickering that occurs. Another week, they might learn about the Savior’s command to serve others and then plan and carry out a family service project. Lessons might be on spiritual topics, such as the atonement or creation, or it might be on something practical, such as first aid. The lesson is generally followed by a fun activity and treats. It closes with a song and a prayer.
The evening is often coupled with a family counsel, where families work out problems or plan future activities. This makes sure everyone is working together towards common goals.
The program grew out of the concern Joseph F. Smith, a former church leader, had for the families of the church. Wanting parents to spend more time strengthening their families, he asked parents to gather their children together once a week to study the gospel and to participate in activities that would bring them closer together. In 1970, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was then the prophet, assigned the program to Monday nights. The church moved all church programs to other nights to keep that night open for families.
Family Home Evening strengthens many aspects of the family’s progression through the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the church offers many programs to assist children and teenagers in learning the gospel, parents are taught that it is primarily their responsibility to teach their children about God. The church assists, but does not replace the home as the center of gospel learning. Family Home Evening most often focuses on the gospel and the scriptures, and is a way for parents to share in-depth their feelings about these subjects. As children teach their families, they study the topics and strengthen their own testimonies of the subjects.
As families become progressively busier, it becomes harder for them to spend time together. Today’s children are busy with school, friends, and after-school activities, and are seldom home. By reserving one evening a week, families are ensured of a time to get together and catch up, create memories, and learn together. Although this should not be the only time they’re together, it is one time that is calendared in. Most families have a rule that almost nothing can prevent the family from being together on Mondays.
Although not the primary purpose, Family Home Evenings also allow children to learn, in the supportive environment of their own home, leadership and meeting skills they need in order to become productive members of the church. Even young children offer prayers, conduct meetings, lead the music, plan the activities, and prepare the refreshments. As they learn and perfect these skills, they are ready, when they’re older, to do them in a church or community setting.
Gordon B. Hinckley, a former church president, tells of his family’s decision to follow the advice of the prophet in 1915 when the program began. They held their meetings in the parlor, giving it an importance, and giving them access to the piano. In addition to scripture reading and prayer, they listened to stories, performed for one another in order to develop talents, and enjoyed ice cream. He said, “Out of those simple little meetings, held in the parlor of our old home, came something indescribable and wonderful. Our love for our parents was strengthened. Our love for brothers and sisters was enhanced. Our love for the Lord was increased. An appreciation for simple goodness grew in our hearts. These wonderful things came about because our parents followed the counsel of the President of the Church” (”Some Lessons I Learned as a Boy,” Ensign, May 1993, 54).
The church has long encouraged others to participate in these evenings. They’ve called on schools and other organizations to leave Mondays for families to spend together. It’s a format that can be adapted to any religion, and even to non-religious families. It is simply a time for parents to impart their personal values to their children, help their children develop talents, and keep the family close in challenging times. It need not be expensive or fancy, although it does take some planning. However, when family members divide the work, it is not too much for them to manage.
The church has created materials to help families put together an effective family night. Some are specific to the Mormon religion, and others are not, or can be easily adapted. Following are some sources to explore:
Family Home Evening: This portion of the official church website has sample lesson plans, activities, and links to other resources.
Making Monday Memories: This article is specifically for teenagers on how to make family home evening special.
Quick Tips: Easy ideas that can be carried out for family home evening with little preparation.