Sunday School (LDS Church)

Sunday School (LDS Church)
Sunday School
Formation 11 November 1867
Type Non-profit
Purpose/focus religious instruction
Headquarters Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Membership 12 million; ages 12 and older
General President Russell T. Osguthorpe
Main organ General presidency and general board
Parent organization The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Remarks Named "Deseret Sunday School Union" until 1971

Sunday School is an official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). All members of the church and any interested nonmembers, age 12 and older, are encouraged to participate in Sunday School.



According to the LDS Church, the purposes of its Sunday School program are to:

  1. "Teach the gospel of Jesus Christ; and
  2. "Strengthen individuals and families by encouraging them to study the scriptures, obey the commandments, receive the essential ordinances, and keep the associated covenants."[1]


Early LDS Sunday Schools

Historical records indicate that some form of Sunday School was held by Latter Day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois in the 1830s and 1840s. However, the meetings were ad hoc and no formal organization endured the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo.

The first formal Sunday School in the LDS Church was held on December 9, 1849 in Salt Lake City under the direction of Richard Ballantyne, a former Sunday School teacher in the Relief Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Lacking a suitable building to hold the meeting in, Ballantyne invited his students into his own home; approximately thirty Latter-day Saint children between the ages of 8 and 13 attended. The local congregation that Ballantyne belonged to—the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward—quickly adopted Ballantyne's Sunday School program and integrated it with regular Sunday meetings. Other LDS congregations followed the Fourteenth Ward's example and adopted Sunday School programs based on the Ballantyne model. At this stage, each Sunday School was completely autonomous and under the sole direction of the local bishop.

Deseret Sunday School Union

The interior of the Salt Lake Tabernacle as decorated for the Deseret Sunday School Union's July 1875 Pioneer Day celebration.

Anxious to bring a standard structure and organization to the over 200 independent LDS Sunday Schools that had been created, LDS Church President Brigham Young ordered that a union of the Sunday Schools be carried out. On November 11, 1867, Young and church leaders Daniel H. Wells, George A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Brigham Young, Jr. met and organized the Parent Sunday School Union. Young appointed Cannon as the first general superintendent of the Sunday School, a position he would hold until his death in 1901. In 1872, the Sunday School organization was renamed the Deseret Sunday School Union.

The organized Sunday School addressed lesson topics and source materials, grading, prizes and rewards, use of hymns and songs composed by members of the church, recording and increasing the attendance, developing an elementary catechism, and libraries. It also sponsored the publication of administrative guidelines and materials for classroom use, resulting in increased uniformity lesson content.

Until the early 1900s, only children were taught by the Sunday School. Eventually, classes were added for the youth of the church; in 1904, an adult Sunday School class was created.

Priesthood Correlation Program changes

The 1970s saw dramatic change within the Sunday School. In 1971, as part of the church Priesthood Correlation Program, the name of the Deseret Sunday School Union was changed to simply Sunday School, and the Sunday School general superintendent was renamed the general Sunday School president. Additionally, curriculum planning and writing became more centralized and coordinated; for the first time, the Sunday School stopped providing unique lesson manuals each year, and the church began a four-year curriculum rotation pattern. In 1979, Hugh W. Pinnock became the general president of the Sunday School, the first general authority of the church to hold the position since Apostle David O. McKay's tenure ended in 1934. In 1980, the church instructed the Sunday School to stop passing the sacrament during Sunday School classes, a practice that Brigham Young had begun in 1877.

Sunday School periodicals

In 1866, just prior to the formal organization of the Sunday School Union, Cannon had begun publishing the Juvenile Instructor magazine. Although the magazine was owned and edited solely by Cannon, it nevertheless became the de facto official publication of the Deseret Sunday School Union in the late 1860s. On January 1, 1901, the church purchased the magazine from the Cannon family and the Juvenile Instructor officially became an organ of the church's Sunday School. In 1930, it was replaced by The Instructor, which was published until 1970. The Sunday School currently does not have an official periodical, but information that may be used in Sunday School appears in the Ensign and the New Era magazines.

Chronology of the general superintendency and presidency of the Sunday School

No. Dates General President
(General Superintendents in Italics)
(Church general authorities in bold)
First Counselor
(First Assistants in Italics)
(Church general authorities in bold)
Second Counselor
(Second Assistants in Italics)
(Church general authorities in bold)
1 1867–1901 George Q. Cannon George Goddard (1872—1899)
Karl G. Maeser (1899—1901)
John Morgan (1883—1894)
Karl G. Maeser (1894—1899)
George Reynolds (1899—1901)
2 1901 Lorenzo Snow George Reynolds Joseph M. Tanner
3 1901–1918 Joseph F. Smith George Reynolds (1901—1909)
David O. McKay (1909—1918)
Joseph M. Tanner (1901—1906)
David O. McKay (1907—1909)
Stephen L Richards (1909—1918)
4 1918–1934 David O. McKay Stephen L Richards George D. Pyper
5 1934–1943 George D. Pyper Milton Bennion George R. Hill
6 1943–1949 Milton Bennion George R. Hill A. Hamer Reiser
7 1949–1966 George R. Hill A. Hamer Reiser (1949—1952)
David Lawrence McKay (1952—1966)
David Lawrence McKay (1949—1952)
Lynn S. Richards (1952—1966)
8 1966–1971 David Lawrence McKay Lynn S. Richards Royden G. Derrick
9 1971–1979 Russell M. Nelson Joseph B. Wirthlin (1971—1975)
B. Lloyd Poelman (1975—1978)
Joe J. Christensen (1978—1979)
William D. Oswald (1979)
Richard L. Warner (1971—1975)
Joe J. Christensen (1975—1978)
William D. Oswald (1978—1979)
J. Hugh Baird (1979)
10 1979–1986 Hugh W. Pinnock Ronald E. Poelman (1979—1981)
Robert D. Hales (1981—1985)
Adney Y. Komatsu (1985—1986)
Jack H. Goaslind (1979—1981)
James M. Paramore (1981—1983)
Loren C. Dunn (1983—1985)
Ronald E. Poelman (1985—1986)
11 1986–1989 Robert L. Simpson Adney Y. Komatsu (1986—1987)
Devere Harris (1987—1989)
A. Theodore Tuttle (1986)
Devere Harris (1987)
Phillip T. Sonntag (1987—1988)
Derek A. Cuthbert (1988–1989)
12 1989–1992 Hugh W. Pinnock Derek A. Cuthbert (1989—1991)
H. Verlan Andersen (1991)
Hartman Rector Jr. (1991—1992)
Ted E. Brewerton (1989—1990)
H. Verlan Andersen (1990—1991)
Rulon G. Craven (1991)
Clinton L. Cutler (1991—1992)
13 1992–1994 Merlin R. Lybbert Clinton L. Cutler Ronald E. Poelman
14 1994–1995 Charles A. Didier J. Ballard Washburn F. Burton Howard
15 1995–2000 Harold G. Hillam F. Burton Howard (1995—1997)
Glenn L. Pace (1997—1998)
Neil L. Andersen (1998—2000)
Glenn L. Pace (1995—1997)
Neil L. Andersen (1997—1998)
John H. Groberg (1998—2000)
16 2000–2001 Marlin K. Jensen Neil L. Andersen John H. Groberg
17 2001–2003 Cecil O. Samuelson John H. Groberg Richard J. Maynes (2001—2002)
Val R. Christensen(2002—2003)
18 2003–2004 Merrill J. Bateman John H. Groberg Val R. Christensen
19 2004–2009 A. Roger Merrill Daniel K Judd William D. Oswald
20 2009– Russell T. Osguthorpe David M. McConkie Matthew O. Richardson

Sunday School in the church today


Sunday School focuses on a study of the Standard Works of the church, which are considered scripture. The primary class in Sunday School for those 14 years of age and older is called Gospel Doctrine. In general, the Gospel Doctrine curriculum follows a four-year cycle:

However, there are also a number of "generalist" and "specialist" Sunday School classes that may be taught in Sunday School. For example, Gospel Principles is a generalist class that is primarily intended for those new to or inexperienced in the church or for those whose calling is related to missionary work. It is also common for a local congregation to offer specialist Sunday School classes in family history, temples, marriage and family relations, and teacher training.

In most church congregations, Sunday School is a 40-minute class which is held either immediately after or immediately prior to Sacrament meeting. Everyone 12 years of age and older are encouraged to attend; children under age 12 have Sunday School-style classes taught to them in Primary, but these classes are not administered by the LDS Church's Sunday School auxiliary. Many congregations provide special Sunday School classes for youth. When youth classes are held, the curriculum for 12- and 13-year-olds differs from the regular Gospel Doctrine curriculum.

Structure of Sunday School

Local structure

Each local congregation is permitted to call an adult male as the local Sunday School president, who oversees the Sunday School under the direction of the bishop or branch president. The president of the Sunday School may call two counselors and a secretary to assist him. Other adults in the congregation will serve as instructors in the various Sunday School classes. Often, full-time missionaries assigned to the congregation are asked to teach the Gospel Principles class. A stake or district Sunday School presidency will oversee the Sunday School presidents in a group of five or more congregations.

Church-wide oversight

The church's three-man general Sunday School presidency directs the Sunday School program throughout the church. Since 1979, members of the general Sunday School presidency had been seventies and general authorities of the church. However, in the April 2004 general conference of the church, Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency announced that "a recent decision [has been made] that members of the Quorums of the Seventy [will] not serve in the general presidencies of the Sunday School and Young Men."[2] Thus, the members of the presidency are no longer general authorities of the church.

As of April 2009, the general presidency of the Sunday School was composed of Russell T. Osguthorpe, President; David M. McConkie, First Counselor; and Matthew O. Richardson, Second Counselor. [3]

The Sunday School General Board also assists in the leadership of the church's Sunday School programs and in the development of guidelines, policies, and materials.[4][5][6] Its current members are Cory H. Maxwell, George I. Monsivais, Randy J. Olsen, Carolyn J. Rasmus, Andrew C. Skinner, and Bonnie Jane B. Studdert.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Church Handbook of Instructions Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Salt Lake City, at 241.
  2. ^ “The Sustaining of Church Officers”, Ensign, May 2004, 24.
  3. ^,17884,8682-1,00.html
  4. ^ Ericksen, Irene Hewette (1992). "Auxiliary Organizations". In Daniel H. Ludlow. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan. Retrieved 2009-12-31. "Today, a presidency and board or staff are called ... at the general Church level to establish program guidelines and policies, develop materials and provide leadership." 
  5. ^ Lloyd, R. Scott (April 18, 2009). "Sunday School meet reunites leadership". Church News (Deseret News). Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  6. ^ Poelman 1992
  7. ^ "Sunday School General Board". Church News (Deseret News). October 18, 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 


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