After thinking about the subject and reading many helpful articles, I reflected on my own extensive experience working with the youth. One of my first callings after I got married was as a Ward Explorer Advisor. Back then, we had all of the boys from 14 through 18 or so. It was a challenging and very memorable opportunity. I was not much older than some of the older young men and we had many very good times together. My next major involvement did not come until much later. After serving in a variety of Stake positions, I was called as a Teacher's Quorum Advisor. For the next thirty years I was either in an Aaronic Priesthood calling or in the Bishopric over the Teacher's Quorum. I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert in involving youth in activities but I certainly have seen my share of both successful and unsuccessful activities.
Now, I devote my full time to genealogically related activities. This has gone on now for a few years and I plan to keep going until I become disabled or die. During the past few years, I have thought a lot about involving the youth in family history activities. I think the way to involve the youth can be summarized in 5 Key Steps. There are undoubtedly more ways to get started with a successful program but here are my opinions.
Key No. 1 Involvement of the Stake and Ward Adult Leaders.
In every successful youth activity I have participated in from Super-activities to Youth Trek experiences, the success of the youth project depended almost entirely on the enthusiasm and support given to the youth by their adult leaders. Starting with the Stake Presidency and High Council and on to the individual Ward Youth Leaders, every level of the Church organization needs to be supportive of the youth's participation in a family history activity. If the Stake and Ward leaders are not willing to get in and participate in the Indexing activity or at least understand what is involved, the project cannot succeed. I am reminded of the time I was working in the Baptistery at the Mesa, Arizona Temple. One Stake always had a huge attendance of their youth for scheduled baptisms. The reason was obvious, the Stake President was always there with the youth of the Stake. He actively helped with baptisms and confirmations and knew all of the youth by name. If the Stake or Ward wants to have a successful Indexing program, the leaders, especially the youth leaders, need to be involved.
Key No. 2 Training, Training, Training
As a Scout leader, I had periodic training in the form of Roundtables and mandatory online training. We received almost constant contact from the Stake and Ward about the status of each of the youth in our quorums. We had Stake Little Philmont activities and many, many other training opportunities. Now, how much time has been spent in training the Ward and Stake leaders about family history in your Stake or Ward? Indexing is just as much of a challenge as Boy Scouts, but for some reason, a 40 minute instructional period is deemed sufficient to get the youth motivated. In my own Ward, that is exactly what has happened. We had one brief activity and now the subject has been dropped. Quoting from the article in the Church News linked above, "They all agreed that regular meetings and gospel discussions with their stake high councilor, Ross Boothe, were beneficial to their callings." The article goes on to state, "Along with all the youth in their stake, they have also done family history training for stake high priests groups and high council, the stake presidency and Relief Societies, President Lefler said."
Key No. 3 Persistence
Youth activities come and go in cycles. Most Wards I am familiar with have a Stake Youth Conference or Trek activity every other year or even every three years. In most Stakes, the Trek leaders are called two or more years in advance and meet regularly to plan and execute the activity. The whole activity usually takes place in one week. Indexing is entirely different in some respects and family history research certainly is. If our Ward spent half the time on Indexing training and activities that they spend on the every-other-year Young Men Encampment activity, we would probably be doing millions of Indexing names. The difference here is that there are men who enjoy the Encampment, but do not enjoy the idea of Indexing.
Key No. 4 Understanding that family history is Temple work
As Elder Richard G. Scott said, "Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. They are connected together like the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost." There is usually a significant effort, with socials and other activities, that accompany the Ward and Stake efforts to get members to go to the Temple. There is often not an equal effort to involve Ward members in searching out those very ancestors that would benefit from their Temple activity. Quoting President Henry B. Eyring, in the article, "Hearts Bound Together," Ensign, May 2005:
“Many of your deceased ancestors will have received a testimony that the message of the missionaries is true. When you received that testimony you could ask the missionaries for baptism. But those who are in the spirit world cannot. The ordinances you so cherish are offered only in this world. Someone in this world must go to a holy temple and accept the covenants on behalf of the person in the spirit world. That is why we are under obligation to find the names of our ancestors and ensure that they are offered by us what they cannot receive there without our help. …Again, quoting from the Church News article above citing one of the youth's experiences,
“Remember that the names which will be so difficult to find are of real people to whom you owe your existence in this world and whom you will meet again in the spirit world. When you were baptized, your ancestors looked down on you with hope. Perhaps after centuries, they rejoiced to see one of their descendants make a covenant to find them and to offer them freedom. In your reunion, you will see in their eyes either gratitude or terrible disappointment. Their hearts are bound to you. Their hope is in your hands. You will have more than your own strength as you choose to labor on to find them.”
“It’s put me in a position where I can view different aspects of the gospel in a different perspective,” Jacob said. “For example, when we were with Brother Boothe we had this discussion about the Atonement and how it applied to family history work and we talked about how family history work is more of a vehicle for us and our ancestors [to receive] the Atonement — it really put a new spin on things that I’ve only seen [with] one-way tunnel vision, where as with family history work I’m kind of seeing it from all angles and how it applies to me and how I can apply it to my ancestors.”Key No. 5 Fasting and Prayer
Quoting further from the article above;
Nathan, Brother Boothe and Jacob struggled to discover ways to get the youth more involved and attempted to organize multiple events that kept falling through.When was the last time the youth in your Ward or Stake fasted and prayed about family history and specifically about Indexing? Think about it.
“We were driven to our knees ... we prayed and fasted for weeks to know what the Lord would have us do,” Nathan said. “We then, with the guidance of the Lord, came up with the idea of a 21-day challenge to help motivate the youth to participate in this holy work. The significance of 21 days is that’s how long it takes to make or break a habit. The 21-day challenge was a complete success. Our youth indexed over 50,000 names in those three weeks with 25,005 of them coming from an indexing marathon held on the last day of the challenge.”
For more information about getting started with Indexing see FamilySearch.org Indexing.