It’s Time to Re-think The Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation

Every year, LDS children ages 3 to 11 years old are conscripted into performing a “Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation” for the adults of their ward. This performance is meant to dazzle parents and delight grandparents with all the gospel principles children have learned throughout the year. Most programs I’ve witnessed have a bit of “The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever” about them, featuring embarrassed 10-year-olds, apathetic 8-year-olds, and nervous 3-year-olds. Throw in a few wigglers, some yell-singers, the silly face-makers, and a crier or two and you have the classic Primary Program.

I have a confession: I didn’t like the Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation (or kids singing) until I had children of my own. Even now, I find it amusing/torturous and always wish it was a half an hour shorter. Perhaps this is because the program itself feels rehearsed and unnatural, with kids reading, reciting, or repeating rehearsed lines and singing songs they practiced endlessly for months leading up to the performance. Rather than demonstrating what they’ve gained in faith, it feels like a demonstration of their ability to memorize, please, and perform.  

The biggest concern I have for LDS children is how preparation for Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation seems to take over the entire Primary experience. This desire to perform well on The Big Day supersedes learning songs to help children connect with God. It requires children to repeatedly sing verses over and over, louder (but not yelling), clearer, again, each Sunday. Songs of worship and praise become chores. Are our kids attending Primary to memorize new songs for us or to have a joyful experience learning of Christ?

I do appreciate the newer method of asking children to create speaking parts. When I was little, I usually received a pre-written part that I memorized. This didn’t really mean much to me and I just wanted to recite it well for my parents. These days, children are given a prompt and invited to complete it with their own ideas, thoughts, and testimony. It’s a great learning tool, it invites parents to become engaged with the topic, and provides an opportunity for kids to think about their own beliefs.

If only this little talk didn’t become part of Sundays and Saturdays spent seated in chairs labeled with kid’s names, where they practice sitting reverently, singing the same songs (again), listening to their peers repeat their talks, and then reciting their own talks. No matter how much pizza you promise kids at the end, The Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation practice is painfully dull. I attended once as a primary teacher and secretly vowed to never send my kids again. And, honestly, it never seems to make much difference when nerves and excitement kick in on performance day anyway.

Last year, I suggested 5 Ways to Improve Primary and I believe that rethinking The Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation is a great way to follow these suggestions. Do we really need such a time-consuming, repetitious performance at the end of each year? Is the stress for Primary leaders and teachers necessary? Couldn’t we replace it with something simpler and, dare I say, more fun kids? How about share some pictures children drew of Christ and have the children sing a favorite primary song or two that they enjoy?

I would rather listen to a group of kids belt out a few enthusiastic, joyful verses of “This Little Light of Mine,” where the chorus (the part they know best) is always sung the loudest and the older kids hold hymnals to hide behind, but also secretly love to sing a little, than watch an hour-long, rehearsed performance any day.

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17 Responses

  1. Beth Somerton Young says:

    I love this idea and agree with it wholeheartedly. One more Saturday at church to prepare a practiced “testimony.” And singing time throughout the year would be so much more meaningful.

  2. Fairy says:

    It’s YEARS BEYOND time to trash the Primary Sacrament Presentation. I heard (about 30 years ago) that someone suggested it (maybe the P. President–don’t remember for sure) and that the General Authorities nixed the idea. I guess they thought it was cute, and they know more than the General President of the Primary. Not only is it one of the most boring Sacrament Meetings possible (though there are many that rival it) it dwarfs the whole Primary experience for the whole year. Most wards (at least those who don’t have a creative children’s music director–which are most units) just rehearse the same six-seven theme-songs over and over and over for the WHOLE YEAR. There’s no time to sing fun songs. They aren’t part of the prep for the presentation. And now that there is such little time in Primary anyway, it’s even worse. I remember a hymn we were taught when I was in Primary years ago. We sang it so often for a whole year that I could hardly stomach hearing it for years after. Still bugs me!
    Get rid of kids in Sacrament Meeting entirely. And not to belabor the subject, but get rid of kids “bearing their testimonies” in F and T meeting. (Notice that I put “bearing their testimonies” in quotes.) That’s enough for now!

    • JC says:

      I’m with you on not having kids in Sacrament Meeting AT ALL or “bearing their testimonies” in Fast & Testimony meeting. Sacrament Meeting is NOT an appropriate environment for kids. I hate to say it, but kids – and the parents who enable them to scream and run around during Sacrament Meeting – end up being a distraction and ruining it for other people.

      This is why the church needs to implement paid childcare during Sacrament Meeting and other church meetings/activities (a fantastic article by Mindy that can be found here: https://www.the-exponent.com/normalize-paid-childcare-for-lds-services-and-activities/)

  3. Bailey says:

    I read this and the article you linked to last you wrote last year about ways to improve Primary. You nailed it in both of the posts about Primary. Thinking about how much one of my kids absolutely hated the program, especially the practices. I didn’t even make her go her last few years in Primary. A friend of mine often tells the story of how her youngest stormed out of a Primary presentation rehearsal saying he hated it and it was the worst thing ever. Some kids are loud enough to speak truth. Do adults listen to them though? Nope. They chuckle about how headstrong a kid is or gasp at hearing a kid say awful things about church. Upon reflection, a problematic part of the participating in the program for me, back in the years of scripted responses, is that I learned to suffocate my own feelings. Boring? Ignore that feeling because this is church. Someone else’s word’s don’t feel right? Ignore that too and repeat what you are told to say. This training prepared me well to ignore my feelings about the temple for years until so much damage has been done. There are many, many reasons why the Primary presentation needs to go.

  4. Valerie says:

    I’ve started giving my children a choice whether they want to participate in the Primary Program. My youngest two haven’t participated in two years.

    They were never “cute and compliant” during the program. One refused to sing when she was three and nearly had a panic attack on stage at age 5. The other is on the autism spectrum and usually staged multiple escape attempts.

    Pre-pandemic I felt it was my duty to make sure all four of my children participated in the program. There were some sweet moments, but mostly I remember how unhappy my kids were at the rehearsals and how relieved they were went it was all over.

    The shut down showed me that many good things were also optional. So when our ward started putting together a video program in the fall of 2020 I politely declined.

    In 2021 two of my children participated and two didn’t. This year the older two are out of primary and the younger two have chosen not to participate again.

    It’s so less stressful as a parent and I feel it’s better for my relationship with my children. I’m not forcing them to perform a relationship with the gospel. They can just be themselves next to me in sacrament meeting.

  5. Heidi says:

    I’m genuinely surprised to hear that so many people don’t like the Primary program. I’ve been reading this blog regularly for a decade and this is the first time I’ve not been able to relate to what an author is talking about. What you’re describing doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m curious if this is a Utah-thing? And if so, what happened??
    I’m currently in Atlanta and grew up here as well. I’m currently in the Primary presidency. Not one of us had ever even served in Primary before, so maybe that is shaping my experience?

    This is what the Program is like in my ward, and I’d say typical of our stake. We started planning our October 23rd program about three weeks ago, so very end of August. Our president wrote the structure of the program based on finding the Savior in the Old Testament and each class took a story to study (during their class time) and get the children’s responses. Then we picked almost entirely songs (one hymn, most from primary songbook, and a few newer church primary songs) the kids have already learned this year that matched with the topics. Lastly, we asked for any kids who wanted to do solos/instrumental- out of about 40ish active kids there’s about 6 who love to do solos. We’ll take two Sundays before to rehearse during Primary time. Then we do popcorn and a church movie on the day of the program. It’s a lot, but it’s not crazy. This is typical for this area’s Primary programs.

    I have four kids in Primary, and as far as I’ve seen/heard it’s only the boys that have a bit of trouble with it, but they love playing games to learn the songs and they feel really important when they give their part in front of the whole ward.
    As far as I’ve heard, all adults look forward to and love the program. We’re definitely more of a “liberal” ward- quite a few women wear pants, we regularly reference Heavenly Mother, etc. So, I’m trying to figure this out- is it the more conservative wards who have made it a big boring chore-headache?

    (On a side note: As far as it being boring and hard to get through for some people, that’s how most things are for kids- recitals, etc. I don’t really see the main objective of the Primary Program as being to help the adults. The kids get one Sunday to share their thoughts about the Gospel and to show what they’ve learned in music time.)
    In my ward, the kids are all excited and proud to participate in the program-
    my ward isn’t shy about sharing negative opinions on things they don’t like, so it’s very unlikely that people don’t like it, but aren’t saying anything. Another reason why I’m pretty sure all the kids are ok with it- last year one kid didn’t like primary anymore because their friends were all in a different class, so we just switched them to the other class. We’ve told parents we want their kids to enjoy Primary, so we regularly are working with them and making changes (even sending surveys during the height of covid) to make sure the kids are happy, and people having been telling us what they think.

    So, my big questions here are- what is going on in these other wards? Why aren’t some kids enjoying the program? Why is it such a headache for the adults involved? Why are the adults in the audience so bored and “done” with it just one Sunday a year that they want it gone? What changes could be made so it’s a more positive experience in other wards, like it is mine?

    (Also, to Valerie- I’m so sorry it’s been stressful for you and some of your kids! I really hope your Primary presidency has been supportive of your kids not wanting to participate. My 4 year old will almost certainly not say her speaking part again this year, and everyone is ok with that! She wants to be up there, just not talk. I think we should remember Jesus never said only extroverts can enter the kingdom, haha.

    • Mindy says:

      This is not a Utah thing. I’ve lived in multiple wards. Planning and practicing is monotonous and boring everywhere I’ve lived. Many wards center their year around preparing for it. Kids attend practices that are dull. It’s a problem.

    • Em says:

      Heidi my experience is similar to yours. When i was a kid there was practice on Saturday but not now that I’m an adult. They just run through it during primary time. Come Follow Me has suggested songs to go with each month so if you’ve been doing that then there should be nine or more songs already ready. I’m the primary pianist and the review of songs is super fun. Today the kids got round stickers from that teacher after every song if they were on task or trying to sing the words. Then they put the stickers on the bishop who sat at the front of the room with a bad case of “song pox”. The kids were laughing their heads off and having a great time while reviewing material. My son has severe anxiety and I already told the president I wouldn’t push him into performing. They’ve invited him to draw a picture for the program of the Bible story of his choice. I love the primary program. I like the idea of pulling kids into sacrament meeting participation if they’re open to it.

      If we did scrap the program then I’d like to have kids sing in sacrament more often. In my opinion primary music is the single most effective tool we have for teaching the gospel and inviting the spirit. And it is 100% the most fun you can have in church (i admit that is a low bar)

  6. Heidi says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, Mindy!

    All these responses still leave me with more questions. Why are the practices so boring- are there more than one or two rehearsals, during church? I don’t see one or two practices being boring as a good enough reason to abandon the entire program. Thoughts?

    It seems like many people feel the problem is that it’s overall boring and stressful; I think the real problem is that the people involved are making it boring and stressful. So, how do we overcome that obstacle?

    More questions: Why are some wards making kids learn an entirely new set of songs instead of incorporating songs they’ve organically learned throughout the year during Primary? What better training can we provide for Primary music leaders? And especially, why are wards centering their year around preparing for it?

    I just am not seeing enough ideas that support tossing the whole thing out. Instead, I think we all may need reminders about what’s supposed to be happening and problem solving why that’s not happening.

    I’m trying to utilize this idea from a book called “The Art of Gathering” that I’ve just started reading- Is this gathering achieving what it is intended to? It sounds like no, for many people. So, let’s change the gathering to meet the outcomes we want. Possible desired outcomes of a primary ward presentation- better unity between older and younger members that helps the ward feel like a family; allowing the kids to utilize what they’ve already learned throughout the year so they can see that their voices can be spiritually powerful even though they are young, etc.

    I read through the handbook section about it and there’s (surprisingly for the handbook) room for much flexibility (in section 12.2.1.2). So, how do we encourage people to stop making it boring and stressful? Do members go to their primary presidencies and start a discussion? If you’re on ward council, could this be a topic?

    • Mindy says:

      It simply doesn’t feel like organic, joyful learning of Christ for me. And I’m glad there are individuals like you who are passionate about seeing the promise of the program and pushing for change. I’m, frankly, exhausted from banging my head against brick walls trying to enact actual change in wards and stakes I’ve lived in. What I really want is for wards to do what it sounds like you’re doing. But they’re not. So, maybe there should be better support in helping primaries achieve something better.

  7. JC says:

    I don’t think the Primary program is a bad idea in theory, but it really does depend on the ward. I’ve seen Primary programs that were well organized and done well, and others that were awful and it was obvious the kids – and leaders – had no idea what they were doing.

    I think the bigger problem is that the Primary presidency always make the Primary program about the Junior Primary/little kids: they’re so cute and little and innocent, so let’s give them all the big speaking parts (even though they just scream into the microphone and you can’t understand what they’re saying), all the musical solos, and put them front and center where everyone can see them. As for the Senior Primary (especially you 10-11 year olds entering your awkward phase): TO THE BACK ROW YOU GO!!! I remember being in Senior Primary (moreso at the ages of 10 and then 11 when I was close to entering YW) with all the other kids at or around my age just feeling so awkward and stupid during the Primary program while the little kids were front and center. It just boggles my mind how the Primary presidency pulls that crap and then has the gall to wonder why the Senior Primary (especially the 10-11 year olds) are unenthusiastic and don’t want to participate.

    If the Primary program isn’t going to be done away with, then it needs to be retooled heavily. I think this could be done with making the Primary program exclusive to the Junior Primary kids where it’s kept short and sweet. Then, implement a something for the Senior Primary kids where they give a talk in Sacrament meeting along with one of the YM/YW: this gives them the chance to participate in a meaningful way, prepares them for giving more talks in the future, and gives them a head start on cultivating and improving their public speaking skills, but is done in a manner that is respectful to them and not infantilizing or belittling.

    • Em says:

      This is opening my eyes to ward roulette, because our ward is the opposite — the long speaking parts and solos go to the kids who know how to read and are self-confident performing. The junior primary sits toward the front because they are so much shorter, but they mostly have parts that are one or two sentences and sing the group songs.

  8. My ward’s Primary Program was today, and I did enjoy it. One thing that I think would help would be relaxing some of the rules around Sacrament meetings, I if not for everyone every week, at least for just the Primary Program. Just like adults, Primary kids aren’t allowed to use visual aids or multimedia. They may use hand actions when they sing, but this is the only age-appropriate accommodation granted them. My stake does a Primary fireside once a year that incorporates multimedia, so kids are filmed talking and displaying art and the videos are shown instead of requiring them to memorize a rote line, and something like that may be more engaging for the audience and easier for the kids than the current format of the annual Sacrament Primary Program.

    • Em says:

      This sounds awesome. It allows for more organic expression of belief and more options for kids to participate in ways that work and are meaningful.

  9. Bryn says:

    Thanks for this, Mindy. Having served for a bajillion years in Primary, all sorts of callings, and as a mother of 4 children, I agree with everything you said. Having never served in Utah, but in many other states, I can confirm it is not a Utah thing. Even when we tried to make it more about what the children wanted to share, the entire thing felt like wading through molasses start to finish. Most kids hated it, too. We limited it to one full practice the Sunday before, but even that was too much. Since the kids don’t get much out of it, and since it isn’t a helpful way for kids to learn (pedagogically speaking) I think we 💯 do it for the adults.

  10. Kimberley says:

    Hi there. I’m a convert to the church of now 30 years. I see what your concerns may be however, may I share my observations from me raising 6 kids imperfectly? For us, the rehearsed and routine of learning and singing in this manner was imperative to them building a routine that would last forever, etched in the wiring of their brains. As children, they are much more able to soak in information, even if passively. I also noticed that LDS kids/youth/adults were way better at speaking publicly than most. The point I guess I’m trying to make is that it is up to the families to teach a connection to God and Jesus Christ. The church programs are for aiding in their development to be able to make commitments, overcome the natural man, create friendships (even with those they may not like), etc. These are virtues and attributes of Christ they are definitely learning. What we want to see, we will see so see the good.

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