A Look Inside the New General Handbook for Church Leaders and Members

new church handbook

The new handbook for leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (first announced in January) is now available in English online and in the Gospel Library app. Nine of the 38 chapters have been completely rewritten, and one section of another chapter has been updated. See the summary of the changes below. Also see a list of frequently asked questions.

Titled General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this book replaces both Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other leaders). The new book (digital only, with a few exceptions for some areas) is accessible to anyone and will be updated regularly to give it requisite flexibility to help thousands of leaders around the world adapt the Church’s various programs, policies and procedures to their circumstances with loving, pastoral care.

In the version released today, nearly 80% of the content has been transferred from the old handbooks and reordered in a new organizing structure. Why have only nine chapters been rewritten? With changes to several important chapters completed in 2019 (see, for example, here and here), Church leaders decided to expedite the production of a new consolidated handbook instead of updating old resources.

“Our original plan was to completely rewrite the handbook and then translate that. That gave us a delivery date of probably 2022,” said Elder Anthony D. Perkins, executive director of the Church’s Correlation Department, which oversees the creation of the handbook. “But as those first chapters came out, the First Presidency and [Quorum of the] Twelve felt that the updates were important enough to release as soon as possible.” See a letter from the First Presidency about the new handbook.

The Church of Jesus Christ believes in ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles.

“And that means, in a phrase, that the Church is true and living. It can change,” Elder Perkins said. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.”

Many Latter-day Saint women and men were unfamiliar with the Church’s previous handbooks — especially Handbook 1. Each of the updated chapters available today is principle-based and has broad application for all Church members.

“It is so important for members to understand — both men and women — that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency, who was closely involved in the creation of the new handbook. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”

The nine updated chapters (all 38 will be reworked by 2021) reflect a new tone and approach that has been under consideration for several years.

“If you look at the evolution of the handbook over the last hundred years, it’s been evolving from administrative procedures to a more ministerial voice,” Elder Perkins said. “What we mean by that is previous handbooks had been sort of designed for large units — let’s say Alpine, Utah — and we need a handbook that can be applied even in the smallest units.”

Sister Aburto, a native of Nicaragua who is part of a committee that gathers regularly to review the handbook’s every word, said the text’s ministerial tone will help leaders from varying backgrounds better understand and apply its principles. She said her experience as a professional translator has been especially useful in the review process.

“I tried to find places where the translation [from English to Spanish] could be complicated and difficult,” she said. “I have tried to make sure that the language is clear, so when it is translated, the real meaning is put into the translation.”

The book is being translated into 51 languages as soon as possible. Church leaders in non-English- speaking congregations are to use the old handbook until the new version is available in their language.

Another advantage of a primarily digital handbook is that it accommodates different learning styles.

“Some people learn by reading, others by watching,” Elder Perkins said. “And so the handbook will have embedded videos showing how to do something.”

Below is a summary of the handbook’s new content. Also see this list of frequently asked questions.

Summary of nine rewritten chapters

1: God’s Plan and Your Role in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation

This chapter is new and helps Latter-day Saints understand God’s plan of happiness, the work of salvation and exaltation (the organizing framework for the General Handbook) and the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2: Supporting Individuals and Families in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation

Saints are taught the role of the family in God’s plan, the central role of the home in the work of salvation and exaltation, and the relationship between the home and the Church.

3: Priesthood Principles

Leaders and members learn about what priesthood is, where it comes from and how it works and blesses lives. This includes the truth that all Latter-day Saints, regardless of their gender or Church assignment, exercise delegated priesthood authority when they are given formal service opportunities in their congregations. “All Church members who keep their covenants — women, men and children — are blessed with God’s priesthood power in their homes to strengthen themselves and their families,” the chapter’s conclusion says.

4: Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ

Members are taught principles of Christlike leadership, including how to prepare spiritually, counsel together and build unity with others in one’s congregation and the importance of delegation.

15: Seminaries and Institutes of Religion

This chapter outlines the Church’s Seminary program (religious education for teenagers) and Institute program (religious instruction for Latter-day Saints ages 18–30). The text also points readers to CES.ChurchofJesusChrist.org for more information about Church primary and secondary schools, BYU–Pathway Worldwide and institutions of higher education.

18: Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings

This chapter includes resource links and instructional videos that show how to carry out many of the Church’s various priesthood rites. More videos will be added over time.

32: Repentance and Church Membership Councils

This chapter (formerly known as “Church Discipline”) has significant revisions. It guides leaders in a more sequential way through key decisions and actions necessary to help people repent of a serious sin. The chapter also focuses on how to help protect others from those who pose a physical or spiritual threat.

Some key terminology has changed. Disciplinary councils are now called “membership councils.” As before, these councils are an expression of love, hope and concern, designed to help Latter-day Saints through their repentance process. Also, instead of being “disfellowshipped,” members are given “formal membership restrictions.” And excommunication is now labeled a “withdrawal of membership.”

“The idea behind these terminology changes is to ensure that we understand that when we make a mistake in our life the Lord is always extending His arms of mercy,” said Sister Aburto.

36: Creating, Changing and Naming New Units

This chapter provides guidelines on the creation and adjustment of stakes, wards and branches.

37: Specialized Stakes, Wards and Branches

Here, leaders and members learn the parameters for creating stakes, wards and branches catered to specific groups. These include those who speak a specific language, are students, are single, live in a care facility or are in some other unique circumstance.

Updated section

38.6: Church Policies and Guidelines

The Church’s policies and procedures on a variety of moral issues are outlined here. Some policies are new, some have been updated, and some may be updated in the future. These moral policies include abortion, abuse, artificial insemination, birth control, child pornography, incest, in vitro fertilization, same-sex marriages, sex education, sexual abuse, single expectant parents, sperm donation, suicide, surgical sterilization, surrogate motherhood, and a new entry on transgender individuals. In connection with this, content from the Mormon and Gay website has moved to a new portion of ChurchofJesusChrist.org, with a new URL. A new section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org for transgender individuals is also available.

“There are a number of moral policies that we’ve now put on paper of where the First Presidency and the [Quorum of the] Twelve stand,” Elder Perkins said. “One of those moral policies that is new is around persons who identify as transgender. The reason that policy has been added is we’ve had an increase in questions coming from bishops and stake presidents saying, ‘What can a transgender person do? What are the guidelines?’ The transgender policy states that everyone is welcome to attend our meetings and that we should create a warm, welcoming environment for all — including persons who identify as transgender. At the same time, the policy clarifies that some of things in the church are gender-specific.”

Church leaders will continue to revisit and update handbook policies and guidelines as needed.

General Handbook Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the new handbook, and how is it being achieved?

The General Handbook is a support resource for those who serve as volunteer leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its primary purpose is to simplify instruction for leading and serving in the Church to further help all of God’s children come unto Christ and receive His promised blessings.

The guiding principles of the General Handbook are (1) facilitating global adaptability; (2) using a ministerial voice; (3) providing learner support, such as graphics and tables; (4) giving enhanced accessibility; and (5) supporting a revelatory mindset.

Why did the Church decide to publish a new handbook?

The idea to develop a new General Handbook came several years ago. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles felt that Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 could be improved to better serve the Church’s continued worldwide growth.

In 2016, the First Presidency approved the development of a “simplified handbook” for small units.

In 2017, the First Presidency directed that global research be conducted on how an updated handbook could better meet the needs of the worldwide Church.

In 2018, the First Presidency gave direction to unify and simplify the handbooks into one volume that would serve the entire Church.

How does the new handbook better meet the needs of a global Church?

Many Church units around the world lack the resources to operate some Church programs that are found in larger Church units. Previous handbooks were written with larger units as a primary audience, often causing challenges for leaders of units with fewer resources.

The new General Handbook reverses that approach. It focuses on the essential programs for every unit in the Church. It then provides adaptation options based on local needs and available resources. This approach helps leaders worldwide adapt Church programs as needed.

Another example of global adaptability is making the General Handbook more principle based. As we connect leaders to the Savior and to true principles, they will be able to serve in the best way to meet local needs.

As recently emphasized by President Henry B. Eyring, the Church seeks “to be simple enough to serve our people at the level of their need. That is the simplicity toward which we strive” (quoting Spencer W. Kimball, “Living the Gospel in the Home,” Ensign, May 1978, 101).

General Handbook Usage

In the past, Handbook 1 was available only to stake presidencies, bishoprics, and a few other priesthood leaders. Most Latter-day Saint men and women did not have access. How does this new handbook help them?

Handbook 1 contained detailed administrative instructions that were specialized to stake presidencies and bishoprics. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have recently determined that all members may benefit from having access to this information.

Why is this handbook available not just to all members but also to the public?

Church leaders feel there is value in allowing those who are not members to be able to see how the Church of Jesus Christ operates in the latter days.

General Handbook Structure

Why do we now have one handbook instead of two?

It reduces duplication of content.

It allows everyone to access the same content.

It allows the chapters to be organized around a single framework—the work of salvation and exaltation.

It makes information easier to find because it is in a single volume.

It unifies the work of the Church into one set of instructions.

Is the new handbook organized around any central principle or concept?

It is organized around the work of salvation and exaltation, which is explained in chapter 1: “God’s Plan and Your Role in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation.”

Is any substantial content from Handbook 1 unavailable in the General Handbook?

No. It is available to all readers.

General Handbook Revised Chapters

Which chapters are new in this initial release?

Chapter 1: “God’s Plan and Your Role in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation”

Chapter 2: “Supporting Individuals and Families in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation”

Chapter 3: “Priesthood Principles”

Chapter 4: “Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ”

Chapter 15: “Seminaries and Institutes of Religion”

Chapter 18: “Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings”

Chapter 32: “Repentance and Church Membership Councils” (as well as policies that support this chapter in 38.6, “Policies on Moral Issues”)

Chapter 36: “Creating, Changing, and Naming New Units”

Chapter 37: “Specialized Stakes, Wards, and Branches”

Why will only 9 of the 38 chapters be available on February 19?

When several important chapters of the new General Handbook were completed last year, Church leaders felt that they should be published now rather than wait until all the other chapters were complete. The Church follows this same “progressive publishing” pattern with newly translated scriptures. Portions of the scriptures are released as they are translated rather than waiting until the work is complete.

Which of the nine chapters that are available on February 19 have significant changes?

All new chapters have improved readability. Word count has also been reduced, where possible. All of the new chapters also contain important changes in content. The most substantial changes are in the following chapters:

Chapter 1: “God’s Plan and Your Role in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation” is new. It explains the relationship between (1) God’s plan of happiness for His children, (2) our opportunity to participate in His work of salvation and exaltation, and (3) the purposes of the Church. Past handbooks have referred to the “threefold mission of the Church” and “divinely appointed responsibilities.” This chapter builds on those principles to outline the four aspects of God’s work with more clarity and detail:

Living the gospel of Jesus Christ

Caring for those in need

Inviting all to receive the gospel

Uniting families for eternity

These four aspects of God’s work provide the organizational structure of the handbook. Where applicable, individual chapters are organized according to this structure.

Chapter 3: “Priesthood Principles” teaches fundamental truths about the priesthood and incorporates recent teachings from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles about how both women and men can exercise delegated priesthood authority in their callings and assignments.

Chapter 18: “Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings” includes helpful links and instructional videos that show how to perform ordinances and blessings. More videos will be added soon.

Chapter 32: “Repentance and Church Membership Councils” is a significant revision of the “Church Discipline” chapter from Handbook 1. Seven objectives guided this work:

  • Use a more ministerial approach and voice. For example, “disciplinary councils” are now “Church membership councils.” “Disfellowshipment” is now “formal membership restrictions.” “Excommunication” is now “withdrawal of membership.” Instructions are given to bishops and stake presidents about how to compassionately help members as they repent of serious sins.
  • Give more emphasis to protecting others when a person poses a physical or spiritual threat.
  • Improve structure so the chapter and its procedures can be followed by leaders in a more sequential way.
  • Simplify procedures where possible. For example, the high council no longer participates in stake membership councils except in limited situations.
  • Provide more guidance about when membership councils would be required, when they may be necessary, and when personal counseling with the bishop or stake president is sufficient.
  • Provide more clear and specific definitions of serious sins. Most of these definitions have been moved to the “Policies on Moral Issues” section (38.6).
  • Increase consistency, particularly among the most difficult matters faced by stake presidents. 

Have updates been made to other chapters?

Some obsolete information has been removed, such as instructions about Boy Scouts and Personal Progress. Terminology that was inconsistent with the updated chapters, such as “Church discipline,” was revised. Some chapters were restructured as part of the process of combining content from two volumes into one.

When will the other chapters be revised and made available?

The remaining chapters of the General Handbook will be published every few months as they become available. It is expected that the entire handbook will be updated by the end of 2021 in English.

General Handbook Features

We know this handbook will be primarily digital and will be updated regularly. Why?

A handbook that is primarily digital has the following advantages:

It allows general Church leaders to make updates more easily and at lower cost.

It uses links to provide easy access to other Church resources.

It allows the inclusion of embedded instructional videos.

It makes searching for content easier.

Eventually, it will allow customization and adaptation of content by calling and geographic area.

Printed copies will be available in the future where digital access is limited.

What does it mean for the new handbook to be written with more ministerial language?

The handbook is for leaders and members who are doing God’s work and serving His children. A ministerial voice reinforces the sacred nature of this work and the care that leaders have for those they serve. It also reinforces that this work is primarily spiritual in nature, not administrative. The new handbook seeks to be Christ-centered and principle-focused rather than just process-focused.

How will the new handbook differentiate between required and optional programs and resources?

This differentiation is written into the handbook chapters. Additionally, the handbook will use an “optional resource” icon to denote Church programs and resources that may be very helpful for specific circumstances but are not required for every unit.

How can I get a PDF version of the General Handbook for viewing or printing?

A PDF version of the handbook will be made available in the Gospel Library section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

General Handbook Clarifications

There is some clarifying content on moral issues, including a new section on transgender individuals. What is the content in the new transgender section?

The new transgender section emphasizes that people who identify themselves as transgender should be treated with sensitivity, kindness, compassion, and Christlike love. It explains that most Church participation and some priesthood ordinances are gender neutral. However, priesthood ordination and temple ordinances are received according to birth sex. It provides guidelines for when members who identify as transgender may or may not receive these ordinances. It encourages Church participation for those who identify as transgender.

Chapter 3 contains clarifications about priesthood authority. Why is this important to understand?

Chapter 3 emphasizes that although men have the priesthood conferred on them and are ordained to priesthood offices, both men and women who are set apart or assigned to serve in the Church exercise delegated authority as they accomplish God’s work. It is important for Church members to understand that regardless of gender or calling, those who are set apart or assigned are given divine authority and responsibility to act in their callings and assignments.

Is the Church done making updates to key policies in the handbook?

No. Updates will continue to be made as necessary.

General Handbook Implementation

How long will it take for non-English versions of the General Handbook to be released?

Translation planning is in progress. It is estimated that half of the 51 languages, which include languages with the greatest concentration of Church members, should publish the first version of the new handbook in approximately nine months. More accurate timetables will be available as planning progresses.

How will readers be advised about significant new changes in the General Handbook after the February 19 launch?

New changes will be communicated in two primary ways:

Official notices will be sent to leaders.

A summary of recent updates will be published with the handbook, which will identify and link to significant changes.

How do I access the General Handbook if I don’t have the Gospel Library app?

The General Handbook is in the Gospel Library section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

When will the current Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 be retired from the Gospel Library? When should we discard hard copies?

These handbooks will remain archived in the Gospel Library until the General Handbook is available in all 51 languages. They will be removed after that, and any personal annotations of the obsolete Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 will be lost. Leaders should discard hard copies of Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 as soon as the General Handbook is available in their language.

How do I quickly learn about how to do my calling?

Information about how to do your calling is available in both the General Handbook and under Ward and Branch Callings in the Gospel Library.

Additional Resources

Letter from First Presidency: New General Handbook

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