Should the church support and pay for youth to attend expensive programmes such as EFY? And are such programmes beneficial for youth? Today’s guest post is by Jake, a former U.K. EFY Counselor.
The Especially for Youth (EFY) program has a long history in the US, having been established for over 50 years. Here in the UK it has a far shorter history since its recent inception in 2006. In its global spread, it has experienced a significant shift in its purpose and relationship with the church. It has moved from a private gospel-based, semi church-endorsed enterprise, to an explicitly church-sanctioned and run programme in multiple countries and languages. Local stakes are prohibited from trying to replicate any similar competing programmes.
I should point out that I think that EFY has a powerful force for good upon its participants and all those involved in running it. It is clear to me having been involved in multiple EFY’s that the simple experience of attending an activity with over 500 youth significantly helps to fortify the faith of those involved. It allows those who attend to realise that they are not alone, and the shared experience helps give them strength in their beliefs. In England where it is common for a ward to have only 3-10 youth, most who are vastly different in ages and tastes, attending separate schools, attending EFY can be a life-changing experience. Youth in the U.K. usually experience the gospel as isolated individuals with only church membership in common with peers. They simply do not get to see peers of their own age and of similar interests who share the same beliefs very often.
For me personally growing up I was always the only member in my school, and in youth there was no one my age. As a result I struggled to feel like I really belonged. Church seemed like it was just for old people and weirdos. Only as I travelled around and saw other wards and stakes did I discover that I was not alone.
That said, I do have a series of concerns about EFY. Some of these relate to it as a general programme, and some relate in particular to the way in which it is adminstered in the UK and Europe.
First, the issues with the general programme. EFY first became popular in the UK when rich parents started to send their wayward children in an attempt to reform them with a dramatic spiritual experience. Sometimes this worked; sometimes it didn’t. The thinking was that this one life-changing experience would redeem and protect the youth from temptation in the future. But faith is not created overnight. It is my experience that faith is built over time. It is vain to try and create long lasting change through a short but intense programme. I do not doubt that in some cases Damascus experiences and Alma the Younger style conversions happen at EFY, but those I have seen experience this have reverted to their old ways when they returned to the original environment. Temporary surroundings make for temporary changes
Next, whilst I do not doubt the sincerity of those who run the programmes, it seems to be an attempt to manipulate the spirit and force spiritual experiences. The thinking goes that it is possible to follow a set pattern laid out in the EFY handbook to manufacture a spiritual environment. The Lord did say that He is bound when we do what he says, but this does not mean that we can control how He sends forth His Spirit. One method to create a spiritual environment at EFY is by enforcing rigid laws and codes. One of my youth pointed out that Jesus would never be allowed to attend EFY because he failed the dress and appearance code. Do we really think that someone’s hairstyle, piercings and facial hair will impact their ability to feel the spirit? Perhaps early church members and leaders made so many errors because they had too much facial hair, so they couldn’t fully have the spirit with them.
EFY also promotes sentimentalism, and superficiality over substance. It creates an adrenalin fueled atmosphere with its chants, songs, cheers, and emotional energy, all of which are easily confused with the spirit, especially by impressionable youth. A participant once remarked that he thought it resembled a Nuremberg Hitler Youth rally. Such high-charged environments can make it more difficult to discern exactly what the feelings of the spirit are. As a result, many youth confuse sentiment for spirit. Is this really the strong foundation we want to create for our youth?
Some of my other concerns relate to its place in the UK and Europe. EFY was produced in America, and as a result it is steeped in American culture. Although the UK and US share the same language, there is a greater cultural gap than many realise. Some things included in EFY simply do not make sense or resonate with the UK saints. One such example is the “Cheer.” The UK we simply does not have cheerleaders, so nobody knows what a cheer is. It was quite entertaining this weekend watching a bunch of English people compose an American style chant/cheer having no idea what one was. The result was a strange combination of awkward clapping, and modified Queen and primary songs, sung badly and self-consciously.
The second cultural difference is the fact that EFY is cheesy. A phrase used in counselor training is “embrace the cheese.” However, Brits resist brash over-the-top expressions of emotion or cliche phrases; it simply is a very unnatural form of expression for a British person. The hyper-sensational chants and excitement that EFY thrives on puts English people off and distracts participants from the purpose. It is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable cultural language. Awkward.
The biggest difference between EFY programmes here and in the US is that they are not run by BYU but are run directly by the church. This changes many programme dynamics. For instance, session director is a church calling not a paid job. They, along with the coordinators, are set apart by the area presidency. Likewise, all counsellors are unpaid and called and set apart by their bishop. This raises a whole separate issue; counsellors apply for a ‘calling’ and then (for the most part) selection is based on friendship. Since when did we apply for a calling and then interview for them like a job?
Because it is run directly by the church and not BYU, it is not run for profit. It is here that the controversy surrounding EFY really emerges. EFY is heavily subsidised by the church. The cost per head to attend in the UK is £350. However, most of this cost is covered by the area presidency, with the published cost being £165. This is still expensive when the goal of the area presidency is to have every youth to have the opportunity to attend twice in their lifetime. To further subsidize the cost is then split between the parents and the ward so that only £65 is paid by the participants and £100 comes from the ward and stake budget. This is a large amount of money for a ward, and it is taken regardless of whether the youth attend.
I can’t help wonder why the church will subsidize EFY yet not pay for people to travel to temples and get ordinances of salvation?
While EFY is an investment in the youth, one with benefits in future loyalty and leadership, can it be done in a way that resonates with local cultures and doesn’t confuse sentiment and enthusiasm for the spirit? What do you think of EFY? Is it a worthwhile investment? Do you agree with the proposed changes? Did you attend EFY? Discuss.
I enjoyed this post a lot. EFY is run every year here in France but a particular stake’s youth are subsidized only every other year. So some better off youth seem to be going every year, and the poor ones would not be able to go at all unless the ward or ward members decided to cover it.
I am glad that the program has been created. Youth in our ward felt like their loneliness has ended. They tend to stay in contact with people by Facebook and SMS afterwards. Overall a great experience spiritually and socially.
I am comfortable with the church spending money on good experiences for its young members. It just announced an 80 million Euro temple in Paris. It will also provide good youth trip experiences.
I think the content will eventually be less cheesy. They request a lot of feedback and they are tinkering with it. Did you fill out the feedback forms? Did you write a letter to the area presidency (and copy the local EFY leaders) offering your opinion of the content? Officially you are not supposed to write a general authority, but they care enough about the program (based on how much it was discussed in stake leadership meetings) that a youth opinion would probably be read and factored in.
I really enjoyed your thoughts here and they articulate many of the similar concerns I have about the Church. If I may quote myself from a talk I gave a Stake Conference, ‘We are beginning to run our local mutual programmes in the hope that EFY will save our kids. The emotionalism of attending these conferences with many other youth does not equate with faith. EFY will not save our youth!’ It was met with a surprisingly positive response.
However, I have never yet been to one of the UK events or the American events (although my brothers did). Either I don’t have the right friends or maybe I am just not counselor material. Perhaps both are true.
I would agree with you that there is a temptation for parents and leaders to have unrealistic expectations for church-sponsored events, especially ones sponsored by higher-ranking leaders. They can also have unrealistic views about the relative importance of church activity and the more general process of growing up and becoming a responsible and emotionally healthy adult.
However, it has been a positive experience for all of our youth, wherever they are on the spectrum of faith and activity in the church. Some adjustments are probably in order mostly at the Stake level, but as people get habituated to the program, unrealistic expectations will probably wear off, and we will be left with a program that is basically positive and not overhyped. I am all in favor of investing more resources in the youth and the YSAs to foster a sense of common heritage, to foster social development, and to fulfill the scriptural promises about the spiritual blessings resulting from gatherings of Latter-Day Saints. More tithing money should be invested in making vibrant LDS communities, or ward budget payments should come back.
I have never been to an EFY – actually, I didn’t even know what they were until close to my mission age – I think my dad was kinda anti-EFY actually, and probably felt they were filled with a lot of the “spiritual twinkies” as it were.
Anyway – as for kids changing temporarily and then coming home and changing back – I think a lot of that says more about the family system than anything else. Parents who send there kids away should also consider that they are a part of the family system that could use some work. Sending a kid away basically says, “well kid it’s all YOUR fault that things are this way.”
Obviously there are many kids who attend EFY who this does not apply to, but your post made me think of it… also – those wilderness camps. They create great temporary change, but do nothing for the family system.
I really enjoyed this post, although I never heard of EFY until the 90s when I was well past the age of such a thing. I only really figured out what they are when my oldest son was old enough to attend, which he did twice. I agree with the criticisms about the cheesiness and it not translating well into other cultures. I can’t imagine most Asian countries with a cheer any more than the Brits could pull it off. There does need to be more cultural translation effort. But it does seem like a good investment in Europe and other areas for the youth to get together.
I also agree with Shenpa and Aaron that parents shouldn’t expect the church to “fix” their wayward children – or for the children to “fix” themselves. And some teens are just going through a phase while others buck against the rigidity they might experience in the church or EFY environments. Some will find this kind of program off-putting.
But for youth who don’t know many other members, this kind of program is a huge relief.
I have spoken a lot about these things. As the co-ordinators are friends of mine. I suspect this is the reason why I get to be a counsellor. You are right the general authorities place a lot of weight on them. When counsellors are trained the training is always attended by a general authority who speaks and does a training for part of it. I think their presence at training is a big indicator of how they value you it.
I don’t think they will change the cheese or format very much though. Having spoken to person who oversees them it seems that the first presidency have been clear that it must be directly copied with no deviation from the model from Utah. So I think its a case of the cheese is here to stay and we just have to live with it.
“EFY will not save our youth” I couldn’t agree more. Yet, if you attend and listen to the training the rhetoric and belief of those who run them is that EFY really will save the youth. The training pretty much stated that youth are attending from spiritually impoverished families and EFY will be what saves them and helps them live the gospel. I think this is concerning though. As it negates the good that wards and families are doing.
I think this ties into the family system. It seems to be shifting away from the family’s importance in reforming behaviour. The underlying principle that is at least taught to the counsellors seems to be saying that it is not by changing and improving their families and their local wards that will save our kids but it will be by sending them to EFY.
All of my kids (except the youngest one), attended EFY in various places (Canada, Utah, California). They usually had a good time. Most Mormon kids can have a good time. For the most part, they enjoy the cheesiness.
As parents, we realize that this is but one experience of many that our kids had with Church. One hopes that a speaker, a situation, another kid might have a positive affect. Their home life, their home ward and the people around them on a regular basis are likely to have a greater impact overall than a week at EFY.
We’ll send our youngest if he wants to go. But we don’t have high expectations what it is life-changing. It might be, but then a scout campout might be as well.
BTW, in the long run, it didn’t help…..
i really think that as the church gets a chance to continue to adjust and develop, it will get better.
efy is like byu, an attempt to create core experiences,
i hate bathos, perhaps more than the next person, but also appreciate that the core experience needs to avoid too much dilution to remain a core shared experience.
my oldest enjoyed efy.
wish you the best with future efy programs.
I appreciated your comments. I agree that:
1) cheese is probably here to stay. And it will be made in Utah instead of France. I can see that the desire to keep it uniform makes it harder to modify. But there will be modifications, and enough comments will result in a reformulation of some kind.
2) the launching of church programs tends to lead to hyperbole. If you have served a mission or been to a stake leadership meeting, etc. you know this is the case. I think if one is a believer it is important to try to estimate the actual value of a program and to act and speak accordingly. It is tempting to surrender to hype or to surrender to cynicism. Either one lowers effectiveness. Oh yeah, and if you can’t reasonably discount hyperbole, you will eventually go insane in this church.
A majority of our active youth have neither parent working. Our unit went through a period of approximately 5 years with only 3 ward-level YM activities. I think the need to supplement what the wards and stakes are doing is there, on average, across Europe. I don’t have any realistic idea of how things differ from country to country, but I am pretty confident that the need exists for a program like this.
I don’t think it will radically change the percentage of youth that stay, but I think it is one piece of the puzzle, it will have a positive effect, and the effort and resources are worth it.
I am fascinated by the Love/Hate relationship that countries have with American culture. Everywhere I go, I see signs of American culture. In some countries the bulk of the TV shows are dubbed American shows. Clearly, a significant portion of popular music is from the US an US artists. Which are also influenced by British artists.
So, what’s the big deal.
I know that our culture is influenced by our immigrants as well as imported things. Heck, most of the decent American TV shows were thought up in Britain. Maybe, we are parroting British culture back at you.
You really don’t know what a cheer is? It’s an English drinking song with the bad language taken out! Never watched a football match? they cheer.
As for EFY, don’t British counselors put their British spin on it. Do they also speak in American accents too. Are the speakers from the US?
Doth protest a bit too much, me thinks. 😉
My kids refused to go to EFY. They had vague but similar sounding reasons as listed above. Many of their friends went with variable reactions. My daughter said EFY was “like the parents buying a phooney testimony for their kids.”
They like to drink Coca-cola and my son has the most beautiful long curly blond hair and it would be such a shame to cut it before he goes on his mission. They also think it is a good thing to throw water balloons at the missionaries during the hot humid weather we have here in the Southern States. So perhaps it was better for them not to go than to get kicked out.
We shared some similar concerns, and provoked some strong defenders of the US-style program in the comments, in a 2008 beginnings new post, FYI.
I really appreciated this article. My oldest daughter just got back from EFY and really enjoyed it. It brought back memories of when I went once. I hardly remember any talk, but I recall feeling a lot of pressure to bear my testimony at the end. The councilors didn’t ask me to do it, but they encouraged all of us to share once they set the stage. In the end, it was only me and one other kid that didn’t do it. I just didn’t feel comfortable.
I hope that the main reason my daughter enjoyed her time there was the comraderie with youth that share her values, rather than conflating emotions with the spirit. I don’t mind the cheese, so long as kids recognize it for what it is.
I have my doubts that it’ll improve. The very same issues the OP noted were as prevalent when I attended in the early 1990s.
I’m not against the resources being poured into the program, per se, but I do think there is a bit too much conformist ideology going on, specifically through the clothing + hairstyles required to be a part of EFY. I’m not sure why we expect to export our clothing and hairstyles throughout the world, let alone the specific program we’re trying to sell.
That said, I don’t think the Church is necessarily against the cheesy, faked testimony feelings some feel at EFY. If the Church can market and trademark [in effect making something into a revenue stream] a program that is specifically aimed to evoke feelings and thoughts, which lead to actions, then I don’t think they’re against a cheesy testimony meeting or cheer which is aimed at evoking feelings. In fact, I might think it’s either a trial run or something they’re trying to replicate.
I do agree that the requirement for a “missionary style” haircut is going too far for a youth camp. It’s a potentially big change for a 3 day experience, and it implies that the kids with longer hair are less worthy and would prevent the spirit from entering. Is that really something we want to have them infer?
#8 I agree I think there is a strange relationship with American culture here. Especially amongst church members in the UK. There is a fetishisation of American culture as it gets equated with Mormon culture a lot of the time. YSA here all seriously for some reason love Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch.
I really struggle with the conformist attitude as well. Last year youth whose hair was too long had it cut at EFY. Which, I think was really wrong. They stopped it when tonnes of parents complained when their kids returned with bad hair cuts. I do think it implies that short hair and being clean shaved prevents the spirit and makes one unrighteous.
That said I do think that it can be unifying force. It pained me but I had to cut my hair and shave my beard as a counsellor simply so as counsellors we would be unified. I can see value in that. But I don’t see why the youth need to have their hair cut. One of my youth last year struggled as he felt because of EFY that he had to look a certain way and wear certain clothes to fit in at church. I don’t think that is a good thing for youth to learn as it can make them lose their sense of individuality.
The realization that they are not alone seems to be the main benifit. The hair lengths are some kind of weird utah thing. Do we really require a higher standard for EFY attendance than temple attendance?
The top football coaches (motivators)in Australia are all very quiet thoughtfull types. There was a time when anything from America was percieved to be better than the local product. Not for 50 years though except in the church.
We are having a womens conference from deseret industries this weekend, it will be interesting to hear reports of it.
This idea that you can export Utah culture in this way can be quite offensive. We already have to try to separate the Utah culture from the church to get to the Gospel.
I never went to EFY either. My teen years were split between the Northeast U.S. and Utah. I don’t know what I missed.
“I really struggle with the conformist attitude as well. Last year youth whose hair was too long had it cut at EFY.”
Now that is taking things way too far. Not only is it wrong, it is bizarre to think that anyone would cut hair without the parent’s permission. it sends a very bad message to the kids that being the least bit different is not acceptable.
That stinks. White shirts are one thing. This is way over the top.
Oh my, I appreciate your efforts to share your truths. A published account of cloaked nonsense; however, cloaked well enough for publication. So that stands for something. Standing for something is certainly better than standing for nothing. With that said. What a sad portrayed of my European peoples. If it weren’t for my years a child of a scorned ex-member myself, I would wonder the real motive behind this “take down,” disguised as “international differences in the program.” But I get it. Your feelings stem from a much deeper wound and your only relief is a feeling of justification the act of light vengence brought on by false facts, & juicy acusations. I applaud your delicate intertwined issues a bit of validity, and a bit of falsehood sprinkled with a dash of petty attempts at misleading accusations. The transparency is amusing. Amusement, recognized by England and now known as similar to American cheesiness and cheer.
My life was forever changed in five days at EFY, It planted a seed of curiosity. Upon my return I watered the seed “metaphorically speaking. ” I learned I am here for a purpose, I am never alone, and there is life after death. For that type of knowledge, gifted in seed form to research on my own, hah.. I would gladly, once again adorn my body a wool sweater, plaid ankle length knickers and a baseball cap with flapping wings. Oh and the required mohawk I was forced to receive LoL. Point being, even in the dim lighting of dark motives, the bits of exagerations that inspire grounds to build on…you are still a harmless misinformed speck of sadness.
What if my curiosity led to a belief in norhing anyway…I would still forever be grateful for the one thing EFY offers that can not be denied. A safe place in which for at least 5 days, I was not invisible. I was not the loner. And nobody cared that I looked different, even angry. It’s really quite worth it to see the real people, in a real religion, maybe a unique one..but nothing close, not even close to how it is portrayed. They do not play by the strict no-nonsense, anti-enthusiast rules my home country does. They are F-U-N (cheesy) (jolly) (high spirited) lovers of life. How can one not be once realized that this is a tiny part of a much greater plan and purpose. Bless your hearts, anger cloaked in any disquise takes a taxing toll on anyone’s body. And above the uh, cutting of hair😂😂😂 bless your non conforming heart indeed.
4 year participant
2 year counselor.
P.S. Turn off the telly and give their financial offices a ring. Your money concerns will be answered there. And it might surprise you.