Church Handbook of Instructions

by Frank O. May Jr.

The church handbook of instructions can be viewed online here.

The church Handbook of Instructions is the official book of instruction for Church leaders. It is comprised of two volumes which outline Church policy and practices, not doctrine. Book 1 provides instructions mainly for stake presidents and bishops, although General Authorities, Church department heads, general auxiliary presidencies, temple presidents, and officers in stakes, wards, missions, districts, and branches may also receive the book. Book 2 is intended for ward and branch leaders and includes sections for each of the organizations within a ward or branch (these used to be printed as seperate books for each organization, but now all ward leaders receive the full book). The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prepare the handbook to provide uniform procedures and methods for local leaders as they minister to the members and direct Church affairs in their areas throughout the world.

Handbooks include such things as instruction on:

  1. Church administration and meetings
  2. calling members to Church positions and releasing them from such callings
  3. ordaining members to priesthood offices
  4. performing ordinances and giving blessings
  5. doing sacred temple work, and family history
  6. responding to calls for missionary service
  7. keeping records, reports, and accounting for finances
  8. applying Church discipline
  9. implementing Church policies on such matters as buildings and property, moral issues, and medical and health issues.

The first edition of the handbook was a fourteen-page booklet of shirt-pocket size published in 1899. It instructed stake and ward leaders in how to receive, process, and account for members' tithing, most of which was farm produce and livestock rather than money. The Church revised the handbook annually until 1910 and, thereafter, about every five years. The most significant and constant change that has prompted the revisions has been the growth of the Church from 271,681 members in 1899 to more than 13 million in 2011. Other factors that have prompted revisions include the shift in North American members from an agrarian to an urban society, the immigration of converts, the Depression of the 1930s, the wars in the twentieth century, the increase of sensitive social issues, and the transitions from a membership centered in Utah to a membership in North America, and ultimately, to an international Church. Between revisions, letters from the First Presidency to local leaders update instructions in the handbook.

With the 2010 revision of the church handbook of instructions, the First Presidency made the decision to post the entire Book 2 of the handbook online for download. Anyone in the world can now read the guiding principles for administring the organizations of the church. The handbook is written in terms of principles, as far as possible, rather than explicit directions. Local leaders apply the principles in their stakes, wards, and branches as they are directed by spiritual inspiration.

The General Handbook of Instructions is preeminent among Church publications in both its preparation and its use as an authoritative guide for local Church leaders.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Church Organization and Priesthood Authority home page; Church Publications home page)