Relief Society Would Be Better If We Were Studying Scripture

Photo by Sarah Noltner on Unsplash

A few Sundays ago I sat through another Relief Society lesson based on a talk from General Conference. The teacher has been teaching Relief Society for years. She’s considered the best teacher in the ward because she always has inspirational quotes and pictures displayed on a TV screen. She does a decent job of fostering discussion and helping women engage with the material. 

I still fell asleep at about the 40 minute mark. 

Other weeks I’ve gritted my teeth while I listen to the other teacher try to put together a lesson based on some General Authority’s collection of personal stories mingled with scripture. She’s not as polished as the other teacher and is often visibly struggling to figure out how to organize the lesson.

I’ve experienced things like this nearly every week in every ward I’ve lived in for years. This is the norm throughout so much of the church. I know I’m not alone in wishing for a better Relief Society Curriculum. Many of us are wondering why we spend so much time reading and studying General Conference addresses. I’ve heard many ideas for what we could be doing during the Relief Society hour. Today I’m proposing my own. 

We should be studying scriptures.  

And I mean really studying. Not the haphazard rock skipping we currently do with the Come Follow Me curriculum in Sunday School. But slow, deep dives into individual books and chapters of scripture. 

An Example:

Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have no idea what group scripture study could even look like beyond our four year rotation through the four standard works. I didn’t know any other way until I started attending a Ladies Bible Study Group with a local non-denominational church. 

The group I met with was studying Titus. They’d been meeting for several months and were only to the second chapter of Titus when I started attending. At that first meeting I was shocked to see that the lesson plan would only cover 3 verses that day. I was even more shocked when the instructor was able to stretch the study of those three verses into 90 minutes of instruction and discussion. My little LDS brain that was used to covering whole books of scripture in one Sunday School lesson couldn’t comprehend what was going on. It was like watching a magic trick. I kept thinking, “How is she doing this?”

The class met every other week and each time the instructor filled the 90 minutes with instruction and discussion about 3 to 5 verses. It took the rest of the year to finish the other two chapters of Titus. I’m not sure I’d ever even read Titus before that class. But after spending months studying the teachings deeply, it became a book of scripture that means a great deal to me. 

I’m sure you are curious about what the teacher did to fill the time. The beginning of the lesson was spent reading the 3 or 4 verses from different translations of the Bible. We read from the King James Version, the American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version. The teacher had printed out a copy of each translation as part of the study materials so everyone had a copy of each translation. If someone happened to have a Bible in a certain translation they could read out of that. At the time, I brought my giant “Quad” with the KJV Bible so that was my contribution. But later I’d buy my own copy of an ESV. 

This gave us a chance to see and hear differences in the translations and think about what those translations meant. Sometimes we’d discuss the difference or the meaning of a specific word, but most of our discussion time was spent on the next part of class.  

In that part we’d discuss the verses and what they meant. We didn’t start with “How does this scripture apply to me today?” Instead we started with questions like, What did this verse mean to the people it was written for? Then we’d move onto, What does this verse teach us about God?  And finally we’d get to, What does this mean to me today? *

Along the way the instructor would weave in other verses from the Bible that tied into what we were studying in Titus. These weren’t just cursory “Oh you can turn there if you want” references to other parts of the Bible. These verses often led to long discussions of their own. 

I left each Bible study session feeling truly nourished by the Word of God. I never understood that phrase until I started attending that Bible Study. I found myself making changes in my life based on what we’d studied that week. 

What Scripture Study Could Look Like:

Can you see why I wish that we were studying scriptures in Relief Society? I have so many wishes for what Relief Society could be like if we were truly digging into the scriptures.

At the very least, we could study along with Come Follow Me in Relief Society. Every other week we could have a Relief Society lesson that focuses on that week’s material. This would cut down on the amount of material that the Sunday School teachers feel obligated to get through on the weeks they teach. I’d love to talk about the lesson material without the conversation being dominated by the “boys club” of former bishops, former gospel doctrine teachers, and pompous guys who feel entitled to talk louder than women. 

But let’s imagine further than Come Follow Me. What if the church created a study guide for individual books of scripture? Or had an approved list of resources? Or trusted us as adults to find good resources on our own that didn’t need a stamp of approval?

What if each ward Relief Society President could pick which book of scripture to focus on for a year, six months, three months – whatever she thought would meet the needs of the women in her ward? Can you imagine what it would be like to spend six months studying Alma? Or a year reading through the Psalms? Or three months in the Gospel of Luke? 

And can you imagine how wonderfully diverse it would be to not study the exact same thing that every ward in the world is studying? How cool would it be if I could swap scripture study stories with my family members in different wards? What if my Relief Society was studying the Gospel of John and my sister was studying Proverbs? We could compare notes and insights. We could see themes showing up in different works of scripture.

Something like this would require a huge shift in thinking. Actually for the first time in a long time it would require thinking. We are all so accustomed to being on autopilot at church. We know the answers before the questions are even asked. Doing something new, like digging into the scriptures, would wake us up. It would get us to look around and think. 

It would require teaching women how to study scripture. How to engage with scripture. How to teach scripture. We’d have to learn words like exegesis and hermeneutics – and we’d have to learn how to apply them properly. 

But those skills will come. Good teachers exist in this church – whether we know it or not. People can be trained. The church would have to put resources into training them. Maybe even pay them for their time. But think of the spiritual dividends that a generation of scripture reading women would yield? 

What Can We Do Now:

I realize all that seems a little far off. It’s December now and we are looking at another year of Relief Society Lessons based on General Conference. Having a scripture based curriculum is not a reality – yet. 

However, there are things we can do now to incorporate scripture study into Relief Society. Here are a few suggestions. 

  • Designate a portion of the Relief Society class time to discuss one section of verses from the Come Follow Me lesson for the week. This could be done by the same teacher who teaches the General Conference talk. Or there could be two teachers that share the Relief Society class time. 
  • Speakers at General Conference usually quote from one or two passages of scripture. Teachers could choose to focus on those scripture passages rather than the rest of the talk.
  • Invite class members to take 5 minutes at the beginning of the class to give a “mini” lesson on whatever they have been studying in the scriptures lately.
  • Ask the women in your ward for their top scripture study resources and compile their answers into a list. These could be LDS or non-LDS sources. They could be things like podcasts, YouTube channels, books, websites, etc. These resources could help women realize that there is more to studying the scriptures than just following along with the Come Follow Me manual.  
  • Relief Society Presidencies could prayerfully consider a book of scripture to have the women read throughout the year. If they prefer, this could be done in tandem with Come Follow Me. For example, in 2023 they could decide to have their Relief Society slowly work through Hebrews while also studying the whole New Testament in Sunday School. Part of the Relief Society time could be spent talking about that week’s reading assignment in Hebrews. (My Bible Study group has done something similar this year. We’ve been working through a book on Systematic Theology all year, but we’ve also had a side project of reading through Psalms.)  

I realize that all this might seem foreign to you. You might be thinking, “Sunday School is the WORST! Why would we want to make Relief Society more like Sunday School?” That’s not what I’m proposing at all. I want to make studying scripture a natural part of our time together as women. I want deep conversations about the Word of God to become part of my church experience. I want us to read together from the scriptures and wrestle with what they are saying to us. 

It’s time we stop having lessons based on what somebody said over the Conference Center pulpit five months ago that will be forgotten in a year. We need to start engaging with sacred texts that have stood the test of time. We spend so much time talking about how we love the scriptures, it’s time we actually read and study them. 

*For more tips for how to dig deep into scripture study I highly recommend the book Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. My Bible Study instructor became a close friend and she let me borrow this book. It’s where many of her techniques came from.

Ann has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics and recently earned a second one in Accounting. Contrary to what some people told her, she has been able to use the degrees while raising her four children.


  1. I agree with this wholeheartedly Ann, and would add that between AN ENTIRE WEEKEND of conference talks, that are then re-hashed ad nauseum over the next 6 months between Sacrament talks and PH/RS lessons, it feels dry and boring and uninspiring because it is! WE LIVE IN A WORLD — IN A *UNIVERSE* — OF WONDER! Sad and ridiculous that we limit ourselves to rarely exploring that multitude of beauty and wonder — and focus instead on the opinions and ideas of a handful of (old) men — and fewer women (sadly) who are called to lead the church. Supplanting the heavy lifting of finding insight and inspiration as individuals, it seems as though “The Brethren” would rather we pedestal them instead. It bothers me greatly that they encourage and bask in this adulation — watching the entire conference center attendees stand when they walk in or exit the building seems so… inappropriate to me — sending the not-at-all-subtle message that our leaders are not the servants described by the Christ, but instead some sort of pharaonic icons of worship and adoration. I wish that even one of them had the guts to step up to the mic and say “please sit down, we’re all in this together — we’re not any more important or special than you are”. Of course that would never happen — they seem to enjoy throwing in “As a special witness…” to many of their talks, as if it were a given. Sigh.

    • Frankly, for me, Relief Society, would be so much better if it weren’t trying in any way, shape or form to be another hour of Sunday School but just for the sistren.
      That hour could be so much better spent as a group living up to its name and coming together as sisters to discuss the urgent needs of our neighbors and making appropriate plans to help.

      • That would be best. So many social issues, public relation disasters, child safety, support for poor, etc that is ignored during church discussions and classes and talks. The avoidance is a head-scratcher, for sure.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! What a fantastic reminder that things don’t have to be this way, and that it could be so much better with these straightforward changes.

  3. I fully support this. Believe it or not the Relief Society president has a right to inspiration for her calling in Relief Society. We need to quit depending on a few leaders at the top to tell us what to do. We have the Holy Ghost and more local information to inspire our study and discussions.

  4. Total agreement. The current curriculums in SS and RS are a waste of our time. We can all find other places to get the rich depth of genuine learning from scriptures that other congregations can sometimes offer. Don’t be afraid to go find those places. I had one of my most powerful KnowingTheSaviorPersonally experiences as a four-year-old in Methodist PreSchool SS class.

  5. Hear, hear! I joined another church’s Women’s Bible Study group to find the in-depth study with faithful women I was craving. It’s been great! We are currently spending 9 months going through Isaiah; we meet weekly in small groups to discuss the lesson and give insights we have found during the week, then a lecture/sermon to the whole group by a knowledgeable, paid (this is her career) woman who has prepared background material and her insights into the passage. Feeds my soul!!

  6. Yes to this!!! We lose so much when we focus on coverage and churn through the four year rotation without stopping to slow down and search for deep understanding. This has inspired me to find a study group to join. Thank you also for sharing the book recommendation.

  7. Amen and amen. The scriptures are deep and rich – albeit sometimes tedious or confusing – and yet our study of them is becoming more and more just the surface. In my ward we rarely talk about what they mean, just about how we feel abut the principles. Which, okay, does have its value, but we’re missing out on deeper understanding of what’s there – sometimes even any understanding of what’s there. No wonder we feel like we’ve heard it all before.

  8. Relief Society would be better if the sisters who attend get to choose what they want to learn about together. I attended a “Women in the Scriptures” institute class. The class was officially disbanded after the first semester because it wasn’t meeting the needs the Stake President saw (there was very low young adult attendance). But it *was* meeting the needs of the women in their 30s who *were* attending. So we kept meeting, but without any obligation to follow the curriculum. We took turns leading the discussions, signing up to teach about whichever woman from the scriptures we wanted. It was the best “church” class ever. I would love to have that style of class using the book “At the Pulpit” or “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society”. I see no reason why the Relief Society class time on Sunday couldn’t be used in that way. Oh, yanno, except for the men who have to tell women how to have their meetings.

    There was a year or two before we switched to the two hour block where the 4th Sunday lessons were taught on the same topic for a whole six months. They gave a list of ideas of how to cover the topic in the back of the conference Ensign. I was the 4th Sunday teacher at the time. Initially I was horrified at having to talk about the same thing for six months, but I found that I really enjoyed leading our Relief Society into a deep dive discussion on those topics. Once a month seemed like a good frequency. It wasn’t constant, but it did allow for a long-term conversation on physical, mental, and spiritual health that I really appreciated. I love scriptures (and wish Come Follow Me was better), but I have also appreciated the social-emotional lessons that Relief Society used to teach. Maybe one week a month could be a long term scripture study, and the other more related to life skills.

    • I love this idea, and I long for the curriculum that was so much more relevant to our real lives and maleable enough to be adapted to any cultural needs.

  9. I relate to this frustration so much. In my last ward, a lovely person tried to implement something like this with an adult class on Isaiah. It met on Sunday nights. My husband and I were really excited because this is the exact kind of thing we enjoy.

    People wouldn’t do the reading, then spent the entire class asking really obvious questions that would’ve been answered if they’d done the reading. Watching him struggle to teach a room full of adults who refused to participate in their own learning made me realize why we can’t have nice things at church. Even when someone steps up to do exactly what OP is describing, it doesn’t live up to a tenth of its potential because people insist on investing the same bare minimum of effort that Church already asks from them.

  10. I agree! Relief society lessons have seemed mundane for years. According to the general handbook,
    “The RS meeting begins with a presidency member conducting any business. For example, the sisters may counsel together about aspects of accomplishing the work of salvation and exaltation. Sufficient time should then be given to meaningful gospel instruction and discussion.” (Does this counseling together happen anywhere? It’s not happening in my stake…another point of discussion for another day) then…
    “Relief Society meetings focus on topics in one or more talks from the most recent general conference. The Relief Society presidency prayerfully selects messages to discuss based on sisters’ needs. Hymns may be sung to enhance a lesson. Meetings should end with a prayer.”

    The key word here is “Topic”. Relief society teachers are supposed to teach topics of the gospel, but the sisters have interpreted this to mean “teach general conference talks.” Topical teaching could make for very powerful lessons and the teachers could use one or more talks from the most recent General conference, as stated, and it is very valuable to study the words of the living prophets. The teachers would also be able to involve using other resources to support and teach that topic, such as scriptures. Topical studying and teaching is very powerful.

    I’m not sure if you’re in a position to point this out to your relief society presidency or to offer to teach a R. society lesson in this way to set an example, but you could try. We are all members of the society and should always feel like we have a voice to make positive change. It will take some time to change the way people do things, but it would be worth it if we felt like we were coming out of relief society having been spiritually fed and truly expounding the Scriptures as stated in our relief society purpose. I’m trying to make this change in my stake.

    Press forward, Saints!

  11. Careful here. Do you think it was a haphazard decision to study conference talks? Or could it be that it is an inspired decision from the general Relief Society Board given to them by our Heavenly Father?

    Maybe what we need is to personally study and come prepared to share and love. Mostly to love. The Holy Ghost can teach with any curriculum.

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