All members can build on a foundation of family prayer, scripture study and spiritual maturity regardless of the size of their respective wards or branches, said Elder L. Tom Perry.
A member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Perry recalled growing up in a large ward in northern Utah where leadership and opportunity were in rich supply. When he received a full-time mission call to the Northern States Mission he soon found himself serving in an Ohio town with only one known LDS family.
"What a contrast this was to the full Church program I had experienced in my hometown in northern Utah," Elder Perry said. "For teaching materials we only had the scriptures. There was no Primary, Mutual, Sunday School or Relief Society. The only priesthood brethren were my companion and I — the full-time missionaries — and one high priest."
Gradually the membership in the area grew and the missionaries faced the challenge of trying to move too fast and loading the members down with too many Church callings.
Elder Perry said he and his fellow General Authorities see many different stages of Church organization during their worldwide travels. Some units are full organizations, while others are small. "Despite their differences in organization, the Spirit in each is the same."
The Brethren recognize that the units of the Church are at different stages of development and have different needs, he added. There are fully mature wards and stakes and beginning, or basic units.
"There is nothing second class about being a Basic Unit," Elder Perry said. "The Savior's Church in all dispensations, where it has been established, began simply with a basic organization and basic materials. The Spirit does not limit itself to just the big Church organizations. In fact, I found a wonderful closeness in the branch we established in the mission field. The people knew each other, loved each other, strengthened each other and built one another's testimonies. Any Church unit, large or small, would be blessed to have that kind of spirit."
There are several reasons why members fall from the Church, Elder Perry said. Some do not have a friend or do not receive enough spiritual nourishment. Others are not given a calling that helps their testimony grow. Be careful not to overwhelm members with too many responsibilities.
"President Hinckley has continually reminded us 'to do the best you can.' He did not say, 'do whatever you can,' but emphasized, 'do your best.' "
Elder Perry said priesthood leaders must take an inventory of their respective congregations to determine the make-up of their organization.
"The secret to building a branch, a district, a ward or a stake is to know your members," Elder Perry said. "Know their abilities. Understand their needs. Build your program based on leadership available and the needs of your members."
The objective of priesthood leaders is to build strong testimonies in the lives of each member, he added.
Elder Perry spoke of the remarkable results in Peru a number of years ago when priesthood leaders emphasized two basic gospel principles: family prayer and scripture study.
"Because the leaders simply taught the practice of family prayer and family scripture study in the sacrament meetings, a remarkable maturing in gospel understanding and practice developed among the saints," he said.