Rumors circulated for several months that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would reduce the time spent on Sunday meetings by going to a two-hour block format.
An announcement by the church on Saturday made that change official.
"For many years Church leaders have been working on an integrated curriculum to strengthen families and individuals through a home-centered and Church-supported plan to learn doctrine, strengthen faith, and foster greater personal worship," said President Russell M. Nelson.
"Accordingly, we now want to put in place organizational adjustments that will fortify members and their families," said Elder Quentin L. Cook in the church's Saturday morning session of general conference.
The new Sunday meeting schedule beginning in January 2019, will consist of a 60-minute sacrament meeting and a 50-minute class alternating each Sunday between Sunday School, Priesthood quorums, Relief Society and youth meetings.
According to Cook, Sunday School will be held on the first and third Sundays, while priesthood quorums, Relief Society and Young Women meetings will be held on the second and fourth Sundays, and fifth Sundays will be under the direction of local leaders. Primary, a program for children, will be held each week.
Cook emphasized that the changes would include more effort from members, including an increased emphasis on teaching in the home.
“There is so much more to this adjustment than just shortening the Sunday meetinghouse schedule,” Cook said.
Cook said that the purposes and blessings of the change, combined with other recent changes, include offering opportunities for members, including "deepening conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthening faith in them; strengthening individuals and families through home-centered, Church-supported curriculum that contributes to joyful gospel living; and honoring the Sabbath day, with a focus on the ordinance of the sacrament."
History of church meetings
Changing times and length of church meetings is not new. In 1980 the church announced a new three-hour block system that brought weekday events for auxiliary groups such as Primary and Young Women and Young Men to the Sunday block format.
Prior to that change those auxiliaries met after school or on weeknights for their meetings, a Sunday School for children ages 3-12 was held on Sunday while adults met in a morning Sunday School. Worships services called sacrament meetings were held on Sunday afternoons and early evening. The men's priesthood sessions were held prior to Sunday School on Sundays. Women in the Relief Society would meet during the daytime on a weekday or for working women in a night session.
The LDS Church released this statement in November of 2015 after Boston area congregations tried two-hour blocks on their own.
"After recognizing it was not within Church guidelines, local Church leadership in the Boston Massachusetts Stake decided to drop plans to shorten the standard Sunday worship meeting schedule," the statement said. "The two-month experiment set to begin in the stake in January was planned locally with good intentions to better observe the Sabbath Day."
In the months between the church's conferences there were references to changes coming by President Russell M. Nelson and the First Presidency, as well as members of the Quorum of the Twelve including Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and David Bednar.
Curriculum prepared for use by adults members of the church, beginning in January, also speak of teaching and learning about the doctrine in a home setting as well as church.
In a press release, the church states a new curriculum resource to be used by children, youth, and adults beginning January 2019, "Come, Follow Me — For Individuals and Families," is available in print, at comefollowme.lds.org, and in the Gospel Library app in 47 languages.
After the historic announcement that shortened Sunday worship services for members, Saturday speakers at the church's general conference emphasized that the changes would help to emphasize family growth and learning.
Addressing the purpose of the adjustments and changes made in the church, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve said it’s more than just a shorter Sunday in church.
“We live in a remarkable and revelatory season of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The historic adjustments announced today have only one overarching purpose: to strengthen faith in Heavenly Father and His Plan and in His Son Jesus Christ and His Atonement,” Bednar said. “The Sunday meeting schedule was not simply shortened. Rather, we now have increased opportunities and responsibilities as individuals and families to use our time for enhancing the Sabbath as a delight at home and at Church.”
Bednar referred to the programs introduced by earlier church leaders and said this was all a process leading to the things that happened Saturday and how church programs are gathered together.
“I believe that the sequence and timing of these actions over many decades can help us to see one united and comprehensive work and not just a series of independent and discrete initiatives,” Bednar said.
He continued and said, “God has revealed a pattern of spiritual progress for individuals and families through ordinances, teaching, programs, and activities that are home centered and Church supported. Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and families and are not ends in themselves.”
Elder Steven R. Bangerter, of the Seventy, encouraged the importance of family time and study.
“Consistent, wholesome family traditions that include prayer, scripture reading, family home evening and attendance at church meetings, though seemingly small and simple, create a culture of love, respect, unity and security," he said.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of the Quorum of the Twelve, noted that individuals throughout the world are consumed with fear, but admonished that the Lord is with them and individuals should not be troubled with fear.
"Fear not, 'little flock,'" he said. "I love the tenderness of ‘little flock.’ In this Church we may be few in number by the way the world counts influence, but when we open our spiritual eyes, ‘they that be with us are more than they that be with them.’ Our loving Shepherd, Jesus Christ, then continues, ‘…let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail’.”
Elder M. Joseph Brough, second counselor of the Young Men General Presidency, in noting the new announcement said, “Sometimes the Lord asks us to do a hard thing, and sometimes our challenges are created by our own or others’ use of agency.”
Pres. Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke out strongly about the church's belief in the eternal plan of God utilizing the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” He was specific on the importance of "eternal gender", pro-creation and the importance of children.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is properly known as a family-centered Church. But what is not well understood is that our family-centeredness is focused on more than mortal relationships,” Oaks said. “Eternal relationships are also fundamental to our theology. The family is ordained of God. Under the great plan of our loving Creator, the mission of His restored Church is to help the children of God achieve the supernal blessing of exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which can only be attained through an eternal marriage between a man and a woman."