When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go to church this Sunday they may find an extra flurry of activity and most likely some brief confusion.
As was announced by church President Russell M. Nelson in the October semiannual general conference of the church, beginning Jan. 6 church members will meet for two hours instead of the former three-hour block of meetings.
The church has used the three-hour block of meetings since 1980. Before then, church was held in the morning for Sunday School and members returned in the evening for Sacrament meeting or worship services.
A major question for local leaders will be to see how the two hours of meetings will run and how members will fill their time with that extra hour at home.
Since October there have been discussions among members about the use of the extra hour. Many joked that it will just give people one more hour of napping or Sunday football watching or extra homework time.
Others say they will do an off-shoot of gospel study like family history, or personal journal entries. For those members, the goal is to make the hour a time of studying the gospel.
On Dec. 28 Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency for the church, posted in-part the following on her Facebook page: “By moving the center of our study from church to the home, we have the chance to spend more time to personally know Jesus Christ. We choose to build our relationship with Him with our time.”
She added, “As the new year approaches, I hope you feel heaven’s trust as you make your choices to study and to serve in the ways that feel most holy to you.”
Other church members have shared via social media what they hope to get out of that extra hour of time.
Terri Joyner, of Orem, said in a Facebook post, “I love Family History and I have a few families I go help with their Family History. I have a shift at the Lindon Family History Center and I can continue on Sundays helping the lady who comes in every week.”
Lowell Mark Jacobsen, of Clearfield, posted, “I’m going to use the time to write and study.”
Collen Jensen, a young single adult from Orem posted, “I think this is the kick in the pants I need to finally be consistent with doing my family history. Now I have a free hour each week to do it.”
Some members, hearing rumors of change, reasoned the change was being done to make more space for new wards in growing areas, or to possibly entice less active members to come back to church.
Nelson quashed all the rumors when he announced the new length of church services and gospel study are part of what is being called “a new balance between gospel instruction in the home and in the church.”
Nelson said the idea wasn’t anything new but had been a discussion for years.
“In recent years, we in the presiding councils of the Church have wrestled with a fundamental question: how can we take the gospel in its simple purity and the ordinances with their eternal efficacy to all of God’s children?,” Nelson said in his introductory address opening October’s conference.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was asked by Nelson to present the details of the program.
“In pilot test stakes across the world, there was a highly favorable response to the new ‘Come, Follow Me’ home resource,” Cook said. “Many reported that they progressed from reading scriptures to actually studying the scriptures. It was also commonly felt the experience was faith promoting and had a wonderful impact on the ward.”
Nelson said that Latter-day Saints had become accustomed to thinking of church as something that happens in the meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home. Some were relying on the church to teach their children the gospel.
“We need an adjustment to this pattern,” Nelson said. “It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.”
In Utah alone there are 5,142 wards or branches, according to church statistics. Generally there are two to three wards or congregations per chapel.
Nelson said as the church continues to expand throughout the world many members live where there are no chapels and may not be for the foreseeable future. Families are relegated to having church and the ordinance of the Sacrament provided in their individual homes.
LDS Church meetings on the new schedule will consist of Sacrament meeting lasting 60 minutes. This meeting is to be focused on deepening conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthening faith in them, according to lds.org instructional links.
Sacrament meeting will be followed by 10 minutes to transition to gospel instruction classes. Classes will be 50 minutes in length.
Nelson said, “The adversary is increasing his attacks on faith and upon us and our families at an exponential rate. To survive spiritually, we need counterstrategies and proactive plans.”
In order to do that, Nelson said organizational adjustments needed to be made to fortify members and their families.
“President Nelson, from his initial address to the members of the Church in January, has exhorted us to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ by walking the covenant path,” Cook said.
“World conditions increasingly require deepening individual conversion to and strengthening faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement. The Lord has prepared us, line upon line, for the perilous times that we now face,” Cook added.