President Russell M. Nelson announced a "new balance and connection between gospel instruction in the home and in the Church” during his opening remarks of the Church's 188th Semiannual General Conference on Saturday morning, Oct. 6.
The “home-centered and Church-supported plan” will necessitate an adjustment to the Church’s Sunday meeting schedule beginning January 2019.
Sunday Church meetings will consist of a 60-minute sacrament meeting each Sunday followed by a 50-minute class that will alternate each week. Sunday School will be held on the first and third Sundays. Priesthood quorums, Relief Society and Young Women meetings will be held on the second and fourth Sundays. Meetings on the fifth Sunday will be under the direction of the bishop. Primary will be held weekly.
The schedule was announced both during the conference session and in an Oct. 6 letter from the First Presidency to local leaders.
The inspired "organizational adjustments" — endorsed by all members of the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles —will "fortify our members and their families," said President Nelson.
Latter-day Saints have become accustomed to thinking of “Church” as something that happens in meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home, said President Nelson. "We need an adjustment to this pattern. It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward and stake buildings."
Inspiration from the Lord has influenced the development of the plans and procedures, he said.
"The long-standing objective of the Church is to assist all members to increase their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Atonement, to assist them in making and keeping their covenants with God and to strengthen and seal their families," President Nelson said. "In this complex world today, this is not easy. The adversary is increasing his attack on faith and on families at an exponential rate. To survive spiritually, we need counter-strategies and pro-active plans."
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 Nelson. "Our efforts over these recent years to hallow the Sabbath — to make it a delight and a personal sign to God of our love for Him — will be augmented by the adjustments."
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said with respect to the Sunday meeting schedule, the senior leaders of the Church have been aware for many years that for some members, a three-hour Sunday schedule at Church can be difficult. “This is particularly true for parents with small children, Primary children, elderly members, new converts and others,” he said in his address immediately following President Nelson's.
But there is so much more to this adjustment than just shortening the Sunday meetinghouse schedule, said Elder Cook.
“President Nelson has acknowledged with gratitude how much is being accomplished as a result of your ‘faithfulness’ to previous invitations. He, and the entire leadership of the Church, desire to bring greater gospel joy to parents, children, youth, singles, the elderly, new converts and those people the missionaries are teaching through a home-centered, Church-supported balanced effort.”
Elder Cook said the purposes and blessings associated with the Sunday schedule adjustment and other recent changes include the following:
• 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.
• Honoring the Sabbath day, with a focus on the ordinance of the sacrament.
• Helping all of Heavenly Father’s children on both sides of the veil through missionary work and receiving ordinances and covenants and blessings of the temple.
This Sunday schedule allows more time for a home evening and to study the gospel at home on Sunday or at other times as individuals and families may choose, Elder Cook said. Leaders should continue to keep Monday evenings free from Church meetings and activities. However, time spent in home evening, gospel study and activities for individuals and families may be scheduled according to individual circumstances.
Family and individual gospel study at home will be significantly enhanced by “a harmonized curriculum” (Primary and youth and adult Sunday School lessons will focus on the New Testament) and a new resource, Come, Follow Me For Individuals and Families, that is coordinated with what is being taught in Sunday School and Primary, said Elder Cook.
World conditions increasingly require “deepening individual conversion to and strengthening faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement,” said Elder Cook. “The Lord has prepared us, line upon line, for the perilous times that we now face.”
He said in recent years, the Lord has guided Church leaders to address related core concerns including:
• Honoring the Sabbath day and the sacred ordinance of the sacrament, which have again been emphasized for the last three years.
• Strengthening, under the bishop’s direction, the focus of elders quorums and Relief Societies on the purpose of the Church and helping members make and keep sacred covenants.
• Ministering in a “higher and holier way,” as it is being joyfully adopted.
• Beginning with the end in mind, with temple covenants and family history service becoming a purposeful part of the covenant path.
The Church’s adjusted meeting schedule is yet another example of guidance for the challenges of this day, said Elder Cook.
The Church’s traditional curriculum has emphasized the Sunday Church experience, Elder Cook said. The new “home-centered and Church-supported” curriculum will influence family religious observance and behavior as well as personal religious observance and behavior.
“We know the spiritual impact and the deep and lasting conversion that can be achieved in the home setting,” said Elder Cook. “Our purpose is to balance the Church and the home experience in a way that will greatly increase faith, spirituality and deepen conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Cook said there are two important reasons the new Sunday schedule will not commence until January 2019.
First, the Church needs time to distribute, "Come, Follow Me For Individuals and Families." Second, local leaders need to arrange meeting schedules with the goal of having more wards meet earlier in the day.
“As leaders have sought revelation, the guidance received over the past few years is to strengthen the sacrament meeting, honor the Sabbath day and encourage and assist parents and individuals to make their homes a source of spiritual strength and increased faith — a place of joy and happiness,” said Elder Cook. “What do these adjustments mean for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? We are confident that members will be blessed in extraordinary ways. Sunday can be a day of gospel learning and teaching at church and in the home. As individuals and families engage in family councils, family history, ministering, service, personal worship and joyful family time, the Sabbath day will truly be a delight.”
Elder Cook said the goal of these adjustments is to obtain a deep and lasting conversion of adults and the rising generation. “The most important goal and ultimate blessing of deep and lasting conversion is worthily receiving the covenants and ordinances of the covenant pathway.”
Church leaders trust members to counsel together and to seek revelation for implementing these adjustments, concluded Elder Cook.
“I testify to you that in the deliberations of the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the temple, and after our beloved prophet petitioned the Lord for revelation to move forward with these adjustments, a powerful confirmation was received by all. Russell M. Nelson is our living president and prophet. The announcements made today will result in profound blessings for those who enthusiastically embrace the adjustments and seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We will become closer to our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Ronald A. Rasband, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also testified of the changes during the session of general conference.
"We live in a remarkable and revelatory season of the restored Church of Jesus Christ,” said Elder Bednar. “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. 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."
Elder Rasband said, "I add my witness to the messages of President Nelson and Elder Cook given moments ago, of the harmony and unanimity of the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I know these revelatory announcements are the mind and will of the Lord and will bless and strengthen individuals, families, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for generations to come."