Simplifying members’ lives, reducing strain on leaders — a look at Church changes since the 1980s

Rumors flooded the internet in the weeks prior to the October 2018 general conference as people speculated about the potential announcements that would be made during the second general conference weekend since President Russell M. Nelson was sustained as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If the changes to priesthood quorums and the shift from home and visiting-teaching to ministering, announced during the April general conference before, were any indication, people were sure more changes could be expected. And, they were right.

Since being sustained as president of the Church in January 2018, President Nelson has made many announcements shifting various programs and organizations of the Church. But as President Nelson himself has stated, these adjustments are simply part of an ongoing restoration of the Church in this last dispensation.

"If you think the Church has been fully restored, you're just seeing the beginning," President Nelson told the Church News in November 2018. "There's much more to come."

And looking back, most of the significant shifts made in the last year follow a pattern established long before President Nelson was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

When looking at the changes made to Church programs, organizations and functions in the last several decades, the phrase "simplify and reduce" can be used to summarize many of the changes in recent years.

A pattern to ease the strain

In 1980 the Church first instituted the three-hour Sunday meeting block in an effort to ease the strain of individuals and families traveling back and forth several times a week to their meetinghouses for various Church programs and classes. During the months and years following, the Church saw unprecedented growth and, as a result, Church leaders continued to emphasize the importance of focusing on "individual spiritual growth" and "simplicity in order to accommodate the diversity of a vast Church membership."

Additionally, in a 1980 letter, President Ezra Taft Benson — then-president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — described in the need to "simplify and reduce the administrative burden on local leaders" of the Church. And since that time, the Church has continued to make changes that lessen the burdens not only on leaders, but on individuals and families throughout its global membership.

Joey O'Loughlin and his son Joseph Michael O'Loughlin wait outside the Conference Center following the Saturday morning session of the LDS Church's 188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018.
Joey O’Loughlin and his son Joseph Michael O’Loughlin wait outside the Conference Center following the Saturday morning session of the LDS Church’s 188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News

In the early 2000s, leaders again stressed the importance of simplifying Church activities in an effort to focus on what is most important in the gospel.

In an October 2010 general conference address, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was then serving in the First Presidency, said, "Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship — the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace."

Just a few years prior, Elders Richard G. Scott and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded members that the importance of the gospel is not found in Church activities alone and asked members to magnify the work of the gospel by simplifying it.

Continued efforts to simplify and reduce

In the last year alone, major shifts to simplify and reduce the strain placed on members by the various programs, callings, and other responsibilities in their wards, stakes, and communities have allowed individuals and families to refocus on spiritual growth and serving one another in "holier ways," as President Russell M. Nelson stated in general conference in April 2018.

Examples of this shift include the move from home and visiting teaching to ministering, as announced in April 2018, and the reduction and unification of priesthood quorums in wards and stakes.

During his opening remarks for the priesthood session of April 2018 general conference, President Nelson described such changes as having been "under study for many months." Additionally, he said, "We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for His Saints."

Conferencegoers raise their hands to sustain church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference of the LDS Church at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018.
Conferencegoers raise their hands to sustain church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference of the LDS Church at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, Deseret News

Other adjustments that reflect the focus on simplification can be seen in the cutback of costly Church pageants and in changing youth cultural celebrations for temple dedications to more spiritually focused youth devotionals. The unification of the Church's youth programs around the world; the unification of the Church's curriculum, which brings all members to study the same materials together through the "Come, Follow Me" materials; and the Primary progression changes, which allow youth to move from Primary to the Young Men and Young Women's programs as age groups rather than individuals, all reflect the idea of relieving strain on families and individuals.

The shift to a once annual general conference meeting for the women and men of the Church, respectively, in correlation with the annual and semi-annual general conferences, also similarly lessens the strain placed on leaders of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rolling out an initiative in which missionary candidates receive their assignments online instead of in the mail. In Fruit Heights, Utah, 17-year-old Billy Elliott recently received his call to the Peru Chiclayo Mission.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rolling out an initiative in which missionary candidates receive their assignments online instead of in the mail. In Fruit Heights, Utah, 17-year-old Billy Elliott recently received his call to the Peru Chiclayo Mission.

In recent years the Church has also demonstrated efforts to simplify many of its products and processes in a way that creates a more unified experience for members around the world. The creation of a singular missionary portal website on which missionaries can submit their papers, receive their calls, and track all their necessary documentation has streamlined the process for missionaries around the world. Similarly, the recent efforts to use the full and proper name of the Church have resulted in the unification of the Church's presence online. Other production processes, including those used to produce scripture materials in print and online, have undergone changes in recent years.

Simplification is a blessing, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, said in a recent announcement regarding a shift in seminary curriculum. And simplification in gospel study can lead to a deeper conversion to the Savior and His gospel.

Such changes, along with the reduction of the Sunday meeting schedule, which allows families and individuals more time to study the gospel at home, exemplify a commitment from Church leaders to help refocus on the true purpose of the gospel and foster deep and lasting conversions in the rising generations, as Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described in October 2018.

"(President Nelson) 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," he said.