SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormons will spend less time at church each Sunday after a change announced Saturday aimed at making worship more manageable for members around the globe.
Starting in January, members will spend two hours at church each Sunday rather than three hours, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced at a conference.
The announcement marks a significant change for Mormons, who were expected to attend all three hours each Sunday to be considered active members of the faith — a guideline in place since 1980.
The news set off a flurry of reactions among Mormons on social media, with some posting celebratory memes.
"The senior leaders of the church have been aware for many years that for some of our precious members, a three-hour Sunday schedule at church can be difficult," said Quentin L. Cook, a member of a leadership group called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that helps run the faith. "This is particularly true for parents with small children, primary children, elderly members, new converts and others."
Church president Russell M. Nelson called the adjustment a new "home-centered church" strategy that comes as the faith expands throughout the world. More than half of its 16 million members live outside the U.S. and Canada.
"The longstanding objective of the church is to assist all members to increase their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and in his atonement," 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 proactive plans."
Paulina Porras, a mother of 1-year-old twins, was ecstatic with the news. Her daughters aren't old enough to go to children's programs alone, so she and her husband have to care for them throughout Sunday church time.
"Staying three hours is impossible," said Porras, 29, of Logan, Utah. "Two hours we can do."
Instead of attending two meetings each Sunday beyond the one-hour worship — such as Sunday school, men's and women's groups — members will attend one each Sunday, with the meetings rotating throughout the month, Cook said.
Sunday services vary in length among other religions that have them. They often run from about an hour to an hour and a half at many U.S. Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches, which also offer voluntary classes and other gatherings throughout the week.
Marc Fish, an insurance company owner from Las Vegas, said he loves the change. Three hours each Sunday can be intimidating for potential converts and wayward members, and the change gives families the flexibility to weave in gospel activities at home when it works for them. Fisher, 38, has seven children ranging in age from 7 to 25 who are busy with piano, volleyball and homework, he said. He plans to have more one-on-one talks with his children.
"Schedules are crazy for a lot of families," Fisher said. "Sometimes you hear in the church we're caught up with checklists, the pressure and the stress of just meeting everything."
U.S. members likely will welcome a change to worship practices that are more demanding than some other faiths, said Mormon scholar Matthew Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. However, the new schedule seems to mainly reflect the church shifting its focus away from being heavily Western American, where most members live near chapels and can handle the three-hour Sunday time commitment, or worship block, he said.
"This change is geared toward making participation in the church more flexible and increasingly targeted toward smaller congregations: A shorter worship block means less volunteer demands upon the congregation, fewer jobs which need to be filled, and generally easier administration," Bowman said in an email.
Church membership growth has decreased in recent years, with membership growth in 2017 being the slowest in 80 years, according to independent Mormon researcher Matt Martinich. The number of convert baptisms in 2017 reached the lowest level in 30 years, he said.
This is mainly due to slowing membership increases in the countries with the largest numbers of members: the United States, Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Chile, and Peru, Martinich said.
He doesn't think the Sunday change is aimed at increasing retention, but rather at using church resources and members' time more efficiently. The switch could allow multiple congregations to the use same church building in places like Utah where there are large number of members. It also will let members do personal and family gospel activities on their own time, he said.
The Mormon conference comes a day after the faith announced it was renaming the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir to drop the word "Mormon."
The decision to rename the singing group the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square was the first major move since president Nelson in August called for an end to the use of shorthand names for the religion that have been used for generations by church members and the public.
The choir is performing at the two-day conference as it always does.