Less is More in Mormon Church Meetings

The degree of deference by other Mormon Church leaders to the President of the Mormon Church is great enough that the views and actions of a Mormon apostle who becomes President of the Mormon Church by seniority and so has no one above him to defer to can be surprising. My July 22, 2018 post, “New Mormon Prophet Russell Nelson Shakes Things Up” reported several big changes approved by Russell Nelson, who became President of the Mormon Church only in January 2018.

Major changes continue in the Mormon Church. The biggest is the reduction in the Sunday meeting schedule from three hours to two hours. Sunday School and the sex-segregated Priesthood Meeting/Relief Society period will now alternate Sundays, while the everyone-(including young children)-together Sacrament Meeting will continue to be held every week.

The official reason given for the change is to free up time for religious instruction and study at home: “It is time for a home-centered church,” Russell Nelson said.

The most intriguing aspect of the change is that it seems to have been spurred in part by social-science research. Quoting from the article flagged above:

Leaders also considered a study that found that individual scripture study and prayer did the most to help young Latter-day Saints feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, Elder Cook said.

Here, if I were a Mormon Church leader, I would worry that the research was based only on a correlation and was not causal. The sort of person who has the right psychological profile for feeling powerful subjective spiritual experiences might well be more attracted to scripture study and prayer to begin with. A broader range of psychological profiles might lead people to show up at church on Sunday. Making efforts to convince Mormons to spend more time on individual scripture study and prayer may get the desired effect more than having Mormons spend an extra hour in church on Sunday.

Intervention studies provided some evidence of satisfactory effects:

The church had been testing the new curriculum in congregations around the world with success, Elder Cook said. One pilot program was in Brazil and others were reported in Iowa and Tooele.

The big empirical issue here is the Hawthorne effect: doing an experiment that makes the people in the experiment feel special often gets a good effect, regardless of what the intervention is. Of course, many Mormon Church leaders have been businessmen who are used to changing things up in order to use the Hawthorne effect intentionally. (Russell Nelson himself was a heart surgeon rather than a businessman. He performed heart surgery on my grandfather.) But cutting the Sunday meeting times down to two hours from three is much bigger than the size of change one would make if one was only relying on the Hawthorne effect.

The other change is a continuing attempt to get those outside the Mormon Church not to call it the Mormon Church any more, but to use its official name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The choir formerly known as “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir” is now officially “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.” Despite these efforts, I plan to continue to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the “Mormon Church” on this blog.

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.