Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not only reaching outwardly to teach the world, but they are reaching inward to church members and asking them to gain more knowledge and stronger testimonies.
Calling for a “new balance and connection between gospel instruction and the home in the church,” President Russell M. Nelson, during the October 2018 Semi-Annual General Conference, made a major adjustment to how members of the church not only study the gospel, but how they define their relationship with the day-to-day church.
The old three-hour block of meetings was reduced to just two hours in January, after the announcement made during the October conference. Each Sunday is to have an hour for Sacrament meeting. Relief Society and priesthood meetings alternate weekly with Sunday School classes during the second hour.
“As Latter-day Saints, we have become accustomed to thinking of ‘church’ as something that happens in our meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home,” Nelson said in making the announcement. “We need an adjustment to this pattern. It is time for home-centered church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.”
The announcement according to Nelson is, “part of an effort to strengthen families and individuals through a home-centered and Church-supported plan to learn doctrine, strengthen faith, and foster greater personal worship.”
Casey Griffiths, a professor of religion at Brigham Young University and specialist in 20th century LDS curriculum history, says that church curriculum has become more complex in a short period of time. He gives credit to modern technology and the church’s transparency in sharing historical documents and other resources.
A case in point is the extensive release of the Joseph Smith Papers. According to Griffiths, in the past if a person wanted to research the papers, they would have to go to the church archives — where there is limited access — and dig for them. Now, they are available online. This also allows individuals to have more in-depth study of the church and its teachings.
Griffiths said the publication of “Saints” has also opened up new stories and information about the history and organization of the church. In all, there will be four “Saints” volumes.
“One of the benefits of the revolution in digital communication we have seen in the last few years is a greater ability to update and disseminate Church curriculum in a short period of time, allowing the curriculum to be more timely and responsive,” Griffiths said. “I have to give credit to the people who prepare curriculum in the Church — especially the Church History Department — for the amazing amount of work they have done in the last few years to prepare really useful material for teachers and students. The amount of useful written and visual curriculum has multiplied exponentially, and it isn’t just the same old message.”
Online helps at http://ChurchofJesusChrist.org (formerly LDS.org) include quick links at the bottom of the homepage for “Come Follow Me” resources, ministering helps and church magazines. Within the links are a number of photos, videos and other resources to aid members’ personal and family study. For instance new videos embedded in the lesson resource material help members with various issues and how to explain or deal with them. In the March 4-10 lesson is an example of how saints can do when their beliefs are questioned. This particular video deals with a discussion on LGBT issues and the church.
Griffiths adds, “Church curriculum is pushing the boundaries and engaging on complex levels like we have never seen before. As a teacher of church history, I often tell my students that we are living in the golden age of writing and engaging with church history — there really hasn’t been anything like it before.”
While Griffiths calls it the golden age, he admits that “Come Follow Me” is a little scary because it puts so much trust in the individuals and families in the church. It trusts that members will take advantage of the extra time to study together, and that they will take on the responsibility of seeking greater knowledge and growing a deeper understanding of the scriptures.
“At the same time, if ‘Come Follow Me’ is fully initiated it will be a wonderful thing, especially for the younger people of the Church,” Griffiths said. “To go to a class and have a teacher instruct you is one thing, but there is a whole other level of learning that happens when families meet together, or an individual engages with the scriptures in a deep way.”
Griffiths said he loves the time families are spending together, and he is hopeful for his own children that they will have more scriptural literacy; he wants them to know the scriptures and church history better than any previous generation.
Over the past two years and looking toward 2020 and beyond, the church has announced major curriculum adjustments and changes to all children, youth and adult programs, and all hymnbooks will be redone with new hymns added to reflect the international nature of the church. Instead of hymnbooks for various nationalities, there will be one hymnbook and children’s songbook in several languages.
A portion of the hymns will include new selections that all members throughout the world can learn. According to the church, patriotic songs such as “The Star Spangled Banner” will be deleted from the hymnbook. Publication of a new hymnbook and a children’s songbook is expected by or before 2022.
With the church no longer following the program provided by the Boy Scouts of America, all youth throughout the world will be following not only the same Sunday curriculum but newly designed activity programs as well beginning in January of 2020, according to the church.
Michael Goodman, religion professor at BYU, said the church has provided many tools and resources to help members in their studies and to help them have a great understanding of church history and the scriptures.
“I don’t see a major shift in the subject matter of the curriculum at all,” Goodman said. “But rather, the emphasis is to get the members to take greater responsibility for their learning and thus their discipleship. The message seems clear – the old way of doing things – church centered – will not be sufficient for the needs of the coming days.”
Goodman added, “The united message from President Nelson and the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve is that each member must do more to get the power of the gospel into their own lives and that the most effective way to do that is through individual and family study and worship.”