Thursday, October 4, 2018

Conference Rumors

It has been interesting to review the speculation online in recent weeks regarding potential changes that may be announced during the upcoming General Conference this weekend. I have reviewed many of these rumors. Most of these rumors lack credible information to substantiate them. However, recent comments from church leaders, such as President Eyring when he spoke in Seattle, Washington last month, hint that there will be "a new way of doing things" and the need for personal revelation to confirm to members that the "practical ways of doing things are changed by the Lord through his Prophet." In August, an article on lds.org quoted President Oaks in regards to changes in Church programs to help better address member needs. More specifically, President Oaks stated, “We have spent many hours talking about how we can simplify our Church programs to perform their essential function for a wide variety of family circumstances,” and, “Now, I am pleased to tell you that some help is on the way and more is under discussion.” These statements, as well as other information obtained from other unpublished sources, suggest significant changes may be in the works and may be announced this weekend.

As for the scope of this blog, it appears some of these changes may relate to church growth. As noted in a recent post, it appears highly likely that there will be a significant increase in temple announcements, perhaps with new temples announced numbering in the dozens in the immediate future. This is by far the most well-supported rumor for the coming conference. It appears that new temples will adopt a smaller building size with minimal maintenance to improve accessibility for membership. Thus, if these changes were to occur, it could significantly change the way we look at temple announcements as a sign of church growth if the standards for a temple to be announced for a given area are reduced.

Several other changes may be in the works but are not as well supported based upon sources I have reviewed. For example, there appears to be significant changes coming to the missionary program (such as discontinuation of the term "investigator" to refer to people who are not members of the Church and learning about the Church from missionaries) albeit it is unclear what changes may occur. Additionally, the Church's announcements of changes to its youth programs have been reported although details are scant. As for changes to the standard Sunday meeting schedule, what I can confirm from my direct knowledge is that the Church will likely continue to hold weekly Sunday School classes per the New Testament 2019 Come, Follow Me - For Sunday School manual. More specifically, this teacher manual specifically designates particular lessons to be taught on particular weeks (e.g. December 31st-January 6th introduction to the year and New Testament, January 7th-13th Matthew 1; Luke 1, etc). The manual was specifically developed just for the year 2019 and STRONGLY emphasizes individual scripture and gospel study during the course of the year.

I believe emphasis on use of the Church's full name and utilization of the Saints Church history series are likely topics to be addressed in the conference. The Saints book has enormous potential, particularly internationally, to help mature members' faith and familiarity with church history with accurate sources and within proper context as translations of the first volume in the series are available in 14 languages (Cebuano, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog and Tongan). All languages with at least 100,000 Latter-day Saint speakers have a translation of this new reference available, which is valuable considering the significant amount of negative, and often grossly inaccurate, information about the Church online in these languages.

In sum, the timing for these changes, whether already announced or speculated to be announced soon, does not appear to be a coincidence. Never in the history of the Church has there been as many active members as at present. Rates for missionary service among young adults have also increased albeit rates of early return from missions have also increased. Financial resources also appear to be the highest they have ever been. However, never in the history of the Church during the past 80 years has the international Church grown as slowly as it has in the past couple years (annual membership growth of 1.48% in 2017, number of convert baptisms in 2017 lowest since 1987). There are significant resources and manpower available, but significant problems of poor utilization of resources, lack of coordination between organizations, and unrealized potential - especially outside of North America. Announced and rumored changes have good potential to revitalize the growth of the Church, particularly in countries with large membership bases where growth has slowed in the past decade but where populations continue to appear receptive such as in Mexico, Brazil, and Peru. My greatest hope is that there will be a significant redistribution of mission resources and restructuring of the missionary program to enable more deliberate, methodical methods to open more cities and populated places to the Church. The greatest worldwide predictor for church growth is the creation of branches in cities where no LDS congregations previously operated. Therefore, the opening of thousands of additional cities to missionary activity will have likely the greatest impact on the growth and expansion of the Church in the coming years and decades.

Here are some statistics to put things into perspective with the size of the Church and its geographical reach. The Church currently has a legal presence in locations populated by approximately 20% of the world population. With only a few exceptions, nearly all countries report LDS congregations in locations populated by less than half of the national population. Even countries where the Church has had a legal presence for decades have vast unreached areas, including large cities. For example, the Church in Brazil continues to report more than 400 cities inhabited by 20,000 or more people without an official ward or branch. In India, there are over 200 cities with at least 200,000 inhabitants without a Church presence. Countries where the Church has a presence in at least 20 cities constitute only 25% of the world's countries. Significant advances in technology enable thrifty and efficient methods to expand the Church like never before and within the confides in the law in most nations. However, unless significant changes occur to the missionary program, the Church will continue to struggle to accomplish its mission to take the restored Gospel to the world as evidenced by steady recent declines in the number of converts joining the Church and lack of expansion into previously unreached or lesser-reached areas of the world. Although there will be challenges, there are also unparalleled opportunities for growth. It is therefore paramount that Church leaders seek out the needed inspiration and revelation to determine what can be done to mobilize the vast resources at the Church's disposal to maintain a vision for growth - a vision that maintains universal principles that can be adapted to meet the specific needs and opportunities for the diversity of cultures and societies throughout the world.

39 comments:

James said...

Matt, thank you for this analysis. I appreciate the increased reports we have had about how President Nelson has been woken up more frequently at night with impressions about what the Lord wants done in His Church, particularly by His prophet. But more than that, for any who may be interested, I was reading an article in the Salt Lake Tribune a day or two ago which talks about why President Nelson seems more comfortable with describing how much revelation he has received and is continuing to receive about the Church. I share the address of it below for any who may be interested:

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2018/10/02/nelson-r-word-why-this/

In the meantime, I too have heard numerous reports that temple construction will be expanded and accelerated, and there have been whispers about something big changing in the missionary program of the Church. I have also heard the persistent rumor about Church going to a 2-hour block, but for the reasons outlined in this post, among others, I don't see that occurring. I appreciated the heads-up President Oaks gave young married couples in California about "something in the works" to ease the burdens on their time. And if the increased reports from his apostolic colleagues are any indicator, President Nelson has been acting very decisively and with certainty on many important issues, some of which we may learn more about this weekend.

But I am personally most excited to learn more about what will be done to expand the scale of and accelerate temple construction. At the same time, I know that one of the challenges of an expanding Church is that growth in certain areas has been more problematic in recent years. So I can see the Church doing something to address that.

I have also mentioned previously my theory that the Church, having restructured Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums last conference, could announce a similar restructuring of the Area Seventies Quorums. If I have my data correct, 3 or 4 of the 6 Quorums are within 8-15 members of having a "full 70". And I would imagine that the challenges and distances involved in having Quorum meetings would play into that as well.

Whatever might occur, I am certainly excited for General Conference, and would like to thank you, Matt, for your analysis of the rumors, many of which may likely turn out to be true, and some of which will certainly be debunked or otherwise proven to be groundless.

James Anderson said...

Now that I have more detail on the dating of the Sunday School lessons, the thing with the old manuals was they could not be updated, so they are trying new things, and also some wards have skipped around, gotten lost because leaders wanted to do something else one Sunday or another, or in one case I heard about, do a completely unauthorized series of lessons that were made up so as to satisfy curiosities or something like that.

The other reason is a unity in the faith in the understanding of doctrine, you can't get that with personal study alone, Sunday School provides a place to get questions appropriately asked answered that came up during personal study. Virtually every subject I know requires at least some classroom work, and gospel subjects are no different, and we hear lttle things all the time in conference and elsewhere from our leaders that necessitate the need for a class to overview the scriptures and help members get more out of their personal study.

The latest date I have now is September 23rd for a statement about temple-building, Elder Holland this time, very similar 'teaser' type of statement like Elder Bednar has given at leat once.

L. Chris Jones said...

What if they spread Temple announcements through the whole conference such as couple in each session?

L. Chris Jones said...
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L. Chris Jones said...

I think they might keep us on our toes again. like last time for example make a revelatory announcement and say subsequent talk so talk about that some more. I think there will probably be something new in each session. I also think there will be a lot more Christ centered talks in keeping with the official name of the church.

J S A said...
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L. Chris Jones said...

What's two transfer?

Christopher Nicholson said...

Maybe they'll finally implement the Facebook missionary thing in full? I must admit I was quite disappointed when most of the excitement about it five years ago appeared later to be premature and unwarranted. It doesn't seem to have had any noticeable effect on growth, and missionaries I talked to said they were only allowed to use Facebook with members in their areas anyway, which seemed to defeat almost the entire original purpose. For quite some time I never even saw a Facebook missionary, but now I'm seeing them again and they appear to have a bit more freedom than before, as they're in apologetics groups and a faith crisis support group that I run.

J S A said...
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James Anderson said...

They do already do short missions of a couple of months in the local area, then it is often converted into a full-time mission with full MTC experience. And full 24 months, so the entire time ends up being over 25 months.

'one-week missions among youth in the summer, or going for a weekend with a mock MTC before, have also been done. Typically both are with the youth

David Todd said...

Zone leaders on my mission used Facebook to find new people to teach, actually. I recall several people at one of the universoties were found and baptized through Facebook finding methods. I think it is best that they have been implemented slowly though so that we understand what is an appropriate use of those resources and what isnt.

L. Chris Jones said...

Back in about 2000 they would not let my brother serve a two year mission unless he tried a three month trial mission (full time) in the local mission. He did that and a few months later was called to a full mtc experience two year mission across the country.

L. Chris Jones said...

The Deseret News Today reported on an official name change for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

Eric S. said...

Mormon Tabernacle Choir has officially changed its name to “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.”

https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/world-renowned-mormon-tabernacle-choir-changes-name

James Anderson said...

The website url, mormontabernaclechoir.org, redirects to a new URL. FB, Youtube, etc., also saw a name change-related thing today too.

Chris said...

It looks like the https://churchofjesuschristtemples.org/ site is on track to go active again tomorrow again. it was originally projected fro last weekend 10/01...now it still shows October 6th date, on the day before. No new corrected start date. It will be nice to see the changes made there for Temple Districts. Any opinions? Also, yesterday, I posted here the announcement of the new Frankfurt Germany Temple President assigned, I am assuming a upcoming date set for Rededication in 2019.

L. Chris Jones said...

I think we should permanently keep all the old urls and have them forward to the new ones, including mormon.org. That will keep them out of the hands of antis and others.

James Anderson said...

Someone found a fake of mormon.org, the Church told me Wednesday morning they know about it, it was also a case of copyright infringement, as the site was completely copied. All that was outed by the WHOIS for the domain name of the fake site, only one of the three companies involved in Whois privacy, DNS, or registration would not be a red flag, but all three were present plus a spam-supporting WHOIS privacy company on top of all that. They will likely kep some of the bigger ones, as some of them have a nearly two-decade history and that age helps in SE
O matters.

Eduardo Clinch said...

Having attended the "two hour" pilot program in Chile in 2005, it is more accurately 2 hours 10 minutes because of sacrament meeting. I can't recall if we started at 8:50 am or ended at 11:10. Either way, it makes life easier on the old, infirm, and young. Elder Holland of all people should know how effective it is, since he tracked Chile quite a bit while there.

Eduardo Clinch said...

James A., I don't quite understand the WHOIS and SEO comments of yours.

James said...

L. Chris Jones, you raise an interesting question. The president of the Church is free to do anything he feels would be appropriate, and I would imagine that applies to how, when, and under what circumstances the plans will be detailed. If I am correct, President Nelson will (at minimum) offer brief remarks at the opening and closing of the conference, and will speak as usual to end the Sunday Morning Session. I am anticipating that, regardless of who else might speak in the Women's Session, he will probably conclude it, as a Church president has not done so since President Monson scaled back his talks beginning in 2014.

As to your specific question about whether or not temple announcements could be spread throughout the General Conference, it is possible. But when President Hinckley originally unveiled his "smaller temple" design in General Conference, he announced all locations (30 or 32 in total, if memory serves) in the same session in which the plan was announced. Given what i have heard based on comments from our general Church leaders, the plan, whatever it might involve, seems more likely to be shared in the course of one talk. But again, the President of the Church is free to do what he feels is appropriate. I would probably venture a guess that either his opening or closing address would be the likely time the plans are detailed and any new announcements will be made.

As to what else might occur, comments I have read from apostles (or those who have talked with them) have indicated that this upcoming General Conference will be historic, with comments such as "stay tuned" or along the lines of "you ain't seen nothing yet". President Nelson, having repeatedly been woken up in the night to write down thoughts and impressions he is having, is clearly trying to steer the Church more towards what the Lord wants and needs done in the days leading up to His Second Coming. And he knows how to receive, promptly follow, and decisively act to implement revelations from the Lord. So we are in for another historic General Conference, regardless of whether or not the prevalent rumors turn out to be true.

I think I will forbear from commenting on the potential changes to the missionary program, because that is not an area with which I personally have a lot of experience, except as a Church service missionary and temple worker.

James said...

And to the other Chris: It is awesome that the restoration work on the Church of Jesus Christ Temples site is going sufficiently well that it is anticipated to be up and running again tomorrow. Based on what occurs during General Conference, the information on that site will likely be more relevantly needed than ever before. In reference to the announced call of the new president for the Frankfurt Germany Temple, I know that the wording of when that new assignment would begin was confusing to some. Unless the Church temples site proves otherwise tomorrow, as far as I know, the general estimate for the Frankfurt temple (early-to-mid 2019) has not changed. I am assuming that, unless something is announced about its' rededication this weekend (which could potentially be the case), that that event will not take place until sometime after both the already-scheduled Rome Italy and Kinshasa DR Congo Temples are dedicated. I see May or June as a likely window for the rededication of the Frankfurt Temple.

Of course, the Church temples site could get back online and prove me totally wrong in that regard, or President Nelson might surprise us over the weekend. But whether or not my estimates for such events prove correct, I will welcome them with equal or greater warmth and enthusiasm.

And again: 2-hour Church, not going to happen. At least not this General Conference, unless the Brethren know something we don't, which I wouldn't find hard to believe. That said, the prospect seems more unlikely that plausible. That's primarily because the importance of Sacrament Meeting as the only 70 minutes of the Church block which the family can attend together has received increased emphasis in recent years, including most recently (if memory serves) by then-Elder now-President Dallin H. Oaks, which, I believe, was also given while he was a senior member of the Twelve.

James Anderson said...

The WHOIS reference (WHO IS? is what it stands for, is a record that tells who owns a domain and the DNS for the site. Usially, and this is so with official Church sites, it will show who that is. The fake site, which looks exactly like a recent version of mormon.org, it's WHOIS was hidden through a privacy manager known as WHOISGuard, and many spam sites I have reported over the years has had that in the WHOIS instead of the true site owner, shady sites use this otherwise legit service to hide from people fighting fraud and spam.

SEO of course is Search Engine Optimization, organizations like the Church pay attention to this and the Church is well known for how their SEO strategy has worked for them. One element is a domain's age. lds.org can be traced back to 1993 although it was not originally the Church that had it, but a member, when he heard the Church needed a recognizable domain he gave it to them and I think he also had mormon.org, he may have had mormons.org, and he gave all that to them too. Mormon.org as a missionary site started in 2001, then Elder Oaks held up a package of pass-along cards, the Church mailed some to every English-speaking unit as the languages came later.

Eduardo Clinch said...

The way I remember the mini-temples being announced were three to begin with. Monticello and two others. Is that wrong?

James Anderson said...

In 1997 they started with those first three, Monticello was chosen so temple department people could go there easily to work out operational kinks, etc. When the rest were announced, the number was first, then they announced each one when all was ready to go by sending local leaders a letter and publicly announcing it.

Whether that pattern is followed this time if indeed a large number is planned remains to be seen.

James said...

As does if, when, and how anything else is announced. All we know at this point is that it will be another historic General Conference, and that specific developments seem likely to occur. But from what I understand, whatever's coming will be big, and there will likely be at least one new development announced in almost every session. But whatever might or might not occur, I hope all of us have taken time to prepare for General Conference. If we have, then nothing that comes out of General Conference will be a surprise, and the Lord will confirm to us individually and as a Church that His will is being made manifest through whatever might occur.

Gnesileah said...

The first of the smaller temples announced in October 1997 were Anchorage, Alaska; the LDS Colonies of northern Mexico (later clarified as Colonia Juarez); and Monticello, Utah. When President Hinckley announced the plan to construct "some 30 smaller temples" in April 1998, he did not announce the specific locations, just the continents. The specific cities trickled in over the course of several months. The first location to be specified of the group was Columbus, Ohio, announced in person by President Hinckley during a member meeting there. Some temples that had previously been announced were modified to be these smaller temple designs, including the Nashville and Caracas Temples.

Eduardo Clinch said...

Phnomh Penh, Ulaan Batour, Panang (or however you spell a major city of Malaysia), Port Moseby, even Vanuatu. Anntanarivo... Why not New Caledonia? And certainly San Juan during the rebuild. Two more in Nigeria...

ScottS said...

My daughter has heard a new Mission will be announced at conference.

Pascal Friedmann said...

I have a dark horse as well. What if the Church becomes more financially accommodating to Senior Missionary couples? This is something that's been on my mind a lot. It is really a program structured and addressed directly to the wealthy (mostly North American and European upper middle class and higher). Having at least the possibility of financial support available would definitely open up these kinds of opportunities to serve full-time for more couples, without making a huge dent into the Church's finances.

Xavier Raveau said...

https://churchofjesuschristtemples.org is back!!!!!!

The Accountant said...

Since Matt has created a specific posts about the potential changes in church policy today, I thought I would throw in my two cents

In effort to reduce burden on families and bishops (both have been stated as a concern from the brethren) I believe the following changes will be made:

-2 hr block with 20 minute sacrament meeting, 45 minute SS, and 45 RS/EQ meeting, 10 minute to changes classes (reduces burden on bishopric to plan sacrament meeting)
-Stake auxiliaries are released, everything is run through the ward. Stake events/activities run by the high council and stake presidency who through committees will plan youth conference, young women's camp, and soon to be young men's camp.
-Mutual is no longer every week (reduces burden on families and bishopric)

MISSIONARY CHANGES
-Service mission begin to play equal role to proselyting missions
-choose length of service mission with sisters going at 18 (service missions are not a priesthood duty so the lower age limit could come into play)

TEMPLE CHANGES
Smaller temple plan and announces over a dozen new sites

DARK HORSE ANNOUNCEMENTS
-introduction of a shorter endowment session (under 1 hr) known as endowment for the dead to reduce the huge backlog of temple names. (Ironically on the 100 year anniversary of Section 138)
-young women administer the sacrament (this is done in some wards for the mothers room when moms are nursing during the passing of the sacrament. There was no push back by Church HQ. Also nowhere in the scriptures it states this is a duty/function of the priesthood. Really evolved out of church policy)

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. Now off to eating my traditional homemade cinnamon roll

John Pack Lambert said...

President Nelson's talk of the advantages of having Church in your home may be a sign of a desire to move missionary work into areas far from existing chapels, and may be meant to signal to mission presidents and other leaders that moving missionaries far from chapels is a workable plan.

John Pack Lambert said...

I have a cousin whose ward in California stopped Sunday school for a time and did lessons on LDS women's history. My Dad has been running a family history seminar during Sunday School time for a few years.

John Pack Lambert said...

In 2000 we had a missionary in my mission who had started on a trial mission, and they just kept him there. He was from Elko, so most of the mission was 8 hours or more from his house. I have known other people who were sent on 3-month trial mission. A few were able to then go longer and others it was decided they could not make it.

I often think we need to find a way to better use those unable to serve full time missions. I still can't help thinking some with Aspergers who may not be able to make it as full time missionaries in the field could thrive as online missionaries.

John Pack Lambert said...

I really dont think we will see any significant changes to the endownment. Having different endownments for living and dead would be logistically very difficult. Any changes to the endownment I would not expect to shorten it. President Nelson and his associates understand the importance of this, and would not move to rush it.

James Anderson said...

Here is another thing about the temple endowment. They made the three new films a few years back, and if you notice the diction in the voices, there are what appear to be unusual spaces between words. That is because in some languages some phrases from English translate into longer phrases syllabically or sometimes in the way they are commonly said so the gaps are necessary for ehat is said to match the actions on the screen. The result in some cases was a longe r endowment, but they kept the older films and it has been reported that on very busy days the older films have been used, and many temples where it was feasible have kept all five in rotation, Provo City Center being one of them and I think I saw an older one at Provo one day too. Many years ago someone timed the older one and the endowment took 1 hour and 17 minutes by his watch, but session attendance can skew that by several minutes

Ohhappydane33 said...
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Ohhappydane33 said...
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