By Margaux Curless and Benjamin Knoll
Beginning in January 2019, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began meeting for two hours of church meetings on Sundays: one hour for a regular “Sacrament Meeting” where the sacrament (Lord’s Supper) is administered followed by an hour of either Sunday School or men’s, women’s and youth ministry meetings on a rotating schedule. This is a one-third reduction from the previous “three-hour block” meeting schedule that had been in place since the early 1980s.
While there likely will be many who will experience positive outcomes from this scheduling change, one group in particular that may benefit is Latter-day Saints suffering from anxiety, depression, or other related conditions.
Rumors had surrounded the possibility of a “two-hour block” over the past several years and many members had offered arguments in its favor. Ultimately, the Church’s key objective for this transition was to allow more time for personal and family-based gospel study. This is part of the Church’s overall strategy of promoting more meaningful religious experience within the home, especially on the Sabbath. Church leaders are urging members to take the extra hour that they used to spend at church on Sundays and instead spend it at home participating in Sabbath activities with their families.
Two years before this change to the Sunday meeting schedule, the Next Mormons Survey asked Latter-day Saints in the U.S. whether they felt that “being an active Mormon involves” too many meetings, the right number of meetings, or not enough meetings. A majority (61%) were satisfied with the current number of meetings, but about a third (36%) believed there were too many meetings. (Another 3% said that there were “not enough” meetings.)
A statistical analysis of the NMS data revealed that while there are a variety of factors that influenced whether someone was satisfied with or overwhelmed by the number of meetings in LDS religious life in the 2016 survey, one factor in particular stands out: whether or not someone reported that they have taken or are currently taking medication for depression or other mental illnesses.
According to the NMS, about 23% of Latter-day Saints say that they have taken or are currently taking anxiety medication. After statistically controlling for standard demographic and religious factors, those that have taken or are currently taking anxiety medication are about 7% more likely to say that being an active Mormon requires “too many meetings” compared to those who have not taken/are not taking anxiety medication. (This difference remains even after controlling for factors that measure one’s sense of social purpose at Church such as whether members actively seek life-long friendships with other ward members.)
It is important to keep mind that this does NOT mean that the LDS meeting schedule is what caused people to be taking anxiety-related medication. Rather, these findings suggest that Latter-day Saints who struggled with anxiety or depression were slightly more likely to feel overburdened with the number of meetings that active church membership expected of them when the survey was conducted in 2016.
This is important because Latter-day Saints who say that they have taken/are taking anxiety medication also report, even after controlling for various demographic and religious factors, slightly lower levels of church attendance than those who have never taken anxiety medication:
We may expect, then, that the recent one-third reduction to the standard Sunday meeting commitment was perhaps a welcome change among Latter-day Saints who struggle with anxiety or depression. They may find the new, less intensive Sunday meeting schedule more conducive to their participation and engagement which might boost their levels of weekly church attendance going forward.
Margaux Curless is an Economics and Finance major at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.