What Can I Expect When I Go to Church With the Mormons?
Going someplace new for the first time can be a scary experience, especially when you don’t know what to expect. The purpose of this page is to help you know what to expect when you go to Sunday worship services with the Mormon missionaries. You may have a lot of questions about what Mormons do at their worship services or what is expected of you. The following will give you a tour of a typical Sunday service at a Mormon Church. To get directions to the Mormon chapel nearest you, see the chapel locator on the LDS Church’s website. This will also give the time that the local congregation meets.
Preparing for Church
Because church is a special time set apart from the rest of the week to worship God and learn more about His Gospel, Mormons believe that it is important to dress appropriately for church services. This is typically referred to as Sunday dress and includes a suit or slacks and dress shirt for men and a dress, skirt, or suit for women. You should be aware that most members will be dressed nicely and you would probably feel more comfortable if you dress similarly. However, no matter what you wear, know that you are welcome. Note that congregations near tourist sites are very tolerant of a variety of tourist attire and receive many visitors to their meetings. However, modesty is always appropriate for Mormon church meetings.
Arriving at church
Mormons typically come as families all dressed in their Sunday best to prepare for church. Try to arrive early so you can find a good seat and get comfortable with your surroundings. Many people like to chat quietly in the foyer and catch up on what is happening in their lives. This is a great opportunity to meet the local members and learn your way around the church building. To take a virtual tour of a typical Mormon meeting house, see “What to expect at Sunday meetings” and click on “Virtual chapel tour.” You should keep in mind that Mormon congregations frequently share buildings and so many people will be there, some of whom may not be in your congregation. Don’t be scared if the parking lot is already full, it could just be members the previous congregation who may not have left yet.
Mormon Sacrament Meeting
Typically, the first meeting on Sunday is Sacrament Meeting. Sacrament meetings usually last one hour and 15 minutes. Members and visitors are encouraged to arrive early and be reverent in the chapel. The chapel is a sacred place that should be respected, and that means that children should not run, and voices should be kept quiet. Take time to pray or study the scriptures quietly before services begin.
When it is time to begin, the bishop or one of his counselors will stand up and invite everyone to sing a hymn together. Hymn books are available in every pew or bench. After the hymn, a member of the congregation will say a prayer. The congregation should remain quiet and say “Amen” together at the end of the prayer. After the prayer, whoever is presiding, or leading, the meeting will announce the program. Since Mormons don’t have professional clergy, members of the congregation give the sermons, called talks. There are typically two or three speakers who speak for ten minutes apiece. The bishop has previously asked them to speak on a specific gospel topic.
Before the talks begin, the most important part of the Sacrament Meeting is held, this is called administering the sacrament. “The sacrament” is how Mormons refer to the Eucharist and it is blessed and passed by members of the priesthood, often teenage boys ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. The Sacrament Service begins with a hymn that helps us reflect on the mission and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
After the hymn, during which the priests break the bread into small pieces, the sacrament is blessed by a person holding the priesthood. This is done at a table at the front of the chapel, typically off to one side of the rostrum. First he blesses the bread, which symbolizes the body of Jesus Christ. This prayer must be said precisely, so if the person makes a mistake, he will start over. Mormons believe that what they eat and drink for the sacrament is not as important as the spirit in which they do it. The Lord Jesus Christ gave a revelation to Joseph Smith in which he said:
For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2).
Today Mormons typically use bread and water. No matter what is used, the important thing is what the bread and water symbolize, not what they are. After the blessing has been said, members of the priesthood pass the sacrament to members of the congregation. For Mormons, the sacrament symbolizes a renewal of their commitment to follow Jesus Christ and of the covenants they made with Him at baptism. Because of this, if you have not been baptized into the Mormon Church, you should not partake, although young children who have not been baptized are allowed to partake. After the bread is passed, the water is blessed and passed to the congregation.
After the administration of the sacrament, the services continue with talks on gospel themes and often hymns. Some weeks there are special services. The choir may sing or there may be a guest speaker from somewhere else. Typically on the first Sunday of every month, unless there is a special conference, Mormons hold a fast and testimony meeting. On this Sunday, all the members fast together and during the services there are no set speakers. Instead, members of the congregation go up to the front as inspired by the Holy Spirit and share their testimonies about God, Jesus Christ, and the restored gospel. Everyone is encouraged to participate, even children. Even non-Mormons who feel impressed by the Spirit may speak. At the end of the meeting, the congregation sings a closing hymn and someone says a prayer.
Mormon Sunday School
After Sacrament Meeting, the members divide into different groups for Sunday School. Little children under four can go to nursery, children from 4 to 11 have Primary classes, which are Sunday school classes for children; teenagers have classes of their own based on age groups, and adults often have a variety of classes to choose from. Since you are new to the Mormon Church, you will most likely go to the Gospel Principles class, which is also known as Gospel Essentials. Ask the missionaries or a member where it is located. In Sunday School, members study the gospel together. One person is appointed to be a teacher and to lead the discussion, but everyone is encouraged to participate by asking questions and voicing their opinions. Don’t be shy about speaking up, because if you don’t ask questions, you’ll never get the answers you’re looking for.
Sunday School begins with a prayer and sometimes a hymn if the teacher decides to do so. Lessons vary from week to week, but focus on gospel themes like resurrection, repentance, tithing, and so on. Class ends with a prayer. Sunday School lessons are correlated throughout the Church. This means that all over the world Latter-day Saints will be studying the same material at approximately the same time.
Priesthood/Relief Society Meetings
The last meetings of the day for adults (teenagers and children have their own classes, see Primary and Young Men and Young Women) are the Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. At this time, men and women split up and receive their own instruction. Men go to Priesthood and women go to Relief Society. Since the men’s group is split into two, the Elders and the High Priests, ask your missionaries which one you should attend. All women go to Relief Society. These meetings generally include lessons geared for either men or women specifically, though typically drawn from the same manual, as well as discussions about activities and service projects and the needs of the congregation. These meetings are an important time to strengthen bonds among brothers and sisters in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After this meeting, which concludes with a prayer, Sunday services are over. Members often linger to chat in the halls and foyer, or outside if the weather is good. Families are encouraged to spend Sundays together and discuss what they learned at Church. Sundays should, where possible, be a day of rest from chores, sports, and work and be devoted to learning about God and serving others.