Note to Journalists:
If you are considering attending a local Latter-day Saint congregation, we welcome you! We appreciate you taking the time to understand our faith and our people better. Visiting our local congregations and seeing how a ward (what we call our congregations) works are key to understanding what Latter-day Saints believe and how that belief translates into our worship with and service to one another. Your visit will be reflective of Latter-day Saint worship around the world.
Please remember, however, that Sunday services are worship services. You will find an atmosphere of friendship and sociability as well as reverence. If you’d like to interview local members or leaders, or if you need photos or videos to accompany your story, please contact us.
What to Expect at Church Services
Latter-day Saints welcome all visitors to their worship services, and for individuals visiting for the first time, the following information might be helpful.
Along with activities and programs during the week, Latter-day Saints gather on Sundays for an approximately hour-long “sacrament” meeting, where men, women and younger members offer prayers and give sermons, sing hymns and partake of the sacrament (similar to receiving communion). In addition, there are doctrinal and scriptural classes for youth and adults as part of the three-hour span.
Mormons are generally a friendly people, so a visitor should not be surprised when someone, seeing a new face, comes over to talk and offers to shake hands and help the visitor find the right meeting or class.
Where do these meetings take place?
In most areas, the meetinghouse itself is an easily recognizable and uniform building with the name of the Church on the outside. Inside, you’ll find the chapel or “sacrament room,” with pews for the congregation and a podium for speakers. There are typically classrooms and a gym as well. Characterized by simplicity and functionality (with simple paintings of Christ’s ministry adorning the hallways and classrooms), meetinghouses serve many purposes and are used for everything from Sunday services to emergency shelters and from housing basketball tournaments in the gym to hosting morning youth scripture studies. In other areas, worship services may take place in smaller, rented spaces that best fit the needs of the local congregants.
Who attends the services?
These local congregations are geographically designated so as to bring neighbors and communities closer together and give them greater opportunities to serve each other. Consequently, the number of attendees can vary depending on the location, ranging from an intimate gathering of a dozen or so in a Mongolian branch to hundreds in a Washington D.C. ward. Typically, the geographic boundaries are maintained in a way that keeps the congregations at a capacity that allows for familiarity and community. Families generally sit together, but large numbers of single members also attend. In major metropolises, there are even congregations especially designated for single adults.
What happens during the service?
The following is a breakdown of the main worship service called the “sacrament meeting” (the Latter-day Saint term for “communion”):
- The person leading the meeting — usually the ward bishop or branch president, or possibly one of his two counselors — wears a suit, not ecclesiastical robes. Other than the fact that he is at the podium, he is indistinguishable from any other Church member.
- Following congregational announcements, members will open the meeting with a hymn. The hymns of the Church include both those familiar to Christian ears and additional hymns reflecting Latter-day Saint history, doctrine and practice.
- An opening prayer is offered by a member of the congregation at the podium. The prayers are extemporaneous. There is no congregational role other than a communal “Amen” after the prayer closes in the name of Jesus Christ. Neither is there any formal scripture reading from the pulpit, although scriptures are used extensively by those giving sermons.
- The focal point of the 70-minute meeting comes next. Following another hymn, the emblems of the sacrament — analogous to communion in other Churches — are blessed and passed. The blessing on both bread and water is performed by men, including youth over age 16, who have been ordained to various levels of priesthood responsibility. Members remain in their seats while the trays are passed along the rows of the congregation. During this period, the chapel is silent as each individual member reflects on the sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. While the sacrament is intended for baptized Church members, no one will object to visitors participating by partaking of it.
- Following the passing of both bread and water, the service resumes with a few assigned members of the congregation taking turns to speak. Different members of the congregation are asked to speak each week, in order to give as many people as possible (men, women and youth) an opportunity to share and teach. Topics are usually assigned a week or two in advance or occasionally may be left to the individual. These talks, or sermons, are usually 10-25 minutes each and center on principles taught by Jesus Christ. On the first Sunday of every month, or “fast Sunday,” there are no assigned speakers; instead, individuals may share extemporaneous experiences and expressions of personal faith, or testimonies.
- It is common in some congregations for a musical number — a choral rendition, for instance — to precede the final speaker. Choir members are drawn from the congregation.
- A final hymn and prayer conclude the meeting. Again, the prayer may be offered by a man or woman.
- As there is no paid professional clergy, sharing congregational responsibilities and duties instills the values of community and fellowship. This cooperative enterprise means that lay members alternately preach sermons and listen to sermons, lead music and sing music, give service and receive service.
Do visitors need to participate?
No. Visitors may simply sit back and enjoy the service, or sing along with the provided hymnbooks, if you like. There is no collection plate or materials that are necessary to bring.
What do people wear?
You’re welcome to wear any clothes that you feel comfortable attending a church service in. Men typically wear suits and ties, and women wear dresses or skirts. Children also usually dress up.
What happens after the sacrament service?
After the conclusion of the main worship service or sacrament meeting, Church members attend Sunday School and other classes for instruction and discussion, according to age group. For example, children from 18 months to 11 years attend Primary — a program designed specifically for children that presents the gospel in its simplest form. Lessons are scripturally based and incorporate music and visual imagery to hold the attention of the children. There are classes for youth ages 12-18 and for adults over age 18. Often, there is a class tailored for new members or visitors, called Gospel Principles. While the Sunday School curriculum is scripturally organized (each year, progressing through a different set of scripture), Gospel Principles is organized along basic doctrinal themes. Following the hour-long Sunday School rotation, there is one more hour-long class, tailored especially for women (Relief Society), men and young men (priesthood), young women and children.
No invitation is necessary to attend Mormon worship services or classes. In some congregations the classes precede the main service, depending on local circumstances and how many congregations meet in the same building during the day.
What about temples?
A common misperception among those not of the Mormon faith is that only Latter-day Saints can enter their chapels. This is most likely based on a misunderstanding about temples and chapels. While temples, of which there are 151 (including existing ones and those announced or under construction) worldwide, are open only to members of the Church who are fully engaged in their faith, anyone can enter a Mormon chapel to visit or worship with their Latter-day Saint neighbors. There are over 18,000 chapels throughout the world.