The COVID-19 pandemic prompted significant but temporary changes to Church policies and practices. While many adjustments have come and gone, some changes have left a lasting impact on the Church.
Two years ago, on March 12, 2020, the First Presidency announced that all Church gatherings worldwide would be suspended, a response to growing restrictions related to the increasing spread of COVID-19. Many more restrictions followed as COVID burgeoned into a worldwide pandemic.
Today, many of the temporary restrictions in the Church and society are being lifted. Many Church meetings are being held in person once again, temples will soon return to normal operations, and face masks are becoming rarer.
But some changes within the Church seem to be here to stay, and their impact will likely be felt for quite some time. Here’s a look at some of the biggest ways the pandemic affected the Church and its members—some temporary and some more lasting.
At-Home Worship Enhances Gospel Study
When Sunday meetings were discontinued in March 2020, individuals and families suddenly found themselves needing to take responsibility for their Sabbath worship.
Just one year earlier the Church had rolled out its new Come, Follow Me curriculum, which included resources for individuals and families to use for at-home study. In 2020 these resources became invaluable to members, including parents who found themselves teaching “home church” to wiggly Primary-age children, dozing and disinterested teens, or often both.
The Kirby family of Lehi, Utah, faced the normal challenges, but they shared with Deseret News that what they learned from their home worship. “We’ve grown a lot spiritually. We’ve grown a lot closer as a family because of the situations we have been in. We’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the Church,” said Ryan Kirby, father of the family.
The teaching and learning skills that individuals and families have gained—along with learning to take responsibility for their own religious worship—will likely continue to shape how members of the Church approach their gospel study and learning in the future.
“We were having personal and spiritual experiences with the scriptures on a weekly basis,” Kirby told Deseret News after in-person meeting had resumed. “The nice thing is we’ve maintained that even now the church has started again. ... It’s still an important part of our worship every week.”
Missionary Work Finds New Way to Connect with People
The Church reported on the first known case of COVID-19 in a full-time missionary on March 28, 2020. Within months about 26,000 missionaries were transported back to their home countries as a safety measure against the coronavirus. For the missionaries that remained serving during the pandemic, their approach to sharing the gospel drastically changed. Technology began to play a more central role in the work.
According to Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “COVID-19 accelerated our thinking about this tremendously and opened our eyes for new ways” to share the gospel, including via technology. “The Spirit can work wonderfully as we use new and unfamiliar ways of communicating with each other,” he told Church Newsroom.
According to Norman C. Hill, former president of the Ghana Accra West and Sierra Leone Freetown Missions, for years the Church had been looking at new ways to help missionaries connect with people, particularly those who live in gated communities or secure apartment buildings where missionary access is limited.
“Social media and the internet provide just such an opportunity,” Hill wrote in LDS Living. “Our goal for the future is to continue to learn and become better at using the Internet to proclaim the gospel and to bless God’s children.”
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Virtual Gatherings Reach Larger Audiences
The April 2020 general conference was closed to the public, and only a limited number of people were allowed to attend. Similarly, members around the world were unable to gather in local meetinghouses to watch conference broadcasts. One result was that in some countries like the Philippines, Fiji, Nigeria, and Jamaica, local television and radio stations broadcast general conference for the first time ever.
Church Newsroom Pacific reported that watching conference from home gave Fijian Milli Naivedru the opportunity to invite her mother-in-law, who is not a member, to watch conference with her. “We are so blessed to be watching the April 2020 General Conference from the comfort of our home. This conference is truly unforgettable and indeed a memorable one,” Naivedru wrote. These and other changes may affect how members worldwide view general conference going forward.
RootsTech also moved to an online format beginning in 2021, allowing the event to reach more people than ever. According to Newsroom, more than a million people attended from over 235 countries and territories, making it the largest gathering in the event’s 10-year history.
“I think the pandemic will be remembered as the greatest accelerant,” said Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International. “People are turning their hearts to their family, whether it’s past, present or future.”