Most American Latter-day Saints don't realize the potential impact of changes happening with the church internationally, including in some mid-level church administrative positions, which are scheduled to be dissolved this weekend.
Kahlile Mehr, who works for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Family History Library, told a crowd gathered at the annual Sunstone Symposium on Thursday that what he believes will be a "profound change" in church administration will take place on Sunday, when area presidencies in North America are to be dissolved.
The move will free more members of the church's First and Second Quorums of the Seventy for other assignments, and "give more authority to stake presidents," he said.
"This is a true decentralization of church authority" that represents a confidence in local church leaders to carry out the directives of its top leaders without an additional layer or administration, he said. "Both President (Gordon B.) Hinckley and President (James E.) Faust had good experiences as stake presidents back in the old days when they did have a lot of authority, and I think they wanted to provide that opportunity" for others.
The change means that stake presidents who oversee approximately eight to 10 local congregations will now have direct contact with the Presidency of the Quorums of the Seventy, rather than reporting to the area presidency, who have been full-time general authorities assigned to preside over specific geographic regions.
The change was chronicled briefly in the LDS Church News, but there has been no public statement about it, according to church spokesman Dale Bills.
The move, which was announced internally in a letter to local church leaders in North America, is yet another step in the "internationalization" of the LDS Church, he said. It leaves full-time general authorities, who previously served in those roles, free for temporary assignments to "visit areas of the world for a couple of months and then return" on the direction of their superiors.
Satellite broadcasts of general priesthood and other meetings are another major step in the church's worldwide growth, he said, noting a recent broadcast to church members in Columbia from Salt Lake City as an example of how top leaders are increasingly using technology to reach their members in unprecedented ways. The broadcasts are even being used in some areas among stakes in the same region, he said, to avoid the time and expense of travel for meetings. Many Latter-day Saints who are fascinated by their history often fail to realize that new pages of the past are being written daily by converts to the faith in foreign lands, who are laying the groundwork of the gospel just as Mormon pioneers did in the 19th century.
As one who was living in Kiev when the first LDS stake was created there, Mehr said he believes the international church in many areas is "a reflection of what happened in the church in the 1830s and 1840s" when it first began in the United States."What happens generally is that the church grows very quickly, then it goes into a period of leveling off or declining and a wait while the leaders are maturing, then it takes off again," he said.