This generation of Mormons represents future church leaders, who will carry the kingdom of God on their shoulders, LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard told nearly 5,000 young Latter-day Saints on Tuesday evening.
"We want you to see yourselves as bishops, Relief Society presidents. ... [even] seated on the stand as an apostle," Ballard told the single Mormons between ages 18 and 30, gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. "We need you to be prepared."
It was a historic meeting to explain to this LDS age group who live between North Salt Lake and about 4500 South in Taylorsville about the dissolution of 147 student and Young Single Adult wards and the creation of 121 new Young Single Adult wards (which will include students and nonstudents) divided among 12 new Salt Lake Valley Young Single Adult stakes (each made up of about 10 YSA wards).
Ballard and other speakers acknowledged that the Utah-based faith was worried about massive losses of members in this age group - prompting the change in ward structure - and challenged those in attendance to bring at least one other person back into the fold.
He said the goal for everyone was to continue to participate in Mormon worship and social activities - and also to marry in an LDS temple.
Ballard repeated LDS President Thomas S. Monson's recent admonitions to young single Mormon men to stop "hanging out" and start dating with an eye toward marriage. Ballard said he was confident that this change would improve the group's spiritual and social opportunities.
"We hope you've got the message: You have no option to bounce around," he said, referring to a common practice dubbed ward-hopping in which young Mormons shop around for congregations they like. "We know where you are. We've got our radar focused on you."
David Evans, of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy, said the evening was "a historic occasion," then laid out the history of student wards and the reasons for eliminating them and shifting to Young Single Adult congregations.
The current process began in the Ogden area in April 2010, and then was tried in Cedar City, St. George, and Ephraim in August, followed by Logan in the fall. All those areas are home to colleges. LDS leaders wanted to monitor the experiment before introducing it Salt Lake and Utah counties – home to the state's largest universities.
After studying the outcomes, LDS leaders concluded the change was a resounding success at better serving young single Mormons' needs, bringing some back to church activity and getting them to the marriage altar. Members of these newly created YSA wards in the experimental areas visited at least 4,600 of their peers who were "lost" to the church and 1,100 returned, Evans said.
"It was much better and more effective," he said, "than we've ever been" at reaching young members who have drifted from the faith.
General LDS Relief Society President Julie Beck said she has been part of the discussions on this move and wholly supports it. "These are wise, inspired decisions," Beck said. "This is the Lord's way to bless you in your lives."
Similar meetings are planned for young adults in the southern Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday and Davis County on Thursday evening.
Ultimately, the change will affect about 150,000 young single Mormons in Utah.