The church’s general conferences were held in the approximately 6,000-seat Salt Lake Tabernacle for over 130 years.
But in 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley decided the Tabernacle was too small and announced plans to build the 21,000-seat Conference Center. This was done despite technology that would allow general conference messages to reach more people than ever before directly in their homes.
“Why go to all the trouble?” Brother Stephen W. Owen asked, Young Men general president. “Well, it seemed that gathering was important to the Lord.”
Owen spoke on ways the Lord gathers his people during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center on Oct. 23. This gathering takes place on both sides of the veil and bridges generation gaps.
He said Heavenly Father wants his people to gather because there is great strength and safety in gathering; conversely, the adversary seeks to isolate and divide people because that brings weakness and danger.
“I believe something powerful happens any time we gather as God’s covenant people, anywhere in the world, no matter how many people the gathering may include,” he said.
Owen highlighted three ways the Lord gathers his people: in families, with fellow Saints and individually to him and to his gospel.
First, people are gathered in families. Owen said though it’s true individuals work out their own salvation, the highest covenant people make on earth — marriage — is the only one they cannot enter into alone.
However, Satan tries to convince people not to get married and start a family, or at least to delay it until they’ve enjoyed their independence awhile; after marriage, he’ll stir up contention, pride and selfishness to prevent families from being truly united. He’ll also spread his message “that families are outmoded and unnecessary, that people are just fine — better, in fact — when they are single and independent.”
“We live in a society that focuses on the ‘now,'” he said. “Remember, you are part of the great family of God. In the beginning, we all chose to follow His great plan of happiness. Our greatest desire was to return home together, as families. Let your daily decisions reflect that desire.”
Owen also acknowledged that not everyone comes from an ideal family situation; however, regardless of circumstances, everyone has a heavenly home and family. Come to the temple often, he said, because that is where Heavenly Father gathers his family and “where you will find the strength that comes from gathering in a way the world cannot duplicate.”
Second, people are gathered with their fellow Saints. Owen said many people question the need for “organized religion,” but great blessings come from gathering with fellow Saints, and church members may not be taking full advantage of opportunities to strengthen and receive strength from each other.
He also said he finds it “very revealing,” that the Lord has reduced the time church members will be spending in meetings and classes on Sunday.
“Clearly, gathering together with our fellow Saints is not just about being in the same room together,” he said. “It’s about building relationships and friendships, and that can and should happen in a thousand ways throughout the week.”
In addition, he shared the importance of “winter friends” — people that can be relied upon through life’s darkest days — and admonished BYU students to attend ward activities and FHE groups, take ministering assignments seriously, build strong relationships with roommates “and just reach out to people around you.”
“This is where you will find lifelong winter friends,” he said. “You won’t find them in online video games, and you won’t find them in social media feeds. This kind of deep, lasting relationship happens only when we gather.”
Third, people are gathered individually to the Savior and his gospel through sacred covenants and ordinances. Though the world would have people believe they can choose their own plan and “do (their) own thing,” the Book of Mormon counsels people to feast upon the words of Christ, because “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do,” he said, quoting 2 Nephi 32:3.
He also shared the story of Alma teaching the gospel at the Waters of Mormon, a place of safety that became beautiful to those who gathered there because of the knowledge of Christ they came to.
“I encourage you to seek waters-of-Mormon experiences here at BYU,” he said. “Like the people of Alma, come out of the world, gather with fellow believers and seek to know your Redeemer better. Come unto him, and renew your commitment to serve him and be part of his people.”