When It Comes to Temple Construction, Meetinghouses Are Increasingly Expendable

We used to build temples next to meetinghouses. Now we're building them in their place.

If you have ever been to a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you may have noticed a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse on or adjacent to the church property. This is the case in just under two-thirds of temples (141 out of 222  of the temples dedicated or have plans released to the public).

Temples and meetinghouses serve different purposes. There are nearly 20,000 meetinghouses worldwide that house 31,000 congregations. Currently there are only 168 temples with another 84 in various stages of construction and planning. Meetinghouses are mostly used on Sundays for larger meetings as well as other, smaller activities during the week. Temples are primarily open Tuesday through Saturday for ceremonies with a smaller amount of people compared to regular Sunday meetinghouse worship. 

A meetinghouse next to a temple is sometimes used to support the functions of a temple like hosting open houses and accommodating out-of-town visitors. Other than that, they mostly function separately. It is not necessary for a temple to have a meetinghouse nearby. Nevertheless, it is common for temples to be built with an adjoining meetinghouse, particularly since the surge to hit 100 temples in 1999-2000. 

Other times, a temple is planned to be constructed on the site of an existing meetinghouse. When church President Gordan B. Hinckley detailed his plans to build smaller temples in the October 1997 General Conference, he said: 

“These structures would be open according to need, maybe only one or two days a week… Where possible, we would place such a building on the same grounds as the stake center, using the same parking lot for both facilities, thereby effecting a great savings.

The gallery below shows the fruits of this statement. Many of the temples dedicated during the Hinckley presidency were constructed adjacent to existing meetinghouses. In each of these cases, the temple was often much smaller than the meetinghouse and was placed behind or awkwardly next to the meetinghouse. It is quite obvious that the temple appears to be squeezed into a decades old design that never intended to include another building. Approaching temple building this way helped to double the number of temples from 1998 to 2001.

Only three meetinghouses were demolished or ceased operation to accommodate the temple during the Hinckley presidency (Mérida, Mexico; Brisbane, Australia; and Copenhagen, Denmark). In all three cases, the meetinghouse was eventually relocated nearby. In the case of Copenhagen, the meetinghouse was renovated into the temple and a meetinghouse built down the street. A few others had meetinghouses added to the property in the later years. 

During the presidency of Thomas S. Monson, half of the temples completed were done so with a meetinghouse constructed or ample space to build in the future (Trujillo, Peru, Tijuana, Mexico; and Sapporo, Japan). There was only one instance in Córdoba, Argentina where an existing chapel was demolished to make way for the temple. In that case, the ward that attended the meetinghouse was relocated to another meetinghouse that was expanded during the temple’s construction. Only five temples were build next to existing meetinghouses. In each of these cases, temples were placed in a prominent position or on a separate land parcel adjoining or across from the meetinghouse. 

In recent years, the number of meetinghouses that are being demolished to make way for temples has grown dramatically. The gallery below shows that some of the temples will be constructed during the presidency of Russell M. Nelson have plans to demolish the existing meetinghouse to make way for the temple. In many of these locations, there is ample space to add the temple without needing to demolish the meetinghouse. In eight of these locations, a new meetinghouse will be built near the temple. 

In four of these locations, the meetinghouse will not be replaced (Lima Los Olivos, Peru; Taylorsville, Utah; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and Port Vila, Vanuatu). In these locations, the congregations can be easily relocated to nearby meetinghouses. The extra space on the site is being used for adding patron/missionary lodging, or additional parking. When the block of Sunday meetings was cut from three hours to two hours, large meetinghouses with overlapping schedules can now accommodate a maximum of four congregations instead of three. Since the change, the need to build more meetinghouses has decreased.

So, why the change? It appears like meetinghouses are commonly being treated as expendable assets. In terms of the site plan, choosing to relocate the meetinghouse is preferable in order to place the temple on a prominent or central location. This will cut out the awkward temple site designs from the Hinckley presidency. If the church plans for these temples to last into the millennium, it’s probably advantageous to place the temple in the most ideal location. 

For example, the Helena Montana Temple site appears has ample space to the east to build the 10,000 square foot temple. However, it appears the designers had a desire to move the meetinghouse either for aesthetic purposes or to arrange parking spaces in a more efficient design. 

In Yuba City, California, the Feather River California Temple is being built where the stake center once stood. The temple would have easily been placed on the fields next to the meetinghouse, Instead, a new meetinghouse will be constructed there. Perhaps a new meetinghouse will better complement the architecture of the temple. In addition, replacing the meetinghouse may be more cost efficient than maintaining an older structure.

The proportion of new temples being built with a new meetinghouse or next to an existing meetinghouse is still present, but less than that of previous decades. Of those existing meetinghouses, the area where the temple is being constructed is ample to place the temple in a prominent position and still have ample parking.  

Another explanation may be that the cost of building a new meetinghouse is increasingly marginal. With less meetinghouses being built worldwide and the number of temples increasing, the costs of building a meetinghouse is less significant. There is also a plethora of information out there that the church has ample reserves to fund its needs. 

Building temples in locations where meetinghouses are located provides a quicker way to find property and gain approval. In locations that are difficult to acquire property, or where the church is unlikely to grow in the future, it appears advantageous to utilize existing church property and replace the meetinghouse if necessary. 

At the time of this publication, President Nelson has announced 70 new temples since becoming church president in 2018. This is starting to rival the 78 temples announced by President Hinckley in his nearly 13 years as church president. This approach to building temples appears to be one of the new ways to work through the backlog of announcements and speed up temple construction in the near future. 


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