The Miami Florida (Spanish) Stake was recently dissolved and congregations were combined with surrounding stakes. The Homestead Florida Stake was also renamed the Miami Florida South Stake. The Miami (Spanish) Stake and the Miami Lakes Florida Stake each had only five wards and one to three branches. The number of congregations in these stakes has been declining for a number of years. One of the major reasons for the stake dissolution was that many members are moving away from the area and convert baptisms have declined (although a bit of an increase has been seen in what is now the Miami Florida South Stake). As far as I have understood, the area has been deteriorating on a number of levels, particularly with crime and the housing market. This was done in order to strengthen the members and stakes in the area.
This is the third stake dissolved in the United States this year. I want to make it clear that there are many more new stakes being created in the United States and around the world versus stakes being dissolved. There have been at least 14 new stakes created in the United States this year and eight new stakes created in the rest of the world. Since membership is dynamic and people move based on their circumstances and environment, it is not surprising to see stakes get dissolved occasionally. On an average year, around three to six stakes are dissolved around the world.
It does appear that we are going to see a fairly large drop in the number of new stakes created this year for the Church. This is primarily because few stakes have been organized internationally. However, we should see a jump in the number of new congregations created outside of the United States this year, since so many new cities have opened for missionary work and some missions are setting records for baptisms (especially in Brazil). As for new congregations created in the United States, it looks like it will be around the same amount as usual, around 200. We are also likely to see quite a few new stakes created in Utah considering nine stakes have over 14 congregations in them and many more have 12 or 13. Stakes typically have five to 12 congregations.
In 2007 we did not see as large of an increase in congregations, but a big jump (around 20,000) in terms of membership increase. This is likely due to the lag time between converts getting baptized in a large enough quantity (and staying active) to merit a new congregation being created. Furthermore, last year several districts matured into stakes, which indicate growth in membership activity, but is not reflected in congregation increase since the branches simply become wards.
As for the greatest challenge the Church faces at this time, I believe it is making converts into Church leaders. Another great challenge is increasing the missionary force around the world without sacrificing the quality of our missionaries. While every country in Central America has seen quite a boost in growth last year, it will not mean much (and be repeating the mistakes of quick baptism-no fellow shipping missionary work which precipitated into hundreds of congregations being dissolved from 2001 to 2003) if we do not see an increase in congregations this year or next year.
Lastly, I want to close by saying things are improving for the Church and membership is maturing. This will allow for greater growth in the future and more temples.