Sunday, December 20, 2009

The End of an Era: The Church in the 2000s and Beyond

With the end of the year and the decade rapidly approaching, I want to take some time to reflect on the progress the Church has made in the past 10 years compared to the previous decade. I also want to explore Church growth issues we may expect to see in the following decade.

Between 2000 and 2009 stakes increased by 323, half of which were created in the United States. Districts fell by around 20, congregations increased by around 2,650, missions climbed slightly from 333 to 344, and temples in operation jumped from 68 to 130. The number of full-time missionaries serving has likely dropped by 5,000.

Stake growth in the 2000s was significantly lower than in the 1990s when 803 new stakes were created. Congregational growth was also much higher in the 1990s, when 8,488 new congregations were created, more than three times as many as the 2000s. Missions also increased much more rapidly, growing by over 100. Instead of missionaries decreasing like in the 2000s, they increased by almost 19,000!

The Church experienced large differences between the 1990s and 2000s. In the 1990s the Church was established in most African countries it currently operates in and entered Eastern Europe. Greater establishment and outreach of the Church occurred in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile dramatic congregational and membership growth occurred in Latin America with greater outreach to smaller towns and rural communities. Congregations were often created with the bear minimum of active members to provide more opportunities for leadership and Church responsibilities for new converts in an effort to improve retention.

In the 2000s the Church spread to few new areas. Only a handful of countries were opened to missionary work, most of which have small populations and have seen limited Church growth (like Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Togo, and Benin). Few cities were opened for missionary work worldwide. Massive congregation consolidation occurred throughout Latin America, Eastern Europe, and areas of Central Europe. Greater emphasis began to be placed on member-missionary work. New congregations were often not organized until local members were self-sustaining. Missionary numbers dropped, likely due to a drop in the number of young men mission age combined with raising the standards for missionary service. Although the quality of missionaries and their teaching improved, this resulted in a drop of 10,000 in the missionary force.

I believe that the 2000s was a time for the Church to focus on developing greater local leadership, reform the missionary program, and strengthen the large number of new converts gained in the 1980s and 1990s. This occurred in the early 2000s when we saw a decline in the number of stakes in 2002 and increases of total congregations worldwide of less than 100 for two years in a row. During the 2000s the Perpetual Education Fund began in disadvantaged nations, providing education loans to members to improve their economic stability and provide greater wealth and skilled labor for their native countries. The decrease in missionaries serving is discouraging and requires greater focus from the Church in the United States and internationally in order to see greater increases in missionaries serving to allow the opening of new missions while continuing to maintain already operating ones.

The 2010s will be very exciting for the growth of the Church. In the past two years we have seen a major change in the outreach of the Church in Africa, Asia and Latin America with new cities opening for missionary work at an increased rate. Significant increases in missionaries serving from outside the United States have occurred, particularly in Africa and Asia. In Mongolia, the number of missionaries serving from that country increased from 30 two and a half years ago to around 226 currently. Problems with member involvement in missionary work will likely continue but hopefully improve, especially in the United States. One of the great keys I believe for greater health and growth in the Church will be in renewed, continued dedication of its members to have greater faith and involvement in the Church's missionary efforts.

In the 2010s I predict that we will see the following based on recent trends and my impressions:
  1. Temples announced, under construction or in operation will reach 200
  2. The number of missions will stay stagnant or slightly increase as missionary resources continue to shift from less productive to more productive areas.
  3. Convert baptisms will exceed half a million.
  4. The opening of nations in sub-Sahara Africa to the Church, mainly Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
  5. Greater growth of membership and congregations in countries for which the Church does not publish its presence.
  6. Many of the 430 unreached Brazilian cities of over 20,000 inhabitants opening for missionary work.
  7. Countries with over 100 stakes also including Peru, the Philippines, and maybe Argentina.
  8. An increase in the number of full-time missionaries serving exceeding 2000 levels.
  9. Greater outreach among unreached cities in India, Africa and Colombia.
  10. Steady congregational and membership growth in the United States continuing.
  11. Another period of rapid growth in Central America and South America in terms of membership and congregational growth. Rapid growth has begun again in Peru, Brazil and Mexico in the past few years.
  12. Greater mission outreach in the United States among minority groups, especially Iranians, Asians, and Africans.
  13. Congregational growth exceeding 500 most years.
  14. The ratio of membership to congregations continuing to increase, perhaps reaching 500.


--- said...

That is such heartening and warm news. The gospel is spreading like wildfire throughout the world yet some antiMormons are hell bent convinced membership is "declining" worldwide. Not sure where that belief comes, as they have nothing even to support this. Hence I'd love to see an in depth post on here to rubbish such claims.

1990-2010 has been undoubtedly the largest period of growth in church history. 7 million members added in such a short period of time. Where in the beginning, it took 120years for membership to increase to 1 million.

Can I add, it would also be interesting to see a post on here what evaluates the trend of church growth through birthrate. As there are incredibly high birthrates amongst active members and most born into it seem to stay active, I've established that because of this each generation born into it will become bigger, and bigger, which will accelerate further growth. An example of how this works is through the demographic histories of other religions with high birthrates, such as the catholic church and islam.

Jeff said...

do you have resources to show a trend to allow you to give a reasonable prediction about such things as growth of the perpetual education fund, humanitarian efforts, etc.?

Brandon Plewe said...

--- might need to curb your enthusiasm, just a bit. The superlatives that get thrown out in Sunday School are not completely true.

While growth continues, it has definitely stagnated. The peak for convert baptisms was around 1989-91, and has bounced around 275K-300K ever since. Increase in children of record has grown extremely slowly. The church announced birth rates until the early 80s, but doesn't any more, but it is apparently slowing.

Essentially, church growth has changed from being exponential during the 70s and 80s to linear in the 90s and 2000s.

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, though. It seems our missionary program is much more careful, raising standards on both missionaries and converts. And missionaries have been putting more effort into reactivation.

I agree with the blog, though, that member missionary work is the key to achieving high quality growth.

--- said...

Brandon Plewe:

The children of record number is actually the highest its ever, ever been, at 123,000 in 2008.

The birthrates are only slowing percentage wise, because lots and lots of people are being brought into the church who dont have children, making the LDS families who have high birthrates more of a minority as a result. Where as in the past, it would have largely consisted of those meaning the birthrates would have looked higher. The birthrate is still huge, its just the income of new converts which makes its growth look smaller.

Matt said...

The increase in children on record is indeed a welcome sight. This may indicate greater growth in families in the Church outside of the United States.

Membership growth has been very linear over the past decade or two, which is much easier to accommodate. 2009 has been an interesting year, especially with the large number of new districts. Reports from missionaries in places like Madagascar and Peru seem to indicate that we are seeing a large increase in growth. We will have to wait to see if this is more worldwide and not just focused in a handful of countries.

I can't wait for the 2009 statistical report so we can see what's change in terms of membership and missionaries.

Eric said...

Just to clear up some confused statistics on this comments section: In 1999 the church had just over 300,000 convert baptisms. Since then, the church has had only one year above 290,000 converts (2001), and one more year above 280,000 (2002). Since 2000 the church has had 4 years of convert baptisms around 240,000 (not the 275 - 300K that another poster suggested). Last year the church reported 265,000 convert baptisms, which suggests that although the church is still growing, the growth rate is in a steady decline.

I would predict that the days of 300,000 convert baptisms are history. the church over the next ten years will probably average 230 - 240K converts per year. At the current rate, by the end of the next decade we could see a year or two under 200,000 converts.

If you want a good read on the future of the church take a look at seminary and institute attendance figures. According to CES statistics, the church has had a steady decline in enrollment since its peak years (2000-2001). In the US in 2000 about 228,000 teens were enrolled in seminary. In 2008 the number dipped to 196,000, with a steady decrease each year. In Utah, over the same period, the number dropped from 91,000 to 84,000. Institute enrollment showed similar trends over the same people.

Take those numbers for what you will, but don't be shocked if you start seeing a decline in overall membership in the next 20 years or so. the trends appear to be headed that direction. The church is already in decline in such places as Europe and Japan. Unfortunately for Mormons, Prop 8 and the gay marriage debate has done nothing to help church growth recently. I know many life-long members who have resigned their membership over that issue alone.

Brandon Plewe said...

I'd like to see your sources, Eric. The official church membership shows Japan and most of Europe growing at 1/2 - 1% a year (a few are higher); I can't find any countries declining. Of course, people are welcome to believe that the Church is faking its numbers, but that claim needs some evidence.
The number of adherents (those who publicly claim to be Mormon) is much smaller than the official membership, and the active membership is smaller than that. However, we have no reliable numbers on exactly what those numbers are, but I doubt they are declining, just not growing very fast.
Yes, the seminary decline is a concern, as is the relatively slow growth in children of record (both being secondary indicators of parent activity), but it's a far cry from that to predictions of impending doom.
The "Lost File," members for which the Church has no known address, could be considered as the outer rim of church membership. My estimates based on several sources suggest that it has hovered around 10% for decades. Certainly this large number of people is a concern, but it doesn't seem to be exploding or anything.

Matt said...

The seminary and institute numbers are definitely worrisome. According to some mission presidents it appears that the Church has seen the decline in these numbers not because of worsening activity but rather a decline in the demographics for this age group. This trend has been partially responsible for the Church discontinuing five missions this year and only creating one. I don't know when this trend will reverse.

It's a stretch to make estimates on what Church growth will look like in a decade let alone 20 years. So many things could happen before then to increase or decrease growth.

The Church has not experienced any decline in raw membership for Japan or Europe, but as Brandon stated it has experienced very slow growth with only a couple countries which show no increases or decreases in membership (like Denmark and Norway). South Korea would also fall into this category where I live currently. The problem the Church faces here is that although retention has improved, many members are moving to Australia, Canada and the United States. A month ago we had a stake/district broadcast for the entire country in which Church leaders admonished Church members to stop emigrating and not to do so unless for temporary educational purposes or after serious thought and prayer.

I could be wrong, but I think that 2009 will have convert baptisms numbering in the high 200,000s or even over 300,000. Congregational growth for the Church worldwide has only increased slightly from the past years, with an increase of around 350 for the year. Congregational growth still has a long way to go to catch up with membership growth, which indicates that retention still remains a major problem.

Proposition 8 and gay marriage debate have definitely not slowed growth in California. Many of the missions have had between 500-1000 baptisms this year, such as the California Fresno Mission. For the first time in four or five years, membership increased in California in 2008. Several new congregations have also been organized in California.

If members of the Church are offended and leave the Church over the whole gay marriage issue, they need to do some serious reflecting on whether the have understood Church doctrine pertaining to marriage and family.

May said...

The only thing that skews all these numbers is that you are a member until your 110 years old, unless you have your name removed. So a person who is baptized and never comes to church again will be count until they are 110 years old.

rfelsted said...

To: May

Sorry, you need to clarify your statement. You said that people who are baptized and never go to Church are counted until age 110. Most are tracked and their membership is cancelled when they die.

The Church does lose track of some members and they are counted for a time. Don't believe all the negative propaganda that floods the internet from enemies of the Church.

Anonymous said...


The 110 year age limit is not propaganda. Merrill J Bateman, LDS GA, acknowledged it as real and yes, a little high, in a SL Trib article "Church won't give up on 'lost members'" by By Matt Canham dated Oct. 17, 2005.

It's just as dangerous to assume everything you don't like is anti-Mormon lies as it is to believe everything bad about the Church.

Brandon Plewe said...

The 110 year limit is correct, but only applies to the lost file, those people who are so out of contact that we don't know whether they are even alive, which as I said before, is about 10% (maybe as high as 15% at times) of reported membership. And remember that people go in and out of that file as they are found and lost, so far fewer than 10% would be lost for 40-50 years or something.

I would estimate that there are perhaps 1-2% of the 13+M reported members who are actually deceased. When I was an EQ prez of an inner-city branch, we did an exhaustive recontacting program for the 2/3 of the branch we didn't see on Sunday, and I think we ran across one or two of 200+- who were deceased. Certainly not as big a concern for me as the other 198.

rfelsted said...

Matt, this is a wonderful analysis of Church growth of the last 20 years and I wish it could appear in the year-end issue of the Church News, which used to have great yearly reports of Church growth. It's nice to see your positive and enthusiastic outlook and I agree with your projections, based on recent trends. Why not submit it to the Church News for publication?

In answer to the first comment on this blog, I don't have scientific information on birth rates, but I can give some anecdotal views. In my own family there has been a history of a high birth rate.

My grandfather was an adolescent member of a pioneer colonizing family to southern Idaho. He was one of the first missionaries to the Boise area, and he and Grandmother started their family just about 105 years ago. Their descendants now number over 1000.

My own parents (now deceased) have 26 grandchildren, 77 great grandchildren with more due next year, and 6 great grandchildren. Our 5 kids are slow starters, but grandkids #3 and #4 are espected early next year.

So, yes, I believe the higher LDS birthrate, not only in the US but in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia will be a major factor in future Church growth.--Ray

rfelsted said...

Re previous post:

"6 great grandchildren" should be
"6 great great grandchildren"

and "espected" should be

Matthew J. Bembridge said...

I was very interested to see what you have written about outreach in the US to other minority groups. I believe personally this is one area where the UK has a substantial contribution to make. This nation has grown increasingly cosmopolitan in recent decades with a huge influx of people from the Carribean, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China over the years and more recently from West Africa and Eastern Europe. These various minorities often form large communities in many of our towns and cities that are only starting to be tapped in terms of missionary outreach. I work a lot with our local missionaries and they have a number of Slovakians on their teaching list at the moment. It is the same story up and down the country, the 'native population' isn't really responding in a big way but people from these various minority groups are. I personally believe that the Lord has created in the UK an environment where people from many parts of the world have come to learn or to work or to escape persecution and to find the gospel which is well established here so that they can take it back to their own nations one day. Those who stay I believe will play a fundemental part in helping to find the blood of Israel that runs deep still in this land and as Apostles have recently said bring back to these shores the days of Heber C. Kimball and those first missionaries where thousands joined the Church. It will happen, it's just a question of how.

rfelsted said...

To Matt: Here is the list of stakes for 2009 from information posted on your blog:

#2819 Feb 14 Belo Horizonte Brazil East
2820 Feb 21 Chimbote Peru Buenos Aires
2821 Feb 28 Port of Spain Trinidad
Feb 28 Grants New Mexico Discontinued
2821a Mar 7 Camacari Brazil Central
2822 Mar 15 Katuba Democratic Republic of Congo
2823 Mar 22 Saratoga Springs Utah South
2824 Apr 19 Kuna Idaho East
2825 Apr 19 Lima Peru Condevilla
2826 May 3 Cuiaba Brazil Industriario
2827 May 3 St. Cloud Minnesota
2828 May 17 Pleasant Grove Utah West
2829 May 17 Bradenton Florida
2830 May 24 Colima Mexico
2831 May 31 Los Chillos Ecuador
2832 June 7 Ulaanbaatar Mongolia West
2833 June7 Cabo San Lucas Mexico
2834 June 7 Galeana Mexico
2835 June 7 Uruapan Mexico
2836 June 14 Majuro Marshall Islands
2837 June 14 Farr West Utah Poplar
2838 June 14 Chinandiga Nicaragua West
2839 June 14 Paraiso El Salvador
2840 June 21 Sahuarita Arizona
2841 June 21 Guacamayas Mexico
2842 June 21 Morelio Mexico Aeropuerto
2843 June 21 Jacksonville Florida South
2844 June 21 Lima Peru La Libertad
2845 June 28 Sagay Philippines
2846 June 28 San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico
2847 June 28 Tuxpan Mexico
2848 June 28 Duitama Colombia
2849 June 28 Fortaleza Brazil Castelao
2850 Aug 16 Surprise Arizona North
Aug 23 Ablany Georgia Discontinued
2850a Aug 23 Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo
2851 Aug 30 Vernal Utah
2852 Aug 30 Lima Peru Magnolias
2853 Sept 6 Sao Paulo Brazil Cotia
2854 Sept 6 Vitoria Spain
2855 Sept 13 Totonicapan Guatemala
2856 Sept 13 Campo Grande Brazil Monte Libano
2857 Sept 20 Lima Peru Los Olivfos
2858 Sept 20 Lima Peru Prolima
2859 Oct 18 Arsenal Brazil
2860 Oct 25 League City Texas
Nov 1 La Vega Dominican Republic Discontinued
2860a Nov 8 Spring Texas
2861 Nov 8 Punto Fijo Venezuela
2862 Nov 15 North Salt Lake Utah Legacy
2863 Nov 15 River Heights Utah
2864 Dec 13 Ribgy Idaho South
2865 Dec 13 Chincha Peru

I also have the number of wards and branches as well as parent stakes or districts if you need them. I do not have names of new leadership, however.

I count 15 new stakes in the US with 2 discontinued, 8 new in Mexico and 7 each new in Brazil and Peru, 7 others in Central and South America, 1 in the Caribbean with 1 discontinued, 1 in Europe (Spain), 2 in Asia, 2 in Africa, and 1 in the Pacific.

These are the most stakes created in one year since 1998. There were also 24 districts created in 2009, the most since 2002.

Sorry I don't know how to put diacritial marks on certain stakes, such as Cuiaba and Camacari. Maybe someone can do it. Thanks for all your efforts, Ray

Gnesileah said...

To Matthew J. Bembridge,

I enjoyed reading your commentary regarding the Church in the United Kingdom. I got "goose bumps".

taniwha said...


I look forward to reading your blog every week and thank you for the terrific job you are doing.

I started keeping track of the growth of the Church in the early 1960s (principally as a young ward clerk and discovered the annual LDS Chorch directories of stakes, wards, branches and districts).

I recently was invited to give a lecture on our Church at Washington State University-Vancouver. I wanted to see if there was an LDS Institute of Religion at WSU-V and after a little bit of searching I found the official Church web page on LDS Institutes of Religion.

After looking up the data for the LDS Institute of Religion at WSU-Vancouver (including two other schools in the Vancouver area), I spent the next 90 minutes exploring the information regarding LDS institutes of religion world-wide. I believe it gives some important background information on the maturity of the growth of the Church in places that might other wise be overlooked. You probably already know about this list--BUT just in case you haven't seen it yet, you might want to look it over at:,8470,767-1,00.html

Keep up the great job and thanks again for your well-appreciated effort.

Max Stanton
Professor Emeritus, Anthropology and Geogrphy

taniwha said...

Oops! I can't believe I misspelled geography in my recent post to this blog, especially as a part of my professional identification.

taniwha said...

Regarding the problem of calculating the "actual" membership statistics (LDS statistics vs. census records), I might suggest reading David C. Knowlton''s article in Dialogue (2005) regarding Mexico and Chile, "How Many Members Are There Really? Two Censuses and the Meaning of LDS Membership in Chile and Mexico." You can find this article at:

Unfortunately, the article is now somewhat out-of-date and reflects the state of the Church in these countries ten years ago. However, having lived a year myself in a very small branch of the Church in Chile in the mid-199os, I can find nothing in Knowlton's article that conflicts with what I observed in Isla de Pascua (Easter Island).

I might add that similar major discrepancies between our official statistics and self-reporting of church membership are found in the comparison of LDS statistics and census documents throughout mst of Polynesia (in particular Tonga, the Independent State of Samoa, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands). The official government census data are available in the Pacific Islands collection at the library of BYU-Hawaii.

Matt said...

Canadian Friend-

I have deleted your comments because they do not pertain to the topic of LDS Church growth. This is not the place to vent your aminosity about the Church nor to have doctrinal discussions on whether the Church is true or not. I will continue to delete comments that are unrelated to the posts to which you comment to.