Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Japan Hiroshima Mission to be Discontinued

This July the Japan Hiroshima Mission will be discontinued, bringing the number of missions in Japan to six. The Okayama Japan Stake and the Takamatsu Japan and Matsuyama Japan Districts will fall under the jurisdiction of the Japan Kobe Mission. The Hiroshima Japan Stake and Yamaguchi Japan District will join the Japan Fukuoka Mission.

Japan has seen slow membership growth since 2001 and congregations have fallen by 30 since 2000. A large number of the congregations discontinued were small branches. The decision to discontinue the Japan Hiroshima Mission was likely in part was due to low productivity for the large number of missionaries in this region of Japan over the past decade. However the mission president of the Japan Kobe Mission points out that his mission nearly tripled the number of convert baptisms in 2009 compared to 2008. Nationwide there was an increase in convert baptisms in 2009 compared to 2008. 2008 ranks slightly above several other years in the past decade for membership increase, growing at a rate of 0.66% (years with lower membership growth rates include 2003, 2006, and 2007 -- the lowest rate was 0.55% in 2007). Initial reports on membership growth and convert retention in 2009 may indicate that the Church has begun to see a small reverse in the declining trend of membership growth.

President McIntyre of the Japan Kobe Mission further points out that the reduction in the missionary force in Japan has already occurred and will likely not continue. Other missions to consolidate this summer have also reported that their missionary forces have already been reduced and may not continue to see additional reductions. The Church continues to mature and slowly grow in Japan as manifest by the recent temple announcement for Sapporo and two operating temples in Tokyo and Fukuoka. Japan also sends out many local missionaries with some Japanese missions having local missionaries in the dozens. When I served my mission in South Korea, we had one of the larger missions in terms of missionaries serving and only had around a dozen Korean missionaries.

Lastly the mission consolidation also reflects continued emphasis for local members to find and prepare investigators to have missionaries teach and baptize.


MLewis said...

It’s about time we got a post on Japan! Unfortunately it took a mission shutting down to prompt it. I have just a couple more thoughts on the status of the Church in Japan. The first, this blog hasn’t looked much at the issue of local leadership or a country’s representation in the general leadership of the Church, but I think it’s significant that the second ever native Japanese, Elder Aoyagi, was called as a general authority in April 2009. (The first was Elder Kikuchi, who turns 69 this year, so he may soon be on his way to emeritus status.) Now, I don’t want to read too much into the calling of any one individual, as God may choose to call anyone to a position of leadership in the Church, including the only member in any particular country, but I do think it says something about the development of the Church in Japan.

Japan has 29 stakes and 14 districts, which contain a combined 160 wards and 127 branches. Yet as far as I know missionaries serve in the branch presidency in only one of those branches, Shingu in the Wakayama Prefecture (the Kobe Japan mission administers this branch directly—it used to be a part of the Gobo District, but that district was dissolved, two branches attaching to the Osaka Sakai Stake and Shingu reverting to the direct administration of the mission).

There are currently 6 area authority seventies from Japan and there are several native Japanese who have served as mission presidents, including the outgoing current president of the Hiroshima mission which is being dissolved. Unfortunately President Isa has only served two years, so it appears his mission is being cut short by a year. I imagine he’ll go back to his previous job with the CES in the Tokyo region. (I believe he was the CES coordinator for the Tokyo region, but all I know for sure is that I once attended his New Testament class in Shibuya.) Native Japanese also fill the temple presidencies in Fukuoka and Tokyo. There are now many third generation members in Japan, and I met a baby of about a year old who will be a fourth generation member when baptized in a couple years.

While it is true that many units have been consolidated, including a couple of stakes (I served my mission in part of what is now the Kobe Mission and one of my areas was a ward that was formed by consolidating four previous WARDS, not just branches), the Church is entering a new age of maturity in Japan. While I would love to see more converts in Japan, many of the consolidations took place because the wards were unable to hold onto new converts when they joined. By consolidating, the wards are now able to provide more of the programs of the Church, focus on strengthening the testimonies of the members, and developing new leadership. With this retrenchment by the Church, it is my hope that they will be better prepared to receive the converts that do come. After all, didn’t President Hinckley say, “What shall it profit a missionary if he baptize the whole world unless those baptized remain in the Church?”

Unknown said...

Excellent comment.

Matt said...

This is the mission I actually served (different Matt), and while it's a little dishearting to see this, I'm not surprised. Back when I served, our mission averaged 50-75 baptisms a month. These were solid baptisms and not the baptism pool parties you heard of back in the late70s/early 80s.

This part of Japan is very "rural" and those that are younger and are more receptive to the Gospel tend to move to the biggest cities of Fukuoka, Osaka, and Tokyo. Also, the overall population of Japan is declining especially where this mission is located, so this mission consolidation is reflective of the change of demographics.

One bright spot though is increased attention to foreigners living in Japan especially Brazilians (most with some Brazilian-Japanese ancestry) and English speaking expats. In fact there are at least 2 Portuguese speaking branches in Japan and several Japanese Wards have Portuguese speaking Sunday School not to mention English speaking Sunday School in some wards, and the Kobe English Branch and the Tokyo South English Stake with 4 English Wards.

Bronnergus said...

I have to admit, it was a BIG surprise for me to read this page. that's why there was a mission conference on Feb, 08 2010 (one tranfer after I came back home).
I served on several areas and it is exactly like MLewis said: young people tend to move out of the mission area and the branches are slowly reducing and closing.

When I came back home, there were 52 Elders and 12 Sisters serving as missionaries and we were baptizing around 60 people a year. A few branches closed for missionary work because we were low on missionaries and that's about it.

But I'm very grateful for beeing able to have served as a Missionary of the Japan Hiroshima Mission. It will forever have a special place in my heart.

Former Elder Bronner

Matt said...

Thanks for the information on your mission. It will be interesting to see if there are any changes in convert baptisms and retention with the mission consolidation.