Friday, August 17, 2012

Is the LDS (Mormon) Church Growing?

One of the most frequent questions I receive from interested readers and journalists is whether or not the LDS Church is currently growing.  I believe that the Church is slowly growing on a worldwide scale and there are several statistical figures to back this claim, but that there is no straightforward to-the-point answer to this complex question.  Some areas of the world experience strong growth such as Africa and some areas of East Asia whereas other areas experience stagnation or even slight decline.  Furthermore there are some statistical measures that suggest the Church is currently in a period of stagnation where there is neither growth nor decline.

Below are some statistics that indicate that the Church is growing.
  • Increase in Membership: The Church counts baptized members and children on record (children under age eight within LDS families) on official church membership totals.  In 2011, worldwide membership increased by 309,879 and grew at a rate of 2.19%.  Within the past decade the Church has added 304,682 members a year on average.  Year-end 2011 membership totals were 14,441,346.  Membership statistics provide no insight into activity rates and whether nominal members affiliate as Latter-day Saints.
  • Increase in Congregations: Congregations require certain numbers of active members to operate and divide to create new congregations once a single ward or branch can longer effectively administer an area.  New congregations can also signify expansion of the Church into new areas where no congregation previously functioned.  In 2011, the number of wards and branches increased by 124 or 0.43%.  Within the past decade the number of congregations increased by 261 a year on average.
  • Increase in Stakes: Like congregations, stakes require certain numbers of active members to operate and an increase in the number of stakes suggests an increase in active membership.  In 2011, the number of stakes increased by 50, or 1.73%.  The number of stakes increased by 33 a year on average within the past decade.
  • Increase in Temples: General Authorities have indicated that the construction of new temples is warranted when church membership in a given area is determined adequate to staff and utilize a temple.  Temples also require more mature and seasoned church membership to provide needed personnel to properly operate.  In 2011, the Church announced nine new temples bringing the total number of temples operating, under construction, or announced to 166.
Below are some statistics that suggest the Church is experiencing stagnation.
  • Number of Full-Time Missionaries Serving: There remain fewer members serving full-time missions at present than 10 years ago.  In 2011, there were 55,410 members serving full-time missions worldwide; approximately 6,000 fewer than in 2002.  A growing church would suggest a steady annual increase in the number of members serving as full-time missionaries but a variety of factors have contributed to a decline in the number of full-time missionaries such as increased standards for full-time missionary service, convert retention problems for youth converts outside the United States, and the increasing influence of secularism on LDS populations in the United States.  A slight reduction in the number of missionary training centers (MTCs) worldwide over the past decade also suggests stagnation as a growing church would need to increase the number of MTCs worldwide to accommodate a growing number of members serving full-time missions.
  • Number of Cities Opening to Proselytism: Notwithstanding nearly 29,000 wards and branches worldwide, the Church in recent years only opens a few dozen new cities to proselytism a year.  I have not completed an extensive analysis of the number of cities closed versus opened to proselytism year-to-year, but I would estimate that these numbers would nearly equal one another.  A growing church would suggest a steady increase in new cities opened to proselytism notwithstanding some locations closing to missionary activity and wards or branches consolidating with neighboring units.
  • Membership Growth Outpacing Congregational Growth: The worldwide Church has experienced an increase in the average number of members per unit over the past decade from 437 members per ward or branch to 502 members per ward or branch.  The influence of branches (smaller congregations) maturing into wards (larger congregations) on this statistic appears minimal.  Rather, low convert retention rates appear the primary reason for noncommensurate congregational and membership growth.  
  • Decreasing Percentage Growth Rates for Membership and Congregational Growth: The annual percentage growth rate for membership has declined over the past decade from approximately 2.9% to 2.2%.  Annual congregational growth rates have fluctuated from a high of 1.62% to a low of 0.23%.  Although growth is still occurring in both these statistics at present, slowing growth rates can be interpreted as an impeding sign of stagnation.
  • Stagnant Numbers of Districts: Districts are an administrative unit similar to a stake generally formed in areas with a more recently established church presence.  Districts do not require a certain number of active members to function but do possess some aspects of self-sufficiency like stakes.  The number of districts worldwide has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade at slightly more than 600.  Although it may seem strange to consider district growth as a sign of overall healthy church growth as the maturation of districts into stakes points to increase in active membership, no worldwide increase in this statistic indicates a lack of progress introducing the Church into new areas.  
In conclusion, my intention with this post was to provide a brief synopsis of how we can measure growth and determine whether the LDS Chuch is growing.  The worldwide Church continues to experience growth, but this growth remains relatively small and has slowed within the past decade.

6 comments:

Shawnbo said...

Thanks for this article. You may want to consider the following:

Population trends show a decline in population of the upcoming generation of Mormons leading up to 2002. This is due to a drop following a Mormon baby-boom in the 70’s culminating in 1980. While the Church does not release detailed statistical information, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism contains an article on vital statistics (Heaton, 1996).

About 1965, there was a low point in birth rate, which then rose and remained fairly stable until 1980. Following that year, there is a sharp decline for the next 5 years.

This trend continued for a time, resulting in significantly smaller pool of potential missionaries in the first decade of the new millennia.

Despite the decline in birthrate, which occurred during the 80's, the same decade saw some of the most dramatic growth of the church in convert baptisms.

I believe that these numbers were part of the reason why President Hinckley decided to create "Preach My Gospel." He wanted to try to mitigate the effects of having a smaller missionary force by making them more effective.


Matt said...

Declining birth rates for Latter-day Saints in the United States was a major factor in the decline in full-time missionaries serving in the 2000s. Refer to link below for more information on this topic.

http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=view_other_articles&story_id=490&cat_id=30

John said...

There is one way activity affects change in membership: Active parents are far more likely to have their children baptized than less-active parents.

Jeff said...

Would anything change if the LDS Church wasn't growing? Would there be any negative consequences?

filippo magistro said...

Is the LDS Cuhurch is not growing as fast as it should what is the reason? Also what is the reason for low retentions of members? And finally why aren't statisticts on member loss published? If I saved $1000.00 and spent $ 800.00 in the end I have only saved $ 200.0 I can no longer say I saved $ 1000.

Arlo said...

Ward and Stake growth rates are probably the best indicator of actual Church growth. Based on trends, the Church should reach zero net growth in 2013 or 2014.