Friday, June 6, 2014

Instances of Slow LDS Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

Although I certainly enjoy highlighting where rapid growth occurs in the LDS Church and analyzing why this is the case, it is also important to also examine locations where stagnant or slow LDS growth occurs in order to get a full picture of what factors contribute to growth. To assist this study, I have recently written a case study exploring instances of slow LDS growth in Sub-Saharan Africa - an area of the world where some of the most rapid growth has occurred within the past two decades. We are still working to resolve the technical issues with our website, so I wanted to post this case study here on my blog to receive reader feedback and comments on this study.


Instances of Slow LDS Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

The LDS Church has overall experienced rapid growth in Sub-Saharan Africa since formal proselytism efforts began among indigenous black African populations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite significant progress for the region as a whole, some countries and locations have experienced stagnant or very slow LDS growth for many years or even decades.

This case study identifies many countries and notable locations where the LDS Church has experienced stagnant or slow growth since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Growth trends are reviewed for each of these locations. Factors inherent in locations where stagnant or slow LDS growth occurs are identified. Confirming and disconfirming evidence for how each factor contributes to slow LDS growth is explored. Instances of slow or stagnant LDS growth in other world regions is briefly reviewed. Locations in Sub-Saharan Africa where other missionary-focused Christian groups  experience stagnant or slow growth is summarized. Limitations to this case study are identified and prospects for the LDS Church in Sub-Saharan to accelerate growth in locations where stagnant or slow growth has occurred is predicted.

Locations in Sub-Saharan Africa Where Stagnant or Slow LDS Growth Occurred: 2001-2013

Central African Republic
Located in Central Africa, the Central African Republic has a population of 5.3 million that predominantly speaks French and Sangho. Half the population is Christian, whereas followers of indigenous religions and Islam constitute 35% and 15% of the population, respectively.

In 1992, the Church established its initial presence in the Central Africa Republic through the member-missionary efforts of an American member temporarily residing in the capital city Bangui. The Cameroon Yaounde Mission (later renamed Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan) initially organized two branches in Bangui to improve accessibility for local members. However, the branches were consolidated into a single branch by 1995. One senior missionary couple served in the country during the early 1990s and no full-time missionaries have served within the country since this time. In 1995, there were approximately 100 members in the country. Over the years, the Church has reassigned the country to several missions, namely the Ghana Cape Coast Mission in 2005, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission sometime in the late 2000s, and the Republic of the Congo Brazzaville Mission in 2014.

In 2012, LDS apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated the Central African Republic for missionary work. The Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission almost assigned full-time missionaries to Bangui in late 2012/early 2013, but political instability and civil unrest have prevented these plans from fruition since this time. No restrictions on religious freedom or obtaining foreign missionary visas have appeared to prevent the assignment of full-time missionaries. Past mission presidents have indicated that remote location and low living standards have posed challenges for mission leadership to regularly visit the isolated Bangui Branch and to consider assigning full-time missionaries.

Although significant progress occurred during the first couple years following the Church's establishment in the Central African Republic, stagnant growth has occurred for the past two decades. Official membership totals fluctuated during this period from as high as 427 in 2010 to as low as 100 in the mid-1990s. These fluctuations appeared attributed to the Church updating membership records. In 2013, the Church reported 187 members and one branch.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopia supports one of the largest populations in Africa with 96.6 million people. Inhabited by 3.3 million people, Addis Ababa is the most populous city and administrative capital of Ethiopia. Christians comprise approximately two-thirds of the national population, whereas Muslims constitute approximately one-third of the population. Ethiopia is culturally unique among African countries due to a Christian legacy since the fourth century and its freedom from colonial rule with the exception of the brief Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941.

In 1992, the Church held its first official meeting in Addis Ababa. The first missionaries arrived in 1993 and the first branch was organized in January 1994. Two additional branches were organized in 2001 and 2013. In 2009, the Church organized a district to service Ethiopia with headquarters in Addis Ababa. The Kenya Nairobi Mission administered Ethiopia from 1991 to mid-2005 and the Uganda Kampala Mission has administered the country since mid-2005. Although membership growth rates for the entire country accelerated during the late 2000s and early 2010s, this growth occurred primarily as a result of new converts joining the Church in cities outside of Addis Ababa such as Debre Zeit and in southern Ethiopia (Awasa, Shashemene, and Wendo Genet).

Full-time missionaries assigned to Ethiopia have historically struggled to learn the Amharic language to teach gospel lessons and converse with others as a result of no formal LDS language study program for Amharic in missionary training centers (MTC) and missionaries transferring between Ethiopia and Uganda. Slow growth in the number of active members has occurred in Addis Ababa within the past two decades. In 2014, there appeared to be approximately 200 active members in the Addis Ababa metropolitan area despite missionaries proselytizing the city for over two decades.

Inhabited by 1.3 million people, Mauritius is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar and Reunion. Hindus comprise approximately half of the population, whereas Christians and Muslims account for 33% and 17% of the population, respectively. Most the population speaks Mauritian Creole, although English is the official language.

In 1979, the Church established a permanent presence in Mauritius. The first branch was created in 1982. A second branch briefly operated in the late 1980s, closed in the early 1990s, reopened in the early 1990s, closed in the mid 1990s, and reopened in 2004. The South Africa Johannesburg administered Mauritius until the country was reassigned to the Reunion-based Mascarene Islands Mission (renamed South Africa Durban in 1991 and relocated to Durban, South Africa) in 1988. The Madagascar Antananarivo Mission has administered Mauritius since its creation in 1998. Extremely slow membership growth has occurred since the establishment of an LDS presence as the number of members increased from 200 in 1989 to 333 in 2001, 406 in 2010, and 442 in 2013.

Although no legal obstacles prohibit or restrict proselytism, the Church has had significant challenges with obtaining foreign missionary visas. For many years, only a couple young elders and a senior missionary couple have been assigned to service the entire country. Additionally, the prominence of Hinduism in society and higher living standards and cultural ties with Western Europe have appeared to reduce receptivity to LDS outreach compared to other Sub-Saharan African nations.

Inhabited by 2.2 million people, Namibia is located in southwestern Africa and has a population that is predominantly Christian. English is the official although, although most the population speaks Ndonga, Kwanyama, Herero, and Nama as a first language.

The Church maintained a minimal presence in Namibia from 1973 until the Church organized its first branch in the capital city of Windhoek in 1983. Full-time missionaries sporadically served in the country during these years and no permanent missionary presence was established until 1990. In approximately 1990, Church organized a second branch in Rehoboth but closed the branch shortly thereafter. In 2006, the Church organized a second branch in Windhoek. Slow membership growth has occurred over the years as the Church reported 100 members in 1993, 336 members in 2003, and 775 members in 2013. In the early 2010s, a member group began functioning in Swakopmund. The South Africa Cape Town Mission administered Namibia until 2013 when Namibia was reassigned to the newly organized Botswana/Namibia Mission headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana.

The Church has struggled over the years to obtain and maintain foreign missionary visas, resulting in limitations on the number of missionaries permitted to serve in the country and disruptions to missionary activity. In 2012, the Church withdrew its young missionaries and has since been unable to obtain foreign missionary visas.

Calabar, Nigeria
Calabar is the administrative capital of Cross Rivers State and has a urban population of approximately 375,000.[1] Efik is the predominantly spoken first language in the region and many speak English as a second language.

The Church established a presence in Calabar sometime in the 1980s as a district operated in the city by 1988.[2] In late 2002, the Calabar Nigeria District became a stake with five wards and one branch.[3] By the mid-2000s, there were eight wards and one branch in the stake. In 2008, the Nigeria Uyo Mission was relocated to Calabar and renamed the Nigeria Calabar Mission.

Although a mission has operated in the city for six years, the Church in Calabar has experienced no increase in the number of congregations during this period. Poor member-missionary participation and lower receptivity compared to other large cities in Nigeria appear responsible for stagnant growth as the availability of mission resources does not appear to be a factor in stagnant growth trends since the mission began operating from the city many years ago.

Jos, Nigeria
Jos is the administrative capital of Plateau State and has a population of nearly one million people.[4] Although many residents originate from the Jos area and central Nigeria, the city population has a significant number of nonnative Nigerians from southern areas of the country. Jos has experienced some of the most frequent and violent religious clashes in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims within the past 15 years.

The Church has maintained a presence in Jos since the early 1990s. In 1992, the Church organized a new mission headquartered in Jos and reported that there were 30 members within the boundaries of the new mission.[5] In 1993, the Church organized a member district in Jos and relocated the mission to Enugu and renamed it the Nigeria Enugu Mission. In mid-2001, there were three branches in Jos (Bukuru, Jos, and Dogon Dutse). Sometime in the 2000s, the Church closed the Bukuru Branch. In mid-2014, there were just two branches in the city.

Religious violence poses significant safety concerns for the Church to engage in formal proselytism efforts and appears primarily responsible for stagnant growth in the Jos area thus far in the twenty-first century. It is unclear whether full-time missionaries serve in Jos due to these conditions and whether any special protocols exist for ensuring the physical safety of members and investigators.

Yorubaland, Nigeria (Excluding Lagos)
The Yoruba number among the most populous peoples in West Africa with approximately 38 million people.[6] Nearly 37 million Yoruba reside in southwestern Nigeria in a cultural region known as "Yorubaland." Approximately 60% of Nigerian Yoruba are Christian, whereas 40% are Muslim.[7]

In 1980, the Church organized its West Africa Mission with headquarters in Lagos (later renamed the Nigeria Lagos Mission in 1985). The Church appeared to establish a presence in Yorubaland outside of Lagos sometime in the early to mid 1980s. In 1992, the Church organized a second mission headquartered in Yorubaland in the city of Ilorin but discontinued the mission the following year. In 2002, the Church organized a second mission headquartered in Yorubaland based in Ibadan. In 2007, the Nigeria Ibadan Mission was relocated to eastern Lagos and renamed the Nigeria Lagos East Mission but was ultimately consolidated with the original Nigeria Lagos Mission in 2009.

The LDS Church has maintained a presence among the Yoruba for more than 30 years and has experienced slow to moderate growth in most locations during this period. During the 2000s and early 2010s, the Church experienced mixed congregational growth trends and moderate rates national outreach expansion within Yorubaland.  In the early 2000s, the Church operated congregations in 10 cities within traditionally Yoruba-speaking areas of Nigeria including Lagos (12), Abeokuta (6), Ibadan (6), Ijebu-Ode (6), Ile-Ife (3), Akure (2), Ondo (2), Ilorin (1), Imodi (1), and Osogbo (1).  In late 2013, the Church operated congregations in 16 cities and towns within traditionally Yoruba-speaking areas of Nigeria including Lagos (25), Ibadan (7), Abeokuta (6), Ile-Ife (5), Ijebu-Ode (3), Akure (1), Ikorodu (1), Ilesa (1), Ilewo-Orile (1), Ilorin (1), Imodi (1), Ipetumodu [Edunabon] (1), Odeda (1), Ondo (1), Osogbo (1), and Sagamu (1).  The total number of congregations in Yoruba-speaking Nigeria increased from 40 in the early 2000s to 57 in late 2013.  However, the net increase in the number of congregations in Lagos accounted for 13 of the 17 unit increase experienced during this period.  Church services appeared to be conducted in English for most, if not all, congregations that operate in Yoruba-speaking areas. 

The Yoruba appear to exhibit significantly lower receptivity to LDS outreach compared to other major ethnolinguistic groups in Nigeria. Within the past two decades, the Church has attempted on multiple occasions to augment the size of the missionary force in Yorubaland and make other accommodations to improve receptivity but these measures have yielded frustratingly few results. Efforts to create a second mission to better service the massive population of southwestern Nigeria have thus far been unsuccessful as evidenced by the Nigeria Ilorin Mission operating for only one year, the Nigeria Ibadan Mission operating for only five years, and the Nigeria Lagos East Mission operating for only two years. Safety and security concerns regarding active proselytism in areas with a mixture of Christians and Muslims and ongoing religious conflict between these two groups in central Nigeria may have impacted past decisions by the Church to consolidate missions and exercise caution in expanding outreach. The translation of the Book of Mormon into Yoruba has appeared to have little impact on reversing slow to stagnant growth trends outside of Lagos within the past five years.  Slow growth in Yorubaland is also illustrated by only the Lagos Nigeria District becoming a stake within the past 20 years. Three of the four districts (Abeokuta, Ibadan, and Ijebu-Ode) have operated for 20 years and continue to fall short of meeting the minimum requirements to function as stakes. Although data is unavailable on the circumstances surrounding the consolidation of branches in some cities in Yorubaland (Ijebu-Ode, Akure, and Ondo), few convert baptisms, local leadership development challenges, active members relocating elsewhere, and inactivity problems appear to have contributed to the closure of branches in these locations.

Inhabited by over 840,000 people, Reunion is a small island overseas department of France located in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar and west of Mauritius. Christians comprise 85% of the population, whereas Hindus and Muslims account for 7% and 2% of the population, respectively. Nonreligious individuals account for 6% of the population. Most the population speaks Reunion Creole French, although French is the official language.

In 1979, the Church established a permanent presence in Reunion and organized its first branch. In 1982, the first and only district was organized. In 1987, there were three branches. In 1988, the Church organized the Mascarene Islands Mission with headquarters on Reunion, although the mission was later relocated to Durban, South Africa in 1991. The number of branches totaled four in 1993, five in 2000, four in 2001, five in 2005, four in 2008, five in 2011, and four in 2013. Extremely slow membership growth has occurred over the past two decades as membership totaled 500 in 1991, 600 in 1995, 700 in 1997, 821 in 2009, and 903 in 2013.

Although the Church has not faced any notable challenges obtaining foreign missionary visas or conducting its operations, essentially stagnant growth has occurred for many years. The influence of Western secularism and materialism on society due to close cultural and political ties to France appear at the root of the population exhibiting low receptivity to LDS outreach. Although district and mission leaders have attempted to open additional congregations within the past two decades, these efforts have yielded no long-term results as evidenced by these newly organized branches closing within a matter of a couple years.

Kampala, Uganda
Inhabited by 2.3 million people, Kampala is one of the most populous metropolitan areas in East Africa. The population primarily speaks English, Luganda, and Swahili.

Although the Church had several non-African members who visited the country as early as the 1960s and had a handful of Ugandans who joined the Church abroad in the 1980s, no official presence was established until 1990 when a branch began functioning and the first missionaries arrived. In 1993, the Church organized a member district in Kampala and by mid-2001 there were eight branches in the city. In 2005, the Church organized a new mission headquartered in Kampala. In 2010, the Church created a stake with six wards and five branches. In mid-2014, the stake continued to have six wards and five branches.

The Church in Kampala has experienced no significant increase in the number of congregations since the late 1990s notwithstanding a major increase in the number of members on church records for the entire country. The Church added approximately 10,000 members between the late 1990s and 2013, with most of these members joining the Church in Kampala. Despite this rapid membership growth, the Church in Kampala has not organized any new congregations since the organization of the stake in early 2010 and has not had any branches advance to ward status since the stake was organized. Low member activity rates, rushed prebaptismal preparation incurred by full-time missionaries focusing on reaching arbitrary baptismal goals, modest member-missionary participation, reliance on foreign missionaries to staff the missionary force, and a church-splitting versus a church-planting approach to growth all appear responsible for the lack of progress expanding LDS outreach in Kampala and achieving greater real growth within the past 15 years.

Characteristics of Countries and Locations Where Stagnant or Slow LDS Growth Occurs

No Mission Headquartered in the Country or Long Distance from Mission Headquarters
No mission headquartered in the country frequently coincides with slow LDS growth in several Sub-Saharan African nations.  Missions are essential for the allocation of mission resources such as senior missionary couples, young full-time missionaries, and funding for church expenses such as renting meetinghouse spaces. Countries without a mission often have few, if any, mission resources dedicated to growing and expanding the church. Oftentimes mission leaders face challenges in fulfilling basic administrative and ecclesiastical needs in these nations due to distance from mission headquarters, the challenges that accompany administering the Church across international borders, and significant differences in language and culture.

The Church in Tanzania exemplifies many of the characteristics inherent in Sub-Saharan African countries where the Church experiences slow growth. The Kenya Nairobi Mission has administered Tanzania since the early 1990s, resulting in limited contact and mission resource allocation to Tanzania as the mission has included both of these countries for over two decades as well as Ethiopia and Uganda between the early 1990s and 2005. The Church has struggled to meet the needs of proselytizing the general Tanzanian population with a full-time missionary force numbering only one to two dozen since the initial establishment of the Church in the early 1990s. Additionally, the Church adopted English as its official language for its missionary operations and church services until transitioning to Swahili in 2011 resulting in significant language barriers with the predominantly Swahili-speaking population until this change occurred. This decision to conduct church services and missionary work in English prior to this time appears attributed to the Church officially adopting English as its language for church operations and missionary work in Kenya. A lack of mission resources has also appeared to influence the extremely limited national outreach of the Church in Tanzania as there was an LDS presence in only one city until the late 2000s and today there are only three cities with branches operating and missionaries assigned.

The decision to delay the establishment of the first LDS mission in a Sub-Saharan African country due to slow growth demonstrates circular logic as a lack of mission resources allocated to the country is often primarily responsible for little to no progress in growing the Church. Consequently there are many countries where the Church would likely experience significantly more rapid growth if mission resources were allocated in greater numbers and if there was greater contact and support from mission leadership. Notable examples of countries where the Church has generally experienced slow growth and where the Church has not headquartered a mission include Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Namibia, and Tanzania.

Although no mission established in a country frequently coincides with stagnant or slow LDS growth, there are several Sub-Saharah African countries without a mission where the Church has experienced moderate to rapid membership and congregational growth. In Malawi, the Church grew from 409 members and two branches in 2003 to 1,653 members and eight branches in 2013, yet missionary operations and church administration were based from Zimbabwe from the early 1990s to 2011 and Zambia from 2011 to present day. In Togo, the Church the Church grew from 417 members and one branch in 2003 to 2.307 members and eight wards and four branches in 2013, yet missionary operations and church administration were based from Ghana from the late 1990s to 2011, Cote d'Ivoire from 2007 to 2011, and Benin from 2011 to present day.

No Missionaries Assigned
Many countries and locations in Sub-Saharan Africa where stagnant or slow LDS have occurred do not have full-time missionaries assigned. With a strong traditional reliance on full-time missionaries to find and baptize new converts, many locations where full-time missionaries do not serve can struggle to augment the number of members and regularly baptize new converts unless local members and church leaders are effective in bringing in others into the Church through their own member-missionary efforts.
The Church in Angola experienced essentially stagnant growth prior to the assignment of the first young proselytizing missionaries in 2008. Locations in Sub-Saharan Africa where the Church currently has at least one official branch and no young full-time missionaries assigned, and experiences stagnant or slow growth occurs include the Central African Republic, Djibouti, and South Sudan.

Surprisingly, the Church in Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced some of its most prolific growth in locations where there were no full-time missionaries assigned. In the central Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Church has likely experienced the most rapid church growth among all areas of the world within recent memory. This achievement has been largely attributed to self-sufficient member-missionary programs that fueled growth without the assistance of full-time missionaries until missionaries arrived in approximately 2011. Local leadership was successful in supervising local missionary efforts meanwhile meeting the spiritual needs of their members from when the first branches were organized in 1997 until full-time Congolese missionaries arrived in 2011. Two districts (Kananga and Luputa) became stakes without full-time missionaries serving in these locations. Both stakes in Kananga and Luputa reached stakehood shortly after reaching the minimum number of nominal members for a stake to operate due to high member activity rates and successful local leadership development efforts. The Church in Kananga has become a major powerhouse for the Church in Central Africa despite its remote location and relatively recent establishment. Virtually all indicators of growth suggest that the Church has achieved high convert retention and member activity rates notwithstanding the baptism of large numbers of converts year to year and few seasoned church members. The high quality of new converts and the rapid pace at which additional wards and branches have been organized is a testament to the uniquely favorable opportunities for growth that a member-missionary efforts can yield.

Foreign Missionary Visa Challenges
Difficulties for the Church to obtain steady numbers of foreign missionary visas or renewing foreign missionary visas is a common characteristic of Sub-Saharan African countries where the Church has experienced stagnant or slow growth. In Namibia, the Church has had its missionary operations severely disrupted, resulting in the removal of all young full-time missionaries in 2012. As the Church in Namibia is in its infancy state and unable to staff its own missionary needs, the Church has experienced no progress in opening branches outside the capital of Windhoek and accelerating membership growth. In Mauritius, the Church maintains a minimal full-time missionary presence due to a severe government limitation on the number of foreign missionary visas available. This has resulted in challenges for the Church to open additional areas to proselytism and utilize full-time missionaries in motivating local members to engage in member-missionary efforts.

Foreign missionary visa challenges does not always result in stagnant or slow growth. The Church in Botswana has experienced disruptions to its missionary operations due to a shortage of foreign missionary visas and the government refusing to renew missionary visas. This has resulted in the Church reassigning many missionaries originally assigned to Botswana to serve the remainder of their missions in other countries. Despite this challenge, the Church in Botswana has experienced rapid membership growth and has achieved several noteworthy church growth developments, including the opening of several additional cities to missionary activity in the late 2000s and in 2010, the creation of the first stake in 2012, and the organization of a separate mission headquartered in the capital city of Gaborone in 2013.

Political Instability and Conflict
Military conflicts, civil wars, religious violence, interethnic conflicts, and weak government infrastructure frequently coincide with stagnant or slow LDS growth. Mission and area leaders avoid the assignment of foreign, full-time missionaries to locations riddled with civil strife in order to ensure the physical safety of missionaries. Additionally, church leaders also generally avoid proselytism in refugee camps and among populations who are internally or internationally displaced as these populations struggle to meet their basic physiological needs. Rarely does the Church open additional areas to proselytism in countries where there is ongoing political strife and instability, resulting in stagnant or extremely slow congregational growth. The Church has maintained its regular operations and a full-time missionary presence in some locations where civil disorder occurs if the Church can function without outside assistance. Generally the Church only assigns black African missionaries to serve in locations with political instability if conditions are sufficiently safe for any type of formal proselytism. Countries where stagnant or slow membership and congregational growth previously occurred due, in part, to political instability and conflict include Angola (mid-1990s-early 2000s), Burundi (1993-2010), Cote d'Ivoire (2011), Liberia (2003-2005), Madagascar (2002-2006), and Zimbabwe (2005-2009). Stagnant or slow congregational growth due, in part, to political instability and conflict previously occurred in Cote d'Ivoire (2002-2005) and Sierra Leone (1993-2002) due to no additional cities having an LDS presence established and limitations of expanding outreach within cities with an LDS presence. Recent political instability and conflict have delayed the initial assignment of young, proselytizing missionaries to a couple nations where the Church operates at least one branch including the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Political instability and conflict do not always coincide with stagnant or slow LDS growth. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Church experienced steady gains in membership and congregations during the Second Congo War from 1998 to 2003. Nominal membership and the number of congregations both doubled during this tumultuous period despite widespread military conflict and the country experiencing one of the deadliest conflicts in the world within the past half century.

Language Barriers
Significant language differences between the official language adopted by the Church in a country and language usage by ordinary members, or struggles for foreign missionaries to sufficiently learn the local language to teach and communicate sometimes occur in countries and locations with stagnant or slow LDS growth. These language barriers pose obstacles for growth because of the member and investigator frustrations and limitations of developing a testimony when studying and worshiping in another language. In Ethiopia, the Church has struggled to have foreign missionaries to sufficiently learn Amharic to teach the missionary lessons and communicate with others. This has affected growth and the efficiency of the missionary program. In Tanzania, the Church did not adopt Swahili as the Church's official language for the country until 2011, resulting in most Tanzanians experiencing difficulty receiving the missionary lessons and worshiping in English. The Church in both these countries has scarcely scratched the surface in  reaching its growth potential as there are less than 2,000 members in either country despite both countries supporting populations of approximately 50 million or more.

Language barriers have appeared to improve convert retention and member activity rates in a few locations, such as the Kilungu Hills of Kenya. This has happened as a result of mission and area leaders requiring prospective members to pass a baptismal interview in English despite prospective converts having no fluency in the English language. Consequently, these baptismal candidates must take English classes in order to sufficiently pass a baptismal interview in the English language. Although this approach has likely reduced the growth of the Church in many areas, it has nonetheless served as a heightened baptismal standard that generates high-quality converts who are devoted to the Church and become contributing members.

Secularism and Materialism
Although the populations in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa pride themselves with a strong heritage and passion for organized religion and personal religiosity, some locations have strong cultural ties to Western Europe and are also more economically developed. Secularism and materialism appear one of the primary reasons for stagnant or slow growth in locations such as Mauritius and Reunion where there is greater wealth and less of a societal emphasis on religion. European white populations in South Africa have exhibited low receptivity to LDS outreach for decades, resulting in modest growth among this subset of the population.

Comparative Growth
The LDS Church experiences slow or stagnant growth in many countries and locations in all other world regions. In Latin America, the Church has experienced stagnant or slow growth in most countries primarily as a result of low member activity rates and poor convert retention. In Europe, stagnant or slow growth occurs in nearly all countries and locations largely due to populations exhibiting low receptivity to LDS proselytism. In the Middle East and North Africa, the Church experiences stagnant or slow growth in most countries and locations due to government and societal restrictions on religious freedom that severely limit or prohibit Christian proselytism, a lack of mission resources dedicated to the region, the lack of proselytism resources for proselytizing Muslims and most Muslim populations exhibiting low receptivity to LDS outreach, and political instability in some areas. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, severely limited numbers of LDS mission resources, government restrictions on religious freedom, local leadership development problems, and modest receptivity to LDS outreach have all posed problems for attaining greater growth. In South Asia, locations without missionaries assigned generally experience stagnant or slow growth. In Southeast Asia, government restrictions on religious freedom, limited mission resources available due to challenges obtaining foreign missionary visas, member activity and convert retention problems, and some populations exhibiting low receptivity to LDS outreach are responsible for stagnant or slow growth in some locations. In East Asia, modernization and secularism have reduced receptivity to LDS outreach. Low member activity rates also pose significant challenges for effective missionary programs. In Oceania, slow or stagnant growth generally occurs in locations and countries where there are few full-time missionaries assigned, difficulties with local leadership development, significant double affiliation and member activity problems, or where populations have become highly secularized. In the Caribbean, the Church experiences stagnant or slow growth in most countries and dependencies as a result of the widespread presence of many other proselytism-focused faiths, small populations distributed over dozens of small islands, and the influence of Western secularism and materialism on local culture. In North America, the Church experiences stagnant or very slow growth in locations where there are significant member activity and convert retention problems, rural areas with predominantly LDS populations, and populations that are either highly secularized or that maintain strong cultural ties to a traditional Christian denomination. North American populations exhibiting decreasing receptivity to LDS outreach within the past half century have also contributed to stagnant or slow growth in many locations.

Other proselytism-focused Christian groups with a presence in most Sub-Saharan African countries report stagnant or slow growth and few members in some locations. Evangelicals report stagnant or extremely slow growth in many predominantly Muslim Sahel countries in West Africa, such as the Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. Extremely slow growth has also occurred in Somalia. Evangelicals report modest membership growth rates in some countries where there are high percentages of evangelicals in the population, such as Ghana and Zimbabwe.[8] Jehovah's Witnesses report essentially stagnant growth in many predominantly Muslim countries in the Sahel such as Mali and Niger and in Indian Ocean island nations and dependencies such as Mauritius, Reunion, and Seychelles. Witnesses also report slow membership growth rates in many of the countries with the most publishers (active members who regularly engage in proselytism), such as Zambia.[9] Seventh Day Adventists report very slow or stagnant membership and congregational growth in most predominantly Muslim countries in the Sahel region of Africa.

Congregational growth and membership growth were the primary measures for determining whether stagnant or slow growth has occurred in particular nations, regions, or cities identified in this case study. Data on other indicators of real growth such as increases in the number of full-tithe paying, active Melchizedek Priesthood holders, the number of members serving full-time missions, sacrament meeting attendance, the number of temple recommend holders, and the number of convert baptisms per country are not released to the public. Reasons for why stagnant or slow growth occurs in some countries and locations is not entirely clear based on the data available during the writing of this case study. Some countries and locations identified in this case study may be experiencing real growth in indicators unavailable to researchers, such as increasing sacrament meeting attendance. Consequently, growth as measured by the number of congregations and nominal membership may not reflect real growth within the recent past or at present until certain thresholds are reached in the future for the Church to organize additional congregations.

[1]  "NIGERIA: Administrative Division,", retrieved 6 June 2014.
[2]  "Nigeria marks twin milestones," LDS Church News, 21 May 1988.
[3]  "New stake presidencies," LDS Church News, 4 January 2003.
[4]  "NIGERIA: Administrative Division,", retrieved 6 June 2014.
[5]  "7 new missions created; total now 275," LDS Church News, 29 February 1992.
[7]  "Yoruba," Joshua Project, retrieved 4 November 2013.
[8] Operation World, retrieved 29 May 2014.
[9]  “2014 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses,”, retrieved 12 April 2014.


Ed Clinch said...

Very interesting post. For members of the LDS Church, it seems that conversion and growth are part and parcel of the restoration. We expect for good things to happen. Our faith physically and spiritually grows. When this doesn't happen as we anticipate, it becomes frustrating...But the momentous growth continues nonetheless since 1830. Many of us see positive number increase as an indicator that our faith works.

Socio-economic reasons abound why some of these places see little church growth, or even much missionary resources allocated in the first place. Besides Amharic seeming to be such a tough language to communicate in, it is isolated in its geographic reach, a bit like Italian. And yet, Italy is seeing some traction occur there, right? Each language and culture needs their wells of strength. Greece does not seem to have this yet.

There are parts of the Caribbean, South America, the Pacific Rim, Europe and even throughout North America where socio-economic conditions, and hence the local cultures, do not cater well to conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ. Cultures where education is lagging, not to mention jobs and upward mobility, seem to be a major deterrent to LDS growth.

It is hard to inject gospel enthusiasm into a "dead" setting. But it continues to try to change the cycle.

Culturally in Africa, the Igbo of Nigeria seem much more economically sound and advanced than the Yoruba mentioned here above. Having worked with a few people from both ethnic groups, I anecdotally saw differences between the two that would lead me to conclude similarly. Perhaps that was only coincidence.

Greeks tend to be more socialistic than Italians, which may preclude many Greeks from entertaining the premise of seeking God or anything like His organization with man. That is one factor comparing two Mediterranean peoples. Perhaps Yoruba peoples are more superstitious than Igbo or Efik (while Hausa may be more exclusively Muslim), so there are many reasons why our faith has no good hold there. Also, it seems that Muslims are more prevalent among the Yoruba, which may affect how they view religious change.

Ultimately, individuals accept missionaries and scriptures exclusive to the Church, and from these individuals and families are the greater communities derived. I have seen that happen in places like Chile, but then we know mass conversion places have their own drawbacks and disadvantages.

Last example as a tough place in Africa to operate proselyting elders or sisters: a small part of Cameroon has the Wimbum (check spelling) people, who have their own language, culture, and are relatively small contextually compared to the rest of the country. I can't remember if they are in the greater French or English part, but based on reports from a Peace Corps worker there, much of the year it is so hot that people only leave their homes at night.

Can you imagine being a missionary in this environment? If anybody knows of Christian success with the Wimbom of Cameroon, let me know. But yes, our church could use another couple hundred thousand Elders and Sisters to really reach many of the places mentioned.

Matt Parker and Tre Stone, somehow you fit into the puzzle. Thanks for your crude hyper-simplifications and attempted levity at real world problems. Uganda and other potential convert nations are grateful.

Sorry, that had been in me for a while.

MLewis82 said...

Just a heads up, it looks like you started to write something about Seventh Day Adventists, and it got deleted.

The factor I'm most interested in is the language the gospel is presented in, both in terms of the language the gospel is taught in by the missionaries, and the language of church services.

I know the Church has invested a lot of resources into getting the Book of Mormon and other materials translated into more African languages in recent years, but I'm curious to what extend these scriptures are actually used in church services and to what extent they really only exist for personal or family study. Does anyone have good information as to what is actually going on in Africa, language-wise? We had the one example of Tanzania in this case study where English was the official language of the Church in that country until just recently. Does the Church have a similar policy in other countries, even when there is a dominant local language with some Church materials?

Amharic is definitly one of the harder African languages for native English speakers to learn, as it is actually a Semetic language and more similar to Arabic and Hebrew than most African languages. Swahili on the other hand is a Bantu language (albeit with a lot of borrowed vocabulary from Arabic) and is considered fairly easy to learn; it's supposed to be comparable to the Polynesian languages in terms of difficulty for native English speakers. I'm surprised we don't do more to help missionaries learn the Bantu languages at least, as they are relatively easy and we're getting more and more material translated into some of them.

MLewis82 said...

Thinking about how language impacts our work, I pulled up some numbers. Using information from Ethnologue, there are 6,752 languages with living native speakers (Ethnologue lists 7500, but many do not have any listed native speakers), here is a rough breakdown of language distribution by language family origin without double-listing a language (i.e. English and Spanish are "European" languages depspite the fact that the majority of native speakers actually live in the Americas):

Language Family: # of languages (# of speakers)
European: 195 (1,632,782,944)
Americas: 861 (30,644,949)
African: 1713 (474,218,287)
East Asian/Oceanic: 2054 (2,116,502,578)
South-Asian/Middle Eastern: 723 [289 of which are actually Indo-European] (1,672,588,110) [605,185,308 Afro-Asiatic & Dravidian + 1,297,112,462 Indo-Iranian)
Australian/Papua New Guinea: 996 (4,481,530)
Other (Creoles/Deaf sign languages etc): 210 (103,210,496)

And for comparison purposes, here are the numbers for languages the Book of Mormon has been translated into.
Language Family: # of languages (# of speakers)
European: 36 (1,533,873,723)
Americas: 13 (17,399,200)
African: 12 (not including Malagasy (Austronesian), Afrikaans (Indo-European) and Amharic (Afro-Asiatic)) (99,351,950)
East Asian/Oceanic: 38 (1,697,881,100)
South-Asian/Middle Eastern: 10 [5 of which are actually Indo-European] (981,491,490) [401,870,380 Afro-Asiatic & Dravidian + 579,621,110 Indo-Iranian)
Australian/Papua New Guinea: 0
Other (Creoles/Deaf sign languages etc): 5 (two in the Americas, 2 in Oceania, and 1 sign language) (8,626,440)

Disclaimer: In coming up with the population numbers for languages into which the Book of Mormon was translated, I was very generous with some languages. For example, I assumed that speakers of all 33 varieties of Arabic can understand Standard Arabic (over 230 million people), which is the language of the Book of Mormon translation, even though Ethnologue doesn’t consider there to be any native speakers of this particular language. A similar assumption was made with Chinese, and other languages for which there appears to only be one written standard for multiple languages as defined in Ethnologue. Although we could come up with a separate written transaltion for a language like Cantonese, but most Cantonese speakers are more comfortable with standard written Chinese than written Cantonese, even though the grammar is generally very different, so I included them.

Anyhow, this discrepency in counting means the counts for number of translations are short for the number of languages represented by the population numbers. There is also some double counting, as Aremenian is considered one language, but the two written standards are treated as separate translations. Same with Fante and Twi.

Just one more piece of analysis. Based on the above numbers it looks like the Church is only equipped to reach about 21% of native speakers of African languages in their native language, whereas they can reach 93% of native speakers of European languages in their native language. Albeit, many of those that we are missing can still be reached through a second language, but something should be said for getting the gospel in your native tongue.

Ed Clinch said...

Amharic should be considered a Hamitic tongue like Somali. Shem and his brother Ham ( both from Noah) interestingly broke off in these major language groups extant today.

Matt said...

Thanks for the feedback! I have re-posted the case study with a few changes to formatting to help it read better on the blog.

MLewis82 said...

Linguists usually put Amharic, Hebrew, and Arabic together in the Semetic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Hausa, Somali, and Oromo (an Ethiopian language group whose speakers actually out-number Amharic speakers) are usually grouped together in the Chadic branch of that same family. Insomuch as Hamitic languages are still considered a valid language group, the designation usually refers to the Berber, Chadic, and Egyptian (i.e. Coptic) branches of the Afro-Asiatic family. Of course the Hamitic grouping traditionally considered racial elements in addition to linguistic elements which might include Amharic speakers, but as far as linguistics goes it's usually not included.

MLewis82 said...

Apologies, Somali and Oromo are Cushitic, not Chadic, but this branch still usually fell into the Hamitic group.

Mike Johnson said...

I don't understand why the mission moved from Uyo to Calabar. The mission covers 6 stakes, with Calabar on the east side of a major river pretty much isolated from the other 5 stakes. The closest stake to Calabar is the Uyo Stake, with the other four stakes to the south and southwest of Uyo.

The mission also has 6 districts. One district is to the north of Calabar and that district was created in 1998. Four districts are to the south, west, and north of Uyo. Another is across the river mouth delta from Calaber southeast of Uyo. All five of these districts were created after the mission moved to Calabar. The bulk of the mission is around and to the south of Uyo and that is where most of the growth has been since 2008.

The districts have between 5 and 7 branches, so have enough congregations to become stakes, once there are enough priesthood and members.

Elder Aniefiok Udo Inyon, who chairs the Nigeria Calabar Area Coordinating Council, resides in Uyo. Perhaps Uyo is a well developed base and the mission headquarters was moved to Calabar. Uyo appears to be the natural center for the mission.

Calabar may be the historic center for the region.

Uyo is quite a bit bigger than Calabar (500,000 vs 350,000), and is the capital of Akwa Ibom State (5 million), while Calabar is the capital of Cross River State (3 million). Akwa Ibom has grown rapidly as the center of oil and gas production and only separated from Cross River State in 1987.

Ed Clinch said...

South Semitic! Fascinating. I did not know. Thanks.

John Pack Lambert said...

If Oromo speakers outnumber Amheric speakers, than shouldn't the major Church growth push in Ethiopia to be in Oromo and not in Amheric?

John Pack Lambert said...

Having the mission headquarters in Calabar may reflect it having better transportation access to other locations, but I do not know that. I find it interesting that the Area Seventy lives in Uyo.

My guess though is that Calabar is seen as historically the main city. Uyo is a new upstart with lots of industry, but little depth of culture. However I really don't know enough of Nigeria to say definitevly. I do seem to recall in my History of Africa class at Wayne State we mentioned Calabar, and I know we never mentioned Uyo.

I just looked it up on Wikipedia. Wikipedia has no mention of Uyo having a history. On the other hand, Calabar was the center of the state of Akwa Apa, whose traditional rulers still are recognized. Calabar was a key center of the slave trade in the late-18th century. In the early 1840s the Kings of various towns in what is now Calabar, King Eyamba V and King Eyo, agreed with the British to end the slave trade. Later in the 1840s King Eyo agreed to allow Christian missionaries in.

MLewis82 said...

I think the Church should focus more outreach on the Oromo, but Amharic is the preferred language of the government, and the staus of Oromo as a recognized regional language is still a sensitive topic politically. That is probably why the Church doesn't do more.