"Indeed, the Church in Africa has grown exponentially in the past 30 years — a fact surprising even to those who understand best the culture and complexity of this vast region of the globe — whether they are leaders and converts living and serving in Africa, or those who have come to Salt Lake City to help guide the affairs of the global Church."
Some additional noteworthy points in the article include:
"In 2014, more than 12,000 people joined the Church in Southeast Africa (about 4 percent of growth Churchwide) and 24,000 people joined in West Africa (about 8 percent of the 296,000 converts around the globe)."
"To appreciate this rapid growth, historical context helps. In Africa 30 years ago, the Church had 137 separate congregations and about 22,000 members. Today, there are more than 1,600 congregations and half a million members — that’s 11 times more wards and branches and 20 times more members than in 1985."
"What’s more, the Church will soon have a new missionary training center in Accra that can train 400 missionaries at a time to support the faith’s global missionary force."
In addition to the news release, the Church also posted a video providing additional details on LDS growth in Africa. In the video, Elder Joseph W. Sitati of the Seventy stated:
"As we look to the future, this controlled growth will enable the Church to grow in a way that if that had not happened, the numbers would be much higher than what we have today. But I think the Church would be much weaker."
The Church has indeed experienced rapid growth in many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa within the past three decades. The most rapid growth has occurred in Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), and Cote d'Ivoire. More than half of LDS membership in Africa resides in these four nations. During the 19-year period between 1995 and 2014, LDS membership increased from 28,000 to approximately 130,00 in Nigeria, 14,000 to 62,031 in Ghana, 5,300 to 42,689 in the DR Congo, and 2,800 to 27,052 in Cote d'Ivoire. Between 1995 and 2015, the number of stakes increased from three to 33 in Nigeria, two to 15 in Ghana, zero to 13 in the DR Congo, and zero to nine in Cote d'Ivoire. Rapid congregational growth has also occurred in all four of these nations within the past two decades, suggesting that commensurate "real growth" has occurred in these nations in regards to increasing numbers of active members. The Church in Cote d'Ivoire has recently experienced some of the most rapid expansion of the Church into previously unreached areas ever witnessed in modern church history. Significant increases in the number of West African and Congolese members serving full-time missions has warranted the Church to build a new MTC in Ghana with approximately quadruple the capacity of the original Ghana MTC constructed in the early 2000s.
Despite this progress, LDS growth in Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be extremely limited. Overall growth trends have appeared much more modest than the "exponential" growth claims in the recent LDS news release. Here are some figures that support this argument:
- LDS membership exceeds 20,000 in only six of the 30 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is an official LDS presence, namely Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, DR Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, and Zimbabwe. Most the population in these six nations does not live in an area where an LDS congregation operates. Entire regions of these nations have absolutely no LDS presence whatsoever. In the DR Congo, the entire northern half of the country was totally unreached until the creation of the Kisangani Branch approximately one year ago. In Ghana, two administrative regions have no official wards or branches. There are approximately 100 cities in Nigeria inhabited by 100,000 or more people that have no LDS congregations, most of which are located outside of traditionally Muslim areas. Five of the 12 administrative districts in Cote d'Ivoire remain unreached by the Church.
- The Church in Sub-Saharan Africa reports fewer than 10,000 members in 20 countries where there is an official LDS presence.
- LDS membership and congregational growth rates are best described as linear or cubic in nearly all African nations.
- The Church in Ghana and Sierra Leone reports the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population among African nations - a mere 0.25%, or one LDS member per approximately 400 people.
- LDS growth trends over the past two decades have been slow or stagnant in seven nations, including Angola, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, and Tanzania.
- Four or fewer cities have an LDS presence in 17 Sub-Saharan African nations.
- There are 12 Sub-Saharan African countries where there are no official LDS congregations that operate despite sufficient religious freedom to conduct proselytism and no legal barriers for the Church to obtain government recognition.
- Six Sub-Saharan African nations with an LDS presence - Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania - are inhabited by over 10 million people each have no LDS missions headquartered within their geographic borders.
Despite these limitations, the Church in Africa has excellent opportunities for continued growth. These opportunities appear most likely to be taken advantage of in West Africa where sizable numbers of LDS missionary resources are allocated and where mission and area leaders regularly open additional cities to proselytism. Prospects for LDS growth in other areas of the continent also appear favorable, but the outlook for growth will depend on the Church assigning more missionaries to these areas, opening more cities to proselytism, and mission and area leaders engendering greater self-sufficiency in local church leadership.