Thursday, November 3, 2016

Is the LDS Church Growing?

I am frequently asked by interested readers, news media, and personal contacts whether the LDS Church is actually growing or not. This is a complex question to answer in regards to what measurements are examined, the analysis of growth trends over time, and whether growth is examined in a specific area or for the Church as a whole. The following will provide an overview of the most salient findings that suggest the worldwide Church is growing, or experiencing stagnation or decline. A previous analysis from 2012 can be found here.

Here are some statistics that indicate the Church is growing:
  • Increases in the number of countries with stakes: 
    • Since 2010, there have been 20 countries where the Church has organized its first stake. There has never been a time in LDS history when as many countries have had their first stakes organized within as short of a period of time.
  • Increases in the number of countries assigned to missions:
    • The number of countries assigned to missions has steadily increased since 2010. Examples of countries assigned to missions during this time include Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gabon, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Montenegro, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • Increases in the worldwide number of active members:
    • Although no official statistics are available, the number of active members in the Church has appeared to steadily increase within recent years as evidenced by the organization of new stakes and congregations. A recent article in the Salt Lake Tribute quotes a church spokesman who notes that "upward growth has continued."
  • Steady increases in the worldwide number of stakes:
    • Stake growth has not only been sustained in recent years, but it has accelerated. The number of new stakes organized totaled 48 in 2013, 64 in 2014, 67 in 2015, and 80 thus far in 2016. The annual percentage growth rate for stakes has also increased from 1.5% in 2013 to at least 2.5% in 2016.
  • Steady increases in the worldwide number of temples:
    • The number of temples announced, under construction, or in operation continues to increase. For example, there were 102 operating temples at year-end 2000. There will be 155 operating temples by year-end 2016.
  • Increases in the number of nations with full-time missionaries assigned:
    • Many countries have had young, full-time missionaries assigned for the first time since 2010. Notable examples include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma (Myanmar), Burundi (until mid-2015 when missionaries were removed due to civil unrest), Gabon, Kosovo, Laos, Macedonia, Montenegro, Rwanda, and Turkey.
  • Increases in the number of cities with an LDS presence:
    • The Church has organized new congregations in previously unreached cities at a more rapid rate than the number of cities where the only LDS congregation has closed. 
  • Improvements in commensurate membership and congregational growth:
    •  Membership and congregational growth rates for the worldwide church have become more proportional. Congregational growth was a mere 1/5 the rate of membership growth in 2011, whereas congregational growth was 4/5 the rate of membership growth in 2015. This finding signals improvements in convert retention and member activity.

Here are some statistics that indicate LDS growth is stagnant or declining:
  • Slow congregational growth rates for the worldwide Church:
    • Congregational growth rates have been very slow for the Church as a whole, ranging from 0.4-1.3% within the past eight years. As the world's population currently grows by 1.08% a year, it appears that the Church's congregational growth in comparison to the world's population growth has been nearly equal during this time. 
  • Steady net decreases in the number of districts:
    • The number of districts has declined every year since 2009. The number of districts has decreased from 622 in 2008 to approximately 551 at present. As district growth is a strong indicator of the expansion of the Church into lesser-reached areas, this finding suggests a slowdown in the expansion of the Church into additional areas.
  • Decrease in the percentage of full-time missionaries in general church membership
    • The percentage of full-time missionaries among general church membership declined from 0.64% in 1977 to 0.37% in 2010, and increased to 0.47% in 2015.
  • No noticeable change in the number of converts baptized a year
    • The Church has reported essentially no significant change in the number of converts baptized each year. The Church has baptized an average of 277,000 converts a year since 2010. To contrast, the Church baptized an average of 287,000 converts a year between 1988 and 2009. The average number of converts baptized per missionary declined from 8.0 in 1989 to approximately 5.0 in 2011 and 3.5 in 2015.
  • Stagnant increases with the number of children of record
    • The increase of children of record has not significantly increased over the past 35 years. The Church reported an increase of 124,000 children of record in 1982 - more than any year since this time. The Church has generally reported an annual increase of children of record between 110,000-120,000 since 2008.
  • Decreasing membership growth rates
    • The Church's annual membership growth rate has steadily declined within the past 15 years from 2.9% in 2000 to 2.3% in 2003, 2.0% in 2013, and 1.7% in 2015. 
  • Lack of growth in seminary and institute enrollment
    • Seminary and institute enrollment has fluctuated from approximately 700,000 to 760,000 within the past 15 years despite an increase of more than four million members during this period.
  • Decrease in the number of MTCs:
    • The Church has reported a net decrease in the number of missionary training centers during the past 20 years. MTCs have closed in Japan, Korea, Samoa, and Tonga.
  • Decrease in the number of church areas:
    • The Church has reported a net decrease in administrative areas from 30 in 2003 to 25 in 2012.

29 comments:

Christopher Nicholson said...

But one reason for the decrease in districts is that many of them have matured into stakes.

Dave said...

None of the data points supposedly indicating stagnation or decline actually indicate decline. We've adding a little over 400 net new wards in the last couple of years, and there's no way to analyze that fact other than to conclude the obvious: The church is growing.

At the stake level, in the years shown since 2011, the church has added a net increase of 343 new stakes. So the church has 343 more stakes than it had at the beginning of 2011. Between 2011 and the end of 2013, the church lost a total of one district. But in the almost 3 years since then the church has gained a net of 40 new districts.

So the worst case, glass half empty argument is to the effect that the church used to be growing faster or should be growing faster. That is NOT the same as saying the church isn't growing.

Yet even by that metric, real growth is now up trending.

Christopher said...

Interesting analysis, and some really good points. The church most certainly is growing, though probably not as fast statistically as it used to in terms of convert baptisms, congregations, etc. However, I see some signs of accelerated growth in overall Church maturity, which is harder to measure but more impressive. The evidence of more maturity is most clearly shown in the accelerated stake creations and in number of temples, as well as family history and temple work, member name submissions, etc. which has exploded in the past five years with the new resources and technology. I believe, but can't be sure, that convert retention is also up quite a bit from what it used to be in the rapid expansion of the 80s and 90s. This is real growth, though not as fancy to talk about statistically as # of converts, percentage of congregations, etc.

One of the things that is important to mention but almost impossible to measure in this kind of analysis is spiritual maturity of the Saints. In North America particularly, I believe that the faith of members has been challenged significantly, what with the internet age, social media, and the unpopular social stances the church often takes; and while there have been many defectors and we have lost some considerable PR, that opposition, I believe, has galvanized a lot of testimonies, made more people search for their own answers rather than just going with the flow, and I think we will see fruits of increased spiritual maturity of our members in upcoming years.

In North America, those who are going to church are coming for less and less cultural reasons and more and more for faith reasons. In other places in the world, the retention, spiritual maturity, and self-sustained leadership that is unfolding almost spontaneously in places like Western Africa is also exciting. Time will tell if that trend continues there and in other places.

Joe said...

Would it be possible to summarize the key changes / differences from your 2012 report from your experience? Was there any significant changes or new developments in the last 4 years, aside from the temporary missionary surge?

Dave said...

I should have said: We've added a little more than 400 new wards in EACH of the last two years...

Excuse me.

Rolf said...

Hi, just some numbers from a small ward in Norway. I have been following this congregation since 1969 when there were only three active member. I do see a maturing of the membership that can be difficult to see without going into details. I have been very critical concerning our missionary approach – in short, we have been baptizing inactive investigators, which have produced inactive members since the 1960’s. I have seen a change the last couple of years – which I am grateful to see.
Still, we have a challenge, because probably 90% of baptisms consist of single persons here in Norway – that do not have the support of a family in the church. Someone to talk with on a daily bases about the gospel – meetings on Sunday are not enough. 5 years ago, we were given permission to setup an Institute center in the middle of our town – to serve our two active YSA members and new members in this age group. In these 5 years, we have had all in all 30 registered students that are members of the church - 15 men & 15 women. Of these 30:

27 of 30 are still active in the church
11 of 30 went on missions so far
8 of 30 got married so far (7 in the Temple)
11 of 30 were baptized
23 of 30 have callings
In addition, we have had 9 registered students that were not members of the church and probably over 60 nonmembers that over these 5 years have taken part in institute classes for shorter periods.

I think this is great growth, which you do not find in the official statistics.

John Pack Lambert said...

I don't think the decline in the number of areas in any way shows stagnation. Instead it reflects decisions to run areas in different ways. In Mexico and Brazil two areas were consolidated into one. At least in Brazil both areas had previously been run out of Sao Paulo. This may actually in the Brazil case show growth in local leadership maturity, because it is no longer felt there needs to be as direct supervision by general authorities.

John Pack Lambert said...

Recently in my ward a 34-year-old sister started coming out to church who was baptized as an 11 year old, had lived in our ward for over 15 years, and never come out to church in that time. Her 17-year-old son who the missionaries have been teaching finally came out to Church this last Sunday. Hopefully he will be baptized, and go on a mission after he graduates from high school.

However we have already had the clear success of a reactivation, but this does not show up in any easily discernable statistics. I firmly believe we will see a significant increse in the number of convert baptisms over the next few years as reactivation efforts bear fruit among other things.

Helen said...

Rolf made a comment about growth in Norway. But the truth is that the amount of members in 1975 were 4000. In 2010 it was still 4000. The population of Norway in that period had a significant increase, meaning the rate of members have decreased quite a lot. (From 0,1% to 0,08%)

Johnathan Whiting said...

Glad to hear about the success of the Institute program in Norway. :)

David Todd said...

What Rolf was saying is that the growth in the maturity and spiritual strength of an area cannot be seen by the statistics we assume measure growth. Percentage of people with a strong testimony is not a measured statistic.

I would say, in my very ignorant understanding of church growth patterns, that the decrease in the percentage growth of membership over recent years is less about the church not growing and more about controlled real growth. Just look at the activity rates in West Africa, where a large portion of the growth is occurring. Sure it's not the numbers of Latin America in the 80s and 90s, but so much of that growth was not controlled. Plus, this growth is occurring in areas that there isn't already a strong LDS presence often, so while percentage growth in Africa is high, the numerical growth there won't be as high until there are more members to assist in the work all throughout the west Africa area and not just in major cities.

Dave said...

Helen,

Of course there are parts of the world where church growth is stagnant. In places like South Korea, Venezuela, and California there is even outright decline. But taken as a continent, there has been 11 net new stakes in Europe the last 6 years. It's nothing to crow about, and it's by far the worst continent in the world for positive growth, but it's not decline either.

Matt said...

In stake conference today, our stake presidency announced that the Colorado Springs North Stake just organized its fifteenth ward. No announcement was made of when another stake will be created in Colorado Springs. Stakes here are doing better with coordination to share buildings to maximize efficient building use.

Rolf said...

Helen, accordingly to lds.org the church membership in Norway was 3 700 in 1990 and 4 681 in 2015. My point is as Dave Todd said; that the growth in the maturity and spiritual strength of an area cannot be seen by the statistics we assume measure growth. In 1975, we had no Stakes in Norway, now there are two – most where converts with children in 1975, today we have many members with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Multi-generational members, which is also a sign of strength. Very few local missionaries in 1975, many today. I believe more have temple recommends and travel to the temple today than in 1975, and more have temple marriages today. I think all these things are a sign of maturity and strength. There have been negative factors – mange children that grow up in the church went inactive in their teens, also many member on our membership records were never active members.

Mike Johnson said...

Percentage wise, there isn't much difference between 1990 and 2015:

1990: 4,247,546 (Norwegian Population); 3700 (LDS population) = 0.087% (or 1 in 1148)
2015: 5,210,967 (Norwegian Population); 4,681 (LDS population) = 0.090% (or 1 in 1113)

It is good to see that the Church is maturing in Norway in ways not easily measured in statistics.

Matt said...

Also, Elder Rasband reported today that there are currently 72,000 full-time missionaries.

Mike Johnson said...

The reduction in areas from a high of 31 to the current 25 is interesting. I posted the following information at this site a few years ago. I am still not sure what to make of it.

2006 Caribbean Area created by division of the North America Southeast
by end of 2006: 31

2007 Mexico: Mexico South and Mexico North
2007 Brazil: Brazil South and Brazil North
by end of 2007: 29

2008 Europe: merger of Europe Central and Europe West
2008 Pacific: merger of Australia and New Zealand/Pacific Islands
2008 North America East eliminated and merged into North America Northeast and North America Southeast
2008 Middle East/North Africa Area created
by end of 2008: 27

2009 South America Northwest: merger of South America North and South America West
by end of 2009: 26

2012 South America South: merger of South America South and Chile
by end of 2012: 25

None of the mergers reflected reductions in stakes, missions, congregations, or membership. They seem to have reflected something else going on. The areas are extensions of Salt Lake. When areas were merged, it was generally accompanied by an increase in the ability to make decisions by the area seventies. When the Chile Area was merged into the South America South Area, Elder Holland called it a great day because it reflected the rising maturity in the local area seventies. In some respects, this parallels the creation of stakes from districts or mission branches moving authority from mission presidents to local leaders.

Ryan Searcy said...

I have a question that is irrelevant to the other comments.

All of the temples have a simple designation, usually City, State/Country (with some exceptions, such as only having the city name [Salt Lake] or named after a location rather than a city [Winter Quarters, Provo City Center, Star Valley].

My question is, why does the Hermosillo Sonora Mexico Temple get a special state AND country name? I know it's the same for Colonia Juarez (probably to distinguish from Colonia Juarez in Mexico City), but there is only 1 Hermosillo.

TempleRick said...

Ryan, the "Sonora" really should have been dropped from the official English name by now. The official Spanish name for the temple in CDOL is Templo de Hermosillo, Mexico (no Sonora), yet the official English name is (inconsistently) Hermosillo Sonora Mexico Temple. At one time, several of the Mexican temples included a state designation like Mexico City D.F. Mexico Temple, Villahermosa Tabasco Mexico Temple, and Mérida Yucatán Mexico Temple, which can still be seen on some of the monument signs. But shortly after the "mini" Mexico temples were dedicated, the state designations were dropped for all of them except for Colonia Juárez (which makes sense) and, for some reason, Hermosillo. Is it an oversight? Likely. The official Spanish and English names for the Colonia Juarez temple are the same in CDOL: Templo de Colonia Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico and Colonia Juárez Chihuahua Mexico Temple.

randall said...

My observations from the Dallas, Texas area, is that the Church continues to make progress with reactivation of members, however we also lose some for a variety of reasons ranging from disagreement with Church policies and members getting their feelings hurt/or/ not feeling welcome at Church. Overall, we must do a better job making sure everyone has a good friend. It takes more than just leadership to reach out. If we notice someone missed Church--call them, tell them they are missed. We also must do more to help our young adults as they leave high school and go to college/work. We lose too many youth between ages 18-21. The younger mission age helps, but there is more work to be done. Activity rate in my area is about 55%.

J S A said...

Kumasi Ghana Asokwa Stake

Ahyiaem Branch
Aputuogya Branch
Asokore Mampong Branch
Atonsu Branch
Domeabra Branch
Ejisu Branch
Kentinkrono Branch
Ahenbronum Ward
Asokwa Ward
Ayigya Ward
Freetown Ward
Kwamo Ward
Lowcost Ward
University Ward

J S A said...

Ngandajika Democratic Republic of the Congo District

Kabanda Branch
Kalubanda Branch
Ngandajika Branch Branche de Ngandajika
Tshioji Branch Branche de Tshioji

James said...

This hasn't been mentioned by anyone today, but a major Church milestone was announced this morning by the First Presidency. The Paris France temple will be dedicated on May 21, 2017. For all the glorious details, please see TempleRick's excellent website, ldschurchtemples.com. For my take on this announcement (including my personal feelings regarding this particular milestone), please visit http://stokessoundsoff.blogspot.com. Let me know what you think.

Eduardo Clinch said...

The sheer number of temples and the activity in them is a sure sign of growth. Chile getting its second temple is a big deal for a land that has almost 600,000 on the books. Chile will show real dynamic growth when it has five or six temples as those numbers deserve, more like Peru.
Southern Argentina or Chile definitely deserve better temple access.
Temple growth across the planet is pretty cool right now. The good guys are winning and those who do not participate are missing out. We should encourage everyone we know and don't know to go. Often.

John Pack Lambert said...

Yesterday my stake started a mid-singles group in a ward in the stake. The ward gets lots of medical student and resident families and so has very few youth. I was asked to help pass the sacrament, which never happens in my home ward.

On the other hand the population in that ward's boundaries is probably over 60% African-American, but of those who come to Church probably over 80% are white. On the other hand one of the counselors in the bishopric is black. The ward chorister is also black, so at least investigators (who tend to be largely African-American) are not confronted by a stand full of white people.

Only about 15 to 20 mid-singles were there, maybe 5 of whom were already in that ward. The stake president emphasized to us there are hundreds of mid-signles in the stake. However some of these people, like my girlfriend, were at their home ward on that Sunday, so the situation is not as bad as it might seem.

Johnathan Whiting said...

Salt Lake area is apparently also implementing a comprehensive mid-singles ward program fairly soon (according to a friend of mine from Taylorsville). There are supposed to be new mid-singles wards across the greater Salt Lake city area as far as I understand.

phxmars said...

We have a mid-singles magnet ward that is fairly successful in Arizona.

Eduardo Clinch said...

John PL: When are your plans to get married? I have heard about this special soneone for a while. There are many ways to grow the kingdom.
Forming families and having kids is a big one.

Andrew said...

Please, do not call us who have not been attending.