Thursday, February 8, 2018

Unprecedented Consolidation of Missions in Eastern Europe/Southeastern Europe

The Church announced last week that the following missions will be discontinued in Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe this July:
  • Bulgaria Sofia
  • Greece Athens
  • Romania/Moldova
  • Russia Samara
  • Ukraine L'viv
After these missions are merged with surrounding missions in the region, the number of missions in Eastern Europe/Southeastern Europe will decrease from 20 to 15. The remaining 15 missions in the mission will include:
  • Adriatic North
  • Adriatic South
  • Armenia/Georgia
  • Baltic
  • Central Eurasian
  • Czeck/Slovak
  • Hungary Budapest
  • Poland Warsaw
  • Russia Moscow
  • Russia Novosibirsk
  • Russia Rostov-na-Donu
  • Russia St Petersburg
  • Russia Yekaterinburg
  • Ukraine Dnepropetrovsk
  • Ukraine Kyiv
Information on which countries will pertained to realigned missions remains unavailable. However, it appears likely that the Central Eurasian Mission will include Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece. Missionaries report that the Ukraine L'viv Mission will be consolidated with the Ukraine Kyiv Mission. Missionary activity will continue in all of the countries where mission consolidations are scheduled to occur. However, there may be fewer missionaries assigned to these countries after these changes go into effect.

As I mentioned in my post last week that announced changes to LDS missions this July, the Church in Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe has experienced some of the slowest growth in the worldwide Church during the past decade. To put things in perspective, there is a total of approximately 65,000 Latter-day Saints on church records for Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia combined after approximately 25-30 years of consistent proselytism in most countries within this region. Member activity rates for the region as a whole appear to be approximately 20-25%. Most countries in the region report annual membership growth rates of 2.0% or less. Of the 27 countries in this region that currently have at least one official ward or branch, the Church reports more than 10,000 members in only two of these countries: Russia and Ukraine. Sixteen of the 27 countries in the region report official LDS memberships of less than 1,000. In countries where the least growth has occurred such as Greece and Serbia, the number of full-time missionaries that have ever served in these countries since they opened to proselytism has exceeded the number of converts ever baptized in these countries. In areas of the world that report rapid LDS growth such as in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Church generally maintains approximately one mission per every 15,000 to 20,000 members. Areas of the world that experience slower growth report larger numbers of members per mission. For example, in 2016 the Church in South America reported an average of 42,231 members per mission, whereas the Church in the United States reported an average of 52,738 members per mission. In contrast, the Church in Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia maintained approximately one mission per every 3,250 members in 2016. If the ratio of members per mission most recently reported in South America were applied to Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia, there would need to be only two missions for the entire region.

The Church's efforts to begin proselytism in Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia during the late 1980s and the 1990s numbers among the most proactive and methodical observed within the worldwide Church during the last century. The Austria Vienna East Mission (organized in 1987) and the Finland Helsinki East Mission (organized in 1990) began proselytism efforts in the region until these missions could later be relocated to Ukraine and Russia in 1992. The number of missions headquartered in the region increased from zero in 1986 to six by 1992 and 16 in 1997. Many of the countries in the region reported moderate to rapid growth in the 1990s, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary, and the Baltics. For the most part, moderate or rapid growth has never occurred for the Church in several countries such as Poland, Serbia, Greece, and Moldova. Furthermore, the longer the Church has maintained a missionary presence in most Eastern European and Central Asian countries, the slower growth rates have become.

The decision to close approximately one-quarter of the missions in Eastern Europe/Southeastern Europe and Central Asia has appeared warranted for many years due to low productivity. Effective strategies for missionary work require allocation of the greatest amounts of resources to target the largest populations that exhibit the highest receptivity to the LDS Gospel message, meanwhile continuing to target less receptive populations with fewer resources. The closure of five missions in the region this summer does not indicate a "throwing in the towel" type of mentality that the Church is taking for this region after frustratingly few results, but rather a wiser appropriation of resources to the region particularly in regards to mission administration. The Church in Eastern Europe and Central Asia will likely continue to maintain a disproportionately large full-time missionary force in comparison to the number of cities with an LDS presence, number of congregations, number of converts baptized, and number of members due to the large size of target populations for proselytism, long distances between cities with an LDS presence, low activity rates, and need for outside assistance with basic church administration needs in many locations. Moreover, more mission resources are also needed to effectively proselyte individual countries in local languages and in order to avoid overwhelming logistical challenges in regards to the assignment of full-time missionaries.

The closure of additional missions in Eastern Europe appears likely within the foreseeable future, particularly in Russia. It seems likely that the Russia Moscow and Russia St Petersburg Missions may combine one day, as well as the Russia Yekaterinburg and Russia Novosibirsk Missions into one mission. However, it will be imperative that the Church continue to maintain consistent proselytism programs in local languages in order to prevent even further deceleration in growth, and in case conditions improve one day and population become more receptive to LDS proselytism efforts. Moreover, it is also possible that the Church may reestablish some of the missions discontinued in the coming years and decades if local populations become more receptive or there are large increases in the number of members serving full-time missions. Bulgaria and Romania appear the most likely countries to have a mission reestablished one day given their large populations and comparatively larger LDS memberships compared to surrounding nations.


Andrew said...

The Central Eurasian Mission will not contain Greece. Bulgaria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will be in the CEM. There are no missionaries in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were in the CEM but are are being transferred to a Russia mission. The CEM mission home will remain in Istanbul.

Due to the historical animosity between Greece and Turkey, having one mission president over both of those countries would be problematic.

Eduardo Clinch said...

For what it's worth I helped a missionary go to the Baltic States Mission in the 1990s. Sort of. I assisted by encouraging them to go despite reservations. And they went and eventually married a Russian, and I think they have 5 kids now. Maybe in Utah, not sure.
The Church is slow growing in most of Eastern Europe, but units are eventually expanding. Incidentally, the missionary had a sibling prior serve in Czechia, back when it was transitioning from Czechoslovakia.

John Pack Lambert said...

The first president of the Nigeria Ibadan Mission will be a 32-year-old Ghanaian who served his mission in the Nigeria Lagos Mission.

Bryan Dorman said...

Greece will probably be in the Adriatic South mission, for the reason stated above, as well as Cyprus. The reason is really simple: Turkey and Greece get along about as well as Israelis do with Palestinians.

I find it ironic that Turkey which is pretty much as Muslim as one can get as far as population goes, is having generally more success than Greece is, a country that has had Christians in it ever since St Paul had his missionary journeys in the area. Greece has had 40 years with missionaries there and only three branches to show for it. Turkey has had 5 years with missionaries there and even an interruption in missionary service, and they have seven branches (three formed since the missionaries entered).

Joseph said...

I have often wondered if the low receptivity in Eastern Europe is in part because Orthodox Christianity seams to show some of the lowest amounts of doctrinal difference relative to the restored gospel. (See the God who Heals by the Givens and Alonzo Gaskill and Stephen Web's Mormon Christianity)

John said...

I don't think I am remiss in saying this since they read it in sacrament meeting, but the Athens Greece mission will be part of the Adriatic South Mission.

As for the low conversion rate in the Orthodox world, my guess is that it has something to do with how one's identity is perceived here. (I served my mission in Russia, married a Czech, and have lived in Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and now Greece.) One is not Russian in most Russians' eyes unless one is Russian Orthodox. One is not Greek in Greeks' eyes unless one is Greek Orthodox. The same goes for the Serbs, Bulgarians, and Armenians. Greeks also tend to be a rather religious people, so they are more active in their churches than most of the other Slavic Orthodox peoples. To change religions here is not just to change one's beliefs and one's actions, but to change a piece of one's very being (as they see it).

Eduardo Clinch said...

Secularism and atheism have also had their imprints on eastern Europe.
And as always, it is pretty difficult to develop devotees that eschew the consumption of alcohol. Or caffeinated products. Seems small to many, but is definitely a stumbling block to millions.