Saturday, March 31, 2018

2017 Statistical Report

This afternoon, the Church reported the following statistics as of December 31st, 2017.
  • Membership: 16,118,169 (increase of 235,752 from 2016; a 1.48% annual increase)
  • Congregations: 30,506 (increase of 202 from 2016; a 0.67% annual increase)
  • Stakes: 3,341 (increase of 75 from 2016; a 2.3% annual increase)
  • Districts: 553 (decrease of 3 from 2016; a 0.54% annual decrease)
  • Missions: 421 (decrease of 1 from 2016; a 0.24% annual decrease)
  • Convert Baptisms: 233,729 (decrease of 6,402 from 2016; a 2.74% annual decrease)
  • Increase of Children on Record: 106,771 (decrease of 2,475 from 2016; a 2.27% annual decrease)
  • Full-time missionaries: 67,049 (decrease of 3,897 from 2016; a 5.49% annual decrease)
  • Church service missionaries: 36,172 (increase of 2,207 from 2016; a 6.50% annual increase)
Stake growth during 2017 constituted the primary positive development in the statistical report as stake growth rates during the year continued to be sustained at a more rapid rate than during the 17-year period between 1999 and 2015. Stake growth is often considered one of the most robust indicators of "real growth" in the Church has stakes must meet certain member activity requirements to operate. Although it may seem counter-intuitive for stake growth rates to outpace congregational growth rates by more than 3 to 1, many stakes organized during 2017, a well as during 2016, were created from member districts advancing into stakes. When a district is organized into a stake, usually no new congregations are organized as individual branches are upgraded into wards in the new stake. As a result, many new stakes may be organized without any increases in the total number of official congregations.

There were many negative developments contained in the 2017 statistical report. Most alarming, LDS membership growth rates have decelerated to their lowest levels since 1937 at a mere 1.48% during 2017. Annual membership growth rates have steadily decelerated for more than 40 years from an average of 4-6% in the 1970s to approximately 4% in the 1980s, 3% in the 1990s, 2.5% in the 2000s, and 1.5-2.0% in the 2010s. However, this is primarily attributed to membership growth rates in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Chile, and Peru during these decades. Global membership growth rates primarily reflect the Church's membership growth in the United States and the nine countries with the most church-reported members as the Church has historically reported approximately 70% of its annual membership increase in these 10 nations.

Slowing annual membership growth rates appear primarily a function of slightly decreasing numbers of converts baptized a year and slightly decreasing numbers of new unbaptized children added to church records. The number of convert baptisms in 2017 was the lowest reported by the Church since 1987 when there were 227,000 converts baptized. The all-time high for annual convert baptisms was set in 1990 at approximately 331,000 - 100,000 more converts baptized than in 2017 even though there were only 44,000 missionaries serving in 1990. Increase in children of record has remained above 100,000 since 2008 and has typically vacillated between 110,000 and 120,000. To contrast, annual increase in children of record was less than 100,000 between 1984 and 2007. Few convert baptisms has appeared primarily due to a lack of member-missionary participation, allocation of most full-time missionaries to countries with low or modest receptivity, a conservative implementation of the centers-of-strength policy, local leadership development problems, and quick-baptism tactics (e.g. cursory teaching that rushes prospective converts to membership) that sacrifice quality preparation and conversion in order to meet arbitrary baptismal goals on paper.

The difference between the summation of converts baptized and increase in children of record (e.g. converts baptized plus increase in children of record), and church-reported total membership between 2016 and 2017 (e.g. actual membership increase for the year) was 104,748 for 2017. This indicates that there were approximately 100,000 members who were removed from church records during 2017 due to death, children of record who were never baptized at baptismal age, excommunication, or resignation. This statistic has exceeded 100,000 for four years in a row but is lower than the all-time high set back in 2014 (122,903).

Congregational growth rates during 2017 also decelerated compared to 2016 to their lowest levels since 2011. However, worldwide congregational growth rates were primarily affected by scores of congregations closed in California during 2017, along with a slower-than-normal year for new ward/branch creations elsewhere in the United States. As a result, there was no noticeable change in the number of wards/branches in the United States during 2017, whereas there was an increase of approximately 200 congregations outside of the United States during the year. The Church has generally reported an annual increase of 200-250 congregations outside of the United States for the past four years, whereas it reported an annual increase of 100-150 congregations for most years between 2004 and 2013. Historically, the Church in the United States has reported an increase of approximately 100-200 congregations a year until 2016 when there was a net increase of 65 congregations for the year.


Cody Quirk said...

Unfortunately I believe a lot of this has to do with the changing societal attitudes & norms in the west, along with the increasing secularization & growing social liberalism of western society as well -which makes the restored gospel less and less receptive with the general population :/

Nevertheless, compared to many other churches out there, including the mainline protestant denominations -at least we're still growing & expanding, plus I also believe that church growth in Africa & parts of the Asian continent is only going to increase and expand in the coming years ahead... Latin America may or may not be a mixed bag for the near future, though the church keeps growing substantially in many South American nations.

Tah said...

I would like to see your math on the decrease of convert baptisms. I think it should be closer to 3% decrease

Ray said...

Matt, please check the change in convert baptisms. I got 2.67%, not 6.71%. Thanks.

Jimmy said...

He forgot the 1 in front of the 6. Should be around 16K difference from 2016. Not just 6K.

Matt said...

I apologize for the error. Convert baptisms in 2017 were 2.74% less than 2016. There were 240,131 convert baptisms in 2016, and 233,729 convert baptisms in 2017.

Jason Allred said...

One more quick typo: congregations should be 30506, not 30306. Thanks!

Matt said...

Thanks for the correction! It has been a busy, long day...

On another note, it is interesting to note that half of the 2017 increase in wards/branches was attributed to Nigeria.

Eduardo Clinch said...

I was a missionary in Chile in 1990; my companions and I baptized more that year than 1991. I know that 1989 was a huge year for baptisms, looking at records and hearing from the missionaries from that year.
In 1990 in Chile I estimate that each mission of the then six total averaged 500 baptisms (not necessarilly true converts) per month. That might be low. That would be 36,000 for the year, right? But it could have been more like 50 to 60k. Perhaps 5-10 percent stayed somewhat active.
In one year alone. Hence, a big year on the roles of the Church, maybe 1/6 of the total convert numbers for that highest year on record.

Eduardo Clinch said...

Doing a little more pocket analysis on 1990, specifically to Chile but potentially extrapolated to other high baptizing nations like Brazil, Philipines, Mexico, the high convert numbers of 1989 seemed to work against (in general) the retention of people joining the Church throughout 1990 and beyond. One could describe that negative phenomenon as "deadweight", but us missionaries at least in the Concepcion Mission definitely spent time and effort trying to re-activate the recent or long term less active members on the roles.
Again, every new temple is a significant event in itself, but based on some numbers that I have shared regarding Chilean missions in the 1990s alone, one might comprehend what a big deal this upcoming new temple is for the 8th Region of Chile and the country in general.

Unknown said...

Isn't member missionary participation the highest it's ever been? There was never such a strong emphasis on member missionary participation 20-30 years ago? Now it is the only thing our missionaries talk about. They never, ever, ever contact. They ONLY meet with members.

Eduardo Clinch said...

No, depending on the mission. I think most missionaries in most missions make street or home contacts weekly if not daily. Unless you are being a complete bozo, which I guess you may be.

MainTour said...

Is the success of missionary work entirely up to just the missionaries making more street contacts? Do wards ever develop better ward mission plans to feed more them more golden referrals instead? Based on the messages in conference this morning a key question for personal revelation is "What Can I do to help the missionaries in my ward have more fruitful teaching opportunities?"

Eduardo Clinch said...

Sure, that is emphasized and developed (member-based referrals) but there are a lot of hours in the week to do many various approaches to meet new investigators. My ward has had at least 7 or more converts in the last few years because of door knocking. A lot of our personal relationships live outside our ward boundaries, making it harder still to introduce them to the full-time missionaries.
My parents joined from elders knocking their door in 1967-8. Happens every day.

Mike Johnson said...

What a general conference!

John Pack Lambert said...

In my experience it is not just an issue of how people are found. A member referral that is not connected to actove member fellowshipping might see low chance of baptism. On the other hand people who missionaries contact on the street or at the door and more likely to get baptized and remain active if they are greeted and fellowshipped at church as opposed to being ignoed.

Eric said...

I tend to distrust convert baptism numbers reported between the late 1970’s and early 1990’s. For one: most of those years the growth was rounded to the nearest thousand—records are not accurately detailed. Second: “baseball baptisms”, “soccer baptisms”, “cemetery baptisms”—ever heard of these? I’ve talked to several older former missionaries from that era. We’ll never know the real numbers, but I suspect a significant portion of reported converts during those decades are fraudulent, and represent people who never set foot inside an LDS chapel, or opened a Book of Mormon.

John Pack Lambert said...

The high point of baseball baptidms was the early 1960s. On the other hand there were multiple baptisms that occired in my mission that ended up not counting because the person never got confirmed. The mid-1990s reform making confirmation almost always occur for new converts in sacrament meeting changed some dynamics.

Another case a baptism done on my mission was invalidated bevause a false name and birthdate was provided by the baptismal candidate. My first baptism had to be redone because the giving of priesthood to the man who had done so was in disregard of Church disciplinary proceedings against him.

On the other hand at the dawn of the 20th-century Churchwide sacrament meeting attendance was around 10%.

Thomas Lang said...

For comparison sake the world population grew by an estimated 1.12% in 2017 so we are still growing faster than the world as a whole. Layer in the fact that many of the fastest growing countries are Muslim majority countries in N. Africa and Central Asia where there is limited to no church presence and I'd say 2017 was still a pretty good year at 1.48%

David Todd said...

My dad was a "baseball baptism" in 1970. Almost 50 years later, his legacy continues after having served a mission, several children who served a mission and have been married in the temple, and now a third generation being raised in the gospel. It is true that the large number of quick baptisms that resulted from these finding and teaching practices were problematic and inflated the number of converts in the statistical reports of those years, but I am eternally grateful for the impact they have had on my life.

Hugh McHarry said...

I've been anticipating numbers for growth in the USA. Aren't they usually available at April Conference? So far, had not updated US and state numbers. No doubt numbers are on the surface disappointing, but likely not within the context of other US churches. LDS and United Methodist membership numbers are very close now, as UMC declines and LDS presumably are slowly growing. This year, or within several years at current rates, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be America's third largest religious body, with only Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists being larger. Has anyone found 2017 year end numbers for LDS membership in the USA?

David Bennett said...

I'm confused by this comment:
"Stake growth during 2017 constituted the primary positive development in the statistical report as stake growth rates during the year continued to be sustained at a more rapid rate than during the 17-year period between 1999 and 2015. Stake growth is often considered one of the most robust indicators of "real growth" in the Church has stakes must meet certain member activity requirements to operate."
In the past you've seemed to have indicated, speaking as if you have official backing, that the Church had decided to increase stakes by
1. Making congregations larger so we get better use of the buildings.
2. Create stakes with less units so they are more manageable.
To me, the growth in stakes is due to nothing more than these factors. Our stake downsized at the beginning of 2016 on this policy according to our stake leaders. We went from 11 units down to 8. Our ward went from a mid-sized ward in a building to a ward that extends into the cultural hall on Sundays. But in the sum, if anything, we lost members to inactivity and disaffection in that time, rather than gained anyone. To use the really weird term "real growth" in this context feels wrong on every front--almost to the point of misleading. I know some general authority used that term a few years back as the Church started trending downward in terms of growth, but it feels like an effort to spin it all as positive rather than be real. This feels more like toying with the numbers to spin it positive to me. It seems the Church is trying desperately to maintain a Dan 2 correlation.

Am I wrong? How so?

Thomas Lang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Lang said...

I find your comment interesting David.

Please correct me if I am wrong but I interpret your comment holistically to mean 'the church is actively pursuing a congregational strategy to inflate how the church appears on paper' or 'the church is pursuing a congregational strategy which it hopes will increase retention and which tangentially has increased the number of stakes'

This certainly could be possible. I could be wrong but it seems based off of what I hear at the local levels the church is very interested in how we choose to worship on the Sabbath day and whether we attend the temple. The first one is pretty hard to measure but I would think church leadership at every level is analyzing and interested in increasing temple attendance or at least temple recommend holding as opposed to total unit reported.

Second, as I understand your comments while number 2 would certainly increase the number of stakes created (by having stakes with less units assigned) number 1 ( having congregations get larger) would work in the opposite direction of decreasing the amount of new stakes. Wouldnt have smaller units and and less units assigned create the maximum number of stakes?

At least where I served my mission (Asia Area) there were minimum numbers of active tithe paying Melchizedek priesthood holders needed before a district could be advanced to a stake. So regardless of whether creative number shifting has influenced the 30ish new stakes in America I think the fact is when a district in India, Togo, or the Philippines advances to a stake this shows there is 'real growth' in those areas.

I think the 'real growth' term is meant to show what we all know to be obvious. Many new members, for a myriad of reasons, choose not to remain affiliated with the church. Thus making total members a pretty iffy guide as to how the church is doing as a whole. On the other hand each stake represents a critical mass of mature, developed priesthood and although imperfect, certainly signals real growth.

Hugh McHarry said...

It's nearly ten days since the abbreviated anual statistical report given at General Conference and not even worldwide membership numbers have been updated on the "Facts and Statistics" pages on I'm especially intereted in what this years total membership is for the USA. Has anyone seen that number?

Hugh McHarry said...

My question was finally answered. 2017 year end US membership now apparently appears as 6,641,886. That compares with 2016 year end membership of 6,592,195, for a change of +49,691, or a US growth rate of about 0.75%. The most recent US population growth figure I could find was the 2016 estimate, which was 0.7%. If anyone wants it, I have a screen shot of last year's figure.