Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Stake In Utah

A new stake was created on August 30th in Vernal Utah. The Vernal Utah Stake was created in the heart of this northeastern Utah city with a temple. Up to this time there has not been a Vernal Utah Stake, but four stakes in the city that each stretch into the rural areas outside of Vernal. The new stake becomes the 1,445th stake in the United States and the 534th stake in the state of Utah.

Church leadership in a stake conference that was broadcast to each of the stake centers in Vernal encouraged members living in Vernal to attend the temple more frequently and do missionary work among those members of the Church who do not currently have temple recommends.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Temple Closure For The Aba Nigeria Temple

Various online news sites have reported that the Aba Nigeria Temple has been closed indefinitely due to violence in the region. Senior missionaries who served as temple workers in the temple reported that threats have been made and bullet holes left in doors in the temple complex.

I want to be quick to point out that all temples temporarily close frequently, often for several weeks, for maintenance and cleaning. When a temple is remodeled it is typically closed for 12 to 24 months. The instance in Aba Nigeria is unusual but not ridiculous. My personal belief is that the temple will likely stay closed anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. The reason for why the temple closed was likely more due to the fact that the temple relies heavily upon senior missionaries serving in the temple to function and the Church felt that the senior missionaries were at higher risk for violence than local members. Otherwise the Church would have pulled missionaries serving in the country or have cancelled worship services on Sundays. The Church has suspended worship services for several weeks before in various Latin America countries recently due to government regulations on large groups of people assembling for fears on Swine Flu spreading more rapidly.

Violence involving religion is not uncommon in Nigeria. This violence most often occurs in northern Nigeria where the predominantly Christian southern provinces border the predominantly Muslim northern provinces. The Church has attempted multiple times to establish missions in this region where the population transitions from predominantly Christian to predominantly Muslim, but has discontinued missions due to threats of violence. The area in which the temple is located in Nigeria is one of the safest areas of Nigeria. The Church did not err in the location for the temple due to its stability as well as its central location for most of the stakes in the southeastern portion of the country. Young North American missionaries do not serve in Nigeria and most missionaries are from Nigeria or neighboring African nations.

Remember that a temple has only existed in Nigeria for four years, and in many nations where a temple has not existed long there are multiple senior couples serving in the temple teaching and assisting local members perform their temple ordinances. Furthermore many of the Nigerian members do not live close to the temple (such as in Benin City or Lagos), or live within a hundred miles of the temple but cannot travel easily to get to the temple frequently. During the period of closure the Church will probably look toward reopening the temple with only native Nigerians serving as temple workers or wait until conditions in the area improve to have senior couple missionaries return.

We still do not know much about the situation. So far it seems to have escalated beyond what what it really is. I strongly disagree with the idea that this event would dampen the prospects of future temples in the DR of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire or other somewhat unstable nations in which we see a rapidly growing Church. In order for the Church to go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people we will likely see an increase in these sort of events.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Elder Holland Dedicates Cameroon For The Preaching Of The Gospel

Missionaries serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission report that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from the Quorum of the 12 Apostles dedicated the nation of Cameroon last week for the preaching of the Gospel. Cameroon currently has four branches and one group. Three of the branches are in the capital of Yaounde (Bastos 1st, 2nd and Ekounou), one branch is in Douala, and the single group is also in Douala in the Bonaberi section of the city. Cameroon was transferred to the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission a couple years ago, likely around when Benin and Togo were transferred to the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission. The DR of Congo Mission includes not only Cameroon and DR of Congo, but also the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and the Central African Republic.

Unlike the rest of the DR of Congo Kinshasa Mission, Cameroon (as well as the city of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo) has full-time missionaries serving from North America. Cameroon is a French speaking country which is predominately Christian, but also has large numbers of Muslims, who particularly live in the northern provinces of the country. Tribal religions are also widespread. The Church initially established a mission in Cameroon in 1992 in hopes of it providing a base for French language-based missionary work in West Africa. The mission was moved to Cote d'Ivoire the following year. Membership growth was slow in Cameroon and has not increased dramatically until the end of 2004. From the end of 2003 to the end of 2008 membership has increased from 208 to 727 members and branches have increased from one to four. There is still no district in the country.

Lastly I wanted to include that Elder Holland prophesied to those at attendance for the dedication of Cameroon for missionary work that temples will dot Africa as they now dot the rest of the world. Currently there are only three temples in Africa in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Countries which seem most likely to have future temples in the near future announced include the DR of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, and Zimbabwe.

Stake Discontinued In Georgia

The Albany Georgia Stake was discontinued last Sunday. The stake had five wards and three branches. The majority of the stake was combined with the neighboring Douglas Georgia Stake, which was renamed the Tifton Georgia Stake. The Tifton Georgia Stake currently has 10 wards and one branch. The Albany Georgia Stake was the second stake to be discontinued this year, the first being the Grants New Mexico Stake. The stake was combined likely as a result of a massive stake realignment that included northern Florida as well back in June.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Stake In Arizona

A new stake was created in Arizona last Sunday. The Surprise Arizona Stake was divided and a new stake was created. The Surprise Arizona Stake was created from the Peoria Arizona North Stake with seven wards and one branch at the beginning of 2005. Since then the stake has grown to 12 wards and two branches. I have not been able to get the name for the new stake and as of yet do not know how many congregations are in the new stake. Feel free to leave a comment if you know the name of the new stake created. I will provide it as a comment once it becomes available.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Providence Bahamas District Dissolved

The New Providence Bahamas District was recently discontinued. There were four branches belonging to the former district, three of which were in the Bahamas. The fourth branch was just created a few months ago in the Turks and Caicos Islands in Providenciales. The district was created in 2002.

The Bahamas are currently part of the Jamaica Kingston Mission. I imagine that the decision to discontinue the district was related to decisions made to discontinue two of the districts on Jamaica recently. Leadership belonging to the former district in The Bahamas will better be able to serve in the branches they reside in and help build up the Church on a more local level. The branches were also dispersed over a large geographical area, with other branches on Grand Bahama and in Nassau.

I also wanted to add that young, full-time missionaries from the Jamaica Kingston Mission are now serving in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I am going to be away from the Internet for a few days because my wife and I are moving to South Korea to teach English for a year.

Recent Church Growth News

New Congregations In Madagascar

Within the past couple months, several new branches were created in Madagascar. Missionaries report that both Tamatave (Toamasina) and Antsirabe each have three branches. In Antsirabe, one of the new branches is actually located in the small village of Manandona were branch members and investigators meet outside on dirt floors under a large tent. Rapid growth in congregations and membership is also occurring in the capital, Antananarivo, where Madagascar's sole stake will likely split into two stakes in the coming months. Districts will likely be organized soon in both Tamatave and Antsirabe. Still no word on if a branch or group has been created in Mahajanga. It will be interesting to see whether Church growth in Madagascar will have more in common with Africa or the South Pacific once members mature in the Gospel, considering Madagascar has influences from both regions of the world.

Rapid Growth In Linden, Guyana

The Church is growing rapidly in Linden, the largest city in the interior of Guyana. Missionaries were first assigned to the city back at the beginning of this year and today there are two groups functioning in the city, both of which are soon to be made branches. Today there is an entire zone (usually 8-20 missionaries) of missionaries serving in Linden.

New Group In Uganda

A small group of Church members in the city of Lira, Uganda have recently been authorized to hold Sunday meetings as a group. Lira is located in northern Uganda near Gulu, which had its first Church congregations created last year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Responding To Critcisms About The Growth Of The Church

Negative information about the growth of the Church exists on the Internet, much of which is exaggerated or misinformed. Most of this information comes from Anti-Mormons who use it as a means to try to disprove the validity of the Church, attempting to shake the testimonies of faithful members of the Church while propagating negative attitudes towards the Church from those outside of the Church.

On the other hand there are claims made by some members of the Church concerning its growth which are exaggerated and undocumented while at the same time ignoring problems which may be occurring. The purpose of this post is to provide an accurate summary and analysis of the overall growth of the Church, particularly concerning what the leaders of the Church state concerning it, and dispelling false or biased claims concerning this subject. If you wish to provide any comments or suggestions about this topic, feel free to comment. I do not provide many references in the post, but I can provide desired references to readers upon request as a comment.

Criticisms of Growth

Zero Growth Theory: This attack on the Church is directed towards the growth of Church membership. Critics state that the number of those who join the Church is equal to the number which leave the Church. This theory rationalizes new congregations and stakes organized to membership redistribution and assumes that this results in no increase in congregations due to areas Church members are vacating (unless the number of members per congregation declines). Oftentimes critics site other fast growing Christian groups (such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses) to challenge claims made by some members of the Church that it is the fastest growing Church. Many of the other criticisms towards Church growth are derivatives of this one.

Lack of Devotion Theory: Critics claim that in areas where the Church is growing at a rapid pace both in terms of membership and activity that the devotion of the members is not strong. They believe that the Church is poorly understood and if it were properly understood growth would not occur. This theory also supposes that growth will ultimately stop and result in few active members of the Church and the weakening of the Church in the given area. Examples from Latin America are usually used to illustrate this theory.

The Internet Slows Church Growth Theory: Many critics of the Church believe that a rise in Internet usage is correlated to a decline in the growth of the Church. These beliefs stem from the wide body of Anti-Mormon literature available on the Internet, which is available in many of the world's languages. This theory assumes that people become uninterested in the Church as a result of negative information read online, thus becoming unreceptive to the message of the Gospel. This theory also ignores favorable information about the Church on the Internet, particularly in the form of Church owned websites, many online newspapers and personal blogs.

False Assertions By Members of The Church About Growth

All Is Well In Zion Claim: Some members of the Church believe that the growth of the Church has nothing to do with them and just happens. As members of the Church we know that missionary work and the Church itself are in the hands of the Lord, but that does not mean that we do not have a responsibility to share the Gospel. This kind of mentality also results in dismissing important and serious challenges for growth the Church faces in certain areas of the World. When some Church members encounter large wards in the United States, many of which grow rapidly in membership from new move-ins, they justify this thinking.

Exponential Growth Claim: Some members of the Church believe that the Church is growing exponentially and at such a fantastic rate that we as a Church cannot meet all of the needs that such growth merits. While it is true that there are many issues which challenge us with the growth the Church has seen, this claim in inflated and generalized to include the Church throughout the World with the exception of Western Europe.

All of these claims and theories have some truth to them but each one has serious problems with what in reality is occurring in the Church around the world.

Responding To Criticisms and False Assumptions

Church membership has increased every year since 1858. Church membership currently increases by about 300,000 every year and last year increased by 314,510 people. The number of converts that join the Church every year is usually between 250,000 and 300,000. Children on record increase has been around 100,000 a year. If you put all these factors together membership has been increasing at a linear rate for about the past 20 years.

One of the greatest ways to look for growth in terms of activity and devotion of Church members is through the creation of new congregations. In order for congregations to function, particularly wards and stakes, there needs to be a certain number of active members of the Church willing to serve in different callings. For example, most new stakes created today require at least 120 active Melchizedek Priesthood holders that are full-tithe payers. Congregation size can vary from fewer than 10 active Church members to 400 active Church members. The average branch has 30 to 70 active members while the average ward has 80 to 250 active members. While not a perfect indicator, the average number of Church members per congregation can give insight into activity rates. However an increase in congregations indicates that either the needs of the Church membership cannot be met by the existing congregations in an area or that the Church is expanding into areas in which it has not functioned previously.

There were a few periods between the 1970s and the 1990s where we saw many new stakes created. Some years had over 100 stakes organized, such as the years between 1978-1981 and 1995-1997. It is important to note that during these periods of impressive increases in the number of stakes and congregations, the size of the stakes and congregations tended to be smaller than today in order to give members more opportunities for leadership and callings. The number of congregations per stakes continues to increase. For instance in 2000 there were an average of 6.97 wards per stake. In 2008 this average increased to 7.17 wards per stake. If the average number of wards per stake was the same in 2008 as it was in 2000, there would have been an additional 80 stakes created in 2008. During this eight year time period the average number of branches per stake dropped from 1.58 to 1.46 branches per stake. Small stake and congregation size was one of the reasons for why so many stakes were discontinued and consolidated in the early part of this decade in Chile, where 42 stakes were discontinued and either were consolidated with neighboring stakes or turned into districts. Currently we usually have between 25 and 50 new stakes created each year.

As for congregations, the Church currently grows by 250 to 450 congregations a year. During the years we saw impressive gains in new stakes, we also saw impressive gains in congregations. Some years had over 1,000 congregations created such as 1979, 1980, 1992, and 1997. Many of these congregations that were created in the 1990s were consolidated in Latin America between 2001 and 2003 in order to strengthen the stakes, wards and branches, many of which stressed active members and leadership. Large increases in congregations in 1979, 1980 and 1997 were partly due to the Church moving into many areas it had not existed before.

Today there are much stricter standards set forth for new congregations. Instead of branches being organized in areas where the Church has not functioned before, groups or dependent branches are first organized and then allowed to become branches or wards once they become more self sustaining. This was not the case during periods of rapid growth in congregations in the 1970s and 1990s, when many branches organized only had a handful of local members. Groups and dependent branches are not reported in statistics given at General Conference. If these groups and dependent branches were made into independent branches or wards, we would see many more congregations being created a year. The past couple years in particular we have seen many groups and dependent branches organized in Africa and Eastern Europe. If we continue to see these groups and dependent branches organized systematically we can expect to see the number of new wards and branches created increase as older units turn into independent branches and wards.

Some of the strongest growth the Church currently experiences is actually in the United States. There have been at least 150 new congregations created each year in the United States for the past couple decades. The percentage increase for membership and congregations has nearly been the same for the past several years. Membership in the United States has increased by 43.1% from 1989 but congregations has increased by 54.5% since 1989. This indicates that, unless the number of active members per congregation has decreased, retention and activity are remaining constant or are perhaps improving.

In the United States one of the greatest issues I believe that needs greater attention from the general membership of the Church is the issue of youth in the Church transitioning into young adulthood. If people stop attending Church meetings and become less active or leave the Church altogether it often occurs in young adulthood once they are away from parents and Church leaders with whom they have grown up. The greatest way to curtail this problem is by teaching youth how to have their own spiritual experiences as well as habits which will strengthen their growing testimonies of the Gospel. I also believe many parents have neglected their roles in encouraging their children to partake of the blessings of active membership in the Church once they become independent.

As for membership redistribution, this occurs in the United States primarily in Utah and California. Both of these states have seen members of the Church moving away from the larger cities into the suburbs and nearby towns. In Utah only three stakes have been discontinued due to a shift in membership distribution while California has seen a dozen or so stakes discontinued in the past two decades. Currently both California and Utah have more congregations than in 2000, indicating that both Church growth and redistribution of membership are occurring. Most areas of the United States see steady increases in membership and in the number of congregations, evidenced by the steady number of new congregations and members added to the Church every year. The United States typically increases by about 100,000 members and 150-350 congregations a year.

Much of the current inactivity problems, which are most acute in areas of Latin America and Eastern Asia, are the result of converts joining the Church with little teaching and little time to develop regular Church attendance. Furthermore a large portion of the converts of the Church are under the age of 18, which creates great opportunities to have young converts grow up in the Church while at the same time challenging local leadership to take care of so many spiritual needs. These local leaders themselves often have had very little training and experience with leadership, which can result in less effective or non-existent retention programs. It should also be acknowledged that many of these new leaders in the Church are trying their very best and the Church has developed training broadcasts and other means to help educate and train local leaders to reach their full potential as a leader of the Church in an area where the Church is young. Oftentimes some of these areas of the Church rely too heavily on missionaries for the Church's functioning.

It is true that some Christian churches grow more rapidly than the LDS Church in terms of percentages or numbers. Nearly all these churches have a million or fewer adherents or have three-quarters of more of their membership outside the United States. Just because as members of the Church we believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Lord's one true Church does not mean that we have to be the fastest growing. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles stated “The Lord has never given us a mandate to be the biggest Church — in fact, He has said our numbers will be comparatively few — but He has asked that we commit ourselves to living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

It is difficult to say whether the Internet has had a positive or negative effect on the Church. Missionaries around the world often report of recent converts who learned about the Church through the Internet. On the other hand there are many who become disinterested in the Church once they encounter sites that portray the Church in a negative light. To say that the Church's growth overall has been stunted because of the rise of the Internet is unsupported.


President Hinckley said the following concerning the growth of the Church in the October 2005 General Conference. "The growth of the Church from its infancy to its present stature is phenomenal, and we have only scratched the surface." We can expect the Church to continue to grow. There have been years past which we have seen more stakes and congregations created, more converts baptized and more missionaries serve than present. Church growth in terms of membership and the number of congregations has increased at a linear rate for the past couple decades. Serious challenges remain for the Church in terms of the reactivation of inactive members and convert retention in many places of the world. There also remain many areas of the world in which the Church is not established.