Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New District in the Philippines

A new district was created in the Philippines on October 18th. The Baler Philippines District was organized from four branches (Baler, Dipaculao, Maria, and San Luis Branches). Baler is a small city located on the eastern side of the island of Luzon, home to half of the Philippines 92 million inhabitants. The number of branches in the Baler area has grown from just one in 2001 to four today. Before the new district was organized the branches were not a part of a stake or district. The Baler Philippines District becomes the first new district organized in the Philippines since the Sogod Philippines District in early 2007. There are now 79 stakes and 86 districts in the Philippines.

One new stake was also organized earlier this year in the Philippines in Sagay. The Philippines is the country with the most districts, with one out of every seven districts in the Church located in the Philippines. The reason for the large number of districts in the Philippines is due to high inactivity and the inability for members of the Church to travel far for Church meetings and conferences. We will likely see many districts mature into stakes in the near future as the Church focuses on strengthening the many districts in the country.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lebanon Dedicated for the Preaching of the Gospel

Members of the Church in the Middle East report that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles dedicated Lebanon for the preaching of the Gospel Thursday, October 22nd. Lebanon becomes the first country in the Middle East to be dedicated for missionary work in recent years. The Church stopped publishing information about the Church's presence in Lebanon in the early 2000s. The Deseret News 2003 Church Almanac reported 139 members in one branch back at the end of 2001. Since this time senior missionary couples have served off and on in the capital city of Beirut, where the country's sole branch is established. Lebanon became part of the newly created Middle East Africa North Area in 2008.

There have not been any immediate plans announced for full-time missionaries to begin proselyting in the country according to member reports from the area. There have been a number of Lebanese who have joined the Church in other nations around the world. Missionary work likely occurs through member referrals in Beirut. Lebanon is the country in the Middle East with the highest percentage of Christians (39%). A little over half the population is Muslim. Members report that the government recognizes the Church and likely has official status. Currently the Church is not recognized by most governments in the Middle East.

The Church dedicating Lebanon for the preaching of the Gospel indicates an increased effort to conduct missionary work in Lebanon, likely the result of the many prayers of members in behalf of those areas of the world which were not yet opened to preaching of the Gospel.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Recent Church Growth News

New stakes to be created in the United States

Members living in Houston, Texas report that a new stake will be organized this Sunday likely from the Houston Texas East and Friendswood Texas Stakes. Another new stake may also be organized before the end of the year in the Houston area. A new stake will also be created in Providence, Utah next month. I will provide more information on these new stakes once they are actually created.

So far this year there have been 43 new stakes organized. If we see more than 50 new stakes organized in 2009 it will be the largest number of new stakes organized in one year since 1998.

Growth in Madagascar

Missionaries report in a recent stake conference for the Antananarivo Madagascar stake that plans were nearly complete for the country's sole stake to be divided. Estimates on when the new stake would be organized were in October or November. As of yet no date has been set for the creation of the new stake. The stake has rapidly grown from six wards and four branches at the end of 2007 to 11 wards and three branches currently. At least one group/dependent branch is also meeting in the city preparing to become an independent Church unit.

Four missionaries were sent to open Mahajanga for the preaching of the Gospel; two six weeks ago and two more just in the past week or two. Approval for the first branch was just authorized for Mahajanga and members will be meeting in a larger rented space for Church meetings. Missionaries serving in the city report there are around 15-20 active Church members and about as many investigators attending Church meetings. Fianarantsoa also received its first four missionaries last month, were only a handful of members reside but dozens of investigators attend meetings weekly. Another group has also begun meeting in the city of Ambositra, which is between Fianarantsoa and Antsirabe.

Missionaries attending the recently held stake conference in Antananarivo also reported that two districts for Antsirabe and Tamatave would also be organized before the end of the year. No date has been set or reported for the new districts' creation however.

City opens for missionary work in Moldova

A senior couple serving in the Romania Bucharest Mission report that the city of Balti was opened for missionary work in Moldova. Balti is the second largest city in Moldova and has a few Church members already living in the city. The city had a temporarily Church presence in the early 2000s. A group will likely be formed if one has not already for Church meetings. Currently there are only two branches in Moldova: One in Chisinau and one in Orhei. The first district for Moldova was just organized this past January and also includes one branch in neighboring Romania.

9,000 members of the Church in Mongolia and a new branch

In a recent speech about religious freedom becoming more threatened in the United States, Elder Oaks recounted the history of the Church in Mongolia. He reported that membership now stands at 9,000, which is an increase of nearly 600 since the beginning of the year. Membership growth in Mongolia was very rapid in the late 1990s to the early 2000s and then slowed until the beginning of 2008. Considering there are two more months left in the year, we may see membership climb to 9,200 for the end of 2009. Membership grew in Mongolia by 9.36% last year and if membership totals 9,200 for 2009 the growth rate will drop a fraction to 8.95%. Also, a new branch was organized in Mongolia in Erdenet. The Erdenet Branch was divided and the Erdenet 2nd Branch was created. Erdenet is part of the Darkhan Mongolia District.

Group meeting in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo

A senior missionary couple serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission reported that a group has been meeting in the city of Kasumbalesa, DR Congo. Kasumbalesa rests on the border with Zambia and has around 40 members and investigators attending Church meetings. The group is preparing to becoming a branch. A new branch was also recently organized in Kipushi, another nearby border town with Zambia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Stake in Brazil

A new stake was created last Sunday in the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil metropolitan area. The Arsenal Brazil Stake was created from the Niterói Brazil Stake and includes four wards and three branches. Considering the Niterói Brazil Stake had 10 wards and four branches before the Arsenal Brazil Stake was created leaves six wards and one branch in the Niterói Brazil Stake. Both stakes are to the east of Rio de Janeiro on the east side of Guanabara Bay. The new Arsenal Stake likely includes Rio Bonito, a city recently opened to missionary work and received its first branch in the past year or two. With the creation of the new stake there are now 13 stakes and one district in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Other stakes in the state do not appear close to splitting until more wards and branches are created.

Rio de Janeiro appears the most likely city in Brazil to have a new temple announced in the coming months and years. The state of Ceará, where the Fortaleza Brazil Temple was announced earlier this month, only has one more stake than the state of Rio de Janeiro. The temple district which the members of the Church in the state of Rio de Janeiro belong to is the Campinas Brazil Temple District, which includes 70 stakes and 22 districts. The Campinas Brazil Temple District ranks the third largest in the number of stakes in a temple district that does not have another temple announced or under construction in the current temple district after the temple districts for the Mexico City Mexico and Provo Utah Temples. The Campinas Temple ranks first for the temple which serves the most stakes and districts and does not have an additional temple in the temple district area announced or under construction. A temple in Rio de Janeiro could serve members in 23 stakes and 10 districts in the states of Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro.

There are now 230 stakes and 51 districts in Brazil.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Countries With The Most Members With Only One Temple

Shortly after I began this blog I made a post about the five countries with the largest memberships with only one temple. I wanted to update this list since temples were recently announced in three nations which used to only have one temple: Argentina, Chile and Peru. Below is an updated list with membership totals provided by the Church as of the end of 2008. Stake and district totals are current.
  1. Ecuador - 185,663 (34 stakes, 9 districts)
  2. Colombia - 163,764 (28 stakes, 12 districts)
  3. Bolivia - 163,119 (24 stakes, 10 districts)
  4. Venezuela - 144,089 (26 stakes, 9 districts)
  5. Honduras - 131,098 (20 stakes, 9 districts)
Each of these countries have at least one other city which may have a temple announced. It should be noted that most other Latin American nations did not receive an announcement of a second temple until their memberships were more than double Ecuador's current membership (the nation which currently has the largest membership with one temple). Furthermore the temples in each of these countries are centrally located for members, as have the first temples for many Latin American countries. The temple in Honduras is not even built yet and just began construction. Unless the Church initiates a more aggressive temple building program similar to the late 1990s, these nations will likely not receive a second temple until membership increases dramatically in number and activity.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New District in Brazil

A new district was organized in northeastern Brazil last Sunday. The Sousa Brazil District was created in the state of Paraiba from three branches in Sousa and Cajazeiras. The Church has had a presence in far western Paraiba for only a year or two. The new district is characteristic of the rapid growth seen in smaller, interior towns in northern Brazil over the past decade. For example, in the neighboring state of Rio Grande do Norte the city of Caico did not belong to a stake or district back in November of 2001. Only one branch was in the city and one branch was also functioning in nearby Currais Novos. Both branches were soon made into a district, which became a stake in 2007. Mossoro also went from three branches in 2001 to a stake in 2006.

There are now 229 stakes and 51 districts in Brazil.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Three New Districts Created In India

I just wanted to confirm that the three new districts in India were indeed created on Sunday, October 11th. The new districts were created in Chennai, Coimbatore and Vishakhapatnam. The historic event was broadcast to 12 locations in southern India with nearly 2,000 members attending. For more information about the new districts, please refer to my earlier post.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Church Growth?

When examining the subject of the growth of the Church we need to ask ourselves why it is important. We need to put this topic in its appropriate place. Otherwise we can be negatively affecting the growth of the Church, misunderstanding its origin and failing to meet the responsibilities and requirements the Lord set forth for proclaiming the Gospel.

President Boyd K. Packer stated the following about the growth of the Church at the 2009 New Mission Presidents Seminar held at the Provo Utah Missionary Training Center:

"It is a new thought to us across the Church that we are not to be duplicating the Wasatch Front out there with the number of buildings and the congregations and the large audiences and activities that go on and on…we are to establish the gospel."

I wanted to articulate that Elder Packer stated that it is a “new thought to us across the Church” that we are not to be focused on replicating the size of the Church and the number of members in Utah across the world. It is not the purpose of the Church to establish itself around the globe just for the purpose of adding to our numbers. Rather it is the purpose of the Church to teach its members and everyone to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and keep the commandments, thereby sharing the joy that comes from living a Christ-centered life. When members and missionaries of the Church live the Gospel and share it with those around them, growth is the automatic result. We can use statistics to gather information on how the Gospel has spread among the nations of the world and chart progress made. Our goal is not the statistics however. It’s changing the lives of the people for better. We may also see various prophesies about the growth of the Church in the scriptures and by leaders in the Church fulfilled.

We need to be careful we do not look beyond the mark when studying the demographics and growth of the Church. The programs and meetinghouses the Church adopts and utilizes are only instruments assisting in missionary work and Gospel teaching. Key habits required by lifelong members and converts alike that strengthen testimonies include regular prayer, studying the scriptures and weekly Church attendance and activity. Elder Packer expanded on this principle through the following quote, also taken from the same Mission Presidents Seminar:

"If you have congregations of people in branches, and the gospel is being taught, and they are understanding it, then you have done what you are called to do. Building the Church seems to center around buildings and budgets and programs and procedures, but somewhere in the midst of it the gospel is struggling for breath. Get that fixed in the minds of your elders."

As noted in earlier posts, all members of the Church have a responsibility to share the Gospel. We sometimes see the result of this responsibility fulfilled by the establishment of new congregations, stakes and districts. The creation of new missions and the opening of cities for the preaching of the Gospel indicate an increase by the members of the Church to follow Christ's commandment to take the Gospel forth to all the world. As we see new temples announced, constructed, dedicated, and utilized we see the Church fulfilling its three-fold purpose.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bringing the Temple to the Saints

During President Monson's opening remarks of the 179th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he noted that 83% of Church membership lived within 200 miles of a temple. Using membership totals for the end of 2008 would indicate that about 11.2 million people live within 200 miles of a temple whereas the remaining 2.3 million do not live this close to an operating temple.

Where do the majority of these 2.3 million members reside? As of the end of 2008 there were 492,424 members residing in countries in which there was no temple operating, under construction or announced. Members of the Church living in nations where a temple was announced or under construction totaled 266,584 for the same year. This brings the total to 759,008 for members of the Church who live in nations where there is not an operating temple for countries for which the Church publishes membership totals. These members account for a third of those who live further than 200 miles from a temple.

The majority of members of the Church who live more than 200 miles away from a temple live in nations which already have operating temples. Most of these members live in the countries which have the largest Church memberships. This would mainly include the United States, Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Chile, Peru, and Argentina. As the Church continues to build and announce temples in these nations we will likely see a greater percentage of Church members closer to temple.

Lastly I wanted to include a graph which illustrates the average number of stakes per temple. Notice how that currently temples have never been as accessible to the overall membership of the Church since the 1940s as indicated by the lower number of stakes per temple. Currently there is an average of 22 stakes per temple district. The lower ratio of stakes per temple in the 1940s can be attributed to the vast majority of members of the Church living near temples operating at the time, particularly in Utah, Idaho, Canada, and Arizona.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New District in Ghana

A new district was created in Ghana on September 20th. The Konongo Ghana District was created from the Nkawkaw Ghana District and includes three branches, two of which are in Konongo. When the Kumasi Ghana Stake was organized in 1998 there was a ward in Konongo. The ward was divided into two branches and included later in the Nkawkaw Ghana District. The Nkawkaw Ghana District was quite large, with around 10 branches. This is a likely reason for the new district's creation. The new district brings the total of districts in Ghana to six. There are also seven stakes in Ghana.

We will likely see new stakes created in Ghana in the near future in Accra and Takoradi. The number of mission branches in Ghana has also recently increased. We may see additional districts in Ghana created in Axim, Daboasi and Mankessim.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Five New Temples Announced

At the opening remarks of the 179th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, President Monson announced the construction of five new temples in the following locations:
  1. Brigham City, Utah
  2. Concepcion, Chile
  3. Fortaleza, Brazil
  4. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  5. Sapporo, Japan
With the announcement of the five new temples, this brings the total of temples announced, under construction, or in operation to 151.

The Brigham City Utah Temple will likely serve members living in about 10 stakes in the area around Brigham City. The Concepcion Chile Temple, which becomes the second temple in Chile, will likely serve members living in 18 stakes and 10 districts in southern Chile. The new temple announcement likely indicates a strengthening of the membership of the Church in Chile.

The Fortaleza Brazil Temple will likely serve members in 18 stakes and two districts in northeastern Brazil. Fortaleza was the city in the world with the most stakes without a temple prior to the new temple announcement. This brings the total of temples in Brazil to seven.

The Fort Lauderdale Florida Temple will likely serve members of the Church in southern Florida in around seven stakes. The new temple will be the second in the state and 72nd in the United States. Members of the Church in areas of southern Florida reported several months ago of a special fast for a temple in southern Florida.

Lastly the Sapporo Japan Temple will likely serve members of the Church on the northernmost island of Hokkaido in three stakes and at least one district.

Temple districts are usually announced prior to the temple's dedication. The above predictions are not authoritative.