Friday, August 17, 2012

Is the LDS (Mormon) Church Growing?

One of the most frequent questions I receive from interested readers and journalists is whether or not the LDS Church is currently growing.  I believe that the Church is slowly growing on a worldwide scale and there are several statistical figures to back this claim, but that there is no straightforward to-the-point answer to this complex question.  Some areas of the world experience strong growth such as Africa and some areas of East Asia whereas other areas experience stagnation or even slight decline.  Furthermore there are some statistical measures that suggest the Church is currently in a period of stagnation where there is neither growth nor decline.

Below are some statistics that indicate that the Church is growing.
  • Increase in Membership: The Church counts baptized members and children on record (children under age eight within LDS families) on official church membership totals.  In 2011, worldwide membership increased by 309,879 and grew at a rate of 2.19%.  Within the past decade the Church has added 304,682 members a year on average.  Year-end 2011 membership totals were 14,441,346.  Membership statistics provide no insight into activity rates and whether nominal members affiliate as Latter-day Saints.
  • Increase in Congregations: Congregations require certain numbers of active members to operate and divide to create new congregations once a single ward or branch can longer effectively administer an area.  New congregations can also signify expansion of the Church into new areas where no congregation previously functioned.  In 2011, the number of wards and branches increased by 124 or 0.43%.  Within the past decade the number of congregations increased by 261 a year on average.
  • Increase in Stakes: Like congregations, stakes require certain numbers of active members to operate and an increase in the number of stakes suggests an increase in active membership.  In 2011, the number of stakes increased by 50, or 1.73%.  The number of stakes increased by 33 a year on average within the past decade.
  • Increase in Temples: General Authorities have indicated that the construction of new temples is warranted when church membership in a given area is determined adequate to staff and utilize a temple.  Temples also require more mature and seasoned church membership to provide needed personnel to properly operate.  In 2011, the Church announced nine new temples bringing the total number of temples operating, under construction, or announced to 166.
Below are some statistics that suggest the Church is experiencing stagnation.
  • Number of Full-Time Missionaries Serving: There remain fewer members serving full-time missions at present than 10 years ago.  In 2011, there were 55,410 members serving full-time missions worldwide; approximately 6,000 fewer than in 2002.  A growing church would suggest a steady annual increase in the number of members serving as full-time missionaries but a variety of factors have contributed to a decline in the number of full-time missionaries such as increased standards for full-time missionary service, convert retention problems for youth converts outside the United States, and the increasing influence of secularism on LDS populations in the United States.  A slight reduction in the number of missionary training centers (MTCs) worldwide over the past decade also suggests stagnation as a growing church would need to increase the number of MTCs worldwide to accommodate a growing number of members serving full-time missions.
  • Number of Cities Opening to Proselytism: Notwithstanding nearly 29,000 wards and branches worldwide, the Church in recent years only opens a few dozen new cities to proselytism a year.  I have not completed an extensive analysis of the number of cities closed versus opened to proselytism year-to-year, but I would estimate that these numbers would nearly equal one another.  A growing church would suggest a steady increase in new cities opened to proselytism notwithstanding some locations closing to missionary activity and wards or branches consolidating with neighboring units.
  • Membership Growth Outpacing Congregational Growth: The worldwide Church has experienced an increase in the average number of members per unit over the past decade from 437 members per ward or branch to 502 members per ward or branch.  The influence of branches (smaller congregations) maturing into wards (larger congregations) on this statistic appears minimal.  Rather, low convert retention rates appear the primary reason for noncommensurate congregational and membership growth.  
  • Decreasing Percentage Growth Rates for Membership and Congregational Growth: The annual percentage growth rate for membership has declined over the past decade from approximately 2.9% to 2.2%.  Annual congregational growth rates have fluctuated from a high of 1.62% to a low of 0.23%.  Although growth is still occurring in both these statistics at present, slowing growth rates can be interpreted as an impeding sign of stagnation.
  • Stagnant Numbers of Districts: Districts are an administrative unit similar to a stake generally formed in areas with a more recently established church presence.  Districts do not require a certain number of active members to function but do possess some aspects of self-sufficiency like stakes.  The number of districts worldwide has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade at slightly more than 600.  Although it may seem strange to consider district growth as a sign of overall healthy church growth as the maturation of districts into stakes points to increase in active membership, no worldwide increase in this statistic indicates a lack of progress introducing the Church into new areas.  
In conclusion, my intention with this post was to provide a brief synopsis of how we can measure growth and determine whether the LDS Chuch is growing.  The worldwide Church continues to experience growth, but this growth remains relatively small and has slowed within the past decade.


Shawnbo said...

Thanks for this article. You may want to consider the following:

Population trends show a decline in population of the upcoming generation of Mormons leading up to 2002. This is due to a drop following a Mormon baby-boom in the 70’s culminating in 1980. While the Church does not release detailed statistical information, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism contains an article on vital statistics (Heaton, 1996).

About 1965, there was a low point in birth rate, which then rose and remained fairly stable until 1980. Following that year, there is a sharp decline for the next 5 years.

This trend continued for a time, resulting in significantly smaller pool of potential missionaries in the first decade of the new millennia.

Despite the decline in birthrate, which occurred during the 80's, the same decade saw some of the most dramatic growth of the church in convert baptisms.

I believe that these numbers were part of the reason why President Hinckley decided to create "Preach My Gospel." He wanted to try to mitigate the effects of having a smaller missionary force by making them more effective.

Matt said...

Declining birth rates for Latter-day Saints in the United States was a major factor in the decline in full-time missionaries serving in the 2000s. Refer to link below for more information on this topic.

John said...

There is one way activity affects change in membership: Active parents are far more likely to have their children baptized than less-active parents.

Jeff said...

Would anything change if the LDS Church wasn't growing? Would there be any negative consequences?

filippo magistro said...

Is the LDS Cuhurch is not growing as fast as it should what is the reason? Also what is the reason for low retentions of members? And finally why aren't statisticts on member loss published? If I saved $1000.00 and spent $ 800.00 in the end I have only saved $ 200.0 I can no longer say I saved $ 1000.

Arlo said...

Ward and Stake growth rates are probably the best indicator of actual Church growth. Based on trends, the Church should reach zero net growth in 2013 or 2014.

TEAM - Moroni's Messengers said...

When the Lancaster Pennsylvania Stake was created March 24th 2013, it was created from the Harrisburg Stake and the York Stake. The York Stake was also discontinued because the other half of the Stake was used to create the Chambersburg Stake along with another unit from the Harrisburg Stake on March 24th 2013. So where there were 2 Stakes, Harrisburg and York, there are 3 now, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Chambersburg. When I joined the church in 1979, it was just the Gettysburg Pennsylvania Stake and in September of 1979 The York and Harrisburg Stakes were created from that one, so in this area it took 33.5 years to grow a third Stake. Hopefully I'll be around to see a 4th spring up in this area.

Unknown said...

... fascinating ... thanks for the reasonable topics of thought, Shawnbo. IT seems to me, in any organization or church (especially in the Americas), birth rate must be a huge / serious factor. "Is the LDs church growing?" is obviously a very DIFFERENT concern and question than, what is the LDS birth rate? Each question seems to have a very specific and different answer depending on the year, location, family , etc.
I wonder if there's been a serious/ intellectual or objective study of the church "growth" or member rate independant and separate from the birth rate in LDS families. Certainly, with my LDS or mormon relatives, EACH generation has a different birth rate that impacts or adjusts the local LDS member rate. :)

Skorance said...

While church members may worry and critics rejoice over this seeming decline in growth, I think a more balanced view is to take this as a short term change due partially to the policies of the President Monson's term as prophet such as only growing around areas of strength. A more cautious approach resulting from lessons learned in South America and other countries with major inactivity after rapid growth although it is also influenced also by trends like increasing secularization in developed countries among other reasons.

One of the most visible indicators of real membership growth are temples. Temples are still actively being built but you'll notice there are also 11 being remodeled to be remodeled which is a good indicator of what is going on with the church as a whole. During the Hinckley years small temples were being built quickly similarly the church was growing without as much restriction. Since that time of dispersive growth we as a church have entered a phase of focus reactivation and retention or remodeling the existing structure rather than mainly on new building.

There are a lot of guesses about the future of church growth. My guess is that growth rates will change in the future with different prophets and policies and as the church gains access and greater exposure to large populations in Asia Africa and the Middle East. There are still at least 2.176 Billion people or 30% of the world's population that have not even had the opportunity to hear the restored gospel in their country. In addition there are millions or even billions of people in countries where the church does have a few missionaries but has still a long way to go before reaching 'every ear,' as has been prophesied.
Full post about it on my blog: