Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 2017 Newsletter

Click here to access our monthly newsletter from cumorah.com detailing recent LDS growth developments.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Significant Developments in West Africa

There are a couple significant developments in West Africa in regards to the expansion of the Church in minimally reached or previously unreached areas.

For the first time ever, the Church has assigned Senegal to a proselytizing mission. Senegal now pertains to the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission. Currently there is only one branch in Senegal located in Dakar. Only one senior missionary couple serves in Dakar although there have been several convert baptisms in the city within the past nine months. The Church lacking legal status appears to be the primary obstacle that has prevented the assignment of young, proselytizing missionaries. Senegal is inhabited by 14.3 million people and is 95% Muslim, 4% Christian, and 1% followers of other religions. There are likely less than 40 members in Senegal at present. Other proselytizing Christian faiths operate in Senegal without interference from the government or Muslim majority.

New Branches to be Created
Senior missionaries serving in the Africa West Area report that the area presidency plans to organize the Church's first branches in two additional nations within the Africa West Area during the next month. The Church appears to operate member groups in three nations in the Africa West Area where no official branches operate. I have confirmed the operation of a member group in Mali and it is likely that the member group in Ouelessebougou, Mali may be one of the new branches organized in the near future. The other country that may have a branch organized is unclear, but likely candidates include Burkina Faso, the Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Updates to LDS International Atlas - Number of Active Members

Within recent months, we have begun updating the ward and branch maps on the LDS International Atlas for cumorah.com. More specifically, these updates include new data regarding the number of active members that attend church in individual congregations as reported by returned missionaries or local members. Within the past several years, we have gathered member activity data on approximately 5,000 to 6,000 wards and branches worldwide - most of which are located outside of the United States. Although we currently have data for 25% of congregations or less in most countries, this project has focused on increasing the awareness of member activity rates worldwide. The date of sacrament meeting attendance is also provided to active membership figures. Thus far, we have made updates to the wards and branch maps for the following countries:
  • Albania
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Czechia
  • Denmark 
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France 
  • Guam
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Kiribati
  • Kosovo
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania 
  • Marshall Islands
  • Micronesia, Federated States of
  • Netherlands 
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Spain 
  • Sweden
  • Taiwan
Access the atlas by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Branch in Vietnam

For the first time since the organization of the Vietnam Hanoi Mission in March 2016, the Church in Vietnam has created a new branch. The District 6 Branch was organized from a division of the Than Son Nhat Branch in Ho Chi Minh City. The new branch services the entire western half of Ho Chi Minh City - an area distant from the two LDS meetinghouses located in the northeastern area of the city. Overcrowding in the Than Son Nhat Branch and a need for a separate congregation that assembles in western Ho Chi Minh City prompted the organization of the new branch. Missionaries report that there are small groups of members who reside outside of the established church centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. However, there remain no official LDS congregations outside of these two cities. Prospects appear favorable for the establishment of additional congregations within the near future, especially within Ho Chi Minh City and southern areas of Vietnam.

See below for a map of LDS branches Vietnam.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Response to Mormon Stories Podcast - An Analysis of 2016 LDS Church Membership Statistics

Mormon Stories aired a live podcast earlier today regarding a review of a case study I posted on cumorah.com at the end of December entitled Top 10 Encouraging and Discouraging LDS Growth and Missionary Developments in 2016. I listened to the podcast and I was initially excited for this discussion about church growth between John Dehlin, Ryan Cragun, and Rick Phillips. However, I was disappointed with the podcast as a whole given the negative focus of the podcast regarding the participants' views of the LDS Church. More specifically, the analysis and discussion was characterized with disparaging and condescending undertones of active church members and general church leadership. The podcast primarily discussed the participants' view of the Church as a corporation, increasing secularism around the world, problems with inactivity and convert attrition, a reduced birthrate among American Latter-day Saints, the possible influence of American politics on international LDS growth trends, and the assertion that the Church will one day experience stagnant growth and ultimate demise as a religion. This negativity should not come as too big of a surprise given that all three participants in the discussion are former members or critics of the Church, and that similar approaches and themes have emerged in other Mormon Stories podcasts.

I appreciate the interest and time given by participants regarding this topic and raising its awareness to their audience despite their negativity. The participants clearly emphasized problems with member activity, convert retention, quick-baptism tactics, and declining receptivity to the LDS Church due to secularism as significant contributors to current LDS growth trends. However, there were several additional areas that were not explored in the podcast that warrant discussion in order to provide a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of LDS growth. My purpose in this post is to highlight some important areas that were not discussed in the podcast that significantly affect current growth trends in the LDS Church.

First, the Church's long-term struggles with member-missionary participation constitutes its greatest challenge to sustain and accelerate its growth. Thousands of surveys and interviews that David Stewart and I have collected and conducted over nearly the past 20 years substantiate this claim. Even locations where populations exhibit little interest in the LDS gospel message can become productive if ordinary members are involved in member-missionary activity. It is clear that member involvement in proselytism and mentoring new members and investigators has been and continues to be a worldwide problem for the Church to achieve growth. The frequency of General Conference tasks that address this topic suggests widespread problems with member-missionary work. It appears that despite efforts from church leaders to improve member-missionary participation, most members are uncomfortable or unsure of how to engage in effective and appropriate proselytism with acquaintances, friends, family, neighbors, and strangers. Some of the problems with lackluster member-missionary participation appear attributed to LDS cultural views of proselytism. David Stewart noted in our presentation to the Miller Eccles Study group in April 2014 that missionary work in the LDS Church has been regarded as something that one goes out to do in a far away place for a specific period of time rather than a daily activity of vital spiritual importance such as scripture study or personal prayer. I would argue that many recent struggles in the Church to accelerate growth center on a lack of desire, interest, vision, and know-how of ordinary members to appreciate their role in missionary activity, and local church leaders' struggles to likewise train, educate, and mentor members within their stewardship regarding member-missionary tactics and strategies. As a result, many active Latter-day Saints appear to have increasingly limited social interaction with those who are not members of the Church, resulting in social entrenchment of LDS congregations that further challenge effective proselytism programs.

Second, the centers of strength policy has significantly affected LDS growth trends worldwide. The most rapid growth in the Church occurred in the 1970s and 1980s when vast areas opened to proselytism and many major cities around the world were more thoroughly saturated with full-time missionaries. Although receptivity was high to the Church during these decades, the strategic vision for expanding the Church appears to best account for this surge of growth. Starting in the 1990s, the Church began to purposefully restrict its operations to only a handful of cities in most newly entered countries in order to better establish centers of strength. The logic of this approach centers on the development of a self-sufficient core LDS membership within a less dispersed geographical area in order to one day help prepare for expansion of the Church into surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this approach has yielded mixed results as the Church is limited to only a few selected locations - some of which may experience lower receptivity to the LDS gospel message compared to unreached areas. As a result, some of these pre-selected center of strength never growth and mature into a center of strength. The implementation and conservative interpretation of this policy has appeared to reduce the growth of the Church in locations such as Tanzania, northern Brazil, Angola, India, Malawi, and Ukraine - to name a few - due to a more limited field of proselytism.

Third, nominalism in traditional religious faiths and strong ethnoreligious ties to a traditional religious faith is another significant challenge for growth. The Church has experienced some of its slowest growth in countries where the majority of the population exhibits strong ties to a traditional faith. Notable examples include Roman Catholicism in Poland, Greek Orthodoxy in Greece, Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, and Buddhism in Thailand. Ethnoreligious ties wax and wane given changes in culture, politics, and society. For example, resurgence of religious activity and identification, such as in Central Asia and the Caucasus, has appeared to diminish receptivity to the Church in these nations since the dissolution of the Soviet Union as Turkic peoples have explored and rekindled their Islamic roots.

Fourth, the Church has struggled to adapt its teaching methods to meet local cultural needs and individuals from diverse religious backgrounds. There are no specialized materials to teach individuals who affiliate as atheist, nonreligious, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, or followers of traditional Chinese religions to name a few. As individuals raised from Roman Catholic or Protestant backgrounds interact less frequently with members and full-time missionaries, there is an increased need and urgency to tailor proselytism approaches to the relevance and need of their intended audiences.

In conclusion, the purpose of this post was to identify significant areas that influence LDS growth trends that were not mentioned in the Mormon Stories podcast that aired earlier today. Although secularism, inactivity, declining birth rate, and convert retention have significantly affected recent LDS growth trends, low member-missionary participation, a conservative interpretation of the centers of strength policy, nominalism, strong ethnoreligious ties, and the lack of teaching approaches and resources tailored to those who do not come from a Roman Catholic or Protestant background constitute just as significant influences on LDS growth trends in the United States and worldwide. There were many positive developments in 2016 that suggest that the Church is making good strides in its growth - such as increases in the number of stakes, expansion and rapid growth in West Africa, improving LDS growth trends in Central America, and congregational growth in Canada and certain states in the United States. However, significant LDS growth problems persist - including in traditional strongholds such as the United States and Mexico. Furthermore, the expansion of the Church in many of the most populous nations remains at a frustratingly slow or stagnant pace - such as in India and Indonesia. Time will tell what 2017 and beyond will hold in regards to evolving LDS growth trends.

Mormon Stories Podcast - Reviewing 2016 LDS Growth Developments

Today at 12 PM Mountain Time Mormon Stories will be discussing 2016 LDS growth developments and reviewing my article regarding the ten most encouraging and ten most discouraging LDS growth developments in 2016. Sociologists Ryan Cragun and Rick Phillips will be participating in the podcast. Click here to view the podcast.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Stake in Nevada; Stake Discontinued in Guatemala

The Church organized a new stake in the Las Vegas area on January 8th. The Las Vegas Nevada Blue Diamond Stake was organized from a division of the Las Vegas Nevada South Stake. The new stake includes the following eight wards: the Charleston Park, Coronado, Desert Hill, Homestead, Manse Springs, Painted Mountain, Sierra Vista, and Southern Hills Wards.

There are now 40 stakes in Nevada, including 25 stakes in the Las Vegas area.

The Church discontinued a stake in northern Guatemala City last Sunday. The Guatemala City Alameda Stake was discontinued and the four wards in the former stake were reassigned to the neighboring Guatemala City La Laguna Stake. This marks the second time in LDS history that the Church has discontinued a stake in Guatemala City. Growth has been steady in southern areas of the city, whereas stagnant growth has occurred in most areas in northern areas of the city.

The Church has discontinued stakes in Guatemala on three previous occasions, namely the Escuintla Guatemala (1994), Guatemala City Monte Maria (2008), and Mazatenango Guatemala East (2008) Stakes. However, the Church reestablished the Escuintla Guatemala Stake in 2013 and essentially reestablished the Guatemala City Monte Maria as the Guatemala City San Cristóbal in 2016. Furthermore, the Mazatenango Guatemala Stake has since rebounded to 11 wards and one branch and appears likely to divide in the near future. Time will tell whether the Guatemala City Alameda Stake will be reestablished one day, but at present prospects appear dim for the foreseeable future given its small geographical size and lack of growth in the area.

There are now 45 stakes and 16 districts in Guatemala.