Monday, February 26, 2018

LDS Missionary Activity Expands into Northern Nigeria - Bauchi, Kaduna, and Plateau States

Reports from local members and recently returned full-time missionaries who served in the Nigeria Enugu Mission report an unprecedented expansion of official LDS proselytism efforts into the central and northern Nigerian states of Bauchi, Kaduna, and Plateau. These three states are inhabited by 19 million people according to 2016 estimates. Returned full-time missionaries report that several cities have had full-time missionaries assigned for the first time in decades, if not ever. These cities include:
  • Bauchi (population: 415,000)
  • Jos (population: 925,000)
  • Kaduna (population: 1.78 million)
These three cities have not appeared to have had full-time missionaries assigned, if missionaries were ever assigned since the first branches were created, since the early 1990s when the Church organized the Nigeria Jos Mission in 1992. The mission was later relocated to Enugu and renamed the Nigeria Enugu Mission in 1993 due to concerns with religious violence in the Middle Belt of Nigeria where significant clashes occur between Christians and Muslims. Missionary activity and church growth in Bauchi, Kaduna, and Plateau States stood at a virtual standstill after the first official LDS congregations were organized in Jos (1992), Bauchi (1993), and Kaduna (1993) until about 1-2 years ago. Since this time, the Church has organized several new congregations during the past 14 months including a third branch in Jos, a second congregation in Kaduna (Goningora Branch), a member group in Bauchi, and the first branches in two cities in Plateau State - Bassa and Bukuru. Also, the Church recently completed construction on a church-build meetinghouse for the Kaduna Ward. Local members report that many, if not most, members in these cities speak the Hausa language although few ethnic Hausa have appeared to join the Church due to strong ethnoreligious ties with Islam. Only a couple LDS materials have been translated into Hausa. No translations of LDS scriptures are available in Hausa.

Despite this progress, the Church continues to report an extremely limited presence in northern Nigeria where Muslims constitute a strong majority and the legal system is founded on sharia law in regards to legal matters for Muslims (click here for more information). Most converts appear to be non-Muslims and the Church has generally avoided overt proselytism efforts among Muslim populations in areas where sharia law is implemented. Moreover, political instability, religious and ethnic violence, Boko Haram insurgency, and poverty pose safety challenges. However, there remain good prospects for growth, and unique opportunities for missionaries to teach those with a Muslim background, in these recently opened cities.

For more information about prospective missionary activity in northern Nigerian states without an LDS presence, read my case study, Prospective LDS Outreach in Northern Nigeria, posted in December 2015 on

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Young LDS Missionaries Assigned to Senegal for the First Time - Non-African Missionaries Return to Cote d'Ivoire

Within the past couple weeks, the Church assigned young, full-time missionaries to serve in the West African country of Senegal for the first time. Six Black African full-time missionaries from the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission were assigned to Senegal. All six missionaries appear to serve in the city of Dakar where the only LDS branch operates in the country. A senior missionary couple has served in Dakar for at least a couple years to provide member and leadership support. This couple has also appeared to conduct humanitarian and development work in Senegal. The Church operated a member group in Dakar for at least 1-2 years before the organization of the Dakar Branch in May 2016 with 24 members. The Church assigned Senegal to a mission, the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission, for the first time in late 2016/early 2017. LDS Apostle Elder David A. Bednar dedicated Senegal for missionary work in May 2017 when he met with the approximately two dozen local members in the Dakar Branch. Most members in the Dakar Branch were originally Black Africans from other West African countries. However, native Senegalese have appeared to begin to join the Church in the past 1-2 years. Dakar Branch members primarily speak French and Wolof. It is unclear which mission Senegal will be assigned to when the Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro Mission is organized this July. Ninety-six percent (96%) of the population in Senegal is Muslim, whereas 4% is Christian.

Senegal presents many good opportunities for future LDS growth due to widespread religious freedom, tolerance for Christian proselytism, sizable Christian minority in Dakar and southern areas of the country, and easy accessibility from other West African countries. There are 3.5 million people who live in the Dakar metropolitan area. One other city has at least one million people: Touba (1.0 million). The creation of member groups that assemble in areas distant from the current church meetinghouse appears likely in the next year due to the large geographical size of Dakar and opportunities for future growth.

For more information, refer to this case study (written in February 2014) that provides an analysis of opportunities for growth in Senegal.

Lastly, non-African missionaries from North America have begun to serve in Ivorian missions after approximately 5-6 years. North American missionaries have historically served in Cote d'Ivoire although they were evacuated during the First and Second Ivorian Civil Wars. The first North Americans to serve in Cote d'Ivoire after the Second Ivorian Civil War appeared to begin their service sometime within the past year.

NOTE: This initial post was inaccurate regarding the assignment of full-time missionaries to Senegal in February. The first two young, proselytizing missionaries arrived in early April 2017.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Vijayawada Branch Created in India

Missionaries serving in the India Bengaluru Mission report that last Sunday the member group in Vijayawada was organized into an official branch. This marks the first time in over 10 years that the Church has created a new branch in India in a city where no branch previously operated. Missionaries serving in the two India missions report many members who live in cities where no official ward or branch operates. They appear to be many opportunities for the creation of additional member groups and branches in the near future especially given that several districts have recently advanced into stakes and resources can be channeled into expansion rather than strengthening districts to become stakes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

First Convert Baptisms in Mali

The first convert baptisms in the country of Mali took place this past weekend. Local members report that four converts were baptized in a swimming pool, including two converts from the Bamako Branch and two converts from the Farako Group. Missionaries serving in the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission have been teaching investigators by Skype for the past couple months and there are as many as two dozen more individuals preparing to be baptized in the near future. The Church is currently in the process of obtaining the legal registration requirements for full-time missionaries to begin serving in Mali. Local members report that as many as 65 people attend church services in the two congregations.

See below for a photo of the first baptismal service.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Three New Missions to be Created in Africa in July 2018: Analysis

The Church announced on February 1st plans to organize three new missions in Sub-Saharan Africa. These missions include:
  • Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro
  • Nigeria Ibadan
  • Zimbabwe Bulawayo
Once these missions are organized, there will be a total of 33 missions in Africa (17 in the Africa West Area, 16 in the Africa Southeast Area).

Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro Mission
Yamoussoukro and the vast majority of central, western, and northern Cote d'Ivoire currently pertain to the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission. It is likely that the new mission will be created solely from a division of the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission, which currently has seven stakes and six districts within its boundaries, and include most areas of northern, central, and western Cote d'Ivoire. The country of Mali also pertains to the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission and it is unclear whether this country may be assigned to the new Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro Mission. The Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan West Mission was organized in 2014 from a division of the original Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission, and at the time of its organization there were a total of three districts and three stakes within its boundaries. Cote d'Ivoire has experienced the most impressive growth of any country in the worldwide Church during the past five years as the number of members has increased from 18,602 to more than 40,000, the number of stakes has increased from 5 to 14, the number of districts has increased from 1 to 12, and the number of congregations (e.g. wards and branches) has increased from 53 to 211. During the 2010s, the Church has reported its most rapid national outreach expansion in the world within areas likely to be included in the Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro Mission. For example, the number of cities with an LDS presence in central and western Cote d'Ivoire increased from 3 in 2011 to 23 in 2017. No North American or European missionaries have served in Cote d'Ivoire since the early 2010s due to political instability and safety concerns. However, there have been recent rumors that North American missionaries may again start to serve in Cote d'Ivoire in the near future given improvements in political stability and safety. The creation of a third mission in Cote d'Ivoire will allow for additional resources to be allocated to the country and likely ongoing expansion of the Church into previously unreached areas. The average Ivorian mission will include approximately eight million people within its boundaries. As a result, the Church in Cote d'Ivoire will be included among only five African nations with at least three missions - the other countries being Nigeria (7), Ghana (4), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (3), and South Africa (3).

Nigeria Ibadan Mission
The Nigeria Ibadan Mission will be organized from the Nigeria Lagos Mission and possibly a portion of the Nigeria Benin City Mission (e.g. Ondo State). Located in the heart of the cultural region known as Yorubaland, Ibadan is the third most populous city in Nigeria with approximately 3.4 million inhabitants. The Nigeria Ibadan Mission was originally organized in 2002, but was relocated to Lagos in 2007 and renamed the Nigeria Lagos East Mission until it was discontinued in 2009. The Church reported slow growth in Kwara, Ogun, Osun, and Oyo States when the Nigeria Ibadan Mission operated in the 2000s. This slow growth, as well as limited missionary manpower available from Sub-Saharan Africa to staff the mission as no Caucasian missionaries serve full-time missionaries in Nigeria due to security and safety concerns, likely prompted its relocation and ultimate closure. However, growth rapidly accelerated in the 2010s and as a result three of the member districts in the former mission boundaries advanced into stakes. Two of those stake were organized in 2014 (Abeokuta and Ibadan) and currently both of these stakes have a sufficient number of congregations to divide to create a second stake in each of these cities. Currently the Nigeria Lagos Mission has eight stakes and one district within its boundaries. Five of these stakes operate in the Lagos metropolitan area (home to 18.2 million people). The reestablishment of a mission in Ibadan may significantly accelerate the expansion of the Church in Kwara, Ogun, Osun, and Oyo States which have a combined population of approximately 18 million people and dozens of cities with 100,000 or more people without an official LDS ward or branch. Moreover, the new mission will allow for greater saturation of the Lagos metropolitan area with missionaries and the creation of additional congregations. Currently, the average ward or branch in Lagos includes approximately 380,000 people within its geographical boundaries.

Zimbabwe Bulawayo
The Zimbabwe Bulawayo Mission will be organized from a division of the Zimbabwe Harare Mission, and the new mission will likely include southern and western portions of Zimbabwe. The Church has reported moderate growth in Zimbabwe as a whole during the past several decades. Currently there are seven stakes and three districts in Zimbabwe. With only three stakes and zero districts in southern and western Zimbabwe, prospects appear favorable for the new mission to expand outreach into previously unreached areas surrounding Bulawayo.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Eight Missions in the United States to Close This Summer: Analysis

The Church reported on February 1st that it will discontinue eight missions within the United States as of July 2018: These missions include:
  • California Modesto (organized 2015)
  • California San Fernando (organized 1994)
  • Illinois Chicago West (organized 2013)
  • Mississippi Jackson (organized 1979)
  • New York New York South (organized 1839 - New York New York North organized 1993)
  • Ohio Cleveland (organized in 1977)
  • Utah Logan (organized 2015)
  • Washington Federal Way (organized 2013)
As a result of these mission consolidations, the number of missions headquartered within the United States (excluding US territories) will decrease from 125 to 117 - a 6.4% decrease. The average population serviced per LDS mission will slightly increase from 2.6 million people per LDS mission to 2.8 million people per LDS mission.

There are several important points to consider in regards to why the Church has decided to close these missions.

First, the number of missions in the United States will continue to be higher than the number of missions in the United States when the minimum age for missionary service was lowered. More specifically, the Church reported 103 missions in October 2012, whereas the Church will report 117 missions in July 2018 after mission consolidations go into effect. The Church organized 17 new missions in the United States in 2013 to help accommodate tens of thousands or more missionaries serving due to the reduced age for missionary service. In 2016, the Church reached an all-time high for the number of missions in the United States of 125 after five new missions were created. Thus, although the Church's resources allocated to formal proselytism in the United States will be reduced in comparison to the past five years, these resources will nevertheless be higher than what was previously allocated to the United States prior to the mission age change. The United States will continue to be the country with the most LDS missions - three times as many LDS missions as the next country with the most missions (Brazil).

Second, the consolidation of missions in the United States is not primarily attributed to the closure of missions initially created to accommodate "the surge" in the number of missionaries serving. This supports church statements (see footnote #7) that the creation of these new missions was done in anticipation of missionary numbers after the double-cohort of missionaries ended. Only four of the eight missions to be discontinued this July were organized after the lowering of the minimum age for missionary service, namely the California Modesto Mission, the Illinois Chicago West Mission, Utah Logan Mission, and the Washington Federal Way Mission. To contrast, there will be 18 missions created since 2013 that will continue to operate in the United States after these mission consolidations occur this July. These missions include:
  • Arizona Gilbert
  • Arizona Scottsdale
  • California Bakersfield
  • California Irvine
  • California Rancho Cucamonga
  • Colorado Fort Collins 
  • Georgia Macon 
  • Idaho Idaho Falls 
  • Idaho Nampa 
  • Kansas Wichita 
  • Ohio Cincinnati 
  • Oregon Salem 
  • Utah Orem
  • Utah Salt Lake City East 
  • Virginia Chesapeake 
  • Washington Vancouver
  • Washington Yakima
  • Wyoming Mormon Trail
Third, the eight United States missions to be discontinued this summer are distributed across the United States and are not primarily concentrated in a specific geographic region. Four missions will closed in the eastern United States, and four missions will closed in the western United States. Missions to be closed range from locations where there is a high percentage of Latter-day Saints, such as the Utah Logan Mission, to locations where there is a small percentage of Latter-day Saints such as the Illinois Chicago West Mission and the New York New York South Mission. This finding suggests that the closure of these eight missions was largely affected by fewer missionaries assigned to serve in the United States as a whole.

Fourth, many missions scheduled to close this summer have reported few convert baptisms compared to other missions in the United States. The Mississippi Jackson Mission has operated for nearly 40 years but LDS membership in Mississippi has increased from approximately 9,000 in the early 1980s to nearly 22,000 as of year-end 2016. As a result, the percentage of Latter-day Saints in the state population has only barely increased during the past 30 years. The number of official congregations in Mississippi has increased from 46 to 52 between 1987 and 2017. Other missions such as the Ohio Cleveland Mission and the New York New York South Mission have also reported comparatively few convert baptisms.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Unprecedented Consolidation of Missions in Eastern Europe/Southeastern Europe

The Church announced last week that the following missions will be discontinued in Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe this July:
  • Bulgaria Sofia
  • Greece Athens
  • Romania/Moldova
  • Russia Samara
  • Ukraine L'viv
After these missions are merged with surrounding missions in the region, the number of missions in Eastern Europe/Southeastern Europe will decrease from 20 to 15. The remaining 15 missions in the mission will include:
  • Adriatic North
  • Adriatic South
  • Armenia/Georgia
  • Baltic
  • Central Eurasian
  • Czeck/Slovak
  • Hungary Budapest
  • Poland Warsaw
  • Russia Moscow
  • Russia Novosibirsk
  • Russia Rostov-na-Donu
  • Russia St Petersburg
  • Russia Yekaterinburg
  • Ukraine Dnepropetrovsk
  • Ukraine Kyiv
Information on which countries will pertained to realigned missions remains unavailable. However, it appears likely that the Central Eurasian Mission will include Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece. Missionaries report that the Ukraine L'viv Mission will be consolidated with the Ukraine Kyiv Mission. Missionary activity will continue in all of the countries where mission consolidations are scheduled to occur. However, there may be fewer missionaries assigned to these countries after these changes go into effect.

As I mentioned in my post last week that announced changes to LDS missions this July, the Church in Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe has experienced some of the slowest growth in the worldwide Church during the past decade. To put things in perspective, there is a total of approximately 65,000 Latter-day Saints on church records for Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia combined after approximately 25-30 years of consistent proselytism in most countries within this region. Member activity rates for the region as a whole appear to be approximately 20-25%. Most countries in the region report annual membership growth rates of 2.0% or less. Of the 27 countries in this region that currently have at least one official ward or branch, the Church reports more than 10,000 members in only two of these countries: Russia and Ukraine. Sixteen of the 27 countries in the region report official LDS memberships of less than 1,000. In countries where the least growth has occurred such as Greece and Serbia, the number of full-time missionaries that have ever served in these countries since they opened to proselytism has exceeded the number of converts ever baptized in these countries. In areas of the world that report rapid LDS growth such as in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Church generally maintains approximately one mission per every 15,000 to 20,000 members. Areas of the world that experience slower growth report larger numbers of members per mission. For example, in 2016 the Church in South America reported an average of 42,231 members per mission, whereas the Church in the United States reported an average of 52,738 members per mission. In contrast, the Church in Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia maintained approximately one mission per every 3,250 members in 2016. If the ratio of members per mission most recently reported in South America were applied to Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia, there would need to be only two missions for the entire region.

The Church's efforts to begin proselytism in Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia during the late 1980s and the 1990s numbers among the most proactive and methodical observed within the worldwide Church during the last century. The Austria Vienna East Mission (organized in 1987) and the Finland Helsinki East Mission (organized in 1990) began proselytism efforts in the region until these missions could later be relocated to Ukraine and Russia in 1992. The number of missions headquartered in the region increased from zero in 1986 to six by 1992 and 16 in 1997. Many of the countries in the region reported moderate to rapid growth in the 1990s, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary, and the Baltics. For the most part, moderate or rapid growth has never occurred for the Church in several countries such as Poland, Serbia, Greece, and Moldova. Furthermore, the longer the Church has maintained a missionary presence in most Eastern European and Central Asian countries, the slower growth rates have become.

The decision to close approximately one-quarter of the missions in Eastern Europe/Southeastern Europe and Central Asia has appeared warranted for many years due to low productivity. Effective strategies for missionary work require allocation of the greatest amounts of resources to target the largest populations that exhibit the highest receptivity to the LDS Gospel message, meanwhile continuing to target less receptive populations with fewer resources. The closure of five missions in the region this summer does not indicate a "throwing in the towel" type of mentality that the Church is taking for this region after frustratingly few results, but rather a wiser appropriation of resources to the region particularly in regards to mission administration. The Church in Eastern Europe and Central Asia will likely continue to maintain a disproportionately large full-time missionary force in comparison to the number of cities with an LDS presence, number of congregations, number of converts baptized, and number of members due to the large size of target populations for proselytism, long distances between cities with an LDS presence, low activity rates, and need for outside assistance with basic church administration needs in many locations. Moreover, more mission resources are also needed to effectively proselyte individual countries in local languages and in order to avoid overwhelming logistical challenges in regards to the assignment of full-time missionaries.

The closure of additional missions in Eastern Europe appears likely within the foreseeable future, particularly in Russia. It seems likely that the Russia Moscow and Russia St Petersburg Missions may combine one day, as well as the Russia Yekaterinburg and Russia Novosibirsk Missions into one mission. However, it will be imperative that the Church continue to maintain consistent proselytism programs in local languages in order to prevent even further deceleration in growth, and in case conditions improve one day and population become more receptive to LDS proselytism efforts. Moreover, it is also possible that the Church may reestablish some of the missions discontinued in the coming years and decades if local populations become more receptive or there are large increases in the number of members serving full-time missions. Bulgaria and Romania appear the most likely countries to have a mission reestablished one day given their large populations and comparatively larger LDS memberships compared to surrounding nations.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

19 Missions to Close, 5 Missions to be Created in July 2018

This morning, the Church made an official announcement regarding changes to LDS missions worldwide that will go into effect as of July 2018. Nineteen missions will close and combine with nearby missions, whereas five new missions will be created. Of the 19 missions to close in July, 16 of these missions are located in Europe and the United States. Three of the five new missions to be created will be located in Africa. As a result of these changes, the number of missions worldwide will decrease from 421 to 407. Thus, the average mission in July will have 167 missionaries if there remain 68,000 missionaries serving at that time. This number is comparable to long-term historical averages for the Church since the early 1970s of approximately 160-170 missionaries per mission.

The following missions will be closed and combined with nearby missions:
  • Australia Sydney North
  • Bulgaria Sofia
  • California Modesto
  • California San Fernando
  • England London South
  • Greece Athens
  • Illinois Chicago West
  • México Ciudad Obregón
  • México Reynosa
  • Mississippi Jackson
  • New York New York South
  • Ohio Cleveland
  • Portugal Porto
  • România/Moldova
  • Russia Samara
  • Spain Málaga
  • Ukraine L’viv
  • Utah Logan
  • Washington Federal Way
 The following missions will be created:
  • Brazil Rio de Janeiro South
  • Cote d’Ivoire Yamoussoukro
  • Nigeria Ibadan
  • Philippines Cabanatuan
  • Zimbabwe Bulawayo
Reports I had received regarding a new mission in Layton, Utah were unfounded. I apologize for the misinformation.

The decision to close so many missions in the Europe (8) and United States (8) appears attributed to several factors.

First, many of these missions have had few congregations within their geographical boundaries. For example, the Bulgaria Sofia Mission and Greece Athens Mission each report less than 10 branches within their geographical boundaries. To contrast, missions in the Church outside of the Inter-mountain West of the United States generally have between 50-150 congregations within their boundaries. As it is most effective to assign only one or two missionary companionships per congregation, missions with too few congregations, and no plans to expand outreach into previously unreached areas, often experience problems with inefficiency in resource allocation. Consequently, mission presidents and mission leadership in these missions can be often underutilized due to few missionaries assigned.

Second, most missions scheduled to close in July have reported very low rates of convert baptisms for many years or even decades. Many missions in Eastern Europe, for example, have consistently baptized fewer than 100 converts a year for 10-20 years. For example, the Greece Athens Mission has operated for approximately 25 years but there remain less than 1,000 members of the Church in Greece. Although the Church will continue to maintain a missionary presence in these nations where the only LDS mission is scheduled to close, this decision has appeared warranted due to a lack of productivity and in order to conserve resources. Moreover, mission consolidations in less productive or unproductive areas of the world can at times serve as a catalyst for future growth if there is greater member-missionary participation and leadership development in wake of fewer nonnative resources (e.g. mission leadership, full-time missionaries) to support the Church. As a result, increased self-sufficiency in leadership can result from these type of changes.

Third, many of the missions affected by mission closures this July were organized to help accommodate tens of thousands of more missionaries serving as a result of a temporary, artificial surge in full-time missionary numbers due to the reduced age on missionary service. For example, several of the missions created in the United States five years ago will be closed or involved in the consolidation of missions this summer. Nevertheless, most of the 58 missions created in 2013 will continue to operate. However, the number of missionaries serving in 2018 has appeared 5,000-10,000 less than what church leadership initially predicted.

Fourth, nearly all missions scheduled to close this July strongly depend, or almost entirely depend, on North American full-time missionaries to staff their ranks. Thus, the decision to close many of these missions is related to the number of full-time missionaries serving from North America. Moreover, all five of the new missions to be created this July are located in nations or regions of the world where there have been significant increases in the number of members serving full-time missions within recent years.

I will provide more analysis in the coming days.