Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Martinique

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Martinique. Martinique is an overseas department of France and has one of the lowest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population in the Western Hemisphere. As of year-end 2017, one in 1,676 was a Latter-day Saint. The Church operates only one official branch on the island even though the population is close to 400,000 people. Prospects for future growth appear bleak given the success of other proselytism-focused groups with disciplining most of the receptive population into their denominations, and the influence of Western secularism on society. Here is the Future Prospects section of the article:

Emigration of converts to metropolitan France, limited missionary resources dedicated to Martinique, struggles to establish a second branch, and the tiny church membership are the primary obstacles preventing greater church growth for Latter-day Saints. The establishment of the Church on Martinique occurred many years after other missionary-oriented Christians arrived, and these denominations had already developed a strong community base and shepherded much of the receptive population into their congregations. Dissuading members from emigrating, increasing the number of active members in established congregations, and augmenting the number of local members serving full-time missions will be required to achieve greater church growth in the coming years. Towns between Fort de France and Trinité present some of the greatest opportunities to form member groups and explore prospects for the expansion of missionary activity.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Urgent Need to Reform the Missionary Program

Since 2012, I have collected surveys from returned missionaries about their missions and from ordinary members about their congregations. Analysis of these survey data has been conducted to examine the growth of the Church and the missionary program in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As of this morning, I have obtained 3,428 responses to the returned missionary survey in English, French, and Spanish, and 3,407 responses to the member survey in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. These nearly 7,000 responses have provided invaluable data in regards to the convert retention, member activity, proselytism, cultural conditions, leadership development, and factors that have hampered or accelerated growth in nearly every country where the Church has an official presence.

The results of these surveys revealed significant variability among missions and congregations in regards to church growth trends and the success of the missionary program. Some missions report high numbers of converts and high convert retention rates of these converts one year after baptism. However, others report low numbers of convert baptisms and low convert retention rates. Nevertheless, it appears that in most missions of the Church there are significant problems with the success of the missionary program despite repeated efforts to make it more effective. This has been evident in official statistics released by the Church, which reveal that most recently in 2017 membership growth rates dropped to their lowest levels since 1937,  the number of convert baptisms reached a 30-year low in 2017, congregational growth rates consistently lag behind membership growth rates, and the ratio of converts baptized per missionary has dropped from 6-8 converts baptized per missionary a year in the 1970s and 1980s to 3.5 converts baptized per missionary most recently in 2017.

The following are frequent concerns noted by members and returned missionaries that have appeared to be counterproductive to the success of the missionary program to achieve "real growth" in the Church (e.g. consistent increases in active membership, better quality leadership, expansion of the Church into new areas, etc.). I want to emphasize that these factors are not present everywhere in the Church, but occur in most locations. There are likely additional factors that I may have missed, but I have included the most prominent ones I found. All this information has been achieved through my own research and study and does not contain data from unauthorized sources.


A Negative Relationship between Full-time Missionaries and Local Members/Church Leaders
Returned missionaries in many areas of the world complain that there is a distrusting, negative relationship between full-time missionaries and local members. Reasons for this relationship include past negative examples of full-time missionaries who served in an area, skepticism about the motivation of full-time missionaries' member-missionary efforts (e.g. focus on reaching a goal vs. genuine care and concern for the individual), the belief that missionary work is the full-time missionaries' responsibility, a lack of interest, and a disconnect between mission leadership and local church leadership. As a result, nearly all respondents to the returned missionary survey indicated that there is usually only a few individuals or families in most congregations who provide regular assistance with finding and teaching prospective members, whereas the remainder of members stand as idle observers or even obstacles to bringing and non-members to Church.

High-pressured, Salesmen-like Approaches Designed to Reach Arbitrary Baptismal Goal Quotas
This has stood as a longstanding problem in the Church that was first observed on a widespread scale in the British Isles during the late 1950s/early 1960s. The strategy to minimally prepare prospective converts for baptism appeared to first begin here and was implemented in many other areas of the world thereafter. Prior to this shift, it was common in some places in the world to have prospective members attend church for months or even years before baptism, such as in southern Brazil in the late 1950s. The reason the Church has implemented this strategy on such a widespread scale has appeared because it can provide fast results that appear impressive on paper. However, this approach is alarming in regards to not only its ineffectiveness to achieve long-term, sustainable growth, but most importantly its ethical implications when the enthusiasm of new converts is turned to ashes if there is no post-baptismal support. Even worse, reports from returned missionaries within the past decade continue to indicate instances, albeit less frequent than in previous decades, of mission leadership providing an external incentive for full-time missionaries to reach a baptismal goal such as going out to eat at a nice restaurant or a special vacation to an area within the mission. This type of strategy is manipulative and exploitative of both young missionaries and potential converts as it provides secondary gain to the missionaries. Quick-baptism tactics appear to be the primary reason the Church struggles with abysmal member activity rates in most of Latin America and the Philippines. The paragraph below is from the Missiology Encyclopedia entry on www.cumorah.com for "Quick Baptism Tactics" and summarizes the harm to the Church and its new converts by rushing baptismal preparation and objectifying converts.

The intention of rushing poorly-prepared converts into baptisms deserves serious criticism by mission leaders and full-time missionaries. This practice not only does violence to the sacred nature of the ordinance and lessens the significance of the long-term commitment to follow Christ and remain active in the Church, but results in the Church achieving only a small portion of its potential growth. Many converts baptized do not have friends among members of their assigned congregations prior to receiving missionary lessons and were rushed into baptism before any solid friendships were developed. Oftentimes these converts exhibit greater trust and socialization with full-time missionaries rather than ordinary members. The vast majority of converts baptized in locations where quick-baptismal tactics are employed do not remain active a year after their baptism and accumulate over months, years, and decades on church records. Returned missionaries in some missions have reported convert retention rates as low as 10-15% one year after baptism. Mission leaders enact quick-baptismal tactics in many locations with high receptivity to the Church but where there is little cultural emphasis on regular church attendance, participation in church responsibilities, and meaningful, daily religious practice on an individual or family level. Consequently the development of these attitudes and habits depends on the Church. The brief and at times shallow depth of conversion and commitment to fulfill gospel-related duties and follow church teachings results in many never developing daily and weekly habits of individual and collective religiosity. 

The Missionary Dinner Program
This program continues to be widespread despite previous statements from Church leaders who advise against it, such as President Ezra Taft Benson in 1975 when he spoke to new mission presidents (see quote #8). The criticism of this program is best worded by David Stewart in his monumental work Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work.

The missionary dinner program neutralizes missionaries by taking them off the street during prime finding and teaching time when families are home. Even when dinner visits are brief, missionary travel time ensures that member dinners consume considerable proselyting time each evening. There is no evidence that wards with missionary dinner programs generate more referrals than those without them, and many wards have experienced a revitalization of member-missionary work when dinner programs were terminated. Members of many other faiths are far more likely than Latter-day Saints to share their beliefs with others, yet rarely if ever have denominational missionaries in their homes.

Poor Relations between the Church and Local Religious Groups
The Church, especially its missionaries, are often viewed negatively in many, if not most, countries of the world. Reasons for this negative relationship significantly vary by location. For example, in Western and Central Europe full-time missionaries are frequently misidentified as Jehovah's Witnesses and full-time missionaries. As a result, much of the hostility and avoidance of the general population to the Church's missionaries in these nations is due to societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses and not necessary to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is confused with other religious groups such as Satanists, Amish Mennonites, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Mormon Fundamental Polygamists in many other countries. There are also instances when full-time missionaries are believed to be under-cover government employees who conduct espionage operations. Misinformation and disinformation appear the primary root of these challenges, although high-pressured proselytism tactics in some nations have also appeared to give the Church a negative reputation. Returned missionaries report that local religious leaders often spread negative misinformation about the Church to their congregants in an effort to try to inoculate them from Latter-day Saint proselytism efforts.

Inconsistent Implementation of Church Policies regarding Missionary Work
The Church could have the best program that strives to be consistent with the doctrine taught in the scriptures, but the program will do not good if it is not appropriately and consistently implemented. The Church has sought in recent years to retool its missionary program through efforts such as Preach My Gospel and the Hastening of the Work of Salvation. However, these efforts have generally yielded mixed results on a global scale. For example, even after the implementation of Preach My Gospel it remained common place for converts to be baptized after attending church only twice even though the manual states that an investigator should attend church at least "several" times (see page 204). Furthermore, many, if not most, members report that they have not heard of the Hastening of the Work of Salvation initiative or that this emphasis has not been implemented in their ward, branch, or group. Thus, any future efforts to reform the missionary program in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will likely experience problems with its implementation.

Conservative Interpretation and Implementation of the Centers of Strength Policy
Almost invariably, returned missionaries report good receptivity and significant growth when new branches or member groups are opened in lesser-reached neighborhoods or cities where no previous Church presence operated. However, the incidence of the Church opening additional cities and towns to missionary work is surprisingly rare. Typically the Church only regularly opens previously unreached cities and towns in more receptive areas such as West Africa and Brazil. Moreover, the Church has strongly relied on full-time missionaries to open new congregations in previously unreached areas. Consequently, the speed and breadth of the expansion of the Church into new areas has been correlated to the number of full-time missionaries serving worldwide. Moreover, the Church continues to assign the vast majority of its full-time missionary manpower to locations where the most members live. The logic in this approach is for full-time missionaries to be assigned where there are local members to support them with referral for people to teach and provide long-term fellowshipping and support. For a comprehensive review of the centers of strength policy and its impact on Church growth trends, click here.

Generalization of Teaching Resources and Approaches
The Church has the struggle to maintain a uniform program for its worldwide missionary program, but also adapt the program to individual cultural conditions. Returned missionaries report that these challenges are especially apparent in missions where most do not have a background in Western Christianity. As a result, missionaries often struggle to have the adequate resources and skills to tailor teaching to the religious background of nonreligious, non-Western Christians (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Egyptian Coptic), Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and animist individuals.

Negative/Inappropriate Mission Culture
I have received some accounts from returned missionaries about the social interactions between full-time missionaries. Although the purpose of my surveying efforts has been to collect information about church-growth and proselytism-related data, some respondents have provided additional information about concerns with mission culture. Specifically, there are concerns with bullying and missionaries who break significant rules, which results in challenges with trust, unity, and providing missionaries with a positive life experience.


Given these concerns, I believe the following recommendations would be useful to consider in regards to future changes to the missionary program that could have a significant impact on its effectiveness. Although there have been significant organizational or policy changes in many other areas of the Church since President Russell M. Nelson began to preside over the Church in early 2018, only relatively minor changes have thus far occurred to the missionary program such as in regards to the attire for sister missionaries, the sending of missionary calls electronically, the determination of missionaries to serve proselytizing vs. service missions, and permitting missionaries to call home to family weekly. I believe that there will be significant changes made in the coming months and years, and I hope that perhaps some of these changes may include the following:
  • Increase the Duration of Training for Missionaries at Missionary Training Centers (MTCs). Many of the challenges noted above can be addressed through better equipping new full-time missionaries with better teaching skills, social skills, and spiritual preparation. I believe the greatest deficits or needs are in regards to people skills, emotional and social maturity, and developing genuine love and care for those who missionaries teach. With younger people serving full-time missions who may have never lived away from home, there needs to be more training and help in areas where they may lack life experience. Emphasis on psycho-education regarding bullying and how to handle situations when a fellow missionary is disobedient such as conflict resolution strategies would be helpful to equip missionaries with the training to better handle these situations in the field. Follow-up training should occur in the field as well to make sure these tactics are effectively implemented.
  • Discontinue Use of Baptismal Goals. The cons to baptismal goals have appeared to outweigh the pros given concerns noted above with rushed prebaptismal preparation and objectifying converts. Replacement of the primary focus from baptismal goals to other metrics such as church attendance for both hours of church, daily scripture study and prayer, and number of friends/family who attend a lesson may provide some improvements to convert retention and member activity by targeting behaviors more closely related to genuine conversion.
  • Reduce Disconnect Between Local Church Leaders and Mission Leadership - Have Bishops/Branch Presidents Extend Baptism Invitation to Prospective Converts. One of the biggest challenges with the missionary program is that there are two organizational systems that are at least partially focused on the same goal (missionary work) but that these systems struggle to communicate and collaborate with one another. It may be effective in some areas of the world to have bishop and branch presidents be responsible for full-time missionaries instead of, or in addition to, mission presidents to help reduce this disconnect and better empower local leaders to utilize resources at their disposal. Lastly, the local church leader extending the commitment to be baptized may be more appropriate than full-time missionaries as the local church leader will be ultimately responsible for the new member should they chose to join the Church.
  • The Calling of "Planter Families" to Expand Outreach. This is a church growth strategy employed by other religious groups that may have some relevance for the Church to expand into unreached areas. The Church can call a member family to relocate to a city where there is no Church presence and start a new congregation from scratch. The Church already utilizes this strategy to expand its presence around the world, although the current and past strategy has relied on fortuitous events for this to occur instead of assigning families to move to expand the Church. This method would require care to select appropriate families that are stable and have adequate flexibility in employment to relocate in order to minimize potential harm and make this approach effective.
  • Create a Member-Missionary Manual.  The Church has made many statements in recent years and decades that member-missionary work is the key to growth. However, the Church only has a full-time missionary manual that does not generalize to ordinary members in many aspects such as learning mission language. The development of a manual that provides instruction on methods to teach other basic Gospel principles, appropriately handle rejection, and ideas for casually sharing the Gospel with others could significant improve the confidence of members and reduce fear. Limitations to Preach My Gospel are noted on page xi: 
    • "Preach My Gospel" is for the full-time missionaries of the Church. However, the principles and doctrines taught herein are also applicable to ward missionaries and leaders as they seek to build the Lord's kingdom. Frequent study of this manual will enable them to fulfill their responsibilities as member missionaries and will foster unity with the full-time missionaries." 
  • Use of Special Events Designed to Attract Local Community Members and Leaders. One consistent finding across returned missionary surveys is that musical firesides or other types of special community events sponsored by the Church have been effective to improve relations with the Church and community and religious leaders, and find interested individuals who later join the Church, especially in secular nations. Regular special events that promote family history, art, music, theater, and team sports may be effective to address concerns with misinformation and disinformation about the Church.
  • Development of Teaching Resources for Specific Religious Groups and Cultures. The development of teaching guides that educate members and missionaries with accurate information about other religious groups, and provides methods to adapt teaching skills to present the Latter-day Saint Gospel message in a relevant manner, appears warranted.
  • Widespread Implementation of Cottage Meetings - Discontinue Missionary Dinner Appointments with Members. Cottage meetings are a highly effective method to provide a low-pressure, informal environment that presents a brief lesson and opportunities for prospective members or inactive members to socialize with members. Replacing missionary dinner appointments with cottage meetings that are organized by the members (not the missionaries) would be an effective approach to engaging local members in missionary work. See below for a description of cottage meetings from David Stewart's book,  Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work.
    A cottage meeting is an informal gospel-based meeting held in a member's home with nonmembers present. Cottage meetings are not a substitute for investigators attending church, but they represent a valuable supplement that facilitates the consistent achievement of vital teaching and fellowshipping tasks that are at times difficult to accomplish by more traditional methods. I find that investigators and new members have consistently given excellent reviews to cottage meetings held in member homes. More significantly, I have found a much higher return rate for investigators who attended both church and cottage meetings than those who attended church meetings alone. Cottage meetings have also played an essential role in laying the foundation for the church in some new areas and nations, including the Russian Far East area, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. 
    In conjunction with regular church attendance, cottage meetings are typically able to foster a higher degree of enthusiasm for the gospel in investigators than attendance at church meetings alone. This is because the problems with many conventional church meetings -- the unpredictability of talks, lessons not specifically tailored to investigators, and inconsistent fellowshipping -- are almost entirely eliminated in the setting of cottage meetings. Investigators enjoy cottage meetings because they are attractive, relevant, and appealing. Cottage meetings are held weekly on a specific night (other than Monday) in a member's home with predictable teachers and consistent interaction. Quality fellowshipping in cottage meetings is almost inevitable, and the relationships that develop are much stronger than those developed in Sunday meetings by a greeting or a handshake in the hall. All this is achieved while simultaneously reaching multiple people within a limited time. 
    Following are some specific principles and practices that I have found to be helpful in conducting cottage meetings. Others may have found different approaches to be effective in their area. Individuals are encouraged to try different approaches and discover what works best for them. 
    1. Audience. In addition to the members who will lead the discussion, new members, investigators being currently taught by the missionaries, and a pair of missionaries are invited each week.  
    2. Topic. The goal of cottage meetings is to help the attendees become better people and establish essential gospel habits. Some of the things we focus on include daily personal or family Book of Mormon reading, weekly church attendance, full Sabbath day observance, consistent personal and family prayer, the Word of Wisdom, and family history work. We also address some fundamental doctrinal topics including prophets, the Holy Ghost, the apostasy and restoration, divine authority, and families. If the investigators understand doctrinal issues but are not reading scriptures and attending church, our teaching has failed. Lessons are scripture-based, and questions are answered from the scriptures when possible. 
    3. Timing. Respecting the time and other obligations of investigators is vital, and the lesson should always end before the spirit leaves. We keep our meetings relatively brief so that they can be relevant and powerful. In this way, the investigators are eager to come back for more instead of regretting that their whole evening was soaked up. We aim for sixty minutes and never allow cottage meetings to go past ninety minutes, including time for refreshments and socializing. The purpose of cottage meetings is not to provide detailed doctrinal discourses, but to furnish a simple lesson, provide fellowshipping, address questions and concerns, and demonstrate the gospel in action in the home. 
    4. Relevance. Lessons involve frequent feedback and interaction with participants and are never lectures. The lesson plan must be flexible and meet investigator needs. If the investigators have multiple questions on topics that are more important to them than the lesson, address those questions and topics instead. One must always keep in mind the goal of giving investigators practical teachings that will make their lives better. I will briefly answer questions on tangential or deep doctrinal issues (but to the listener's satisfaction) before leading the discussion back on topic. If you find yourself facing a question you do not know the answer to, tell the questioner that you will have an answer the next week. 
    5. Consistency. Cottage meetings are most effective when held in the same place at the same time every week. The missionaries know that they are welcome to bring anyone they are currently teaching. The new members and investigators who have attended once know that we will be looking for them the next week. Tuesdays or Thursdays have worked the best for us because Monday is family home evening, Wednesday is our ward activity night with scouts and mutual, and Friday and Saturday are inconvenient for most people for social reasons. When cottage meetings are not held consistently or are held in unpredictable locations, it is difficult to achieve a regular turnout. 
    6. Relaxed atmosphere. Everyone should be involved. Ask open-ended questions, and avoid manipulative or leading queries. 
    7. Refreshments at the end. We find this to be a productive time when investigators will open up even more and share things that they might not share even in the small group setting.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Temple Attendance Trends

I have received dozens of reports over the last couple of months that there have been significant increases in temple attendance in many temples around the world. It appears that the most significant increases have occurred in Utah although I have received reports from temples in places like Australia where there have also been significant increases in attendance. These trends appear augmented by changes at the beginning of the new year but appeared to begin in the latter portion of 2018.

I would like your feedback in terms of what you have seen in your temple. Has there been any changes in temple attendance that you have observed? Please comment.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Barbados

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Barbados. Little has changed for the Church in Barbados since the first edition of the almanac was published. Membership growth rates have slightly increased and the Church organized a mission headquartered in Barbados - the Barbados Bridgetown Mission to service nearly one dozen island nations and territories/dependencies in the region. However, the Church reports some of the lowest member activity rates in the region in Barbados as only about 20% of the 1,047 church-reported members appear to regularly attend church. Here is the Future Prospects section of this article:

The experience of the Church in Barbados demonstrates that contrary to some expectations, developed local church leadership, political stability, and a traditionally Christian population do not guarantee favorable church growth conditions. The majority of active Barbadian members have become entrenched in the Church, resulting in poor member-missionary participation and slow church growth. Furthermore, member activity rates have appeared to decrease from 30% to 20% within the past decade as most new converts baptized during this time have not been retained. Reliance on full-time missionaries for finding, teaching, and baptizing new converts has appeared to decrease retention rates for new converts. Although the Church organized a new mission headquartered in Barbados in 2015, there has not appeared to have been measurable progress achieved with strengthening the Church or accelerating growth based upon metrics available such as church-reported membership and the number of congregations. Additionally, full-time missionary reports indicate only modest increases in the number of people who attend Church, and it is unclear whether these increases have occurred in all three branches or only in the Christ Church Branch. Increasing the number of retained new converts and the establishment of congregations in additional areas of the island such as Speightstown will be necessary to reverse stagnant church growth trends sustained over the past 2-3 decades.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Full-time Missionaries Assigned to Guinea, West Africa for the First Time

The Church recently assigned the first proselytizing missionaries to the West African country of Guinea. A single companionship of young, French-speaking Black African elders from the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission was assigned to serve in the Conakry Branch - the only branch in the entire country. Missionary activity at present appears primarily focused on teaching and mentoring new converts in the branch.

There have been several significant developments in Guinea. The Church organized the Conakry Branch in June 2017 shortly after Elder David A. Bednar visited Guinea in May 2017. The new branch was assigned to the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission although most of the country has remained assigned directly to the Africa West Area. Four members from the Conakry Branch in Guinea, West Africa began their missions at the Ghana Missionary Training Center (MTC) in April 2018 according to a news article from the Africa West Area lds.org page. These members previously served as the young men president, Sunday School first counselor, branch mission leader, and branch music director in the Conakry Branch before beginning full-time missionary service. Local members reported approximately 30 members in late 2017. The Church reported 56 members in Guinea as of April 2018.

Guinea is inhabited by nearly 12 million people. The population is 87% Muslim, 7% Christian, and 6% followers of other faiths. Other nontraditional Christian faiths such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists have historically reported slow growth in Guinea, but in the past 2-3 years have reported rapid growth. French is the official language although most speak their official ethnic languages such as Fulani, Malinke, and Susu.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Saint Lucia

Click here to access the updated country profile for Saint Lucia. The Church initially established a presence in the country in 1984, but the original branch was not self-sustaining and eventually closed in 1994 after significant opposition to the Church and the removal of full-time missionaries. The Church reestablished a branch in 2003. Today, there are nearly 400 members. See below for the Future Prospects section for this article:

The outlook for church growth in the near future appears mixed. The Church has struggled with mediocre convert retention rates and decreasing member activity rates for most of the 2010s. As a result, no new branches have been organized. Nevertheless, the Church continues to report dozens of new converts who join the Church each year in the two branches. Additional congregations may be organized in the most populous lesser-reached areas as well as in Castries and its surroundings. Once three or more branches operate, a district may be created. Self-sustaining growth over the long term will depend on locals serving full-time missions, remaining in their home country, and increasing the number of active priesthood holders to fill leadership positions.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

New Stakes Created in the DR Congo, South Carolina, and Utah

Democratic Republic of the Congo 
The Church organized a new stake in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) on February 10th. The Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Lukunga Stake was organized from a division of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Ngaliema Stake. The new stake includes the following six wards and one branch: the Kimbwala 1st, Kimbwala 2nd, Malueka 1st, Malueka 2nd, Lutendale 1st, and Mazal Wards, and the Lutendale 2nd Branch. There are now 11 stakes in the Kinshasa metropolitan area.

There are now 21 stakes and two districts in the DR Congo.

South Carolina 
The Church organized a new stake in South Carolina today. Local members report that the Aiken South Carolina Stake was organized from a division of the Augusta Georgia Stake and the West Columbia South Carolina Stake. The new stake includes the following six wards and one branch: the North Aiken, Augusta, Coker Springs, Gilbert, Lake Murray, and Lexington Wards, and the Barnwell Branch. The Aiken South Carolina Stake is the Church's second new stake to be organized in South Carolina within the past year.

There are now eight stakes in South Carolina.

The Church created a new stake in Salt Lake City on February 10th. The Salt Lake Utah West Stake (Tongan) was organized from a division of the Salt Lake Utah Stake (Tongan) and the Salt Lake Utah South Stake (Tongan). The new stake includes the following nine wards: the Granger 8th (Tongan), Hunter 13th (Tongan), Hunter 37th (Tongan), Kearns 9th (Tongan), Kearns 13th (Tongan), Magna 2nd (Tongan), Taylorsville 5th (Tongan), Taylorsville 6th (Tongan), and West Valley 8th (Tongan) Wards. The realigned Salt Lake Utah Stake (Tongna) and Salt Lake Utah South Stake (Tongan) now each have seven wards. There are now four Tongan-speaking stakes in Utah. The first Tongan-speaking stake in the state was organized in 1993 followed by additional stakes in 2001 and 2006. There are currently 15 wards and one branch in the Provo Utah Wasatch Stake (Tongan) - seven wards and one branch of which are Samoan-speaking congregations. Thus, it appears likely that the Church's first Samoan-speaking stake outside of the Samoan islands will likely be organized in the near future.

There are now 599 stakes and 1 district in Utah.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

New Branch in Tanzania

Earlier this month, the Church organized its fifth branch in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania called the Tabata Branch (English speaking). Although I usually do not report on the organization of new wards and branches, this development appeared particularly significant as the last time the Church created a new branch in Dar Es Salaam was in 2004. The last new branch to be organized in Tanzania was in 2011. Unlike many other Sub-Saharan African countries, the Church in Tanzania has grown slowly since the first branch was organized in 1992. There were 1,624 members and six branches in the entire country as of year-end 2017, yet the current population of Tanzania is approximately 55.5 million. Latter-day Saint annual membership growth rates have typically ranged from 4-10% in the past decade. To contrast, Jehovah's Witnesses reported nearly 19,000 active members and 455 congregations at year-end 2018, whereas Seventh-Day Adventists reported 568,571 members, 2,832 churches (large or well-established congregations), and 2,374 companies (small or recently established congregations) at year-end 2016. In other words, the total number of Adventist congregations (5,206) is more than three times the total number of Latter-day Saints report on Church records for the entire country. The growth trends of Adventists and Witnesses suggest that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could likely experience similar results if the proper vision and planning is conducted to make the Church accessible and its message properly understood.

A lack of mission resources dedicated to the country and the placement of most of these resources outside of more receptive predominantly Christian areas appears to be one of the major reasons Latter-day Saint growth has been so slow. Also, it was not until the 2010s that the Church officially transitioned to use of Swahili in proselytism and church services - the predominant first or second language spoken by most Tanzanians. Prior to this time, English was the official language for the Church in the country. However, the long-term failure of local members and church leaders to find, teach, baptize, and retain new converts appears chiefly responsible for the lack of growth in the country as other countries who have had few mission resources allocated have reported much more rapid growth than the Church in Tanzania such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Nevertheless, Tanzania appears an excellent candidate for its own mission in the near future given its large population, relative safety and stability, and predominantly Christian population. Hopefully the organization of the new branch signals a renewed focus from mission, area, and district leadership to implement the proper vision and allocate adequate resources to accelerate growth and expansion.

Click here for historical Church data on the growth of the Church in Tanzania.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

New Stake Created in the DR Congo; District Discontinued in South Dakota

Democratic Republic of the Congo
Last Sunday, the Church organized a new stake in the Kasai Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The Mwene-Ditu Democratic Republic of the Congo Stake was organized from the Mwene-Ditu Democratic Republic of the Congo District. All seven branches in the former stake were upgraded to wards based upon reports from local church leaders. The seven wards in the new stake are the Aerodrome, Bondoyi, Matshitshi, Musadi 1st, Musadi 2nd, Mwene-Ditu, and Peage Wards. The Church organized its first official branch in Mwene-Ditu in 2008 and organized branches in the city into a district in 2014. Today, there are now five stakes and one district in the Kasai Region of the DR Congo, which is located in the central part of the country. Three new stakes appear likely to be organized in the next few years in this region due to steady growth in Kananga, Luputa, and Mbuji-Mayi. The region appears likely to have its own temple announced within the foreseeable future, especially now that the Church has locally-trained construction teams who helped construct meetinghouses and the temple in Kinshasa, and a recent emphasis to bring temples closer to areas with sizable church membership. Elder Neil L. Andersen requested members prepare for a temple in the Kasai Region during a visit in 2016. Also, the Church is currently in the process of translating the Book of Mormon into Tshiluba - the most commonly spoken native language in the Kasai Region of the DR Congo.

South Dakota
The Church discontinued the Pierre South Dakota District in January. The district was originally organized in 1979 and included 11 branches prior to its discontinuation. Five branches (Cherry Creek, Faith, Pierre, Rosebud, and White River) were transferred to the Rapid City South Dakota Stake, whereas three branches (Chamberlain, Miller, and Winner) were transferred to the Sioux Falls South Dakota State, two branches (Eagle Butte and Gettysburg) were transferred to the Bismarck North Dakota Stake, and one branch (Valentine) was transferred to the Kearney Nebraska Stake. Most branches in the district appear to have 20-50 active members albeit the Pierre Branch had 120 active members in the mid-2010s. This change will permit the largest branches, such as Pierre, to become wards in the foreseeable future. It will also reduce leadership needs for branches in the former district by having stakes meet these needs instead of district and mission leadership.

The Church has reported some of its slowest growth in the United States in South Dakota. The last time a new stake was organized in the state was back in 1979 in Sioux Falls. Church membership has increased from 7,300 in 1987 to 10,626 in 2017, whereas the number of congregations in the state has decreased from 36 to 32 during this period. Church membership as a percentage of the population as slightly increased from 1.05% to 1.21%. The Church has especially struggled with growth on Native American reservations in the state in terms of member activity and leadership development.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

New Stake in Nigeria; New Districts Organized in Nigeria and in Cote d'Ivoire

The Church organized a new stake and a new district in Nigeria.

The Owerri Nigeria North Stake was organized from a division of the Owerri Nigeria Stake on January 27th. The new stake includes at least the following six wards and two branches: the Akwakuma, Amakohia, New Owerri, Ogwa, Orji, and Orlu Wards, and the Mbieri and Umundugba Branches. The new stake is the second stake to be organized in Owerri. The Church created the Owerri Nigeria Stake in 1998. The stake numbered among the oldest stakes in Nigeria that had not divided to organize a new stake. Most of the congregational growth that warranted the creation of the new stake has occurred since 2010. The Church organized its sixth mission in Nigeria in 2016 with headquarters in Owerri. The new mission may have helped accelerate growth in Imo State (administrative division where Owerri is located) to permit the creation of a second stake. There are 5.4 million people who live in Imo State albeit there are currently only two stakes and one district within its geographical boundaries. The Aba Nigeria Temple is within the boundaries of the Nigeria Owerri Mission.

The Gboko Nigeria District was organized on January 20th. However, the Church currently reports only one branch in Gboko. Therefore, at least two new branches were likely organized in Gboko or in nearby cities or villages. The Church organized its first branch in Gboko in 2016. There are now three districts in Benue State - all of which have been organized since 2017.

Many new stakes and several new districts appear likely to be organized in Nigeria within the immediate future due to rapid membership and congregational growth, and good convert retention and member activity rates - all of which has been accomplished without assistance from North American missionaries. New districts likely to be organized may be located in the following cities: Bonny, Bori, Kaduna, Sapele, and Ugep. New stakes likely to be organized within the near future include Aba (5th stake), Abuja (3rd stake), Akamkpa (from a district), Benin City (9th stake), Ibadan (2nd stake), Ijebu-Ode (from a district), Ikot Ekpene (2nd stake), Lagos (7th and 8th stakes), Onitsha (2nd stake), Ukat Aran (2nd stake), and Warri (2nd stake).

There are now 55 stakes and 16 districts in Nigeria. Given growth trends over the past decade, it appears likely that the Church in Nigeria will reach 100 stakes by the year 2025 given conservative projections.

Cote d'Ivoire
The Church created a new district in Cote d'Ivoire on January 27th.

The Man Cote d'Ivoire District was organized from at least four mission branches in Montagnes District. Branches currently assigned to the new district include three branches in Man (Doyaguine, Grand Gbapleu, and Man) and one branch in Logouale. The Church organized its first branch in Man in 2015 and in Logouale in 2017. The Man Cote d'Ivoire District is the Church's first district in Montagnes District where the first branch was organized in Duekoue in 2015. Today there are 10 branches in Montagnes District.

There are now 14 stakes and 13 districts in Cote d'Ivoire. The creation of one additional district appears imminent in Duekoue. Also, several additional stakes appear likely to be organized in the country before the end of the year, including as many as three new stakes in Abidjan.

Friday, February 1, 2019

January 2019 Newsletter

Click here to access our January 2019 Newsletter for cumorah.com. Also, we have completed most of the upgrades to cumorah.com although the International Atlas using Google Maps is still under construction. Enjoy!