Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Cambodia

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Cambodia. The Church in Cambodia and Mongolia share a similar history in regards to rapid growth that occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s despite a homogeneously Buddhist population and no Church presence prior to 1990, and slow growth trends during the 2010s. The Church in Cambodia has most recently achieved the greatest progress with local leadership development, but has experienced no progress with the establishment of new branches in previously unreached cities in over a decade. Cambodia is also the country in mainland Southeast Asia with the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population (albeit member activity rates are estimated at approximately 20%). See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The establishment of stakes and the announcement of a temple in Phnom Penh during the past decade signal maturation in local leadership and some sustained improvements in increasing numbers of active members. In the near future, focus from mission and area leaders will likely center on preparing Cambodian leadership to meet the responsibilities of staffing and operating a temple and helping the remaining district in Phnom Penh to become a stake. However, the lack of successful national outreach expansion since branches were organized in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap in 2007 indicate considerable concern regarding the Church’s long-term success with taking advantage of opportunities for growth which are often time-sensitive. The closure of member groups in several locations in recent years suggests failures for leadership to become adequately developed in these areas without full-time missionary support. Despite these frustrations, regular consideration for the opening of additional cities and provinces to missionary work is desperately needed to help sustain Church growth and adequately reach the Cambodian population, of whom 87% reside in locations without a Church presence. Given a homogeneously Buddhist population and a one-party government, religious freedom conditions may worsen in the coming years to the point that the expansion of the Church into additional cities and provinces may become very difficult. Social entrenchment of active members in wards and branches is another concern that may indicate future deceleration in growth due to growing disinterest in member-missionary participation. A self-sustaining Cambodian full-time missionary force and Cambodian members directly involved in the expansion of the Church into additional areas of the country appears greatly needed to help reverse trends of slowing growth. Moreover, high standards for convert baptism are also needed given the Church in Cambodia’s chronic challenges with member inactivity and convert attrition which appear primarily rooted in the duration and quality of pre-baptismal preparation. The development of teaching materials tailored to those with a Buddhist background appears needed to better convey the Latter-day Saint gospel message to the understanding of most Cambodians.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Request for Information/Feedback - Claims that the Church is Not Growing

I am currently writing an essay about common arguments made by Ex-Mormons and Anti-Mormons that the Church is not growing or in decline. If you have heard any of these arguments, please comment below. I want to make sure I am not missing any of the major ones. Thanks!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Thailand

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Thailand. The Church has maintained a presence in Thailand for over 50 years, yet only about 16% of the 22,700 members in the country appear to regularly attend church. Nevertheless, the Church in Thailand has the largest number of members, stakes, and congregations of any country in mainland Southeast Asia. Moreover, the Church in Thailand during the past decade has achieved significant progress with local leadership development, as evidenced by the number of stakes increasing from one to four, the announcement of a temple in Bangkok, a significant reduction in the frequency of Church employees serving in top local leadership positions (i.e. stake presidencies), and the calling of the first Thai area authority seventy. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The Church in Thailand has moderate prospects for intermediate-term growth. However, long-term problems with low convert retention and member activity rates pose significant challenges for long-term growth. The implementation of missionary programs developed in predominately Western Christian areas in non-Christian cultures and a rush to baptize inadequately prepared investigators who have not demonstrated sufficient personal understanding and life implementation of gospel teachings are major causes of high convert attrition in Thailand. Convert retention rates have experienced little improvement since the adoption of the Preach My Gospel program in 2004, as these key challenges remain largely unresolved. More consistent implementation of higher standards for baptism will be necessary if activity is ever to become the norm rather than the exception among Thai converts. Additional research, adaptations, and resources are needed to better convey the relevance and meaning of gospel teachings to the background and understanding of Buddhists and other non-Christians. Additional cities may open for missionary work, particularly nearby Bangkok, along coastal areas between Bangkok and Cambodia, and provincial capitals without current congregations. However, the focus of mission resource allocation will most likely continue to center on building and strengthening centers of strength, particularly in Bangkok and in the two remaining districts in Chiang Mai and Udon Thani. Due to Thailand’s geographic size and large population, a second mission may be organized in coming years to provide greater national outreach and support to other regions of the country.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

New Stake Created in Sierra Leone - Record Broken For Stake Growth in a Single City

Last Sunday, the Church organized its third stake in the city of Bo in Sierra Leone. The Bo Sierra Leone East Stake was created from the Bo Sierra Leone East District. Local members report that the new stake includes the following seven wards and three branches: the Barracks, Kendeyella, Lewabu, Messima, Sewa Road Wards, Sheriff Town, and Torkpoi Town Wards, and the Mendewa, New England, and Pujehun Branches. It is unclear whether other stakes in Bo were involved in the creation of the new stake. However, none of the units included in the new stake were previously listed as part of the other two Bo stakes prior to the new stake creation. The district had six branches prior to advancing into a stake, suggesting that four new units were organized when the stake was created - an unusual occurrence as new units are typically not created during new stake creations, but shortly before or after new stakes are organized. The original Bo Sierra Leone East District was created in 2014 from a division of the Bo Sierra Leone District. Prior to that time, only one district functioned in Bo (organized in 1991) that also serviced branches in Kenema between 2003 and 2012. A third district in Bo, the Bo Sierra Leone North District, was organized in November 2016. The first branch of the Church in Bo was created in 1990.

No other city in the world, where no stakes previously operated, has ever had so many new stakes organized in so short of a period of time as Bo.* The Church in Bo organized its first three stakes within an approximately 22-month period. The percentage of members of the Church in the population is estimated at 3.5% given the number of congregations in the city before the Bo Sierra Leone East Stake was organized (20) multiplied by the average number of members per ward or branch in Sierra Leone as of year-end 2018 (308) and the city's population in 2015 of approximately 175,000. Bo is also unique as it is likely the city with the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population of any city with 100,000 or more people on the Afro-Eurasian landmass. Even more interesting, Sierra Leone is also the country with the highest percentage of members in the general population among continental African countries, and is the country in Africa with the smallest percentage of Christians in the population with at least one mission headquartered within the country. Lastly, Bo is also unique in that many, if not most, members speak Mende as their first language. In fact, eight of the 20 congregations in Bo are designated as Mende-speaking on the Church's meetinghouse locator website, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/maps/meetinghouses. However, the Church has no materials or scriptures translated into Mende aside from the 13 Articles of Faith per the Church's official website for ordering materials, https://store.churchofjesuschrist.org/. There are 17 meetinghouses in Bo that provide high-penetrating outreach and access to the Church in the city. This level of outreach has also appeared instrumental in the Church's dynamic growth in Bo, as well as the creation of the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission in 2007. However, most importantly, local member involvement in missionary activity and leadership development advancements in the past decade appear most important for the impressive recent growth trends noted in Bo.

It is speculated that Bo is the most likely location for a future temple for Sierra Leone given its relatively central location in the country, more pleasant social and urban characteristics than Freetown (based on missionary reports), and strength in local membership. The creation of additional stakes in Bo may be within the foreseeable future, particularly if the two original Bo stakes were not divided in the creation of the Bo Sierra Leone East Stake. Also, Bo appears highly likely to be the location of the Church's second mission in Sierra Leone once this mission is organized given growth in the area and the expansion of the Church into many additional cities and towns within the past five years.

There are now six stakes and three districts in Sierra Leone.

*The Church in Monrovia, Liberia has experienced similar growth, with the number of stakes increasing from zero to four in a 13-month period from late 2016 to late 2017. However, the Church in Monrovia once operated a stake from 2000 to 2007, but the original stake was discontinued and reverted to district status until reinstated in 2017. Thus, the Church in Monrovia technically took 17 years to grow from zero stakes to four stakes.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

New Stakes Created in Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines, Texas, and Utah; New District Created in Nigeria

The Church organized a new stake in Ceará State, Brazil on August 25th. The Fortaleza Brazil Lisboa Stake was organized from a division of the Fortaleza Brazil Bom Jardim Stake and the Caucaia Brazil Stake. The new stake includes the following five wards: the Jatobá, Lisboa 1st, Lisboa 2nd, Novo Araturi, and Nova Conquista Wards. The new stake is the Church's fourth new stake organized in Ceará State since 2015. There are now 17 stakes in Fortaleza - the second most stake in a metropolitan area after Sao Paulo.

There are now 275 stakes and 39 districts in Brazil

The Church organized a new stake in southern Guatemala on September 8th. The Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa Guatemala Stake was organized from the Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa Guatemala District (organized in 1994). Information on which of the nine branches in the former district have become wards remains unavailable. The Church in Guatemala has recently experienced accelerated growth through the creation of new stakes from both districts maturing into stakes and the division of large stakes. Nine new stake have been organized in Guatemala since 2015.

There are now 51 stakes and 13 districts in Guatemala.

The Philippines
The Church organized a new stake on Luzon on September 1st. The Iba Philippines Stake was organized from the Iba Philippines District (created in 1983). The new stake includes the following five wards and one branch: the Botolan, Iba, Liozon, Palauig, and San Agustin Wards, and the Bulawen Branch. The new stake is the Church's fourth new stake organized in the Philippines Olongapo Mission since 2017. Prior to that time, the mission had only one stake within its boundaries. The two remaining districts in the mission, headquartered in Dinalupihan and Santa Cruz, appear likely to become stakes within the near future based upon reports from local members.

There are now 114 stakes and 63 districts in the Philippines.

The Church organized a new stake in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area on August 25th. The Little Elm Texas Stake was created from the Frisco Texas Stake and the Frisco Texas Shawnee Trail Stake. The new stake includes the following seven wards: the Aubrey, Cross Roads, Frisco 6th, Little Elm 1st, Little Elm 2nd, Little Elm 3rd, and Oak Point Wards. The new stake is the Church's fifth new stake created in the Dallas/Forth Worth area since 2015.

There are now 76 stakes and two districts in Texas.

The Church organized a new stake in central Utah on August 25th. The Central Valley Utah Stake was created from the Monroe Utah Stake and the Richfield Utah East Stake. The new stake includes the following seven wards and one branch: the Annabella 1st, Annabella 2nd, Central Valley 1st, Central Valley 2nd, Richfield 1st, Richfield 11th, and Richfield 15th Wards, and the Central Valley 3rd Branch (Spanish). The new stake is the first new stake created in the Richfield area of Utah since 1977.

There are now 603 stakes and one district in Utah.

The Church organized a new district in Rivers State, Nigeria on August 18th. The Bori Nigeria District was created from a division of the Okrika Nigeria District. The new stake includes the following eight branches: the Asarama, Bori, Bori Nigeria District, Nortem, Sogho, Taabaa, Unyeada, and Zaakpo Branches. The Church has experienced rapid congregational growth in the Bori area during the past few years, and the creation of the new district appeared warranted as the original Okrika Nigeria District had 13 branches.

There are now 58 stakes and 19 districts in Nigeria.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Indonesia

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Indonesia. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country with 263 million people. However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reports only about 7,500 members in Indonesia despite a Church presence for 50 years. Indonesia ranks as the country with the 68th most Latter-day Saints among countries with membership figures reported as of year-end 2018. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

Potential for church growth remains high, but Latter-day Saints continue to lack the needed nationwide infrastructure and increase in the number of local full-time missionaries to expand mission outreach and reverse the trend of stagnant growth over the past two decades. Decreases in the number of Indonesians who serve missions in the past three decades has been a major challenge not only for mission outreach expansion, but also with supplying leadership for the future as returned missionaries often provide a significant source for leadership positions. All but three congregations are on the island of Java, and there were only four more congregations in Indonesia in late 2019 than in 1995. Church administrative decisions not to translate any church materials into languages spoken by over sixty million Indonesians, low involvement member-missionary programs, the lack of coherent vision for expanding national outreach into unreached areas, and the failure to reach out to receptive ethnic groups and develop a core leadership among them, all bode poorly for the Church’s prospects to achieve breakthroughs in growth in Indonesia in the medium term. Other denominations that have implemented broader visions for national outreach and have made better use of available opportunities have achieved far more rapid growth in Indonesia than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Government restrictions on visas for foreign full-time missionaries has limited expansion of national outreach over the past two decades. Greater local member participation in missionary activity within the bounds of the law is needed to open additional areas to missionary work, although greater institutional vision could considerably facilitate this process. Other Christian groups have demonstrated that excellent church growth opportunities exist but must be properly approached due to restrictive cultural and governmental conditions. Latter-day Saints have developed a capable, sustained local leadership that can assist in opening new areas of the country to the church if desired by regional church leadership. Due to the creation two new stakes and reduced administrative burden on the Indonesia Jakarta Mission during the early 2010s, additional areas may open to proselytism. However, efforts will likely continue to focus on centers of strength for the Church in select cities on Java, and the establishment of centers of strength in Medan, Manado, and Bali, rather than expansion of the Church into totally unreached provinces inhabited by tens of millions of people. A small temple may be announced in Jakarta within the foreseeable future due to distance and self-sustaining membership and leadership.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Malaysia

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Malaysia. The Church experienced rapid membership and congregational growth during the 2000s, but with low convert retention rates. Membership increased from 1,300 members in 2000 to over 7,000 members in 2010. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article.

The outlook for the Church in Malaysia is noticeably bleaker for the coming decade compared to the 2000s and 2010s. Marked declines in membership growth rates from the previous decade, low member activity rates, leadership development challenges, and no expansion of the Church into additional cities in recent years, as well as a contraction in outreach with the sole branches in several cities closed in the 2010s, indicate that the Church in Malaysia’s focus has been on strengthening the core of active membership and preparing for some of the larger districts to become stakes, such as in Kuala Lumpur and Miri, rather than outward expansion. This approach may yield some long-term results with the formation of stakes in both East and West Malaysia in the foreseeable future. The translation of all Latter-day Saint scriptures and many Church materials into Malay within the past decade also presents good opportunities for testimony development and missionary activity. However, with uncertainty regarding the role of Islam in government and increasing societal intolerance toward religious minorities may result in greater limitations placed on nontraditional Christian denominations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which may, in turn, result in insurmountable obstacles toward future expansion of the Church. Consequently, the Church may be vulnerable to miss the current window of opportunity to expand into additional cities both in East and West Malaysia if such restrictions come into effect. However, the Church in Malaysia will most importantly need to become self-sufficient in meeting its own leadership and missionary needs without assistance from foreign full-time missionaries or expatriate Westerners in order to develop a more solid membership base that can endure societal and political changes, and perpetuate growth for generations to come.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Singapore

Click here to access the updated country profile for Singapore. The Church in Singapore experienced steady membership growth until the early 2010s and has since experienced stagnant membership growth rates for most years. Nevertheless, there is a strong core of active members in the country with as many as 1,000 active members. Materialism and secularism are major obstacles for growth. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

Slow, steady growth will likely occur for the Church in Singapore with fluctuations in growth rates depending most strongly on the ebb and flow of foreign members who temporarily work in the country. Secularism and materialism pose major obstacles for greater growth through Singaporean converts who join the Church and remain active. A second stake may be organized in Singapore if additional congregations are created, albeit recent ward consolidations suggest that a second stake may be many years or decades away from fruition. Additional language-specific congregations may be created, such as for Tamil and Indonesian speakers. Differentiated Chinese-speaking congregations (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkein, etc.) seem a likely possibility. However additional congregations will likely only be created as membership is strong enough to provide leadership and if functioning congregations are operating at capacity given high real estate prices. As hinted by President Hinckley and a former Singapore Stake President, Singapore is a likely location for a future small temple.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Updated Country Profile - Sri Lanka

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Sri Lanka. The Church in Sri Lanka has experienced some of the slowest growth among Asian nations with a Church presence for over 40 years. As of year-end 2018, there were approximately 1,600 members, four branches, and one member group. Only about 25% of members appear to regularly attend church. Nevertheless, there have been some recent positive developments, such as sustained annual membership growth rates of 5% or higher per year since 2015, the full-time missionary force solely comprised to Sri Lankan members (with the exception of senior couples), and the creation of a second branch in Colombo. Also, senior missionaries a couple years ago reported that church attendance in Kandy increased from 15 to 115 in less than six months (albeit it is unclear whether this increase has since been sustained). See below for the Future Prospects section of this article.

Accelerated membership growth since the mid-2010s and the organization of a second branch in Colombo point to some recent improvements in growth trends. This has been significant given that only local Sri Lankan members and senior couples have served in Sri Lanka as full-time missionaries during this time. However, missionary efforts have not been able to replicate more rapid membership growth attained by foreign, fulltime missionaries during the 2000s, albeit a higher percentage of recent converts appears to have been retained. Branches in Negombo and Kandy may divide when warranted by sustained growth in active membership. Additional branches or member groups in lesser-reached areas of the Colombo metropolitan area appear most favorable for future efforts to expand outreach due to high population density, proximity to other branches, and difficulty accessing the meetinghouse from more distant urban areas. Once there are at least five branches, over 120 active Melchizedek Priesthood holders, and 1,900 members a stake may be established, although current trends suggest that this goal is far distant especially given low member activity rates. Improving convert retention through approaches tailored to the needs of individuals of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds and careful preparation of prospective converts to ensure that gospel habits are in place will be crucial to achieving real long-term growth.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

New Temple Predictions - September 2019 Edition

I have updated my temple prediction map in preparation for General Conference in October. Data used to identify likely locations for future temples include the number of stakes and districts, the number of wards and branches, age of the oldest stake, trends in church growth, distance to the nearest temple, number of endowment sessions scheduled at the nearest temple, and member and missionary reports regarding member activity, temple attendance, and convert retention. Given President Nelson's comments in a media conference a couple days ago, there will be new temples announced this October. The Church announced 19 new temples during 2018 and eight new temples in April 2019.

In March 2019, I added a new classification for less likely potential new temples to be announced (i.e. locations with few stakes and distant from the nearest temple). I have added this new category given the recent trend for the Church announcing more temples in locations with fewer stakes. Thus, there has been an emphasis on the construction of new temples in more remote locations with comparatively few members to improve accessibility to the temple. Locations I added to the map back in March in this category include:
  • Rosario, Argentina
  • Flagstaff, Arizona 
  • Londrina, Brazil
  • Natal, Brazil
  • Santa Maria, Brazil
  • Sao Jose, Brazil
  • Teresina, Brazil
  • Osorno, Chile
  • Vina del Mar, Chile
  • Cali, Colombia
  • Grand Junction, Colorado 
  • Santiago, Dominican Republic
  • Coban, Guatemala
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Augusta, Maine 
  • Aguascalientes, Mexico
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Chihuahua, Mexico
  • Culiacan, Mexico
  • Torreon, Mexico
  • Farmington, New Mexico 
  • Enugu, Nigeria
  • Piura, Peru
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • Rapid City, South Dakota 
  • Austin, Texas
  • El Paso, Texas 
  • Longview, Texas
  • McAllen, Texas
  • Tacuarembo, Uruguay
  • Charleston, West Virginia
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
  • Casper, Wyoming
I have added the following 58 locations to the less likely list of temples that may be announced:
  • Fairbanks, Alaska 
  • Juneau, Alaska
  • Tirana, Albania 
  • Neuquen, Argentina
  • Trelew, Argentina
  • Hobart, Australia
  • Tarija, Bolivia
  • Campo Grande, Brazil
  • Cuiaba, Brazil
  • Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
  • Maceio, Brazil 
  • Pelotas, Brazil
  • Rio Branco, Brazil
  • Sao Paulo Guarulhos, Brazil
  • Sorocaba, Brazil 
  • Vitoria, Brazil
  • Punta Arenas, Chile
  • San Luis Valley, Colorado 
  • Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo
  • Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire
  • Machala, Ecuador
  • Quevedo, Ecuador
  • Ra'atea, Tahiti, French Polynesia 
  • Kahului, Hawaii
  • Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • New Delhi, India
  • Kingston, Jamaica 
  • Sendai, Japan
  • Busan, Korea
  • La Paz, Mexico 
  • Beira, Mozambique
  • Maputo, Mozambique
  • Elko, Nevada (previously on Likely Potential New Temples list)
  • Christchurch, New Zealand 
  • Abuja, Nigeria
  • Calabar, Nigeria
  • Ibadan, Nigeria
  • Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • Cleveland, Ohio (previously on Likely Potential New Temples list)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 
  • Cusco, Peru
  • Huancayo, Peru
  • Pisco, Peru
  • Puno, Peru
  • Tacna, Peru
  • Iloilo City, Philippines
  • Puerto Princesa, Philippines
  • Savaii, Samoa
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain
  • Kaohsiung, Taiwan 
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Lome, Togo
  • Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Delta, Utah
  • Port Vila, Vanuatu
  • Barcelona, Venezuela
Altogether, the temple prediction map has 140 potential sites for more likely and less likely locations where temples may be announced. Church growth trends in 2019 have appeared to slightly accelerate during the year compared to 2018 in regards to the creation of new congregations and stakes, and also increases in convert baptisms in many missions around the world. However, this significant increase in the number of locations added to the map is NOT due to a sudden increase in church growth, but rather a change in temple announcements to more cities with few members that are distant from the nearest temple (such as Yigo, Guam; Budapest, Hungary; Okinawa, Japan; and Moses Lake, Washington to name a few). As for what I see as the 10 most likely locations for new temples to be announced this October, see below:
  • Benin City, Nigeria
  • Santa Cruz, Bolivia 
  • Monrovia, Liberia 
  • Freetown or Bo, Sierra Leone 
  • Angeles, Philippines
  • Bacolod, Philippines
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Rogers, Arkansas 
  • Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
  • Tarawa, Kiribati
Red squares on the map below are temples which are dedicated or planned. Yellow squares are likely potential new temples that may be announced in the near future. Blue circles are less likely potential new temples that may be announced in the near future. Please share your predictions for new temple announcements in the comments below.