Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Collapse of the Church in Armenia?

Recently, the Church posted on its meetinghouse locator website that both of the districts in Armenia have been discontinued. Also, all of the branches in Armenia except for four branches (the Arabkir, Artashat, Vanadzor, and Yerevan Central Branches) have been discontinued which resulted in the number of branches decreasing from 11 to four. This is an unprecedented development for the Church in Armenia where a stake briefly operated between 2013 and 2016. Some of the branches discontinued were the only branches of the Church in the city where they operated. Moreover, some of these branches, such as Gyumri, had as many as 65 active members 7-9 years ago. The Church in Armenia had nearly 3,600 members as of year-end 2019 which means that, with year-end 2019 membership totals, the Church in Armenia has the highest ratio of members-to-congregations of approximately 900. There has not been any other country in the world to have experienced such a dramatic decline in congregations, national outreach, and active membership as Armenia during the past several decades of the worldwide Church.

I have not been able to find any information about the cause for these most recent developments. In fact, the situation in Armenia had appeared to be stabilizing in recent years given the creation of a second district based in Vanadzor in 2018 and the reestablishment of Alaverdi Branch in 2018. However, the Church in Armenia experienced a major leadership crisis in 2016 which culminated in the discontinuation of the stake and many leaving the Church. Returned missionaries have indicated that the mishandling of Church finances and local leadership development problems warranted the stake being discontinued. The Church in Armenia has struggled with very low member activity rates for many years which have appeared primarily attributed to inadequate prebaptismal preparation during periods of the most rapid membership growth in the 2000s. In the late 2010s, I estimated that only 17-19% of membership on Church records were active. The emigration of active membership in Armenia has been a major long-term challenge for the Church to maintain its stability in the country. In fact, the Church in Bulgaria has experienced similar difficulties with the emigration of active members. Similarly, the Church in Bulgaria is likely the country that has experienced the second most significant decline in the past several decades in the worldwide Church given that the number of branches in Bulgaria decreased by 67% from 21 to 7 between 2007 and 2018

Please comment if you have any information about the current status of the Church in Armenia and why both of the districts and most of the branches in the country were discontinued.

99 comments:

Michael Worley said...

Very sad.

Eduardo said...

I wonder if push/pull factors of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has affected the economics and living standards in Armenia proper. Also, I could see the drain in tourism and the lock down of C-19 as being an accelerating factor in emigration from the country.

James said...

I agree with you, Michael Worley, Tragic, but not wholly unexpected. Matt, I don't have any direct information on or insight into the current state of the Church in Armenia, That being said, when my wife and I first moved in to our ward here in Orem, one of our then-home teachers was a brother from Armenia. Sometimes, during our visits, the subject turned to the situation of the Church in Armenia, since he had spent a good portion of his life there. Bearing in mind that I last talked to him roughly 4-5 years ago, what I remember him saying may not actually be fully accurate in every detail. That being said, if my recollection is accurate and correct, then it might be useful in demonstrating what is leading to the collapose you described, Matt. So here's what I remember him saying, to the best of my knowledge:

The missionaries were not treated well, some even being falsely imprisoned on trumped-up charges. (Parenthetically, Matt, you mentioned Bulgaria in your post above, and at one point in my parents' ward, one of the men who served as a bishop during my Aaronic Priesthood years was the father of a young missionary who served in Bulgaria. That young man was also falsely imprisoned for a time, and came home very gaunt and thin due to conditions in Bulgaria. If the same is true for missionaries that are similarly falsely accused of criminal activity in Armenia, that could explain part of the problem,)

I also recall him saying that for missionaries, poselyting was difficult, even in the best case scenarios, in Armenia. Some people either weren't receptive at all to the gospel message, while others could get to a certain point in being taught before they discontinued those discussions. If that's still occurring now, it could explain the low baptism rate. Additionally, even if there were more than a few conversions and baptisms, sometimes the new converts didn't have sufficient post-baptismal support, which made retention problems more profound.

Add to that equation the fact that some of the more regular members at meetings might have had experiences that led them to losetheir faith and testimonies, especially when buying into negative information about the Church and its' leaders, That might lead to subsequent difficulties in keeping congregations properly staffed and sufficiently active, which could then result in the discontinuation of congregations or congregational clusters.

Again, I wouldn't put my head on the probervbial block to prove that the information I've shared here is correct. My memory in this regard, as in so many others, could be faulty, incomplete, or inaccurate. But any one or two of these problems would be enough to affect the growth of the Church in Armenia, so if all of these factors are in play at the same time, the situation in Armenia is not at all surprising.

Matt, for you and anyone else here, you can take or leave my thoughts on this matter as you choose. I hope I have accurately represented what that former home teacher of mine said about his native Armenia. But even if not everything I mentioned here is accurate, any of these factors, individually or collectively, would likely be more than enough to hinder the work in that nation. My thanks to all who take time to read this comment, and to you, Matt, for allowing us to have these discussions here.

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy said...

Not my own experience, but a returned missionary shared with our congregation that the Armenian version of the mafia was using the church as a front for all of their organization.

gte811i said...

It wouldn't surprise me to see this type of collapse happens in other countries or even here in the US; but especially overseas.

I traveled overseas last year and we went WAAAAAY overboard here. Many other countries at the top level had mask mandates, lockdowns, etc. but it wasn't enforced. This is pretty obvious as to enforce something at that level requires a nation with tremendous police force, legal system, etc.

But at the Church level, it was enforced. So you have some local branch, units, etc. in 2nd/3rd world countries who's leaders said the country was "locked-down" but the reality on the ground was that most people just ignored it. Except our Church. So what happens when people are going about their lives with Churches who are "obeying" the authorities even though no one else is doing so.

Yeah, they realize how much they really don't need the Church. It's unfortunate but the Church mismanaged the whole virus thing, especially overseas.

We know have leaders trying to make lemonade out of lemons by saying things like "see, Facebook missionary work is soo much better". Yeah, that's going to last about a hot second as we try to force a square peg into a round hole. If we continue to emphasis Facebook/social media missionary work, the numbers are going to continue to be very, very bad (like 2020) and this collapse in Armenia is going to be repeated elsewhere.

Michael Worley said...

As the church is true, it will continue to draw people to it, whether church is home centered due to covid or because of prophetic guidance.

Michael Worley said...

Armenia has had a considerable death toll because of the pandemic. I do think this could be pandemic induced.

gte811i said...

@Michael Worley,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon are true. Growth has very little to do with something being true or not.

It is pretty obvious there is a demographic bust coming in the Church. Last year for example, adjusted for world-wide population growth the Church shrunk; i.e. the Church is a smaller percentage of the world's population in 2020 than it was in 2019.

You will notice that the messages about the unstoppable Church growth that was heard in the late 90s to mid 00s is never mentioned anymore. Why? Because it's not true.
Last year was the lowest growth @ .6% since 1857. That's 163 years. That's taking into account a Civil War, 2 World Wars, a real honest to goodness pandemic that killed 20% of the people infected.

The only years with lower growth rates are negative growth rates.

Now I imagine growth will bounce back somewhat in 2021; I doubt it will go to 2%. It's been 7 years since the Church has had 2% growth. Couple that with the demographic bomb about to hit in the US as the baby boomer generation dies off and the younger generation not sticking around and you've got a recipe for real serious sustained negative growth.

But unfortunately that's one of the major problems in the Church, everyone is pollyanna. Everything is awesome and if you don't drink the kool-aid and come to the same conclusion that everything is awesome by being completely delusional, then you are ostracized.

The Church has already implicitly implied negative growth rates by the focus on making single people feel comfortable and publishing that 50% of the adult population is single. And those who are married aren't having enough kids to make up for those that don't have them.

If 50% is single where is the sustained multi-generational growth going to come from?

Cory said...

Someone reposted this to Reddit. One commenter reported that one of the only active priesthood from a branch was killed in the recent conflict with Azerbaijan. About 4000 people were killed in the nation of 3 million.

https://www.reddit.com/r/mormon/comments/noca2r/armenia_church_information/

I'm sure the recent consolidation was caused by compounding factors of lack of missionaries and meetings during the pandemic, continued effects from the stake discontinuation, poor retention, emigration, and the effects of the military conflicts.

The Armenians have really pulled the short straw of history. This isn't the first time there has been a collapse of the church. The mission president Joseph W. Booth spent most of his life working with Armenians in what is now Turkey and Syria in the early 20th century. The church eventually disappeared because of the resulting war and genocide.

https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/exhibit/1921-lds-armenian-exodus?lang=eng

Christopher Nicholson said...

gte811i, this blog has been discussing the declines and flatlining and inactivity and various problems in church growth very candidly for a very long time. I can tell you've never read it before if you're going to show up and claim that "everyone is pollyanna" and recite a bunch of statistics that have already been posted here at various times. So maybe dial your arrogance down a few notches.

Michael Worley said...

gte,

Much of what you say is true, and is validated by others on this blog. But being led by prophets and apostles makes me far from certain present trajectories are permanent. Many African countries had exponential growth pre covid, and Utah’s population growth is another asset. Plus we’ve learned the future is unpredictable. Again, much of your response is correct, but it doesn’t imply long term conclusions.

Matt said...

This is Matt Martinich. Please keep the conversation civil and respectful. The purpose of enabling the comments on this blog is to provide interested readers a place to share accurate information, observations, and ideas about Church growth. In this particular post, I requested for those who have ideas or information on what is happening with the Church in Armenia to comment.

Some has speculated if similar "collapses" of the Church may occur in other countries. The situation in Armenia at present is truly unprecedented given that the Church had a stake in this country as recently has five years (comprised almost entirely of local members, not foreign transplants), more than 3,000 members, its own mission, and a steady trajectory of membership and congregational growth until about 5-7 years ago. No other country in the Church has ever decompensated so rapidly and from as much progress as was previously attained. This signals to me that there were some serious cracks in the Church's foundation in the Church's local leadership in Armenia for this type of drastic response to be taken by the Church to discontinue over two-thirds of the congregations in so short a period of time (including in cities where there are now no official congregations like Gyumri).

As for other countries with 3,000+ members which may experience a similar fate as Armenia, I think it is highly unlikely, but Eastern Europe is the most likely region where future repeats may occur given the combination of factors that really pose challenges for local leadership development (i.e., high levels of corruption in society, lack of sizable numbers of well-trained local leaders, high levels of societal and government persecution of the Church, high emigration of active members, dependence on full-time missionaries to staff many leadership and missionary needs). However, we have had similar "collapses" on a much smaller scale in other countries (like the Republic of Georgia after the war with Russia in the late 2000s, Bulgaria in the past decade). Also, we have had some countries with large Church memberships where the Church experienced a sudden reversal in membership and congregational growth trends (like Chile in the early 2000s).

The common theme with these examples is that these were problems that had been going on for years, or even decades, which were simmering and compounding until a particular event happened that really resulted in a major event. However, there are success stories where these issues are addressed and appropriately resolved (such as in Liberia after the stake was discontinued in 2007, significant improvement in the Philippines with augmenting active membership and local leadership training/quality), but this often takes years, or even decades, to rectify. Moreover, there is a dearth of such success stories among countries where the population has been traditionally unreceptive to Latter-day Saint outreach efforts.

Matt said...

On one other quick note - the reason why membership growth was so slow in 2020 was really due to a combination of factors, but primarily it is that the countries with the most members on the records experienced stagnant or extremely slow membership growth. This results in many inaccurately thinking that the Church as a whole is in such a state of stagnation, when in actually many countries with comparatively small memberships report significant membership growth rates. Of course it is unrealistic for countries with large memberships (500,000+) to experience rapid membership growth rates given how difficult that is to achieve mathematically. However, we should see a reversal in worldwide total membership growth trends in the next 1-2 decades as we see developing countries with high to moderate growth rates, such as in Africa, begin to have larger numbers of members, and thus have a stronger affect on the total Church membership growth trends. However, this will depend on the Church consistently expanding into new areas to accomplish this, and as we have seen as I have maintained this blog, these outreach expansion efforts are often cyclical and not consistently sustained.

gte811i said...

Christopher Nicholson,

I've read the blog for a long time and been a member for a very long time. It's not arrogance, it's frustration. It is a cultural marker that members are extremely upbeat-and unfortunately to a fault. This is because quite frankly we are an extremely prideful people; our leaders can do no wrong and never make a mistake; i.e. we are chosen and because we are chosen we have chosen leaders and because we have chosen leaders we can do no wrong. We elevate them to a status that it not fit to elevate other men to.

This leads us to instead of learning from mistakes to simply sweeping them under the rug and avoiding problems until they become so big that then the solution to the problem is proclaimed as revelation from every corner . . . .until that solution doesn't work and then the next solution is proclaimed as revelation.

We seem to try every new fad that catches the popular mind instead of going with deep lasting meaningful truths found in scripture. How many times do we get "lists" of things which "do these 12 steps" or "do these 3 things I've laid out in my talk" and you'll be happy, etc. etc. etc.

gte811i said...

As Matt stated:
"The common theme with these examples is that these were problems that had been going on for years, or even decades, which were simmering and compounding until a particular event happened that really resulted in a major event"

That is going on now in the heartland of Mormonism.

There is no way that with a population as diverse as Mormons are on the range of political spectrum, philosophical spectrum, etc. that making statements such as the vaccine is a godsend, or wearing masks is a sign of Christlike love, that those types of statements aren't rankling a good many members. Or policies such as one must wear a mask if you aren't vaccinated, but if you are vaccinated you don't have to, or policies which require members to e-mail a vaccine card to their Bishop. Or policies wear half the ward is vaccinated and unmasked but the leaders (which are vaccinated still mandate mask wearing among leadership). Some people (even good believing members) will see such things not as from God but from those who have too much power and weld it to their whims.

You may not see it immediately, but those are chips in the armor and given enough time and pressure-that armor will crack.

To Matt's last comment. Yes, some areas are the Church are experiencing phenomenal growth, that's fantastic. But that phenomenal growth is a drop in the bucket to the larger growth which IS stagnant. When the difference between between world growth rate and church growth rate is ~.5%, that's pretty stagnant.

10% of 10k is 1000, and 1% of 100,000 is still 1000, combine the two and it's slightly
more than 2% overall growth.

So yes, the Africa countries will help mitigate the bleeding, but that's probably the wrong way to look at it. The bleeding is happening in the heartland, the strength, the multi-generational centers of power. It will be 50+ years for the African countries to have the multi-generational strength that the heartland has.

Sadly, I think it will take some negative growth rate for heartland members to remove the tremendous amount of pride that is seen (I don't exclude myself, I have to work on it all the time).

John Pack Lambert said...

We just got the first new stale in Michigan in 42 years. The Farmington Hills Michigan stake took 2 wards from Bloo.field Hills stake (Farmington Hills and Commerce), which now puts our stake center in the furthest north-west building in the stake. In the boundaries of the ward that is furthest north west. It is 3 miles north of the middle north to south, but the middle east to west is 9 miles east of the stake center.

The stake is 26 miles by about 32 miles
However it is shaped like a triangle, and where the stake center is is the narrower end. The stake only goes 4 miles north from the stake center, but 11 miles south. I doubt they will move the stake center, although I think the Roseville building would be closer to the center of the stake. It has a big enough parking lot but a smaller cultual hall. Also the eastern end of the stake is very narrow. It is only 5 miles east of the center and 1 mile south but the eastern 4 miles of the stake are only about 3 miles wide.

The new stake took the Livonia and Northville Wards from Westland stake. Which puts Westland stake at 5 wards and 1 branch. It also took the White Lake Ward from Grand Blanc Stake which was formed by splitting Clarkston Ward 2 weeks ago. I believe it also took Brighton Ward from Ann Arbor Stake, but that I am not 100% sure of. So it seems to have 6 wards. That leaves Bloomfield Hills stake with 6 wards and 3 branches, 2 inner city and 1 YSA. Grand Blanc Stake keeps 7 wards and 1 Spanish branch, Ann Arbor Stake spparently is left with 7 wards.

John Pack Lambert said...

The only church member who U ever knew who lived in the modern nation state of Armenia was a native of Azerbaijan who fled there during the pograms. She later migrated to Russia and then joined the Church in the US.

Migrarion out of Armenia has been very high at times.

2020 numbers are really not a goid reflection of long term trends. They were largely driven by Pandemic disruption.

Daniel Moretti said...

I completely agree with you, and I emphasize that being critical on this point does not prevent my testimony from remaining intact. For example, I have criticisms of the policy of receiving Venezuelan members in Brazil carried out by the area presidency after the supply crisis of the Maduro government. If the leadership were really inspired to take this action, they would know that just two years later Brazil would be worse off than Venezuela, because the fascist tyrant who governs Brazil (supported by most church members) and who left the people without vaccine. That is, Venezuelans came out of the frying pan to fall into the fire. So I ask: was there inspiration in this initiative? No, since humanitarian issues are not about doctrine. For information, the leader of the missionaries who served on the border, a millionaire Mormon businessman, will need to answer an inquiry in the Federal Senate over the relationship with Bolsonaro's government and military while leading the mission. sorry for my bad googled english.

Eduardo said...

Agreed, pride is at work everywhere. So is hunger, economic struggles, violence, disease. The humble but powerful priesthood and Gospel of Jesus Christ will overcome all these barriers and hurdles.
We must have faith in the restored Church and its leaders and members, none of whom are perfect, but ultimate faith in the One Perfect One.
His temples are coming quickly and so will He.
Each prophet is needed for this event to take place and we have been invited, repeatedly to get on board.
Get on board, hold on, and enjoy the ride.
I love the Gospel of the Lord and its growth, warts and setbacks and all. We are not perfect, therefore we have Him, and inspired leaders and followers.

David Todd said...

I dunno it seems especially prideful to me to suggest that matters of policy over wearing masks (which people can just get over really- its a mask for goodness sake) is enough to rightlfully merit mass-exodus from the church. Converted people shouldn't allow things so unrelated to the gospel message to matter for their faith.

Jim Anderson said...

KSL ran a historical piece on mask wearing, they found that the same arguments for and against masks were evident during the flu pandemic of 1918-19. But nearly all those still living, and it is obviously not very many, probably were too young to remember what was said on either side of that.

Here in Utah, the area presidency did release a letter saying that mask-wearing was good citizenship and that it was one of the best ways we could beat Covid-19, The letter was widely shared on social media so some beyond Utah saw it.

But the net effect of all this is that many people noted they did not even get any of the cold viruses, I still got a few, but other things I do anyway kept those down and they were gone in a day, got the J&J shot and after the first night where I just felt red-hot, those have not hit me, and it has been almost three months, and I was talking to a USPS phone rep and she was on the east coast, and work colleagues reported similar and said it was likely the masks.

L. Chris Jones said...

John Pack Lambert, I know this info is just Wikipedia, but it has some info that may answer question. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations_into_Mongolian

gte811i said...

"I dunno it seems especially prideful to me to suggest that matters of policy over wearing masks (which people can just get over really- its a mask for goodness sake)"

That statement is the epitome of pride. It states in effect that because I do not have a problem with wearing masks anyone who does have a problem with masks should just "get over it".

Instead of treating other individuals as people who have thought about things and dislike the meaning, one should just "get over it". That's about as prideful as it gets because it's an "I'm right and your wrong and because you are wrong, you just need to get over it".

My goodness the hubris.

gte811i said...

I will tell you exactly why "it's just a mask" is a false and pernicious idea.

Masks logically nor scientifically work. They simply just don't. They don't work because of something any basic engineer knows-it's called fluid dynamics and it's called air handlers.

How is it that buildings the temperature feels the same (or very nearly the same) across multiple rooms? It's because we invented something called air handlers which distribute air throughout a building. Air handlers move air throughout a building, which means that within a relatively short period of time, everyone in a building is breathing the exact same distribution of particulates as everyone else.

This is why if someone lights up in a building, within minutes the smoke smell will be everyone. The particulates of smoke become EVENLY distributed throughout the entire building, very, very quickly.

Your mask is made of cloth the virus particulates are much, much smaller than the weaves in the cloth. In addition, you are breathing, which means you are pushing air particles in and out of the mask. Yes it takes greater force to do so, but the particles are still be forced out of the mask and in through the mask. Additionally, if you have glasses you notice that your glasses fog up when wearing a mask, why? Because instead of going out in the front, the particles are forced up and then your glasses fog up.

Whether the particles are forced out in front or up to your glasses makes absolutely 0 difference because of fluid dynamics (i.e. within a short amount of time, those particles forced up through your glasses will be evenly distributed throughout the entire room).

The only type of mask wearing that MAY make a difference is for a completely sealed N95 or N99 mask. The rest are completely and utterly pointless.

gte811i said...

Now what does the following have to do with "it's just a mask!!"

Well you see there is this thing called integrity. A guarantee that a ton of people absolutely know that masks do nothing and ONLY wear them for show, they only wear them because other people are wearing them.

I do not go to Church for show. I go to Church to worship my God and my Savior. I go to Church to commune with Him and hopefully join with others in that communion.

For me to put a mask (or to cover my face) while worshipping my God is a sign of tremendous disrespect to Him. He saved my life, He saved my soul and I am going to cover my face ashamed because of a virus? I'm going to cover my mouth to prevent it from proclaiming His Name due to this?

I think not. My reverence of Him is too deep, it is too personal for me to visibly be ashamed (or to be made to feel ashamed) of the very breadth that is coming from my body when I am in the act of praising Him.

I will not put on a mask that I know is false and then seek to proclaim His name. For if I put on a mask which I know is false, how is it that I can seek to bear His name with any integrity of heart.

"It's just a mask"-i.e. shut up and do it because you make the rest of us look bad.

gte811i said...

@David Todd,

Converted people shouldn't be so cavalier in their worship of God that they feel obligated to request that others should hid their very breadth from God.

gte811i said...

@Jim Anderson,

I don't think it's masks, I think it's people staying away from each other when they are sick. More people are hyper-aware of not being sick around other people; so whereas before people might be out and about with a cold, they just aren't going out.

It's not the masks, it's that sick people are staying home more.

Michael said...

Ladies and gentlemen, gte811i truly gets it! Never mind that actual health professionals (you know, the ones who've studied and practiced this their entire professional lives) recommend that we do this (including, you know, the prophet) to slow the spread (slow being the key word...no one ever said masks were 100% effective - this is a great example of the nirvana/perfect solution fallacy). Never mind that not everyone stayed home and with enforced mask-wearing we *still* saw a significant drop in influenza and cold cases. And, following this gem of a quote: "For me to put a mask (or to cover my face) while worshipping my God is a sign of tremendous disrespect to Him", never mind that women in the church literally are required to cover their faces while worshiping God in the temple. No, never mind all that. All of you who wore masks, y'all were deceived, NOT gte811i. Definitely.

James said...

While I fully agree with what Matt said in his comments earlier (that there is room for different people with different backgrounds to have different opinions on different subjects, and that all such discussions should remain civil), I take issue, Michael, with your characterization of "those who wore masked" as being the ones who were deceived. I feel that is way off base. In 2 Nephi 2:27, we read the following:

"Wherefore, men are afree according to the bflesh; and call things are dgiven them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to echoose fliberty and eternal glife, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be hmiserable like unto himself."

James said...

hat scripture presents a stunning contrast between liberty and life and captivity and death. Michael, do you honestly feel on a personal level that all regulations or precautions put in place by the Church are a result of Church leaders, from President Nelson on down, "being deceived"? Do yoo honextly think that in-person Church meetings should never have stopped, that the temples never should have been closed, and that those responsible for those decisions are the ones who have truly "been deceived"?

I have longstanding respiratory conditions, and if I had failed to take precautions, or had been cavalier in my conduct, advancing the idea that my freedom to be out in public was more important than anyone else's freedom to live, I would have consequently expected to be held accountable before God for advocating attitudes or opinions that were not supported by the Brethren as revealed by the Lord.

Joseph Smith said it best: "I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.”

By my choice to wear a mask, and by my subsequent choices to not be out in public a lot, and eventually to get vaccinated, I felt I was doing my part to prevent a deadly virus from spreading. And in so doing, in every respect, I chose to follow the guidelines given by medical professionals (especially those directly responsible for my healthcare issues), and the guidelines given by the rank-and-file leaders from the Church. If you are honestly going to try and sell us on the idea that the 95-year-old prophet, his counselors, the members of the Quorum of th Twelve Apostles, and all other general and local congregational leaders were deceived and that none of those actions were consistent with the will of the Lord for His Church at this time, that is a peception that very well could put yoou on dangerous ground.

President Nelson spent decades as a world-renowned surgeon who trusted the science in addition to the personal revelation that came throughout his career. For the past 3 years, the members of the Church have sustained him as the only one authorized to speak for the Lord. In that role, he, his counselors, his fellow apostles, and all other general and local leaders did what was necessary to keep the people of the Church (and our friends of other faiths) safe. So I hear you say things like "all of you who wore masks . . .were deceived", and then I look at the apostles, who are the Lord's chosen spokesmen for this time, and the prophet, who has relied on his knowledge of medical matters and on inspiration from the Lord to direct the Church during this turbulent time. I don't follow the popular opinons of the world. I follow the prophet, my local leaders, and the advice of medical professionals who have my best interests at heart. Sorry to hear you feel otherwise.

But if you feel that your position is more harmonious for the membership of the Church than the recommendations of the prophets and apostles, then it could be that you'll find yourself on dangerous ground in a setting like this. If I am misinterpreting anything you've said, meant, or were trying to convey, that's on me. But on a blog where we discuss subjects related to the growth of the Church, don't be surprised if your attribution of those who wore masks (including general and local leaders) as "the ones who were deceived" is not very popular on these threads.

Daniel Moretti said...

I agreed with user @gte811i regarding the pride and irrational optimism pervasive among members and leaders. Regarding the mask, I prefer to follow health protocols and use it whenever necessary.

Michael Worley said...

Saddened the contention escalated. My best to all of you.

John Pack Lambert said...

In the Philippines one of the key pushes by Elder Oaks when he was area president was for more and stronger youth programs. He also pushed for way more resources to be devoted by missionaries to retention of converts.

The largest scale collapse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints post World War II was in Puerto Rico in the early 1990s where all 4 stakes were discontinued. However this was at least in part because much of the stake leadership had been US military stationed on the island and at that point the number of military stationed there was reduced. There may have been other factors 8nvolved.

Today there are 5 stakes in Puerto Rico and a temple is nearly vompleted. The Church in Puerto Rico may actually face some of the highest issues of out migration.

Here in Michigan in about a year in around 2012 there were 2 wards and 2 branches eliminated in 1 stake, 1 ward elimanated in another, 1 ward and 1 branch elimanated in another and 1 ward eliminated in another. Yet last month we got a new stake from those 4 stakes although the only chsmges in the interim were a ward made a branch, the formation of a new Spanish branch and the formation of 1 ward. So compared to a decade ago we are 4 wards less and 1 branch less but 1 stake more.

John Pack Lambert said...

There will be some who will leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because they are mad at the policies pushed by Church leaders about masks, or at least who will cite that as a proximate cause.

There may be others who will leave because they are mad the First Presidency never issued a strong enough pro-mask statement.

However those who do so will be people who have not consistently engaged in personal pray, personal scripture study and regular Church attendance long before that. They will be people who have not put the kingdom of God first in their lives, and so what rlse they invoked will not matter.

Eduardo said...

Many are the reasons that we fall away from faith and are divided and go into collective and individual apostacy.
We should pray for Armenia, the first Christian nation.
We should be humble, unite in contrition, and holiness to the Lord and devotion to His Church, His Bride.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

@JPL

Congrats on the new Michigan Stake!

Matt said...

How does this mask argument relate to Armenia?

Back to the original post, I wonder if the closed branches are still operating as "groups" that requires less priesthood support.

Maybe with COVID still impacting Armenia, this might be a temporary move, to lighten the load on local leadership, until things fully open up again. Perhaps too, there is vetting process taking place to ensure priesthood leaders are not tied to criminal organizations.

Wisconsinite said...

Y'all, I really don't want to belittle anybody, but what @gte811i is saying is pure fiction. As someone who has left the church, let me tell you that "being forced to wear a mask" is not a factor leading to people leaving the church if they have a testimony, but the behavior of people like @gte811i, who loudly spews absolute garbage, hateful rhetoric, against people who wear MASKS during the PLAUGE, in the name of Jesus no less, is absolutely harming the image of the church. Why would anyone convert to a church where half of the members believe that wearing a mask out of consideration for the lives of the people around them is evil? Obviously you can't generalize a whole group by a few bad apples, but this kind of behavior is off-putting. The restored church is supposed to be a beacon of morality and goodness, and many members really are great people and live good, moral lives. However, the infiltration of science-denial, and obviously-false conspiracy theories into religious communities is the greatest single threat to organized religion to date (in my opinion). As someone who wore a mask, I noticed for myself that this was the only year where I didn't catch the flu in my life. And I know it's not because I "avoided sick people" because I worked part-time cleaning toilets in a building that I know had infected people in it! Like, please I beg you all. To improve the church and keep it vital, do not allow such insidious lies into your brains and hearts, and help and reach out to people with love and understanding. That's my two cents anyway for what it's worth.

Cory said...

I heard a 4th hand rumor with information about the upcoming broadcast on sharing the gospel from the missionary and the priesthood and family departments on the 26th of this month. Specifically I heard it includes reforming how people are invited to be baptized and how members play a role in that. I know events like this have been hyped up in the past and have not lived up to it (https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/mormon-lmissionary-work-worldwide-broadcast)

Does anyone have any corroborating information about this? I'm hoping they considered some of the things that Matt wrote on this blog a few years ago:
https://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/2019/02/the-urgent-need-to-reform-missionary.html

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

"I have not been able to find any information about the cause for these most recent developments."

I think if Matt Martinich, who seems to have a lot of connections and insight into these matters, hasn't yet found the reasons for the Armenia dissolutions, then it's safe to say that most of our opinions here are just conjectures about what actually happened.

It'll be interesting in time to get some better firsthand information from people close to the Armenia situation, if possible. As far as I can tell, though, most of us here commenting from the western hemisphere are just making wild guesses.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

@Cory

I don't know if they'll say anything about it in the upcoming missionary broadcast, but I'm hoping to hear more at some point about the Spanish-speaking member groups initiative they were trying to implement in the U.S. (I think just a bit before Covid hit). I hope they haven't abandoned that program, and that we can see if it ends up being successful or not.

Yamil Inosotroza said...

Hi Matt, a little correction. In Chile there are +1,000 members per unit.

Jim Anderson said...

This year, they are pushing Love, Share, Invite, using that same page. They have also been pushing more member involvement too. So while you heard a rumor that may have included something specific, the general matter is most likely to be discussed anyway.

Tonight, June 3rd, 6pm, there is a broadcast with President and Sister Oaks for seminary, you can see it then and after at seminary.churchofjesuschrist.org

Sunday is the Children and Youth broadcast, along with other matter related to it, released that same night.

There is also a YA Face to Face event scheduled this month.

Christopher Duerig said...

Today added to the Classic Maps site, and most likely the CDOL, the newly organized "Campo Maior Brazil District - 2179946". Located just northeast of Teresina, State of Piaui (PI), Brazil.

Which includes the "Campo Maior - 360740", "Piripiri - 346659" and "Surubim - 2159996" branches.

https://classic.churchofjesuschrist.org/maps/#ll=-4.600176,-41.859677&z=8&m=google.hybrid&layers=stakecenter&q=Campo%20Maior%20Brazil%20District&find=stake:2179946

phxmars said...

I was actually a missionary in the office when the Puerto Rican stakes were discontinued. The original plan was just discontinue one stake and make it two districts. The plan to make the stakes all districts was made overnight and took many on the island including the missionary president who was on the far side of the island by surprise. The apostle at the time (I believe Elder Oaks) promised a temple would be the fruit of the changes. I have watched with rapt wonder as the temple is being built in the same location (same chapel) that Elder Oaks made that promise.

Unknown said...

About 5 years ago, Elder Jörg Klebingat was sent to dissolve the Armenia stake and place the members under the mission once again. 10 of the 11 bishops were released at the meeting (which consisted of all of the members in Armenia --- at least they were invited), as well as the stake presidency. It was held at a large hotel ballroom to accommodate the potentially large crowd. The meeting turned violent, with about 2/3 of the members storming out angrily and threatening violence. They were angry about the "American carbetbaggers" "taking the church" out of Armenian hands. It's no surprise to me that the Church never recovered from this (I fully support the Church's actions here, but the results don't surprise me).

Why did this happen? Rampant, systemic corruption. All but one of the native Armenian priesthood leaders were stealing/embezzling from the Church --- they couldn't resist helping themselves to a bottomless bank account (of course, that is always found out in the audits --- you can't get away with it). One of my young women's presidents' parents the last time I was a bishop were serving a mission there at the time, and that's my source. Elder Klebingat told those who remained at the meeting that they would rebuild the Church with those who were left. According to this couple, corruption is part of the warp and woof of Armenian culture, so it was an uphill battle culturally, but still a tragedy. They also reported that the spirit in the meetings after the units were placed under foreign missionaries improved palpably. While painful, the change was needed and a good thing.

In the post mortem for this, I think there is always a balance and a tension between developing and inserting local, native leadership (always the goal), and running the Church how it needs to be run. In Armenia, the Church clearly moved too fast and put in men who weren't ready and didn't have the character and testimony.

This is always a concern. My parents have served missions in Poland and the Czech Republic, and both times my father was in the front lines in developing leaders (serving in branch presidencies, etc.). The reality is that in most parts of the world, local leaders are facing tremendous difficulties and challenges and need lots of support. Covid --- and the Church's response to it --- has had and is having a devastating effect on missions and temples. I'm not sure we will recover to pre-Covid levels. Losing the mission couples has had an incalculable effect on the branches in the missions (a lot of branch leadership right there), and I think this had a direct impact on Armenia in particular. Even in the "phase 3" parts of the world, temple work is extremely restricted (example: baptisms are by appointment only in Gilbert, and can only be scheduled three months out. You only get a couple of names for your three month wait). The Church's response and leadership in getting temples operating again makes it, I think, so that they will never be the same, even at "phase 4." This is linked to the carnage in the missions --- a dearth of older temple workers, to go along with a dearth of couple missionaries.

Matt said...

I have deleted any submitted comments in the last few days that have to do with whether or not mask-wearing is/was appropriate or not. Again, the purpose of this blog and the enabled comments is to discuss Church growth, not to debate other issues.

Eduardo said...

I understand why the mask commentary was deleted. It is possible that 100 related Covid-19 pandemic problems have crimped attendance, growth, and other Church activities.
We are being tested as humans, Church members, and bloggers.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

@Unknown

I appreciate the more detailed insights into the Armenia situation.

I think it's a little early to say that temple and missionary work will never be the same, though. We recovered from the Kirtland Apostasy; we recovered from the US government persecution of the late 1800s; and I hope to see us recover from this pandemic.

gte811i said...

The whole point of any mask commentary is to to demonstrate the underlying cracks in the foundation which if not allowed open discussion will cause a collapse like in Armenian.

When it happens people will be stunned and taken by surprise, yet the signs where there all along.

Instead everyone parroted all is well in Zion.

The Church has some serious underlying cultural problems in the US that is absolutely going to lead to a collapse. I don't believe it is the end of the Church only that they Church week have to do some serious contemplation in the next decade.

Worldwide maybe not, in the US absolutely.

Jim Anderson said...

Some things I discovered today.

A tradition started decades ago in the Seminaries and Institutes has apparently ended, it was the annual 'evening with a general authority' talk, that broadcast tonight I mentioned earlier said nothing about it being part of that. It is not on any schedule this year, if it does come up later we will know it is still on, but if not, we will know this annual event has ended.

There is also in the works a push to use social media more on various levels in missionary efforts, what we have seen may only be a foretaste. No hard facts, but if you have seen mission and locality Facebook pages, that is only maybe not even the half of it.

John Pack Lambert said...

Armenia is one of four places that have seen all stakes elimanated. The other three were Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Liberia.

Two of rhose countries, Libeeia and Nicaragua, suffered through civil wars.

Yet civil wars are not forgone stops to spreading the gospel. Guatemala saw much growth during times of civil war.

Even more interesting thr civil war in DR Congo Elder Mutombo mentioned was happening jyst months after a mission was created in that region of DR Congo.

The mission president at the time Alfred Kyungu, was called as a general authority this last conference.

Even more interesting Kyungu seems to have succeeded Mutombo as Country Family History Supervisor.

As far as I can tell they are the only current general authorities who worked full time with family history. Elder Tenorio who is eneritus was one of the first three international family history employees, he in Mexico, another in Japan and maybe ok ne in Brazil in anticipation of temples in those places. Elder Neuenschwander spent his career overseeing record gathering throughout Eastern Europe.

One of the Elders Godoy, Elder de Hoyos, Elder Gonzalez, Elder Dube, and Elder Holland all worked for the Church Educational system. So did Elder Kyungu before he became family history director.

Elder Soares, Elder Teh, Elder Wakolo and Elder Mutombo before becoming family history director all workwd in finance/temporal affairs/I sometimes can't really tell.

I believe Elder Teh worked his way up from being a mail room clerk for the Church, but I think he also got a degree in the process. He may have been over all Church finances and maybe connected closely with property aquasitions as well prior to being called as a general authority. Elder Teh may also be the currwnt general authority who was youngest at the time of his call.


John Pack Lambert said...

Two interesting developments appaently have happened of late.


A Nampa 45th branch that was Tongas speaking was prganized. This may be the first Tongan unit in Idaho.

In Taylorsville, Utah a Taylorsville 2nd branch that is Dinka/Neur speaking has been organized. These are 2 of tge many loo anguages spoken in South Sudan. About 20 years ago there was a Neur speaking branch in Omaha but it seems to have been short lived.

Such units often are. My stake had a Hmong speaking unit at one point but it did not last very long.

I believe these is still a Swahili speaking unit in Salt Lake City. I believe one of the presidejts of that unit later returned to Kenya and ran for president of that country.

The Taylorsville 2nd unit is the first I am aware of officially designated with 2 different languages.

John Pack Lambert said...

I am not sure when this occured but at some point the Bentonville Arkansas Mission (which also I think used to be the Tulsa Mission) was moved from the North America Southwest Area to the North America Southeast Area. This changes the temples by area count as well.

Jim Anderson said...

Got some new figures on the Philippines, there are just over 818k members, the Davao Temple is still awaiting full-scale construction. 117 operating stakes. That is as of last week.

Unknown said...

What I didnt see mentioned above, is the history issues that are dragging people away in droves all around the world. Even Marlin K Jensen said we have never had such a large period of apostasy since Kirtland over the history issues. I think England is at 15% attendance and dropping. Even just comparing the census data in a country to the churches reported membership tally paints a very grim picture worldwide....it looks like we only have around 4.5 million members now. :-(

Matt said...

Unknown - This statement by Marlin K. Jensen is not supported by the data, and I do not understand why he said this as he likely does not have access to such data as the Church Historian given it is under lock-and-key at a totally different department at the Church. It is a common problem at Church Headquarters that the departments due not share information based upon my conversations with former Church employees.

The Church has lost many members before and after more historical information about the Church became more easily accessible. Really it is usually other things that lead people away from the Church, not its history, such as cultural and societal pressures and a lack of testimony development during the teenage years for those born into the Church. However, it is common for many who leave the Church to revise their reason(s) why they left the Church to say it is something historical or doctrinally related. There has been good research done on this very topic presented at the annual SSSR conferences. Societal and cultural pressures, a major family or health crisis, being offended, and a lack of a foundation for testimony and seeking spiritual knowledge are the things that are consistently indicated in the qualitative data provided by members, church leaders, and returned missionaries around the world for why people usually leave the Church. Yes, there are some members who do leave due to a doctrinal/historical concern, but they certainly account for a small minority. Religion is very much a social construct in terms of how it is lived, experienced, and expressed. It is therefore no wonder that societal pressures within and outside the Church can also result in people leaving the Church.

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

Glad to hear about the Dinka speaking unit in Taylorsville. There were several Sudanese on my mission in Kentucky, and I met at least one Dinka speaker who offered my companion and I a Bible in Dinka. I don't remember hearing of the Neur language before, though.

Unknown said...

Hmmm I am not sure I can agree with 'Yes, there are some members who do leave due to a doctrinal/historical concern, but they certainly account for a small minority'. Have you seen the 'Understanding Mormon Disbelief' survey? It surveyed 3000 former mormons and asked them why they left. 4% said they were offended, 4% said they wanted to sin and 70% said they studied church history and lost their belief. According to the study they were predominately life long members, born in the covenant/missionaries etc before they learned some of the more unsavory bits of our history and realized it wasn't for them. :-(
There is also another website with 15,000 former Mormons saying in their own words why they left....and it is overwhelmingly the history that did it. There is also a word frequency analysis on the site that highlights that it was the history. https://whyileft.herokuapp.com/.
Also it was Marlin K Jensen who went to Sweden for the infamous Swedish Rescue. He would have to be aware of the membership crisis at least in that country to be sent to that.

Matt said...

Unknown - Here is the reason why I am not buying this narrative that has appeared to be primarily woven by ex-mormons online regarding the vast majority of former members leaving due to a doctrinal/historical concern.

First, most Church leaders who encounter some sort of doctrinal or historical issue do not leave the Church. These issues have really always been around since the earliest days of the Church. So, why would all of the sudden these issues shake someone's faith and result in them losing that faith? These issues have not changed, but I think we can all agree that societal and cultural attitudes about religion have changed. I think that there is an element of "sexiness" with how these long-time criticisms of the Church have been presented (i.e., in professionally-looking YouTube videos, the Letter to a CES Director). Still, these concerns and criticisms have really always been around, and most people in the Church were likely confronted with them before the internet was widely used (and back then, members of the Church had fewer resources to research the lesser-known claims/attacks than at present).

Second, my comment as to why people leave the Church noted several major reasons, and these have to do with societal/cultural pressures and testimony development problems. I think there are some members who have not learned how to resolve and handle the cognitive dissonance that comes from learning new information that they did not know previously (or having an experience that they did not anticipate having that was a stressor or trial) and either assimilating or accommodating their prior understanding of whatever it is. It seems from the research I have done that there is often some event that happens in a person's life that really results in doubting. I have seen that in the vast majority of cases of people I know who have left the Church, and some prominent examples include divorce, a bad experience with a fellow member who ridiculed them for their political beliefs, an unexpected death, illness, a child who leaves the Church, etc.). As a full-time missionary in Korea, we had a former stake president who lived in one of the wards I served who said that he left the Church due to DNA and the Book of Mormon, but curiously the information I found about the issue was that he really stopped being active after his son committed suicide and these "doctrinal" issues he had suddenly became apparent a while after he had left the Church. Furthermore, the societal pressure to move away from organized religion and adopt common beliefs and attitudes about some things that are in conflict with the Church (i.e., cohabitation before marriage, Word of Wisdom issues, tithing, acceptance of homosexuality) is significant. It seems that many members, particularly those who have less-developed testimonies, are much more vulnerable to these pressures and leaving the Church. As for the case with the Church in Sweden, it is interesting to note that there has been no noticeable change in the congregational and membership growth trends for the Church there since that whole situation happened with the "Swedish Rescue." I think that whole situation, from what I know about it, had somewhat to do with local members encountering information they did not know previously and not knowing what to do with it, but I think that the societal conditions in Sweden cannot be understated given it is one of the most irreligious countries in the world in terms of how Swedes describe their religious identity and attitudes about organized religion.

Matt said...

Third, you really cannot trust someone's recount of why they left the Church if the reason they share is something they may be using for secondary gain (i.e., motivation that is not inherent in the behavior itself, and in this situation, trying to excuse lack of faith/sin on behalf of the individual by displacing it onto a topic seen as more socially acceptable). For example, if that person has an agenda to disrupt the faith of others after they have left the Church (which I know is not the motivation of most who leave the Church), then that motivation has a likelihood of distorting the way that the faith crisis/story of apostasy for the former member is portrayed and presented. As Preach My Gospel states, people each have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to understanding, accepting, and having a testimony of a certain doctrinal principle. So, my point with this is that the internet has really amplified the loudness of a vocal minority on this issue to where it makes it seem like doctrinal/faith crises have reached unprecedented levels when in fact this is not supported by the actual data. If you look at the rate units are created/discontinued, we have consistently seen steady increases over time for the Church in the United States in particular which is identified as the poster-child of where "droves" of people leaving the Church for doctrinal/historical issues. Furthermore, the average number of active members of the Church in congregations in the United States as a whole has not appeared to significantly change prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (which has significantly disrupted Church attendance patterns and trends).

Fourth, the Church has really always had droves of members leaving between unretained converts and lost children of record. Long-time observations have noted that in many places it seems the number of people who join the Church cancel out the number of people who leave, and the data generally support this. Most members in the United States who leave the Church do so between ages 12 and 25, and it seems that the rate is highest between about 16-22. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, our Student Ward for CU had only about 10% of the Young Single Adults who should have attended the congregation actually attend (which worked about to about 60 out of 600. Now, this was before the internet was widely utilized or when the internet was being considered a threat to the testimony of members. In the vast majority of the cases of these inactive YSAs, the reasons why they did not attend appeared primarily due to these individuals struggling to socially integrate into a YSA congregation and societal/cultural pressures to do things that were in conflict with Latter-day Saint expectations (i.e., alcohol use, ridicule from others who criticized the Church, sex, Sabbath day observance, etc.).

To wrap up my comment, I know that there are some stalwart members of the Church who go inactive for doctrinal/historical reasons, but my emphasis is that these appear to be the minority of all those who go inactive in terms of the initial reason why people leave the Church in the United States. This is supported not only by the local members and leaders who have completed thousands of surveys, but it is also supported by the observations of returned missionaries, the Church's own data, and, more anecdotally, my own personal experiences with those who have left the Church.

Matt said...

Also,

The presentation at SSSR I alluded to about why people leave the Church was done by Rick Phillips from the University of North Florida in October 2019. His lecture was entitled "Mundane Apostasy: Examining Catalysts for Mormon Disaffiliation in Utah." Rick's presentation was based on 25 years of longitudinal study of a ward in Utah in a qualitative analysis. It was a fascinating presentation that changed some of my attitudes and beliefs about the issue.

Here are some of my lecture notes from his presentation:

Reasons why members going inactive is not the classic reason (i.e., doctrinal/historical concerns).

1. Too homogeneous for reason – actual conversion stories were messier, had to do more with social networks than existential longing – over time, evolved – converting to Ex-Mormonism – also changed the reason why they left later.

2. Reasons for disaffiliation have already been present – as newsletters, books, etc. – everything in CES letter already present.

For example, Carlos E. Esay gave a talk in October 1981 which I think most people would think was given in the past few years as it all has to do with personal apostasy.

https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1981/10/opposition-to-the-work-of-god?lang=eng

3. Apostasy boom is a Utah phenomena.

Apostasy boom in Utah – due to changing demographics – change in how they felt about others viewing them and their religious behavior. The profane, the civil and the Godly. Benefits are not worth the costs. “When behaviors are restricted by institutions, their minds are less restricted by institutions”

Outliers get most attention

McKay Jones said...

@ Jonathan Reese Whiting

Hey, I'm not Unknown any more when typing on a phone. :)

I agree that today is nowhere near the Kirtland apostasy --- probably the largest existential threat the Church has faced.

The reason I think we will never recover to former levels in missionary work and temples is because the Boomers have been terrified by this whole thing. Not even he pandemic itself, bit government, societal, and church response. This is 100% of the couple missionaries and most of the "heavy duty" high responsibility temple workers (yes, YSAs have been serving in the temple, but mostly in bit roles. They are unable to replace the older members, numerically or practically).

Armenia is a microcosm. When all the senior couples were brought home, it devastated the missions because they headed the fledgling branches (in Armenia's case, all of them). When my parents got home March 2020 from the Czech Republic, they said most of these branches were going to be wiped out. Luckily, the branch my father presided over is still alive (they are still in contact with people there, including the native Czech who replaced him), but this isn't he case with most. I don't think we'll ever get back to those levels again.

Then there is the demographic time bomb in the Church (which Morris society at large). When the Boomers and GenX die off and Millennials and GenZ and GenAlpha (who are numerically smaller cohorts) run the Church. The active LDS birthrate has plummeted, so there will be less everything, but especially young missionaries. We will simply have far less reach worldwide in coming decades.

McKay Jones said...

Thanks for the Rick Phillips items! I strongly agree that history/doctrine concerns are secondary to social reasons for leaving, but that people refashion their narrative.

Anonymous said...

@Matt,

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I would be delighted to see this blog and comments include more of this type of contextual information (to extent available) namely, case studies/examples that highlight underlying factors that affect growth (or take away from growth) at the individual level, like social, practical, emotional, level.

Eduardo said...

The embezzlement story in Armenia makes total sense. Auditing corrupt leaders has to happen.
Chile had a bunch of embezzlers and cheats in the 1970s; they were caught, and excised or removed. It is tough to find trusted local leaders.
Santa Juana of the 8th Region of Chile had this problem, both a thief as a branch president and coming up with a good one, hopefully in Cristian Seguel. It took many years to find one decent man to hold the job locally.

gte811i said...

I would say the historical issues are the nail in the coffin for many people. Something occurs in their life that causes them to dig a bit deeper and then they see the instances where the Church has changed documents (such as several D&C sections) and it ends up being the last straw.

I certainly wouldn't discount the historical/doctrinal issues.

Eduardo said...

I have an ex brother-in-law in Utah who used his outrage about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, largely sourced in Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling”, as a type of last straw to leave the Church. Sad. Sadder still is that he became entrenched in alcohol, people at strip clubs, and now heroin fiends and himself a likely addict. He was an Ivy League business grad banker at his best.
If Jesus is who He says He is, and Joseph is who he says they are, then we need to het on board and go to weekly services, meetings, the temple, and live penitent lives.
We are Zion, get on the good ship.
Glad that many of Africa and elsewhere are figuring this out. Good Armenians will, too.

James Perry said...


Historical and doctrinal issues play a role in the lives of some members leaving the Church, but certainly in my experience as a Church leader it is social, emotional, worthiness, and personality related.

Hurt feelings, personality incompatibility, and difficulties or unwillingness to live gospel principles and commandments far outnumber the historical and doctrinal reasons for inactivity or cessation of membership.

Curious Reader said...

Tend to agree with Matt. Those I’ve witnessed leaving the church use historical issues as their justification for doing what they already desired to do. They typically had issues with policies they didn’t agree with being word of wisdom (coffee, alcohol, marijuana), dress standards, treatment of women or other political views, and even in some cases fidelity. People like to rationalize they are the smarter one and therefore seek a reason (or conspiracy theory) to justify it.

R. Jofre said...

All the cases of embezzlement I know were perpetrated by leaders in extreme financial distress. Unfortunately, it made me realize that very spiritual and knowledgeable people aren't good leaders if their home treasury isn't enough for their basic needs.

Although there are exceptions to this kind of situation, it is better to discontinue a unit than allow the damage caused by these cases.

Anonymous said...

Search “Fraud Risk Triangle” for fraud risk factors, well known in the financial industry, or check this out: https://anderscpa.com/the-fraud-triangle-three-conditions-that-increase-the-risk-of-fraud/

Historia Familiar Valenzuela Escobar said...

It is sad to hear about Armenia and other countries, the setback in the growth and strengthening of the gospel in each country, it is not easy, it requires work, dedication, a lot of faith and unity, among other things.
Missionary work is hard, those of us who have been missionaries know it.
This pandemic has affected not only the church, and I hope the damage is not so great.
In Chile, before the pandemic, we already had a drop in attendance, and commitment of the baptized.
More than 100 empty chapels, which are being sold, it was so difficult that so many chapels were built and now, empty, with a diminished menbresia, and with the few active baptized, this is how the Church survives.

Brett Stirling said...
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Brett Stirling said...
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Brett Stirling said...
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Brett Stirling said...

Matt - what percentages would you guesstimate for the following on a church wide level:

- People who identify as members or still claim affiliation
- Active membership
- Members who have completely abandoned any sense of connection or affiliation to the church without formally resigning.

I understand there are difficulties in extrapolating these figures from the limited stats released by the Church. However, national census figures do provide some quantifiable numbers on levels of self identification and affiliation.

For example, with New Zealand the Church reports 115,236 members, yet the most recent census conducted in 2018 shows 54,124 (1.16%)- up from 40,728 (1.04%) in 2013. In Australia the Church reports 154,595 with the 2016 census showing 61,600 (.03%)- up from 59,800 (.03%) in 2011. In Tonga the Church reported 63,392 members in 2016, yet only 18,554 self identified as affiliated with the church in 2011.

Armenia obviously is an extreme outlier. The South Pacific region looks to be an overachiever in affiliation retention compared to other regions experiencing significant challenges.

Are these trends reflected globally? Can you contextualise the disparity between official and self identifying numbers and overall activity rates? What story is that telling us on a church wide basis? The debate above seems to be largely micro focused and anecdotal. If we were to take a macro level approach and pull back for a church wide view, what are the numbers saying?

Matt said...

Brett Stirling,

I would estimate that probably half of Church membership worldwide has some type of affiliation to the Church. I have no idea of knowing, but this is my guesstimate.

Active membership worldwide is probably between 5-6 million.

Probably half of Church membership worldwide have no sense of identifying with the Church. Most of these members live in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and the Philippines. Most of these countries have low member activity rates and the largest Church memberships, so that is why.

Census data are really telling. Yes, Oceania has seen significant growth in self-affiliated members in the past decade that has outpaced Church-reported membership. The most impressive percentages of members who self affiliate are in Northern Europe (ironically). The Church in Finland had 66% of its membership self-affiliate on the 2015 census. The Church in Iceland also has high rates of self-affiliation. However, other places, like Scotland, have very low rates of self-affiliation.

John Pack Lambert said...

Most people who claim historical and doctrinal issues caused them to leave the Church are lying and using this to cover law of chastity violations that were the proximate cause, although even then it is failure to pray regularly and read the scriptures. John Gee has written an excelent and good book on the subject. So good that Satan's chief minions on earth have sought to drive it out of publication because they lack the intelectual skill and ability to refute the truths it speaks.

miro said...

I had stake conference today and found out we had a missionary in Armenia. I spoke with the missionarys dad about the closing of branches. He told me that during the war with Azerbaijan a lot of members stopped comming to church and did not come back after the ceasefire.

Historia Familiar Valenzuela Escobar said...

Regarding how many baptized people still identify as Mormons, I think it's hard to pin down. For example, I see it in the case of my country Chile, in my almost 31 years that I have known the Church, more and more people do not identify themselves or feel disappointed and, deceived, or are not convinced by the doctrine or the LDS way of life .
On more than one occasion, they have told me that they are atheists, that they do not believe in anything, many inactive in Chile, countless EX MORMONES.
Now, feeling identified with being LDS, despite not attending or following the Christian life, is something else, I think it requires further analysis.
I have been excommunicated since 2001, I attended church until 2015, now a year ago I am retaking the Church, I have had my interviews with the bishop and stake.
Returning to the church after being excommunicated is not easy, the process is very long, it is not always motivating, however, the church has its way of working, we may not like it, but it is like that.

Brett Stirling said...

Matt - Australia and New Zealand sitting at 40% and 46% of stated members being active is quite high in a global context. Based on that multi generational centres of strength, the 100’s of millions of dollars has and continues to invest in Temple View and Auckland makes sense. Expanding the residential area in Temple View to increase the population is a logical move to create a larger member community that will be serviced by the newly renovated temple. The temple in Auckland will service a rapidly expanding Church population which has resulted in 5 new buildings over the past 10 years. 13 stakes in Auckland with a population of 1.4 million is not bad, 6 of them in an area of only 360,000 people is even more impressive compared to the population spread ratios in Australia. Temple View with a population of around1,200 had its own stake. So you can see what value there is in increasing the population to build up more units.

Given the success of parts of New Zealand, especially Temple View and South Auckland, what lessons can be learnt and applied to other areas? What generated the multi generational strength in Temple View? We can see large immigration from the pacific nations as driving growth in Auckland, so that feels like a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

How can Temple View, Laie and other similar communities help improve long term stability in numbers in other areas? Did the integrated and multi layered investment in the education of children provide a strong sense of community and engagement? Has the programs of the church been streamlined too much to the detriment of that sense of community that keeps people engaged beyond their faith?

Whizzbang said...

@John Lambert-The book got pulled because it was making ridiculous claims, especially since the author has no training in the area he wrote about. I hope it stays off the shelf. The first part of your statement is beyond wrong, it's insulting. Why don't people in ARP, who are there for sexual reasons, just leave the church? You are flat out wrong in your judgements of people you don't know anything about. Read, if you will, Elder Ben B. Banks Oct. 1999 General Conference address.
https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/10/feed-my-sheep?lang=eng

Unknown said...

Oi

Ray said...

Jim Anderson, in your recent post you stated that membership in the Philippines has reached 818,000, which is 13% of total growth in Church membership, if that figure is for year-end 2020. That's a substantial percentage of overall growth. When I served in the Southern Far East Mission many years ago, the Philippines had the fewest members of the 3 major countries in the Mission (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), with only about 700 members.

Brett Stirling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
twinnumerouno said...

Ray,

When did you serve in the Southern Far East mission? My father, Barry Nielsen, served 1966-1968, in both Hong Kong and the Philippines (he was serving in the Philippines in 1967 when that mission was created, and finished his mission there). He was disappointed about never serving in Formosa (now Taiwan) but got to stop there on his way home.

Ray said...

Twinnumero, good to hear from you--I have enjoyed reading your thoughtful posts. I was in the Southern Far East Mission at just about the same time, but the Philippines had not yet been divided off as a separate mission. Unfortunately I didn't know your father, because I was assigned to Taiwan and never made it to the Philippines. The rapid growth in some African countries today reminds me of how Church growth occurred in the Philippines.

Ray said...

Twinnumero, good to hear from you--I have enjoyed reading your thoughtful posts. I was in the Southern Far East Mission at just about the same time, but the Philippines had not yet been divided off as a separate mission. Unfortunately I didn't know your father, because I was assigned to Taiwan and never made it to the Philippines. The rapid growth in some African countries today reminds me of how Church growth occurred in the Philippines.

Eduardo said...

In the younger generations there are multiple reasons why members from Ch. Jesus Christ families fall away from activity and membership. Losing a testimony is a thing that happens to old and young, male and female.
I mentioned my ex-brother-in-law who was chagrined by the thought of Joseph Smith and plural marriage. He started drinking and carousing, to which both sides of the argument could claim: he fell away due to practices outside the strictures of the faith, where others would say: he lost confidence in the Restorer of the Church, the Prophet Joseph.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Hard to say.
Sexual orientation, gender identity, women and priesthood authority, plus all the normal issues like faith in the Saviour, the scriptures, the Church politics and other sticking points. Some are offended by bishops, others who represent the faith. My own dad has issues about irreverance in the chapel, LDS who profit from industries in beer (hops) or other less than worthwhile or virtuous industries, like gambling or booze, etcetera.
Contention, as witnessed anywhere we go or comment.
🙂
However, as always, we need to find the positive reasons to remain true to the cause of Zion, no matter how many of our co-members and Saints give up their birthrights and inheritances.

Brett Stirling said...

Eduardo - I think the issues are more complex and multi layered than just one or two issues. The figures quoted below in the Church news is stark. Utah accounts for 25% of activity in the Church. At 2 million members, conservatively 50% of members would be active, which means 1 million active members in Utah equates to 4 million active members globally. That puts global activity at 23.5%. Not a healthy picture by any standards. 76.5% members who are not actively involved in the Church anymore requires deep reflection on how the Church presents itself, how it's programs are organised and run and engaging community beyond Sunday.

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2021-05-13/church-area-utah-area-blesses-benefits-global-church-213172

Johnathan Reese Whiting said...

@Historia Familiar Valenzuela Escobar

It must have taken a lot of courage and conviction to come back into the Church after being excommunicated. Congratulations on your journey back. :)

John Pack Lambert said...

No Gee is right and speaks the truth. Dehlin and most other apostate heros are adulterers. John Gee speals the truth but people hate it and attack him with falsehoods as you just did.

John Pack Lambert said...

No Gee is right and speaks the truth. Dehlin and most other apostate heros are adulterers. John Gee speals the truth but people hate it and attack him with falsehoods as you just did.

Christopher Duerig said...

Confirmed today in Classic Maps the previously mentioned "Québec City District - 606537".

https://classic.churchofjesuschrist.org/maps/#ll=54.007522,-68.44059&z=5&m=google.hybrid&layers=stakecenter&find=stake:606537

Eduardo said...

Agreed. The dropping of Boy Scouts in the U.S. seemed to be a big effort to universalize and standardize Church youth programs to help the world Church help our children achieve higher goals no matter what country.
I have been disappointed by the lack of effort locally and even Churchwide to help follow up and support our youth in these new initiatives and programs.
There are multilayered internal and external factors leading to people leaving the faith, and local up to general leaders could help in these matters, with all of our assistance. We all contribute and at times subtract from the programs and efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Matt said...

In terms of reasons for inactivity, one big issue that never seems to be addressed is toxic or dysfunctional group dynamics in wards and stakes. Culturally some wards and stakes are much more supportive, inclusive, and caring than others. While people like talk about the Gospel just in terms of their own relationship with God, or their own personal "worthiness", very little attention is given when serving or worshipping together in a group setting. A lot of unspoken rules or expectations, power plays or shunning by others, can leave a lot of members feeling discounted or marginalized.

Reed said...

Matt, have you heard anything else about a reported 100 empty chapels in Chile being
sold, as reported by Valenzuela Escobar earlier? Reed