Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Australia 2021 Census Data Released - Number of Self-Reported Latter-day Saints

Today, the Australian government released a breakdown of the religious affiliation of the Australian population per the 2021 census data. A total of 57,868 people self-identified as Latter-day Saints on the 2021 census constituting approximately 0.23% of the Australian population. The Church reported a total of 155,383 members in Australia as of year-end 2021. Thus, only 37.2% of Church-reported membership self-affiliated on the 2021 census. In contrast, the 2016 Australian Census reported 60,864 Latter-day Saints, or 41% of Church-reported membership at the time. There have generally been steady increases in the number of self-affiliated Latter-day Saints on the census in Australia during the past 35 years (35,500 in 1986, 45,200 in 1996, 53,100 in 2006). However, annual Church-reported membership growth rates have decreased considerably since the mid-1980s from 3-5% for most years in the 1980s to 2-3% in the 2000s and 1-2% for most years since 2015. The decrease of approximately 3,000 self-reported Latter-day Saints in Australia is probably best explained by slowing membership growth rates during the past five years compounded by member attrition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth who do not remain active into adulthood, children of record who are not baptized prior to age 9, adults who leave the faith, deaths of active members, and probable decreasing numbers of children of record increase.

The 2021 census numbers also provide interesting insights into the ethnicity of Australian Latter-day Saints. These data indicate Australian natives constitute 72.4% of Christians in Australia, whereas Australian natives constitute only 58.3% of Latter-day Saints in Australia. The most striking demographic finding is that only 2.73% of Australian Christians are from Oceania (outside of Australia), whereas 29.4% of Australian Latter-day Saints are from Oceania (outside of Australia). This supports data I have collected from hundreds of returned missionaries and local members in Australia that indicate Polynesians constitute a disproportionate percentage of Latter-day Saints in many Australian congregations. Furthermore, local members have reported that language-specific congregations for specific Polynesia peoples (i.e., Tongan and Samoan) often have significantly higher member activity rates compared to general English-speaking congregations in Australia. There has also been an increase in the number of language-specific units in Australia during the past five years for Samoan and Tongan speakers. Since year-end 2016, four new Samoan-speaking and two new Tongan-speaking congregations have been organized, whereas there have been one Samoan-speaking and one Tongan-speaking congregation discontinued. In contrast, there have been a total of 15 new English-speaking congregations in Australia created and 20 English-speaking congregations closed during the same time period.

The 2021 Australian Census data can be downloaded here.


L. Chris Jones said...

I wonder how much Australian growth or losses is attributed to out migration vs in migration.

L. Chris Jones said...
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James said...

L. Chris Jones, how would migration patterns explain a discrepancy in self-reported Saints in the census? The church itself reports that membership grew by 6,521 from 2016 to 2021. If these were active members and out-migration was the culprit, they would have moved their records to a new congregation outside Australia and no longer counted. The increase reported by the church juxtaposed by the decrease in real membership suggests that in- or out-migration couldn't explain the losses, unless I'm missing something...

Matt, in the past, how representative is this "real" percentage of membership in Australia generalizable to other countries? Are there ways to extrapolate real membership in other countries without a recent census based on this data? In other words, would you expect this decline in real membership from 2016 to 2021 to be applicable to any country where the church is well-established?

James said...

Another question for Matt: what do you interpret from the fact that real membership has gone down by roughly 3,000 and yet in terms of congregational growth the church is essentially net zero (-1 based on your numbers unless there are other special congregations created)?

One inference is that in the past 5 years, the number of active members per congregation has gone down by about 10 people per unit. Would you see this as a trend of accepting smaller units to exist, or is the decline just not large enough to justify more closures, or else should we expect more closures in the future to catch up with real membership decline in Australia?

L. Chris Jones said...

How does the reduction in numbers correlate with the reduction of people of faith in general? As in the secularization of the population of people leaving any religion.

PJ said...

As an Australian member my observatio s about the decline are as follows, in no particular order. These are offered as observations, with out judgement, but as a collection of anecdotes and stories of people I know.
1. Dissatisfaction with the discontinuation church cultural activities (ym/yw camps, stake roadshows, etc) resulting in less cohesion within units and minimal retention of youth as they transition into mission ages
2. Discovery of the official church history not representing historical records (think CES letter and gospel topic essays)
3. With covid lockdowns pushing church online and a reduction in face to face meetings, families were discovering time together and thinking they didn't 'need church' anymore (as was the case with my spouse and one of my children)
4. A few weeks ago the Gosford stake north of Sydney was closed. No wards have been closed, but this implies there were insuffient attendance and leadership in the wards to sustain the number of stake callings without impacting ward function. My ward has decreased by about 20 active people in the last 2 years, along with no convert baptisms. This is partially older people.passing away and people.not coming back after covid.
5. As more people have LGBT children and friends, they find they churches history of lgbtdoctrines etc untenable and decide to love support their families and friends.
I'm not sure how much each of these issues play into the overall decline, but they are my anecdotes and experience.

Christopher Nicholson said...

From a former Australian member on reddit:

"The best way to estimate how much the Anglo Australian LDS population has declined in the last 5 years is to look at states that have very low Pasifika populations. Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia have very small Pasifika populations (<5%). On the 2021 census these states saw declines of 11 to 14% in the number of people identifying as LDS.

In the three largest eastern states, Pasifika make up a staggering 50% of the active membership. Yet Pasifika people make up less than 1% of Australia’s population. This Pacifika membership is still growing, and this growth is masking a substantial decline in Anglo Australian activity."

@PJ - Points 2 and 5 certainly match my anecdotes and experience. (I'm in a YSA ward in Utah, so the others are of minimal relevance to me.) I think point 2 is slowly becoming less of an issue as the history becomes more widely known, but point 5 is rapidly becoming *more* of an issue. I myself have at least sixteen LGBT friends who left the church because its teachings made them miserable, and that was fatal to my acceptance of those teachings.

James said...

PJ, I am not sure where you got the idea that the Church was discontinuing cultural activities and youth camps. A careful review of the FAQs on the Children and Youth Program indicates that cultural celebrations are encouraged at the local level, and that camping is very much still an important part of the Children & Youth initiative:


I am not sure what you mean either when you refer to "Discovery of the official Church history not representing historical records." That is the very reason the Joseph Smith Papers, the multivolume Saints project, and the Gospel Topics Essays were published. All of those resources are readily available on the Church website for the earnest seeker to peruse at their leisure. The Church can make the resources available, but if individuals opt not to use them, I don't see how the Church can be blamed for that.

And there's no reason why loving and supporting LGBT family members cannot also involve accepting and adhering to Church policies and doctrines relating to those individuals. The earnest Latter-day Saint is capable of disagreeing with conduct or lifestyle choices while continuing to express love and support for family members not living those policies. I've mentioned in the past the fact that my brother fell away from the Church and requested to have his name removed from the records of the Church. But none of my family members is shunning him, his wife, or his children. They are still a vitally important part of our family. And in fact, of my 3 siblings, my brother has been the most supportive of me in my ongoing difficulties. And I've made it clear the Church is still a vitally important part of my life.

I think a lot of the concerns you mentioned boil down to a misunderstanding of policies and practices, and a misrepresentation or ignorance of available sources of information. The Church can make resources available, but it's largely up to individual choice whether such resources will bie consulted, understood, applied in the lives of each individual, and taken into consideration when such concerns surface.

I am not trying to be disrespectful of you or your opinion. But if some are more inclined to blame the Church for something they are misunderstanding or failing to research or might even be willfully ignoring because it doesn't suit their perception, that's more their own fault rather than the fault of the Church. I don't claim to understand every concern or criticism raised by Church members all over the world, but I do know that a lot of people seem inclined to blame the Church for something that, on reflection, is problematic because they failed to put in the work to ensure the Church haaresn't already addressed such concerns and criticisms.

The sources are available, but if people are unwilling to take the trouble of finding them, and instead simply assume they don't exist, any misunderstandings as a result cannot or should not be blamed on the Church. As someone who has extensively tracked what the Church has reported on the Children & Youth initiative and on the attempts to address common criticisms, I happen to know where to find the answer relatively easily. And for those who take the trouble to similarly inform themselves, such criticisms are wholly without merit. But that's no more and no less than my opinion as someone who has kept himself informed on what's available, so take it or leave it as you may choose to do so.

Matt said...

I wonder, to be politically correct, some people identify themselves as generic Christians rather than a member of an actual denomination on these censuses.

Brett Stirling said...

@Matt - that is not a thing. Why would it be politically correct to identify as a generic Christian? I would think that would be out of shame in identifying as a “Mormon”.

Brett Stirling said...

I agree with others here, shifting Pasifika populations is driving growth and activity in Australia and New Zealand. The non Sabbath activities of the Church are vastly different to what I experienced growing up in Melbourne. To
Be fair, as scouts was restricted to two troops which were both in the east, the alternative YMs programs were always a bit meh. Now it seems like the programs are practically non existent. My nephews are more likely to play basketball in local competitions than engage in church run activities.

Ray said...

Actually, that sounds very likely the case. Also, many people value their privacy and prefer not to share personal information, when not required to do so. This is especially true nowadays, with rampant identity theft and the consequences that follow.

Bob Birks said...

A substantial demographic factor often overlooked in the discussion of ‘activity’ in Australian LDS units is the decline in acceptable family size (i.e. ‘birth rate’) among active members over recent decades. Children of active members have been more or less obligate attenders at Sunday LDS meetings until around age 12 at which point their own wishes become increasingly a factor in attendance, which drops away significantly through the teenage years. As LDS family size has declined, so has both the proportional and absolute numerical contribution of the 0-12 age cohort to measured activity statistics. The decline in absolute numbers is also gradually moving up through age cohorts.

In relation to the demographic contribution of Pasifika members, it is worth noting that by observation average (nuclear) family size among Pasifika immigrants in recent decades has been larger than that of the Anglo membership. This has the effect of increasing their influence in the statistics through the mechanism noted above.

It might also be said that ‘convert’ baptisms are constantly inflating claimed LDS membership without substantially increasing active numbers because in Australia less than 20% of ‘converts’ remain actively attending members in the longer term, and many of those who depart activity attend only for relatively short periods.

Matt said...

As a reminder - Please have your comments be civil and respectful. I will not approve comments that are disrespectful, argumentative, or off topic. This is supposed to be a place to share ideas that are fact- and data-based about Church growth, not a place to have debates about doctrine or to share personal stories about why people join the Church or leave the Church.

Eduardo said...

I agree that there is a general trend for many people around the world to consider themselves "generic" or non-denominational Christians, rather than being affiliated or attributed to any particular faith. Many people no longer have confidence in specific churches to join, less people attend and find other things to do rather than be an attender. In addition, the number of seculars, openly or less openly declared, has skyrocketed.

I believe that all this fits into prophetic, true prophesies and revelations for the last times.

Hold on to your covenants, people of Zion.

James said...

Matt, thank you for the reminder about the importance of keeping comments here respectful of others. Years ago, I embraced the philosophy that "we can disagree without becoming disagreeable." I'd like to publicly apologize here if any of my comments ever crossed that line at any point. That being said, earlier today, the First Presidency officially confirmed the name of the second temple in Guatemala City as the Miraflores Guatemala City Guatemala Temple:



Hopefully, the confirmation of the official name means that the Church may be getting closer to a groundbreaking for that temple. I am also hopeful that the 4 other Latin American temples and 3 Pacific Area temples for which sites have been confirmed and renderings released could have groundbreakings announced soon. I am also cautiously optimistic in hoping that, with the temple list indirectly confirming the new name for the Rexburg North Idaho Temple, and with both the Teton River and Montpelier Idaho Temples reportedly having sites that are being cleared, might also have groundbreakings announced soon. The second half of 2022 is off to a great start already in terms of temple construction updates, and I'm hopeful that will continue to be the case.

In the meantime, this weekend will mark the rededication of the Tokyo Japan Temple by President Henry B. Eyring. My thanks once again to you all.

David McFadden said...

L. Chris Jones and James,

Out vs in migration can impact church membership statistics. Active members move their records with them while less actives tend to be left behind unless someone notices. It's why wards made up of newer neighborhoods tend to have a high active rate while wards in older neighborhoods end up having plenty of less actives on record. The same goes with international transfers.

An active member's records transfer with them. A less active moving internationally is very hard to track. In addition, there are several in the US that moved here primarily to get closer to church headquarters.

David McFadden said...

Adding on to what others are saying. The church publishes number of membership records in a location. Those that self-identify on a census can state whatever they want. While there maybe pressure to self-identify generic (which I think would be a greater number) or choose not to respond, there could also be nonmembers that self-identify as a member.