Missionaries at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. There are several training centers located worldwide. Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Missionaries at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. There are several training centers located worldwide. Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) David Stewart felt ill equipped to preach his Mormon faith in recently opened Russia in 1992, when he arrived there as a young missionary. Sure, he had learned the language, but nothing of the culture he was about to engage.

Stewart’s mission experience didn’t match the breathless tales of international growth he had read about in official church magazines, which, he says, focused on “inspiring stories of exceptional members.”

The earnest missionary also wondered why other religions — such as Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses — had so many more adherents than Mormonism and seemed to be better at reporting actual membership figures and retaining converts.

Such questions simmered in Stewart’s consciousness until 1999, when he launched the website cumorah.com to collect data on every country, including cultural traditions and LDS retention figures.

After a decade, Stewart, a Las Vegas physician, enlisted the help of Matt Martinich, an independent researcher who was a Mormon missionary in South Korea from 2004 to 2006. Martinich had conducted his own survey of LDS growth and published a blog — ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com — on the topic.

Now the two have produced a 1,900-page, two-volume, exhaustive survey, titled “Reaching the Nations: International Church Growth Almanac 2014.”

The encyclopedic endeavor is based on official reports the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives out every year, information on the faith’s website as well as “literally thousands of reports we have obtained from members and church leaders over the years,” Martinich said.

In the almanac’s introduction, premier LDS sociologist Armand Mauss praised the undertaking’s independence, scope, candor and sources, and predicted it will be seen for years as “the most reliable and indispensable source available.”

It couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

Trevor North passes the sacrament to congregants during the service at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Lenexa Ward on Sunday (June 17, 2012) in Lenexa, Kan. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Trevor North passes the sacrament to congregants during the service at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Lenexa Ward on Sunday (June 17, 2012) in Lenexa, Kan. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Though both researchers are practicing Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church “cannot vouch for its contents or conclusions,” church spokesman Cody Craynor said. “Official church statistics and related context are continually updated at mormonnewsroom.org.”

Mormon leaders have conceded that member retention remains a problem for the faith and have invested considerable resources in trying to remedy it.

Right now, the LDS Church pegs its global membership at 15 million.

Here are some of the almanac’s findings:

  •  About 30 percent of Mormons worldwide — or 4.5 million — regularly attend church meetings.
  •  Between 2000 and 2010, LDS congregational growth was most rapid in Delaware (63 percent), Virginia (33 percent), North Carolina (32 percent), and Texas and Tennessee (29 percent). Congregational decline occurred in Louisiana (down 18 percent), Connecticut and New York (down 6 percent), and New Jersey (down 3 percent).
  • The Philippines is home to the largest population of Latter-day Saints outside the Americas — 675,166 as of 2012.
  • Within the past three years, the lowest convert-retention rates have appeared to occur within Latin America, where many nations have experienced no noticeable increase in the number of active Mormons within this period.
  • A big obstacle to LDS conversions can be the “ethno-religious” ties that particular ethnic groups exhibit toward traditional faiths. Examples include ethnic Greeks with the Greek Orthodox Church, the Fulani people of West Africa with Islam, and ethnic Thais with Buddhism.
  •  The first full-time Mormon missionary from China completed his service in 2006. By the end of 2010, 42 missionaries from mainland China were serving full-time LDS missions, many in the United States and Canada.
  • In Spain, assimilating Latin Americans and Spaniards into the same congregations presents the most widespread ethnic integration issue. Some congregations with an overrepresented Latin American presence may run into difficulties baptizing and keeping active a Spaniard minority.
  • The United Arab Emirates boasts an LDS stake, four wards and two branches — partly because this Persian Gulf nation provides greater religious freedom for Christians than most Middle Eastern countries.
  •  The LDS “Word of Wisdom” (a health code urging Mormons to eschew alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea) and the “law of chastity” (forbidding sex outside marriage) perhaps present the greatest challenges to new converts and seasoned members.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, there have been many instances in which individuals cannot get baptized in some countries because they participate in polygamous marriages per local customs and traditions. These individuals have to divorce polygamous spouses to become Mormons — apparently a rare move. The LDS Church stopped practicing plural marriage more than a century ago.
  •  Countries with the most members and no LDS temple in place, under construction or announced: Nicaragua (80,605 members), Zimbabwe (23,117), Russia (21,709), Papua New Guinea (21,265) and Puerto Rico (21,174).

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)

YS END STACK

16 Comments

    • Richard Moscrop

      Len,

      It’s unfortunate that you don’t know what your talking about. You sound like you’re prejudiced against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You remind me of the scripture that says “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge.”

    • Harlan Carpenter

      Even funnier yet, there are 7,000 members of the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints in Grand Junction, Colorado and environs. Yet, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even have a listed congregation in the local phone directory. They also used to have volunteers knocking door to door all the time. Haven’t seen anything of any of them in years.

    • Richard Moscrop

      David Post,

      By what you said in your post you have revealed that you know nothing about actuarial figures and population growth. Please benefit us all by getting a little knowledge about a subject before you write about it. You remind me of the old Proverb that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

      • Richard, in reading this article and then the responses. All you do it tear others down, while not producing any of your own thoughts. You just wasted 2 minutes of my life.

      • Yo – Richie … Down boy. You are baring your teeth in every post … And totally exposing your garments… Please regard others opinions with the same credibility that you expect them to regard yours. No one knows who you are either … But it is clear that you will fight anyone who thinks to question what you hold, perhaps too dear.

  1. Cathy McKinney

    When the Church reports membership it reports ALL baptized members. Hence the 15 million numbers, just because someone is less/not active doesn’t mean they’re no longer a member. This article doesn’t say that there aren’t that many members only that “About 30% of Mormon’s worldwide-4.5 million-regularly attend church meetings”. The article doesn’t say the church’s reporting is a problem, it said member retention/activity is a problem.

  2. This is all fine and interesting. But “worldwide” doesn’t actually put things in comparison. For instance, what are the activity rates for Mormons vs. Catholics? or SDAdventists?

    A huge number of Protestant and Evangelical churches count their “membership” rolls by the number of people who have attended their Church once, and have filled out a card. Are they considered “active”? Are Catholics considered “active” if they only come to Church once or twice a year?

    What does “active” mean? This study, book, and article paint an interesting picture, but a ‘little’ knowledge, as this represents, may give more misinformation and miscomparison than actual benefit.

    • Dale,

      You make a good point in comparing the activity rates of Mormons to Catholics and SDA’s, etc. I agree activity rates are very very low in other religions – Catholicism, etc. But what does Catholicism require in order to obtain salvation? Do they want you to attend mass every week, hold callings, serve missions, etc.? Or is it just to accept Christ and be baptized and treat others well?

      In my opinion, since the LDS church has much more stringent requirements to make it to their heaven (or celestial kingdom) it makes sense to use activity rates as a relatively reasonable estimation of the number of members that are on track to receive God’s greatest blessings (once again, according to LDS faith). In other religions/faiths, weekly attendance in church or other activities may not be specifically required or even expected in order to gain salvation. My argument is that, if the LDS church expects people to attend the church, temple, keep WoW, law of Chastity, etc. in order to obtain salvation, then the members that are keeping all of those commandments and by-and-large trying to be obedient to the tenants of the religion…those members, should be the ones counted as active. “Active” in each religion is very different – LDS members seem to be labeled as inactive quite quickly from my experience over the past 20 years. 4.5 million “active” members of the LDS church is probably pretty accurate – those are the ones truly giving it their all and on track to receive what they believe to be God’s greatest blessings.
      Matt

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