A recent publication is doing the rounds regarding the rates of growth (or otherwise) in the LDS Church in 2016. They have been compiled by Matthew Martinich, an independent LDS demographer. You can see his fairly extensive analysis here.
It is a really interesting analysis – albeit statistically a bit “heavy”.
I urge you to have a good look over it. He breaks it down into “Encouraging” and “Discouraging” elements. As a teaser, I will outline my top three from each category.
- Largest Number of New Stakes Created in a Single Year since 1997. The number of new stakes organized by world region is as follows: North America (45), Africa (21), South America (14), Central America (8), Asia (6), Oceania (5), and Europe (1).
- Rapid Growth Accelerates in West Africa. Rapid growth in West Africa has not only continued into 2016, but it has accelerated from previous years. The Africa West Area reported in mid-2016 that it anticipated the number of convert baptisms in the area would exceed 27,000 in 2016. If correct, this projection would indicate that membership in West Africa would increase by at least 10% in 2016. The Church reports its most rapid international growth in West Africa. The number of stakes has tripled every 10 years.
- LDS Congregations in Syria and Iraq. Despite one of the most complex and intense conflicts in the world at present, the Church has begun to be established among the native population in Syria and Iraq. The Church in Syria reestablished an official branch in Damascus during the year and also appeared to operate member groups in Aleppo and Latakia. No senior missionaries appear to enter or serve within Syria at present and church administration is conducted by district leadership headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon. Senior missionaries assigned to Kurdistan, Iraq noted significant inroads made among the native Kurdish population. At least three cities (e.g. Duhok, Irbil, and Sulaymaniyah) appear to have member groups in operation and convert baptisms have begun to occur on a monthly basis. Although converts and prospective members number only in the dozens at present in each nation, emphasis from church leaders to establish the Church in these nations signals a significant development for the Church’s missionary efforts in the Middle East where no formal proselytism occurs and religious freedom is limited or severely restricted.
- Congregational Growth Slows in the United States
The Church in the United States has reported one of its smallest increases in the number of wards and branches during 2016. There has appeared to have been a net increase of only 69 congregations during the year – a 0.49% annual increase and a significantly smaller increase than most recent years for the Church in the United States. Typically the Church has reported an annual net increase of 100-150 wards and branches and an annual congregational growth rate of 0.8-1.2%.
Slowing membership growth rates in the United States have likely affected congregational growth rates. The Church in 2015 reported its slowest annual membership growth rate since 1989 at a mere 1.0%. To contrast, the Church has generally reported annual membership growth rates in the United States that range between 1.5-2.0% since 1999. Fewer convert baptisms, a reduced birthrate, and inactivity problems among young single adults appear primarily responsible for slowing membership growth.
- Stagnant Growth in Europe
Overall, no measurable LDS growth appeared to occur in Europe during 2016.
Low member-missionary participation, secularism, nominal religious ties to traditional Christian denominations, challenges assimilating immigrant and refugee converts into congregations, and low self-sufficiency in European nations staffing their full-time missionary needs constitute significant barriers towards real growth.
- Lack of Progress in Mexico
Home to the second largest population of Latter-day Saints according to official LDS figures, the Church in Mexico continues to experience essentially stagnant growth. There was essentially no net change in the number of wards or branches in Mexico during 2016. Additionally, no new stakes were organized in Mexico during the year. This points to serious concerns regarding member activity, convert retention, missionary activity, and leadership development – especially considering that the Church operates 34 missions and its second largest missionary training center in the world in Mexico. LDS activity rates in Mexico may be worse than activity rates in Brazil. Although the Church in Mexico reports approximately 68,000 more members than the Church in Brazil, the Church in Brazil currently operates 38 more wards and branches and 35 more stakes than the Church in Mexico.
Looking at this analysis from an overall perspective, the lack of growth in the US and Mexico, appear to be fairly concerning. Even with births, I would have expected higher growth than this – particularly in Utah.
I have three thoughts about the decline in western countries (including Australia).
- The MLM Effect. For a vast majority of my friends and people I associate with, they would never be employed in a Multi-Level Marketing arrangement. This is because they have already made the decision not to. It is not something they would even consider. They perhaps take the advice of Spencer W Kimball when he said, “Develop discipline of self so that, more and more, you do not have to decide and redecide what you will do when you are confronted with the same temptation time and time again. You only need to decide some things once!” (President Kimball Speaks Out on Planning Your Life,” New Era, Sept. 1981, 50). My feeling is that is how many non-members feel about the church. They would never consider joining. Most have had missionaries knock on their door (that’s about all they do here in Australia), most have otherwise heard of the church. They have just made up their mind.
- US Culture. By and large, those outside the USA are put off by the US culture. It is seen as style over substance, celebrity worshiping and brutily capitalist. This is diametrically opposed to the Australian culture and most European cultures I know. The importation of the US culture into the LDS religious experience is a “turn off” for many in the west.
- Focus on certain issues. The church has displayed relentless focus on the “traditional family”, high profile opposition to all things SSM, significant involvement in Prop 8, opposition to things like medical marijuana and euthanasia. These are all issues that a lot of people support and would represent another “turn off” or barrier in people accepting membership in the church.
- What are your thoughts on the article?
- Do you agree or disagree with the authors assessment of some possible reasons for the growth or decline?
- What have you seen in your local area?
- What are your predictions for the next 5-10 years?