When I moved to my Southern California Stake in the early 1980’s, there was 7 wards. By the early 2000’s there was 12 wards, and talk of splitting the stake. They even built another stake center size building in the stake in anticipation of the split. Well, it’s now 2018, and we are back to 7 wards, and one shared YSA ward with the neighboring stake. By my estimation, there are less active members in the stake today than there was 35 years ago.
So, where did all the members go? Anecdotal evidence points to St George Utah! While several prominent members (former SP, two bishops) did move to St George, a more even handed look at the data show that they moved to not only St George, but pretty much anyplace that was cheaper than Southern California. I live in a lovey beach side community, where the median home price is right around $500,000, and anywhere near the water pushes it well over $1 million. My community is considered one of the more affordable places on the California coast.
The other contributing factor is the lack of new members. It has been over 10 years since a family was baptized into our ward (they are now inactive). It is mostly single adults, and a few odd children of record of part member families.
So while detractors of the church would like to point to people leavening the church as the cause for the loss of members, I suspect that the members have not left the church, they just left California. Now I do know of several people in my area that did leave for historical/LGBT/women issues. I would guess that it is a 20/80% split, with 20% loss due to inactivity, and 80% loss due to economic reasons.
But the above observation begs the question on why Mormon’s are more susceptible to economic factors than the general population. California is still growing in population, so economic factors are not driving out people as a general rule. A few explanations could be Mormon’s have more kids, making the cost of living higher for them. They also make 10% less incoming if they are paying tithing.
The church keeps lots of records. They know exactly what is happening. They can see exactly where members move. When numbers get so low and they need to disestablish a stake or ward, they know how many went inactive, how many requested their names to be removed, and how many moved to Provo. It would be great if they shared that with us. (it would also be great if I won the lottery!)
What has been your observation of church growth in your area? Is movement out of your area the major loss of members? Or some other factors?