The following is repost from the churchistrue blog. The top section is an addition to the original post, based on the discussion of the interesting 141K removed number, discussed in the Peggy Fletcher Stack article in the Salt Lake Tribune. The original post continues below.
Amid the 2018 statistic report announced Saturday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a startling finding: the largest number of membership records ever removed in a single year — 140,868. …To get the number of records removed, Martinich adds the number of convert baptisms to the increase in number of “children of record” born to Latter-day Saints. …The removals could be caused by a number of factors, Martinich said. It could be due to more children born during these years who reached baptism age of 8, but were not baptized. It might reflect more deaths due to an aging church membership, he said. Or it could signal that more individuals requested to have their names removed from church records, which may have increased in 2018 “compared to previous years.”
See my discussion on this number down below in the resignations section. Here’s a table that shows this number and how it is broken down.
The 141K number in bold in the last row is calculated by taking the difference between last year’s total member number and this year’s number and then taking out total converts and total new children. The result is the total number removed from membership, which consists of four categories.
- Total deaths (including estimate for inactives where records are lost that reach 110 years old)
- Total number of nine year olds previously counted as children who have not been baptized
- Total excommunicated
- Total resigned
I set up a model with assumptions for the first three, assuming that there would not be huge volatility in those categories. The total resignations is then derived from the leftover. That produced some wild variances that you can see in the column labeled “Plug Formula Total Resigned), so I smoothed that out across years.
Here are my charts for the LDS Membership Statistics Report, updated with the numbers reported April 6, 2019. These statistics are for calendar year 2018. See last year’s statistical report here.
Total membership: 16,313,735, raw growth of 1.21% on prior year
Wards and Branches: 30,536
New children of record during 2017: 102,102
Converts baptized during 2017: 234,332
Full-time Missionaries: 65,137
Total Units (Wards and Branches) was 30,536, just 30 more than last year, an increase of 0.10% from the previous year. This is a good indicator of growth in active members. There are new converts but also new people going inactive to offset some, but the increase in total wards and branches should be pretty close to a true growth indicator.
Stakes came in at 3,383. An increase of 1.26%.
This next chart is a fun one, which I’ve put some effort into modeling. I had been running my own Excel model predicting and forecasting inactivity/activity rates. I combined this model with two other models. One by Matt Martinich, the premier LDS membership data guru, who is involved with the popular church demographics site Cumorah.com and has a personal blog on LDS membership data. The other by Kimball who provides a lot of analysis at his site Fuller Consideration. All three models were pretty close, but I refined my model based on information from all, and I think I have a pretty good model now, which essentially categorizes US and International wards and branches and then allocates an average member size to each and floats with unit changes broken out by US-Intl. I get the following chart this year.
Total active members: 4,789,800 with increase of 0.40% over the previous year and overall activity at 29.4% down from 29.6% last year.
Missionaries are down to 65,137. This is down 2.9% from 2017. We know 2014 was a false peak because the age change caused missionaries from multiple age classes serving together, so we expected a decrease after that. It’s hard to know for sure, but I think most likely that has flushed out of the data, and the last couple years decline represent a true decrease in the number deciding to serve.
New converts were 234,332. Two years ago, the 240K number was the lowest number since 1987. Now, we have two years in a row that have sunk lower.
Next is total resignations. I am reporting 42,000 for 2018. This is very controversial and very difficult to model. The number is not reported directly. The number comes from total reduction in membership. Reduction in membership is calculated by taking change in membership less new converts less new children of record. The number this year was -140,868. This “plug” number includes: deaths of members that are known, inactive members that can’t be located that reach age 110, children of record that turn age 9 and haven’t been baptized, excommunications, and resignations. This number of -141K is quite a jump from last year’s -105K, and the preceding four years with average of -108K and high of -122K. This caused me to go back and bump prior numbers up a little so smooth it out. I reported 22K resignations last year. I’m adjusting that to 31K.
Due to changes in methodology in the way the church reports, and also due to so many factors that go into modeling these five categories, it’s very difficult to peg this number accurately. I’m not sure if the peak 2014 and 2015 is meaningful or if it’s due to some change in membership accounting (probably the latter). The Church seems to occasionally do “true ups” or or other strange things to the data, and since this is a plug, it all flows through to this number. Very volatile and likely inaccurate. But I’ve talked to the other data modelers and looked at various analysis and feel it’s about as good as we can guess.
Tithing. I estimate total tithing in 2018 at $8.3B. That’s an increase of just 0.21% using constant dollars on prior year. Almost flat.
I took a report from a study by Reuter’s in 2011, and modeled out estimated tithing dollars. That study estimated tithing dollars by USA and International. I trended it out using activity estimates. Something insightful here is to compare the blue-red USA-Intl split here to the total membership in the first chart. If these estimated numbers are correct, then it shows a major issue the church faces. I imagine the growth that is coming internationally in membership is quite a burden of expense, considering the tithing appears to be minimal, relatively.
Here’s the same look in current dollars.
Why is the Church’s growth slowing? Some will say it’s related to CES Letter type issues. But this seems to be a global issue affecting all churches. Church growth may be solid when compared to other churches struggling to grow in an increasingly secular world. I give my insight into some of the growth challenges in a previous essay titled Why are people leaving the Mormon Church?
Here’s one final chart for fun showing probabilities for the current apostles to ascend to become the prophet of the Church based on seniority. This chart is using actuarial chart published by US gov for death probabilities for certain age. If everything goes perfectly according to expectations, Pres. Nelson would be replaced by Oaks in 2022, then Holland in 2025, Bednar in 2031, Stevenson in 2044, and new apostle and possibly first international prophet Soares in 2046. Uchtdorf and Andersen also have pretty decent shots at becoming the prophet.
Another category is excommunicants rebaptized, who are not (last I checked) counted as converts, but would contribute to the yearly increase. I’m not sure if rebaptized resignations count in the convert baptisms. I would expect a greater percentage of excommunicants to be rebaptized than resigned members, but given the cumulative number of resignations, the number rebaptized each year must be more than zero.
How did you estimate the number of excommunications? 0.3 excommunications per stake and district seems lower than I would have expected.
The numbers for new converts in the spreadsheet (second chart) show it has been hovering around 250,000 per year pretty consistently since 2000. That is in the context of slowly increasing membership and steadily increasing numbers of missionaries. So converts per missionary and converts as a percentage of members are both declining. That shows that the LDS Church is becoming less and less appealing to non-members.
The computed numbers for removals and resignations (same spreadsheet) show that, particularly in the last five years, exits are rising. It’s not a sudden die-off of older Latter-day Saints, so it is likely that resignations are a big part of the increase. The spike in (computed) resignations in 2018 is likely due to the November Policy (now amended, but the damage is done). And resignations are just the tip of the iceberg, as probably five or ten times as many people simply go inactive and cease contributing financially to the Church because of the Policy. This is reflected in the flat tithing revenue despite membership increases. All this shows that, particularly in the last five years, the LDS Church is becoming less and less appealing to the members. Nobody wants to be Mormon anymore.
So the Church has become less appealing all across the board. Fewer are interested in becoming Latter-day Saints and those that already are LDS are showing a lot of interest in disaffiliating. No doubt LDS leaders have access to better statistical information about missionary failure and member exit, which is likely part of the explanation for the bold and rather unexpected step of reversing in part the November Policy. That’s crisis management.
LF. I guess you could take excommunication as net excommunications, netting out those that are rebaptized. I modeled out the most 20 years of data or so with various assumptions for trends combined with best guesses for some multipliers. There’s a lot of SWAG here (scientific wild a** guess).
Dave B be careful getting too granular with this, there’s a circular effect in things like tithing and activity in the model. But, yes, I agree with your general assessment that the numbers look bad, and have gotten progressively worse the last five years. Maybe Satan is hastening the work at faster pace than we are.
A rough estimate only. (Maybe a SWAG). Perhaps someone with better data / computer skills can refine this.
(More granular than me- I’m pretty flaky).
Broad definition of a Mormon: One willing to put their children on the rolls of the church.
That would be far more than average weekly attendance, tithing payers, temple recommend holders, etc.
So how many women does it take to produce 100,000 babies (102,102- in 2018 nice)?
You say 100,000 women! Yes, but they don’t all hatch out a baby every year throughout their life. Duh.
Let us assume a stable* population.
The average woman has 3 children and lives to be 81 years old.
This means she has one baby every 27 years, lifetime average. (81/3=27)
Therefore, it takes 27 x 100,000 women for the stable population to sustain 100,000 new children each year.
That would be 2.7 million women. That implies 2.7 million men, except women are more active than men.
Total number of Mormons like that is less than 5.4 million by this very broad definition.
Now for adjustments. Wards vary but most I have lived in have about 50% activity. So that number is going to be far south of 3 million truly active Mormons.
* As to the stable population assumption. It is not true but it is off in a predictable direction. More than half of Mormons speak Spanish and tend to live in countries with higher birth rates, mostly converts and most converts are younger, more in the reproductive years. This means that for half the population it takes a lot fewer women to produce their share of the new babies. (For example, assume average lifespan of 60 years and 6 kids each. Only need 1 million women to sustain 100,000 births). Adjust the total Mormon population down, way down.
The only way to adjust the result upward is to assume a large number of older women not having children. That isn’t good, then there are too many dying off and where are their children? Not in church. Or put the birth rate under the average for progressive European countries; which we are anything but that.
Another even easier SWAG: 30,000 wards with an average of no higher than 200 members each. That would be 6 million. But you know damned well not all those smaller wards have 200 members and they don’t let many of them get any bigger than that number. They split our ward 7 years ago and total attendance in meetings is under 100 in each of them. Maybe under 50 some weeks. An honest estimation might be under 100. We are back pretty close to the baby metric.
Starting with 16 million is so far fetched it calls into question every other calculation. That number is off by at least 10 million, maybe more. These errors are not accidental, they are intentionally misleading through a ubiquitous lack of transparency. It is better to use fewer, but more accurate points of data than numerous more wildly inaccurate points of data.
Ask dear, sweet old Hillary Clinton about this last point.
( Pelosi is worse- she thinks they will beat Trump at the polls, just like in the last election. When she should get off her bony ass and be leading the charge to impeach him- if for no other reason so that he doesn’t win again. Faithful Mormons are worse than both, when they’re hitchin’ their wagons to church growth as testimony of its truthfulness. Shame on the church for misleading data.
“It’s not a sudden die-off of older Latter-day Saints”
Yeah it is. The Church is not immune from the trends that all Christian churches’ demographics have been dramatically shifting older… and old people don’t bear children, and they die off rapidly.
“Maybe Satan is hastening the work at faster pace than we are.”
Has the thought ever occurred to you that maybe it is the church, not Satan, that has done things to make our faith less appealing to prospective converts??
Mike. You’re on the right track. I estimate 29.4% activity, so that’s pretty close to the numbers you end up at.
Thank you for this fine work.
I hear a lot of more active members placing a positive spin on what I would think most population demographers would paint a far dimmer picture of (regarding these numbers).
My question to that group of people (the former) is that when (if) these numbers go into actual negative figures for growth, that would they be saying then..?? Is having negative growth consistent with the message of the restoration..?? Is it consistent with previous messages that positively reference growth..??
It’s interesting seeing all the calculations to derive resignations. You have one of the lower calculations although I suspect some of the exmo sites may have a bit of cognitive bias there.
To me the more interesting figure was the slight rise in missionary efficiency & effectiveness. Not sure what to make of that. There’s lots of changes afoot in missionary work. Part of me wonders if they just returned to old school approaches if things would improve. But as I’ve said in the past the focus seems to have really changed in missionary work the past couple of decades.
My personal feeling is that changes in the missionary program along with the nature of those going have been a major impact. I think the second major factor was the shift in Mormon birth rates – particularly in the 90’s (which have been affecting things the past years). Some have attempted to model this using Utah rates, but that’s not too accurate an approach. Both because non-members in Utah have fewer kids and make up a significant portion of the state. Active Mormons probably are the minority. You could try and model based upon Utah county, but of course Utah county practices likely don’t translate to the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world. Still significant drops in fertility in Utah over the last 20 years give at least a qualitative sense of what’s going on.
I’m not sure if ward and stake growth numbers are reliable indicators anymore. In recent years there has been a trend to reorganize wards and stakes to make them smaller and more manageable (reducing the workload on bishops and other leaders, etc.). In 2016 my own ward and stake were dissolved, as were many neighboring wards and stakes in the surrounding metropolitan area. They reapportioned the wards to make them smaller, so there were more of them. As I recall, there was an additional stake created as well. But church membership in this area has not changed significantly in over a decade, and by some measures is trending downward. I’ve since moved away, but I heard this was going on elsewhere in the Church. This practice has some advantages at the local level, but it artificially inflates the growth stats.
LDS Aussie asks:
“My question to that group of people (*) is that when (if) these numbers go into actual negative figures for growth, that would they be saying then..??”
They aren’t here and it hasn’t happened (again). Be happy with your own guesses.
Just a point of clarification on how numbers are reported:
What are “children of record?” Is that just children who have been blessed? Do they count as members in the total membership reports? If so, then what about 8 year olds who get baptized, do they not count as new members if they were already blessed?
Just looking for clarification here. Thanks.
LDS Aussie asks the bingo question:
..these numbers go into actual negative figures for growth, what would they be saying then??
For those who say there is growth, (Michael 2 et. al) how do you reconcile that 16 million members number and the 102,002 new babies number?
Let me do the same calculation with these numbers in the opposite direction. Assume 16 million members, 8 million women. They produce 100,000 babies. That would imply Mormon women only have one kid every 80 years. Or more reasonably only half the women have 2 kids per lifetime and half are infertile by choice or otherwise. And that would include the Spanish speaking half of the church.
Hey, if you think it is mostly old people who are active, then that is not good news because it is not sustainable. Do you think suddenly we are going to start attracting all these young people? Maybe on another continent? Future sustainable growth is impossible without the younger generation and the question remains.
I might be willing to consider that maybe there never was that much growth. When the church hit 1 million during the time of David O McKay, that was a farce. and so forth all along. There never was much growth? The church grew from a few 100,000 to a couple or three million in half a century? If that is the assertion, then they have been telling flagrant lies for a similar amount of time.
Rapid growth is an essential element of the message of the restoration. The stone cut out of the mountain and rolling forth to fill the whole earth. We will have to discard an enormous amount of our historical rhetoric. We will upset many people. Lying has that problem.
Mike while getting international numbers is more difficult in the US Mormons have been a consistent percentage of the population since self-identification religion surveys were started in the 90’s. Given that the country has been growing (primarily through immigration) then that entails real growth.
I’d also question your treatment of the stone. While that is a component there has also been fairly consistent prophecies of people turning away in the last days. How to interpret those isn’t clear but it’s a common strain in Mormon thought.
Mike 2 – my main guess would be that they would say “the elect will hear thy voice” and the sifting of the “wheat and tares” (pun most definitely attended).
As a missionary in the early 90’s when growth was certainly stronger and sitting nicely in the back of 30-40 years of worldwide expansion, the message really seems different now. However, there is a central message in the restoration that the gospel will expand to all nations and flood the earth. That really has not happened. So if we experience negative growth and that seems like it will be like that for a while, that seems inconsistent with scripture and the messages of prophets for some time.
Mike – good information there. The numbers simply don’t add up. Birth rates, numbers in the 500’s for an average congregation and I just read about negative growth in Germany and Europe.
I get that there are 16 million on the books, but in a church that believes “in being honest”, implying that we have even close to that many members is disingenuous at best and a bald faced lie at worst.
I have an orthodox brother. We have always been different and very close.
He thinks all is well in Zion. The church is growing. What we are doing is working. Home teaching was a smashing success and prepared the way for something even better. Bla bla bla.Endlessly.
He has no interest in making the church any better. It is fabulous enough as it is. It has to be with the prophets and apostles leading it.
Local leadership across the church is largely drawn from people like him. This is precisely why our music sucks, our meetings are boring, our youth program a joke. The church is growing. What we are doing it working, good enough. Why change or do better?
This lying and sugar-coating and honey-baking is making the core membership complacent and ineffective. It will kill Mormonism if it festers long enough.
A missing component of analysis here is measurement of self (or parentally) identified LDS ‘adherents’ as disclosed in national census reports. These are not necessarily active members, but people sufficiently comfortable with the LDS label to report themselves accordingly. Both absolute numbers and trends in comparison with overall national population growth rates are important.
In New Zealand, regarded as an LDS bastion in the south Pacific, the number of such persons dropped by 6.5% between the 2006 and 2013 censuses. As a comparison, the number identified as ‘Adventist’ increased by 5.5% – roughly commensurate with NZ’s overall population growth of 5.3%. Thus the absolute number of LDS ‘adherents’ declined during the specified period, but their representation in the overall NZ population dropped even further. (See )
In Australia: up until the 2011 census growth in the number of LDS ‘adherents’ was holding at or just above the rate of overall population growth. However, a notable distorting factor over the past three decades has been a relatively high number of active LDS Polynesian immigrants, notably Western Samoans. (Since a substantial proportion of this has been step migration via New Zealand, this same phenomenon may also have influenced the NZ figures given above.)
Notwithstanding Polynesian immigration, figures from the 2016 census indicated only a small increase in the number of LDS ‘adherents’ while the growth rate had fallen well below the overall rate of increase of the Australian population. However the Australian 2016 stats are rubbery because a botched attempt to move the Census online led to a significantly lower than usual response rate. The 2018 NZ Census was afflicted with a similar set of problems, and has not yet been fully reported.