I don’t have any Big Important Mormon Topics to talk about this week (but stay tuned) so I’ll go with something that’s at least relevant and timely: Welcome to the Slow-Growth Church. In Mormonspeak, I guess that would be: Welcome to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the Slow Growth. Numbers have plateaued, and I don’t think that’s going to change in coming years. I don’t think Covid has anything to do with this, as the trend has been evident for decades now, but Covid has probably exacerbated the problem.
You might ask: Problem? What problem? Just ask a missionary: Fewer people want to join the Church, or even talk about it. Ask a bishop: Some people just stop attending. They check out. Ask some financial guy squirreled away in the basement of the COB: Tithing receipts are down. In marketing terms, the Church is no longer a growth company. It’s a cash cow.
I stole this topic from my own recent comment to Bishop Bill’s excellent post “A Common Enemy.” Here’s the last part of my comment:
As Church growth continues to stagnate and leadership retreats more and more into well-funded religious fundamentalism, there will be more and more of all this. It’s just not much fun being a Mormon anymore. Imagine being on a 2-14 football team, when the only question about next year is whether the team will go 2-14 again or sink to 1-15.
The “all this” I’m referring to is the relentless search for an explanation of why slow growth is affecting the Church, of why people both in and out of the Church seem to be losing interest. An enemy hath done this: who might it be? But more broadly, think about the reactions that senior leaders and the whole bureaucratic Mormon machine have to the now-so-evident problem. It seems to be changing the whole tone of the Church program. More pleas from local missionaries to help find someone to teach. More tone deaf lessons on faith crisis and how not to be offended when someone says or does or teaches something offensive. More Conference talks titled, “God Loves You, So Pay Your Tithing and Go to Your Meetings, All of Them.”
Not fun anymore? I’m sure someone will comment that Church isn’t supposed to be fun, but it at least has to be interesting enough that people will come back for more. The Church needs repeat customers. I had some hope for Sunday School when Pres. Uchtdorf got promoted downward to, among other assignments, oversee Curriculum. As for Uchtdorf, the phrase “was never heard from again” almost fits. As for the curriculum … well, I’m hard pressed to see anything that changed for the better. The best teachers ignore the manual and just teach good stuff. The best students ignore the manual and just read scriptures and informed commentary.
I can think of a few generic responses to my comments, along these lines:
- “Dave, you’re way off base. There is no problem. The Church is healthier than ever.”
- “Dave, Covid was the problem. Now that masks are no longer required and some people have been vaccinated, the problem will go away and things will be back to normal.”
- “Dave, there is a problem and it’s you. If you think church on Sunday is dull or uninteresting, you’re just not trying hard enough. Your job is to make it interesting, not lose interest.”
- “Dave, there is a problem, but the Church will fix it. I’m confident Pres. Uchtdorf and his team of Mormon whiz kids are holding a meeting this very hour to cook up a new plan to fix things.”
- “Dave, there is a problem and it’s unlikely that LDS leadership can fix it. They are likely unwilling or unable to delve deeply enough into the problem to even identify the real causes of the problem, much less make any changes. It’s easier to just name a new scapegoat candidate and carry on. So the problem will get worse, not better.”
I admit that “fun” is not quite the right word. Please feel free to find a better word. “Church isn’t supposed to be fun, but it at least has to be X.” And it is X. Or it isn’t X but it should be. If you just can’t think of an X and you don’t like any of my generic responses, at least weigh in on your feelings on the Covid-sponsored Great Home Church Experiment we’ve been doing this last year or so.