During the Q&A of Elder Bednar’s National Press Club appearance, he was asked about the recent Salt Lake Tribune article that shows a a very small increase of members in the United States outside of Utah. His answer was a masterclass in doublespeak

I’ll try to be an apostle, and not an academic and a statistician. I would just highlight one feature and talk about the very complicated nature of what we are discussing. If you take a look at the church in the aggregate, it is growing, which in the climate we find ourselves in today, is rather newsworthy in and of itself. Secondly, if you take the westerly part of the United States, we have had a huge out migration of members in that part of the country, we’ve also had a huge migration from Mexico and Central America.  I have no idea what the real numbers are. So we have numbers, and I believe the numbers, but there is some uncertainty in the numbers. So I guess what I’m suggesting is at the aggregate I have confidence in the growth,  if you want to break it down state by state that is a rapidly moving target. I’m just not in a position to comment because I’m not sure what is happening.

Bednar, time 39:17

Let me interpret this for you.  If he answered as a statistician, which is what he is trained as, he would have to admit that the numbers are going down, and it does not look good for the church. So he answers as an Apostle which gives him great latitude in obfuscating real numbers. He then answers what he wishes she would have asked him, and not what was asked. The question was not the overall growth of the church, the questions was about many states in the USA having a decrease in members.  He answers that the church is growing worldwide.

Now the doublespeak. Yes, there is a huge migration out of the western United States, and they have the number on exactly how many people are leaving, and he believes the numbers! But he said there is uncertainty in the numbers, even if he believes them. He is not sure what is happening. That is the Apostle speaking, who believes the Church with roll forth like a stone cut from a mountain, so he can’t imagine what is happening. The statistician would have had to say that the number show a downturn in members in several US states.  

Three years ago I wrote about all the Church members moving out of California. Recently NPR did a story about people moving to places where political views match their own. My last post on the moving I came to the conclusion that most the members that were moving out of California were doing it for economic reasons. Is this still true?

I now wonder if members might be moving out of liberal states like California, and moving to more conservative states like Utah and Texas. How many people do you know that have moved to Utah so they can be around church members?

The SLTrib article that was the impetus for the question to Bednar has some great charts. [1]

One was a list of absolute growth/shrinkage of the states, sorted by growth, rather than an alphabetic list. The 15 fastest growing states for Mormonism, in absolute numbers (not percentage relative to state population change), from largest to smallest:


And here are the 15 states that are shrinking in absolute numbers of Mormons, starting with the most loss:


If you compare an election map from the 2020 election, every single one of the states where Mormonism grew, the state voted Red in 2020.

In the states where Mormonism shrank, 12 of the 15 voted Blue. The other three states that that voted Red but still shrank have something in common. They are all oil producing states. When the oil market collapsed in 2020, a lot of oil field workers were laid off and went back home. In ND and WY in particular, there were a lot of Utah families that went to work in the oil fields.

So it is no surprise that the Church that is known for being very conservative and right wing, is against same sex marriage, and has a history of racism is growing in these states. On the other hand, Mormonism is a poor fit for more liberal states. The statistics just confirm the obvious.

There is another graph listing the states in order of growth/shrinkage of Mormonism as a percentage of overall state population change. This really gives you a better idea of what is happening. For example, ND population took a big hit in 2020 because of the collapse of their oil economy. The number of Mormons shrank, but so did the overall population, so it is still possible that Mormons held their own or even grew in ND as a percentage of the state population.

Similarly, in UT, the number of Mormons increased pretty substantially, but so did the overall state population. Did the relative percentage of Mormons in UT go up or down?

So here are the top 15 states by percentage increase of Mormons relative to state population change:


And the 15 states in order of greatest shrinkage as a percentage of state population:


Of the percentage growth states, 13 of 15 did vote Red in 2020. AZ was at the tail end of the list, and it just barely voted Blue, so not much an anomaly there. The only real outlier is DC. There are lots of Mormons in the DC area in government jobs, and with a new administration there was probably an influx. Plus with COVID, a federal job was sometimes the only game in town. These could be the cause of this anomaly.

On the shrinkage side, there were a number of big surprises. First of all, the percentage shrinkage list is considerably different than the shrinkage in the first list of absolute percentage growth.

Twelve of the fastest percentage shrinkage states still voted Blue in 2020, though it is a significantly different 12 than in the first list. Of the three Red states that shrank, ND still made that list, so the collapse of the oil industry in ND put a serious dent in the number of Mormons in the state, who apparently returned to Utah or wherever else they had moved from to work the oil fields.

The big surprise is the other two states with major percentage shrinkage: Utah and Idaho.

That answers the question about whether the people moving into UT and ID are mostly Mormons selling out in places like California and moving back to Zion as I thought in my first post three years ago. Apparently no, the people moving into Utah are lower percentage Mormon than the people already there. They are lowering the overall percentage of Mormons in the state.

Well, I answered the reporters question as a nerdy engineer, not as an apostle (or former bishop).

Your thoughts?

[1] Lots of the analysis of these charts that follows in this post was taken directly from a post I saw on Reddit several months ago and saved for a later date. I now can’t find the post, or I would give credit to the excellent write-up this person did. If that person happens to read this, please make it known in the comments so you can get credit.