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The Fastest Growing Church in the World?

For a May 18, 2015 Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast on this topic, click Missionary Increase and Convert Decrease 

Check out this Mormon Coffee blog as well

Does accelerated growth of a group somehow validate that what the group teaches is true? To many Latter-day Saints, the growth (or perceived growth) of their church is evidence that the restored gospel of Mormonism must be true. No one doubts that the LDS Church is a growing church and for this reason alone every Christian should be concerned. However, statistics don’t support the notion that the LDS Church is the fastest growing church in the United States or the world. The fact is, convert baptisms have actually decelerated over the past decade or so.

Mormon Apostle Boyd Packer made mention of this when he addressed a group of Stake Presidents at the North American West Area Training Conference in Walnut Creek, CA in October of 2000. Packer noted, “Currently, convert baptisms worldwide are at a free fall. The number of young men going on missions is going down. One of the worst statistics is the number of less active young women.”

No doubt such a comment will come as a surprise to many, especially since the LDS Church has taken full advantage of numerous opportunities to showcase its faith. David Stewart, a Mormon statistician who calls the notion that the LDS Church is the fastest growing church a “pervasive myth,” offers some interesting insight in his report. We offer for your perusal, some quotes taken from Stewart’s findings retrieved on January 2, 2003:

“During the decade of the 1990s, many rapidly-growing churches, including the Adventists, Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, and numerous Pentecostal groups, reported accelerating growth trends throughout the decade, while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced persistent trends of decelerating growth.”

“After more than a decade of proselyting in Russia with the largest full-time missionary force of any denomination, LDS membership has risen to only 11,000, with a fraction of those members remaining active. The same period has seen the number of active Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia rise to over 120,000, with some 275,000 individuals attending conferences.”

“The Assemblies of God are growing at approximately 10% per year, or over three times the growth rate of the LDS Church, while the Seventh-day Adventists report growth two to three times LDS rates at 5.6-8% per year.”

“While the Church makes no claims about member activity rates and no official reports of LDS activity rates are published, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes, “Attendance at sacrament meeting varies substantially. Canada, the South Pacific, and the United States average between 40 percent and 50 percent. Europe and Africa average about 35 percent. Asia and Latin America have weekly attendance rates of about 25 percent…European LDS activity rates appear to have fallen well below the older 35% figure cited in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.”

“The average missionary in 1989 brought 9.1 people into the church, while in 2000 the average missionary brought 4.6 people into the church. When one accounts for actual activity and retention rates, with the great majority of LDS convert growth occurring in Latin America and other areas with low retention and only 20-25% of convert growth occurring in North America, it can be determined that of the 4.6 persons baptized by the average missionary each year, approximately 1.3 will remain active.”

“Protestant groups have been more successful than Latter-day Saints in mobilizing missionaries outside of the United States, especially in Asia. There are over 44,000 Protestant missionaries from India, with 60% serving domestically and 40% serving abroad. Within the next few years, India is expected to surpass the United States as the leading sender of Protestant and Evangelical missionaries! There are only 52 LDS missionaries serving in all of India, with only a fraction being native missionaries.”

“While the LDS Church is still one of the faster growing churches in the United States, most of the growth is due to the fact that a full one-third of all full-time LDS missions are concentrated in the U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, and that U.S. Latter-day Saints average approximately one more child per family than non-LDS U.S. citizens. When the LDS birth rate and full-time missionary efforts are taken into consideration, member-missionary efforts account for just 12-14% of LDS Church growth in North America.”

Decrease in Convert Baptisms

While many Latter-day Saints like to point to overall member statistics, this really does not paint an accurate picture of church growth since many included in that number are children of LDS families that become baptized members at the age of eight (or the Mormon age of accountability). A more accurate appraisal of church growth can be found in the convert baptism statistics presented by the Church Auditing Department and printed in the May (conference edition) of the official LDS Ensign magazine. These numbers show a gradual decrease in convert baptisms since 1990. At their October, 2012 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced that the age for males wishing to serve a mission would be dropped to 18, and  the age for females to 19. When the announcement was made the LDS Church had 58, 990 missionaries serving and the convert rate per missionary was 4.62. In 2014 the number of missionaries serving peaked at 85,147 but converts to the church showed that converts per missionary dropped to 3.49.  In 2015 the number of missionaries stood at 74,709. Though still a significant number compared to 2012, convert baptisms for 2015 totaled 257,402, nearly 40,000 less than the previous year.

  • 1990 – 330, 877
  • 1991 – 297, 770
  • 1992 – 274, 477
  • 1993 – 304, 808
  • 1994 – 300, 730
  • 1995 – 304, 330
  • 1996 – 321, 385
  • 1997 – 317,798
  • 1998 – 299, 134
  • 1999 – 306, 171
  • 2000 – 273, 973
  • 2001 – 292, 612
  • 2002 – 283, 138
  • 2003 – 242, 943
  • 2004 – 241, 239
  • 2005 – 243,108
  • 2006 – 272,845
  • 2007 – 279,218
  • 2008 – 265,593
  • 2009 – 280,106
  • 2010 – 272,814
  • 2011 – 281,312
  • 2012 – 272,330
  • 2013 – 282,945
  • 2014 – 296,803
  • 2015 – 257,402
  • 2016 – 240,131
  • 2017 – 233,729

Further Reading

  • Keeping Members a Challenge for LDS Church (Off Site)
  • Population and Growth Rate (Off Site)
  • Mormonism besieged by the modern age (Reuters) – “The LDS church claims 14 million members worldwide — optimistically including nearly every person baptized. But census data from some foreign countries targeted by clean-cut young missionaries show that the retention rate for their converts is as low as 25 percent. In the U.S., only about half of Mormons are active members of the church, said Washington State University emeritus sociologist Armand Mauss, a leading researcher on Mormons. Sociologists estimate there are as few as 5 million active members worldwide.”
  • Number of faithful Mormons rapidly declining (ABC 4 News)
  • Mormons in the United States 1990-2008: Socio-demographic Trends and Regional Differences (PDF), by Rick Phillips and Ryan T. Cragun – “Mormons are actually treading water with respect to their per capita presence in the U.S.”
  • Mormon Numbers Not Adding Up, by Joanna Brooks – “New data suggests that Mormonism may no longer be (as it is often described) among the fastest-growing faiths in the United States. Instead, American Mormons appear to be settling into the twenty-first century as a maturing minority having an increasingly hard time holding onto younger members… Phillips and Cragun also place LDS growth rates not at 30% but at 16%—a rate on par with general US population growth.”
  • “The idea that the right is always victorious in this world, that truth is always triumphant and innocence always divinely protected, are old, fond fables with which well-meaning men have amused credulous multitudes; but the stern facts of history and actual experience in life correct the pleasing delusion.” – James Talmage. The Great Apostasy Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (p. 62)
  • Church giving drops $1.2 billion reports 2012 Yearbook of Churches (National Council of Churches) – “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew 1.62 percent to 6,157,238 members and the Assemblies of God grew 3.99 percent to 3,030,944 members, according to figures reported in the 2012 Yearbook. Other churches that continued to post membership gains in 2010 are Jehovah’s Witnesses, up 1.85 percent to 1,184,249 members, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, up 1.61 Percent to 1,060,386 members.”
  • Counting the Saints, by Doug Fabrizio (KUER)
  • Concerning Results from 2010 Brazilian Census
  • Is the LDS (Mormon) Church Growing? – “The worldwide Church has experienced an increase in the average number of members per unit over the past decade from 437 members per ward or branch to 502 members per ward or branch. The influence of branches (smaller congregations) maturing into wards (larger congregations) on this statistic appears minimal. Rather, low convert retention rates appear the primary reason for noncommensurate congregational and membership growth.”

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