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By Five Solas
Got back home last Sunday after 8 days in London, England, celebrating my 10-year wedding anniversary with my wife. Our three kiddos stayed at home with her parents—which was awfully generous of them. (Other guys may complain about their in-laws, but not I.) It was a great trip, perfect walking weather, peak tourist season not yet started.
We stayed at The Grosvenor adjacent to Victoria Station, which meant we had pretty near the whole city within ~ 30 minutes via the Underground (and Buckingham Palace within a six minute walk). And I’ll share one small observation with the board for any discussion:
Aberrant theology notwithstanding, the Jehovah’s Witnesses work pretty dang hard.
A number of times we saw them working the street. And unlike Seattle where they will occasionally occupy a corner & smile gently at passers-by—here they seemed to be anxiously engaged with the vast diversity of humanity that occupies greater London. Yes, we saw a lot of old churches and even a new one that could have been an Acts 29 plant. But in all our time, we never once saw any LDS missionaries.
Recently there was a thread about religious persecution in contemporary Russia. And this has hit the JW’s hard—because they’ve worked vigorously to establish themselves after the fall of the Soviet Union and have built quite a presence (~100K active worshipers in Russia). But on that same thread, we couldn’t even figure out how many LDS stakes there are today in Russia (somewhere between zero and three). Some other stats were tossed about along with an LDS “Locator” app which, among other things, pointed the user to what could have been a boarded-up McDonald's. After nearly three decades since the fall, LDS here don’t know or seem to care (but a few certainly enjoyed discussing/debating political aspects of Russia). It’s a stunning contrast to all the fevered speculation when I was growing up (70’s – 80’s) about the missionary/membership opportunity for the LDS Church if Communism were to fall.
I realize it’s all anecdotal, and with a life-expectancy assumption of 110 for lost members, we can expect the LDS Church to continue to claim modest membership growth into the foreseeable future (loosing track of people makes *much* better numbers than knowing who actually dies or quits).
The question I have is this: Have we entered a period of retreat and retrenchment for the LDS Church where the focus will shift more to Utah and adjacent states (plus perhaps a few parts of the “third world” where record keeping and independent verification of membership will conveniently not be possible). Even at the national level, we appear to see an example of retrenchment with BYU’s divorce from USAF ROTC. And on the front page we have a thread about whether “slowing growth” makes any difference to the LDS Church and its adherents. And again, the LDS here don’t seem terribly interested or concerned.
What do you think? Has Mormonism peaked? Any will LDS really care if it has?
Your tired family grieving
And you think they're sad because you're leaving
But did you see Jealousy in the eyes
Of the ones who had to stay behind?
--The Smiths "London"
Since the 2008 membership numbers were released I have been tracking 20 areas of the world. This year might have been the most interesting.
California's membership decreased by 4,867 and the number of units decreased by 10. Ghana's membership increased by 5,367 and the number of units increased by 37. This is the 6th straight year that Sweden has stayed at 40 units. Peru increased its membership by 11,231 but lost 10 units. I have attached the pdf of the data that I have collected.
It's interesting that the video of Elder Holland just surfaced claiming double-digit stake creations per week. The increase in units for the year was 395 (7.6 per week).
LDS Church Membership 2008-2015.pdf
Number of Stakes & Districts bounced back. 2013 was our low in terms of stake/district growth rate at 0.70%. 2014 came up to 1.49% growth. Average number of members per stake/district increased slightly (from 4,165 to 4,183).
Number of Wards & Branches also increased but by a slightly slower rate than stakes/districts. After hovering around 0.8% or lower for the past five years, the growth rate in wards/branches came up to 1.26% for 2014. Average number of members per ward increased only slightly from 516 to 519.
The "surge" of missionaries is definitely over (shouldn't be a surprise to anyone) but as some have pointed out here, we are not seeing a decrease in missionaries. Increase in missionaries for 2014 was 2.54% (compared to over 40% in 2013 at the height of the surge). Converts per missionary companionship held steady at 7.0 (compared to 6.8 for 2013) but is still low compared to the rate for the decade before the surge (average was 10 converts per companionship for pre-surge). Of course, the number of converts per MEMBER did NOT drop significantly with the surge. Which supports what we've always been told: missionary success depends on the members.
They reported church service missionaries... we broke the 30,000 mark. Woo hoo!
Finally... the BIG number... total church membership increased by 290,309 to 15,372,337. We dropped to 1.92% for 2014. This was expected and is in line with the declining trend we've seen over the past several decades.
One interesting development in the membership count: the number of new children of record was less than the number of deaths + removals (resignations/excommunications). Meaning that without new convert baptisms, we'd be shrinking.
The growth rate and number of converts is flattening out. It has happened for several years and fortunately still shows some growth. The number of missionaries has grown markedly, but is not necessarily showing up in the form of converts. I have always thought the growth rate was not as important as the "quality" rate of the converts or the Church itself.
Could missionary work be transitioned to more service? Could we have a higher percentage of missionaries called only as service missionaries? Are movements such as Ordain Women, MormonStories, or others being negatively affecting growth through negative publicity or through resignations? At least the Church released/owned the statistics. Could there be positive aspects to this data? I think there could tremendous opportunities for missonaries if we can think outside of the proselyting box. I hear lip service to service and missionaries, but not as tangible of change as I had hoped for and some pressure by local leaders to have more for the missionaries to teach/do.