Mormon Church Growth Myth

LDS add mission in Utah; cut back in Europe, elsewhere

Religion » Church bolstering its proselytizing presence in Latin America.

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 02/12/2010

In a move that may strike some as ironic, the LDS Church is bringing more of its full-time missionaries to southern Utah, a place dominated by Mormons, and sending fewer to places such as Germany, Ireland and Australia, which have a tiny LDS presence.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also is beefing up its missionary numbers in Latin America, the Philippines and Africa, according to an announcement Friday of 10 new missions and the merging of 14 others.

Peru and Mexico are each getting two new missions, for example, while Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Democratic Republic of Congo are adding one. There will also be new missions in St. George, Utah; Iloila, Philippines; and Farmington, N.M.

The expansion in Utah's Dixie will bring the number of missions in the state to six.

By and large, this shuffling represents the 13.5 million-member church's global shift away from more developed societies that have been a mainstay of LDS converts for a century and toward the Third World.

It's not surprising, says Utah Valley University anthropologist David Knowlton.

A religion such as Mormonism is "not on the whole interesting to Europeans," says Knowlton, currently doing research in Bolivia. "Churches play an important social role but the religious aspect may well be the least important."

Like the rest of Christianity, the American-born church is finding many more converts south of the border.

"There, religion is still a major basis of life and provides important social benefits," Knowlton says. "There are also increasing segments of socially mobile people for whom Mormonism is attractive."

Likewise, Mormon missionaries are finding many new converts among southern Utah's burgeoning Latino population, says Bishop Stephen Quinn, of the St. George LDS Fifth Ward, who had not heard of the new mission in his area. "The missionaries working with us are busy as they can be. We could always use more."

This change, one of the largest restructuring of missions in recent years, also reflects a need to stretch the church's shrinking proselytizing force, which is down to about 52,000 from a high of 62,000 in the mid-1990s.

"While raising the bar [on missionary qualifications] had an initial impact," says LDS spokesman Scott Trotter, "the primary reason for changes in missionary numbers is the fluctuating population of available missionary-age members."

In 2008, the church had 348 missions, which was the highest number since its founding in 1830. After this realignment, the faith will have 340 missions.

"A year ago we had 140 missionaries in the Spain Barcelona Mission; today we have 100 and we are scheduled to have 90 later this year," mission president Clark Hinckley, son of late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, wrote recently to his missionaries and family members. "Overall, the number of missionaries serving in Spain will be less than 300 this year. This is a dramatic decrease from several years ago, when we had nearly 800 missionaries in five missions in Spain."

A similar decrease took place in Germany, where the Hamburg mission now will be folded into Berlin.

"We were told that the church was pulling about 900 missionaries out of Europe," says University of Utah student Alex Curtis, who completed his two-year stint to Berlin last year. "Our mission president told us that he expected the 90 of us to do the work that 120 of us used to do."

The church expects to load much proselytizing onto area members. It's already happening in some places.

In Bolivia, for example, one almost never sees blond-headed missionaries from Utah, Knowlton says. The LDS Church has built a solid base of committed members.

"I expect these Latin American members to increasingly rise in leadership," he says. "And, if they follow the pattern of Scandinavians, then sometime in the next hundred years, probably toward the end, we can expect them to take control of the reins of authority."

There still are vast areas of the globe the church has not even begun to tap, says David Stewart, a Las Vegas physician who has studied LDS growth for more than a decade. He points to places such as Bangladesh, a Muslim country of more than 156 million people in southeast Asia, which allows proselytizing.

The LDS Church has a problem of "unlimited needs and limited resources," Stewart says. "A strong local member-missionary program will be crucial to the growth of the church in these areas."


Evangelicals urge gentler approach to Mormons

'Transitions' » Pair extends a bridge to those leaving the faith.

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 06/12/2009

Saving Mormon souls from the perceived falsehoods of their faith typically has included dubbing the church a "cult" and providing a point-by-point comparison with traditional Christianity, while caricaturing Latter-day Saint believers and practices.

Such tactics may fill the pews and energize the Evangelicals, but to John Morehead and Ken Mulholland, they are not the best tools for ministering to Mormons.

"We need to provide something constructive and Christ-centered that takes into account a true understanding of the journey they've have been on," Morehead says.

To that end, Morehead and Mulholland have produced a 14-minute trailer for a full-length multimedia effort called "Transitions: The Mormon Migration from Religion to Relationship."

It mirrors the personal approach seen in "Mormon Messages," made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and circulated on YouTube, featuring individual converts, telling the story of their faith and how they came to join the church.

In a similar way, Morehead and Mulholland took to Salt Lake City streets, interviewing people who had left the LDS Church and who stayed, asking each how they viewed those who didn't share their beliefs.

"I loved growing up LDS. ... The tipping point for me was desperation," says Shawn, about his reasons for dropping out of Mormonism. "Nothing gave me solace, peace in my heart."

After a series of personal crises, Christine Nelson says, she didn't know where to go. "I saw no hope, I didn't know if my life could ever be OK again. Nothing had prepared me for that moment."

Emigration is the best metaphor for the experience of leaving Mormonism as thousands do each year, Pastor Ross Anderson says in the trailer.

"Because a person is coming out of the homeland, they've made a decision to go somewhere else," he says. "But they bring with them all their stories and heritage and identity. An immigrant settling into new land doesn't have to repudiate all that, but they have to learn to live in this new home. That's the experience of Latter-day Saints coming to live among traditionally believing Christians."

The "Transitions" trailer is the first major project of a new think tank, the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, Mulholland and Morehead created in Utah to "equip individuals, congregations and Christian academics to communicate the Christian faith to adherents of new religious movements with understanding and sensitivity."

As America's religious landscape continues to evolve, theirs is an urgent assignment that goes well beyond Mormonism, they believe.

While 40 years ago, an interfaith encounter might have involved a Methodist living next door to a Catholic, in the 21st century the situation has changed dramatically: Your neighbor might be a Mormon, a Wiccan, a Pagan, a Muslim, a Hindu or a Buddhist.

This exotic mix of religions perplexes most Christians, Morehead says, but it cannot be ignored since family members, loved ones, friends, neighbors and co-workers increasingly are adherents of these movements.

How are followers of Jesus Christ going to respond to this changing society?

"A lot of people in Protestant churches don't know what these movements are or they have the crudest ideas about them," Mulholland says. "They want to share their faith but they don't want to be jerks. Unfortunately, the only model they've seen is combative."

Morehead and Mulholland have been working on providing a model for cordial interactions for more than a decade.

Mulholland was founding president of Salt Lake Theology Seminary, which closed its doors earlier this year after 20 years of operation. Morehead taught at the seminary and is co-editor and contributing author for Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach.

He is also the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue and co-founder and co-editor of the "Sacred Tribes" e-journal.

In the months before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Mulholland and others at the seminary worried that out-of-town Evangelicals would descend on Utah, attacking Mormons in a negative way. So they produced "Bridges: Helping Mormons Discover God's Grace," a video about LDS beliefs that included the perspective of Mormons themselves. It offered a kinder, more respectful approach to sharing Christian teachings with Mormons, drawing on years of living among Latter-day Saint neighbors and friends.

"Bridges" included an emphasis on interactions between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints through the development of "relationships rather than confrontation," Morehead says.

Mulholland estimates that more than 25,000 Christians have now used "Bridges" as a way to share their faith with Mormons.

Now the Western Institute's "Transitions" adds to that approach.

"God has been so gracious in pouring out a new kind of grace into our hearts into really love these people," Mary Golding says in the trailer. "Not just love them so they get converted, but to love them enough to walk with them to get them through the process, to say you are not an accomplishment, a project to us. You are an individual that Jesus loves."

Such Christians are saying, "I'll walk with you across the bridge," Golding says, "and in this transition for as long as it takes."

For more information about the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, go to


LDS Church initiates hiring freeze

Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Standard Journal

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints initiated a church-wide hiring freeze on Dec. 19, according Brigham Young University-Idaho University Relations.

The hiring freeze is throughout the LDS Church, affecting at least LDS Employment Services, LDS Family Services and church-owned universities such as BYU-I.

According to spokeswomen Kim Farah, Deseret Industries has not been affected by the hiring freeze because it is a humanitarian operation.

The church has released this statement:

"In response to the recent economic downturn, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is currently not hiring new employees. This temporary action, which has been taken before during previous periods of economic uncertainty, is consistent with the principles of thrift and fiscal responsibility that the church has long encouraged its members to practice."

While local LDS entities declined to comment, the university released this statement:

"In these challenging economic times, BYU-Idaho is very grateful to be divinely led and supported by modern prophets who are simultaneously committed to preserving the financial integrity of the church and the mission of the university. We will be working with our board to implement this directive." (Thus saith the Lord, "Thou Shalt Not Hire")

-- Nathan Sunderland



Keeping members a challenge for LDS church

Mormon myth: The belief that the church is the fastest-growing faith in the world doesn't hold up


By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune


The claim that Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in the world has been repeated so routinely by sociologists, anthropologists, journalists and proud Latter-day Saints as to be perceived as unassailable fact.

The trouble is, it isn't true.

Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than 12 million members on its rolls, more than doubling its numbers in the past quarter-century. But since 1990, other faiths - Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God and Pentecostal groups - have grown much faster and in more places around the globe.

And most telling, the number of Latter-day Saints who are considered active churchgoers is only about a third of the total, or 4 million in the pews every Sunday, researchers say.

For a church with such a large, dedicated missionary corps constantly seeking to spread its word, conversion numbers in recent years tell an unexpected story.

According to LDS-published statistics, the annual number of LDS converts declined from a high of 321,385 in 1996 to 241,239 in 2004. In the 1990s, the church's growth rate went from 5 percent a year to 3 percent.

By comparison, the Seventh-day Adventist Church reports it has added more than 900,000 adult converts each year since 2000 (an average growth of about 5 percent), bringing the total membership to 14.3 million. The Assemblies of God now claims more than 50 million members worldwide, adding 10,000 new members every day.

Russia provides a dramatic example of different religious growth rates. After more than 15 years of proselyting there, LDS membership has risen to 17,000. During the same period, Jehovah's Witnesses membership has increased to more than 140,000, with some 300,000 individuals attending conferences.

Graphing activity: When the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted an American Religious Identification Survey in 2001, it discovered that about the same number of people said they had joined the LDS Church as said they had left it. The CUNY survey reported the church's net growth was zero percent. By contrast, the study showed both Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists with an increase of 11 percent.

"Because membership statistics are prepared and reported differently by various religious groups, the LDS Church does not publish comparisons of total membership to other faiths," said LDS spokesman Dale Bills on Friday.

On the question of how many Mormons are actively participating, Brigham Young University demographer Tim Heaton noted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that attendance at weekly sacrament meetings in the early 1990s was between 40 percent and 50 percent in Canada, the South Pacific, and the United States. In Europe and Africa, the average was 35 percent. Attendance in Asia and Latin America hovered around 25 percent.

By multiplying the number of members in each area by these fractions, David G. Stewart Jr. estimates worldwide activity at about 35 percent - which would give the church about 4 million active members.

Stewart, an active Mormon who served a mission to Russia in the early 1990s, has been conducting research on LDS missionary work in 20 countries for 13 years, examining census figures, and analyzing published data.

Take Brazil. In its 2000 Census, 199,645 residents identified themselves as LDS, while the church listed 743,182 on its rolls.
"There may be any number of reasons for the discrepancy," Bills said, "including personal preferences of some citizens regarding disclosure of their religious affiliation."

Retaining members: Stewart says Mormons need to be aware of such statistics to be more effective missionaries. To that end, he is publishing his research, along with a description of what he calls "tested principles to improve growth and retention," in a forthcoming book, The Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work.


Mormon Math

Even if member numbers are overstated, is exaggeration a sin?

by D.P. Sorensen

My colleagues in the Ministry of Truth (informally known as the Department of Propaganda) have been burning the midnight oil ever since The Salt Lake Tribune published those articles documenting the Decline and Fall of the Mormon Empire. We thought we had been doing a bang-up job fiddling with the numbers to make it look like the Church Formerly Known As Mormon was growing like crazy.

For instance, we count as Mormons those stiff-necked lost souls who have fallen away from the Gospel, as well as those converts who turn their garments in after their free, 30-day trial period. As the Tribune articles point out, the real membership of the church is not 12 million but actually around 4 million or so. And the number of converts declined from 321,385 in 1996 to 241,239 in 2001. That means that at least 80,146 spirits (if you calculate the sum using new math) in the pre-existence have been cooling their heels in the celestial waiting room to come to Earth and get a body.

Those of us brethren in the Ministry of Truth have known for quite a while now that folks out there are just not taking to the true Gospel and the Plan of Salvation with the enthusiasm to which we have become accustomed. Several of the brethren have come up with their own theories of why this is so. There is the Information Glut theory, according to which it is now too easy to look up the church on the Internet and to discover all the secret stuff (we call it sacred), which is hardly secret anymore, and which doesn’t seem so creepy after you’ve fasted for a day and can’t think straight.

Then there is the Too Darned Hot Hypothesis, which states that the abysmal conversion retention rate in Africa and South American is a direct consequence of what the eminent French anthropologist Pierre Frommage calls “garment hyperthermia.”

A third explanation addresses the commonly observed phenomenon of young people joining the church because of romantic attachments. This has been termed the “Hormone Effect,” after the controversial professor of physiology at Southern Utah State University, Dr. Gerald W. Hormone. It has been said that Dr. Hormone first noticed the effect after his wayward daughter, Geraldine, gave up her wild ways and got baptized after dating a returned missionary, a lad from Heber City named Wilfred Delong, for just six weeks.

After tiring of Wilfred, she quit going to church, and hasn’t seen the inside of a ward house since. Nevertheless, Geraldine Hormone remains on the church rolls, her status as a full-fledged member as valid in the eyes of the church as the staunchest member of the high priests’ quorum.

I felt very flattered when a group of my colleagues in the Ministry of Truth approached me to get my advice on how to improve the missionary effort and bring new members into the fold. During coffee breaks I had often shared my experiences in the mission field with my companion, Elder Willard “Mitt” Romney. According to Elder Boyd Packer, Mitt and myself were the most successful missionaries in the history of the French Mission.

By the way, there is an excellent profile of my good friend—we’ve remained close ever since our days in Paris, France—in the September issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The author rather understandably gushes about Mitt’s presidential good looks, describing him as “virile and handsome.” I don’t know whether the author is male or female, but it doesn’t matter, because Mitt has the same effect on everyone. Take Mayor Sparky Anderson, for example, who gets a dreamy look in his eyes whenever his buddy, the diminutive but dynamic governor of Massachusetts, enters the room.

The one thing that surprised me in the Atlantic Monthly article was how touchy Mitt got when the author asked him about his garments. Mitt stiffened up and said he liked to keep his garments private. Back in the old days, Elder Romney was far more relaxed about such matters. I remember well those steamy Parisian afternoons when it was too hot to go knocking on doors, and Mitt and I would lounge around our apartment near the Champs Elysees in our garments, reading Le Monde, eating baguettes and enjoying a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

But I will say this for my missionary companion. I never saw him without his garments, even on those well-deserved weekends when we visited our favorite spa with the German girls we converted, Gudrun and Ursula.


Pageant performances cut in half

By Devin Felix
Logan Herald Journal
Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Cache Valley summer tradition will now only be happening half as often.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Martin Harris Pageant will now only be held on odd-numbered years.

Donald Jeppesen, president of the pageant committee, said he was informed about the change in October or November of last year by the church’s missionary department, which oversees the pageant, but the department didn’t tell him why they planned to change the schedule. The pageant will not be held this year, but will be held in 2009, 2011 and so on.

Rob Howell, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the change was brought about to ease the burden the pageant places on local members. Most of those involved in the production of the pageant are LDS Church members in the Cache and Box Elder county areas, he said.

 “We recognize that these folks who do this give countless hours of sacrifice,” Howell said.

Howell also said holding the pageant every two years will build up greater anticipation for the show among audience members and participants.

Jeppesen said he will miss putting on the pageant this year.

“I’m disappointed,” Jeppesen said. “I would rather have had it. I think the annual basis makes it easier to keep your cast together and easier to keep your volunteers together.”

The pageant has been held for more than 20 years using a cast made up mostly of residents from Cache and Box Elder valleys. The pageant tells the story of Martin Harris, one of three men who testified he had seen golden plates Joseph Smith translated to produce the Book of Mormon. Harris died and is buried in Clarkston.

About 2,000 people attend each performance of the show, for a total of about 22,000 people each year, Jeppesen said. Clarkston also sponsors a town barbecue dinner in conjunction with the performances.

The pageant will now be held on alternating years with the Castle Valley Pageant, a show that was held annually in Castle Dale. That pageant, which tells the story of 19th century pioneers’ settlement of the Castle Dale area, will now be held only on even-numbered years.

Jeppesen said he looks forward to holding the pageant again in 2009.

“Our plans are that it will be held next year in the month of August,” Jeppesen said.