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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Slowing Growth in Membership

by John English:

In Elder Quentin L. Cook 's talk "The Lord Is My Light," he spoke of the strength we can receive from the Christ-centered unity of our wards and branches. He also included this statement: "Some have asserted that more members are leaving the Church today and that there is more doubt and unbelief than in the past. This is simply not true. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger."

I normally love looking at the stats of the church, but I found this statement a little curious considering the numbers that we have. Going strictly off of the statistics reported by the church, 2014 is the first year the church didn't see at least 2% growth since 1947. The church's membership as December 31, 2014, is 15,372,337, which is a 1.92% increase from last year. Any growth is good, but why the slow-down, especially with such an increase in full-time missionaries?

The numbers we are given are total membership, children of record, and converts baptized. From that, I calculated from the previous year's total membership what the number would be for deceased members/those with their names removed. Now it could be that we had an unusual amount of deaths in the church last year, but 122,903 is a large number. It represented .815% of the church's population from 2013, and that's the highest percentage in at least ten years. In fact, 2012 only saw 53,476 (.370%) that would land in the dead/names removed category.

Looking a little further back, I found the church put out some stats that just don't add up.

Members - 10,070,524
Children - 75,214
Converts - 317,798

Members - 10,354,241
Children - 76,829
Converts - 299,134

Members - 10,752,986
Children - 84,118
Converts - 306,171

The numbers from 1997 to 1998 would suggest that 92,246 members either died or had their names removed, a large number for the time. But the numbers from 1998 to 1999 suggest that not only did no one die or have their names removed, but an extra 8,456 members just appear on the roles. I don't know how they were calculating their numbers then, but I don't see how total membership could have climbed almost 400,000 members in one year. I'm wondering if they had a paperwork mishap between those two years. (*glares at Church Auditing Department of 1998*)

Another curiosity is the jump in children of record from 2007 to 2008. I'd love to see if anyone's done analysis on why there was such a marked jump that year, and how it's been able to stay steady since then.

Since the church lowered the age of requirement for full-time missionaries, the number of total missionaries has spiked. The church hasn't yet figured out what to do with all those missionaries, since there haven't been more than 300,000 converts in a year since 1999.

Rate of missionaries to converts
2009 - 5.41
2010 - 5.22
2011 - 5.08
2012 - 4.62
2013 - 3.41
2014 - 3.49

Current trends show that the LDS Church will pass 16 million members sometime in 2017. There's been an emphasis over the past decade or so of making sure converts are truly converted so that retention rates improve. Gone are the days of higher baptism numbers with a large percentage struggling to remain in the church. This will ultimately make for a stronger base of membership, but I wonder what the church's future plans are to counter the slowing growth trend.

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John English is a technical project manager living in Utah. He was born in California and also lived in Texas, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming as a kid. He served his mission in Washington Seattle and graduated from Utah Valley University. In his 18+ years of blissful marriage, he's begat five children, adopted six more, and fostered still more beyond that. He's also a movie buff, political junkie, and Utah Jazz photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Deseret News.

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