LDS Church Growth, Member Activity, and Convert Retention: Review and Analysis

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Chapter: IV-10: Asia

The Philippines

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks was assigned to oversee church activities in the Philippines. In a talk entitled "Joseph Smith in a Personal World," Elder Oaks states: "To cite one objective test of that staying power, attendance records that about 100,000 Filipinos attend the three hour Sunday meetings at least once each month in 1100 congregations presided over and taught entirely by local Filipinos."[1] The Church reported 1,112 congregations in the Philippines at year-end 2003 and 1,077 at year-end 2005, and so Elder Oaks' figure of 1,100 means that virtually all congregations are presided over by local members. In the same segment, he cites LDS membership in the Philippines at greater than 500,000. Official church reported membership in the Philippines was 526,178 at year-end 2003 and 553,121 at year-end 2005.

When only 100,000 out of more than 500,000 Filipino members attend church even once a month, we can conclude that the "staying power" or retention rate of converts in the Philippines to date has been slightly below 20%, and that the overwhelming majority of nominal members are disengaged. The statement that 100,000 Filipino members attend church at least once a month suggests that weekly church attendance is somewhat lower, as members must attend only once a month to be counted. This statement would allow a range of weekly church attendance anywhere from 25,000 (with individual members attending only once a month) all the way up to 100,000 (with all members attending each week). A range of 55,000-65,000 members attending church in the Philippines each week is most likely, consisting of a core of active members who attend regularly and a cadre of semi-active members who attend sporadically. Although we cannot be completely confident regarding how many members attend church in the Philippines on a given week, we can conclude with a high degree of confidence that members who do not attend even once a month are inactive and disengaged for all practical purposes and are not contributing to the growth or strength of the Church in any meaningful way.

Although Elder Oaks' inclusive monthly member attendance figures do not provide the specificity to pin down weekly church attendance outside of a broad range, they do allow us to calculate the number of nonparticipating or inactive members with a high degree of confidence. This estimate of monthly LDS activity in the Philippines at slightly below 20% is a generous and highly inclusive number that includes large numbers of sporadically attending semi-active members in addition to active core members, and so we can be confident that actual member activity does not exceed this figure. If a nominal member does not attend church even once a month, such an individual cannot reasonably be considered an active or contributing member of the Church. By subtracting the 100,000 active and semi-active members from the total of 525,000 to 550,000 members at the time, we can reasonably conclude that 425,000 to 450,000 LDS members in the Philippines, or about 81-82%, are inactive and do not attend or participate in church. We are unable to determine from these statistics how many of these inactive as still identify themselves as Latter-day Saints and how many are completely disaffiliated or hostile, but if census data from Latin America is any indication, we would expect that not more than 10 to 15% of these inactive or disaffiliated members would be likely to identify the LDS Church as their faith of preference on a national census or independent sociologic survey, in addition to the 18-19% that attend church monthly. Were a national census of religious affiliation to be conducted in the Philippines, the correlation between official membership claims and self-identified religious affiliation would be expected to be not more than 25-30%.

Brigham Young University Newsnet quoted senior missionary Dave Brinsfield: "Out of the 49,000 converts who joined the church in 2001 and 2002 [in the Philippines], only 1,000 remain active."[2] He continued: "The mission was averaging 120-170 baptisms a month two years ago, but only do around 80 now. Even if the numbers are lower, the church members are stronger." The retention statistic appears to be misprinted, as 10,000 of 49,000 would be approximately 20% which better fits with other existing data. In any case, existing statistics nominate that the article is a remarkable admission of the magnitude of the retention problem and the inadequacy of conventional quick-baptize methods. With a focus on ensuring that prospective converts are regularly attending church and have established other gospel habits prior to baptism, some missions in the Philippines have significantly improved their convert retention rates. Many other missions have continued accelerated baptism practices with little quality control, perpetuating catastrophic rates of convert loss.

Japan

Jiro Numano, an experienced LDS leader in Japan and editor of a pro-LDS Japanese-language publication, analyzed the seemingly impressive Japanese LDS membership figures published in official sources:

"Several problems are not apparent from these favorable numbers. First, the active membership of the church is only a fraction of the official membership. As recently as 1992, after forty-five years of post-war missionary effort, only 20,000 members could be counted as active out of a total membership of more than 87,000, or about 23 percent. Depending on how strict a definition one uses of 'active member,' the figure could range from 15 percent active, with a strict definition, to as much as 30 percent... I estimate 25 percent active as a realistic figure for the country in general. This means that three-fourths of church members in Japan are inactive, having nothing to do with the church. A second problem is the decreasing rates in recent years both of baptisms themselves and of activity on the parts of new converts. As an illustration, although 50,000 people were baptized from 1978 through 1990 (including some children of members), the increase in active membership was only 10,000, with virtually no growth in Melchizedek priesthood holders. Since 1981, furthermore, attendance at sacrament meetings, priesthood meetings, and Relief Society meetings have all remained fairly level, despite thousands of new convert baptisms. In general, the growth in nominal membership has outstripped the growth in activity by either men or women."[3]
Thailand

In 2003, there were over 13,000 LDS members in Thailand, of whom approximately 2,100 (16 percent) were active according to estimates from returned missionaries.


FOOTNOTES
[1] Oaks, Dallin A. "The Worlds of Joseph Smith." International Academic Conference at the Library of Congress in May 2005. The article is reprinted in BYU Studies, vol. 44 p.163.
[2] Ware, Veeda, "Missionary Work in Philippines Emphasizes Convert Retention and Member Reactivation," BYU Newsnet, September 3, 2003, newsnet.byu.edu.
[3] Numano, Jiro, "Mormonism in Modern Japan," Dialogue, 29/1 (Spring 1996): 224-225.