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

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Chapter: IV-12: Africa

Former African mission president Dale LeBaron noted "during the year 2000 sacrament meeting attendance in the West Africa Area was 54 percent, second only to the Utah South Area."[1] Sacrament meeting attendance rates are typically based on congregational rolls and do not typically include "lost address file" members. The fact that an activity rate just above 50 percent ranks as the second highest among the Church's twenty-nine areas underscores how low activity rates are in many other areas. How much of this high activity rate in West Africa can be attributed to affinity for LDS teachings and how much is due to cultural factors remains to be elucidated. The 1997 University of Michigan study on rates of weekly church attendance worldwide found that 89 percent of Nigerians surveyed reported attending organized religious meetings of some kind at least weekly: the highest rate of self-reported church attendance in the world.[2] It is worthy of note however that the Michigan survey's figure of self-reported attendance has not been validated with actual attendance counts, which in other nations tend to be significantly lower. The West Africa area represents the only convert-based area in the Church reporting over 50 percent member activity today, yet this feat has been achieved not by North American MTC-trained missionaries, but by native African missionaries who had little or no formal missionary training until the construction of the Ghana MTC in 2002.

LDS member retention has presented major challenges in other regions of Africa. Reporting on a black branch in South Africa, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote: "Of 23 people baptized into Guguletu Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during 1997, only three were men age 18 or older. Of these three, only one remains active in the church. The branch has 253 members on the rolls, but an average weekly attendance of about 65. Seldom are there more than two married couples. Five married men attend regularly, four have jobs."[3] She quoted Guguletu Branch President Nigel Giddey: "I do not think that the missionaries read much beyond a few key scriptures to the potential converts or possibly a few pages of the Book of Mormon."


FOOTNOTES
[1] LeBaron, Dale E., Devotional, as cited in Ricks College News Release, April 5, 2001.
[2] Study of Worldwide Rates of Religiosity, Church Attendance, Press Release, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, December 10, 1997, www.umich.edu/news/index.html?Releases/1997/Dec97/chr121097a.
[3] Stack, Peggy Fletcher, "African Culture Presents Challenges for Mormon Converts," Salt Lake Tribune, April 4, 1998.