LDS Church Growth, Member Activity, and Convert Retention: Review and Analysis
II-04: Sources of Data: Statements of Church Leaders
Occasional public statements from Church leaders, presumably based upon internal church data available to them, can offer additional insight into LDS growth and convert retention. Articles by leaders in official LDS publications, especially the Ensign and LDS Church news, public statements of Church functionaries to secular media, and devotional speeches at church universities are the most fruitful sources of such data. Only a small minority of articles or speeches offer useful statistical data, yet such data can offer useful glimpses at internally collected church data. Some statistical data are straightforward, whereas others can be more difficult to interpret, as data are presented as-is with little context, and there is rarely opportunity to request clarification about definitions or methodology.
Not all statements of church officials carry the same weight. Statements by church apostles and other high-ranking leaders printed in church publications can generally be viewed as authoritative. Those reported in secular media or by lower ranking leaders are still frequently valuable sources of information, although technically such sources are not official. Just as the books of President Hinckley and others serving as church apostles are not officially published or endorsed by the Church, the statements of current and former leaders not acting in an official capacity are not considered to constitute official statements of the Church. The distinction may seem semantic, but is nonetheless important.
As the Church does not officially report any statistics on member activity or convert retention, some of the best information on this subject comes from public statements of current and former leaders to secular media. Former leaders are particularly valuable source of information. Although their sources may be somewhat dated, a review of the literature demonstrates that their comments are often more candid and less constrained than those of current leaders, whose statements are frequently filtered through the lens of public relations.