LDS Church Growth, Member Activity, and Convert Retention: Review and Analysis
II-07: Sources of Data: Comparative Data
Religious data is often difficult to interpret without valid comparison with other groups. All living things grow. Yet claims that a faith is growing "fast" or "slow" mean nothing without context. Our expectations of what constitutes "normal" growth to a great extent depend upon both baseline population trends and the growth and experience of other faiths. For instance, in Germany and other northern European nations where the population is actually declining due to birth rates below replacement levels, even maintenance of membership numbers over time is viewed as a certain triumph. In Mexico or Nigeria where the population is growing rapidly, denominations that are not adding new members commensurate with the population growth are actually losing ground. Similarly, some nations demonstrate greater or lesser degrees of receptivity to proselytism. Trends of relatively rapid LDS Church growth in Africa, Latin America, and the Philippines, and trends of relative stagnation in northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, closely mirror the experiences of many other outreach-oriented religious denominations.
Absolute statistical increases are not always helpful indicators of progress when taken in isolation For instance, from 1992 to 2006, officially reported LDS membership in Indonesia grew from 4500 to 5956, yet over this same period the population of Indonesia grew at a more rapid rate such that LDS membership actually lost ground as a percentage of the national population.
Comparisons with both the national population and other religious groups are therefore necessary to provide context. Yet comparisons can be misleading when the groups chosen for comparison are not the best match. LDS statistics are best compared to those of relatively high-demand missionary oriented faiths, particularly the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Comparisons to low demand faiths, like Catholics, Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, and so forth, are less relevant because of substantial dissimilarities among the groups being compared.
No comparison is perfect, and so appropriate comparisons necessarily involve disclosure of differences as well as similarities between the groups being compared, in addition to discussion of variations in definitions and terminology among the different religious groups that are salient to the comparisons being made.