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

Return to Table of Contents

Chapter: I-05: Self-identified Religious Affiliation

The number of members reported by the Church is always greater than the number of individuals who identify the LDS Church as their faith of preference, as demonstrated from national censuses in countries where questions about religious affiliation are asked. Sometimes the differences can be dramatic: only a fraction of officially claimed members in Latin America identify the LDS Church as their faith of preference on national censuses. These individuals may have claimed to believe in these doctrines at one time during their prebaptismal interview, but no conclusions can be drawn about current beliefs or practices.

These discrepancies do not mean that official membership numbers are erroneous, as some critics have claimed, or that census data fails to accurately represent adherents, as some proponents have claimed. These statistics simply measure different things. Total membership numbers reflect the number of baptized adults and children of record, without regard to current church participation or belief. Self-identified religious affiliation data reports an individual's current faith or faiths of preference, without regard to past religious experiences or church membership. Membership and activity are emotionally charged topics on both sides, and so it is important that discussions be respectful and constructive.

Although self-identified religious affiliation does not imply church attendance, it offers a crucial advantage over church-reported membership figures in conveying philosophical affinity. While nominally identifying oneself as a Latter-day Saint does not necessarily imply church activity, it would be difficult to claim that those on the rolls who do not identify themselves as Latter-day Saints are active or contributing members. Little practical significance can be attributed to church statistics claiming as members those who do not consider themselves to be affiliated.