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

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Chapter: IV-02: International Growth

Membership Distribution

The LDS Church has fared comparatively less well outside of the United States. In 1996, Bennion and Young wrote: "Only on the Christianized or Westernized edges of the eastern hemisphere has the church established significant beachheads."[1] This is still largely true today. LDS sociologist Armand Mauss stated, "We like to think we are a worldwide church, but we're not. We are a hemisphere church ... Eighty-five percent of the LDS Church's membership lives in the western hemisphere ... We ought to be, I think, a little bit more humble about how we describe our present score geographically."[2] Another 10 percent of Latter-day Saints live in island nations such as the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Only 5 percent of all LDS members live in the contiguous continental landmass of Europe, Asia, and Africa that is home to 80 percent of the world's population.

International Growth Rates

While the LDS Church has grown internationally, it has experienced difficulty in leveraging its affluent, high-missionary sending U.S. population into committed international members on a level comparable with other outreach-oriented faiths. In 1960, there were approximately 60 million evangelicals in Western nations and 25 million in non-Western nations.[3] By 2000, there were 110 million evangelicals in Western nations and over 310 million in non-Western nations. Pentecostal Christianity, which originated in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901, now claims approximately 450 million adherents worldwide.[4] Latter-day Saints claim over 180 thousand members in Africa, while Pentecostal groups claim over 150 million adherents on the continent. The Assemblies of God Church, started with a revival movement in Topeka, Kansas, in 1914, reports over 35 million members worldwide, adding over 10,000 members each day, or approximately 3.6 million new members per year.[5] Lawrence Young noted: "The Mormon church, which was established nearly eighty-five years before the Assemblies of God, has only one-fifth as large of a presence in Latin America."[6]

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church was organized in 1849 and recently overtook the LDS Church with 13 million members, of whom virtually all are active. In 2004, the LDS Church added an average of 661 converts and 270 children of record each day. Seventh-Day Adventists were adding an average of 3,176 new members each day in 2000,[7] and have experienced continued high growth since that time, adding between 900,000 and 1.2 million members each year.[8] The Assemblies of God are growing at approximately 10 percent per year, or over three times the growth rate of the LDS Church, while the Seventh-Day Adventists report growth two to three times LDS rates at 5.6 to 8 percent per year. There are over 570,000 active Seventh-Day Adventists in Kenya alone. This is more than the official number of Latter-day Saints in all of continental Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, fewer than 200,000 of who are active.

Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone observed:

"Except for the years immediately following the prophetic disappointment of 1975, [Jehovah's] Witness growth has consistently outpaced Mormon growth. In 1954, there were 7.7 Mormons per Witness publisher. By 1994, this had been reduced to 1.9. Given that the Mormons are generally viewed as the world's most successful new religion and had about an 80-year start on the Witnesses, this is an astonishing achievement."[9]
This is even more astonishing when we consider that there are far more participating Jehovah's Witnesses than Latter-day Saints, since Jehovah's Witness statistical reports consistently cite attendance rates far above official membership, while only a fraction of nominal LDS members are active. In 1935, there were 56,000 Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide and 746,384 Latter-day Saints. Since 1935, the number of active Jehovah's Witnesses has increased more than a hundredfold, while LDS membership has increased by a factor of twenty, with only a fraction of those members remaining active. After more than fifteen years of proselyting in Russia with the largest full-time missionary force of any denomination, LDS membership has risen to only 17,000, and only a minority of those members participates. The same period has seen the number of active Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia rise to over 140,000, with some 300,000 individuals attending conferences. There are more active Jehovah's Witnesses in the countries of Georgia or Armenia than active Latter-day Saints in all of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia together. There are over 1.4 million proselytizing Jehovah's Witnesses in Europe and 2.7 million who attend Jehovah's Witness conferences, compared to fewer than 100,000 active Latter-day Saints in all of Europe, including the United Kingdom. One Austrian saint observed: "A friend of mine is a Jehovah's Witness ... When he came to Vienna with his family at age eight, there were forty Jehovah's Witnesses in Vienna. That was all for Austria. Now, twenty years later, there are 20,000 active Jehovah's Witnesses. Twenty years ago we had 400 LDS members in Vienna and some more in other cities of Austria, and now, we only have about 750 in Vienna. Whenever we talk about missionary work in Church, we always hear those saying 'it's so hard, and the Austrians are an irreligious people.' That cannot be entirely true, or else the Jehovah's Witnesses would not have had such a growth!"

While still growing faster than stagnant mainline churches, the LDS Church is one of the slowest growing outreach-oriented Christian faiths in most of Eastern Europe, the former USSR, and India and has one of the lowest rates of membership in Africa. Latter-day Saints are not competing with other denominations, yet these figures can provide a glimpse of the possibilities and a context in which to evaluate our own growth.


FOOTNOTES
[1] Bennion, Lowell C. and Lawrence Young, "The Uncertain Dynamics of LDS Expansion, 1950-2020," Dialogue, Spring 1996: 16.
[2] Babbit, Christi C., "Growth of LDS Church Has Upside, Downside," Deseret News, November 25, 2000.
[3] Johnstone, Patrick and Jason Mandryk, Operation World. Harrisonburg, VA: Paternoster, 2005, 3.
[4] "Pentecostal," Adherents.com, www.adherents.com/Na_495.html.
[5] "Assemblies of God: 10,000 Converts a Day," Religion Today, August 11, 2000, www.religiontoday.com.
[6] Young, Lawrence A, "Confronting Turbulent Environments," in Contemporary Mormonism Social Science Perspectives, eds. Marie Cornwall, Tim Heaton, and Lawrence Young, Chicago: University of Illinois, 1994, 56-60.
[7] "Adventist Church Membership Continues to Climb, Says Secretary," Adventist News Network, September 27, 2000, news.adventist.org.
[8] Annual Adventist reports are available at www.adventiststatistics.org.
[9] Stark, Rodney and Laurence R. Iannaccone, "Why the Jehovah's Witnesses Grow So Rapidly: A Theoretical Application," Journal of Contemporary Religion, May 1997: 140.