Reaching the Nations
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Area: 93,028 square km. Landlocked in Central Europe, Hungary borders Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Most of the landscape is flat with some large hills on the north and the Great Hungarian Plain to the southeast and the Little Hungarian Plain in the west. The Danube and Tisza Rivers run through Hungary and divide it into three regions. The climate is continental with hot summers and cold winters. Lake Balaton in western Hungary is the largest lake in Central Europe. Fertile soils which cover most the country provide suitable conditions for widespread agriculture. Most land is covered with grassland, farms or fields with the remainder occupied by forest. Hungary is divided into 19 administrative counties and one capital city.
Population: 9,905,596 (July 2009)
Annual Growth Rate: -0.257% (2009)
Fertility Rate: 1.35 children born per woman (2009)
Life Expectancy: male 69.27, female 77.87 (2009)
Other or unknown: 5.8%
Hungarians are classified as Finno-Ugric. Finns and Estonians belong to the same group. The Romani people likely arrived from the Indian-subcontinent during the Middle Ages and have been heavily persecuted and ostracized by others. Other ethnic groups with over 5,000 people include Germans, Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Greeks, Poles, and Russians. Hungary has experienced negative population growth since the 1980s from low birth rates.
Languages: Hungarian (93.6%), other (6.4%). Hungarian is the official language. Minority languages listed from greatest to fewest speakers include Romani, German, Croatian, Slovak, Romanian, and Slovene. The most spoken immigrant languages include Ukrainian and Serbian. Only Hungarian has over one million speakers (9.55 million).
Literacy: 99.4% (2003)
The Roman Empire included Hungary until the region fell into the control of many neighboring and internal kingdoms and empires to the end of the ninth century. The Hungarian nation emerged prior to most kingdoms in Europe and adopted Christianity in 1000 AD. Following the Great Schism, Hungary remained the easternmost establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. Wars intensified during the following centuries as the Hungarians oppose Ottoman Turk expansion. The creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the mid 1800s allowed for greater protection from invading forces. The Empire fell following World War I and Hungary became a communist nation after World War II. Hungary began to limit its ties with the Soviets as early as the mid-1950s through its withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and starting the transition to a free-market economy under Janos Kadar in the late 1960s. The first multi-party elections occurred in 1990 along with transition to a free-market economy. Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the EU five years later.
Hungary sits at the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe and consequently shares identity from both sides but most strongly from the West. Folk music and dance, literature, beverages, embroidery, and pottery are well known traditions and identify Hungarian culture. Geothermal activity has created a bathhouse culture which draws upon native and borrowed traditions from neighboring nations. Smoking is more prevalent than the United States. Alcohol consumption per capita is among the highest in the world and Europe, trailing only Luxemburg and Ireland.
GDP per capita: $19,800 (2008) [42.2% of US]
Human Development Index: 0.879
Corruption Index: 5.1
Hungary has a developed economy with the services and industry accounting for about 60% and 35% of both the GDP and the workforce. Agriculture entails only five percent of the workforce and GDP. Primary agricultural products include wheat, corn, sunflower seed, and potatoes. Industries are well diversified and mainly include mining, metallurgy, construction materials, and processed foods. Bauxite, coal and petroleum are the most abundant natural resources. Germany is the largest import/export partner. The global financial crisis in the late 2000s has hurt exports, production, domestic consumption, and available credit. Hungary will likely experience negative GDP growth in the near future.
Levels of corruption are similar to other Central European countries formally governed by communism. Corruption with police may be the most severe due to the amount of freedom they have in charging and ignoring crime. Many crimes go unreported. Some religious groups have experienced harassment by police.
Denominations Members Congregations
Greek Catholic: 257,545
Jehovah’s Witnesses 23,336 268
Seventh-Day Adventists 4,667 111
Latter-Day Saints 4,474 19
The Catholic Church is the largest religious group. Calvinists primarily live in eastern Hungary and form the largest religious group in several locations. Lutherans account for a fraction of the population in western and central areas. Most Greek Catholics reside in the east and include Rusyns (related to Ukrainians), Magyars (Hungarians), and Croats. Approximately 70% believe in God. Most denominations have poor church attendance. Only 15% of believers attend Church services weekly.
Religious freedom is honored by the constitution and upheld by the government. Religious groups must be registered to operate legally and require at least 100 individuals and have some sort of working government. Religious education in school is optional. Social groups and sometimes law enforcement encroach on freedom of religious expression. Anti-Semitism and persecution of the Roma minority persist with limited government intervention.
Budapest, Debrecen, Miskolc, Szeged, Pecs, Gyor, Nyiregyhaza, Kecskemet, Szekesfehervar, Szombathely.
All of the 10 largest cities have a congregation. Zalaegerszeg (61,600) is the largest city without a congregation or missionaries. 30% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.
LDS Membership: 4,474 (2008)
The first Church presence came in the late 1800s and early 1900s as missionaries periodically visited and baptized. Government restrictions and persecution did not allow for a continual missionary presence. 106 converts were baptized prior to World War I. Following the war, members either emigrated to the United States or remained in the country and worshiped in the privacy of their homes.
The first Hungarians baptized following World War II were in other nations and returned to their homeland awaiting the Church’s reestablishment. Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated Hungary for missionary work in April 1987 with one Hungarian member in attendance. Legal recognition from the government was presented to the Church in June 1988. The first convert baptisms took place and 87 people attended a fireside with Elder Nelson. The first district conference in Hungary was held in Budapest with 57 in attendance. By 1989 the Budapest Branch grew rapidly with 125-150 attending the dedication of the first meetinghouse. By early 1990 there were 75 members increasing to 600 in 1992. Seminary and institute began in 1993. Membership increased to 2,500 by 1996 and to 3,448 in 2000. Growth began to slow in the late 1990s and early 2000s as materialism increased and interest in religion declined.
Membership usually increased by 100 to 200 annually after 2000, reaching 3,942 in 2004 and 4,253 in 2006. Growth rates were between four and five percent for 2001 and 2002, decreasing to 1.2% in 2003. Membership has increased between two and three percent since 2006.
In 2008, there was one member per 2,220 people.
A congregation was established in the early 1900s, but appears to have been discontinued following World War I. The Austria Vienna Mission was created in 1987 and administered to most of Eastern Europe including Hungary. By 1989 a senior missionary couple and four missionaries were serving in Hungary under the Austria Vienna East Mission. Later that year, the number of assigned missionaries increased to eight. Members met in several branches and groups throughout the country, most notably Debrecen and Szeged. The Hungary Budapest Mission was created from the Austria Vienna East Mission in 1990. At the time, most missionary work was concentrated in Budapest due to its large population, membership base, and widespread interest from Hungarians. Hungary remained in the Europe Area when it was divided in 1991. The Hungary Budapest Mission administered Romania until the creation of the Romania Bucharest Mission in 1993. Hungary became part of the Europe Central Area in 2000. At the end of the year there were 21 branches and two districts in Budapest and Gyor.
By late 2002 the Budapest Hungary District included eight branches (Buda, Dunauvjaros, Erd, International, Kecskemet, Kispest, Pest, and Vac) and the Gyor Hungary District included six branches (Gyor, Papa, Sopron, Szekesfehervar, Szombathely, and Veszprem). Seven mission branches also functioned at this time in Debrecen, Eger, Miskolc, Nyiregyhaza, Pecs, Szeged, and the Hungary Budapest Mission Branch for small groups of members elsewhere. The Church discontinued the Gyor Hungary District and combined many of the units with the district in Budapest to prepare for the first stake to be organized. The Vac Branch was discontinued in the mid 2000s.
In June 2006, the first stake was created in Hungary. The Budapest Hungary Stake included the following five wards and five branches: The Buda, Gyor, Kecskemet, Kispest and Pest Wards and the Budapest (English), Dunaujvaros, Erd, Szekesfehervar and Veszprem Branches. All remaining branches reported directly to the mission.
In 2007 and 2008 increased mission outreach began in establishing congregations in other larger cities. Missionaries were first assigned to Bekescsaba, Hodmezovasarhely, Kaposvar, Kiskunfelegyhaza, Komlo, Oroshaza, Szolnok, and Tatabanya. Of these cities only Bekescsaba, Kaposvar, Szolnok, and Tatabanya had their own group or dependent branch Church meetings.
In 2009, new independent branches were created in Kaposvar and Bekescsaba. In June, two districts were created from mission branches. The Miskolc Hungary District included four branches in Debrecen, Eger, Miskolc, and Nyiregyhaza. The Szombathely Hungary District contained three branches in Papa, Sopron, and Szombathely.
During most of the 2000s the Hungary Budapest Mission had around 100 missionaries. In the fall of 2009, the number of missionaries serving dropped into the 70s.
Activity and Retention
Several large meetings have been held over the years. In 1996, a nationwide conference was held with about 1,000 in attendance. In 2000, 100 members in eastern Hungary attended the groundbreaking of the first meetinghouse in the region. 500 attended the first general conference broadcast to Hungary in 2001. Institute outreach programs for fellowshipping young single adults began in the late 2000s in an effort to increase activity and marriages between Church members. 660 attended the meeting to create the first stake. In 2007, young single adults in Budapest hosted a young single adult conference for members in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. The average number of members per congregation has increased from 164 in 2000 to 235 in 2008. This increase is partially due to allowing some congregations to grow larger in size to become wards.
Many of the branches and wards have few active members. Szekasfehervar had 40 active members in early 2009. In mid-2009 the Nyiregyhaza Branch only had 10 active members, but used to have as many as 50 a few years before. In late 2009, the Miskolc Branch had 30 active members in their own large chapel. The Györ Ward had 50 of its 200 members active. The Eger Branch had less than 10 of the 90 members active. The Sopron Branch had around 25 active members. The Pecs Branch had over 40 active members. Over 600 attended the Budapest Hungary Stake conference in late 2009. The Bekescsaba Branch had less than 20 active members and one active, recently baptized priesthood holder in early 2010. In 1999, the mission office reported that 28% of members were active. At present, activity appears to stand at approximately 1,000, or 22% of total membership. In 2009, 70 members were enrolled in seminary and 94 enrolled in institute.
Languages with LDS Scripture: Hungarian, German, Croatian, Romanian, Slovene
The Church has translated all LDS scriptures and most Church materials into Hungarian and German including the Church Handbook of Instructions, missionary, priesthood, unit, young men, young women, primary, relief society, temple, and audiovisual materials. The Liahona has six Hungarian issues produced a year. [The international publication is called the Liahona]. Croatian and Romanian have all LDS scriptures translated and most Church materials. The Church has translated the Book of Mormon and many Church materials in Slovenian. Slovak has no LDS scriptures and limited unit, temple, priesthood, relief society, and missionary materials available.
The first meetinghouse was built and dedicated in late 1989 in Budapest. By the early 2000s there were seven Church build meetinghouses. Congregations met in 22 locations by early 2010, likely over half of which were rented spaces or renovated buildings.
Humanitarian and Development Work
Likely due to Hungary’s economic growth and relative prosperity, the Church has participated in few welfare projects. Humanitarian work has largely been limited to weekly missionary service and small-scale relief.
Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects
The Church has taken greater advantage of religious freedom in Hungary than in many other former communist nations as manifest from the large number of missionaries serving and the large national outreach. Social and government forces typically respect the Church and do not create obstacles for proselytism. The Church experienced problems opening Oroshaza to missionary work in 2008, as police harassed missionaries and who were told they were forbidden to preach in the city. This issue was taken to higher law enforcement authorities and addressed.
Significant progress has occurred despite social issues which limit growth. The popularity of alcohol creates obstacles for converts and members to overcome in order to live a lifestyle in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Cigarette consumption is also high and poses challenges for converts to quit smoking and not relapse. It is unclear whether substance abuse has significantly affected member activity rates, but these influences challenge the Church’s growth and strength. Hungary’s ties with the East and West provide a major cultural opportunity for the Church to unify members in Central and Eastern Europe. The Church’s strength in Hungary provides an example to members in which centers of strength are few or weak, which has been partially taken advantage of with young single adult conferences for the region.
The Church has performed impressive outreach with fulltime missionaries in Hungary over the past two decades. The rapid increase of new cities opening for missionary work came partially from the creation of the Budapest Hungary Stake as members became less reliant upon missionaries for leadership and reactivation duties.
16 of the 19 administrative counties have a congregation. All cities over 100,000 people have at least one independent branch or ward. The unreached counties of Nograd, Tolna and Zala rank among the four least populated counties and have a combined population of 735,000, or 7.4% of the national population. Most counties have only one congregation. Hungarians who have access to a congregation in the same city or town they live in number less than 40% of the population. There are over 100 cities between 10,000 and 30,000 inhabitants without a congregation or missionaries assigned.
Limited receptivity in the past decade challenges the mission to open new areas when few potential members may join the Church. The opening of new areas with few local members challenges the Church’s effectiveness in the placement of missionaries. Some cities have had missionaries withdrawn due to little success, such as Kiskunfelegyhaza. The mission faces challenges in assigning missionaries between the most populous cities where more converts will likely join the Church and be better retained and in new areas of the country which see few converts and poorer retention. [The clause above in presenting a dilemma in missionary assignment is followed by an argument which seems to strongly favor assignment to large cities like Budapest rather than a trade-off of pros and cons that a dilemma would suggest. As you have noted, retention is low even in many of the populous cities. Is retention really better in larger cities or simply low everywhere? Also many newly opened cities experience a surge of baptisms in the first several years that is greater than in longer-established areas (although not always), and so I am not sure that the factors in the dilemma are necessarily higher growth and retention in large cities vs. no advantage for new areas.] The possibility of conducting cottage meetings with a handful of interested individuals and a local member has not been recently explored. Hungarian members will likely need to become much more involved in missionary work to successfully establish congregations in unreached towns and villages.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir visited Hungary in 1991 and fostered increased awareness about the Church. More recently, missionaries often use English classes to provide service and find investigators. Even small branches typically have well attended classes. The small branches in Bekescsaba and Sopron each had over 50 attending in 2010. Few nationwide events seeking to bring the population into greater awareness of the Church have been pursued recently.
Finding missionary apartments can be challenging. Zalaegerszeg was almost opened for missionary work in late 2006, but an apartment was unavailable for missionaries. This instead resulted in the opening of Kaposvar.
Member Activity and Convert Retention
Societal pressures have likely attributed to poor member activity as most Christian denominations also suffer from low attendance and activity. Poor activity and convert retention set back the creation of the first stake and challenge stronger Church establishment in the newly created districts and mission branches. Hungry suffers from inactivity and retention problems in areas in and outside of Budapest. Older branches typically had much higher activity a decade ago than currently. These branches tend to have spacious meetinghouses built for a larger Church membership than the few active members.
Attendance at stake conference for the Budapest Hungary Stake appears unchanged since its creation. Little to no improvement in Church attendance has persisted for over a decade, as nationwide member meetings in the late 1990s had as many as 1,000 attending. Despite membership increasing by 1,000 since 2000, the number of congregations excluding dependent units has remained unchanged.
Seminary and institute enrollment are much lower for other European nations with similar member sizes. Denmark had a couple hundred fewer members than Hungary in 2009, yet had a hundred more enrolled in seminary and institute. Most of the active members in the former Vac Branch went inactive after the branch was combined with a unit in Budapest to prepare for the first stake. Yet the consolidation of branches in preparation for the organization of the first stake has resulted in only a portion of the inactivity problems. The greatest setbacks in member activity appear in former mission branches in eastern and western Hungary.
Low member activity challenges the Church’s continued outreach in Hungary. Outreach demands the involvement of local members while reducing the reliance on fulltime missionaries for local members to fulfill Church responsibilities. Active members in Hungary provide valuable resources in reactivation efforts and the integration of new converts into congregations.
Ethnic Issues and Integration
The ethnic group which poses the greatest difficulty assimilating with congregations is the Roma. Roma have been discriminated against and often live segregated from the rest of the population. [Roma are multiplying rapidly - nearly 20% of newborns in Hungary are Roma.] Is there any evidence on receptivity or baptisms among Roma? Most are transient; few secondary school. However 90% finish primary school and most should presumably be conversant in Hungarian. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_in_Hungary . As you note below, only 150,000 speak Roma, although there are far more Roma than this] This would also temporarily reduce tensions with Hungarian members. Other ethnic groups are small and often reside in border regions, creating challenges in outreach due to geographic and linguistic dissimilarities.
The Church has a large body of materials available in Hungarian. This allows members and investigators to learn a large amount about the Church and develop greater knowledge and testimony. No materials are available in Roma, which has 150,000 speakers, although literacy of the written Roma language is limited.
The Church greatly benefits from local priesthood leaders who lead nearly all the congregations, even if active members are few. All members of the first stake presidency were Hungarian, not Church employees and had careers in sales, management and translation. At the Saturday priesthood session prior to the creation of the stake in Budapest, 110 priesthood holders were in attendance. At this time, seven Hungarians from the stake were serving full-time missions. The first Hungarian patriarch was called in late 2009. Missionaries estimated that fewer than five percent of members had received their patriarchal blessings before this time. Hungarian missionaries have served in neighboring nations such as the Czech Republic and Romania. Although limited in number, returned missionaries help to build up congregations and establish the Church. The smallest branches of Eger, Papa and Bekescsaba struggle to develop local priesthood leadership.
Hungary belongs to the Freiberg Germany Temple District, and active members regularly attend the temple. In 2009, seven temple trips occurred. Members make sacrifices in time and money to travel to the temple regularly. A future temple in Vienna, Austria or Budapest would reduce the time and money required for temple attendance for Hungary but also other neighboring nations.
Among the former communist nations of Central and Eastern Europe, only Hungary and Ukraine have had stakes established. Some of the greatest progress for the Church in the past two decades in this region has been in Hungary. The percentage of Church members in Hungary is nearly the same as in Germany, yet the latter has had a continuous Church presence for over a century. Among former communist nations, only Estonia and Albania have a higher percentage of Church members than Hungary.
The religious climate has deteriorated as a result of increased materialism and secularism. Many have become increasingly irreligious. Christian groups experience slow growth and have small congregations. The Seventh Day Adventist Church has an average of 42 members per congregation. The only group which exhibits strong growth is Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had over 800 baptisms in 2008.
Hungary will continue to be an important nation for the Church’s establishment in Central and Eastern Europe due to the number and strength of active members and its geographical location. Increasing secularism and disinterest in religion threaten membership and congregational growth. A limited number of converts scattered throughout the country challenge future ambitions for the creation of additional congregations.
The dependent units in Szolnok and Tatabanya may become branches once greater local priesthood resources are developed. Cities which seem most likely to open to missionary work include Nagykanizsa, Salgotarjan, Szekszard, and Zalaegerszeg as these cities are the most populous without a congregation or are in countries without a congregation. Additional districts in the southern part of the country in Pecs and Szeged will become more likely once additional branches are established. A branch may be reopened in Vac and additional, small branches created to reduce travel time and increase outreach in suburban areas of Budapest.
Additional groups may be organized in cities with missionaries who travel to nearby cities with congregations for Sunday meetings such as Hodmezovasarhely, Kolmo, and Oroshaza. Slow convert growth and low retention have resulted in no additional congregations being opened in recent years, and may continue to limit further church expansion.