Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.


By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area:  10,991 square km.  Jamaica is an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea subject to tropical climate.  Most of the island is covered in forest and mountainous with some sections of coastal plains.  Hurricanes and tropical storms frequently cause damage.  Deforestation and pollution of sea water are primary environmental concerns.  Jamaica is administratively divided into 14 parishes.

Population: 2,825,928 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 0.755% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 2.25 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: male 71.83, female 75.3 (2009)


Black: 91.2%

mixed: 6.2%

other: 2.6%

Africans arrived as slaves during European colonialism.  Mixed ethnicity originated from East Indians, Chinese, and Europeans intermarrying with the black population.  Other ethnicities are primarily immigrant groups who have not intermarried including Chinese, East Indians, Latin Americans, and Europeans or Americans.

Languages: English and Jamaican Creole English.  English is the official language.  Immigrant groups speak additional languages but number less than 100,000.  Only Jamaican Creole English has over one million speakers (2.67 million).

Literacy: 87.9% (2003)


Taino Indians settled Jamaica prior to discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1494.  The native population slowly died out from disease and harsh colonial policies.  Slaves were brought to work plantations cultivating sugar, coffee, and cocoa.  Spain controlled the island until it fell into British possession in 1655.  Slavery was abolished in 1834, freeing 250,000 slaves.  Increasing autonomy occurred until independence in 1962.  Economic instability and crime grew more prevalent in the 1970s and continues to threaten Jamaica's stability today. 


Jamaica heavily influences the rest of the Caribbean through music, such as Reggae, and has produced popular singers, Jamaica was the birthplace of the Rastafarian movement.  Many agricultural products are known internationally.  Christianity strongly influences cultural beliefs and practices.


GDP per capita: $8,600 (2008) [18.3% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.766

Corruption Index: 3.1

Jamaica has a poorly diversified economic that depends on the services sector for growth and stability, accounting for 62% of the GDP.  Tourism has becoming increasingly important and emphasized for economic growth.  A third of the GDP originates from industry, primarily from bauxite, alumina, and rum.  Primary agriculture products include sugar, bananas, and coffee.  40% of imports and exports are trafficked with the United States.  High debt, increasing inflation and a shrinking economy threaten future potential for economic development and growth.  Jamaica had the lowest economic growth in Latin America in the late 2000s.

Corruption is widespread and threatens the nation's stability.  Drug violence has worsened in the past couple decades.  Bribe taking, extortion, and government favoritism discourage greater foreign investment and hurt small businesses.[1]  Those found guilty of corruption charges usually go unpunished. 


Christian: 65.1%

Other: 14.2%

None: 20.9%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Pentecostal: 268,463

Seventh Day Adventists  245,499  682

Other Church of God: 234,552

Baptist: 203,467

New Testament Church of God: 178,033

Church of God in Jamaica: 135,645

Church of God of Prophecy: 121,515

Anglican: 101,733

Catholic: 73,474

Jehovah's Witnesses  11,941  194

Latter-Day Saints  5,721  20


Jamaica experiences one of the highest rates of irreligiosity in the Caribbean, with a fifth of the population not adhering to any organized religion.  The Rastafarian movement began in Jamaica in the 1930s and has spread to many other Caribbean nations.  Rastafarianism practices include the rejection of Western society and the religious use of marijuana.  Christians are mainly Protestant. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

Religious freedom is protected by the constitution and upheld by the government.  No government harassment or discrimination occurs.  Rastafarians often feel unfairly targeted for drug charges due to the group's spiritual use of marijuana.[2]

Largest Cities

Urban: 53%

Kingston, Spanish Town, Portmore, Montego Bay, May Pen, Mandeville, Half Way Tree, Savanna La Mar, Port Antonio, Saint Ann's Bay.

All of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  Morant Bay (9,700) is the largest city without a congregation.  38% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

Missionaries first arrived in Jamaica in the 1840s and 1850s for short visits and experienced little success and heavy persecution.  A Church presence was not reestablished for over a hundred years.[3]  Church member families arrived in the 1960s from other nations and began to establish the Church.  The first Jamaican branch was created in March 1970.  Jamaica was dedicated for missionary work in 1979 by Elder M. Russell Ballard.[4]  Fulltime missionaries returned to Jamaica in November 1978.  By late 1980 one branch functioned.  The West Indies Mission was created in 1983 from missions based in the United States and other Caribbean nations and included Jamaica.  The Church organized the Jamaica Kingston Mission from the West Indies Mission in 1985. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 5,721 (2010)

Membership numbered 85 in 1980, 300 by 1983, and 520 in 1985.[5]  Large numbers of converts joined the Church in the late 1980s and early 1990s as membership approached 3,000 in late 1993.[6]  Rapid growth during this period partially came as interest in the Church peaked nationwide through television advertizing by the Church about the Book of Mormon.  Membership growth rates began to decline as membership increased to 4,389 in 2000.

Membership numbered 5,113 in 2003 and 5,768 in 2006.  Membership growth rates continue to decline and since 2000 membership has increased by less than five percent every year except for 2002.  Membership typically increases by around 100 to 200 a year. 

The first young single adult conference was held in mid-2007.[7]  In early 2010, Jamaica was the country with the seventh most members without a stake.  In 2009 and 2010, membership decline occurred, likely due to membership record updates, emigration, and few convert baptisms.

In 2009, one in 478 was nominally LDS.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 20

The first district was created in Kingston in 1983.  A second district was created in Mandeville in 1987. 

In August 1990, both the Kingston and Mandeville Jamaica Districts were turned into district stakes.  District stakes functioned in only a few locations where the Church worked to prepare members and leaders for the establishment of stakes.  By mid-1991 the Church had organized 13 branches nationwide.[8]  Both districts returned to regular district status in September 1996.  By 2000 there were 18 branches in two districts. At the beginning of 2002 there were 11 branches in the Kingston district and seven in the Mandeville district.  Two additional districts were created in 2002 in Linstead and Montego Bay.  In August 2006, Jamaica was assigned to the newly created Caribbean Area.[9]  Due to the area realignment, the Jamaica Kingston Mission gained jurisdiction over the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands in addition to the Cayman Islands already part of the mission.[10]  Cuba was assigned to the Jamaica Kingston Mission in 2010.

In 2009, both districts in Linstead and Montego Bay were discontinued in preparation for the establishment of the first stake.  Many branch presidencies were reorganized in preparation for individual branches to meet the requirements to become wards.  By late 2009 there were 21 branches.

Activity and Retention

During the early years of the Church's presence there was very high convert retention and member activity.  In 1980 there were 85 members, all of whom were active full-tithe payers that fulfilled their home and visiting teaching responsibilities.[11]  Jamaica had 141 seminary students in 1989.[12]  2,000 attended a meeting with President Hinckley in 2002.[13]  Jamaica has been preparing for the first stake to be organized for two decades.  1,000 members attended the 25th anniversary of the dedication of Jamaica for missionary work in 2004.[14]  An Area Conference in mid-2009 was attended by 1,675, far more than the average sacrament attendance for all four districts at the time.[15]  During the 2008-2009 school year 110 students were enrolled in seminary and 150 were enrolled in institute.  Seminary and institute enrollment steadily increased in the late 2000s from 260 in 2008 to 320 in 2010.  The average number of members per congregation has increased from 243 to 285 since 2000.  Branches widely vary in active membership, with some consisting of as few as a couple dozen active members to others with as many as 100.  Total active membership in Jamaica appears to be no greater than 1,500, or 25% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English

English has all LDS scriptures and the widest body of Church materials available of any language.  No church materials are available in Jamaican Creole. 


Construction on the first chapel began in 1983.[16]  Several Church-built meetinghouses serve congregations.  Smaller congregations meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces. 

Health and Safety

Poor diet causes nutritional deficiencies and great susceptibility to disease.  HIV/AIDS infects 1.6% of the population.  Methods of infection include illicit sexual relations, drug use, HIV-positive mothers, and contaminated needles.  Crime has increased due to the deteriorating economy and drug trafficking.  HIV/AIDS and poor diet pose concerns over missionaries' safety.  Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 49 murders per every 100,000 people a year.

Humanitarian and Development Work

3,000 food boxes were donated following Hurricane Ivan.[17]  Rehabilitation centers received donations of furniture and needled supplies in 2006.[18]  Wheelchairs have been donated for disabled Jamaicans.[19]  The Perpetual Education Fund operates in Jamaica, providing low interest loans for members interested in pursuing higher education.


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

No legislation or cultural restrictions prohibit missionaries from proselytism in Jamaica. 

Cultural Issues

Historically the Church has experienced a large amount of persecution and prejudice.  This has caused many Jamaicans to avoid learning about the Church and creates an atmosphere of intolerance.  Many smaller communities are religiously divided based on denomination.  Secularism has increased in recent years as interest in religious declines in the major cities.  Widespread drug abuse and violent crime are major concerns.

National Outreach

The Church's establishment in Jamaica for over 30 years has resulted in congregations scattered throughout the nation although members are few.  The majority of the population has Church outreach centers nearby.  All 14 administrative parishes have a congregation except for Saint Mary with 111,000 inhabitants or four percent of the national population.  Half the parishes have only one congregation, indicating that outreach is mainly limited to urban areas.  The national extent of urban outreach is manifested by all cities with over 10,000 inhabitants containing a congregation.  Rural and small town congregational outreach remains limited since as many as 100 towns and villages are without a congregation.  

The large number of small towns challenges the Church's efforts in national outreach.  Many urban centers have a population too small to support full-time missionaries.  Although visits can likely be arranged for fulltime missionaries to visit and teach individuals in unreached towns, fellowshipping investigators and converts in these locations strains mission resources.  The Church has the greatest opportunity in reaching these locations with the involvement of local members in finding interested individuals and preparing them to take the missionary lessons.  Cottage meetings conducted by missionaries may be held with a small group of interested individuals in lesser reached towns.  These meetings have potential over time to develop into groups, dependent branches and branches as they are held regularly and people join the Church.  Cottage meetings present opportunities but are not commonly implemented in Jamaica.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The Church struggles with not only retaining new converts but also keeping the general membership active in attendance and living Church teachings.  An insufficient number of full-tithe payers and active Melchizedek priesthood holders have delayed the creation of the first stake for decades.  Members have actively taken part in preparing branches and districts to become stakes since as early as 1990.  The number of branches has increased by three since 2000 yet membership increased by 1,600, or 2.5 times as fast as congregational growth, suggesting significant retention problems.  A larger number of members attended President Hinckley's visit in 2002 than regional conferences held in the late 2000s.  Some progress has been made with active membership in recent years as branches and districts have come closer to meeting qualifications to become stakes.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The large black majority provides easier fellowshipping for black Jamaicans due to the homogeneity of culture.  This allows for a reduction of misunderstandings and conflict among members.  The few non-black Jamaicans may struggle in Church activity due to the lack of ethnic minority groups.  

Language Issues

Although the Church benefits from an English-speaking population, no materials are translated into Jamaica Creole.  Most immigrant groups speak English, facilitating their integration into Jamaican congregations. 

Missionary Service

The first Jamaican member to serve a mission began his mission in 1985.[20]  By the end of 2003, 175 Jamaican members had served or were serving missions.[21]  Jamaica continues to rely on large numbers of foreign full-time missionaries to staff the mission.  Stronger emphasis on missionary service and seminary and institute attendance may help increase the self-sufficiency of the Jamaica LDS missionary force. 


A lack of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders has challenged the Church's national outreach and the organization of stakes.  In the early 2000s, an effort was made to establish the first stake on the island which failed due to a lack of active priesthood holders and full-tithe payers.  This instead resulted in the division of the two districts likely in a move to spur greater growth in unreached areas.  In the late 2000s, the lack of sufficient active, full-tithe paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders continued to delay the organization of a stake.  The consolidation of districts in 2009 allowed greater interaction of former district leaders with their local congregations to augment activity among less active priesthood holders.  


Jamaica is assigned to the Panama City Panama Temple district.  Over the years Jamaica has belonged to several other temple districts as new temples have been constructed.  Temple excursions occur regularly, but require travel by plane or ship to nearby temples.  A temple may be announced for Jamaica once multiple stakes are organized, as island nations tend to have temples built with far fewer members than non-island nations. 

Comparative Growth

Jamaica has experienced slow growth comparable to other English-speaking countries in the Caribbean as well as lower activity.  With a population of 1.2 million, Trinidad and Tobago had its first congregation created in 1980 with less than half as many members as Jamaica has today, yet Jamaica yet had not yet had its first stake created in early 2010.  Smaller nations and islands in the Caribbean have seen slower growth, such as Barbados which had less than 700 members in 2008 despite a Church presence for over 30 years.  Most nations with as seasoned a Church membership as Jamaica typically have stakes, but the creation of a stake has not come to fruition due to the dispersion of membership over a wide area and low member activity.igh inactivity. 

Many Christian denominations operate on the island and have all experienced more rapid and continuous growth than the LDS Church.  The Seventh Day Adventist Church had a quarter of a million members and nearly 700 congregations in 2008, whereas the LDS Church had 6,000 members in 21 congregations.  Reasons for slow LDS growth include a more recent church establishment, high antagonism from other churches, low member activity, and member reliance on missionaries for finding new converts and retention.  Other denominations appear to have developed very functional local membership that does not rely on outside personnel to function.

Future Prospects

A stake may be created in Kingston as districts were consolidated in 2009 to prepare members in branches to become wards.  The Mandeville Jamaica District may also become a stake around the same time.  A district in Montego Bay may be recreated once greater strength and activity occur in both western and central Jamaica.  Additional congregations along the northern coast and in the Saint Mary Parish may be organized.  Small branches or groups in many of the small towns unreached by current congregations may be created once greater activity and membership growth occurs.  Poor convert retention and low member activity rates are consistent barriers to greater real church growth and self-sustainability.  Little progress expanding national outreach will likely continue until these issues are resolved. 

[1]  "Embassy of the United States - Kingston Jamaica," U.S. Department of State, retrieved 14 December 2010.

[2]  "Jamaica," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[3]  "Jamaica," Country Profile, retrieved 14 December 2010.

[4]  "Services in 3 South American nations and island repubic," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.

[5]  "Jamaica," Country Profile, retrieved 14 December 2010.

[6]  "Temple to be built in the Caribbean," LDS Church News, 4 December 1993.

[7]  "Jamaican young adults gather for first conference," LDS Church News, 28 July 2007.

[8]  "News of the Church", Ensign, Mar. 1991, 74-80

[9]  "Southeast area divided; Caribbean Area created," LDS Church News, 10 June 2006.

[10]  "Area Presidencies," LDS Church News, 10 June 2006.

[11]  Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Let Every Man Learn His Duty", Ensign, Nov. 1980, 69

[12]  Stoker, Kevin.  "Early-morning/daily seminary builds foundation in gospel program has expanded to help youths worldwide," LDS Church News, 27 May 1989.

[13]  Hill, Greg.  "2,000 meet in Jamaica," LDS Church News, 1 June 2002.

[14]  Showalter, Rodney; Showalter, Geneva; Moore, Sharol.  "Joy in Jamaica - Members observe anniversary of dedication by Elder Ballard," LDS Church News, 20 December 2003.

[15]  Taylor, Scott.  "Jamaica broadcast covers Caribbean," LDS Church News, 30 January 2009.

[16]  "Jamaica," Country Profile, retrieved 14 December 2010.

[17]  Swensen, Jason.  "Hurricane Ivan batters Gulf Coast," LDS Church News, 18 September 2004.

[18]  "Donations in Jamaica," LDS Church News, 16 December 2006.

[19]  "Hundreds more wheelchairs distributed," LDS Church News, 28 December 2002.

[20]  "Jamaica," Country Profile, retrieved 14 December 2010.

[21]  Showalter, Rodney; Showalter, Geneva; Moore, Sharol.  "Joy in Jamaica - Members observe anniversary of dedication by Elder Ballard," LDS Church News, 20 December 2003.