Reaching the Nations

Czech Republic

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 78.867 square km.  Landlocked in Central Europe, the Czech Republic borders Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.  Most terrain consists of hills and mountains subjected to a temperate climate with cool summers and cold, wet winters.  Forest and pasture cover most areas.  The Elbe River flows through the north central portion of the country.  Flooding is the primary natural hazard.  Environmental issues include pollution and acid rain.

Population: 10,201,707 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.106% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.25 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 73.74 male, 80.48 female (2010)

Peoples

Czech: 90.4%

Moravian: 3.7%

Slovak: 1.9%

Other: 4%

Languages: Czech (94.9%), Slovak (2.3%), other (2.3%), unidentified (0.8%).

Literacy: 99% (2003)

History

Celts populated the present-day Czech Republic starting in the 6th century BC.  Germanic tribes pushed into the region shortly after the birth of Christ.  The western two-thirds of the modern Czech Republic are known as Bohemia, from the Latin Boihaemum first mentioned in Tacitus' first-century work Germania, whereas the eastern third is referred to as Moravia, named after the Morava River. The Huns invaded between the fourth and seventh centuries.  Slavs settled during this period and gained influence and political power.  In the 9th century, the state of Bohemia was formed and influenced much of Central Europe, becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire.  Austria and Hungary took control of Bohemia following the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire in the 19th century.  After World War I and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Slovaks and Czechs united to create Czechoslovakia.  Communism spread to Czechoslovakia following World War II and the region remained under the Soviet sphere of influence until 1989 as a result of the Velvet Revolution.  During the years of Soviet influence, Czechs attempted to liberalize communism and were met with stern opposition from Moscow.  A peaceful division between Czechs and Slovaks occurred in 1993.  In 1999, the Czech Republic became a member of NATO and in 2004 joined the European Union. 

Culture 

Prague has become one of Europe's most visited cities.  Medieval castles and historical sites dot the landscape.  The Czech Republic is well known for its puppets and puppet shows.  There is a rich legacy of literature and music.  Meat is a major component of Czech cuisine.  Divorce and cigarette and alcohol consumption rates are among the highest worldwide.  Social attitudes are highly secular. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $25,100 (2009) [54.1% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.903

Corruption Index: 4.9

The Czech economy has achieved some of the greatest growth and stability among the former communist nations of Central and Eastern Europe.  A large number of skilled workers, sizable population, central location, and smooth transition from a centrally planned economy to a free market economy have attracted foreign investment and have created an export-oriented economy.  Economic growth remained consistent throughout the 2000s although recession occurred in 2009 due to the global financial crisis.  Services employ 56% of the labor force and produce 62% of the GDP whereas industry accounts for 40% of the workforce and produces 35% of the GDP.  Primary industries include cars, metal working, machinery, and glass.  Germany, Taiwan, Slovakia, and Poland are major trade partners. 

The prevalence of corruption is comparable to many other former communist Central European nations and is higher than much of the European Union.  Bribery appears the most prevalent illegal act and most frequently occurs with large companies and civil servants.  Tougher anti-corruption legislation and surveillance are items under consideration to address these issues, but little if any improvement in fighting corruption occurred during much of the 2000s.[1]

Faiths

Christian: 28.9%

Other: 3.3%

Unspecified: 8.8%

Unaffiliated: 59%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  2,740,000

Jehovah's Witnesses  15,512  235

Seventh Day Adventists  7,471  142

Latter-Day Saints  2,198  14

Religion

The Reformation took a strong hold in Bohemia, and most of the population converted to Protestantism.  Early reformers like Jan Hus sought to reform the Church and to make the Bible available in the common tongue, but the brutal suppression of the reformation led to the hegemony of Catholicism, which remains the dominant religious tradition to this day.  The communist legacy and increasing secularism have disassociated much of the population from religion.  According to a 2007 poll, 55% of participants stated they mistrusted churches whereas only 28% claimed that they trusted churches.  In a 2008 poll, only 25% of respondents under age 29 professed a belief in God and 39% of all participants identified as atheist.  Although 33% of the population identifies as Catholic, only five percent regularly attend Catholic services.  Protestants account for three percent of the population and a third are religiously active.  There is a small Jewish community, significantly reduced from its pre-Holocaust numbers.[2] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Religious organizations receive one of two levels of government recognition.  The primary registration allows for some tax benefits and requires annual reporting to the government.  The secondary registration grants government funds to religious organizations with this status.  Additional rights are also granted to religious groups with the highest level of recognition, including clergy performing civil marriages.  Missionaries must meet the conditions for a standard work visa if they labor for over 90 days within the country.  There have been some prejudice and vandalism targeting Jews in recent years by a few members of society.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 73%

Praha, Brno, Ostrava, Plzen, Olomouc, Liberec, Ceské Budejovice, Hradec Králové, Ústí nad Labem, Pardubice.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation

Eight of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  25% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

The Church in the Czech Republic has a long history marked by periods of isolation from the international church.  Official missionary work began in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s when the Church obtained permission to operate.  President Widtsoe dedicated Czechoslovakia for missionary work and organized in the Czechoslovak Mission from the Germany-Austrian and Swiss German Missions in July 1929.  Language barriers, few missionaries, and civil opposition challenged greater mission outreach during this period yet missionaries zealously published tracts and articles in the local newspapers about the Church.  Prior to World War II, 149 joined the Church in the Czechoslovak Mission and congregations were established in Prague, Brno, and Mlada Boleslav/Kosmonosy.  With the threat of war in the late 1930s, baptisms dropped and the population became increasingly less receptive, contributing to the departure of the missionaries in 1938.  President Toronto began his tenure of the Czechoslovak Mission in 1936 and continued to administer to local members' needs when possible following the discontinuance of the mission in 1950.  Missionaries returned following World War II and worked until missionaries were forced out of the country in 1950.  During 1949, the Czechoslovak Mission baptized 70 converts. 

During the 40 years without missionaries and few visits from international Church leaders, local members continued to serve as leaders and bring in few new converts into the Church.  In 1985, 20 converts joined the Church due to local member efforts.  The Church gained official recognition, rededicated the country, and again assigned missionaries in 1990.[4]  Seminary and institute began in 1994.  In 2000, the Czech Republic became part of the Europe Central Area and in 2010 was assigned to the Europe Area. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 2,198 (2009)

86 members remained during World War II.  By July 1990, there were approximately 350 members, more than doubling to 750 two years later.  During this period, most converts were young adults.[5]  In the mid-1990s, membership reached 1,200.  By year-end 2000, there were 1,680 members. Membership reached 1,821 in 2002, 2,024 in 2006, and 2,089 in 2008. 

Most years in the 2000s saw annual membership growth rates range between two and four percent.  In 2009, the Czech Prague Mission experienced a significant increase in convert baptisms and membership growth of over five percent.  Convert baptisms for the mission grew from 29 in 2007 to 69 in 2008 and over 100 in 2009.  

Congregational Growth

Branches: 14

The Church created its first district in Prague in 1982 followed by a second district in Brno in 1991. In 1997, there were 20 branches, dropping to 17 branches in 2000.  The number of branches decreased to 16 in 2001 and to 14 in 2002 and remained unchanged as of 2010.  Branches were discontinued in Ústí nad Labem and Pardubice in the early 2000s.  In 2010, the Prague Czech District served six branches and the Brno Czech District included 10 branches, three of which were in Slovakia.  The Czech Prague Mission Branch meets the needs of members living in remote areas of the mission. Many cities without branches have small congregations and occasional missionary visits, such as Decin. 

Activity and Retention

During the 2008-2009 school year, 74 were enrolled in seminary or institute.  The Prague Branch had around 50 attending regularly in 2009.  The average number of members per branch increased from 99 in 2000 to 157 in 2009.  Most branches appear to have between 25 and 60 active members.  Nationwide active membership appears around 500, or 25% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Czech

All LDS scriptures and a wide range of Church materials are translated into Czech.  Church materials translated in Slovak consist of several unit, temple, Priesthood, Sunday School, Primary, and family history materials.  Several seminary and institute manuals are translated into Czech.  

Meetinghouses

The first church-built meetinghouse was dedicated in late 2001 for the Brno Branch.[6] 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has conducted little humanitarian work in recent years due to the level of economic prosperity.  In 2002, missionaries serving in Prague provided 700 hours of labor cleaning up after some of the worst flooding in centuries.[7] 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church does not currently face any restrictions on missionary work.  Missionaries proselyte openly and serve on work visas.  The Church has only obtained the initial level of government recognition, indicating that Church leaders are unable to perform marriages.  Acquiring land for meetinghouses has proved a major challenge over the past two decades. 

Cultural Issues

Widespread secularism and distrust towards organized religion present significant challenges to missionary efforts.  High rates of alcohol and cigarette usage bring many social problems.  Tailoring the Church's message to a population with low religious activity and interest is a major challenge. 

National Outreach

During the 2000s, the Church reduced its national outreach by discontinuing several congregations and assigning fewer missionaries.  Consequently, the two largest cities in 2010 without a branch once had congregations in the early 2000.  Some dependent branches or groups continue to function in some cities with former mission outreach centers.  The Church has conducted outreach in smaller cities, such as Jicin with only 16,000 inhabitants.  26% of the population lives in a city with a congregation. 

There are over 120 cities with between 10,000 and 50,000 inhabitants without a mission outreach center.  With fewer full-time missionaries assigned, local members and leaders will need to be at the forefront in establishing the Church in these locations.  Organizing periodic cottage meetings in locations with a couple active members or investigators may be a successful means for full-time missionaries to be more efficient in expanding national outreach.  Greater wealth facilitates greater mobility for members residing outside cities with congregations to travel to locations with congregations, thereby reducing the need for more congregations nearby larger cities. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Poor convert retention has occurred since missionary work recommenced in the early 1990s.  Quick-baptism techniques during the first decade may be partially due blame as many did not develop a strong testimony of the Church and successfully integrate with their respective congregations following their baptisms.  By the late 1990s, most branches had around 25 active members.  It is unclear whether retention rates have improved or declined with the increased number of baptisms in 2008 and 2009.  High levels of secularism appear partially responsible for low member activity rates. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The homogeneity of the population reduces ethnic integration issues, but the disproportional number of non-natives worship in some congregations.  Around 12 Mongolian converts and investigators met in Hradec Králové. 

Language Issues

The widespread use of Czech nationwide simplifies Church administration and missionary work.  However, a large number of active members are non-natives, resulting in an increased need for translation work in many of the branches. 

Missionary Service

In the late 1990s, there were over 100 missionaries serving in the mission.  Prague alone had 16 missionaries in 2002.[8]  60 missionaries were serving in the Czech Prague Mission in 2006.[9]  In 2010, there were around 60 missionaries serving in the Czech Prague Mission.  Senior missionaries report that transfers occur every nine weeks instead of every six weeks like in other missions.  The Czech Republic remains unable to staff its own missionary force due to its limited number of active young adult members, low birth rates, and few converts.

Leadership

Church leadership is well developed, but remains very limited.  All 13 branches appeared to have native branch presidents in 2010.  The Czech Republic has some returned missionaries to fill leadership positions and help build the Church over the long term, but would benefit from far more.    The lack of increase in the number of congregations since 2002 demonstrates the limited local Church leadership and low receptivity.

Temple

The Czech Republic is assigned to the Freiburg Germany Temple district.  Members benefit from close proximity to the temple despite their few numbers.  Temple trips occur regularly through branches and districts.

Comparative Growth

The Czech Republic was the first Slavic nation with a mission established many decades before any other nation in Eastern Europe and likely the only nation in Central and Eastern Europe during the communist area to maintain a consistent Church presence.  Despite this legacy, the percentage of Church members is lower than most nations in Central Europe and compares to most nations in Eastern Europe which had no Church presence prior to 1990.  During much of the 2000s, membership growth ranked among the slowest of the former communist nations in Europe. The Czech Republic experienced the highest rate of membership growth in 2009 in Central Europe.  Member activity and convert retention rates appear comparable to neighboring former-communist Central European nations such as Hungary and Poland.  The percentage of the population living in cities with a mission outreach center is comparable to nations like Hungary with a stronger Church presence in Central Europe.

Other outreach-oriented Christian denominations have generally experienced faster membership growth and higher activity rates compared to the LDS Church.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have experienced steady growth; both have over 10 times as many congregations as the LDS Church.      

Future Prospects

Increases in convert baptisms over the past two years despite a small missionary force indicate that the Church has become more efficient in its proselytism efforts in the Czech Republic, although time will tell whether this was a one-time surge or the beginning of a lasting trend.  Low numbers of convert baptisms, a dependence on foreign missionaries, and low activity rates have been major obstacles to long-term growth.  Growth trends have been difficult to forecast for the Czech Republic since the introduction of the Church.  However, current conditions indicate that the establishment of a stake is not likely within the foreseeable future. A few more branches may be organized in regions where groups have become more self-sufficient.  Due to the large number of Mongolian converts, a special branch to meet the needs of these members may be organized in the future. 


[1] "Corruption in the Czech Republic: Politicians and Managers' Perceptions," Donath Burson-Marsteller, retrieved 21 June 2010.  http://www.dbm.cz/pruzkumy/english/?id=98

[2]  "Czech Republic," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127306.htm

[3]  "Czech Republic," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127306.htm

[4]  Mehr, Kahlile.  "Czech Saints: A Brighter Day," Ensign, Aug 1994, 46

[5]  Mehr, Kahlile.  "Czech Saints: A Brighter Day," Ensign, Aug 1994, 46

[6]  "LDS Czechs celebrate first hall," LDS Church News, 1 December 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/40958/LDS-Czechs-celebrate-first-hall.html

[7]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Missionaries offer time, muscle after Prague flood," LDS Church News, 28 September 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42496/Missionaries-offer-time-muscle-after-Prague-flood.html

[8]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Missionaries offer time, muscle after Prague flood," LDS Church News, 28 September 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42496/Missionaries-offer-time-muscle-after-Prague-flood.html

[9]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Daunting task known as Slovakian miracle," LDS Church News, 11 November 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49733/Daunting-task-known-as-Slovakian-miracle.html