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International Resources for Latter-day Saints
 

Reaching the Nations

Czech Republic (Czechia)

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 78.867 square km. Landlocked in Central Europe, Czechia 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. Czechia is divided into thirteen administrative regions and one capital city.

Peoples

Czech: 90.4%

Moravian: 3.7%

Slovak: 1.9%

Other: 4%

Population: 10,686,269 (July 2018)

Annual Growth Rate: 0.1% (2018)

Fertility Rate: 1.46 children born per woman (2018)

Life Expectancy: 76.0 male, 82.1 female (2018)

Languages: Czech (95.4%), Slovak (1.6%), other (3.0%). Czech is the official language and only language with more than one million native speakers (10.2 million).

Literacy: 99% (2011)

History

Celts populated the present-day Czech Republic starting in the sixth century BC. Germanic tribes pushed into the region shortly after the birth of Christ. The western two-thirds of modern Czechia 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 ninth 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 nineteenth 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. The short name Czechia was adopted in 2016 although the country continues to use the formal name Czech Republic.

Culture

Prague has become one of Europe’s most visited cities. Medieval castles and historical sites dot the landscape. Czechia 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: $35,500 (2017) [59.4% of U.S.]

Human Development Index: 0.888 (2017)

Corruption Index: 57 (2017)

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 and 2010s, although recession occurred in 2009 due to the global financial crisis. As exports constitute 80% of the GDP, demand for Czech products often strongly affects economic growth. Annual GDP real growth rates have been as high as 5.3% during the mid-2010s. Services employ 59.2% of the labor force and produce 60.8% of the GDP, whereas industry accounts for 38.0% of the workforce and produces 36.9% of the GDP. Primary industries include cars, metal working, machinery, and glass. Germany, Poland, and Slovakia 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. However, perceived corruption has significantly improved during the past decade. The government has taken several steps to reduce corruption and tax evasion. Bribery has historically been most prevalent illegal act and most frequently occurs with large companies and civil servants.[1] Organized crime, transshipment of illicit substances, and consumption of illegal drugs remain a concern.

Faiths

Christian: 11.5%

Other/unspecified: 54%

None: 34.5%

Christians

Denominations – Members – Congregations

Catholic – 1,111,372

Orthodox – 30,000

Jehovah’s Witnesses – 15,587 – 219

Seventh Day Adventists – 7,532 – 174

Latter-day Saints – 2,596 – 12

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 twenty-nine professed a belief in God, and 39% of all participants identified as atheist. Although 33% of the population identifies as Catholic, only 5% regularly attended Catholic services in the late 2000s. Protestants accounted for 3% of the population, and a third were religiously active in the late 2000s.[2] Only 56% of citizens responded to the 2011 census question about religion and among those who responded to this question, 62% reported no religious beliefs, 18% identified as Catholic, 12% listed no specific religion, and 7% identified primarily with Protestant denominations. There is a small Jewish community of approximately 10,000-20,000, significantly reduced from its pre-Holocaust numbers. There are approximately 10,000 Muslims who are primarily immigrants.[3]

Religious Freedom

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. This first tier of registration requires religious groups to have at least 300 adult members who permanently reside in Czechia. 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. A religious group must have its membership equal to 0.1% of greater of the population and have operated in the country for at least one decade in order to qualify for the second-tier registration. Missionaries must meet the conditions for a standard work visa if they labor for over ninety days within the country. There has been some religiously-motivated hate incidents targeting Jews and Muslims in recent years by a few members of society.[4]

Largest Cities

Urban: 73.8% (2018)

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

Cities listed in bold have no congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Eight of the ten largest cities have a Church congregation. Twenty-six percent (26%) of the national population lives in the ten largest cities.

Church History

The Church in the Czechia 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 seventy converts.

During the forty 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, twenty converts joined the Church due to local member efforts. The Church gained official recognition, rededicated the country, and again assigned missionaries in 1990.[5] Seminary and institute began in 1994. In 2000, the Czechia became part of the Europe Central Area and in 2010 was reassigned to the Europe Area. In 2016, the Church organized its first stake in Czechia in Prague. Apostle and former First Presidency member, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, was born in Ostrava, Czechia.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 2,596 (2017)

Eighty-six 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.[6] 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, 2,282 in 2010, 2,455 in 2014, and 2,596 in 2017.

Most years in the 2000s saw annual membership growth rates range between 2 and 4%. In 2009, the Czech Prague Mission experienced a significant increase in convert baptisms and membership growth of over 5%. Convert baptisms for the mission grew from twenty-nine in 2007 to sixty-nine in 2008 and over one hundred in 2009. However, annual membership growth rates averaged around 2% during the 2010s as the number of convert baptisms returned to historic averages.

In 2017, one in 4,112 was a Latter-day Saint.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 7 Branches: 5 (2018)

The oldest congregation in Czechia that has appeared to continuously operate is the Olomouc Branch, which was organized in 1949. The Church created its first district in Prague in 1982 followed by a second district in Brno in 1991. In 1997, there were twenty branches, dropping to seventeen branches in 2000. At the turn of the century, there were branches in eighteen cities: Brno, Ceske Budejovice, Frýdek-Místek, Hradec Králové, Jihlava, Kroměří, Liberec, Mlada Boleslav, Nova Paka, Olomouc, Ostrava, Pardubice, Plzeñ, Prague, Trebic, Uherské Hradiste, Ústí nad Labem, and Zlin.

The number of branches decreased to sixteen in 2001 and to fourteen in 2002. 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 ten branches, three of which were in Slovakia. The Czech Prague Mission Branch meet 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.  In 2012, missionaries reopened Pardubice and organized a group. However, the group had closed by the late 2010s. The Czech/Slovak Mission Branch was discontinued in 2012.

In 2016, the Church organized the Prague Czech Republic Stake with six wards and seven branches. The Brno Czech District was discontinued as it was combined with the Prague Czech District to organize the new stake. The Zlin Branch closed in late 2016 and combined with the Uherské Hradiste Branch to create a ward. In 2018, the entire country was within the boundaries of the Prague Czech Republic Stake. Nearly all congregations that remain in operation today were organized between 1988 and 1995.

Activity and Retention

During the 2008–2009 school year, seventy-four were enrolled in seminary or institute. The average number of members per branch increased from ninety-nine in 2000 to 157 in 2009 and 216 in 2017. Church attendance in the late 2010s was ninety for Prague, seventy for Brno, forty for Hradec Kralové, and fifteen each for Liberec and Olomouc according to returned missionary reports. Most other congregations appear to have between twenty-five and sixty active members. Returned missionaries who served during the 2010s reported that 50-70% of new converts remained active one year after baptism – one of the highest convert retention rates in the region. Nationwide active membership appears around 500-550, or 20% of total membership.

Language Materials

Languages with Latter-day Saint Scripture: Czech, Slovak

All LDS scriptures and a wide range of Church materials are translated into Czech. The Book of Mormon translation in Slovak was published in 2013. Plans were reported in 2017 to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price into Slovak.[7] Church materials translated in Slovak consist of several unit, temple, priesthood, Sunday School, primary, missionary, 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.[8] Most congregations meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces.

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has conducted 133 humanitarian and development projects in Czechia since 1985, and the vast majority of these efforts have been community projects.[9] In 2002, missionaries serving in Prague provided 700 hours of labor cleaning up after some of the worst flooding in centuries.[10]

 

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 2018 without a branch once had congregations in the early 2000. There were eighteen cities with a branch in the late 1990s. However, by 2018 there were only twelve cities with a ward or branch. Nevertheless, the Church continues to conduct outreach in smaller cities, such as Jicin with only 16,000 inhabitants. Twenty-five percent (25%) of the population lived in a city with a congregation as of 2018.

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 of 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.

The Church operates multiple websites in Czech, including https://www.cirkev-jezise-krista.cz/, https://www.zpravy-mormon.cz/, and https://www.mormon.org/ces?lang=ces. These websites permit Internet-based outreach throughout Czechia even if there is no nearby congregation. However, there has appeared to be little strategic vision by the Church to use these websites to better reach the country.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Poor convert retention occurred during the 1990s when most Czechs joined the Church. 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 twenty-five active members. High levels of secularism appear partially responsible for historically low member activity rates. The Church has reported better convert retention rates in the 2010s although few Czechs have joined the Church during the past decade.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The homogeneity of the population reduces ethnic integration issues, but the disproportional number of nonnatives worship in some congregations. For example, twelve Mongolian converts and investigators met in Hradec Králové during the late 2000s.

Language Issues

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

Missionary Service

In the late 1990s, there were over one hundred missionaries serving in the mission. Prague alone had sixteen missionaries in 2002.[11] Sixty missionaries were serving in the Czech Prague Mission in 2006.[12] In 2010, there were around sixty missionaries serving in the Czech Prague Mission. Senior missionaries reported in the early 2010s that transfers occur every nine weeks instead of every six weeks like in other missions. Czechia remains unable to staff its own missionary force due to its limited number of active young adult members, low birth rates, and few converts. Nevertheless, Czech members serve missions in many international locations.[13]

Leadership

Church leadership is well developed and in sufficient numbers to operate a stake. However, local leadership remains very limited as there is only one stake for the entire country and many congregations appear to operate with minimal leadership personnel. All thirteen branches appeared to have native branch presidents in 2010. However, in 2018 a couple of the smaller branches appeared to be led by foreign members or full-time missionaries. In 2016, the Church called a native Czech couple to lead the Czech/Slovak Mission.[14] Church employees have served in disproportionate numbers in local leadership positions. For example, two of the three members of the first stake presidency for the Prague Czech Republic Stake were Church employees.[15]

Czechia has some returned missionaries to fill leadership positions and help build the Church over the long term but would benefit from far more. However, the Church continues to struggle with a lack of leadership to establish a more widespread presence. The lack of increase in the number of congregations since 2002 demonstrates limited local Church leadership and low receptivity.

Temple

Czechia is assigned to the Freiburg Germany Temple district. Members benefit from close proximity to the temple despite their few numbers. Temple trips occur regularly.

Comparative Growth

Czechia was the first Slavic nation with a mission established many decades before any other nation in Eastern Europe and likely was 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 that 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. However, membership growth rates during the 2010s have been more consistent and more rapid than many neighboring nations. Member activity and convert retention rates have historically been 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 previously experienced faster membership growth and higher activity rates compared to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists both have over ten times as many congregations as Latter-day Saints. Witnesses and Adventists have reported stagnant membership and congregational growth during the 2010s.

Future Prospects

Low numbers of convert baptisms, dependence on foreign missionaries, and low activity rates have been major obstacles to long-term growth. Secularism, societal distrust of religion, and common habits and practices that oppose Church teachings such as alcohol and tobacco use will continue to reduce the receptivity of Czechs to the Restored Gospel message. Nevertheless, the Church in Czechia has achieved slow, steady membership growth rates and slight increases in active membership over the past 15 years. The creation of a stake and the calling of the first native Czech mission president are signs of maturing local leadership. Retention for converts one year after baptism has significantly improved in the 2010s compared to previous decades. The establishment of the Church in additional cities will be essential for future long-term growth, especially if societal conditions change and the population becomes more receptive to outreach, albeit such prospects appear dim at the present time.


[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 for 2017. Accessed 10 December 2018. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2017&dlid=280898#wrapper

[4] “Czech Republic,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2017. Accessed 10 December 2018. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2017&dlid=280898#wrapper

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

[6] Mehr, Kahlile. “Czech Saints: A Brighter Day,” Ensign, Aug 1994, 46.

[7] Approved Scripture Translation Projects. 9 October 2017. Lds.org. https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/church/news/2017/10/09/15159_000_letter.pdf?lang=eng

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

[9] “Where We Work,” LDS Charities. Accessed 10 December 2018. https://www.ldscharities.org/where-we-work

[10] 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

[11] 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

[12] 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

[13] Baldwin, Noelle; Weaver, Sarah Jane. “President Uchtdorf visits Europe, returns to the place of his birth.” LDS Church News. 27 May 2016. https://www.thechurchnews.com/archive/2016-05-26/president-uchtdorf-visits-europe-returns-to-the-place-of-his-birth-44294

[14] “New mission presidents,” LDS Church News. 25 February 2016. https://www.thechurchnews.com/archive/2016-02-25/new-mission-presidents-43853

[15] “New Stake Presidents,” LDS Church News. 28 July 2016. https://www.thechurchnews.com/archive/2016-07-28/new-stake-presidents-44570