Reaching the Nations

Bosnia and Herzegovina

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area: 51,197 square km.  Nearly landlocked in Southeastern Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina borders Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and the Adriatic Sea.  Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into two jigsaw-shaped entities - the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.  There are only 20 kilometers of coastline as Croatia occupies narrow strips of land along the Adriatic coast.  Most of the country consists of mountains and valleys.  Temperate climate prevails throughout most areas, with hot summers and cold winters.  The Sava River creates the northern border with Croatia.  Earthquakes are natural hazards and air pollution, deforestation, inadequate waste disposal sites, water shortages, and residuals fromthe civil war are environmental issues.  Bosnia and Herzegovina is administratively divided into two first-order divisions and one internationally supervised district. 

Population: 4,613,414 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.339% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.26 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 74.92 male, 82.34 female (2010)


Bosniak: 48%

Serb: 37.1%

Croat: 14.3%

Other: 0.6%

Bosniaks constitute the majority in central and far western regions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Serbs populate northern, west central, and eastern areas of the country in Republika Srpska.  Croats reside in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in southern regions and in pockets in central areas. 

Languages:  Bosnian (48%), Serbian (28%), Croatian (10%), Romani (9%), other (5%).  Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian are official languages.  Languages with over one million speakers include Bosniak (2.2 million) and Serbian (1.3 million). 

Literacy: 96.7% (2000)


The Illyrians were among the first known peoples to settle Bosnia. The region came under Roman rule shortly after the birth of Christ though an intense military campaign.  Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Bosnia came under rule of warring tribes including the Huns.  Independent Bosnian rule was established for several centuries after AD 1000 until coming under rule of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the late fifteenth century.  Bosnia remained under Ottoman control until integrating into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late nineteenth century.  Following World War I, Bosnia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes which later became Yugoslavia.  During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded the region.  Ethnic groups did not yield to Nazi rule, yet inter-ethnic fighting occurred.  Josip Tito Broz took command of Yugoslavia in 1945 and established a communist regime which maintained its own sphere of influence separate from Eastern and Western Europe.  Slobodan Milosevic became president in Serbia in 1989. Serbian dominance of political affairs under Milosevic resulted in Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia declaring independence in the early 1990s.  In October 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed its sovereignty from Yugoslavia and in March 1992 declared independence from Yugoslavia.  Bosnian Serbs protested the declaration and began an armed resisted with assistance from Serbia and Montenegro in an effort to unify predominantly Serb areas with Serbia proper.  Bosniaks and Croats also divided along ethnic lines, creating a three-way civil war in 1992.  In 1994, Bosniaks and Croats unified under the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The civil war continued until the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 which established a democratic, multi-ethnic government which retained the original international boundaries and split the country into two divisions: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.  NATO led a peacekeeping force starting in 1995 which stationed over 60,000 troops to supervise military activity.  The European Union overtook peacekeeping responsibilities for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004.  At the end of 2009, around 2,000 troops remained in the country to provide civil policing due to residual tensions between the previously warring ethnic factions. 


Situated at the crossroads of East and West, Bosnia and Herzegovina adopts cultural practices and traditions from both influences.  Sarajevo has served as one of the cultural centers for the Balkans for centuries in art, music, and literature resulting from a blend of Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox influences.  Sarajevo also hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which sparked World War I.  Bosnia is Europe's most northern nation with a large indigenous Muslim minority.  Vegetables constitute a large portion of Bosnian cuisine, which blends common Eastern and Western dishes.  Cigarette consumption rates rank among the highest worldwide.  Alcohol consumption rates are high.  Divorce rates are very low.  


GDP per capita: $6,400 (2009) [13.8% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.812

Corruption Index: 3.0

The civil war in the early 1990s devastated the economy as production dropped by 80%.  Growth occurred following the conflict, with GDP growth rates above five percent between 2003 and 2008.  The global economic crisis hurt the economy.  An estimated 40% of the workforce is unemployed and 25% of the population lives below the poverty line.  Prospects for additional foreign investment appear positive, but excessive government spending, control of most of the financial sector by Austrian and Italian banks, and gray market activity accounting for a large portion of the economic activity are significant economic barriers for future development.  Services employ 47% of the workforce and generate 65% of the GDP whereas industry accounts for 33% of the workforce and 26% of the GDP.  Metal working, minerals, vehicle assembly, and textiles are primary industries.  Agriculture accounts for 21% of the workforce and 9% of the GDP.  Major crops include wheat, fruits, vegetables, and corn.  Primary trade partners include Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, and Germany.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has the highest perceived corruption levels among nations in the former Yugoslavia.  Corruption is perceived as widespread and present in all areas of government and society, especially natural resource extraction, customs, public utilities, the judicial system, and taxes.  Organized crime is also a concern.  Under international pressure, anti-corruption institutions have been created although there has been no progress in addressing corruption.  The government continues to lack transparency and accountability with finances.  Mismanagement of international aid has likely occurred.[1]  Bosnia and Herzegovina is susceptible to money laundering and drug trafficking due to weak legislation, few regulations, and poor law enforcement. 


Christian: 46%

Muslim: 40%

other: 14%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Orthodox  1,430,158

Catholic  692,012

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,209  16

Seventh Day Adventists  661  23  

Latter-Day Saints  less than 50  1


Muslims are the largest religious group (40%), followed by Serbian Orthodox (36%) and Roman Catholics (15%).  Religious affiliation is strongly correlated with ethnicity as most Bosniaks are Muslim, most Serbs are Serbian Orthodox, and most Croats are Catholic.  Protestants account for one percent of the population.  Protestants and other small religious minority groups like Jews are concentrated in Sarajevo.[2] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is generally upheld by both the federal and administrative governments.  However religious minorities report persistent societal abuse of religious freedom throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of weak and inconsistent enforcement of laws protecting religious freedom.  A fragile national peace has been established through balancing power and the segregation of Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks.  There is currently little tolerance for religious groups which do not fall one of the three predominant religious traditions, or even for members of the major religious groups outside of their traditional geographical areas.  The most severe persecution of religious minorities occurs between the three largest religious groups, such as Catholics and Orthodox in Muslim areas or Orthodox Christians in Catholic and Muslim areas.  Those who commit crimes targeting religious minorities often go unpunished.  Religious holidays of all three major religions are recognized by the federal government.  To register with the government, a religious group must have at least 300 adult citizen members.  Once approved, a registered religious group faces no restrictions on its operations.  There are no restrictions on proselytism.[3] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 47%

Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica, Mostar, Brcko, Bijeljina, Bihac, Prijedor, Doboj.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the 10 largest cities has an LDS congregation.  21% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

The Church began sending humanitarian aid during the civil war in the mid-1990s.  In 1996, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland visited 70 American soldiers in Tuzla.  At the time, Church activity was limited to members in the United States military which were administered by the Germany Service Members Stake.[4]  Elder Holland offered a priesthood blessing nearby Sarajevo in behalf of the war torn region during his visit.[5]  In 2000, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Europe Central Area.  In 2009, Elder D. Todd Christofferson visited Bosnia and met with 30 members and investigators in the home of Jason Colvin, where church services are held for expatriate members in Sarajevo.  At the meeting, Elder Christofferson told those in attendance that they were preparing the way for missionaries to be assigned to Bosnia and Herzegovina.[6]  In May 2010, the Church created the first congregation in the country, an administrative branch in Sarajevo named the Bosnia-Herzegovina Branch.  In September 2010, Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated Bosnia and Herzegovina for missionary work.[7] 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 50 (2010)

Between December 1995 and September 1998, almost 900 Latter-day saint servicemen had been deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Hungary for peacekeeping operations.[8]  In the late 2000s, missionaries in the Slovenia Ljubljana Mission taught an interested Bosniak youth living in Bosnia who was interviewed by the mission president on Skype and baptized shortly thereafter.  The new Bosniak convert had learned about the Church through the Internet.  At least two Latter-day Saint couples resided in the country in September 2010 in Sarajevo and Banja Luka.[9]  

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 1 Groups: 1

The Bosnia-Hersegovina (Administrative) Branch was organized in 2010.  The branch was renamed the Sarajevo Branch in late 2010 or early 2011.  A group began meeting in Banja Luka in the early 2010s.  

Activity and Retention

Active membership is limited to expatriates living in Sarajevo and a handful of Bosniak converts.  35 attended an evening devotional at a member's home in Sarajevo with Elder Nelson in September 2010.[10]  Total active membership is estimated at approximately 30. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Serbian, Croatian

All LDS scriptures are translated in Croatian.  Only the Book of Mormon is available in Serbian.  The Church has translated several unit, temple, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, Church proclamations, and family history materials in Serbian and Croatian.  Many CES materials are translated in Croatian.  The Liahona has one Croatian issue per year.


Church meetings are held in rented spaces.

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 1993, Latter-day Saints in London, England shipped 45 boxes filled with personal hygiene and food items to Bosnia to provide relief to victims of the civil war.[11]  800 pounds of personal hygiene and clothing was sent from members in the United States.[12]  8,100 boxes of food were shipped by the Church to Bosnia in 1994.[13]  In 2009, the Church donated wheelchairs to the disabled.[14]  In 2010, senior missionary couples began extensive development work which included the building of greenhouses, clean water projects, and providing education in neonatal resuscitation techniques in many locations throughout the country. 


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church does not appear to face any legal obstacles in performing missionary work in the country.  However, the Church falls vastly short of the required 300 adult citizen members required to apply as a religious community to enjoy full religious freedom.  The Church may face proselyting restrictions due to intolerance of religious minorities in regions with heavy predominance of Muslims or Orthodox.

Cultural Issues

High smoking and alcohol consumption rates will likely create a more challenging atmosphere for Latter-day Saints to live and proselyte than many other countries.  Proselytism will need to address substance abuse needs in order to reach a larger population and achieve higher convert retention rates.  High correlation of ethnicity and religion create additional cultural challenges for interested Bosnians to join the LDS Church and remain active. 

National Outreach

With the exception of personal contacts of members and missionaries, the entire population is unreached by LDS mission outreach.  Communism prior to independence and ethnic violence thereafter have contributed to the lack of an LDS presence today.  Prospective missionary activity will most likely concentrate in Sarajevo due to its large population, religious plurality, and greater tolerance of minorities faiths than in ethnically homogenous regions of the countryside.  Outreach in Sarajevo alone could reach almost 10% of the national population. 

Despite the lack of specific Internet outreach directed toward Bosnia and Herzegovina, some have become acquainted with the LDS Church through the Internet, and one individual joined the Church in the late 2000s.  Internet proselytism approaches including Serbian and Croatian language materials and social networking may be the most appropriate course of immediate action for mission outreach to Bosnians. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Active membership is limited to foreigners temporarily living in the country and the handful of Bosnian members.  Due to the small numbers of Latter-day Saints, members must be self reliant in living church principles. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The ethnic patchwork present throughout the country presents major challenges for future church growth outside of melting-pot cities like Sarajevo because of lesser tolerance and receptivity in regions dominated by a single faith and because of persistent ethnic tensions.  The post-independence segregation of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs may require the creation of ethnic-specific congregations until greater tolerance among ethnicities is achieved.

Language Issues

Although there are no Bosnian language LDS materials, Serbian and Croatian are understood by most the population resulting in little need for Bosnian language materials in the foreseeable future.  Established Latter-day Saint communities in Croatia and Serbia have necessitated the translation of many church materials in these languages, which can be utilized in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Missionary Service

No missionaries are known to have served from Bosnia and Herzegovina. 


There appear to be few native church members living in the country capable of holding church leadership positions.  The lack of prospective local leaders requires foreign members and missionaries to administer leadership needs at present.  Developing self-sufficient leadership will likely be an ongoing challenge due to the small number of Bosnian members who have joined the Church recently.  Overreliance on full-time missionaries for leadership needs may frustrate church growth prospects over the long term.  


In 2010, Bosnia was not assigned to a specific temple district.  Members would most likely travel to the Freiburg Germany Temple or Bern Switzerland Temple.  No organized temple trips occur and travel to the nearest temple requires significant planning crossing international boundaries and demands financial sacrifice.  

Comparative Growth

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro were among the last four non-city state countries in Europe without independent branches and were dedicated for missionary individually in September 2010.[15]  Among these, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo have the most members and are the only countries with their own independent branches today.  Most of the former Yugoslavia has experienced major challenges in convert retention, leadership development, and slow membership growth over the past two decades.  

Missionary-oriented Christian groups have experienced little success in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The number of Seventh Day Adventists has remained nearly unchanged over the past decade.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Evangelicals also report slow growth.  However all of these groups have indigenous members and leaders in several areas of the country, whereas there are only a handful of Bosnian Latter-day Saints. 

Future Prospects

The recent involvement of LDS senior missionary couples in regular humanitarian and development work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the establishment of a branch in Sarajevo and group on Banja Luka, and the dedication of the country for missionary work are positive developments which are likely to lead to an expanded church presence with young full-time proselyting missionaries in the near future.  However, the small number of indigenous members, few missionary resources devoted to the Balkans, low regional receptivity, and possible hesitance to participate in more widespread missionary activity until formal registration with the government occurs may delay an official church establishment for many more years.  Visits from area leaders and neighboring mission presidents and missionaries will likely increase in the near future as the Church prepares to begin formal missionary activity.

[1]  Chene, Marie.  "Corruption and Anti-Corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Corruption Resource Centre, 23 November 2009.

[2]  "Bosnia and Herzegovina," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[3]  "Bosnia and Herzegovina," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[4]  Stallings, Carol Turnbow; Hendrix, Cmdr. Bill.  "Elder Holland visits Hungary, Bosnia," LDS Church News, 24 August 1996.

[5]  Comish, Lt. Col. James H. Comish.  "Members aid peacekeeping mission," LDS Church News, 5 September 1998.

[6]  "First meetinghouse dedicated in Croatia," LDS Church News, 20 June 2009.

[7]  Avant, Gerry.  "Elder Nelson pronounces blessings on six Balkan nations," LDS Church News, 23 September 2010.

[8]  Comish, Lt. Col. James H. Comish.  "Members aid peacekeeping mission," LDS Church News, 5 September 1998.

[9]  Avant, Gerry.  "Elder Nelson pronounces blessings on six Balkan nations," LDS Church News, 23 September 2010.

[10]  Avant, Gerry.  "Elder Nelson pronounces blessings on six Balkan nations," LDS Church News, 23 September 2010.

[11] "Around the world," LDS Church News, 18 December 1993.

[12]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 5 February 1994.

[13]  "Food being shipped to families in need," LDS Church News, 3 December 1994.

[14]  "Wheelchairs," Humanitarian Services, retrieved 6 September 2010.,7098,6213-1-3215-1,00.html

[15]  Avant, Gerry.  "Elder Nelson pronounces blessings on six Balkan nations," LDS Church News, 23 September 2010.