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.

American Samoa

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area: 199 square km.  Located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand and consisting of the eastern islands of the Samoan Islands chain, American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the United States.  Tutuila is the primary island and the territory also includes Rose Atoll, the Manu'a Islands, and Swains Island.  Terrain consists of rugged mountains and a narrow coastal plain on the five volcanic islands whereas the two coral atolls are flat and low-laying.   Tropical maritime climate with little seasonal variations in temperature occurs with a marked rainy season (November to April) and dry season (May to October).  Typhoons are a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include few fresh water sources and water scarcity.  The United States government maintains no administrative divisions in American Samoa, but local government administratively divides the territory into three districts and two islands.


Population: 66,432 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.212% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 3.22 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 71.04 male, 77.08 female (2010)



Pacific islander: 91.6%

Asian: 2.8%

white: 1.1%

mixed: 4.2%

other: 0.3%

Pacific islanders are predominantly Samoan.  Tongans are the largest Pacific islander minority group.   


Languages: Samoan (90.6%), English (2.9%), Tongan (2.4%), other Pacific islander (2.1%), other (2%).  Most are bilingual.

Literacy: 97% (1980)



American Samoa appears to have been inhabited from as early as 1000 B.C.  Polynesians settled the islands which were discovered by European explorers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Western powers competed for control of the islands and in 1899, the United States and Germany divided the administration of the Samoan islands with the United States obtaining islands part of present-day American Samoa.  Hurricane Val damaged or destroyed 65% of residential homes in 1991.[1]  Poor economic conditions have encouraged many to serve in the United States military in recent years.  Over 150 American Samoans perished in the September 2009 earthquake and tsunami.



There are few cultural differences between Samoa and American Samoa due to comparable ethnic composition and shared history until the end of the nineteenth century.  Samoans continue to practice many aspects of their indigenous cultural, political, social, and linguistic customs and systems known as "fa'a Samoa."  Christianity supplanted indigenous religious beliefs that supported an intricate mythological system and today Samoa and American Samoa are among the most religious countries and territories in the world.  Dances and ceremonies mark many social occasions.  Cuisine consists of coconuts, seafood, taro, rice, fruit, and seaweed.  Samoans traditionally receive gender-specific tattoos called Pe'a for males and malu for females. [2]  American football and rugby teams worldwide frequently have Samoan team members and American football is American Samoa's most popular sport.  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates are low.



GDP per capita: $8,000 (2009) [17.2% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: N/A (US 7.1)

With a traditional Polynesian economy and land ownership system in which over 90% of the land is communally owned, American Samoa depends on tuna fishing and tuna processing for its economic vitality.  Pumice and fish are natural resources.  Pago Pago has a excellent natural harbor which has favored trade.  The United States government dedicated $25 million toward a relief and reconstruction program following devastation of the September 2009 earthquake and tsunami.  Economic development is limited and the population suffers from high unemployment rates (30% in 2005).  There are some favorable prospects for the development of a tourist industry.  Tuna canneries are the primary industry as 80% of the work force is employed at the two tuna canneries and canned tuna accounts for most exports.  Fruit, coconuts, vegetables, taro, yams, copra, dairy products, and livestock are agricultural products.  Trade primary occurs with the United States. 


Corruption in the local government is perceived as more widespread that in the United States.  Some local government officials have faced corruption charges in recent years.



Christian: 98%

other: 2%



Denominations  Members  Congregations

Congregationalists  33,216

Latter-Day Saints  14,784  37

Catholic  13,286

Seventh-Day Adventists  8,534  40 (includes Samoa and Tokelau)

Jehovah’s Witnesses  224  3  



Congregationalists account for half of the population whereas Catholics are the second largest denomination and claim 20% of the population.  The remainder of the population adheres to the LDS Church and other Protestant denominations.


Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The United States' constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by national and local laws.  There have been no instances of societal abuse of religious freedom. 


Largest Towns

Urban: 92%

Tafuna, Nu'uuli, Pago Pago, Leone, Ili'ili , Pava'ia'i, Aua, Fagatogo, Faleniu, Mapusagafou.

All ten of the most populous towns have an LDS congregation.  60% of the population resides in the ten largest towns.  


LDS History

The Church sent two Hawaiian LDS missionaries in 1862 to begin mission outreach but their efforts were unsuccessful.  In June 1888, the first mission president of the Samoan Mission arrived on Tutuila to begin establishing the Church.[3]  The first convert baptisms occurred on Aunu'u and the first branch began functioning in 1893.[4]  Seminary and institute began in the mid-1970s.  In the 1970s, American Samoa and Western Samoa (currently known as Samoa today) were the first nations/territories to be entirely covered by stakes.  In 1977, the Church announced plans to construct a 1.5 million dollar temple in American Samoa and slated its completion date for 1980.[5] However, the announced temple site was relocated from Pago Pago to Apia, Samoa in 1980 to better meet the needs of Samoan members.[6]  In 1988, a monument commemorating 100 years since the establishment of the Church in American Samoa was unveiled in Mapusaga.[7]  Government leaders participated in the centennial celebration and spoke positively of events they attended.[8]  In 1989, Latter-day Saint and former lieutenant government of American Samoa F. Eni Hunkin Jr. began serving in the U.S. Congress.[9]  Meetinghouses have at times suffered damage from typhoons, such as in 1990,[10] 1991,[11] and 2004.[12]  One Latter-day Saint perished in a 1991 typhoon.[13]  The Church first organized Boy Scout organizations in 1938 and by 2004 there were nearly 100 LDS scouting packs, troops, and teams.[14]  In 2011, American Samoa remained part of the Samoa Apia Mission and was assigned to the Pacific Area. 


Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 14,784 (2009)

There were 6,000 Latter-day Saints in American Samoa in 1988.[15]  By year-end 2000, there were 12,901 members.


Slow membership growth occurred during most years in the 2000s as membership numbered 13,406 in 2002, 13,967 in 2004, 14,246 in 2006, and 14,787 in 2008.  Annual membership growth rates ranged from a low of 0% in 2006 to a high of 2.3% in 2002.  Most years in the 2000s reported annual membership growth rates between 1.5% and 2%.  Membership generally increases by between 200 and 300 a year.  In 2009, 22% of the population was LDS. 


Congregational Growth

Wards: 31 Branches: 6

The first stake was organized in 1969 in Pago Pago.  Additional stakes were organized in Pago Pago West (1980), Pago Pago Central (1994), and Pago Pago Mapusaga (1997). 


There were 34 congregations by year-end 2000, including 29 wards.  The number of total congregations increased during the 2000s to 35 in 2003, 36 in 2007, and 37 in 2009.  New congregations organized in the 2000s included the Malaeimi 2nd and Pago Pago 3rd Wards, and the Aua 3rd (English) Branch.  In 2011, the stake with the most congregations was the Pago Pago Samoa Stake (9 wards, 4 branches) and the stake with the fewest congregations was the Pago Pago Samoa Central Stake (6 wards). One mission branch operates on Manu'a.


Activity and Retention

Large meetings and conferences have been well attended.  7,900 attended a special meeting with President Gordon B. Hinckley in Pago Pago in 1997.[16]  Over 600 LDS scouting youth attended a conference in 2004.[17]  5,000 attended a temple celebration commemorating the recent completion of the rebuilt Apia Samoa Temple in 2005.[18]


988 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2008-2009 school year.  During the 2000s, the average number of members per congregation increased from 379 in 2000 to 400 in 2009.  Most wards appear to have between 100 and 200 active members whereas most branches likely have fewer than 75 active members.  Total active membership is estimated at 6,000, or 40% of nominal LDS membership. 


Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Samoan, Tongan, English

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are translated into Samoan and Tongan.  Other commonly spoken languages in the South Pacific often have LDS scriptures and church materials available.



There were approximately 17 LDS meetinghouses in early 2011, most of which were built by the Church. 


Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church maintained a high school in Mapusaga in 1988[19] and formerly managed a school near Pago Pago.[20]  By the mid-2000s, all church schools had closed.[21]  Tens of thousands of pounds of emergency relief were sent to Pago Pago in 1990 following Hurricane Ofa.[22]



Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects


Religious Freedom

There are no restrictions on religious freedom.  Latter-day Saints proselyte, worship, and assemble freely.


Cultural Issues

Samoans maintain an intimate connection with Christianity and regular church attendance which has favored LDS mission outreach initiatives over the past century.  Strong family connections have fostered the development and growth of the Church through member referrals and member-missionary activity.  Opposition does occur in some villages toward nontraditional Christian groups, but the LDS Church does not appear to have been specifically targeted nor do counter-LDS efforts appear to have significantly affect LDS Church growth trends.  The degree of cooperation and friendship exhibited at present between Latter-day Saints and other Christian groups is demonstrated from an account following the destruction of the original Apia Samoa Temple by fire in 2003 when religious and community leaders offered support and comfort.  The Methodist Church sent a check to pay for some of the finances to rebuild the temple.[23]  Although theological differences distance the Church from other Christian denominations, Latter-day Saints are viewed much more favorably than in many other nations by the major Christian traditions. 


Double Affiliation

Strong interest in Christianity but moderate levels of allegiance to a given denomination has created additional cultural challenges for Latter-day Saints and other Christians regarding the double affiliation of their members.  Most nominal Latter-day Saints that no longer attend LDS Church services appear to be actively involved in or to identify with other Christian traditions.  Doubly-affiliated Latter-day Saints that actively engage in another Christian denomination are challenging to reactivate due to their current social and religious connections outside the church.  LDS missionaries, leaders, and members also need to emphasize unique doctrinal teachings and theological positions to help curb against the loss of some Latter-day Saints to other Christian denominations and safeguard against convert attrition.  


National Outreach

American Samoa receives excellent levels of LDS mission outreach as all towns with over 1,500 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  The percentage of American Samoans residing within five kilometers of an LDS meetinghouse may be as high as 95%.  The ratio of LDS congregations to the general population is one to 1,795.  Only two villages with over 1,000 inhabitants lack an LDS congregation: Vaitogi and Fagaalu. 


Opportunities for national outreach expansion are present.  There are approximately 13 villages on Tutuila with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants that appear favorable for future LDS mission outreach centers: Aloafau, Aoa, Aoloaufou, Auasi, Aumi, Fagaalu, Fagaitua, Fatumafuti, Masefau, Matuu, Taputimu, Vailoatai, and Vaitogi.  These villages are over a kilometer away from LDS meetinghouses and likely have many active and inactive members.  Possible reasons for why additional congregations have not been established in these villages may include limited numbers of priesthood holders and low member activity in these locations, opposition from the predominant church of the village, logistical difficulties, and other factors.


LDS mission outreach directed towards Samoans occurs internationally as there were 65 Samoan-language LDS congregations outside of Samoa and American Samoa in late 2010 operating in the United States (38), New Zealand (18), and Australia (9) providing outreach to the 120,000 some Samoan-speakers abroad.  The percentage of Latter-day Saints among Samoan populations abroad appears consistent as indicated by the ratio of LDS congregations to Samoan populations.


Member Activity and Convert Retention

American Samoa possesses moderate levels of LDS member activity rates as demonstrated by the operation of four stakes, an average of 400 members per congregation, the nearly commensurate increase of congregations with membership growth, and wards constituting 84% of LDS congregations.  Regular church attendance is a characteristic of Samoan culture that has contributed to current member activity levels.  Self-sustainability has been achieved through the establishment of church schools in the past.  Member activity rates do not appear to have fluctuated with the closing of LDS schools on American Samoa.  High seminary and institute attendance, the Church's strong Scouting presence, and cultural and historical factors appear to have facilitated greater member activity and convert retention rates than in many other countries and territories.


Ethnic Issues and Integration

The highly homogenous Samoan population has eliminated many ethnic integration challenges faced by Latter-day Saints in other countries.  Religious plurality has reduced many of the challenges of Samoan Latter-day Saints assimilating into society.  A combination of these conditions have favored LDS Church growth over the past several decades.  Three Tongan-speaking wards and one English-speaking branch assist with ethnic integration issues at church for the10% of the population that are not Samoan.


Language Issues

The Church began translating materials into Samoan at an early stage of missionary work and today has a wide array of materials and all LDS scriptures translated.  Widespread use of Samoan has simplified mission outreach approaches.  Tongan-speaking Latter-day Saints meet in three congregations and English-speakers meet in one congregation.  Nearly the entire non-Samoan population has LDS materials and language-specific congregations in their native or second language. 


Missionary Service

American Samoa appears self-sufficient in its missionary force and like Samoa, exports native missionaries abroad to serve in other countries.  In 1974, Samoan Latter-day Saints constituted 75% of the missionary force assigned to the Samoan Islands.[24]  The Church operated a missionary training center in Samoa but the center appears to have closed by the late 1990s or early 2000s.  Samoan full-time missionaries now receive training in the New Zealand Missionary Training Center and frequently serve in Oceania, North America, the Caribbean, and Africa.  In 2010, most full-time missionaries in American Samoa were assigned to two or three congregations.  North Americans frequently serve in the Samoan Islands despite Samoan self-sufficiency in missionary manpower.  



Samoan LDS leadership sufficiently staffs local leadership and has also served in some regional and international church leadership callings.  In 1994, Falemao M. Pili from Mesepa was called as a regional representative.[25]  In 1995, Eugene E. F. Walter Reid from Pago Pago was called as an area authority.[26]  In 2003, Beaver T. Ho Ching from Pago Pago was called as an Area Authority Seventy[27] and in 2007 was called as the mission president of the Philippines Quezon City Mission.[28]  Limited numbers active Priesthood holders in some areas may prevent the creation of additional congregations, such as on the eastern size of Tutuila. 



American Samoa is assigned to the Apia Samoa Temple district.  Temple attendance is high and members frequently travel to the temple in Apia regularly to perform temple ordinances.  In 2010, the temple was moderately utilized as six endowment sessions  occurred from morning to evening Tuesday through Friday and three sessions occurred on Saturdays.  Additional sessions scheduled by individuals stakes or congregations likely occur regularly.   Close distance to Samoa has reduced the need for a temple in American Samoa, but inconvenience, travel expenses, and high member activity and temple attendance rates in American Samoa may warrant the construction of a small temple on Tutuila over the medium term to serve Tutuila's four stakes.  


Comparative Growth

With the third-highest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the general population among countries and territories worldwide, American Samoa has demonstrated consistent LDS Church growth.  Membership and congregational growth rates have compared to growth rates in most South Pacific countries and territories.  The LDS Church in American Samoa has consistently demonstrated higher member participation in seminary and institute than most Polynesian nations as enrolled students during the 2008-2009 school year constituted seven percent of LDS membership in American Samoa whereas in New Zealand, Tonga, and Samoa, less than 5% of members were enrolled.  Only French Polynesia had a higher percentage of enrolled members (8%).  This finding suggests that church activity rates among LDS youth may be higher in American Samoa than in most other nations in Polynesia.  In 2009, American Samoa was the country or territory with the eleventh most Latter-day Saints without an LDS temple.


Non-traditional, missionary-minded Christian groups report mixed church growth results in American Samoa.  Jehovah's Witnesses experience stagnant membership growth.  Witnesses had only one convert baptism in 2009.  Seventh Day Adventists reported moderate membership growth among the Samoan islands during the 2000s.  The size and member activity of traditional Christian denominations continues to decline.


Future Prospects

The LDS Church in American Samoa continues to demonstrate self-sustainable local leadership and provides regional strength in missionary manpower and self-sufficiency despite its tiny population.  Additional stakes may be organized over the medium-term as additional congregations are created.  It is possible that a small temple may one day built on Tutuila once the Apia Samoa Temple is more utilized by members in the Samoan Islands.

[1]  "Hurricane wreaks ruin in Samoa," LDS Church News, 21 December 1991.

[2]  "Culture of Samoa,", retrieved 24 December 2010.

[3]  Britsch, R. Lanier.  "The Church in the South Pacific", Ensign, Feb. 1976, 19

[4]  Swensen, Jason.  "American Samoa: Church enjoys widespread presence in South Pacific territory," LDS Church News, 12 November 2005.

[5]  "Temple to Be Built in American Samoa", Liahona, Sept. 1977, 8

[6]  John L. Hart, "7 new temples to be erected," Church News 5 Apr. 1980: 3.

[7]  "100 years in Samoa: LDS celebrations span 3 islands," LDS Church News, 2 July 1988.

[8]  Avant, Gerry.  "Centennial looks to future as well as past," LDS Church News, 9 July 1988.

[9]  "Samoan member also in Congress," LDS Church News, 25 February 1989.

[10]  Avant, Gerry.  "Hurricane shatters tropical calm," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.

[11]  "Church responds swiftly to Samoa disaster," LDS Church News, 28 December 1991.

[12]  King, Elder Jerry; King, Sister Olivia.  "Storm slams Pacific islands," LDS Church News, 17 January 2004.

[13]  "Church responds swiftly to Samoa disaster," LDS Church News, 28 December 1991.

[14]  "Scouting thrives in American Samoa," LDS Church News, 22 May 2004.

[15]  "Stamp commemorates 100 years in Samoa," LDS Church News, 9 July 1988.

[16]  Avant, Gerry.  "Prophet goes to islands of Pacific," LDS Church News, 25 October 1997.

[17]  "Scouting thrives in American Samoa," LDS Church News, 22 May 2004.

[18]  Walton, Elder Garwood; Walton, Sister Leann.  "American Samoa celebrates Apia temple," LDS Church News, 6 August 2005.

[19]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 11 June 1988.

[20]  "100 years in Samoa: LDS celebrations span 3 islands," LDS Church News, 2 July 1988.

[21]  Swensen, Jason.  "American Samoa: Church enjoys widespread presence in South Pacific territory," LDS Church News, 12 November 2005.

[22]  Avant, Gerry.  "Hurricane shatters tropical calm," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.

[23]  Weaver, Sarah Jane.  "Church to rebuild Apia Samoa Temple," LDS Church News, 19 July 2003.

[24]  Clark, Janice.  "The Saints in Samoa", Ensign, Dec. 1974, 21

[25]  "New regional representatives," LDS Church News, 24 December 1994.

[26]  "Church names area authorities," LDS Church News, 5 August 1995.

[27]  "New Area Authority Seventies," LDS Church News, 19 April 2003.

[28]  "New mission presidents receive assignments," LDS Church News, 3 March 2007.