LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)

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First Stake

Author: Matt Martinich

The organization of the first stake is a major church growth milestones for a country or dependency and signals maturing local leadership capable of meeting all of its administrative responsibilities independent of mission leadership.  The first stake represents one of the more advanced church growth developments along the growth spectrum that first requires the establishment of a congregation, increasing numbers of units to merit the organization of a district, stable and maturing district and branch leadership, and the attainment all of the member activity requirements for a stake to operate such as at least 120 active Melchizedek Priesthood holders, certain member activity requirements, and at least 1,900 total church members.  First stakes represent a major step towards a location becoming self-sufficient in meeting its church needs.

Church leaders have regularly spoken of the creation of the first stake as a major sign for real church growth.  The Church has historically emphasized the importance of organizing stakes in countries and dependencies without a stake through area, mission, and district goals to establish a stake by a particular year.  In the early 2010s, full-time missionaries serving in the Adriatic South Mission reported a goal to establish the first stake in Albania within the next decade.  In India, church members and leaders prepared for many years for the Hyderabad India District to become a stake which finally occurred in May 2012.  Once organized, the organization of the first stake in a country or dependency is celebrated and usually published in the LDS Church News and church magazines.  The Church has maintained a special list in the church almanac for many years providing the year in which the first stake was created in each country.[1]

The rate at which additional countries and territories have a first stake established is a barometer for ascertaining the rate of expanding self-sufficiency of the Church on a global scale.  In 1834, the United States became the first country to have a stake.  No other country had a stake organized for the next 61 years.  In 1895, the Church organized the first stakes in Canada and Mexico.  No countries or dependencies had stakes outside of North America and Hawaii until 1958 when the Church created the first stake in New Zealand.   By 1959, only four countries had stakes.  In the 1960s, the Church created its first stakes in the United Kingdom (1960), Australia (1960), Germany (1961), the Netherlands (1961), Switzerland (1961), Samoa (1962), Brazil (1966), Argentina (1966), Guatemala (1967), Uruguay (1967), Tonga (1968), and American Samoa (1969).  In the 1970s, the Church created its first stakes in Peru (1970), Japan (1970), South Africa (1970), Chile (1972), French Polynesia (1972), the Philippines (1973), El Salvador (1973), South Korea (1973), Denmark (1974), France (1975), Sweden (1975), Taiwan (1976), Hong Kong (1976), Colombia (1977), Venezuela (1977), Honduras (1977), Costa Rica (1977), Belgium (1977), Finland (1977), Norway (1977), Ecuador (1978), Bolivia (1979), Paraguay (1979), and Panama (1979).  In the 1980s, the Church created its first stakes in Puerto Rico (1980), Austria (1980), Nicaragua (1981), Spain (1982), Fiji (1983), the Dominican Republic (1986), and Nigeria (1988).  In the 1990s, the Church created its first stakes in Ghana (1991), Papua New Guinea (1995), Thailand (1995), Singapore (1995), Ireland (1995), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1996), Kiribati (1996), Cote d'Ivoire (1997), Haiti (1997), and Zimbabwe (1999).  In the 2000s, the Church created its first stakes in Liberia (2000), Madagascar (2000), Kenya (2001), the Republic of the Congo (2003), Ukraine (2004), Hungary (2006), Mongolia (2009), Trinidad and Tobago (2009), and the Marshall Islands (2009).  In the 2010s, the Church created its first stakes in Uganda (2010), Guam (2010), Indonesia (2011), Russia (2011), Cape Verde (2012), India (2012), New Caledonia (2012), Botswana (2012), Sierra Leone (2012), and Armenia (2013).  The number of countries that had a stake created for the first time totaled three in the nineteenth century, one from 1900 to 1959, 12 in the 1960s, 24 in the 1970s, eight in the 1980s, 10 in the 1990s, nine in the 2000s, and 10 from 2010 to mid-2013.  Within the past century, the most rapid church growth occurred during the 1970s based on the first stake statistic as there were twice as many countries that had a first stake (24) organized compared to the decade with the second most countries that had stakes organized (1960s - 12).  In mid-2012, there were 76 countries and dependencies that had an LDS stake operating.

The significant slowdown in the number of countries and dependencies that had a first stake organized per decade after the 1970s is indicative of convert retention and member activity challenges and a slowdown in outreach expansion into additional nations.  The organization of the first stake in a country or dependency has been delayed by as long as a decade or two due to low member activity rates and local leadership shortfalls in several countries.  For example, many speculated that the first stake in Russia would be organized sometime in the latter-half of the 1990s yet the first stake was not organized until 2011.  In Jamaica, missionaries reported attempts to organize the first stake over a decade ago but that low member activity rates and inadequate numbers of active priesthood holders have continued to prevent the organization of a stake.  In Cambodia, the Church has worked for at least six years to prepare for the organization of the first stake in Phnom Penh but has pushed back this goal due to activity issues.  The Church entered dozens of new nations in the late 1980s and 1990s but has yet to experience significant growth that merits the organization of a stake in most of these countries.  Within the past 15 years, the Church has entered comparatively few new nations, which may reduce the number of countries that have a first stake created in the coming decades.

In mid-2013, the organization of the first stake appeared closed to fruition in several countries and dependencies including Cambodia, Malaysia, Liberia [first stake was discontinued in 2007), Mozambique, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Togo.

[1]  "First Stake Organized in Countries of the World," Deseret News 2013 Church Almanac, p. 215