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

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Most Populous Unreached Cities

Author: Matt Martinich

Posted: December 30th, 2013

The most populous cities without an LDS congregation by country provide insight into the extent of LDS outreach and growth, particularly relating to the extent of national outreach.  Urban areas often provide for efficient and effective proselytism opportunities due to high population densities.  The Church has targeted the most populous cities in virtually every country where formal proselytism efforts occur.  Church growth researchers ascertain the most populous cities without an LDS congregation when assessing church growth and extent of national outreach.  Due to the relationship of national outreach and the percentage of Latter-day Saints in the general population, there is a correlation between the population size of the ten most populous unreached cities and the percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population.  There are two important factors in examining the most populous unreached cities for a country: The size of the population of these cities and their overall population rank.

In North America, the most populous unreached cities are located in the eastern United States and French-speaking Canada.  In the Intermountain West, all of the most populous unreached cities have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants with only a couple exceptions.  In Alaska and Hawaii, all cities with over 10,000 inhabitants have a congregation.  In California, the ten most populous unreached cities range from 28,800 to 75,400 inhabitants.  In the Pacific Northwest, the Church has a presence in all cities with over 20,000 people.  In the Midwest, the ten most populous unreached cities range in population from 29,500 to 81,600 in Ohio to all less than 6,600 in North Dakota.  In the Northeast, the ten most populous unreached cities generally range from 20,000 to 80,000 for most states.  In the South and Texas, the ten most populous unreached cities range from 10,000 to 50,000 in population in most states.  Florida is the only state with cities populated by over 100,000 without an LDS congregation.  Many of the most populous cities in the United States without an LDS congregation are located in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas.  In Canada, all the most populous unreached cities have fewer than 70,000 inhabitants in eastern Canada whereas all of the most populous unreached cities in central and western Canada have fewer than 20,000 inhabitants.  Population ranking for the most populous unreached cities significantly varies by administrative division for the United States and Canada depending on rates of urbanization and the percentage of members in the population.

In Latin America, the ten most populous unreached cities significantly vary in population size from country to country.  For example, in Central America there are fewer than a dozen cities with over 50,000 inhabitants without an LDS congregation - all but one of which are in Mexico.  The ten most populous cities in some countries like Honduras range in population from 7,000 to 15,000 whereas in other countries like Guatemala range in population from 16,000 to 34,000.  In Spanish-speaking South America, the Church has a presence in nearly all cities with over 100,000 inhabitants.  Some South American countries like Uruguay have an LDS presence in all cities with over 10,000 inhabitants whereas in other countries like Colombia and Brazil there are scores of cities with over 50,000 inhabitants without an LDS congregation. 

In Caribbean, the Church has a congregation in every city with over 50,000 inhabitants with the exception Cuba and Haiti.  Due to small populations for countries and dependencies throughout the region, the Church has a presence in cities with 20,000 or more inhabitants for nearly all countries notwithstanding Latter-day Saints comprising a tiny percentage of the population.

In Oceania, the population size and overall city ranking of the ten most populous unreached cities significantly varies by the percentage of members in the population.  In Papua New Guinea where there is a small percentage of members, the ten most populous unreached cities range from 6,000 to 40,000 in population and third to 22nd in overall city ranking.  In Australia, the ten most populous unreached cities range from 14,000 to 24,000 and 49th to 77th in overall population ranking.  The population of the most populous unreached cities and towns generally ranges between 100 and 1,000 in other Oceanic countries with high percentages of Latter-day Saints like Samoa and Tonga.

In Western Europe, the Church reports a congregation in all cities with over 100,000 for all but six countries.  These six countries include, provided with the number of unreached cities with over 100,000 inhabitants in parentheses, Germany (15), Italy (8), the Netherlands (6), France (5), Spain (3), and the United Kingdom (1).  In Scandinavia, all cities with over 60,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  Depending on the size of the national population and percentage of members, the ten most populous unreached cities generally number among the 30 to 80 most populous cities in Western European countries.

In Eastern Europe, the Church has a presence in every city with over 100,000 in half of the countries in the region.  Most countries with 10 million or more inhabitants have dozens of cities with over 100,000 inhabitants without an LDS congregation.  In Russia, there are over 100 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants without a ward, branch, or group that range in ranking from the 26th most populous to the 164th most populous.  Countries that have an LDS congregation in every city with at least 100,000 inhabitants include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Slovenia.  However, the Church reports a presence in only about half of the 20 most populous cities in most of these countries.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Church has a presence limited to only a handful of cities in most countries.  Most the regional population resides in small cities and rural areas, further challenging efforts for the Church to adequately reach the population.  Consequently, the Church reports a presence in no more than half of the ten most populous cities in most Sub-Saharan African countries.  For example, the Church reports an official congregation in only three cities in Angola, Liberia, and Tanzania; two cities in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Lesotho; and one city in Benin, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Djibouti, Gabon, Namibia, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Togo.

In Asia, the population size and overall ranking of the most populous unreached cities varies considerably by country.  In Mongolia, the ten most populous unreached cities range from 15,000 to 30,000 inhabitants and rank from the sixth most populous to the 20th most populous nationwide whereas in Japan the ten most populous unreached cities range from 225,000 to 610,000 inhabitants and rank from the 22nd most populous to the 102nd most populous.  In India, all ten most populous cities have over one million inhabitants and range from the sixth most populous to the 17th most populous.

The Church appears most likely to make the greatest headway in opening the most populous unreached cities to proselytism in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin American due to high receptivity, increasing mission resources allocated to these regions, and few government restrictions that dissuade outreach expansion efforts.  The Church will likely make little, if any, progress in North America and Europe due to few church planting efforts and disinterest in expanding outreach to the most populous unreached cities in most missions.