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.


By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents


Area: 28.2 square km.  Located in southern China near Hong Kong, Macau consists of a city on the coast of the South China Sea.  Macau once consisted of two islands (Coloane and Taipa) and the Macau Peninsula, and today the two islands have been merged into one by land reclamation and connected by three bridges to the peninsula.  The terrain is generally flat and subject to subtropical climate marked by cool winters and warm summers.  Typhoons are a natural hazard.  Macau is a special administrative region of China which has limited democratic freedoms. 

Population: 559,846 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.995% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 0.91 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 81.39 male, 87.47 female (2010)


Chinese: 94.3%

other: 5.7%

The population is homogenously Han Chinese.  Other ethnic groups include Macanese, a compound of Asian and Portuguese ancestry. 

Languages: Cantonese Chinese (85.7%), Hokkein Chinese (4%), Mandarin Chinese (3.2%), other Chinese languages (2.7%), English (1.5%), Tagalog (1.3%), other (1.6%).  

Literacy: 91.3% (2001)


The peninsula and islands of present-day Macau were largely uninhabited until after the thirteenth century.  In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese established the first European settlement in East Asia in Macau.  The following centuries were marked by occasional conflict with the Chinese government over taxation and the duration of Portuguese occupation of the area.  During the latter half of the twentieth century, pro-communists pressed for reunification with China.  Portugal tried repeatedly to cede Macau back to Chinese administrative but this offer was refused and did not make progress until 1979.  In 1987, Portugal agreed with China to return Macau to Chinese rule by 1999.  Since 1999, Macau has been a special administrative region of China which possesses a high degree of autonomy and is not subject to the Chinese socialist economic system.  Economic growth has occurred in the past decade and Macau has emerged as a tourist and gambling center in East Asia.[1]  


Macau boasts a unique blend of Portuguese and Chinese cultures which manifests itself in many aspects of daily life and local art.  The entire population lives in urban areas.  Macau has one of the lowest fertility rates and one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world.  Chinese medicine is widely practiced.  The population is highly secularized.  


GDP per capita: $33,000 (2009) [71.1% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.944

Corruption Index: 5.3

Since 2001, the economy has transformed dramatically as a result of casino gambling and tourism.  Manufacturing and other industrial activities have declined. Macau depends on the mainland for food, water, and energy.  In 2006, gambling revenues outpaced the Las Vegas strip and in 2009, 21 million visited Macau.  Mainland Chinese account for half of tourists.  70% of government revenue originates from taxes on gambling.  Services generate 97% of the GDP and employs most of the population.  Gambling and hotels/restaurants each employ 14% of the labor force.  Agricultural activity is limited to vegetable cultivation and fishing.  Primary industries include tourism, gambling, clothing, and electronics.  Hong Kong, China, and the United States are the primary trade partners. 

Corruption is perceived as less prevalent in Macau than in mainland China and many other Asian nations.  Illicit drugs destined for mainland China are often trafficked through Macau.  Some government officials have been accused of corruption, especially regarding the gaming industry. 


Buddhist: 80%

Christian: 5%

other: 15%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  30,000  18

Seventh Day Adventists   4,625  19 (includes Hong Kong)

Latter-Day Saints  629  2  

Jehovah's Witnesses  180  2


Buddhism is the primary religion in Macau, although most the population does not actively practice religion.  In 2009, there were 40 Buddhist temples and 30 Taoist Temples.  Catholics account for four percent of the population and Protestants constitute a little over one percent.  Protestant groups include Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Seventh Day Adventist churches.  In 2006, Protestant churches totaled 70 with 10,000 members, half of which attended weekly.  Many religious groups perform extensive humanitarian and development service.  Religiously active non-Chinese language speaking Protestants are estimated at 500.[2] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The law protects religious freedom which are upheld by the government.  There have been no recent reports of abuse of religious freedom by government or society.  Religious groups may register with the government, but registration is not required for religious groups to operate.  There are no restrictions in proselytism or missionary activity.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 100%

Macau, Taipa, Coloane.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations

One of the three Macanese cities has an LDS congregation.  The entire population resides in three cities and 85% reside on the Macau Peninsula. 

LDS History

In 1964, the Southern Far East Mission president and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley visited Macau to explore the possibility of sending missionaries.  Later that year, missionaries were assigned and baptized the first convert.  In December 1964, the Church stopped holding meetings because it lacked the needed license to assemble from the Portuguese government.  In 1965, missionaries were banned from proselytism and left the colony.  In 1976, missionaries returned to Macau as a result of improved religious freedom and began to hold church meetings.  In 1977, the Church organized the Macau Branch.[4]  In 2010, Macau and Hong Kong participated in a meeting with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf attended by 2,500.[5]  In 2010, missionary activity continued to fall under the China Hong Kong Mission.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 629 (2009)

In 1993, there were 640 LDS members.[6]  By year-end 2000, membership totaled 928.  Slow membership growth continued in the 2000s.  There were 1,028 members in 2003, 1,158 in 2006, and 1,260 in 2008.  Most years in the 2000s experienced annual membership growth rates between three and six percent. 

In 2009, reported LDS membership fell by 50% to 629.  The massive drop in membership appears to be due to church administration updating membership records and not due to mass emigration of Latter-day Saints.   In 2009, one in 890 was LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 2

In 1994, the newly created Hong Kong Kowloon West Stake incorporated the Macau Branch.[7]  A second branch was created in 1998 to allow Cantonese and English speakers to meet separately.  A third branch for Mandarin speakers was organized in 2001,[8] but was discontinued in 2006.  Both branches in Macau are mission branches under the China Hong Kong Mission.

Activity and Retention

There appear to be no more than 100 active members in each branch.  Total active membership is estimated at 200, or 30%

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Chinese, English, Tagalog

All LDS scriptures are available in Chinese (both traditional and simplified characters and Tagalog.  Most Church materials are available in Chinese and Tagalog.  Only a few materials are available in simplified characters, such as Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony.   A large selection of audio-visual materials is available in Mandarin and Cantonese. 


Both branches meet in the same meetinghouse, a rented space on the Macau Peninsula. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

There have been no humanitarian or development projects conducted by the LDS Church in Macau.  Service projects are limited to full-time missionaries completing weekly service hours and local congregations sponsoring service projects.


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

There are no restrictions on the activities of the LDS Church in Macau.  Members meet and worship without any legal challenges.  Full-time missionaries openly proselyte. 

Cultural Issues

Secularism and disinterest in religion are the primary obstacles to LDS mission outreach.  The percentage of Christians has fallen dramatically over the past decades and centuries.  The gambling industry is a major challenge for LDS teachings. 

National Outreach

Nearly the entire population resides within close distance to the mission outreach center.  Missionaries serve throughout Macau.  Most know little about the LDS Church, however.  Creative and insightful mission outreach methods such as Internet outreach and service projects may help bring greater awareness of the Church and its members to the general population.  There are significant opportunities to proselyte mainland Chinese vacationing in Macau. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The dramatic halving of church membership reported for 2009 indicates that many disaffiliated or unaccounted members have been on church records for years.  Poor church attendance and disinterest toward religion appear to have severely affected Latter-day Saint membership.  Close proximity to mission headquarters in Hong Kong may have limited local members' ability to develop self-sufficiency in leadership and administration, which tend to be better developed in many nations with small Latter-day Saint populations located far from mission headquarters. 

Seminary and institute have yet to be introduced.  Youth and adults attending these Church Education System programs may help improve member activity rates, convert retention rates, and doctrinal understanding. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The lack of ethnic diversity reduces potential ethnic integration conflicts at church.  The operation of two congregations, including one for non-Chinese speakers, allows greater accommodation of ethnic minorities and foreign expatriates.

Language Issues

LDS Church materials are translated into nearly every native language spoken.  Mandarin-speaking and Cantonese-speaking missionaries each serve in Macau.  No significant language challenges have been reported.

Missionary Service

Few full-time missionaries serve from Macau.  Most missionaries assigned are North Americans.  Senior couples serve regularly in the country and assist with church administration.  Low fertility rates create challenges for long-term growth due to few youth converts and small LDS family sizes. 


Local members appear to serve as the branch president of both branch.  Active Priesthood holders appear limited in number.  The closure of the Macau Third Branch in 2006 may have been due to insufficient leadership in both Chinese branches. 


Macau is assigned to the Hong Kong China Temple district.  Few nations with small Latter-day Saint populations are within such close proximity to a temple at just 70 kilometers.  Temple trips occur regularly. 

Comparative Growth

Membership growth rates have compared to most industrialized East Asian nations, but Macau remains the only East Asian nation with an official Church presence without a district or stake.  The percentage of Latter-day Saints in the Macanese population is higher than most Asian countries and is only less than the Philippines, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Taiwan, and South Korea.  Member activity rates compare to other industrialized Asian nations. 

Missionary-minded Christian groups report slow church growth in Macau and small church memberships.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists both experience slow membership growth rates.  Christian groups report that the population is largely unreceptive to mission outreach efforts.

Future Prospects

Growth outlook over the foreseeable future appears mediocre due to the small community of active Latter-day Saints, low responsiveness of the population to the Church's teachings, and the increasing influence of gambling and secularism on Macanese society.  The continued presence of both English and Chinese-speaking congregations is meaningful and offers mission outreach support and infrastructure if the population one day becomes more receptive to the gospel.

[1]  "Background Note: Macau," Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 26 July 2010.

[2]  "China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau)," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[3]  "China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau)," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[4]  "Country Profiles," LDS Newsroom, retrieved 22 September 2010.

[5]  "Taiwan, Hong Kong visited by President Uchtdorf," LDS Church News, 31 July 2010.

[6]  "Asia area: Welcome mat is out in several countries," LDS Church News, 19 June 1993.

[7]  "New stake presidencies," LDS Church News, 30 April 1994.

[8]  "Country Profiles," LDS Newsroom, retrieved 22 September 2010.