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

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Area:  796,095 square km.  Located in South Asia, Pakistan borders India, China, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Arabian Sea.  The glacier-fed Indus River runs through the middle from north to south, watering the Indus Plain where most agriculture takes place.  Arid and semi-arid climate cover most areas.  The Thar Desert occupies much of the territory bordering India.  Plains dominate half of Pakistan, with the Balochistan Plateau to the west by Iran.  The Himalaya and Karakoram mountains occupy northern regions with some of the world’s highest peaks.  Pakistan is administratively divided into four provinces, one territory, and one capital territory.  Two additional administrative entities function in disputed areas of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.   

Population: 176,242,949 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.947% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 3.6 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: male 63.4, female 65.64 (2009)



Punjabi: 44.68%

Pashtun: 15.42%

Sindhi: 14.1%

Sariaki: 8.38%

Muhagirs: 7.57%

Balochi: 3.57%

Other: 6.28%


Punjabi and Sindhi belong to the Indic ethnic group and live on the northern and southern Indus Plain, respectively.   Pashtun and Balochi belong to the Iranian ethnic group.  Pashtun inhabit the mountainous border region with Afghanistan stretching from Quetta to the Karakoram Mountains.  Balochi are found in the arid western areas bordering Iran.  Sariaki live in the central areas of the Indus Plain.  Muhagirs reside in and around Karachi.  1.04 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan. 


Languages: Punjabi (48%), Sindhi (12%), Sariaki (10%), Pashtu (8%), Urdu (8%), Balochi (3%), Hindko (2%), Brahui (1%), other (8%).  National or official languages include Urdu and English.  Urdu is a widely spoken second language.  Pakistanis speak 72 different languages.  Languages with over one million speakers include Punjabi (60.6 million), Pashto languages (18.87 million), Sindi (18.5 million), Sariaki (13.8 million), Urdu (10.7 million), Balochi (5 million), Hindko languages (2.51 million), Brahui (2 million), and Eastern Farsi (1 million).

Literacy: 49.9% (2001)



Pakistan was home to the ancient Indus civilization 5,000 years ago, which influenced the surrounding regions.  Several empires expanded from the west into Pakistan in ancient times, including the Persians and Greeks under Alexander the Great.  Arabs later arrived and brought Islam to the region followed by Afghans and Turks.  Many of the inhabitants who were formerly Buddhist or Hindu converted to Islam.  Muslim empires, such as the Mughal Empire, controlled Pakistan for several centuries during the Middle Ages.  The British East India Company arrived in the 18th century and controlled the region until independence in 1947.  In preparing the region for independence, the United Kingdom attempted to segregate the Muslim and Hindu populations to reduce religious tensions and formed Pakistan and East Pakistan, known today as Bangladesh.  The segregation was incomplete and land disputes arose, resulting in wars in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971 between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, as well as numerous border skirmishes.  East Pakistan seceded from Pakistan to form Bangladesh during the third war.  Tensions escalated between India and Pakistan following nuclear weapons testing by the two countries in the late 1990s.  Strong relations with the United States resulted from Soviet threats in the region.  These were later strained following nuclear weapons testing in the late 1990s, but improved from Pakistan’s cooperation in the United States’ war on terrorism in Afghanistan in the early 2000s.


In the 2000s, Islamist militant groups, mainly Al Qaeda and Taliban residing in border regions near Afghanistan, destabilized Afghanistan and threatened Pakistan’s stability.  Tensions between India and Pakistan improved following nuclear weapons development, but later rose following the involvement of radical Pakistani Islamist groups in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.  Other events in the late 2000s threatened the stability of Pakistan as a nation state, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in late 2007, the rising unpopularity of President Musharraf and his resignation in 2008, and the loss of large amounts of territory to Taliban militants in 2009 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province. 



Dance, music, poetry, and theatre all influence daily life.  Polo is popular in northern areas and cricket is played nationwide.  Islamic holidays are widely celebrated.  Clothing for men consists of baggy pants and loose-fitting tunics.  Since Muslims constitute 95% of the population, pork is not eaten and most fast during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan.  Unlike neighboring India, there are no castes.  Women have more rights and freedoms compared to many other Islamic states, evidenced by the power and popularity of the late Benazir Bhutto.  Women suffer from much lower literacy rates (36%) than men (63%) due to cultural restraints on female education.  Alcohol is shunned due to the influential Muslim majority. 



GDP per capita: $2,500 (2008) [2.3% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.572

Corruption Index: 2.5

Economic growth and development continue, although most are underemployed and growth is slow due to poor management, corruption, and political unrest.  One quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.  Services account for half of the GDP and agriculture and industry each make up around 25%.  Agriculture employs 43% of the workforce.  Primary agriculture products include cotton, wheat and rice.  Industries include textiles, food, pharmaceuticals, and construction materials.  Primary export partners are the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan, whereas China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are the primary import partners.  Inflation has worsened in recent years and foreign investment has been lacking due to nation instability.  Earthquakes in 2005 killed over 70,000, left three million homeless, and weakened national infrastructure. 


Corruption is widespread.  Bombings in larger cities and Federally Administered Tribal Areas are commonplace.  Pakistan experiences high levels of drug trafficking of heroine and morphine from Afghan sources which are distributed from Pakistan around the world.  Opium poppy farming occurs in some areas of Pakistan. 



Muslim: 95%

Other (Christian and Hindu): 5%



Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  1,000,000

Seventh-Day Adventists  12,877  122 

Latter-Day Saints  2,000  10

Jehovah’s Witnesses  1,000  19



75% of Muslims are Sunnis.  Islamic holidays are national holidays.  Religious minorities tend to live in their own communities to avoid persecution and discrimination.  Most Christians are Catholic or belong to independent Pakistani denominations.


Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 17th

Pakistan is an Islamic republic whose constitution limits the religious freedom of minority religious groups.  Some tolerance exists for religious minorities to live and practice their beliefs.  Only Muslims may serve as president or prime minister and senior officials and parliament members must take an oath to maintain the nation’s Islamic identity.  Blasphemy laws transgressed by the defiling of the Koran or prophets in Islam can result in death or life imprisonment.  Religious persecution can result in imprisonment.  Religious minorities receive harassment from police and the Sunni majority.  Violent attacks on Christian churches and religious minority communities frequently occur.


Government attempts to treat minorities more fairly by placing some in government positions, but societal discrimination remains severe.  Some statements in schools and textbooks refer to non-Muslims derogatively.


Non-Islamic missionaries may operate in the country, but must profess to not be Muslim and that they do not preach against Islam.  The government restricts the total number of missionaries by only replacing ones which leave the country.  Marriages between different religious groups are not recognized by the state.  The most serious restrictions are placed on the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam.  Ahmadis are not permitted to identify themselves as Muslims, hold public meetings, or sell religious literature, and are banned from performing religious pilgrimages to Islamic holy sites.[1]


Largest Cities

Urban: 36%

Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Hyderabad, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad, Sargodha, Sialkot, Bahawalpur, Sukkur, Jhang, Shekhupura, Larkana, Gujrat, Mardan, Kasur, Rahim Yar Khan.


5 of the 21 largest cities have a Church congregation.  18% of the national population lives in cities over 250,000 people.


Membership Growth

LDS Membership: +2,500 (2009)

The first members living in Pakistan were foreigners.  When the first missionaries arrived in mid-1993 there were 130 members.[2]  60 baptisms occurred between the fall of 1992 and the fall of 1993.  The Church was registered with the government in 1995.  By 1997, there were 500 members.  Membership increased to 786 at the end of 2000 and to 957 the following year. 


Seminary began in 1995.[3]  Membership increased to over 2,000 by 2005.  80 convert baptisms occurred in 2008.  Outreach in Pakistan occurs exclusively among Christians.  Significant numbers of Pakistanis have also joined the Church in Canada and the United Kingdom. 


Congregational Growth

Branches: 10

A small group met in Islamabad as early as the 1970s.  Branches were first established in the mid-1980s in Islamabad and Lahore.  The first Pakistani missionary from the Islamabad Branch began serving in January 1987.[4]  A branch was created in Karachi around 1991.  The first senior missionary couple arrived in early 1993 and began working among Pakistani Christians in Karachi and Lahore.  A second missionary couple arrived by the summer of 1993[5].  At the time both couples were engaged in proselytism only among Christians in three branches and four groups.[6]  The Islamabad Pakistan District was created in the 1990s.


By the end of 2000, there were six branches in one district.  By August 2001, six branches met in Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Taxilla, and Sialkot.  Jurisdiction for Pakistan was transferred from the Singapore Mission to the newly-created India New Delhi Mission in November 2007.  A second district was created in Karachi in September 2008 from at least two branches.  Only native Pakistani missionaries serve in the Pakistan Zone.  By May 2009, there were four branches each clustered around Islamabad and Lahore forming the Islamabad Pakistan District, and two additional branches in Karachi.  District conference for the Islamabad district often is divided into two sessions, one of which is held in Lahore to reduce travel demands.  Congregations functioning as groups or dependent branches may meet in additional locations. 


Activity and Retention

Activity and retention have been strong in Pakistan since the first Pakistanis joined the Church.  The first Christian to receive the Rover Badge in the Pakistani scouting program was a Pakistani member in charge of scouting in Punjab Province in 1991.[7]  Elder Dallin K. Oaks held a weekday fireside in late 2007 attended by 475.[8]  The Church Education System had 100 members enrolled in classes between 2008 and 2009.  Over 200 young single adults met for a nationwide conference in late 2008.  Dozens of Pakistani missionaries were serving missions in early 2010, many in their native country.  Branches likely have between 50 and 100 active members with perhaps some larger branches.  Active membership may be as high as 1,000-1,200 members, or 40-50% of total membership. 


Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Urdu, Farsi

A translation of selections from the Book of Mormon became available in Urdu in 1988.  An entire Book of Mormon translation was completed in late 2007.  Three issues of the Liahona magazine were published a year in Urdu as of late 2009.  Audiovisual materials are available for Joy to the World and The Restoration.  Some Primary materials are also available in Urdu.  Book of Mormon selections are available in Farsi.  Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Testimony are available in Farsi and Pashto.    Gospel Principles Simplified and The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Testimony are available in Punjabi.



A building housing the Taxila Branch was damaged in the 2005 earthquake.[9]  Other branches may meet in Church-built buildings, but most likely meet in rented spaces or renovated buildings.


Health and Safety

Health issues are typical of most developing countries.  HIV/AIDS infects less than 0.1% of the population.  Safety issues present a major concern.  Violence targeting religious minorities presents a safety concern for members and missionaries, which include intimidation, kidnapping, sexual and physical violence, and murder.  Suicide bombings occur regularly and without warning in the largest cities and the most unstable areas near the Afghan border.  Fighting in the Kashmiri region restricts missionary work.  High crime and corruption in Karachi pose safety threats.  No non-native missionaries serve in Pakistan due to safety issues. 


Humanitarian and Development Work

The church provided needed humanitarian aid for sufferers of the 2005 earthquake.  50,000 blankets, 1,000 winterized tents, 300,000 pounds of medical supplies, and 42,000 hygiene kits were initially sent.  Due to inadequate provisions of refugees for winter temperatures, the Church purchased and delivered an additional 150,000 blankets and 5,000 winterized tents in late 2005.[10]


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects


Religious Freedom

Government and cultural issues are very similar since religion strongly affects both.  Government and society restrict the Church’s missionary program to just Christians, permitting in outreach to only 1-2% of the population.  Pakistan has more liberal laws concerning religious minorities than many other Islamic states, allowing Christians to assemble and to have missionaries.  Christians often live segregated from Muslims in compounds or villages.  This presents opportunities for the Church to reach large numbers which can legally be reached.  Limitations on the numbers of missionaries which can enter Pakistan restrict Church missionary programs which usually rely heavily on full-time missionaries.  Missionaries cannot preach against Islam. 


Cultural Issues

Many of the restrictions on missionary work and religious freedom stem from Islamic cultural influences on government.  Those who join the Church may not only be ostracized but may become the target of violence.  British rule and the presence of religious minorities for hundreds of years may have contributed to the greater leniency for these groups to operate despite the integration of Islam and government. 


The abstinence of most Muslims from alcohol provides opportunities to reach this religious group once societal and government restrictions improve.  The frequent, widespread consumption of tea may present barriers between local customs and Church doctrine.  The low literacy rates of women present difficulties for understanding Church doctrine and strengthening testimonies. 


Ethnic violence in the southern areas around Karachi threatens the Church’s greater establishment among all ethnicities. 


National Outreach

No other nation in South Asia has as widespread a Church presence as Pakistan.  Only Christians can be reached by the Church, leaving some 98% of the population unreached.  Although government and society limit outreach, a large amount of success has been achieved as membership grew from only a couple hundred to over two thousand in 15 years.  The Sindh and Punjab Provinces, the two most populous, and the Islamabad Capital Territory have cities with congregations.  North West Frontier Province (17.1 million), Balochistan (6.5 million), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (3.2 million), Azad Kashmir (3 million), and Gilgit-Baltistan (0.87 million), amounting to 17% of the national population, have no LDS congregations.  Although only a small fraction receive outreach from missionaries, the Church has spread to several of the largest cities.  A presence in the largest cities provides the opportunity to lay a foundation for future growth in the most populous areas.  No outreach is conducted in rural areas, where 64% of the population resides.  Rural areas may be unreachable for many years due to the concentration of many Christians in compounds and the Church’s efforts to become most established in larger cities.


Outreach to more isolated Christian communities is restricted by the limited amount of Pakistani missionaries and members and distance from mission headquarters in New Delhi.  Although the membership growth in Pakistan likely heavily influenced the decision to create the India New Delhi Mission, the mission must also allocate mission resources and visits between Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, all of which have very limited Church membership facing government restrictions and societal challenges. 


About half of Catholics reside in the Lahore area and make up a large portion of Pakistani Christians.  These areas seem to pose the greatest opportunities for the Church to expand among unreached Christians.  Catholics number in the tens of thousands in some remote areas like Quetta.  Greater outreach may occur if active members move to these locations and share the Gospel with fellow Christians. 


Some outreach has occurred among Afghan refugees as a result of humanitarian contacts.  Several Afghan families have joined the Church, primarily in New Delhi, India. 


Member Activity and Convert Retention

Convert retention and member activity appears high for a nation with a small membership and a limited Church presence.  The fireside held by Elder Oaks was attended by nearly a quarter of the total Pakistani members and nearly half of actives.  The Church has spread to as many cities in Pakistan as the result of active members who engage in missionary work with their family and friends.  Many nations with restrictions on proselytism struggle to have members who have so willingly served missions and help build the Church like in Pakistan.  Great potential for additional growth and outreach are likely as the large number of active members and retained converts are creating a strong member base.


Ethnic Issues and Integration

The ethnic groups with the greatest Church outreach are those with the most Christians and include the Punjabi, Sindhi, and Sariaki.  The most severe ethnic violence is found in the south, especially in Karachi.  Bitter ethnic conflict between the Sindhi and Mohajirs has continued for decades.  Incoming Pashtuns have also experienced violence from Mohajirs.  The integration of these groups into the same congregation may be difficult, particularly if most members belong to one group.  This situation would challenge members in the congregation and potential members from rival ethnic groups in joining the Church. 


War and instability from Taliban insurrection limit outreach among the Pashtun.  The lack of appreciable numbers of Pashtun Christians limits the potential for mission outreach.  Outreach to Balochis is difficult as Christians are few and Balochis populate remote, sparsely populated far western areas. 


Language Issues

The Church benefits from a large proportion of the population speaking Urdu as a second language.  This has helped unify converts from differing ethnic groups which may meet in the same congregation.  Limited language materials in the most spoken first languages provide outreach to over half the population.  This provides great opportunity for missionary work but hampers gospel scholarship, as only Urdu has the complete Book of Mormon translated.  The Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price are unavailable in any native languages of Pakistan.  A Book of Mormon translation in Punjabi may be forthcoming since many members live in regions where it is widely spoken. 



Leadership is strong but limited.  The district president of the Islamabad Pakistan District in 2007 was a 29 year old returned missionary.[11]  Most members are youth or middle-aged.  It is difficult for members to marry in the Church with a small membership distributed over a large country.  Young Single Adult activities have helped to introduce single members to each other in order to encourage marriage inside the Church.  Leadership concentrates on preparing membership for stakes to be established.



Pakistan belongs to the Hong Kong China Temple District.  Temple excursions for Pakistani saints occur periodically, but attendance is limited due to constraints on distance, time and money.  Church leaders in New Delhi in 1992 promised members that if they were faithful, a temple would someday be built in New Delhi.  A future temple in New Delhi would reduce demands on time, money and distance for Pakistani members although tensions between India and Pakistan may limit travel.


Comparative Growth

Several Muslim-majority nations have more members than Pakistan.  Indonesia has experienced slower membership growth, taking 40 years to grow to over 6,000 members meeting in 22 congregations.  Sierra Leone had the Church first established in the late 1980s and has more than three times as many members and twice as many congregations as Pakistan.  Attendance in other Islamic countries with sizeable membership consist primarily of expatriates or military personnel, such as in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.


Other Christian groups typically have larger Church memberships, but have had native members for decades before the LDS Church’s arrival.  Growth rates of the LDS Church since its establishment among natives experiences similar trends compared to other, smaller Christian groups. 


Future Prospects

Self-sufficiency with native missionaries and local leadership have promoted relatively high retention and member activity as well as generating ongoing growth.  Prospects appear favorable for continued growth among Christians, although there are no present prospects for expansion among Pakistani Muslims. 


A third district in Lahore is likely to be created from the four branches in the area due to the strength of members and distance from Islamabad.  Districts will likely not mature into stakes until additional branches are created.  A mission based in Pakistan seems unlikely until greater religious tolerance occurs. 

[1] “Pakistan,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[2] Sheffield, Sheridan R. “Asia area: Welcome mat is out in several countries,” LDS Church News, 19 June 1993.

[3] Weaver, Sarah Jane. “Worldwide seminary,” LDS Church News, 31 May 1997.

[4] “FYI: For Your Information,” New Era, Aug 1987, 40–43

[5] Sheffield, Sheridan R. “Asia area: Welcome mat is out in several countries,” LDS Church News, 19 June 1993.

[6] “The Church in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka,” Liahona, Oct 1993, 22

[7] Sheffield, Sheridan R. “Asia area: Welcome mat is out in several countries,” LDS Church News, 19 June 1993.

[8] Stahle, Shaun. “Few, but faithful,” LDS Church News, 22 September 2007.

[9] “Members impacted by 7.6 quake in Pakistan,” LDS Church News, 15 October 2005.

[10] Weaver, Sarah Jane. “Blankets, tents shipped to avert second disaster,” LDS Church News, 3 December 2005.

[11] Stahle, Shaun. “Few, but faithful,” LDS Church News, 22 September 2007.