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: 783,562 square km.  Occupying Asia Minor or Anatolia, Turkey links the Middle East with Europe and borders Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece, and Bulgaria.  Turkey is surrounded by the Black Sea to the north, Aegean Sea to the west, and Mediterranean Sea to the southwest.  Turkey controls the Turkish Straits (the Bosporus, the Dardanelles, and Sea of Marmara) which connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.  The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers originate in eastern Turkey and flow to the southeast into Syria and Iraq.  Lake Van is the largest lake and is located in eastern Turkey.  Western Turkey consists of plains, hills and valleys whereas central Turkey is a large plateau.  Mountain ranges cover most of eastern Turkey and Mount Ararat stands along the eastern border with Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Climate varies by location but overall Turkey experiences a temperate climate with dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters which are more severe in the interior and east.  Earthquakes are the primary natural hazard.  Environmental issues include pollution, deforestation, and concerns over oil spills in the Turkish Straits.  Turkey is divided into 81 administrative provinces.


Population: 76,805,524 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.312% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 2.21 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: 70.12 male, 73.89 female (2009)



Turkish: 70-75%

Kurdish: 18%

Other: 7-12%


Languages: Turkish (84%), Kurdish (7%), Dimli (2%), Kabardian (2%), other (5%).  Turkish is the official language.  There are no reliable recent estimates for a current breakdown by language; prior data is 20-30 years old.  In the 1980s, languages with over one million speakers included Turkish (46.3 million), Kurdish (3.95 million), Dimli (1.0 million), and Kabardian (1.0 million).  Other languages with less than one million speakers include Arabic, Azerbaijiani, and Bulgarian.

Literacy: 87.4% (2004)



Anatolia is one of the earliest inhabited regions of the world.  The Hittites were the first known large empire and ruled the region from 1700 BC to 1200 BC.  The Assyrians and Phrygians ruled portions of Anatolia prior to Greek settlement.  The Persians conquered the region until Alexander the Great retook the territory. The Romans controlled Anatolia until the Byzantine Empire came to power and made Byzantium, or Constantinople, the capital.  Following the Mongol invasions, the Ottoman Empire began taking shape and ruled for several centuries.  At its height in the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire stretched from coastal areas of Northern Africa and the Red Sea to Hungary and Romanian in the north and Iran to the east.  Following the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the nation of Turkey was formed in 1923 and included Anatolia.  Mustafa Kemal – known as Ataturk, meaning “Father Turk” – established the modern Turkish state and ruled until his death in the late 1930s.  Ataturk successfully turned Turkey into an industrialized nation in a short period through one-party rule despite the recent defeat of the Ottoman Empire.  Ataturk was a staunch secularist and limited Islamic influence on government. Democratic elections in 1950 resulted in the Democratic Party coming to power.  Turkey joined NATO in 1952.  Four coups between 1960 and 2000 overthrew the ruling party,but civilian rule was quickly restored each time .  Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 due to the threat of Greek annexation and captured over a third of the island before a cease-fire was reached.  Turkish-controlled areas of the island became a de facto state named Northern Cyprus which today only Turkey recognizes.  For the past several years, Turkey has sought to enter the European Union and continues to petition for membership. 



Turkish culture constitutes an agglomeration of internal and external influences.  Music, literature, architecture, and cuisine draw from Anatolian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Balkan, and other cultures.  Today there is a strong sense of separation between religion and government due to Ataturk's legacy despite their close intertwinement during prior Turkish history.  Sports are popular, particularly soccer.  Turkey has a low alcohol consumption rate but one of the highest cigarette consumption rates among Muslim nations.  



GDP per capita: $11,200 (2009) [24.1% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.806

Corruption Index: 4.6

The economy has developed rapidly over the past several decades with intermittent periods of slow growth.  Services employ 46% of the labor force and produce 65% of the GDP.  Agriculture remains an important sector, with 30% of the labor force working in farming.  Primary agriculture products include tobacco, cotton, grain, and olives.  Industry accounts for 25% of the labor force and 26% of the GDP.  Textiles, food processing, car manufacturing, electronics, and mining are important industries.  The unemployment rate jumped to 14.5% in 2009 due to the global financial crisis.  17% of the population lives below the poverty line.  Turkey’s geographical location and large population provides ample opportunity for trade, foreign investment, and natural resource extraction.  The Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan Pipeline runs through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and began transporting oil from the Caspian Sea to the eastern Mediterranean in 2006.    Primary trade partners include Germany, Russia, France, China, and Italy. 


Corruption continues to prevent more widespread and stable economic growth and jeopardizes potential EU membership.  Audits may reveal corrupt practices of government and individuals but inspectors choose whether to prosecute illegal activity.  It is unclear to what extent corruption occurs due to inspectors failing to report it.  Bribery has been found to be detected less frequently than other nations.  Corruption appears to have decreased somewhat in recent years.[1]



Muslim: 99.8%

Other: 0.2%



Denominations  Members  Congregations

Armenian Orthodox  65,000

Catholic  35,000

Syrian Orthodox  15,000

Greek Orthodox  3,000

Protestants  3,000

Jehovah’s Witnesses  1,975  27

Latter-Day Saints  221  4

Seventh-Day Adventists  77  3



Notwithstanding nominal religious freedom, nearly the entire population is Muslim.  Christians and minority religious groups typically reside in Istanbul and the largest cities.  Many of these groups are also ethnic minorities.  Secularism is higher in Turkey than many Muslim nations in the Middle East, yet Christian missionaries have experienced little success.  Muslims hold conflicting views regarding what the relationship should be between religion and government. A moderate Islamic party was elected in 2003 with an absolute majority. Ataturk banned headscarves for university students and women working the public sector as they were viewed as backwards-looking Islamic symbols hampering progress.  The ban was lifted in 2008 by a constitutional amendment, which was then annulled by Turkey's highest court. Nonetheless, the election of an Islamic party in 2007 on the platform of repealing the headscarf ban demonstrates broad-based Islamicist sentiment.


Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 39th

The constitution guarantees religious freedom and forbids discrimination and persecution.  Government usually respects religious freedom but places restrictions in religious minorities, especially radical Islamists.  Registration of religious groups usually occurs under the category of an association to gain certain rights to limit potential harassment.  Proselytism is not illegal but socially unacceptable and sometimes dangerous.  Christians and other religious groups are allowed to teach and talk to others about their faith.  Non-Muslims faced pressure and threats from the Muslim majority resulting in diminished religious freedom for these groups.  Religious education in public schools is required.[2]


Largest Cities

Urban: 69%

Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, Adana, Gaziantep, Konya, Antalya, Diyarbakir, Mersin, Kayseri, Eskisehir, Urfa, Malatya, Samsun, Erzurum, Kahramanmaras, Van, Adapazari, Denizli, Elazig, Gebze, Sivas, Batman, Tarsus, Balikesir, Trabzon, Manisa, Kirikkale, Izmit, Sultanbeyli, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, Kutahya, Corum, Iskenderun, Isparta, Antakya, Aydin, Usak, Corlu, Aksaray, Afyonkarahisar, Viransehir, Siverek, Edirne, Inegol, Kiziltepe, Tokat, Ordu, Erzincan, Tekirdag, Nazilli, Karaman, Karabuk, Siirt, Bandirma, Ceyhan, Zonguldak, Turhal, Derince, Turgutlu.

Cities in bold have no church presence.


Four of the 62 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants have a congregation.  43% of the national population lives in the 62 largest cities. 


LDS History

The first LDS missionaries preached in Turkey in 1850 and four years later the first congregation was organized for British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War.  The Turkish Mission was organized in 1884 and the first Arabian converts joined the Church in Aintab in 1889.  The mission was discontinued in 1909, reorganized in 1921, and relocated to Palestine and Syria in 1933.  Initial success occurred with Armenians.  A branch was organized in Ankara in late 1979.[3]  Some of the first native Turks to join the Church in the past several decades were baptized in the late 1980s in Germany.  Turkey became part of the newly created Europe/Mediterranean Area in 1991.[4]  In 2000, Turkey became part of the Europe East Area. 


Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 221 (2008)

In 2003, there were members.  Membership growth has slowly increased to 186 in 2006 and 221 in 2008.  The bulk of Turkish membership resides outside of Turkey.  Most members are not Turks but rather foreigners or are from other ethnic groups.


Congregational Growth

Branches: 4

In 1991 there were four branches.[5]  In early 2010, the number of congregations remained unchanged from two decades earlier.  Branches met in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Adana.  The Adana Military Branch serves the needs of members in the United States military at Incirlik Air Base.  In 2009, three humanitarian senior missionary couples were stationed in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. 


Activity and Retention

Very few Turks have joined the Church in Turkey.  The first Turk to join the Church in Ankara was in 2006.  In early 2009, there were 10 active members in the Ankara Branch.  National active membership is likely around 80 to 100, or 40% of total membership.


Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Turkish, Arabic, Bulgarian, English

All LDS scriptures are available in Arabic and Bulgarian.  Only the Book of Mormon has been translated into Turkish.  Many unit, temple, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, and family history materials are available in Turkish, Arabic, and Bulgarian.  Several CES manuals are available in Bulgarian.  The Liahona has four Bulgarian issues a year.   



Three of the four branches met in rented spaces.  The Adana Military Branch meets in the Incirlik Air Base chapel. 


Humanitarian and Development Work

Tens of thousands of articles of clothing and blankets were sent to Kurdish refugees in 1991.[6]  The Church donated $50,000 to earthquake relief in 1999.[7]  In 2009, LDS Charities donated tables, chairs, and toys to a needy school in a village outside of Ankara and school supplies in other areas.  The Church donated emergency supplies and hygiene kits to victims of a flash flood near Istanbul valued in the tens of thousands of US dollars in the late 2000s. 



Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects


Religious Freedom

Senior missionaries who serve in Turkey report that they cannot preach about the Church but only answer questions without instigating a conversation about non-Muslim religion.  Local members have to be cautious not to violate any laws.


Cultural Issues

Native converts who join the Church in Turkey face some isolation and harassment, but do not appear to face as severe persecution as in some nearby nations.  Forming a cohesive community of Turkish converts will be essential to prospects for indigenous growth.Low alcohol consumption rates provide opportunity but high rates of tobacco use present challenges.  The Church benefits from a more secular and tolerant society compared to many other Middle Eastern nations although proselytism is limited and growth remains low. 


National Outreach

Turkey remains unreached by the Church’s missionary program.  Outreach centers only function in four of Turkey’s 81 administrative provinces (5%).  Provinces with an LDS congregation account for 29% of the national population, although very few have been reached without no active proselytism.  Christians are primarily concentrated in the largest cities and the Church appears to have access to some of these Christian communities.  It does not appear that the Church has taken any action in conducting passive missionary work or service projects with these groups.


Internet sites maintained by Turkish members living inside and outside Turkey have been instrumental in bringing some Turks into the Church.  The Church has no official country website for Turkey, but some Turkish materials are available on the Church’s official website. 


Member Activity and Convert Retention

Convert retention appears high due to the high level of devotion of investigators in consistently attending Church meetings and the more laborious process to get baptized than in other nations.  Member activity likely depends on the level of doctrinal understanding and regularity of church attendance in foreign member’s native countries.  


Ethnic Issues and Integration

The homogeneity of the population lessens potential ethnic integration challenges.  However, minority groups will likely be most receptive to the Church as many Christians belong to these groups.  Greater receptivity among minority groups may result in ethnic integration problems for converts from the Turkish majority.  Conflicts between the Turks and Kurds may challenge future missionary efforts among these two rival ethnic groups, although there is presently no outreach in Kurdish areas,


Language Issues

A large body of Turkish-language materials provides great opportunities to reach the majority of the population.  Church services are only partially conducted in Turkish.  In Ankara, half the branch members spook or understood Turkish, but most used English in Church meetings to communicate.  However both languages were used to conduct meetings.  This practice is convenient for senior couple missionaries and expatriate members, but underscores the Church's foreignness to prospective converts. Turkish translations of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price appear forthcoming due to availability of Turkish-speaking members in multiple countries who are proficient in English.  Future prospects for Church materials in Kurdish, Dimli, Kabardian, and Azerbaijani are low as there are no congregations nearby provinces in which these languages are spoken. 



Some local Turkish Church members have served in leadership positions.  The branch president of the Istanbul Branch is Turkish.  A former branch president of the Ankara Branch president was also Turkish.  Leadership and active membership appear too small in numbers and spread over too large a geographic area to justify the creation of a district for the four branches.  Although foreign missionaries allow for greater local leadership training and mentoring, overreliance on foreign missionaries for administration and routine congregational functions can hamper the development of local self-sufficiency..



Turkey belongs to the Bern Switzerland Temple district.  Temple trips occur infrequently.  The only branches which may have appreciable numbers of endowed members are Istanbul and Adana.  The Ukraine Kyiv temple may be more accessible to Turkish members in the near future. 


Comparative Growth

The Church has experienced growth in Turkey comparable to other neighboring Middle Eastern nations.  The Church has organized congregations and has some native members in Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon, each of which has fewer than 300 members.  Most Church members in these nations are also non-natives.  Activity rates appear similar or higher than most of Southeastern Europe or the Middle East outside the Saudi Peninsula.  Native leadership appears more developed than in Greece or Cyprus.


Missionary-minded Christian groups view Turkey as one of the greatest frontiers for Christian outreach.  Many of the provinces in Turkey appear to not have any Christian congregations.  Christian groups have attempted to plant some congregations in these regions, but these efforts are challenged by the absence of any Christian organizations and customs which discourage proselytism.  Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have seen slow membership growth, although the Witnesses have expanded to 27 congregations.


Future Prospects

Prospects for Turkey’s entry into the EU may increase tolerance towards religious minorities and reduce restrictions on missionary work, although there has been little response to the gospel notwithstanding relatively religious laws.  Part of the Church’s future in Turkey hinges on the current active native members and leaders and the example they set, and part will depend upon receptivity in a very homogenous nation with resurgent Islamic identity.

[1]  Yavuz, Ercan.  “Turkey struggles to fight corruption,” Today’s Zaman, 31 August 2008.

[2]  “Turkey,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[3]  “Turkey,” Country Profiles, retrieved 20 March 2010.

[4]  Cannon, Mike.  “Diversity in land, people and climate,” LDS Church News, 7 December 1991.

[5] Cannon, Mike.  “Diversity in land, people and climate,” LDS Church News, 7 December 1991.

[6]  “Turkey,” Country Profiles, retrieved 20 March 2010.

[7]  “Church donates cash assistance to Turkey, China,” LDS Church News, 4 September 1999.