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
Area: 19,417,960 square km. Consisting of eastern areas of the European continent and northern areas of Asia stretching from the Baltic Sea to the northwest, the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas to the southwest, the Pacific Ocean to the southeast, and the Arctic Ocean to the north, Eastern Europe is geographically one of the largest regions in the world primarily due to the vast size of Russia. Temperate climate occurs in most locations marked by hot summers and cold winters. Some coastal areas in the southeast experience Mediterranean climate due to lower latitude and the sea moderating temperatures. Arctic, semi-arctic, and semi-arid conditions occur in areas of Siberia, coastal areas of the Arctic Ocean, and steppe regions of Russia near Kazakhstan. Flat plains with farmland or temperate forest occupy most of the terrain in Eastern Europe. Predominant mountain ranges include the Alps, Carpathians, Transylvanian Alps, Caucasus, and Urals. Major rivers in the region include the Danube, Dnieper, Dniester, Don, Volga, Irtysh, Ob, Yenisei, Lena, Amur, Oder, and Vistula. Flooding, drought, forest fires, landslides, permafrost, earthquakes, and volcanoes are natural hazards. Environmental issues include pollution, acid rain, deforestation, soil erosion, and groundwater contamination.
Most ethnic groups in Eastern Europe are Slavic. Turkic ethnic groups are concentrated in Russia and Ukraine (Tatar, Bashkir, Chuvash, and Turk). Romanians and Moldovans descend from the original indigenous inhabitants of Romania (Dacians) and the Romans whereas Albanians descend from indigenous inhabitants of Albania (Illyrians). Baltic or Finno-Ugric ethnic groups include Hungarians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians. Roma originated from India and reside in small communities throughout Eastern Europe.
Population: 334,609,017 (July 2011)
Annual Growth Rate: -0.002% (2011)
Fertility Rate: 1.36 children born per woman (2011)
Life Expectancy: 70.44 male, 78.71 female (2011)
Languages: Russian (38.6%), Polish (11.4%), Ukrainian (10%), Romanian (6.9%), Hungarian (3.5%), Greek (3.2%), Czech (2.9%), Belarusian (2.6%), Serbian (2.6%), Bulgarian (1.8%), Tatar (1.7%), Croatian (1.5%), Albanian (1.4), Slovak (1.4%), other or unknown (10.5%). Languages with over one million native speakers include Russian (129.3 million), Polish (38.2 million), Ukrainian (33.6 million), Romanian (23.3 million), Hungarian (11.7 million), Greek (10.7 million), Czech (9.67 million), Belarusian (8.61 million), Serbian (8.61 million), Bulgarian (6.08 million), Tatar dialects (5.55 million) Croatian (4.86 million), Slovak (4.83 million), Albanian (4.71 million), Lithuanian (2.9 million), Bosnian (2.39 million), Slovenian (1.82 million), Chuvash (1.64 million), Macedonian (1.5 million), Bashkort (1.38 million), Chechen (1.33 million), Latvian (1.28 million), Romani dialects (1.21 million), and Armenian (1.13 million).
Literacy: 91.1-99.8% (country average: 98.2%)
Ancient civilizations and peoples thrived in Southeastern Europe in antiquity including the Illyrians, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Macedonians, and Thracians. Greece was divided into independent city states during much of the ancient and classical eras. Wars with Persia ensued, and later Greece came under Roman rule by 146 BC. Following Christ's ministry, the Apostle Paul visited Greece several times to proselyze. The Roman Empire conquered most of Southeastern Europe around the birth of Christ and maintained rule for several centuries. The Byzantine Empire ruled much of Southeastern Europe between the fourth and fifteenth centuries and was followed by Ottoman Empire. During this period, Slavic peoples settled areas bordering Central Europe, such as Slovakia and Slovenia. Serbia became an independent empire from the seventh century to the fifteenth century until coming under foreign rule by Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. During this time, Kosovo, which was regarded as the center of Serb culture, was lost to the Ottomans. The first known Russian state was established in 862 in Eastern Europe, which was later superseded by the rise of Kyivan Rus in 962. Based in present-day Ukraine, Kyivan Rus endured as the dominant political power in Eastern Europe until the twelfth century when Mongol invasions weakened the state. Hungary emerged as one of the most powerful nations in Eastern Europe around the first millennium AD and ruled many neighboring nations such as Romania. In the thirteenth century, Lithuania emerged as a powerful state and added territory for the following century, become the largest nation in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century. Lithuania allied with Poland in the late fourteenth century and a century later united as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The union was dissolved and incorporated into surrounding nations in 1795. Moscovy rose to political and diplomatic power in the early sixteenth century and Russian territorial claims pushed eastward through military advances, especially under Ivan IV, or "Ivan the Terrible," Russia's first tsar. Russia expanded its territorial holdings eastward and southward during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, annexing the Caucasus and much of Central Asia. Independence occurred for Greece in 1830, Romania in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, Albania in 1912, and Ukraine in 1917.
In Russia, the rise of the Bolshevik Party under Vladimir Lenin lead to the 1917 Revolution and culminated in the removal of Tsar Nicolas II from the throne. Lenin's Red army gained total control of power over Russia despite war with Poland and annexed territory in the Caucasus, Belarus, and Ukraine. In December 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed. After World War I and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Slovaks and Czechs united to create Czechoslovakia. Poland became an independent state following World War I, but was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. Lenin died in 1924 and Josef Stalin became the head of the Soviet government. Stalin ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1953 and initiated wide-reaching economic and agricultural policies of centralization, including collectivization of the population to work on state farming and industrial projects. Tens of millions perished from starvation, forced resettlement, liquidations carried out by the secret police, and as a result of World War II as Nazi Germany invaded western Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Each of the Baltic States gained independence after World War I but were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. Communism spread to all nations in Eastern Europe by the mid-1940s and most nations maintained an isolative stance with the international community and close ties with the Soviet Union until the late twentieth century. During the Cold War era, the Soviet Union and the United States fought several proxy wars primarily in Asia aimed at expanding or protecting their respective ideologies and spheres of influence and stockpiled thousands of nuclear weapons. A military dictatorship overtook the Greek government in the 1960s and 1970s until democratic rule was reestablished.
The Soviet Union fought an unsuccessful war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, weakening the Soviet's military might and morale. Economic stagnation occurred during the 1970s. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev instituted economic and political reforms known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, communist rule ended in almost all nations in the region and was succeeded by capitalism and democracy. In Romania, dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ruled for several decades and was known for his oppressive reign and police raids in the 1980s. In 1989, Ceausescu was overthrown and executed. In the Soviet Union, independence movements in subsidiary republics and an attempted coup in Moscow in August 1991 precipitated the dissolution of the Soviet Union into fifteen independent republics, the largest and most populous of which was the Russian Federation. Other Eastern European nations that gained independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s included Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. Boris Yeltsin was elected president of Russia in 1991 and was nearly overthrown in an armed insurrection headed by parliament in 1993 that was blocked by the military. Violence in northern Caucasus republics has continued since the early 1990s, primarily in Chechnya and Ingushetia. In Moldova, the narrow strip of land between the Dneister River and the Ukrainian border named Transnistria broke away from Moldova due to demographic differences with the rest of Moldova and resulted in a civil war in 1992. Transnistria has maintained de facto control of the territory since a cease fire in 1992 and has an established an independent government, military, and civil institutions. A peaceful division between Czechs and Slovaks occurred in 1993. Slobodan Milosevic became president in Serbia in 1989 and Serbian-dominance of political affairs headed by Milosevic resulted in Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina declaring independence in the early 1990s. Wars primarily with Croatia and Bosnia ensued in an effort to unite Serb-dominated areas in other nations into Serbia. In Kosovo, a separatist movement became to take shape in the 1990s that was met by Serbians beginning an aggressive, brutal campaign against Albanians in Kosovo through ethnic cleansing. Approximately 800,000 fled the country and many died in the conflict. NATO led a three month military campaign against Serbian forces and the United Nations established the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo in the late 1990s. Negotiations between Serbian and Kosovo authorities failed in the 2000s and resulted in the formal declaration of independence of Kosovo in February 2008. Montenegro declared independence from Serbia in 2006 following strained relations with Serbia during the Milosevic era.
Several Eastern European nations have joined NATO since the fall of communism, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia (2004), and Albania and Croatia (2009). Greece joined the European Union in 1981. Belarus and Moldova are the nations in the region that have maintained the strongest ties to communism following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Orthodox Christianity is the dominant influence on society in most nations in Eastern Europe although most do not attend church services regularly. Tradition and perpetuating local cultural customs and practices are highly valued in most nations in the region. Since the fall of communism, Eastern Europe has entered a period of rediscovery regarding ethnic identity that has contributed to the independence of many republics formerly part of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Many smaller nations are deeply concerned with maintaining unique features of their local cultures and limiting outside cultural influence from the West and Russia, issues that often prompted their independence movements in the 1990s and 2000s. The Catholic Church is the primary influence on society in Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Most of the population is Muslim in Albania and Kosovo although few Muslims are observant. Communism and cultural emphasis on education have resulted in high rates of literacy and an interest and love for learning throughout the region. Many nations possess a proud history of poetry, medieval literature, theater, and art. As one of the world's most powerful nations with one of the world's most influential cultures for centuries, Russia has heavily influenced the development of culture throughout Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and, to a lesser extent, the Far East and Western Europe. Music, art, literature, philosophy, sports, science, and architecture are proud Russian traditions. Poland has produced many well-known individuals that have significantly contributed to science, music, and religion, such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Frederick Chopin, and Pope John Paul II. Secularism is the primary influence on society in several nations in western Eastern Europe such as the Czech Republic and Estonia. In the Baltic States, Russian, Scandinavian, German, and indigenous practices influence local culture. Communism strongly influenced local culture in Albania and some other Southeastern European nations. In the Balkans, Eastern and Western influences met and mixed with local cultures resulting in traditions and practices from both spheres of influence represented in contemporary culture. Consequently, tensions between differing ethno-religious groups have been intense over the past two decades in the Balkans, resulting in the fragmentation of Yugoslavia into seven nations today. Used as the script for most Slavic languages, the Cyrillic alphabet traces its origins to Bulgaria during the ninth century AD. Commonly eaten foods in the region include rye breads, grains, dairy products, potatoes, vegetables, and fish. Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates are among the highest in the world. Divorce rates in Eastern Europe are higher than most nations. Abortion is common in most of the former Soviet Union and in several other Eastern European nations as a method of birth control and is socially accepted.
GDP per capita: $14,700 national median (2011) [31% of US]
Human Development Index: 0.760
Corruption Index: 3.9
Nearly all nations in Eastern Europe transitioned from a centrally-planned, command economy to a capitalist, free-market economy in the 1990s but faced significant challenges integrating into Europe as a whole, combating corruption, and effectively privatizing state-own enterprises. Consequently nations that have made the smoothest transition have generally experienced the greatest growth and development and the highest standards of living. Nations bordering Western European nations such as Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland have experienced some of the greatest and most sustained economic growth due to successful integration with Europe as a whole and lower corruption rates. Many nations in the region experienced economic growth from the 1990s to the late 2000s until the global financial crisis took a disastrous toll on the Baltic States and several other nations in the region. In the early 2010s, many nations had begun to recover from the crisis. Additional challenges that have lessened economic growth prospects in the region have included aging country infrastructure, ineffective economic policies, unemployment, civil war and other conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, and internal instability in areas like Chechnya. Services employ over 50% of the work force in most countries. Major industries include car and vehicle manufacturing, wood products, machinery, mining, natural gas, petroleum, chemicals, plastics, telecommunications, electronics, textiles, tourism, food processing, shipbuilding, military defense, electricity, and printing. Grains, sugar beets, potatoes, vegetables, tobacco, fruit, sunflower seeds, fish, livestock, olives, eggs, and poultry are common agricultural products. Primary trade partners with Eastern Europe are concentrated in Europe but also include Turkey, China, and Taiwan.
Corruption is perceived as widespread and pervasive throughout the region with only a few exceptions like Estonia and Slovenia. In Albania, organized crime networks are well established. Perceptions of corruption are strongest for customs, tax officials and some ministers. In Belarus, the government is highly centralized. Corruption is a serious problem that appears to be worsening. Low transparency has made it difficult to assess the scope of corruption in Belarus. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, corruption is perceived as widespread and present in all areas of government and society, especially natural resource extraction, customs, public utilities, the judicial system, and taxes. In Bulgaria, organized crime and accusations of corruption among public officials continue to deter economic growth and stability. In Croatia, accusations of corruption among government officials with military ties are a concern. Smuggling and organized crime are widespread as illegal drugs, workers, and weapons are trafficked from Eastern Europe and the Middle East to Western Europe. In Greece, bribery allegedly occurs frequently, usually involving doctor fees, building permits, and tax evasion. In Hungary, corruption with police may be the most severe due to the amount of freedom law enforcement has in charging and ignoring crime. Many crimes go unreported. In Lithuania, most are prepared to pay a bride to resolve an issue and those working in business report that corruption hurt their business. Customs, police, health care, and tax officials are considered the most corrupt. In Macedonia, bribery in customs and law enforcement has been a major issue. In Montenegro, the lack of anti-corruption legislation, organized crime, and alleged corruption ties to some political figures are ongoing challenges. In Moldova, corruption is most widespread for obtaining visas and in law enforcement. Transnistria has continued to distance itself from Moldova due to its predominant Russian and Ukrainian-speaking population. Drug trafficking and other illegal activity often enter Central Europe through Moldova or Transnistria. In Romania, investigating higher ranking government officials on corruption charges has been difficult due to laws and legal protection offered by the judicial system. Many Romanians report regularly paying bribes. In Russia, corruption is perceived as widespread and present in all areas of society and government. Human trafficking for the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children and the forced labor of men and women is an ongoing concern which targets rural populations and migrants from neighboring nations, particularly in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and North Korea. Government officials have done little to address the issue and pass legislation to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking. Russia is a major supplier of some chemicals used to produce synthesized drugs such as heroin and a major consumer of opiates. Illicit drug trafficking is a major concern as Russia is a transshipment point for opiates, cocaine, and cannabis. In Serbia, a survey of 601 individuals in March 2010 found that at least 80% of Serbians believed that political parties were corrupt, 54% paid bribes to doctors for treatment, and 19% paid bribes to law enforcement. In Slovakia, bribes to obtain medical care and higher education are commonly paid. Many report corruption in the judicial system. In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution in 2004 brought increased awareness and initiative to fight corruption but administrative corruption remains a major deterrent to foreign investment and economic development. Most tax and customs privileges were eliminated in a March 2005 budget law, bringing more economic activity out of Ukraine's large shadow economy, but more improvements are needed, including fighting corruption, developing capital markets, and improving the legislative framework. A small number of elite cartels control most the large businesses and industries. The general public typically tolerates corruption and downplays its significance. Government lacks transparency and a system of checks and balances to fight and prevent corruption. Money laundering has been a problem which has seen some improvement. Illegal drugs are frequently trafficked through Ukraine for distribution worldwide.
Denominations Members Congregations
Roman and Greek Catholics 63,820,000
Jehovah's Witnesses 613,307 8,124
Seventh Day Adventists 245,265 3,900
Latter-day Saints 53,800 307
Claiming four-fifths of the regional population, Christianity is the dominant religion in Eastern Europe as Christians account for the majority in 16 of the 22 Eastern European nations. Overall religious observance and church attendance rates are low as many are nominally Christian. 95% of more of the population in Romania, Moldova, Greece, Ukraine, and Belarus is Christian. Christians account for the smallest percentage of the population in Kosovo (12%), Estonia (27.8%), and the Czech Republic (28.9%). Nearly three-quarters of Christians follow one of the various Orthodox traditions whereas most of the remaining quarter are Roman or Greek Catholic. Roman Catholic populations in Poland, Slovakia, and several other Eastern European nations exhibit moderate rates of religious participation that exceeds their counterparts in most Western European nations. Protestant denominations operate in all nations in the region and generally constitute only one or two percent of the population in most countries. Muslims are the second largest religious group in the region, comprising the majority in Kosovo (88%) and Albania (70%) with sizeable minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, and Bulgaria. Some Turkic groups in Russia and Ukraine are ethnically Muslim, such as the Tatar. 50% or more of the population in Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia are nonreligious or do not identify with a religious tradition. Buddhists comprise the majority or a large minority in some areas of Siberia bordering Mongolia. There are few Jews remaining in the region due to the Holocaust and emigration to Israel.
The constitution protects religious freedom in nearly all nations in Eastern Europe at present, although governments and societies in several nations have restricted religious practice. There are no significant governmental or societal restrictions or abuses of religious freedom reported in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia. Missionary-focused nontraditional Christian denominations report marginalization in most of these nations however. Traditional Christian denominations receive preferential treatment by the government or have strongly influenced government policy regarding religious freedom in Belarus, Croatia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Serbia often resulting in limited religious freedom for minority groups.
Restrictions and infringements on religious freedom have been most severe in Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Russia, and Ukraine. In Belarus, the registration of religious communities for some denominations (mainly Protestants) has taken years to accomplish. Foreign religious groups and personnel are viewed with contempt and experience the most harassment. Only registered religious groups can actively follow their beliefs and practices. The 2002 law regulates the importation and distribution of religious literature by requiring prior government approval. Foreigners cannot lead congregations. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are no restrictions on proselytism but to register with the government a religious group must have at least 300 adult citizen members. Religious minorities report frequent societal abuse of religious freedom and many who commit religious hate crimes go unpunished. In Greece, religious groups generally worship and assemble freely but public proselytism is prohibited and missionaries are frequently arrested on charges of proselytism. In Russia, there have been frequent reports of harassment of religious minorities by law enforcement, ongoing property disputes and difficulties for many religious communities to obtain land, construct, or operate meetinghouses and ongoing property disputes, and societal abuse of religious freedom which have included beatings, persecution, damage to meetinghouses, discrimination, and intimidation. Societal abuse of religious freedom has targeted non-Orthodox religions. In Ukraine, minority religious groups report unequal treatment by local officials, and sometimes experience difficulty registering congregations or constructing church buildings in new areas.
Urban: low (Moldova - 47%); high (Belarus - 75%)
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Athens, Kiev, Budapest, Katowice, Warsaw, Bucharest, Minsk, Nizhniy Novgorod, Belgrade, Kharkov, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Donetsk, Prague, Volgograd, Dnepropetrovsk, Chelyabinsk, Samara, Sofia, Rostov-na-Donu, Kazan, Omsk, Saratov, Odessa, Perm, Ufa, Krasnoyarsk.
All 29 cities with over one million inhabitants have an LDS congregation. 19% of the regional population resides in the 29 most populous cities.
LDS missionaries first established the Church in a few locations in Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Missionaries first visited Poland in 1892. A Swedish LDS missionary visited St. Petersburg, Russia in 1895 and baptized the Lindelof family, the first known LDS convert baptism in Eastern Europe. LDS missionary Mischa Markow preached in several Eastern and Central European nations including Romania in the late 1890s. The first missionary preached in Serbia in 1899. Official missionary work began in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s when the Church obtained permission to operate and the country was dedicated for missionary work. By 1950, all LDS missionary activity ceased in Eastern Europe and only a couple branches continued to operate in Poland and a couple other nations. The Church officially registered with the Polish government in 1961, but by 1971 the last operating LDS branch in Poland was discontinued due to the heavy emigration of members. The first LDS congregation in Greece was organized in the 1960s and the country was dedicated for missionary work in 1972. Full-time missionaries began serving in Greece in 1986. LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball dedicated Poland for missionary work in 1977. Senior missionary couples began serving in Poland in 1977 and the first young missionaries were assigned in 1988. Kresimir Cosic, a popular Croatian basketball player who joined the Church in the 1970s, helped raise awareness of the Church and its teachings in Yugoslavia. In 1981, the first Yugoslav convert was called as a missionary. In 1983 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia the first senior couple missionaries were assigned and a branch was organized.
The LDS Church entered most Eastern European nations between 1987 and 1993. The Church obtained official recognition in Hungary in 1987 and dedicated Hungary for missionary work and assigned full-time missionaries shortly thereafter. The first Russian natives were baptized into the LDS Church in the 1980s in Europe, primarily in Finland and Hungary. The first convert baptism in Russia in modern times occurred in St. Petersburg in early 1989. To receive recognition for a congregation to formally operate, the Church had to have at least 20 adult Soviet citizen members in a single political district, which the Church gradually accumulated over time. Elder Nelson rededicated Russia for missionary work in St. Petersburg on April 26th, 1990, near the location where Russia was originally dedicated for missionary work in 1903. Registration for the first LDS congregation was obtained in September 1990 in St. Petersburg. At the time, missionary work and church meetings were conducted in private in members' apartments. The first baptism in Estonia occurred in December 1989 and the first branch was organized in 1990 for Russian and Estonian speakers. In 1990, missionary work began in Ukraine and in 1991 the first official congregation was organized in Kyiv and the country was dedicated for missionary work. That same year the first LDS missionaries were assigned to Romania and the country was dedicated for missionary work. In Czechoslovakia, the Church gained official recognition, rededicated the country, and again assigned missionaries in 1990. Bulgaria was dedicated for missionary work and the first full-time missionaries arrived that same year. The first missionaries were assigned to Albania in 1990. The first missionaries arrived in Slovenia in November 1990 and by March 1991, the Church obtained legal recognition. The first proselytizing missionaries were assigned to Serbia in 1992. Missionaries were first assigned to Latvia and Lithuania in 1992 and the following year both nations were dedicated for missionary work. By 1993, Belarus was dedicated for missionary work and full-time missionaries were assigned. In the mid-1990s, American military personnel were stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1995, Siberia was opened to missionary work and the first convert baptisms took place. The first LDS congregation was organized in Moldova in 1997. In 2000, most of Eastern Europe was assigned to the newly organized Europe East Area with headquarters based in Moscow. The first convert baptisms in Kosovo occurred in 2006. The LDS Church dedicated Slovakia for missionary work in 2006 and registered with the government. In 2010, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro were dedicated for missionary work. In 2010, the Church organized administrative branches for the four Balkan nations without an official LDS presence in preparation for opening these nations to missionary work. By June 2011, two independent LDS congregations were organized in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Pristina, Kosovo and the first full-time missionaries were assigned to Kosovo. In 2012, the first young proselytizing missionaries were assigned to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
Organized in 1929 from the German-Austrian Mission, the Czechoslovak Mission was the first LDS mission headquartered in Eastern Europe in the present-day Czech Republic and Slovakia. The mission closed in 1950 as a result of government policies banning proselytism and foreign missionary service. In 1987, the Austria Vienna East Mission [relocated to Ukraine Kyiv in 1992] was organized to administer Southeastern Europe, southeastern portions of the Soviet Union, and eastern bloc nations such as Poland and Hungary. In 1990, the Finland Helsinki East Mission [relocated to Russia Moscow in 1992] was organized to administer most of western Russia and the Baltic States. Additional missions were organized in Hungary Budapest (1990), Poland Warsaw (1990), Bulgaria Sofia (1991), Russia St. Petersburg (1992), Latvia Riga (1993) [renamed Baltic in 2002], Romania Bucharest (1993), Russia Samara (1993), Ukraine Donetsk (1993), Russia Novosibirsk (1994), Russia Rostov-na-Donu (1994), Russia Yekaterinburg (1995), Albania Tirana [renamed Adriatic South in 2012] (1996), Austria Vienna South [relocated to Slovenia Ljubljana in 1999, renamed Adriatic North and relocated to Zagreb, Croatia in 2012] (1996), Russia Moscow South [renamed Russia Moscow West in 2006] (1997), Vladivostok (1999), and Ukraine Dnepropetrovsk (2007). The number of missions in Eastern Europe increased from two in 1990 to 17 in 2000 and 18 in 2010. In 2012, the Church consolidated the Russia Moscow and Russia Moscow West Missions into a single mission.
LDS Membership: 53,800 (2010 estimate)
There appeared to be fewer than 1,000 Latter-day Saints in Eastern Europe prior to 1990. Membership increased rapidly as an LDS presence was established in many nations in the region during the early 1990s. There were 8,300 Latter-day Saints in Eastern Europe in 1993 increasing to 23,000 in 1997, 34,718 in 2000, 47,350 in 2005, and 53,800 in 2010. Among countries with an LDS presence in 2000, membership grew most rapidly between 2000 and 2010 in Moldova (328%), Albania (125%), and Latvia (117%) whereas membership grew the most slowly in Belarus (31%), the Czech Republic (36%), and Hungary (37%). The ratio of LDS membership to the general population varies significantly throughout Eastern Europe. The ratio of LDS members to the general population is one Latter-day Saint per 3,000 or less in Estonia (one in 1,230), Albania (one in 1,509), Latvia (one in 2,001), and Hungary (one in 2,106) and greater than one in 30,000 in Bosnia and Herzegonia (one in 100,000), Macedonia (one in 85,000), and Kosovo (one in 35,000). LDS membership is greater than 10,000 in only two countries: Russia (21,023) and Ukraine (10,880). In 2010, one in 6,200 was nominally LDS in Eastern Europe.
Wards: 19 Branches: 288 Groups: 10+
There were less than 30 LDS congregations in Eastern Europe prior to 1990. By 1993, there were 136 branches in the region. The number of LDS congregations increased to 259 in 1997 and 296 in 2000. There were 294 congregations in 2005 and 307 in June 2011.
The first stake to be organized in Eastern Europe was the Kyiv Ukraine Stake in 2004. As of June 2011, only two additional stakes had been organized in the region in Budapest Hungary (2006) and Moscow Russia (2011). The first districts in Eastern Europe were organized in Greece, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Croatia prior to 1983. The first districts were organized in Hungary in the late 1980s, Slovenia and Serbia in 1992, Russia in 1993, Ukraine and Belarus in the mid-1990s, Estonia in 1997, Latvia and Lithuania in 1998, Albania in 1999, and Moldova in 2009. The sole LDS district in Greece was discontinued in the mid-1990s. The number of districts in the region numbered two in 1980, 19 in 1993, 32 in 1997, 36 in 2000 and in 2005, and 35 in June 2011.
Activity and Retention
The number of active members per branch varies from as few as ten in the smallest branches to as many as 100. The number of active members in wards generally varies between 50 and 120. Member activity rates differ by country as countries with no full-time missionaries assigned and a more recent church establishment experience the greatest restrictions on proselytism and exhibit higher member activity rates of 30-50% of nominal church membership whereas countries in which there has been a longer established LDS presence, no restrictions on the activities of foreign missionaries, and freedom to publicly proselyte member activity rates generally range from 15-35%. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro appear to have the highest member activity rates (50%) but each nation had fewer than 100 members in 2010. Slovakia appears to have the highest member activity rate among nations with over 100 members (40%). Croatia (15%) and Serbia (17%) appear to have the lowest member activity rates. Active LDS membership in Eastern Europe is estimated at 13,200, or 24% of total church membership.
Languages with LDS Scripture: Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Hungarian, Greek, Czech, Serbian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Albanian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Latvian, Armenian (East), Estonian.
All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Hungarian, Greek, Czech, Bulgarian, Croatian, Albanian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Armenian (East). A wide selection of church materials and the Book of Mormon is available in Serbian and Slovenian. Many church materials are translated into Macedonian and Slovak. Only a handful of church materials are translated into Belarusian. The Liahona magazine has monthly issues in Russian and Ukrainian, bimonthly issues in Hungarian, four issues a year in Polish, Romanian, Czech, Bulgarian, Albanian, and Armenian (East), two issues a year in Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian, and one issue a year in Greek, Croatian, and Slovenian.
There were approximately 250 LDS meetinghouses in Eastern Europe in mid-2011. Most congregations meet in renovated buildings and rented spaces. Several church-built chapels service congregations in the region, primarily those with larger numbers of active members. Newly organized branches and groups at times meet in rented spaces or in members' homes.
Health and Safety
Several nations in Eastern Europe present significant safety concerns for LDS missionaries and members. In Russia, two LDS missionaries serving in Saratov were kidnapped for four days and were safely released in 1998. That same year, a group of drunken men stabbed one missionary to death and wounded another in Ufa. In the late 1990s, two missionaries in the Russia Novosibirsk Mission were assaulted in their apartment and one was injected with an unknown substance which was later found to be novocaine once he returned to the United States. Missionaries serving in the Russia Samara Mission in 2011 reported that they were not allowed to enter some neighborhoods or cities because of threats of violence. In Serbia, threats directed at Americans have resulted in many precautionary evacuations of full-time missionaries, most of whom are from North America. In early 2010, two missionaries died by natural gas asphyxiation in their apartment while sleeping in Romania.
Humanitarian and Development Work
Nearly 330 humanitarian and development projects have been carried out by the LDS Church in Eastern Europe, over 100 of which were in Russia. Additional countries which have had sizeable number of projects completed include Ukraine (53), Belarus (49), Moldova (28), Romania (23), and Albania (20). Nearly all nations in the region have received some LDS humanitarian and development work. In Russia, activities have included the donation of clothing, computers, furniture, and medical equipment to orphanages, hospitals, and local aid organizations, in addition to numerous local service initiatives. Many of the projects completed in Ukraine have consisted of medical equipment donations. Projects in Belarus have primary consisted of donations of wheelchairs, clothing, hygiene kits, washing machines, kitchen appliances, and medical equipment. Donations of wheelchairs, crutches, clothing, appliances, and hygiene kits have comprised most LDS humanitarian activity in Moldova. In Romania, LDS-sponsored projects have included donating wheelchairs, home appliances, furniture, emergency relief, and school supplies. Donations of medical equipment, wheelchairs, school supplies, and household appliances have comprised the majority of projects completed in Albania.
Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects
The LDS Church benefits from full religious freedom in most nations in Eastern Europe as members and foreign full-time missionaries may openly proselyte, worship, and assemble. The Church experiences mild to moderate societal discrimination in most nations in the region. Among countries with an official LDS presence, past governmental and societal restrictions on religious freedom have most heavily impacted the operations of the LDS Church in Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. In Belarus, foreign missionaries are prohibited from teaching in Church meetings, leading congregations, and wearing nametags. Members must provide missionaries with referrals as missionaries are not permitted to proselyte. Little time is spent teaching investigators or strengthening members as missionaries provide humanitarian service. Whereas missionaries served in several large cities in the 1990s, missionaries are presently only registered in Minsk and are not allowed to be assigned elsewhere. The law requires at least 20 members over age 18 to hold Church services as a religious community, and so many small groups are unable to hold public meetings. In 2004, two American missionaries accused of illegally proselytizing in Mogilev, Belarus were expelled. In Bulgaria, there have been instances of full-time missionaries being prohibited from proselytizing in some cities and physically beaten, some LDS meetinghouses have been vandalized, and the media has perpetuated negative news stories about the LDS Church. In Greece, LDS Missionaries have been arrested by police many times in the past two decades. Although legal issues have not noticeably limited the Church's progress in Greece, societal pressures have caused major setbacks for missionaries and members. In Moldova, the Church faced many setbacks obtaining official recognition, assigning missionaries, and establishing congregations over the past two decades due to government legislation and persecution from other religious sects. In early 2010, these challenges had been overcome but the intolerant religious and political atmosphere of foreign missionaries and churches may threaten continued LDS outreach with full-time missionaries. In Russia, the LDS Church has experienced significant religious freedom and meaningful government cooperation in recent years, but nonetheless government regulations mandating that foreign religious workers must leave Russia every 90 days pose major financial, logistical, and administrative challenges as the Church relies heavily on nonnative full-time missionaries to staff its seven missions. There have been past incidents in Russia where LDS missionaries have been detained for no reason, local authorities have refused to register LDS congregations and permit the construction of LDS meetinghouses, and infringements on religious freedom and political instability have prevented the establishment of the Church in some currently unreached regions of the country. In Serbia, the LDS Church does not appear to be registered with the government and societal persecution and discrimination directed towards the LDS Church has been ongoing. In Ukraine, missionaries in the past have experienced harassment in some cities and were forced to serve elsewhere. Recently there appears to be greater local government tolerance towards the LDS Church and its missionary efforts, although challenges in some areas continue. Foreign LDS missionaries serving in Ukraine are required to leave the country every 90 days to renew their religious worker visas resulting in significant disruptions to missionary activity.
There have been no significant barriers preventing an official LDS Church establishment in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro and the assignment of full-time missionaries for the past decade. Concerns over the political stability of the region and low living standards have likely delayed the placement of full-time LDS missionaries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro until 2012. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, religious groups must have at least 300 adult citizen members to register; a number unattainable at present. Limited LDS Church operations occur in Bosnia and Herzegovina notwithstanding no government registration.
Irreligiousness is a major issue which challenges the Church's growth. Teaching investigators and members the importance of weekly church attendance and living gospel teachings and ensuring that gospel habits are firmly established can be challenging as many Eastern Europeans have never actively participated in religion. Increasing secularism in recent years from materialism and cultural influence from Western Europe has also likely contributed to declining receptivity. Many initially receptive individuals have already been shepherded into Christian denominations during the 1990s. Strong ethno-religious ties create major obstacles for LDS missionaries to find, teach, and baptize converts and for active members to cope with often hostile and unsupportive family and friends who consider conversion from their traditional faith as a dishonor to one's ethnicity and country. Many converts are ostracized from their communities for joining the LDS Church and some become inactive to please their families and friends as many hold negative views and misconceptions of the LDS Church. Recently arrived Christian groups are often viewed with suspicion and skepticism and the LDS Church is often viewed as an American institution. Societal intolerance for nontraditional Christians is most intense in Greece and is the primary barrier to LDS outreach and church growth today. A lack of ethnic and religious diversity has likely contributed to low receptivity in some Eastern European nations like Poland. A revitalization of traditional Christian denominations throughout Eastern Europe since the early 1990s have reduced receptivity to many to the Church and other nontraditional Christian denominations as ties between ethnicity and religious affiliation have been strengthened. Abortion as a means of birth control is commonplace and is opposed to LDS teachings. Those who have participated in an abortion generally must be interviewed by a member of the mission presidency to be considered for baptism. Other common lifestyle practices such as casual sexual relations test many local Latter-day Saints' beliefs and testimonies and create additional barriers to overcome with many prospective members. High cigarette and alcohol consumption rates indicate that potential converts may struggle with overcoming addictive behaviors and habits prior to baptism. Some converts who relapse are a source of convert attrition. High divorce rates in many nations in the region challenge LDS efforts to instill greater importance on the family unit and bring full families into the Church. Developing LDS teaching approaches which are tailored to the background of nominal Christians and nonreligious individuals is warranted in order to improve the effectiveness of mission outreach and enhance investigator and convert understanding of LDS teachings.
There are some cultural characteristics in subregions of Eastern Europe which have benefited LDS mission outreach, such as greater tolerance for other Christian denominations in the Baltic States, widespread curiosity about religion in the 1990s, lower standards of living, and cultural emphasis on learning and knowledge. Since the opening of most nations in Eastern Europe since the late 1980s and early 1990s, receptivity has continued to decline and conditions for missionary activity have become more challenging. The greatest opportunities to take advantage of more favorable cultural conditions and higher receptivity are in nations with higher levels of religious plurality such as the Baltic States and Hungary, nations with large numbers of nominal Muslims and lower standards of living such as Albania and Kosovo, and nations with sizeable numbers of unreached ethnic minorities such as Russia.
Eastern Europe experiences mediocre levels of mission outreach as 30% of the regional population resides in cities with LDS congregations. Provided with the percentage of the population residing in cities with LDS congregations, Estonia (47%), Bulgaria (44%), and Croatia (43%) are the most reached nations in the region whereas Kosovo (9%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (15%), and Slovakia (16%) are the least reached. LDS Church operations in Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro are the most limited in the region due to a lack of native members and the recent arrival of missionaries. Unlike most regions with countries that experience significant restrictions on religious freedom, all countries in Eastern Europe have at least one LDS congregation.
The percentage of the population reached by LDS mission outreach in Eastern European nations is correlated with the duration of LDS missionary activity, the size of the national population, receptivity, and the percentage of the population residing in urban locations. Countries which have received LDS outreach the longest, have the smallest populations, exhibit the highest receptivity, and support the most urbanized populations are generally the most reached by the LDS Church. Estonia is the most reached nation in the region largely due to its small population of 1.3 million concentrated in the three most populous cities, all of which have LDS congregations, longer LDS outreach received than most nations in the region, and modest receptivity. Hungary is the only nation in the region with over nine million inhabitants in which 40% or more of the population resides in cities with LDS outreach. Success in Hungary extending national outreach to moderate levels has occurred through widespread religious freedom, sustained receptivity higher than most nations in the region, LDS missionary outreach consistently extended for over two decades, the strength and maturity of local leadership manpower, relatively small geographic size, and foresight and vision by mission leaders to open additional cities to missionary work. To the contrary, Serbia and Poland are the two nations with over five million inhabitants that have LDS congregations operating in cities populated by 20% or less of the national population. Inconsistent mission outreach in some cities, a large population, low receptivity, moderate levels of urbanization, and inadequate numbers of local priesthood leaders have contributed to the poor degree of outreach in Poland whereas inconsistent mission outreach for the country as a whole, low receptivity, moderate rates of urbanization, few priesthood holders, and societal discrimination have contributed to the poor degree of outreach in Serbia. Mission leaders have opened a single additional city to missionary work in several nations over the past decade, such as Novo Mesto in Slovenia, but many of these cities have closed due to few or no convert baptisms. Past efforts which have been overall fruitless may dissuade the opening of additional cities by mission leaders.
The greatest opportunities for expanding national outreach are in nations which have exhibited the highest receptivity to the LDS Church or in nations which have large populations and exhibit modest to moderate receptivity, namely the Baltic States, Hungary, Albania, Russia, and Ukraine. Distance from members' homes to church meetinghouse locations has been a challenge for growth and organizing additional congregations when possible can improve activity rates and expand outreach. Holding cottage meetings in lesser-reached or unreached cities provides opportunities for local members to invite and introduce friends and family to the Church in a less formal atmosphere and for mission and local leaders to gauge receptivity and outreach prospects. Establishing groups and dependent branches often fosters local leadership sustainability if full-time missionary involvement in administrative duties is limited and only a single missionary companionship is assigned to a dependent unit. LDS internet outreach has occurred in many countries in the region with country websites in local languages that provide information on meeting times and locations for congregations, contact information for full-time missionaries, explanations of church practices and doctrines, links to other LDS websites, and local church news articles. Utilizing social networking tools online can provide for greater member-missionary participation and expand outreach in the region.
Member Activity and Convert Retention
The LDS Church reports below average member activity rates in Eastern Europe compared to world averages largely due to substandard pre-baptismal teaching and quick-baptism tactics employed by foreign full-time missionaries who offer no long-term sustainability in fellowshipping and post-baptismal teaching and mentoring. Inconsistent mission policies regarding convert baptismal standards have also worsened activity rates over the past two decades. Ironically, countries which have a nonexistent, minimal, or very small full-time missionary presence in relation to the size of LDS populations often exhibit higher member activity rates as local members have learned to develop leadership independently and undertake member and leadership responsibilities. Overstaffing small branches with multiple missionary companionships has often occurred under the rationale that additional missionary support would help strengthen local members and improve retention under a centers-of-strength paradigm of outreach, but more than often this approach has accomplished the opposite as local members depend on full-time missionaries for administrative duties, rely on missionaries for finding efforts, and struggle to develop self-reliant gospel living skills meanwhile additional cities throughout the region are unable to open for missionary work as mission resources are dedicated to a handful of cities with tiny branches. Some members in small congregations suffer from member burnout as a result of the overburdening of active members with administrative duties. The LDS Church has faced serious challenges maintaining member activity rates among seasoned active members in some nations due to conflict and social tensions between members at church and unsuccessful although diligent intervention from full-time missionaries and senior couples to diffuse such situations. Language barriers have also presented challenges for achieving moderate to high member activity and convert retention rates for locations in which there are two or more predominantly spoken languages among local members such as in the capital cities of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The ebb and flow of active membership, the availability of local members to lead congregations, and changing mission policies regarding the organization and closure of language-specific congregations in the Baltic States have contributed to challenges assimilating and keeping track of church membership over the years. It is common for many recent converts in Eastern Europe to not fully overcome addictions to practices and substances not condoned by LDS teachings, further challenging efforts to retain new members who relapse and feel uncomfortable maintaining habitual church attendance in light of their struggles. Threats of persecution and ostracism in many Eastern European nations have deterred some from joining the Church or attending church meetings regularly. The sudden removal or evacuation of full-time missionaries from some nations and cities has been handled haphazardly at times as local members and investigators have been unaware of the closure of a branch or group and the departure of full-time missionaries, culminating in some members harboring hard feelings against missionaries and the Church and at times going inactive. Due to the limited presence of the LDS Church in the region, some members have joined the Church and moved to cities or towns without a nearby LDS presence, resulting in many losing contact with the church and becoming inactive. Secularism and disconnect with religion is common in many Eastern European nations and have likely influenced member activity rates for the LDS Church such as in the Czech Republic. The source of some inactivity and low convert retention in the region may be due to teaching and missionary approaches tailored to Western Christians. As a result of these issues member activity and convert retention rates can vary widely city to city throughout individual nations.
Success in maintaining greater member activity and convert retention rates has often occurred in locations in which there is an LDS community established that is self-sufficient in providing leadership and fellowshipping for new converts, such as in Tallinn, Estonia and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Trends of increasing seminary and institute enrollment are indicators which offer insight into convert retention and reactivation successes such as in the Czech Republic and Russia. Since the mid-2000s, the LDS Church appears to have accomplished the greatest progress in maintaining member activity and convert retention rates in Hungary among Eastern European nations with at least 1,000 Latter-day Saints although the nationwide activity rate in Hungary is estimated at 22%. Smart allocation of full-time missionaries to maintain a presence in cities with LDS congregations while simultaneously opening additional cities has reduced the reliance of local members on missionaries and has focused on retaining and training new converts in previously unreached cities to serve as local church leaders. Success in Hungary is most strongly evidenced in the organization of additional LDS congregations in the previously unreached cities of Bekescsaba, Kaposvar, Szolnok, and Tatabanya in the late 2000s and the formation of two new districts based in Miskolc and Szombathely in 2009. The member activity and convert retention situation in Hungary has manifest ongoing challenges and issues despite these achievements as indicated by congregation consolidations in preparation for the organization of the first stake in 2006, resulting in most active members in some former branches falling into inactivity. Overall reactivation issues throughout Eastern Europe have experienced little success largely due to minimal prebaptismal teaching and often a short duration of meaningful church activity if any habitual church attendance is developed at all, resulting in challenges for members and missionaries to instill church teachings and practices in individuals who have little or no familiarity with them.
Prospects for improving member activity and convert retention rates in the region will hinge on greater consistency in convert baptismal standards, commensurately increasing the full-time missionary force with the organization of additional congregations, greater emphasis on seminary and institute enrollment for youth and missionary preparation programs, and the development of culturally-tailored LDS teaching approaches.
Ethnic Issues and Integration
Most Eastern European nations have homogenous populations, reducing ethnic integration challenges due to a lack of ethnic diversity. LDS missionaries have not reported major integration challenges at church in most nations due to the lack of LDS converts among ethnic minority groups and the lack of LDS congregations in areas populated by indigenous minority groups. Countries with sizeable ethnic minority groups offer opportunities for the establishment of language-specific congregations, such as for Russians in the Baltic States. Ethnic integration issues present the greatest obstacles for mission outreach in Eastern Europe in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, and Russia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ethnic patchwork present throughout the country presents major challenges for future church growth outside of melting-pot cities like Sarajevo because of lesser tolerance and receptivity in regions dominated by a single faith and because of persistent ethnic tensions. The post-independence segregation of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs may require the creation of ethnic-specific congregations until greater tolerance among ethnicities is achieved. In Greece, the majority of active LDS membership is non-Greek notwithstanding Greeks accounting for 93% of the national population, posing significant challenges for integrating native Greeks into congregations. This congregational demography has originated from the greater receptivity of non-Greeks to the Church's teachings. Russia has historically faced significant challenges integrating differing ethnic groups into a single society and nation and continues to face these issues as indicated by the complex patchwork of administrative divisions, each with varying degrees of autonomy from the federal government. Non-Russian indigenous ethnic groups or immigrants account for nearly 30 million people, many of which reside in administrative divisions with no LDS congregations. Foreign immigrants, especially from Africa and Asia, have experienced the greatest difficulty assimilating into society and are often ostracized and experience discrimination. Local and mission leaders stressing unity among the diverse demography of some congregations is warranted to maintain activity and convert retention rates until language-specific congregations can be established if necessary.
Eastern Europe receives excellent LDS language outreach as indicated by approximately 90% of the regional population having LDS materials translated into their native language and as many as 97% of the regional population having LDS materials translated in their first or second languages. The LDS Church has devoted greater resources into translating church materials and scriptures in languages spoke in Eastern Europe than many regions of the world notwithstanding a relatively recent LDS Church establishment and few Latter-day Saint speakers of these languages. Despite significant headway in translating materials into local languages, an ongoing, persistent need continues for the translation of even basic materials into some languages and additional materials and all LDS scriptures into other languages. Six languages are spoken by over one million people and remain without LDS materials and scriptures: Tatar dialects (5.55 million), Bosnian (2.39 million), Chuvash (1.64 million), Bashkort (1.38 million), Chechen (1.33 million), and Romani dialects (1.21 million). Three languages are spoken by over one million people and have some LDS materials available yet have no LDS scriptures translated as of June 2011: Belarusian (8.61 million), Slovak (4.83 million), and Macedonian (1.5 million). A shortage of capable members who speak these languages proficiently to translate has likely contributed to the lack of translations in these languages, but LDS materials in these languages would nonetheless provide significant opportunities to begin greater mission outreach among speakers of these languages. Delaying the translation of LDS materials and scriptures into Tatar, Slovak, Chuvash, Macedonian, Bashkort, Chechen, and Romani until sizeable numbers of speakers of these languages join the Church is counterintuitive as the lack of even basic doctrinal and proselyting materials which would allow individuals to learn about the church and gain a personal testimony in their native language is a major reason why there are few or no Latter-day Saint speakers of these languages.
Local full-time missionary manpower in Eastern Europe is among the least self sufficient in the world due to low member activity rates, poor convert retention, few missionary preparation programs for youth, challenges developing and sustaining local leadership for congregations, low birth rates in LDS families, and the large number of full-time missionaries assigned. No nations in the region appear close to becoming self-sufficient in meeting their missionary needs. The lack of a missionary training center in Eastern Europe may have exacerbated challenges developing a stable, sizeable local missionary force. Most nations in the region with fewer than 4,000 nominal Latter-day Saints generally have less than a dozen local members serving full-time missions at a time. Some nations in the region did not have a single local member successfully serve the entire duration of a full-time mission in their native country for over a decade after an initial LDS Church establishment. Most local members who serve full-time missions appear to come from Russia and Ukraine. No native members from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro appear to had served missions as of mid-2011. Full-time missionaries regularly facilitate local leadership development and participate in humanitarian service and local ecclesiastical and administrative duties due to a shortage in local church leadership. Missionaries dedicate a large amount of their time to reactivating less active members throughout the region. Focusing on youth and young adult-focused outreach and emphasizing missionary preparation may help improve rates of missionary service among local members in Eastern Europe and reduce dependence on North American missionaries.
Regional church leadership raised the standard for branches to be organized in the late 2000s and required most branches to have a local member serve as branch president to continue operating in the early 2010s. Consequently, the number of LDS congregations in the region fell by several dozen between 2009 and mid-2011 as branches were consolidated or became groups or dependent branches, particularly in Russia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. In Greece, groups were established in the late 2000s in Kavala and Patros in hopes of becoming branches but as of mid-2011 both groups were closed as no local leadership was developed and few if any converts were baptized. Only a handful of local members have served in international church leadership positions as mission presidents, temple presidents, and area authorities.
In Russia, the LDS Church has struggled to keep priesthood holders active over the long-term regardless of whether they have served in leadership positions. One mission president reported that during his three-year tenure in the early 1990s, fourteen branch presidents went inactive or left the Church. Chronic leadership development and training issues in the largest cities have delayed the establishment of LDS stakes throughout Eastern Europe. In 2006, full-time missionaries reported that the Moscow Russia District had reached the needed numbers of active members and priesthood holders for a stake to be organized. In order to increase church growth prospects over the medium term, local and mission leaders decided to divide the district into two districts in hopes of establishing two stakes one day. In 2010, the districts were consolidated into a single district in hope of create a single stake for Moscow in the near future, which occurred in mid-2011. Many anticipated the first stakes being organized in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov, and Samara during the mid-1990s but as of 2011 there were no LDS stakes in any of these cities with the exception of Moscow. Notwithstanding local leadership challenges in Eastern Europe, nearly all branches have native branch presidents; most but not all have native counselors. Full-time missionaries often greatly assist in administrative and leadership positions as counselors in branch presidencies.
The Kyiv Ukraine Temple is the first and only LDS temple in Eastern Europe and was completed in 2010 to service members living in Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, and most areas of Russia. In 2011, the Kyiv Ukraine Temple scheduled four endowment sessions on Tuesdays through Fridays and five on Saturdays. Additional temples service remaining areas of Eastern Europe including the Bern Switzerland Temple for Albania, the Frankfurt Germany Temple for the former Yugoslavia, the Freiberg Germany Temple for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, the Helsinki Finland Temple for Estonia, Lithuania, and the St Petersburg area of Russia, the London England Temple for Greece, the Seoul Korea Temple for far eastern Russia, and the Stockholm Sweden Temple for Latvia. Distance from temples, crossing international borders, travel costs, and few active, temple-attending members present challenges for local members to attend the temple regularly. Prospects for the construction of additional temples in Eastern Europe will depend on achieving sustained increases in active membership and the organization of multiple stakes within a single city. Temples may be forthcoming for Moscow and Saratov, Russia over the long term if multiple stakes are established in each city.
Eastern Europe supports one of the smallest LDS populations in the world and is lesser reached than most world regions by Latter-day Saints, but the Church maintains a presence in every nation in the region notwithstanding this presence in some nations such as Macedonia and Montenegro is limited to a handful of foreign members meeting as a group under an administrative branch. Member activity rates as a region are low and comparable to South America and East Asia. Eastern Europe appears to have the least self-sufficient full-time missionary force in the world. The duration of an LDS presence in Eastern Europe has been among the shortest for world regions as most nations did not have an LDS presence prior to 1990. Membership growth rates in Eastern Europe were higher than most world regions during the 2000s but congregational growth rates were among the slowest.
Nontraditional missionary-minded Christian groups have experienced greater membership and congregational growth, more penetrating national outreach, and better self-sustainability among local leaders than the LDS Church. The number of active Jehovah's Witnesses exceeds the number of nominal Latter-day Saints in every Eastern European nation except Bulgaria. Jehovah's Witnesses have achieved steady growth through member-missionary activity and high convert baptismal standards and operated over 26 times as many congregations and claimed 11 times as many members as Latter-day Saints in Eastern Europe in 2010. The Seventh Day Adventist Church reports more active members than nominal Latter-day Saints in every Eastern European nation except Albania, Greece, Hungary, and Lithuania and operates more than ten times as many congregations as Latter-day Saints in the region. Pentecostals and evangelicals report steady growth throughout the region and continue to expand national outreach. Unlike Latter-day Saints, other outreach-focused Christians have consistently and aggressively opened new congregations in smaller cities and towns, further fueling growth and progress over the past two decades. These denominations have been more systematic in proselytism and rely on few outside missionary resources to fuel growth notwithstanding slowing membership growth rates in recent years as receptivity continues to decline.
Declining receptivity, stagnant membership and congregational growth trends, ongoing challenges sustaining local leadership, the plateauing of the full-time LDS missionary force in the 2000s, and few initiatives in recent years to expand national outreach generate a bleak forecast for future LDS Church growth in Eastern Europe. The establishment of stakes in Ukraine, Hungary, and Russia in the past decade is a positive development indicative of maturing local leadership and sustained member activity rates, but these examples have been the exception as many districts at present are less likely to become stakes than a decade ago due to sustainability challenges. Few additional cities appear likely to open for missionary work in the near term. Revamping mission outreach policies to minimize full-time missionary involvement in administrative duties, reactivation work, and investigator finding in order to focus limited missionary manpower on establishing additional mission outreach centers in currently unreached cities may help reestablish real church growth trends throughout the region. Carefully orchestrated youth-oriented outreach initiatives combined with emphasis on seminary and institute attendance may provide for greater sustainability in local missionary manpower and provide greater strength and resources for future local and regional leadership. Additional stakes may be organized one day in Russia in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, and Saratov if current levels of member activity are sustained and the number of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders continues to increase. Prospects for future stakes in other Eastern European nations appear dim due to inadequate numbers of active members and shortages of priesthood holders, but may be a possibility in Albania in the long term if increases in active membership occur and are sustained. Additional districts may be organized in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Poland if additional branches are organized. The first independent LDS congregations may be established in Macedonia and Montenegro in the coming years once indigenous converts join the Church and remain active. Due to its central location in Eastern Europe and established LDS community, Kyiv, Ukraine may be a suitable site for a future missionary training center to service Eastern Europe and a small LDS university although there have been no plans or proposals from church leaders.
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