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: 301,340 square km.  Located in Southern Europe, Italy consists of a peninsula stretching into the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily, Sardinia, and many small islands in the surrounding ocean.  Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia and surrounds the city-states of San Marino and Vatican City.  Most areas experience a Mediterranean climate whereas extreme northern areas in the Alps are subject to a cold alpine climate and southern areas have a hot, dry climate.  Mountains and hills cover most areas.  Natural hazards vary by region and include landslides, avalanches, earthquakes, and flooding.  Air and water pollution, acid rain, and waste water treatment are environmental issues.  Italy is administratively divided into 15 regions and five autonomous regions. 


Population: 58,126,212 (July 2009)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.047% (2009)    

Fertility Rate: 1.31 children born per woman (2009)    

Life Expectancy: 77.26 male, 83.33 female (2009)



Italian: 92.5%

Other European: 4%

North African: 2%

Other: 1.5%


The population is predominantly Italian with regional differences in culture and language.  There are large numbers of North African, African, and Chinese immigrants or transient workers. 


Languages: Italian languages, German, French, Slovene.  Italian is spoken by most of the population and the official language.  German, French, and Slovene are regional languages.  Historical languages with over one million speakers include Lombard (8.83 million), Napoletano-Calabrese (7.05 million), Sicilian (4.83 million), Piemontese (3.11 million), Venetian (2.18 milion), Emiliano-Romagnolo (2 million), Ligurian (1.92 million), and Sardinian dialects (1 million).  Many of these languages have limited use due to standardization of the Italian language throughout the country. 

Literacy: 98.4% (2001)



Various ancient civilizations settled the Italian Peninsula prior to the founding of the Roman Empire which at its height stretched from central Europe and Britain in the north to Mesopotamia to the east and to North Africa in the south.  In the third century, the Roman Empire divided and the Western Roman Empire eventually divided into small city states due to Gothic invasions.  The Byzantine Empire annexed Italy in the sixth century but was unable to maintain control.  In the Middle Ages, the Maritime Republics – Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi – operated as centers of trade and development.  The Italian city-states of Florence, Milan, and Venice played a central role in the Renaissance in the 13th and 14th centuries .  Spain conquered much of Italy in the 16th century and retained control of much of the peninsula until these possessions were ceded to Austria in the War of Spanish Succession culminating in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.  .  An independence and unification movement began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont united Italy in the 1850s following favorable referendums in Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and Romagna and military annexation of the Two Sicilies in 1861.  Milan, Venice, Brescia, Bergamo, Padua, and other regions were added following a military alliance with Prussia against the Austrians in 1866.   Benito Mussolini came to power in the 1920s under a Fascist dictatorship which later allied with Nazi Germany in World War II.  In 1946, a democratic republic was established which played a central role in the establishment of NATO and the European Economic Community, which latter become the European Union.  Northern Italy has grown increasingly more prosperous whereas southern Italy faces many societal problems including low incomes and a lack of economic development.  



Italian music, cuisine, art, law, and language have significantly influenced the world for centuries.  Renaissance masterpieces continue to captivate and excite audiences around the world.  The rich history of Italy draws millions of tourists annually.  The Catholic Church claims the largest membership of any Christian denomination and is headquartered in Vatican City, a small city-state in Rome.  Catholicism continues to shape cultural attitudes although secularism has increased.   Alcohol consumption rates compare to the United States and cigarette consumption rates are similar to many Western European nations. 



GDP per capita: $30,300 (2009) [65.3% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.951

Corruption Index: 4.3

Wages and the distribution of wealth compare to other Western European nations.  A productive, industrialized north stabilizes the economy and accounts for much of the economic growth and development over the past several decades.  Southern regions tend to have high unemployment and an agricultural-based economy.  High public debt, which exceeds Italy’s GDP, remains a major deterrent for greater economic growth.  Services produce 73% of the GDP and employ 65% of the workforce whereas industry accounts for 25% of the GDP and employs 31% of the workforce.  Primary industries include tourism, machinery, iron and steel, food processing, and clothing.  Fruits, vegetables, and potatoes are major agricultural products.  Major trade partners include Germany, France, Spain, and China. 


Italy suffers from high levels of corruption among the European Union.  Illegal economic activity may account as much as 15% of the GDP. 



Christian: 95%

Other: 5%



Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   50,569,804

Jehovah’s Witnesses   243,432  3,101

Latter-Day Saints  23,430  98

Seventh-Day Adventists   8,760  107



Although 87% of native Italians claim membership in the Catholic Church, only about 20% of Catholics attend regularly.  Non-Catholic Christians account for about 5% of the population.  Non-Christians primarily include Muslims, Jews, and Hindus.[1] 


Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is usually upheld by the government.  There is no state religion but the Catholic Church receives special treatment due to historical and cultural ties.  Catholic holidays are recognized as national holidays.   Religious groups must obtain an intesa (accord) from the government to perform marriages, allow clergy access to government installations to visit church members, and state funding if requested.  All religious groups may worship freely.  Societal abuses of religious freedom are primarily directed towards Muslims and Jews and tend to follow international events involving Muslim nations and Israel.[2]


Largest Cities

Urban: 68%

Rome, Milano, Napoli, Torino, Palermo, Genova, Florence, Bologna, Bari, Catania, Venice, Verona, Messina, Trieste, Padova, Taranto, Brescia, Reggio di Calabria, Mestre, Modena, Prato, Cagliari, Parma, Livorno, Foggia, Perugia, Reggio nell'Emilia, Salerno, Ravenna, Ferrara, Rimini, Siracusa, Sassari, Monza, Pescara, Bergamo, Forlì, Latina, Vicenza, Terni, Trento, Pinocchio di Ancona, Novara, Ancona.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation


39 of the 44 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants have a congregation.  23% of the national population lives in the 44 largest cities. 


LDS History

The first missionaries including Elder Lorenzo Snow arrived on the Italian Peninsula in 1850.  Preliminary missionary efforts were concentrated in the Piedmont Valley among French Protestants.  By 1855, 64 members lived in Italy and 50 members had immigrated to the United States.  Government restrictions and persecution limited the Church’s presence and outreach for more than a century until permission was granted in 1966 to restart missionary work.  In 1966, the first congregation was organized in Brescia and the Italian Mission was organized in Florence.  Seminary and institute began in 1969 and 1974, respectively.  A second mission was organized in northern Italy in 1971, later becoming the Italy Milan Mission.  Two additional missions opened in Padova (1975) and Catania (1977).  The Italy Padova Mission was discontinued in 1982, reopened in 1990, and discontinued again in 2002.  The Church achieved formal legal status in 1993.[3]  The Church announced a temple for Rome in 2008.  In 2010, the Church consolidated the Italy Catania Mission with the Italy Rome Mission, reducing the number of missions to two.  The Church received the highest level of government recognition in May 2010.


Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 23,430 (2009)

In 1967, there were 66 members.  By the late 1970s ,membership numbered approximately 5,000.  The most rapid growth occurred between the late 1970s and late 1980s.  By 1985, membership more than doubled to 12,000 and increased to 16,000 by the mid-1990s.  By 2000, there were 19,188 members.  During the 2000s the Church added between 200 and 700 members a year.  Membership reached 21,791 in 2005 and 22,886 in 2008.  Annual membership growth rates have ranged between 1% and 3.5% in the past decade. 


Congregational Growth

Wards: 37 Branches: 61

In 1967, there were nine congregations, seven of which had both Italian and American military servicemen.[4]  In 1981, the Church created the first stake in Milan.  A second stake was organized in Venice in 1985 and a third in Puglia in 1997.  By year-end 2000, members were organized in three stakes and 15 districts. 


By 1990, 89 congregations functioned throughout Italy, increasing to a high of 133 at year-end 1999.  Total congregations have declined in the 2000s to 112 in 2005 and to 99 by 2009.  In 2000, there were 17 wards.  With the creation of additional stakes from districts during the 2000s, the number of wards increased to 26 in 2005 and 31 in 2007.  The number of branches has sharply declined over the past decade from 112 in 2000 to 86 in 2005.  By 2007, there were 71 branches.  During the 2000s branches decreased by about 50 whereas wards increased by 20. 


New stakes were organized in Rome (2005), Alessandria (2007), Verona (2008), and Sicily (2010).  The number of districts dropped dramatically to five by mid-2010 as a result of new stakes created in the 2000s from as many as three districts to one stake.  Districts currently function in Calabria, Florence, Naples, Sardinia, and Rimini. 


Activity and Retention

Member activity and convert retention nationwide appear modest at best.  The average congregation has grown from 149 members to 223 members between 2000 and 2009.  In addition to new converts not retained, the increase in the number of members per congregation has resulted from many branches maturing into wards and the consolidation of small branches nearby established Church centers.  During the 2008-2009 school year, 921 were enrolled in seminary or institute (3.9% of membership).  Congregations vary widely in active membership with some branches having as few as 10 active members whereas some wards exceeding 100 active members.  Total active membership is likely at least 6,000, or 25%.


Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Italian, German, French, Slovene

All LDS scriptures and most Church materials are translated in Italian, German, and French.  The Book of Mormon is translated into Slovenian.  Some unit, temple, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, Primary, missionary, audio/visual, and family history materials are available in Slovenian. 



In the early 1990s, most congregations met in rented facilities.[5]  In 2002, there were 108 church meetinghouses[6] which would appear to provide adequate facilities for the 98 congregations currently in operation.   


Humanitarian and Development Work

Few humanitarian projects have occurred due to relative economic prosperity.  Service projects are likely limited to local members serving in their communities and full-time missionaries completing weekly service hours. 


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects


Religious Freedom

The Church enjoys full religious freedom and missionaries openly proselyte.  Although many legal hurdles have been faced in obtaining needed permits to construct the Rome Italy Temple, the pace at which these permits have been obtained has been faster than anticipated. 


Cultural Issues

A historic legacy of Catholicism or minority Protestant groups creates cultural barriers to LDS mission outreach.  The large percentage of nominal but minimally involved Christians creates a challenge for missionaries to instill regular church attendance habits in prospective converts and less-active members.  Like most of Western and Central Europe, increasing secularism and materialism have been accompanied by decreasing receptivity to religious proselytism .  Many have a background and basic understanding of Christian doctrines, providing a foundation for missionaries to teaching doctrines unique to the LDS Church.  Moderate cigarette and alcohol consumption rates require extra care for investigators struggling to quit these habits and to ensure that relapse does not occur. 


Mission outreach with full-time missionaries in northern Italy poses challenges due to high cost of living.  High living expenses and low receptivity may make increasing the full-time missionary force unfeasible in some areas. 


National Outreach

Most large cities have mission outreach centers.  Despite full-time missionaries proselytizing for over four decades, some provinces or autonomous regions remain without congregations.  Aosta Valley, Molise, and Basilicata have a combined population of over one million (2% of the national population) but no LDS congregations. It does not appear that congregations have ever functioned in these locations.   The majority of the unreached population resides in medium-sized cities and towns in provinces or autonomous regions with several Church outreach centers. 


The consolidation of districts and branches to create stakes and wards has reduced mission outreach in Italy over the past decade as many cities which once had small congregations are now under the administration of a distant congregation.  Four of the five largest cities without a congregation once had a congregation.  Areas which have districts appear most prone to declining mission outreach.  A district once functioned in Pescara with four branches and was consolidated with the stake in Rome.  In 2010, only one ward and branch remain in the area covered by the former district.  In 2001, two districts and 12 branches and operated in Tuscany.  In May 2010, there was one district with eight branches in the region.


Some innovated mission outreach has occurred.  In 1995, missionaries in Ascoli Piceno held a 45-minute long weekly radio program that discussed basic gospel principles.  At the time the branch in Ascoli Piceno had 11 members.[7]  The Church maintains an Internet site for Italy at  The site provides local news, information on Church doctrines, and a meetinghouse locator in Italian.  Interested individuals can request Church literature or missionaries through the site.  The Internet site can assist in expanding mission outreach in Italy in currently unreached areas. The Church has all LDS scriptures in Italian available online. 


Member Activity and Convert Retention

Branches in districts have weakened in the past decade for reasons including the relocation of members to other areas of the country to find employment as well as low convert growth, low LDS birth rates, and ongoing struggles to retain members.  In Sardinia, some branches have seen church attendance drop dramatically due to active members moving elsewhere.  Some branch consolidations have resulted in many members going inactive due, at least in part, to an unwillingness to travel greater distances or difficulties integrating with members in a new congregation.  Retention and integration of new converts into congregations remain major challenges. 


Ethnic Issues and Integration

Full-time missionaries  report that non-Italians often tend to be more receptive to proselytism; immigrants from developing world nations of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa are overrepresented among LDS members.  The demographics of many congregations do not reflect demographics of the population within their boundaries.  The demographics of some congregations may contribute to integration problems, as some congregations have no non-Italians and others have large numbers of foreigners. Immigrant converts often come from cultures that are primarily consumers rather than producers of religion and are less likely to become active, participating members, serve missions, or hold leadership positions.  Mission outreach among native Italians has experienced frustrations and requires greater vision.


Language Issues

Language needs among the native population appear well addressed in most areas.  Some challenges related to differences in regional dialects may create barriers.  The large number of non-Italian members may one day necessitate language-specific congregations in larger cities.


Missionary Service

Italy remains dependent on foreign missionaries to staff its missionary force.  Mission leaders have indicated that decisions to consolidate two of Italy’s four original full-time missions were linked in increased self-sufficiency of local leadership.  120 missionaries served in the Italy Rome Mission following the consolidation of the Italy Catania Mission.  Decreases in full-time missionary numbers and missions are also likely due to low receptivity, particularly among native Italians.



Italy has produced a large number of dedicated leaders who have served in the Church both nationally and internationally.  The Church in northern Italy has enjoyed strong Priesthood leadership since as early as the late 1980s.[8]  In 1992, Vincenzo Conforte from Foggia was called as a regional representative.[9]  In 1993, Mario V. Vaira from Como was called as the temple president of the Bern Switzerland Temple.[10]  By 1994, Raimondo Castellani from Muggio was called as a regional representative.[11]



Most of Italy belongs to the Bern Switzerland Temple district.  Members have diligently attended the temple despite travel time and expenses and form a large portion of active temple goers in the temple district.  The announcement of the Rome Italy Temple in the October 2008 General Conference has elicited interest and excitement from members in Italy and internationally.  In May 2010, most government permits were secured for the temple’s construction.  Once completed, the new temple may serve members outside Italy in Southeastern Europe and North Africa.  The delay in a temple announcement was partially due to difficulty acquiring a suitable location.


Comparative Growth

Italy is one of the six European nations with over 20,000 members and is the nation in Europe which experienced the greatest increase in stakes in the 2000s.  Member activity rates compare to other Western European nations as the percentage of individuals enrolled in seminary or institute in Italy is approximately the same as Germany and France. 


Many Christian groups operate in Italy have experienced mixed results.  Jehovah’s Witnesses number among the most successful as there is nearly a quarter of a million active members and more congregations than the LDS Church in any nation outside the United States.  The Jehovah's Witness faith has become prominent as the dominant protest group to the Catholic Church, whereas Latter-day Saints have sought more respectful ties with other faiths.  Christian churches which experience growth tend to have had a long-term presence and developed local leadership and member-missionary oriented proselytism approaches. 


Future Prospects

Decreasing numbers of congregations and missionaries has resulted in more limited national outreach.  Although membership has matured in many areas, smaller cities and rural areas have seen little or no progress in the growth of the church over the past decade.  Long-term growth and self-sufficiency of the Church will largely depend on increasing native-Italian missionaries, breakthroughs in outreach among Italians, and a reversal of congregational declines.  Some positive developments have occurred in lieu of the Rome Italy Temple announcement such as increasing convert baptisms of full Italian families.  Time will tell whether this recent development remains sustained. 


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

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

[3]  “Italy,” Country Profiles, retrieved 12 May 2010.

[4]  “Italy,” Country Profiles, retrieved 12 May 2010.

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

[6]  “Italy,” Country Profiles, retrieved 12 May 2010.

[7]  “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 14 January 1995.

[8]  Hart, John. L.  “A harvest of families and leadership in northern Italy,” LDS Church News, 9 January 1988.

[9]  “New regional representatives,” LDS Church News, 17 October 1992.

[10]  “New temple president,” LDS Church News, 8 May 1993.

[11]  “New regional representative,” LDS Church News, 24 December 1994.