Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.


By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents


Area: 26,338 square km.  One of the smallest countries in continental Africa, Rwanda is a landlocked country in Central Africa that borders Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.  Terrain ranges from hilly to mountainous.  The lower elevation areas of the country are near Lake Kivu, which forms much of the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west.  The climate is temperate, with two rainy seasons and cooler weather in the mountains.  The country is well-watered from the various lakes and rivers throughout its interior and along its borders.  Rwanda is Africa's most densely population country and is administratively divided into four provinces and one city.

Population: 11,370,425 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 2.792% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 4.9 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 56.57 male, 59.52 female (2011)


Hutus: 84%

Tutis: 15%

Twa: 1%

The largest ethnic group in Rwanda is the Hutus, which make up 84% of the population.  Hutus also live outside of Rwanda, forming the largest ethnic group in neighboring Burundi.  Some Hutus live in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as refugees from Rwanda and Burundi.  Tutsis make up 15% of the Rwandan population.  Tutsis may also be found outside of Rwanda in neighboring Burundi.  Twa are a Pygmy ethnic group and comprise one percent of the population. 

Languages: Kinyarwanda (99%), French, English, Swahili

The three ethnic groups in Rwanda speak Kinyarwanda, also called Rwanda, which is an official language.  French and English are the other official languages in Rwanda, although French speakers are limited to educated Rwandans.  Few speak English as a second language.  Swahili is used as a trade language in commercial centers. 

Literacy: 70.4% (2003)


A Tutsi monarchy rose to power in the fifteenth century and maintained a close relationship with the Hutus under a system of rule and society similar to serfdom as the Hutus pledged their allegiance to their Tutsi overlords in return for the use of pastures, arable land, and loans of livestock.  The first known European to enter Rwanda was a German in the 1890s and by the turn of the century Rwanda became a German protectorate.  In 1915, Belgian forces from present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo invaded and annexed Rwanda.  Rwanda and Burundi were united as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi after World War I under a mandate from the League of Nations delegated to Belgium.  Belgians played a major rule influencing the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy in 1959 by the Hutus.  Over 100,000 Tutsis fled the country following the fall of the Tutsi monarchy and Rwanda achieved independence from Belgium in 1962.  Corruption and ineffective government stagnated economic growth and social progress and exacerbated ethnic tensions during the following decades as violent acts committed against Tutsis were often unpunished.  In 1990, exiled Tutsis launched an invasion of Rwanda from Uganda under the name of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).  War persisted until a cease fire was reached in 1992.  Both the Rwandan and Burundian presidents were killed in 1994 as an airplane carrying both presidents was shot down by the RPT.  Between April 6th and the beginning of July 1994, approximately 800,000 were killed in a massive genocide targeting Tutsis and moderate Hutus meanwhile the RFT waged a civil war against the Rwandan military until overrunning the country by the summer.  As a result of the Rwandan Genocide and concurrent civil war, one million were killed, one million were displaced within Rwanda, and two million fled to other countries.  In 1996, Rwandan troops from the former government and Ugandan forces invaded and retook the country.  Consequently over a million Rwandans returned to their homeland.  Since the genocide, ethnic tensions have remained although violence between the groups has abated.  There are an estimated 50,000 or fewer Rwandans living outside their homeland displaced from the conflict and consist of the defeated RPF military forces and its allies.  In recent years, the government as sought to address legal issues and rebuild the judicial system.[1]


Rwanda traditionally possessed a culture dominated by the intricate intertwining of Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities.  Today, agriculture and Christianity are the predominant influences on society and culture.  Alcohol consumption rates are higher than most African nations and slightly higher than the world average.  Dance and music are important cultural practices.  Common foods include fruit, sweet potatoes, beans, and cassava.   


GDP per capita: $1,100 (2010) [2.32% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.460

Corruption Index: 4.0

Due to its landlocked position and the 1994 genocide, Rwanda's economy has struggled to develop and integrate with the international community.  Rwanda lost many of its interested investors due to the genocide, yet economic prosperity has returned to levels before the genocide occurred.  The small geographical size of Rwanda challenges efforts to diversify the economy.  Industrial and service sectors of the economy are very undeveloped and over 90% of Rwandans work in agriculture.  Primary crops grown in Rwanda include coffee, tea, bananas, beans, and potatoes.  Poverty remains a major problem which was exacerbated by the genocide.  The primary trade partners include Kenya, Uganda, and China.  Corruption is perceived at levels lower than most of sub-Saharan Africa. 


Christian: 93.6%

Muslim: 4.6%

No Religion: 1.7%

Indigenous Beliefs: 0.1%


Denomination  Members  Congregations

Catholic  5,917,404

Seventh Day Adventists  481,042  1,521

Jehovah's Witnesses  18,937  409

Latter-Day Saints  48  1


Most Rwandans identify themselves as Christian.  In 2001 Roman Catholics accounted for 56.5% of the population while Protestants claimed an additional 26% of Rwandans.  Seventh Day Adventists are the second largest Christian group (11.1%).  Muslims make up 4.6% of the population.  Few Rwandans claim no religion (1.7%) or indigenous beliefs (0.1%).[2]  

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

Due to the large Christian majority in Rwanda, religious freedom is present in Rwanda and the government is open to many Christian denominations preaching and functioning in the country.  The government requires religious groups to register with the government to obtain legal status.  Foreign missionaries must obtain a visa and foreign identity card.  To obtain a visa, foreign missionaries must complete an application, have the religious group's legal representative sign the application letter, submit an authorization letter from the organization, and pay a fee of $87.  Foreign missionary visas last one year and are multiple entry visas.  Religious studies are a required subject of study in public schools.  A few Christian leaders participated during the 1994 genocide and most did little to stop it.  However the genocide was not motivated due to religious affiliation.  Jehovah's Witnesses have had some government scrutiny, which is likely due to the denomination's views of government.[3]

Major Cities

Urban: 19%

Kigali, Gitarama, Butare, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Byumba, Nyanza, Cyangugu, Kabuga, Ruhango.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the ten largest cities has an LDS congregation.  15% of the national population resides in the ten most populous cities.

LDS History

Mission presidents from both the Uganda Kampala Mission and the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo Mission visited Rwanda in late 2006 with their assistants to determine whether the country was ready to open for missionary work and what language (English or French) missionary work should be conducted in if the country were opened.  Rwanda was shortly thereafter assigned to the Uganda Kampala Mission and a group was meeting in Kigali in late 2007.  The first independent branch was organized in Kigali by the mission president of the Uganda Kampala Mission in 2008.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated Rwanda for missionary work in August 2009 on a hill overlooking Kigali.[4]  Missionaries periodically visited the Kigali Branch after the dedication to perform baptisms and the first senior missionary couple was likely assigned to Rwanda in 2010.  As of early 2011, the Church was still awaiting legal recognition in Rwanda and is posed to assigned the first proselytizing, young full-time missionaries in the near future.  Seminary and institute had not been established as of 2010.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 48 (2009)

There were 17 Latter-day Saints in 2008.  President Christensen visited the Kigali Branch on its one year anniversary of becoming a branch in March 2009 and noted that nine were baptized the day of his visit and that 18 had joined the Church in the past year.  A senior missionary couple reported that membership in the branch increased from 12 when it was organized to 45 a year later. 

In September 2009, ten Rwandans were baptized in Lake Muhazi and several returned missionaries, most from other nations living in Rwanda, were reported to be part of the branch.  In 2009, one in approximately 237,000 was LDS.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1

The Kigali Branch was the only LDS congregation in Rwanda in early 2011 and was assigned to the Uganda Kampala Mission.

Activity and Retention

With small, relatively recent membership in Rwanda, activity and retention appear very high.  The Kigali Branch appears to grow in church attendance as additional converts join the Church.  Active membership is estimated to number as many as 40, or 80% of total church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, French, and Swahili

Only Gospel Principles and The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith are translated into Kinyarwanda.  The Church likely conducts meetings in French and English. 


The first LDS meetings in Rwanda were held in a hotel in Kigali.  It appears that meetings continue to be held in the hotel or in another rented space.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Senior couples serving in the Uganda Kampala Mission reported that authorization for humanitarian work was given in the fall of 2008.  Humanitarian work in Rwanda began in early 2009.  In the fall of 2009, a humanitarian missionary couple serving in the Uganda Kampala Mission reported that the Church was working on a refugee project in the Gihembe Refugee Camp, located north of Kigali near the town of Byumba.  The humanitarian project was done through Deseret International Charities together with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.  Senior missionaries visited the camp and assisted in the distribution of needed clothing, hygiene, school, and healthcare items such as newborn kits.  At the time there were a reported 18,000 refugees in the camp who arrived across the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo due to ongoing and renewed civil unrest and war.  A neonatal resuscitation projected organized by the Church was planned for Rwanda in early 2010. 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects


Religious Freedom

Rwanda enjoys religious freedom on a level not present in many African nations.  This presents a major opportunity for proselytism without constraints which prohibit or restrain missionary work.  Delays in obtaining legal recognition from the government have postponed the introduction of proselytizing full-time missionaries.

Cultural Issues

The past genocide in Rwanda presents several issues for the Church.  Currently the Church cannot baptize those who have committed serious sins such as murder without an interview from the mission president, and in some cases baptism must be approved by the First Presidency.  Issues of war crimes and past violence have generated issues for faiths that were established in the country in the early 1990s, including Seventh Day Adventists.  Rwandans also use alcohol frequently in celebrations and declining the offer of a drink in a Rwandan's home is considered a great insult.  Unlike many African nations few Rwandans practice polygamy, which is not recognized in the country and illegal.

National Outreach

Less than eight percent of the national population resides in Kigali, the only city with an LDS congregation.  Most the inhabitants of Kigali are unaware of an LDS presence as the Kigali Branch was organized in 2008 and no formal proselytism occurred as of early 2011.  Past ethnic violence, distance from LDS mission outreach centers in other countries, a lack of Rwandan LDS converts in other countries, and few mission resources allocated to the region have contributed to the lack of LDS outreach in Rwanda until recently and continue to prevent greater outreach.  Rwanda's large rural population will likely take many years to reach and will probably come as a result of the Church establishing its presence in the population centers throughout the country.  National outreach expansion for the LDS Church will most likely occur as member-missionary programs take precedence, greater mission resources are allocated to the country, and legal recognition is obtained.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Activity in Rwanda appears to be very high as most recent converts have been retained.  Inactivity in Rwanda likely only exists for a small number of new converts since 2008 which have not been retained.  Inactivity may exist at higher rates among the few Rwandans who joined the Church abroad and later returned to their home country.  Isolation from the headquarters of the Uganda Kampala Mission appears to have not hampered retention and has likely increased the devotion of converts as consistent church attendance has been required for baptism.  Separation from mission headquarters and no assigned full-time, young missionaries has likely increased the involvement of local members in the teaching and fellowshipping of new converts, thereby increasing convert retention rates.  The size and maturity of other missionary-minded Christian groups in Rwanda may thwart LDS efforts to baptize converts from these groups and lead less-active members to return to their previously-affiliated churches.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Rwanda's recent genocide significantly contributed to the Church's recent entry into Rwanda and will likely present challenges to growing Church membership in the country among all ethnicities.  It is unclear whether new converts of the Church in Rwanda are predominantly Hutus or Tutsis, but the Church will need to function with both ethnic groups in congregations, especially considering that different units cannot be created for each ethnicity because both Hutus and Tutsis speak Kinyarwanda. 

Language Issues

As several of the leaders of the Church in Rwanda come from other nations, Church services will likely not be held in Kinyarwanda until greater growth occurs in local Rwandan membership.  Few Rwandans speak English or French well enough to enjoy a more meaningful Church experience in these languages.  It is unclear whether there are any requirements for converts joining the Church in Rwanda of proficiency in a second language.  For example, in Kenya converts usually cannot join the Church unless they can pass a baptismal interview in English because the Church lacks resources, membership, and leadership to pastor those who speak minority languages.   A transition to Church meetings being held in Kinyarwanda will likely occur in the near future because it is a national language and most widely spoken in Rwanda.  Constraints on language in other African nations by the Church are mainly due to the great diversity in local languages, small Church membership, and the lack of skilled translators.  As of yet no plans have been announced for translating any additional Church materials in Kinyarwanda.  This will likely occur once local membership requires it.  Experienced speakers of English and Kinyarwanda are needed to assist in the translation of Church materials.  Proficient LDS speakers of both languages may not yet exist since the first independent branch was only organized in 2008.


All members of the branch presidency served a full-time mission, according to missionaries who visited Rwanda in 2009.  Non-Rwandan members serve in branch leadership, two of whom are from Kenya and India.  Local Rwandan leadership appears to be forthcoming as Rwandans join the Church.  The consistent assignment of a missionary couple and regular visits from mission leadership may provide for self-sufficient local Rwandan leadership in the coming years. 


Rwanda is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple District.  It does not appear that any temple trips have been organized since the first branch was created in 2008.  Temple preparation classes and temple trips for the branch will likely be organized in the near future if not currently underway.  A future temple in Kenya appears likely over the medium or long term and would drastically decrease the time and financial burdens for Rwandan members to visit the temple.

Comparative Growth

Rwanda is one of the most recently-entered nations for the LDS Church in Africa.  As of May 2011, other nations which had an LDS presence recently established, reestablished, or pending included South Sudan (2009), Djibouti (2010), Burundi (2010), and Gabon.  In 2009, Rwanda had the smallest reported LDS membership of any African nation with an LDS congregation.  In 2010, Rwanda had the second fewest Latter-day Saints among countries with reported LDS membership totals after Senegal. 

Other outreach-focused Christians have experience tremendous growth in Rwanda.  Rwanda is one of the countries with the highest percentage of self-identified Seventh Day Adventists (11%).  During the 2000s, Adventists organized approximately 500 new congregations and baptized between 17,500 and 40,700 new converts annually.[5]  There were approximately half a million Adventists in 2011.  Jehovah's Witnesses reported 15,705 active members in 375 congregations in 2008.  These denominations have seen strong growth in Rwanda as a result of a long established presence in the country and strong national outreach primarily through the mobilization of local members.

Future Prospects

The Church's establishment in Rwanda since 2008 appears to be similar to the Church's establishment in Benin in 2003.  Rwandan Church membership could increase to over 200 in the early 2010s considering that membership growth in Benin increased from 11 in 2004 to 253 in 2008.  Future growth in membership and congregations will likely come with the assistance of missionaries as the Church has taken interest in Rwanda by dedicating the country for missionary work prior to the arrival of missionaries.  Strong, rapid growth in the Church in Africa has occurred without the assistance of missionaries, such as in the central Democratic Republic of Congo.  Additional branches may be organized in Kigali according membership growth and distribution demands.  A district could then be organized once enough leadership and active members can fill all the callings required for additional branches and potential district.  Humanitarian work also appears to present opportunities for  the Church to maintain positive relations with the government and Rwandan people while introducing the Church through service. 

[1]  "Background Note: Rwanda," Bureau of African Affairs, 12 April 2011.

[2]  "Rwanda," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[3]  "Rwanda," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.


[5]  "Rwanda Union Mission (2003-Present),", retrieved 16 May 2011.