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: 92,090 square km.  Located in southwestern Europe, Portugal occupies most of the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and borders Spain and the North Atlantic Ocean.  Mountains dominate most central and northern areas whereas plains and rolling hills cover southern areas.  Temperate maritime climate occurs in most areas, with cooler, wetter weather in the north and warmer, drier conditions in the south.  The Tagus River bisects Portugal and empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.  Earthquakes are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include soil erosion and pollution.  Portugal controls two island archipelagos, the Azores and Madeira, both of which are autonomous regions.  Portugal proper is divided into 18 administrative districts.

Population: 10,707,924 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.275% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.5 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 74.95 male, 81.69 female (2010)


Portuguese: 96%

Immigrants: 4%

With the exception of recent immigrants, the population is homogeneously Portuguese.  Immigrants numbered over 430,000 in 2007, with the most common countries of origin being Brazil (66,400), Cape Verde (63,900), Ukraine (39,500), and Angola (32,700).[1] 

Languages: Portuguese (95%), other West Iberian languages (0.5%), other (4.5%). Portuguese is the official language.  Common immigrant languages include Ukrainian, African languages, and Portuguese Creoles.  Portuguese is the only language spoken by over one million people (10.2 million). 

Literacy: 93.3% (2003)


One of the oldest European states, Portugal established its current political boundaries in 1249 AD.  Leon-Castile ruled much of Portugal until a rebellion in the mid twelfth century established a monarchy under Afonso I and gained territory southward from the Moors.  Portugal reached its height of power and influence during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and dominated the seas in many areas.  Portuguese-ruled territories stretched around the world and included Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Goa, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome.  Several events led to the loss of most wealth and power accrued during the centuries of expansion, trade, and prosperity, including the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth cenutury, and the independence of Brazil in 1822.  A republic was established in 1910, but was marked by economic instability and little progress.[2]  Portugal was neutral in World War II, joined NATO at its inception in 1949, and joined the European Community (European Union) in 1986.  A military coup overthrew the government in 1974 and paved the way for the independence of its African colonies in 1975.  Far-reaching democratic reforms were enacted by the new government.  Portugal continues to be among the most progressive European nations.


The Catholic Church has historically been a major cultural force, but its influenced has waned in recent years as a result of increasing secularism.  With a rich history of worldwide exploration and trade, Portugal greatly contributed to European expansion and understanding of the world.  Architecture, music, art, and sports are proud local traditions.  Common Mediterranean foods are represented in Portuguese cuisine, which places a strong emphasis on meat dishes.  Soccer is the most popular sport.  In 2010, Portugal became one of the few nations which has legalized same-sex marriage.   Cigarette consumption rates are moderate and alcohol consumption rates are high compared to the world average. 


GDP per capita: $21,700 (2009) [46.8% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.909

Corruption Index: 5.8

Portugal achieved greater development and diversification of the economy following admittance to the European Community in 1986.  In recent years, Portugal has struggled to attract greater foreign investment, which tends to be funneled into Central Europe and Asia for cheaper labor markets.  Unemployment reached a record high in late 2009 at over 10%.  Services employ 60% of the work force and generate 74% of the GDP.  Industry accounts for 30% of the work force and generates 23% of the GDP.  Major industries include textiles, footwear, wood products, food products, shipbuilding, and tourism.  Agriculture accounts for 10% of the work force and 3% of the GDP.  Primary agricultural goods include grain, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, grapes, livestock, and fish.  Spain, Germany, and France are the largest trade partners.

Despite being a long-term member of the European Union and NATO, corruption is perceived as more widespread than most Western European nations.  Portugal is a major crossroads for drug trafficking from Latin America, Asia, and Africa to Europe.


Christian: 96%

atheist: 3%

other: 1%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  9,851,290

Evangelicals  250,000

Eastern Orthodox  200,000

Jehovah's Witnesses  49,454  646

Latter-day Saints  38,509  68

Seventh Day Adventists  9,342  97


Over 80% of the population over age 12 identify as Catholic, but many do not actively attend worship meetings or practice their faith.  Non-Catholic Christians and other religious groups constitute less than five percent of the population and often comprise non-Portuguese, such as Africans and Eastern Europeans.[3]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  The law protects religious freedom from its abuse by the government or the public.  There is no state religion.  Non-Catholic Christian denominations with a presence in Portugal for over 30 years and internationally recognized for 60 years were able to receive benefits from the government previously reserved only for the Catholic Church under the 2001 Religious Freedom Act.  No all aspects of the act have been enacted by the government as of 2009.  Most Catholic holidays are recognized by the government.  Religious education in public schools is optional and is not limited to Catholicism.  There have been no recent reports of abuse of religious freedom in Portugal.[4]

Largest Cities

Urban: 59%

Lisbon, Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Amadora, Matosinhos, Braga, Coimbra, Maia, Feira, Funchal, SetúbalAll 11 of the cities with over 100,000 inhabitants are within five kilometers of an LDS congregation.  21% of the national population resides in the 11 largest cities.

LDS History

In 1974, the LDS Church investigated conditions in Portugal to determine whether missionaries could be assigned.  Government officials immediately granted permission for the Church to enter the country and the first mission was established later that year in Lisbon.[5]  President Thomas S. Monson dedicated Portugal for missionary work in April 1975.[6]  Seminary and instituted began in the 1970s.  The Church opened a second mission in Porto in 1987.  In 1988, the Church created the Spain Las Palmas Mission, which included the Canary Islands and Madeira.[7]  A third mission, the Portugal Lisbon North Mission, opened in 1990 but was later closed.  In 1991, Portugal was assigned to the Europe/Mediterranean Area.[8]  The Portugal Lisbon South Mission administered the Cape Verde Islands from the early 1990s until Cape Verde was dedicated for missionary work in 2002[9] and the Cape Verde Mission was organized in the same year.  In 1998, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed the last concert of its European tour in Portugal.[10]  In 2000, Portugal was assigned to the Europe West Area.[11]  Two missions were headquartered in Lisbon and Porto between 2002 and 2011 until they were consolidated into a single mission based in Lisbon.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 38,509 (2009)

In July 1975, there were 100 Latter-day Saints and by 1978 membership reached 1,000.  Membership continued to grow rapidly, reaching 5,000 by mid-1984 and 11,000 at year-end 1987.[12]  In 1988, there were 2,800 members in the Portugal Porto Mission.[13]  That same year, missionaries were baptizing 500 converts per month throughout Portugal, over half of which were joining the church in the three stakes operating at the time.  In 1990, there were 7,500 members in the Portugal Lisbon South Mission and 5,200 members in the Portugal Lisbon North Mission.[14]  There were 31,000 members by year-end 1991, and membership growth slowed dramatically thereafter.

Membership grew slowly in the 2000s but with the exception of 2007, membership has increased every year over the past decade.  Membership numbered 35,146 in 2000, 37,170 in 2003, 37,812 in 2005, and 38,188 in 2008.  Annual membership growth rates ranged from zero to two percent during this period. 

In 2010, missionaries reported that the Portugal Lisbon Mission was among the highest baptizing missions in the Europe Area, with 47 convert baptisms in February, 61 convert baptisms in June, and 50 convert baptisms in August.  In 2009, one in 278 was nominally LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 33 Branches: 35

The first stake was organized in Lisbon in 1981.  Additional stakes were created in Porto (1986), Setubal (1987), and Porto North (1989).  In 1988 there were four districts,[15] three of which were in Coimbra, Sao Joao de Madeira, and Vila Real.[16]  In 1989, Church created the Oeiras Portugal Stake with seven wards and three branches.[17]  In 1990, there were two stakes and three districts in each of the two missions headquartered in Lisbon.[18]  The Santarem Portugal District was organized in 1991.  In 2002, the Coimbra Portugal District became a stake with six wards and three branches.[19]  In the early and mid-2000s, districts were discontinued in Beja, Castelo Branco, and Vila Real.  In 2010, there were six stakes and four districts. 

In 1991, there were 118 congregations in Portugal, including 24  wards.  For the rest of the 1990s, branches were systematically consolidated, falling from a high of 94 in 1991 to 77 by year-end 1999.  In 2000, there were 87 congregations, including 28 wards.  The number of total congregations declined in the 2000s to 82 in 2003, 77 in 2006, and 68 in 2009.  In 2004, the number of wards and branches numbered 35 and 45, respectively.  By year-end 2009, the number of wards declined by two and the number of branches declined by 10.  In 2010, there was one mission branch in Vila Real. 

In September 2010 for the first time in several years, mission leadership was in the process of creating a new congregation in Albufeira by dividing the Loulé Branch.  Groups in several areas appear to be operating under the Portugal Lisbon Mission Branch and other congregations.

Activity and Retention

Member activity rates in Portugal appeared highest in the late 1980s and have dropped dramatically since.  In 1988, over 650 Portuguese church leaders assembled for Priesthood leadership training in Porto.[20]  During the period of rapid membership growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, mission leadership noted the major challenges retaining the large numbers of converts baptized during this period as some stakes baptized over 120 converts a month.[21]  In 2004, nearly 8,000 from Portugal and Spain attended a special meeting with President Hinckley in Madrid.[22]  470 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2008-2009 school year. 

In April 2010, the Ponta Delgada Branch in the Azores had 65 attending church regularly.  In March 2010, one of the wards in the Oeiras area had over 80 attending church.  In early 2010, the Praia da Vitória Branch in the Azores had fewer than 20 active members and 120 inactive members but after several months of reactivation and proselytism efforts, 35 were attending church regularly.  70 attended the Loulé Branch in mid-2010. 

In September 2010, missionaries reported that the Portugal Lisbon Mission had the third highest short-term convert retention rates in the Europe Area, although overall member activity rates remain very low, and it remains to be seen how recent convert retention rates will hold up over time.  In 2010, missionaries in the Portugal Lisbon Mission reported that at least six active Priesthood holders were required to create a branch in an area. 

Little progress reactivating less active members and improving convert retention rates occurred in the 2000s as nearly 20 congregations were consolidated and the average number of members per congregation rose from 404 in 2000 to 566 in 2009, a 40% increase.  Total active membership is estimated between 4,500 and 5,000, or 11-13% of total LDS membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Portuguese, English, Ukrainian

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are translated into Portuguese and Ukrainian.  The Liahona has 12 issues a year in Portuguese and Ukrainian.  In recent years, General Conference has been translated into both Portugal-spoken Portuguese and Brazilian-spoken Portuguese. 


The first chapel was built in Portimao, southern Portugal.[23]  In 2010, there were nearly 70 meetinghouses in Portugal.  Most congregations meet in Church-built meetinghouses.  Smaller branches often meet in rented spaces or renovated  buildings. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

Due to economic growth and prosperity over the past several decades, the Church has not completed many large humanitarian or development work projects.  Local members have participated in service projects in their communities.  In 2004, the Church conducted a Helping Hands activity in which 1,300 volunteers cleaned and repaired picnic areas in city parks.[24]  A second activity occurred later that year with 1,500 volunteers donating 7,000 hours of labor.[25]  Church President Thomas S. Monson announced in General Conference in April 2010 that humanitarian work had occurred in Portugal in the previous three months.[26]


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church experiences no restrictions regarding proselytism or assembly.  Foreign missionaries do not appear to experience difficulty obtaining visas to serve in Portugal.  Little religious discrimination and persecution of non-traditional Christian groups offer a positive environment for LDS missionary efforts. 

Cultural Issues

Developing a habit of weekly church attendance among investigators and converts appears to be a major challenge.  Many less active Latter-day Saints appear to have been nominally Catholic and have never been religiously active.  Increasing secularism may be responsible for the dramatic drop in membership growth in the early 1990s and in the future may lessen Portuguese and immigrant groups' receptivity to the LDS Church. 

National Outreach

46% of the national population resides in a city with a mission outreach center or in a city with over 20,000 inhabitants within 10 kilometers of a mission outreach center.  In 2010, the Church had missionaries assigned to cities without wards or branches, such Lagos and Vila Franca de Xila.  The percentage of the population reached nationwide may be as high as 50%.  Three of the 18 administrative districts (Braganca, Guarda, and Portalegre) have no mission outreach centers and comprise four percent of the national population. 

The consolidation of scores of congregations over the past two decades has reduced national outreach capabilities.  Dozens of cities are within 10 kilometers of a neighboring city with a mission outreach center and today receive periodic visits from missionaries but in the past many of these cities had their own mission outreach centers.  There are 25 cities between 20,000 and 60,000 inhabitants which are more than 10 kilometers from the nearest mission outreach center, amounting to seven percent of the national population.  Of these 25 cities, eight had LDS congregations discontinued in the past decade.  Missionaries appear to be assigned to some of these cities and either assist bringing members and investigators to a neighboring city or hold group meetings.  Rural populations have a greater potential to be reached by the Church than many other nations due to the small geographic size of Portugal and developed transportation infrastructure.  The most densely populated rural areas are along the coast between Lisbon and the Spanish border in the north.  The consolidation of LDS missions in Portugal has not directly reduced the Church's outreach capabilities and the closre of missions appears initiated due to modest receptivity, limited missionary manpower worldwide, and reduced emphasis on full-time missionaries for administrative duties. 

The Church maintains an Internet site for Portugal at  In addition to Portuguese-language information about Church beliefs and practices, a meetinghouse locator and local news are also displayed.  A Facebook group created by the Church for Portugal is another form of Internet outreach through social networking.  Use of the website in lesser reached areas may improve national outreach and increase the number of self referrals to missionaries. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The majority of Church membership appeared to join the church in Portugal between 1985 and 1995.  Unfortunately, this period of the most rapid numerical membership growth was characterized by mission policies promoting the rushed baptism of investigators with little pre-baptismal teaching in order to meet arbitrary baptismal goals or quotas, typically before investigators had firmly established regular church attendance and other gospel habits, and in many cases before overcoming substance addictions or other prohibited behaviors.  As a result, this period saw a large increase in nominal membership, but very little increase in active, participating membership or the strength of the Church.  Years of intensive ongoing efforts to reclaim inactive or disengaged members, many of whom appear not to have met scriptural requirements for baptism in the first place, has achieved few results and continues to strain limited congregational and mission resources.

Large numbers of converts baptized today are Africans, Latin Americans, and youth, which presents challenges for retention and long-term growth due to often transient lifestyles.  Reactivation programs require creativity and coordination between missionaries and local members.  In 1998, the Church ran a 16 episode televised series which assisted reactivation efforts and helped to find new investigators.[27]  Perhaps the most important factor to improve real long-term growth in active membership will be mission policies requiring that prospective converts firmly establish basic gospel habits necessary to sustain a testimony and promote ongoing church activity as requirements for baptism.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Missionaries frequently teach and baptize immigrants from Portuguese-speaking African nations, such as Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Sao Tome and Principe, and Brazil.  There do not appear to be any major challenge for these ethnic groups to assimilate in Portuguese congregations. 

Language Issues

Church materials are translated in the native language of at least 97% of the population.  Non-Portuguese church materials appear to be rarely used as missionaries work primarily among Portuguese speakers from Brazil, Africa, and Portugal.  Few language issues have been encountered.  In 2010, the only non-Portuguese-speaking congregation was an English-speaking branch in the Azores for U.S. military personnel in Lajes. 

Missionary Service

In the late 1980s, some stakes and districts had as many as 20 members serving full-time missions.[28]  In 1988, the first member from the Madeira Islands was called to serve a full-time mission.[29]  By 1990, local members constituted 20% of the full-time missionary force.[30]

The Church sent 20 new missionaries to the Portugal Lisbon Mission in September 2010 since the mission was the highest baptizing mission in Europe at the time.  The Portugal Lisbon Mission had 88 missionaries serving in mid-2010.  14 missionaries served in the Azores, including eight on the island of Sao Miguel.  Once self-sufficient in staffing its missionary needs, Portugal has potential to assist in missionary work in Portuguese-speaking African nations which are currently underserved, such as Angola.  


Local members led nearly all congregations, but in limited numbers.  Church employees serve regularly in leadership positions likely due to insufficient numbers of other capable and willing potential leaders.  Several Portuguese members have served in international leadership positions.  In 1990, former regional representative and stake president Vitor Manuel Pereira Martins from Lisbon began presiding over the Portugal Lisbon North Mission.[31]  In 1996, Jose A. Teixeira from Lisbon was called as an area authority.[32]  In 2004, A. Venancio Caleira from Setubal was called as an Area Authority Seventy.[33]  In 2005, Jose A. Teixeira was called to preside over the Brazil Sao Paulo South Mission.[34]  In 2008, Fernando A. R. Da Rocha from Seixal was called as an Area Seventy[35] and Elder Jose A. Teixeira was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy.[36]  The consistent baptism of many youth converts in recent years provides a positive outlook for future leadership development if these converts remain active and serve full-time missions. 


Portugal belongs to the Madrid Spain Temple.  Prior to the completion of the temple in Madrid, members traveled 48 hours by bus to attend the temple in Frankfurt, Germany.[37]  The temple appears well-attended as evidenced by endowment sessions occurring hourly throughout the day from Tuesday through Saturday.  Rates of temple attendance for active members in Portugal appear consistent for much of Europe.  In October 2010, the First Presidency announced a temple for Lisbon.  Missionaries have postulated that Portugal has remained without an LDS temple for so many years due to few active Priesthood holders.  Several European nations with much smaller church memberships have their own temples and are also in close proximity to other countries with operating temples, like Denmark.  Overall low member activity appears to be the primary factor in the delayed announcement of a temple until October 2010. 

Comparative Growth

The problematic period of rushed baptisms with little if any discernable standards from 1985 to 1995 has given Portugal the dubious distinction of being one of the countries with the lowest LDS activity rates in the world, in a church with member activity rates which are already much lower than those of Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.  By 1997, Portugal had the second most Latter-day Saints in continental Europe at 34,000 members, just 2,000 less than Germany,[38] although Portugese membership has supported far fewer congregations.  Portugal appears to have one of the lowest member activity rates in Europe as no other European nation has as many members per congregation on average.  Switzerland supports 36 LDS congregations with less than 8,000 members nationwide, whereas Portugal has nearly five times as many members but just 68 congregations. Only one percent of Latter-day Saints were enrolled in seminary or institute in 2008-2009 in Portugal, one of the lowest percentages in the world.  Portugal has the highest percentage of nominal Latter-day Saint membership in the population than any other European nation (0.36%), slightly more than the United Kingdom and three times the percentage of neighboring Spain.  Among nations without a temple, only Nicaragua has more members than Portugal.  Other European nations with smaller LDS populations have operating temples or temples announced, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Ukraine. 

Other mission-oriented Christian groups experienced rapid membership growth in the 1980s and 1990s, but since 2000 growth rates have declined.  Seventh Day Adventists achieved slow growth in membership during the 2000s, but steady growth in the number of congregations.  Jehovah's Witnesses also experienced steady membership growth during this period.  Evangelicals report moderate rates of growth.  Missionary-oriented Christian groups appear to have strong local leadership, which has increase efficiency and national outreach capabilities.  These groups also do not rush converts into baptism and wait until regular church attendance habits have been developed, promoting more sustained real growth and greater correlation between official membership numbers and active membership.

Future Prospects

Portugal has a potentially receptive population as evidenced by rapid growth in the late 1980s and continued high rates of convert baptisms.  However, poor convert retention and low member activity accumulating over the past several decades have presented major concerns and have contributed to the closure of many branches.  Rejection of past rush-baptize tactics and rebuilding of mission policies based on scriptural mandates and the need for converts to firmly establish basic gospel habits prior to baptism will be key to the Church's long-term efforts to experience real growth and develop a stable, self-sustaining and self-perpetuating local membership.

Reestablishing a Church presence in cities which formerly had mission outreach centers will be vital to expanding nation outreach in Portugal.  However, the recent trend of congregation consolidations has only slowed and a reversal of this trend has yet to occur.  Youth involvement in church education programs like seminary, institute, and missionary preparation classes may ensure greater convert retention and member activity, in addition to increasing the size of the local missionary force.  Districts in Santarem and Algarve may one day become stakes. 

[1]  "Demographics of Portugal,", retrieved 14 September 2010.

[2]  "Background Note: Portugal," Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, 24 February 2010.

[3]  "Portugal," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[4]  "Portugal," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[5]  Avant, Gerry.  "Marvelous work in Spain, Portugal," LDS Church News, 27 May 2006.

[6]  Searle, Don L.  "The Saints of Portugal," Tambuli, Feb 1988, 27

[7]  "9 missions created; world total now 221," LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.

[8]  Cannon, Mike.  "Diversity in land, people, and climate," LDS Church News, 7 December 1991.

[9] "Republic of Cape Verde dedicated by apostle," LDS Church News, 24 September 1994.

[10]  Avant, Gerry.  "Choir tour: 'a missionary journey'," LDS Church News, 11 July 1998.

[11]  Lloyd, Scott.  "European continent realigned into three new areas," LDS Church News, 16 September 2000.

[12]  Searle, Don L.  "The Saints of Portugal," Tambuli, Feb 1988, 27

[13]  "9 missions created; world total now 221," LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.

[14]  "Eight new missions announced," LDS Church News, 3 March 1990.

[15]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 23 July 1988.

[16]  "9 missions created; world total now 221," LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.

[17]  "New stake presidents," LDS Church News, 5 August 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.c    om/articles/18744/New-stake-presidencies.html

[18]  "Eight new missions announced," LDS Church News, 3 March 1990.

[19]  "New Stake Presidents," LDS Church News, 1 June 2002.

[20]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 23 July 1988.

[21]  "Eight new missions announced," LDS Church News, 3 March 1990.

[22]  "Marvelous gathering of members in Madrid," LDS Church News, 5 June 2004.

[23]  Searle, Don L.  "The Saints of Portugal," Tambuli, Feb 1988, 27

[24]  "Helping Hands  begins," LDS Church News, 7 August 2004.

[25]  "Portuguese 'Helping Hands'," LDS Church News, 6 November 2004.

[26]  Monson, Thomas S.  "Welcome to Conference," Ensign, May 2010, 4-6

[27]  "Television broadcasts raise visibility of Church," LDS Church News, 30 May 1998.

[28]  Searle, Don L.  "The Saints of Portugal," Tambuli, Feb 1988, 27

[29]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 23 January 1988.

[30]  "Eight new missions announced," LDS Church News, 3 March 1990.

[31]  "New mission presidents," LDS Church News, 5 May 1990.

[32]  "First Presidency announces new area authorities," LDS Church News, 23 March 1996.

[33]  "New Area Authority Seventies," LDS Church News, 24 April 2004.

[34]  "New mission presidents," LDS Church News, 14 May 2005.

[35]  "38 Area Seventies called," LDS Church News, 12 April 2008.

[36]  "Called to Seventy," LDS Church News, 12 April 2008.

[37]  Cannon, Mike.  "Diversity in land, people, and climate," LDS Church News, 7 December 1991.

[38]  Hart, L. John.  "A half century of modern Church expansion: 1949-97," LDS Church News, 27 September 1997.