Mid-1990’s projections for 2020 revisited

Last week the church reported 16,565,036 members. What did some foresee a quarter of a century ago for 2020? Back to the past’s future.

In the Ensign of August 1993 an analysis of church growth concluded: “If growth rates for the past decade remain constant, membership will increase to 12 million by the year 2000, to 35 million by 2020, and to 157 million by the mid-twenty-first century.” (p. 75).

Same projection by Bennion and Young in 1996,[1] based on various variables but with plenty of reservations, leading to a cautious: “The First Presidency in 2020 will preside over no more than about 35 million members.” (p. 29). However, their most positive projections, based on regional dynamics, “generate forecasts which cumulatively project much higher growth rates than those based on the combined population. Thus the cumulative membership size for the Series 1 projections [based on regional growth rates between 1980 and 1990]  in 2020 comes to 121 million” (p. 20).

Bennion and Young also made these tentative predictions for 2020:

  • “By 2020 a majority of all church members will reside in Latin America with less than one-fourth in North America, a near reversal of the 1995 pattern in just twenty-five years.“
  • “We expect to see from three to six new apostles, with at least one from either Latin America (maybe Mexico), Europe (United Kingdom or Germany), or Asia (Japan or Korea).”
  • “Latin America will loom ever larger than now, with populous Brazil making up for its late (post-1978) start and adding the most members. Yet North America, and mainly the Great Basin Kingdom, will retain its central place as the prime source of decision-making, despite its reduced numerical status.”
  • “Even with a Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking majority among the world’s 35 million Mormons by the year 2020, English, we predict, will still prevail as the only official language of the universal Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Bennion and Young’s final paragraph repeats the caution: “This prediction, like most of those made in this essay, may well prove wrong. The only opinion we can express with confidence is that the next quarter century will bring the church as many changes and surprises as the past one has.”

In 1994, the conviction of major growth in Latin America made also Matthew Shumway project the following for 2020:

“For rates of growth, the fastest growing world regions are Africa (13 percent), Mexico and Central America (12 percent), South America (10 percent), and Asia (9 percent). For absolute growth, the newest members of the Church are coming from South America, Mexico and Central America, the western United States, and the eastern United States. If current regional growth trends continue, the demographic makeup of Church members will be dramatically different in the future. The biggest changes will be in the United States, Canada, and Europe, regions that will likely decline from around 40 percent in the year 2000 to 22 percent by 2010 and only 11 percent of Church membership by 2020. On the other hand, Mexico, Central America, and South America should increase from around 46 percent in the year 2000 to 62 percent in 2010 and 71 percent of all Church membership by 2020.”[2]

Shumway did not give estimates in number of members, but his calculation of demographic shifts in percentages was based on “current regional growth trends” – the same as Bennion and Young’s basis for the high estimates that would lead to more than 100 million members in 2020.

Interesting to note is that also in 1996, Rodney Stark, who famously projected figures of a century of church growth in 1984, revisited and confirmed his estimates.[3] In 1984 he had projected for 2080 a high estimate of 267 million members and a low estimate of 60 million (the latter was seldom quoted). He maintained those estimates, but details them in intervals. His intermediate calculation for 1995, which he could then compare to reality, showed he had been rather cautious: his high estimate for 1995 was 8,521,000 members, his low estimate 6,875,000. The church actually reported for 1995 a total of 9,439,000 members, which at the time led to some cheering that the church was growing even faster than Stark’s highest estimate. But based on the same growth ratios, Stark projected for 2020 a high estimate of 23,480,000 members and a low of 13,246,000. It means a significant slowing since 1996, but still within Stark’s projected range, as the church reported 16,565,036 members at the end of 2019.

Interpretation

There are quite a few factors that may influence church growth. For conversion: changing attitudes toward organized religion, credibility of the message, tolerability to the claim of exclusive truth, international distinctness of the church’s name in languages around the world, missionary volume and effectiveness, public relations efficiency, countries’ political openness, migration impact, and more. Within the church, programs, activity rate, retention, fundamentalization or not, changing fertility, generational shifts, and more, play their role. It makes projections hazardous, but still these predictions express faith, hope and ambition.

I would also refer to the more recent analyses by Ryan Cragun and Ronald Lawson.[4] They do not predict numerical developments, but come to sobering conclusions as to the future by examining the membership data for comparable proselytizing groups—Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists. A main reason for the much lower result than most projections anticipated is probably to be found in the “secular transition” related to the level of economic development in each country. Their conclusion:

“The single largest predictor of growth is growth momentum—once a religious group starts to grow in a country, it continues to grow. However, that growth eventually slows due to a variety of factors, including reaching a saturation point and reduced demand. Aside from momentum, both supply and demand factors are important. However, of these, the most prominent is level of economic development. Once countries reach a moderately high level of economic development (HDI of .8 + ), these three groups experience very little to no growth. Whether that is due to modernization generally or social safety nets specifically, we cannot say. Future research should attempt to discern which of the two (it may be both) actually causes the secular transition. Either way, it is clear that once that point is reached, the future of these proselytizing religious groups in those countries is gloomy.”[5]

For proselytizing religions, growth remains an overall concern. What factors can contribute to more progress? What can we do better? Do we still dare to make projections for the next 25 years?

 

[1] Bennion, Lowell C., and Lawrence A. Young. “The uncertain dynamics of LDS expansion, 1950-2020.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29, no. 1 (1996): 8–32.

[2] Shumway, J. Matthew. “Membership Growth by States and Countries.” Historical Atlas of Mormonism (Simon & Schuster, 1994): 122–123.

[3] Stark, Rodney. “So far, so good: A brief assessment of Mormon membership projections.” Review of Religious Research (1996): 175–178.

[4] Cragun, Ryan T., and Ronald Lawson. “The secular transition: The worldwide growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists.” Sociology of Religion 71, no. 3 (2010): 349–373; Lawson, Ronald, and Ryan T. Cragun. “Comparing the geographic distributions and growth of Mormons, Adventists, and Witnesses.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 51, no. 2 (2012): 220–240.

[5] Cragun & Lawson, “The secular transition,” 370.

 

34 comments for “Mid-1990’s projections for 2020 revisited

  1. MP
    April 8, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Still missing Clark Goble and wishing his family well.

  2. Wilfried
    April 8, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Absolutely, MP. Very thoughtful of you. As a reminder and as a tribute, here is his 2019 analysis.

  3. ReTx
    April 8, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Growth numbers are interesting, but I’ll argue that they aren’t nearly as important as average Sunday attendance numbers. World wide, how many practicing members are there now compared to 1990? Can we guesstimate those numbers?

  4. Wilfried
    April 8, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    ReTx, that is indeed a crucial element. As long as the church does not release Sunday attendance numbers (which they have with great precision from the Stake Quarterly Reports), there is a vast uncertainty where we actually stand. As far as I know, most churches release those numbers or at least close estimates. In my home country Belgium the Catholic church releases a yearly report with such helping figures to document the yearly reduction of church attendance. No need to “keep up appearances”. It allows sociologists to measure developments more accurately. It helps to compare national, regional, and local trends and better analyze factors.

  5. jonovitch
    April 8, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    My very rough guesstimate for number of active members is the number of stakes x 1000.

    If I had the time and was really interested I could probably get more precise by finding out how many stakes are in the western United States vs Eastern Europe vs Africa, etc., and fiddling with the multiplier depending on the region.

    But ”total stakes x 1000” works for me and probably isn’t too far off.

  6. Wilfried
    April 9, 2020 at 2:25 am

    Thank you, jonovitch. Such a calculation of “active members” can indeed give some idea, but it would remain a raw figure. David Stewart also draws our attention to the problem of definition of “active member” if we use church attendance as criterion. See his excellent chapter on the topic. Cumorah.com also gives, per country, estimates of active membership, based on the data they are able to obtain. For current developments see of course Matt Martinich’s website on church growth.
    There is some irony in the fact that the church gives a yearly, precise number for total membership while this does not reflect reality (such as counting numerous people who are still on the records but who do not identify themselves as Latter-day Saints), while precise figures of sacrament meeting attendance and of temple recommend holders are known to church HQ, but are not made available.

  7. GEOFF -AUS
    April 9, 2020 at 5:48 am

    In Australia the church say there are 155,000 members. There are 41 stakes, and 9 mission districts. The census say there are 60,000 members (not all claiming to be active). So maybe one third of claims.

    So the forecast for 27 years ago was between between 32 and 120 million by now and 157 million by 2050.

    So there was a period of optimism before 1993 (that made them think the future would be like the last 10 years) then what happened after 1993, that changed the expectation?

    We got rid of racism, and had a period before we got into homophobia, and sexism became a thing we could refuse to fix. Can you sell the gospel of Jesus Christ if it comes with discrimination of gays and women? NO.

    So reality 16.5 million is probably 5.5 million if honest.

    And what are potential forecasts for the mid century now?

  8. Benk
    April 9, 2020 at 7:32 am

    On the active members point, here is some hard data from Scotland:

    Total membership (31 Dec 2017) — 13,912
    Latter-day Saint Census affiliation (2011) — 4,651
    First Quarter Average Attendance (2019) — 2453
    • Stake 1 — 403
    • Stake 2 — 499
    • Stake 3 — 507
    • Stake 4 — 581
    • Stake 5 — 463

    From my knowledge of the accounting practices employed by some units, the reported figures for quarterly attendance are inflated. Some units counted those on assignment in other wards, that ward then counted them as well meaning they were counted twice that week. Some counted those who would normally be there but were ill that week. Others counted those who never attend for a variety of reasons but received the sacrament at home. Some started their weekly count on a baseline higher than zero to factor such things in. Others counted every person who attended at least once during the reporting period rather than an average. This is in relation to counting in the first quarter of 2019, where the numbers are from. How these practices have changed with the church’s change in reporting directives this year before the shutdown I don’t know.

    All this is to say that the assertion that the church has “precise” attendance figures is probably not accurate. They have attendance figures, but there is a tendency to inflate them by those who report them. There’s probably many reasons for such inflation, although I imagine high amongst them are, 1) to give a better impression to those they are reporting to, and 2) because their budget is linked to those figures.

  9. Wilfried
    April 9, 2020 at 8:11 am

    Always valuable to get input from Down Under, GEOFF-AUS. We don’t have many voices from the international church commenting. Yes, the difference between church figures and census figures where people can indicate their religion has often been telling. David Knowlton documented it for Mexico and Chile: the census reveals only 20 to 25% the number of Mormons that the church claims.

    Indeed, the optimism in the mid-nineties stemmed from the growth ratios in some regions over the previous decades. Difficult to say which reasons were most significant to explain why the anticipated growth did not continue. All contribute to a certain extent. The worldwide “secular transition” which Cragun and Lawson mention no doubt plays a major role. The vast PR opportunities (SL Winter Olympics, Romney, the “I’m a Mormon campaign … ) may have slowed the decelarating movement, but many other factors (some I mentioned in my post and you in your comment) could not turn the tide. This is not to say that the church stopped progressing, but also the internal losses, especially among young adults and Millennials, and declining fertility helped to undermine the mid-1990s predictions. Church leaders must have plenty of answers from their own research at HQ. Contrary to other churches, our church does not publish those reports.

  10. Wilfried
    April 9, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Well, while I was typing my response to Geoff, Scotland came in. Thanks, Benk. Revealing figures, confirming trends. Yes, I do agree that Sacrament meeting attendance figures would not always be precise, though from my observation in my home ward it seems that the variances would not be very significant. But there certainly is a lack of conformity in the way reporting is done. And there is also much to say about those who may seldom attend a meeting for a variety of reasons, but are nevertheless deeply convinced Latter-day Saints.

    Geoff, I did not answer your last question: “And what are potential forecasts for the mid century now?“ I know of no recent predictions. In 1993 the Ensign foresaw 157 million members by 2050. In 1996 Rodney Stark mentioned for 2040 a high estimate of 52,830,000 members and a low of 22,387,000. For 2060, his high estimate is 118,867,000 and his low 37,833,000. At current growth rates, could perhaps the low estimates be reached?

  11. The Other Clark
    April 9, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Stark’s estimate is proving fairly accurate 25 years into the model.

  12. Wilfried
    April 9, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Yes, The Other Clark , and even 36 years into the model since his original projection dates back to 1984 and he hardly changed it in 1996. On the other hand, his high estimate and low estimate are so widely apart (leading to a high of 267 million members and a low of 60 million in 2080), that there always was a fair chance the actual numbers would fall somewhere between those extremes, at least for a number of decades.

    Geoff and Benk, I forgot to ask: any indication as to further developments of the church in your part of the world? For our mission (Belgium-Netherlands) I can report that with an average of 130 fulltime missionaries, their proselytism yielded 95 converts in 2016, 88 in 2017, 94 in 2018, and 66 in 2019—an average of just 0.7 converts per missionary per year. There are no indications that things are going to improve. The concept of “centers of strength” that the church implemented a few years ago by closing units and consolidating them does not seem to foster missionary work, on the contrary.

  13. Wondering
    April 9, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Wilfried, If I recall correctly, in the mid-60s in the Switzerland Zurich mission the average number of converts per missionary per year in Switzerland was significantly less than 0.7. One of those years there were 26 baptisms but more than 20 of them were Syrians living in Beirut. That mission then had responsibility for mid-east and Iron Curtain countries and had at one point up to 6 missionaries in Beirut. I wonder how things may have changed there. There has been growth in the number of stakes and wards, but the ward in Bern was recently closed.

  14. Wilfried
    April 9, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Wondering, your comment brings back memories. I was part of the Swiss Mission in 1970-1972, while living in Kinshasa, Congo (Zaire). Served there as group leader for a handful of saints – American and European expats. Indeed, the Swiss Mission was responsible for all those faraway regions. For the situation in Beirut and Lebanon now, cumorah.com and Matt Martinich’s website provide information. As to Switzerland itself, was Bern closed as part of a consolidation?

  15. Mortimer
    April 9, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Missionary effectiveness always gets thrown in as a prominent part of the equation, which is curious. I recall there being a global dip in converts while I was out on my mission, which improved after the more stringent requirements for mission service were rolled out with the new more flexible curriculum. In the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, the bar for mission service was lower still, yet the boom in Latin and South America was still happening. I hypothesize that the recent age drop is going to negatively effect the work. We should be seeing that already, but I don’t have the numbers.

    But missionary effectiveness isn’t as impactful as the other downstream contextual factors. Yet, we love to make them think it’s all their fault.

  16. April 9, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    Wilfried, I was in the Franco-Belgian Mission in the mid-1960’s. Our baptism numbers were similar to those you report for 2016-2019. I guess nothing has much changed. Missionary efforts at the time were plagued by mismanagement at all levels of the Church. Swimming-pool baptisms, opening of too many small cities, fundamentalist moles, failure to face reality. Missionary reports and testimonies seemed unhinged from reality.

    Since baptism rates are the same now as they were 55 years ago, something needs to change in western Europe. How about more service to refugees flooding in from the Middle East.

  17. April 9, 2020 at 11:58 pm

    I just had a thought. What if activity rates don’t matter as much as baptisms? I wonder, is it better/more important (from an eternal perspective) to baptism someone with the proper authority and have them not stay active in the church vs. not baptize them at all for fear they won’t stay active?

    One of the two baptisms I had anything to do with on my mission in eastern Germany (after the Wall fell) was an African student, in a small branch, in a moderately sized city (the branch has now been consolidated into the neighboring city’s ward).

    At the time, the branch president (a man from western Germany) was concerned that we would baptize the African man, and then the branch would never see him again. He spoke from some experience, having seen this play out before. (I now live in a ward in the Midwest where I see some similarities, so I understand now a little better where he was coming from then.)

    We weren’t just being overly eager missionaries; our new friend was sincere in his faith — he believed everything we taught him (much to our surprise and delight) — and we assured the branch president this was different. As it turned out, shortly after he was baptized, he moved to a different city due to his studies. So the wary branch president was right. (But so were we?)

    In the case of our African friend back then in eastern Germany, and in the cases of our African friends now in the Midwest, I believe they are sincere. But maybe they just live a more transient life than we do. Even if they stay in the same apartment/house, their lives are not nearly as stable and structured as our American/ lifestyles. Their jobs, incomes, cars, families, lives all seem to be so much more fluid.

    I’m wondering if steady, regular, reliable church activity is realistic for some people. Should we not teach them? Should we not baptize them? Are we too concerned about their activity rate because of our ward budget allocation? Or because it’s more people for us to be “responsible for”?

    We know not everyone will be active church-goers for the rest of their lives. I wonder if it’s good enough *for them and for their sake* to be baptized and then “we never see them again,” even if it means supposedly more work for us. I wonder if baptism, even if a one-time event, is more important than remaining active.

  18. Wilfried
    April 10, 2020 at 3:46 am

    Thanks, Mortimer. I agree that “missionary effectiveness isn’t as impactful as the other downstream contextual factors”. I assume we talk about the “secular transition” as defined by Cragun and Lawson, and related factors I listed as changing attitudes toward organized religion, credibility of the message, tolerability to the claim of exclusive truth, international distinctness of the church’s name in languages around the world, missionary volume and effectiveness, public relations efficiency, countries’ political openness, migration impact, and more. I share your concern “that the recent age drop is going to negatively effect the work”. Perhaps not directly in the number of converts (in view of the profile of people that are being contacted and baptized – mainly young migrants and transients), but more in the struggle to keep these young missionaries motivated.

  19. Wilfried
    April 10, 2020 at 3:55 am

    Rogerdhansen, you must have been in the mission under Thomas Brown? I recognize all the elements you mention. Those were the times (I met the missionaries in 1964). At the same time I think we should recognize that (some of those) missionaries have been able to bring in, besides the many that quickly turned inactive, the few remarkable “pioneers” who became the basis of present strong families in second and third generation Latter-day Saints. These form the “dynasty families” who now feed the leadership positions on stake level and in bishoprics (and some on regional level). I see it in Europe, but it is probably similar elsewhere. A study of the intermarriages within these families and the way callings are extended through these interconnections could be interesting from a sociological perspective. However, I also notice it sometimes goes together with some fundamentalization, a managerial mentality, and even the adoption of strong conservative attitudes and opinions from US origin. Indeed, many of these families now have (family) ties with the US, especially Utah, consequence of missionary service with Americans, study at BYU and subsequent immigration, marriages … Facebook is revealing in that respect. Good material for research!

  20. Wilfried
    April 10, 2020 at 3:57 am

    Jonovitch, your question “is it better/more important (from an eternal perspective) to baptism someone with the proper authority and have them not stay active in the church vs. not baptize them at all for fear they won’t stay active?” raises several issues. One, of course, pertains to the value of post-baptism “church activity” as a condition for salvation. Another pertains to the value of baptism in itself for salvation. That question is indeed a fundamental one, which has often been asked over the centuries in Christian theology (“fate of the unlearned” or “destiny of the unevangelized”) and also leads back to Paul’s remark over baptism for the dead. The hopeful view: if those who have not known “the law” die, they can still be saved afterwards. Catholic theology made it more difficult, hence their long held doctrine that children who die without baptism would not be able to reach the highest level. Our church adopted the principle of vicarious work for those who never had the chance to be properly baptized.

    But what about those who had the chance, but did not take it? In his conference talk of April 2019 president Nelson talks about those who decline the invitation to be baptized. Speaking of a friend of his taught by the missionaries but not willing to commit, president Nelson even doubts “the efficacy of proxy temple work for a man who had the opportunity to be baptized in this life … but who made the conscious decision to reject that course.” If that is so, the few millions taught yearly by missionaries but declining to be baptized will regret ever speaking with them, since, according to presidents Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow, all those who never heard the fullness of the gospel on earth, will gladly and easily accept it in the spirit world (quotes in Introduction to Family History Student Manual, Chapter 9). So, your question, “from an eternal perspective,” could lead to the conclusion that it is better not to do any missionary work.

  21. RL
    April 10, 2020 at 5:50 am

    On the bright side Europe actually saw a gain in membership over the past year. Europe is very different than where most of the growth actually occurs. Demand and fertility is high in Africa and I believe the Church is trying to get as many missionaries there as it can. China/Philippines and Latin America seems where most of the proportional growth occurs, but Africa really is the future IMO. Oceania is strong but small. The Western US still produces the most numeric growth, mostly through its slowing birthrate.

    I’m sure we can all find some sort of data to back up our localized experience and takes. I for one find a lot of delight in the growth occuring and Church funds being transfered to the developing world. We need their goodness and they need the spirit and goodness of the Church.

  22. Wondering
    April 10, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Wilfried, I don’t think the closing of the Bern Ward was quite the same sort consolidation effort that took place elsewhere on a larger scale. But, yes, it was a consolidation into the nearby Zollikofen Ward. As explained by Pres. von Allmen of the stake presidency it was “[b]ecause of the trend that a particularly large number of larger [member] households moved out of the city of Bern … and, moreover, there were no new move-ins — to any effective extent, and because the American families, who worked for a limited period in the urban area, could not take up certain positions due to their language barrier so that the small number of members with callings would be overloaded…” (My translation.)

  23. April 11, 2020 at 12:12 am

    Wilfried, I was approaching the question about activity/retention rates from the hypothesis that yes, it is better to baptize someone and then have them go inactive vs. not baptize them at all. Because then at least they’ve been baptized by someone with authority, which is a saving ordinance. I guess I should have said it that simply the first time. :)

    The reason I was wondering about this was because I was thinking about the high baptism rates in South America, where year after year thousands upon thousands of new converts have flocked to the waters of baptism in droves (and for that matter, in post-reunification eastern Germany for a few years), only to have those once-growing, quickly multiplying stakes and missions be collapsed, consolidated, and closed in more recent years.

    I don’t necessarily believe it *is* better, but that’s the hypothesis I was thinking of. The question then is, is a one-and-done ordinance (baptism) good enough for some people? Is it better for them than nothing at all? In other words, is it okay that so many people in South America (for example) got baptized but didn’t stay active?

    Yes, it would be great if everyone got baptized and everyone stayed active so everyone could receive all of the saving ordinances and raise families where all of their children do the same, but that’s not realistic. So given our real-world situation, are we too concerned about people’s activity rate vs. people receiving at least one saving ordinance?

    And if so, was (or is) it then actually okay for missionaries and mission presidents to have been pushing baptism as much as they did (or still do)? That’s what I was getting at. It just took me a second attempt to get there.

    (P.S. I wasn’t even thinking about someone who had been invited to be baptized but turned it down. That’s a completely different discussion. FWIW, I don’t necessarily believe the idea that one chance is all you get. I think God might be more merciful than that.)

  24. Wilfried
    April 11, 2020 at 3:04 am

    RL, thank you. The more detailed figures per country or region always deserve more analysis, but the church does not provide sufficient details. For example a gain in membership in Europe does not say how many of these are non-European (probably between 50 and 70 percent, based on what we know from previous years). Many of these are immigrants from Africa. So your mentioning that “Africa really is the future IMO” makes sense. The future will tell if this momentum is going to last.

    Wondering, thanks for the extra information!

    Jonovitch, thanks for the clarification. Yes, I can follow the reasoning. What you mention comes closest to the essence of the Great Mandate: preach Christ and baptize. If these converts next try to live decent lives and are engaged in good causes, according to the principles in the Sermon on the Mount, with occasional missteps and repentance, that would seem “good enough” as you mentioned. Sometimes we forget that “Church activity” in its present meaning is a concept that developed later on. Around 1900 only 15% of the members attended sacrament meeting and only 5% of the wards held priesthood meetings. That started to change, in particular through the “Priesthood Reform Movement” between 1908 and 1922, when, among other “activation” mechanisms, reporting and statistics were urged and the auxiliaries became a mandatory part of ward and stake life under the direction of the priesthood. Callings multiplied and “being active” took on new meanings, with the implied judgmentalism.

  25. RL
    April 11, 2020 at 7:14 am
  26. Stuart C. Reid
    April 16, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Wilfried, do you still respond to your BYU email address? — Stuart

  27. Michael
    April 16, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Late to the conversation, sorry.

    I propose another way to estimate how many people are active and participate. My marker is the decision to have children put on the records of the church. That number is around 90,000 to 100,000 children each year and is published in April General Conference. Next is the question, how many women does it take to produce that many children? One could say 100,000. But they don’t have a child every year. Over their lifetime they average about 3 children. So how long do they live on average? To make the math simple, lets say 81 years.That results in one child every 81/3 or 27 years. Or 27 x 100,000 would be 2.7 million women and presumably about the same number of men.

    Now look at the assumptions and make corrections. I can’t tell how much of a correction, but a direction is possible to guess. The 3 child per woman on average implies a population skewed towards the young, and the child bearing years.So it would take fewer women to make 100,000 children. Half the church speaks Spanish/Portuguese. Those women have larger families and don’t live as long. An extreme reference point; Consider 6 children per family and a life span of 60 years. That would only require 1 million women. Consider most conversions are young people and lifelong activity is probably way under 50%. Again a skewing to less women needed to make that many children. Most people would agree more women are active than men, although this discrepancy is less for LDS people than many others.

    The only possible factor in the other direction is if all these factors are out weighed by loss of youth before having children and retention of elderly women. But that is not good news, it means the 100,000 number will fall steadily.

    These estimates are crude- to make it easier to illustrate how to calculate them. Take better data and calculating devices and give it a spin. I get less than 5 million, maybe about 4 million members. Not too far from the Jonovitch and the Benk estimates above.

  28. April 17, 2020 at 12:34 am

    I have been studying this problem in great detail for most of my 78 years of life, especially the last 20 years since I retired, and finally the answer is clear to me as to the question of why the church is hardly growing at all these days, with an active membership perhaps only 1/5 of its nominal size: The sad and painful truth is that the church today actually contains the essence of the church of Moses, not the church of Christ. The law of Moses was not something that went viral in the Mediterranean area. Only the Jews could tolerate that particular harsh and invasive religion. There was good reason for Christ to scorn and condemn that deteriorated ancient religion. Christ ended the law of Moses, and introduced the New Testament gospel, which was specifically designed for worldwide service and consumption, and it grew wildly until it became the religion of Rome, and of the Holy Roman Empire, and eventually gave us our freedom-loving Western Civilization. When the LDS church today is finally willing to shed all of the many markers it has adopted from the ancient law of Moses – centralized tithing, a paid ministry, a fixation with super-expensive physical temples, etc. — and instead chooses to direct ALL individual resources toward charitable acts as described in the New Testament, then the church culture will start to solve real social problems and will explode worldwide, just like those 1980s and 1990s predictions imagined. Until then, I expect we will remain essentially static, or actually shrink in size. I have assembled a 300-page book draft which covers all the main issues, but it is hard to imagine that I could find a publisher or an audience for it. We have been drifting further and further off course since 1896, and it is hard to imagine that anyone today could actually handle the truth. A very large number of the people who have the knowledge and skills to evaluate what I am saying are actually church employees or church retirees. One might guess that that group would not be excited to consider what I am saying since it could have a big effect on their livelihoods.

  29. April 17, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    You could go to MormonSurveys.blogger.com for much more on the topic of church growth, plus the chance to take a fairly complicated one-question survey I just constructed this week.

  30. sjames
    April 17, 2020 at 11:37 pm

    Some thoughts.

    How many members in the Kingdom, is that part of the question? Do we really have the full ledger? Are we including the dearly departed, are they still in the Kingdom, are they to be counted? What about the our temple ministrations and ancestral work – can we include those who have been invited and provided vicarious entrance into the Kingdom? If not, why not?

    I’m not seeking to be flippant, but life doesn’t end with death (GBH), yet we are consumed with growth metrics and activity rates on this side of the veil when significantly, there is more going on. I find some of the metric judgements on what constitutes ‘active’ membership, (eg meeting attendance), somewhat disconcerting.

    Perhaps we need some new ways of looking at this – yes there are resource driven reasons for counting seated souls and making growth projections; but there is also the ‘membership’ record of all who have cast their lot in this dispensation with the Church, and all whose names appear in the Temple record – I feel better about things when I think in these terms. When I look at our family ancestral file, for example, I like to add them in too in the hope that “There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the Gospel” (WW), I think some of them could be placed in the ‘active’ category.

  31. April 18, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I like the idea of including people on both sides of the veil in our membership computation. But, like any good high Council speaker, I would want to emphasize the preexistence as well as the post-earth-existence. According to the “revealed Scripture” in “My Turn on Earth,” deals were made before this life about who was going to be whose parents, etc. We had a community there, but the community agreements made there seem to be largely forgotten once people get here. We have a very large number of people in the world, even within the LDS church, who feel no responsibility at all to help get people here from the prior life. Some seem to even have forgotten that that is a desirable possibility. The LDS church should be aggressively pro-life, but we’re hardly different from anyone else, these days. If we had some “team spirit” left over from our earlier life, we would probably be doing a lot of things different today than we are. I guess I see church growth is some proof that we are actually teaching the correct gospel which solves many of life’s problems. If no problems are being solved and no one is joining the church, then there’s probably something wrong with the formula.

  32. Wilfried
    April 19, 2020 at 7:28 am

    Apologies for being late in responding. I thought the discussion had run its course, but The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” brought it back to attention with a link to this post. I missed it because “Mormon Land” is not available in Europe.

    Michael, thank you for your contribution to the counting of “participating” members. Interesting way to approach it, and your coming to 25 to 30 percent is within the range suggested by others. We often forget to mention that ratio is still much better than in other Christian churches in many countries. I continue to wonder why our church seems unwilling to publish a yearly number of average attendance at Sacrament meeting. Even with some flaws as indicated above, it would be the closest indication of at least that aspect of “activity”. Now, detractors are seizing upon that “low” percentage, while we’re actually doing better than others.

    Kent Huff, thank you for your thoughts on the topic of church growth. The quandary of charisma versus structure, of the law of Jesus versus the law of Moses, has been on the mind of many reformers over the centuries. Charismatic renewal is followed by administration and bureaucratization. It’s Max Weber’s “routinization of charisma.” Actually, some of our own church leaders have more than once lamented the power of the bureaucracy and the challenge to alter things.

    sjames (and Kent as complement), “the full ledger” is of course another original and positive way to look at it. Thanks for bringing that up. Eschatology brings us into another dimension where the earthly metrics are, indeed, only the surface. And even the surface is already hard to grasp.

  33. April 19, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    Sorry for the typo on an earlier comment. That should be MormonSurveys.blogspot.com.

  34. Malcolm Twigg
    April 29, 2020 at 7:15 am

    Why the emphasis on numbers. I cannot recall the Savior using numbers in any of his sermons. Rather he would look after the one as a true shepherd. The emphasis in scripture is on the sanctification of the individual. What is happening is the effect of Babylon through Satan is becoming more powerful upon the saints. As it states in scripture “wherefore he maketh war with the saints of God and encompasseth them round about” D&C 76:29. The numbers of the saints was never going to be large as Nephi saw in vision “And I beheld that the church of the Lamb of God, who were the Saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth, and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small (WHY) because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw” 1Nephi 14:12.

    This coupled with uninspired false optimism from leadership create the wrong approach and emphasis. I listened to Elder Russell M Nelson at the Pageant at Chorley England on 8 August 2013 state there will be more Temples, more stakes and more missions in the British Isles.

    The Church News dated 10 Aug 2013: reporting on the pageant and the statements of Elder Nelson:
    “The legacy of the early missionaries to Great Britain is still unfolding. At the ground-breaking ceremony for the Preston England Temple in 1994, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Truth … will continue to prevail and whereas there are thousands, tens of thousands of members of the Church in this wonderful land, there will be hundreds and hundreds of thousands. I have no doubt of that and do not hesitate in saying so.”

    Result So far 2020: No additional stakes, 2 missions closed Now a 18% activity rate in the British Isles.

    As it has turned out this is uninspired false optimism not the spirit of Prophecy

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