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Is the COVID Slump in Church Growth “Real”?

In a previous post I discussed how, according to reported baptisms, 2020 was a particularly low Church growth year, presumably due to COVID. 

Thankfully, the 2021 General Social Survey data recently dropped, so we can look at whether the COVID slump is “real,” in terms of people identifying as Latter-day Saints, or whether it’s just an artifact of the weirdness of a COVID year. 

The GSS is the standard survey used for measuring religious identification on a year-by-year basis in the US. It is not as big as the Pew surveys, but it has the advantage of being taken on a more or less yearly basis. 

In the year 2021, the GSS shows that .9% of people in the US self-identify as Latter-day Saint. While this is a decline from the previous year measured (1.2% in 2018), the exact number bounces around a little at about 1% each year, so for all intents and purposes it appears that the percentage of people in the US who identify as Latter-day Saint has been flat for about a decade (the chart below smooths the trend with a 4-year moving average; as always, the code is on my Github page).

Now, the GSS is a blunt tool; it is possible that COVID will have longer term effects on the Church’s vitality in the US that we cannot pick up yet. With a larger sample size we could get more precise and possibly detect a real COVID effect on Church size and growth, but as far as we can tell in terms of self-identification, it is business as usual in the year 2021. The things associated with COVID such as remote church and the political divisiveness over vaccines and protocols don’t appear to have had a big enough effect to discernibly change the number of people willing to self-identify as Latter-day Saints on a survey. 



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