FMA: Growth of the Mormon Church

- last updated May 1, 2012

"If the Mormon Church is as false as you say, then it will one day fall by its own weight and rot from its own lies, without any help from people like you."

"If the LDS Church is of God, then neither you nor I nor any human will stop its meteoric rise."

"The Mormon Church is the fastest growing religion in the world! Doesn't this indicate that it is God's work?"


     These comments seem to be based on a premise which cannot be substantiated: God's church will grow, no matter what; other churches will fail, no matter what. Not only the facts, but even the teachings of the Mormon church contradict this premise.

     There are many very old religions that the Mormons claim are false, and yet they still flourish: Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, to name a few. Why have they not "fallen by [their] own weight" if they are false?

     Mormons claim that Jesus' original church fell into apostasy and had to be restored by Joseph Smith. Why wasn't God making sure that this earlier (and supposedly true) version of his church would not fail? Why didn't it have an unstoppable, "meteoric rise"? Instead, it became what Joseph Smith called "the Whore of Babylon," the "Great and Abominable Church."

     Nor is the growth of the Mormon church in the 170 years since its founding particularly meteoric - at least not in comparison with other religions that the Mormons consider false:

     Islam began in 622 AD, and, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it "developed into a world civilization with extraordinary rapidity in the course of less than 100 years." By 714, Muslim armies had extended Islam westward all across northern Africa and into Spain, and eastward into India and Central Asia. Mormonism has achieved nothing like that, having established itself as the dominant culture only in Utah and some parts of neighboring states, in its 170 years. In 1994, according to the World Almanac, there were 1,033,453,000 Muslims world-wide. Note that that figure is about a hundred times the number of Mormons, and even if you took away a billion Muslims, there would still be three times as many Muslims in the world as Mormons. Islam is still expanding today in Africa, where thousands of people are acknowledging Allah as the only God and Mohammed as his Prophet.

     By 1996 the number of Muslims had increased to 1,126,325,000, for a gain of almost 91 million since 1994. Just think! Ninety-one million new Muslims! That is an increase of 8.98% for the two years, or over 4% per year. Just the increase for Islam amounts to about nine times the entire membership of the Mormon church!

     Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) is a Chinese religious movement which was in the news recently because the Chinese government declared it illegal and began persecution of its followers in 1999. It began about 1985 and now (2000) has over ten million members. Its charismatic leader is Li Hongzhi, an expatriate Chinese living in New York. He teaches healing, fitness, correct thinking, acquisition of supernatural powers, and he promises salvation. Ten million adherents in fifteen years far out-strips the growth of Mormonism in the last fifteen years or in its first fifteen years, or in any fifteen years of its history. Does this phenomenal growth prove that it is from God (or at least moreso than Mormonism)?

     The Seventh Day Adventists are growing faster than the Mormons. The Associated Press reported in the Salt Lake Tribune July 15, 2000, page C3:

Toronto - The rapidly growing Seventh-day Adventist Church added 1,090,848 new members in 1999, an increase of nearly 11 percent, and now has a following of more than 11 million, according to a report delivered at the faith's international meeting.
     Compare those figures to the 1999 total membership of the Mormon church: 10,752,986, including 306,171 converts, for a growth rate of 2.5 percent. Adventists: 11% growth; Mormons: 2.5% growth. Which is God's church, then? Remember that the Mormons have sixty thousand full-time missionaries in the field, whereas the Adventists have nothing like that. Adventism is also not as old as Mormonism, so its growth is more impressive compared with Mormonism.

     In fact, according to the church's own accounts, the growth rate is declining! In 1996 the church reported a growth rate of 4.24%. In 1999, the growth rate had fallen by 44%, to 2.37%, as reported in the December 1999 issue of the official church magazine Ensign.

     A man who has just recently left the church gave the following impression:

"As a missionary and later a clerk for my ward, I often worked the inactive lists only to find that those people had long since died. Additionally, all the wards and branches I've been involved with, both in California and in Utah, have been shrinking. Two stakes here in this area recently merged into one, supposedly because the area is becoming too expensive and members are moving out (yet, there's no shortage of people moving in, they're just apparently not mormons).

"Add that to the fact that the church hasn't been able to do math in the yearly Conference stats reports for the past several years (add up their numbers, and you'll see they don't work out in any reasonable way), and that they're very secretive about the whole thing, and well, I'm very certain that, at least in the U.S., LDS church membership is on the decline."

     One must also consider the fact that the church keeps on its rolls as members all those who have stopped participating (become "inactive") so long as they do not formally request the removal of their names from the membership records. Thus, the church counts as "members" many people who really no longer consider themselves Mormons, simply because they have not gone through the tedious and time-consuming process of formal name removal.

     For more comments about the growth of the church, see an article by Duwayne R. Anderson at http://www.lds-mormon.com/churchgrowthrates.shtml


Update, January 3, 2001

This is from an anonymous Mormon:

The stake mission leader gave a lesson on missionary work that was somewhat frantic.

Apparently, the conversion numbers are slipping drastically. The church is getting the same number of new converts as in 1989, but they are using twice as many missionaries to do it. He actually stated that these numbers indicate that the church is in a state of apostasy. What makes this even more interesting is that he was clearly getting the bulk of his lesson from what he had heard from Area leaders.

He also said that churchwide, temples are operating at 11% of capacity! I was staggered. I would have guessed maybe 30% at the least.


For those who are impressed with growth, look at the Recovery From Mormonism movement: In January 2000, its e-mail discussion list had about 200 subscribers. A year later (January 2001) it had grown to over 500: a growth of 150%!. (Update: as of November 17, 2003, the group had grown to 889.)


For what it's worth, here is the informal report from parents of an LDS missionary in Brazil, as reported by friends of the family:
[Our neighbors] told us about their son who is on a mission in Brazil. The ward he just left has 2500 members-and less than 60 active. The ward he moved to has hundreds of members--and one active. A 22 year old bishop who just got back from a mission.

Update, January 15, 2001

Here are some notes from an anonymous, locally high-ranking Mormon, taken from a report of a Los Angeles area meeting of Mormon leaders:

From 11/1999-11/2000 14,000 endowments [in the Los Angeles area] for the living and the dead.
Temple attendance is down considerably.
10% or 1,400 were done by Temple ordinance workers and missionaries [not by ordinary members of the church as volunteers].
Four endowments were done for each temple recommend holder in the L. A. Temple district, there are only 3,500 temple recommend holders in the whole L. A. Temple district.
In our stake there are 1,200 endowed members [but] only 540 Temple Recommend holders.
Stakes are not meeting their assignments for sealings etc.
Our stake had sealing assignments, and went from 75% [fulfilled assignments] to 0% in the last 3 months of the year. No one shows up for assignments.
First time temple attendance is down considerably. For [both] Living endowments and sealings.
L. A. & San Diego temple attendance is down and the two temples combined has never been as high as the L. A. temple attendance alone once was.
The area Presidency, Temple and Stake Presidencies are not pleased with the numbers or as the members stand as to how the temple work goes. Members need to make time to go to the temple. The excuses of traffic and bad weather will not be accepted any more. Take vacation days to go do temple work, Weekends etc.
Stake presidents will say more about this in ward conferences.
Make a plan set a goal to go to the temple more often.

Update, March 15, 2001

The following is a summary of a news report from a pro-LDS website, www.gatheringofisrael.com:

President Hinckley challenged church members to double baptisms last year [2000], but LDS convert baptisms actually fell to only 275,000 in 2000 [from 306,171 in 1999]. While the number of full-time missionaries increased by 35% in the 1990s, more people were being converted a decade ago, with fewer missionaries. Since only about 25% of LDS converts worldwide remain active long-term (40-50% in North America and 20-25% outside of the US), the real growth of the Church is much less even than these modest statistics convey.

The effort put forth by LDS members in sharing the gospel has apparently continued to decline over the past decade. Only 20% of baptisms in North America come from member referrals today, compared to 42% several years ago (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Conversion and Retention Satellite Broadcast, August 1999). Member-missionary efforts are inconsistent, with the average branch in North America generating only two missionary referrals per month. In fact, population-based studies suggest that average Latter-day Saints are actually less likely than non-LDS Christians to regularly share their faith with others.

Among major Christian denominations with active missionary programs, including Latter-day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, Southern Baptists, and Jehovah's Witnesses, only Latter-day Saints not only did not experience a substantial increase in conversion rates during the 1990s, but actually experienced a decline in conversions. Paul Harvey reports that 250,000 people a day become Christians. That means that approximately 300 people join other Christian denominations for every individual who becomes a Latter-day Saint.


Update, June 20, 2001

Through connections at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, we have learned that the office which handles the requests for the removal of members' names from the church membership records (i.e., resignations by members), is growing. This office is supervised by Brother Greg Dodge. Our source (who for obvious reasons must remain anonymous, since he is an employee of the church), provided the following summary of the number of such requests processed in recent years:

1995:.......... 35,420
1996:.......... 50,177
1997:.......... 55,200
1998:.......... 78,750
1999:.......... 81,200
2000:.......... 87,500

Our informant also said that the number of staff handling these requests has had to be increased from five to seven, and will likely soon increase to ten.

He also provided this interesting information:

Official membership increased from 10,752,986 to 11,068,861 during 2000. This consists of 273,973 convert baptisms and 81,450 increase in children of record. The loss of 39,548 is due primarily to deaths, and various adjustments. The First Presidency is aware of the problem of the "name removed file" growing to hundreds of thousands of names, all still included in the 11 million. It appears that they are reluctant to change the policy, and therefore they still count those people as part of the total membership.
Armand Mauss, a professor emeritus of Washington State University who is an expert on the sociology of Mormonism, was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun , May 4, 2001, in an article by Stacy J. Willis to the effect that one of the biggest problems in the church is that once people are converted, they don't always stay in the church. According to Mauss, retention of converts in the US is just 50% of converts after the first year, while outside the US just 25% of converts remain after one year. "It's hard to hold onto these people."

Approximately half of all converts each year are outside the United States. Applying that fact to the 273,973 convert baptisms, deducting those who will no longer be active after the first year, the net increase by converts for 2000 was approximately 104,000. Placing that figure against the 87,500 who took the trouble to resign officially, and considering the fact that many who become disenchanted with Mormonism simply walk away without requesting name removal, one must conclude that the net growth of the church - other than by breeding children - is close to zero.

Update, November 15, 2001

For another analysis of the church's own figures, showing that they are unreliable, see "Dr. Shade's" article "Does the LDS Church really have 12 million members?".

Update, February 2002

An extensive statistical analysis of the church's growth claims, by Roger Loomis, appears at www.lds4u.com/growth/index.htm.

Update, April 2002

The church now officially admits concerns about its growth (or lack thereof). Cumorah News Service reports on the disappointment expressed in the church's General Conference [EMPHASIS ADDED]:

Trend of Decelerating Church Growth Continues

The year-end 2001 statistical report, given in the Saturday afternoon session of LDS General Conference on April 6, 2002, demonstrates some concerning trends. Most strikingly, the increase of children of record of 69,522 is down from 81,450 last year, and is lower than any increase of children record reported for at least 12 years. For comparison, the increase in LDS children of record in 1982 was 124,000. 69,522 represents only 0.6% of the 11.394 million members worldwide. When one compares this to the annual world population growth rate of 1.55%-1.73%, it is clear that this represents one of the lowest rates of increase in membership of any faith by natural birth. The annual population growth rate among Muslim groups is as high as 2.2-2.5%. It should also be kept in mind that these are net growth rates accounting for deaths as well as births, making the low gross LDS growth rate through children of record even more striking. Much of this low growth rate is related to the fact that only about one-third of the 11.3 million LDS member worldwide are active. However, even if all inactives were excluded in the calculation of growth rate, LDS growth through the baptism of children of record would still be equal to or less than the world population growth rate. Active LDS in the US do have one more child on average than other predominately Northern European US groups (Latinos and African-Americans still have more children than LDS), but LDS members in Mexico actually average fewer children than the Mexican average. This is also true in most of the world outside of the US, in large part because the rate of temple marriages outside the U.S. is so low: below 2% for LDS adults in Latin America and most of the rest of the world, compared to as many as 55% of LDS adults in Utah. The minimal increase in the number of currently-serving missionaries from 60,784 at year-end 2000 to 60,850 at year end 2001 (+66, or 0.108% increase) reflects the crisis of low LDS birth rates with proportionately fewer young men and women arriving at mission age.

Declining increases in church units reflect the general malaise in LDS Church growth. The report cites 26084 wards and branches at year-end 2001, an increase of 169 (0.65%) from the end-year 2000 total of 25,915, and 2607 stakes, an increase of only 26 stakes (1%) from 2581 in 2000. The number of districts actually decreased by three (-0.5%) from 621 to 618. This finding of low increases in numbers of church units does not represent an isolated event, but the continuation of a pattern of declining unit growth rates over the past decade. As wards and branches require active, contributing members in order to be viable, ward and branch growth may represent a more meaninful indicator of the actual strength and growth of the Church than raw membership numbers. At present, the world population is growing 2.5 times more rapidly than the number of LDS wards and branches organized to reach them.

On a positive note, there were 292,612 convert baptisms last year. This is up from a many-year low of 273,973 in 2000. However, this number of convert baptisms is still lower than the number of converts baptized in 9 of 10 years during the 1990s. Only 1992 had fewer convert baptisms. Net LDS growth for 2001 was 2.94%, less than one-third of the growth rate of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Assemblies of God, and many other faiths for the same period.

Copyright 2002 Cumorah.com.

Update, July 2002

The following is from a post to the Exmormon mailing list, used here with permission:

More important and telling is not the records that the Church keeps, but which religion the people themselves identify with. We all know that many people are 'members' of the LDS Church, but have gone on to other religious groups/philosophies, or are not identified with any religion whatsoever. Other than the relative few of these that have had their names officially removed from church records, most of these people are still considered Mormon by the church and are counted in their books, even though they have no real affiliation with the Church at all any more.

Check out this most interesting survey done last year by the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. The home page is: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/aris_index.htm.

But the key findings page shows the actual data as received: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/key_findings.htm.

Interesting notes:

Even the though this is merely a survey of a portion of the population (50,281) in the lower forty-eight states, it was done scientifically with the same procedures used for many (rather accurate) political and public opinion polls.

This poll shows a mere 2,787,000 people in the US identifying themselves as Mormon. Interestingly, it is up only 1.3% from 2,487,000(?) in 1990 (It is hard to read that particular numbers on the graphic, and the difference of +300,000 shows a little more than +1.3%. Also, the 1.3% increase is clearly legible, which would mean the 1990 number should be between 2,751,000 and 2,752,000).

These numbers do seem to confirm the general conjecture that less than half of the 'members' counted on the church rolls could be considered 'active' to 'semi-active,' and, as we all know, there are still even some 'inactives' that would respond 'Mormon' if asked, which is why the number claiming themselves as 'Mormon' may be closer to half of the 5.2 million (U.S.) members the church claims.

Those who are familiar with the policies for baptizing in foreign missions, (particularly South America and Japan) would probably agree with my guess (and I would bet my last dollar on this) that the same survey done on a world scale would show even fewer than half of the 5.8 million official members (as claimed by the church) outside the U.S. identifying themselves as Mormon.

Also, check out lower on the page where religious identity is listed by state. Utah shows 57%. This tells me two things: one, that Utah does continue to be most identifiable with Mormonism, even though less than the 75% of the total Utah population (as generally claimed) will identify themselves as such. Two, because the number is definitely spiked in Utah, it does give some added credence to the survey. Consider that Utah, with more cultural reasons for an individual to claim identity as a member of the Church, shows just over 1 million of the 1.8 million in the state claiming church membership, rather than the 1.35 million which would be expected (1.35 as 75% of 1.8).

- Todd McAllister


Update, November 20, 2002

See the lengthy statistical report by a very pro-Mormon researcher, analyzing the poor growth of his church in comparison with its past growth and with the growth of other denominations; he effectively refutes the common claim that the Mormon church is "(one of) the fastest growing religions in America/the World". Click here.


Update, November 17, 2003

In John L. Smith's latest Newsletter (Nov-Dec 2003), he published the following statistics about the number of Mormons who are requesting name removal. He said his source was "someone inside the church." For the years 1995 through 2000 they are identical to the numbers that were reported above, also from an anonymous source.

For what they are worth, here they are:

1995:.......... 35,420
1996:.......... 50,177
1997:.......... 55,200
1998:.......... 78,750
1999:.......... 81,200
2000:.......... 87,500
2001:.........101,454
2002:.........105,763

If these numbers are reliable, then the number of Mormons requesting name removal has TRIPLED in seven years! That is an impressive "growth" - I think that the Mormon claim to be the "fastest-growing church" (in America, or in the world, or whatever) should be corrected as the "fastest-shrinking church." Or, perhaps the Ex-Mormons are the "fastest-growing non-church"!

Interestingly, the Mormon church tries to keep these statistics from the public, whereas other churches have no qualms about publishing the number of members leaving. For example, the Seventh-day Adventist church, another expanding church of similar size to the Mormons, posts such data on its website. The numbers there are similar to those cited above for the Mormons.


Added September 17, 2004

Extracted from http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/03statab/pop.pdf

11 Year Growth Rates in American Religions 1990-2001
No. 79. Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990 and 2001

[In thousands (175,440 represents 175,440,000). The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 was based on a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 50,281 American residential households in the continental U.S.A (48 states). Respondents were asked to describe themselves in terms of religion with an open-ended question. Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. Moreover, the self-description of respondents was not based on whether established religious bodies, institutions, churches, mosques or synagogues considered them to be members. Quite the contrary, the survey sought to determine whether the respondents themselves regarded themselves as adherents of a religious community. Subjective rather than objective standards of religious identification were tapped by the surveys]

Comments on this summary: Only religions which showed an increase are included. Also excluded from this summary are several major religions (Hindu, Islam, Buddhist, Taoist, Sikh) which showed great increases because of the likelihood that such increases are due more to immigration of their adherents rather than growth due to conversion or increases through births.

Religions are listed by decreasing size (as of 1990), with Christian religions first, then non-Christian religions

The percentages of increase were not in the original report, but were calculated for this summary: a religion which showed a figure of 100 for 1990 and 125 for 2001 had a 25% increase.

Religion 1990 2001 Increase
Catholic 46,00450,87311%
Presbyterian 4,985 5,596 12%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 3,191 4,407 38%
Mormon/Latter-Day Saints 2,487 2,787 12%
Churches of Christ. 1,769 2,593 46%
Seventh-Day Adventist. 668 724 5%
Assemblies of God 660 1,106 68%
Congregational/United Church of Christ . 599 1,378 130%
Church of God 531 944 77%
Orthodox (Eastern) 502 645 28%
Evangelical 242 1,032 326%
Mennonite. 235 346 47%
Church of the Brethren. 206 358 73%
Nondenominational Christian 195 2,489 1176%
Disciples of Christ. 144 492 242%
Reformed/Dutch Reform 161 289 80%
Apostolic/New Apostolic 117 254 117%
Quaker 67 217 223%
Full Gospel 51 168 229%
Christian Reform 40 79 97%
Foursquare Gospel 28 70 150%
Non-Christian religions:
Unitarian/Universalist. . 502 629 25%
Native American 47 103 119%
Scientologist 45 55 22%
Baha’i 28 84 200%
New Age. . 20 68 240%
Eckankar. . 18 26 44%
Wiccan 8 134 1575%
No religion. 13,116 27,486 109%
Additional comments:

According to Table 81 in the same report, the Mormon church reported in 2001 that it had 5,311,000 members in the United States. The table notes say: "The definition of 'church member' is determined by the religious body." From the data in Table 79, it appears that only a scant half of those claimed members (2,787,000) actually consider themselves to be Mormon.

Notice that the actual increase of those claiming to be Catholic (4,869,000 from 1990 to 2001) is two million more than the entire number of those considering themselves Mormon in 2001.

Notice also that there are twenty-four religions on the list which had greater increases than the Mormons.

For comparison:

National population growth rate 1990-2001 = 14%
Utah Growth rate 1990-2001 = 32%


Added July 18, 2005

A recent article by Mormon David Clark Knowlton discusses Mormon membership in Chile and Mexico ("How Many Members Are There Really?", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 38:2:53-78, Summer 2005). He compares the church's membership statistics for those countries with the official censuses taken recently. The censuses in both countries included information about religious affiliation. Surely the church is not simply inventing its membership numbers - they obviously represent people who joined the church and whose names remain on their records. But if those people do not appear in the government census, it can only mean that they did not consider themselves Mormon any longer at the time of the census. In their own minds, they are not Mormon, but Exmormon. And since the church does not include in its figures the number of people who formally resigned (and which is unknown), there are even more Exmormons than the figures would indicate.

The figures are:
Mexico:
Members claimed by church (1999) 846,931
Mormons in official gov't census (2000) 205,229
Exmormons (difference) 641,702
Percentage of Mexican Mormons who no longer consider themselves Mormon 76%
Chile:
Members claimed by church (2001) 520,202
Mormons in official gov't census (2002) 103,735
Exmormons (difference) 416,467
Percentage of Chilean Mormons who no longer consider themselves Mormon 80%

At the end of his article Knowlton makes this astonishing statement (page 78):

In Chile, I am told, wards and stakes are being consolidated in the face of low numbers...... In sum, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is strong and growing in Latin America.

Added October 1, 2005

          In July 2005 the Salt Lake Tribune ran a series of articles on the changing demographics in Utah and the growth of the Mormon church. Excerpts from an article in the series, by Peggy Fletcher Stack:

          The claim that Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in the world has been repeated so routinely by sociologists, anthropologists, journalists and proud Latter-day Saints as to be perceived as unassailable fact.

          The trouble is, it isn't true.

          Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than 12 million members on its rolls, more than doubling its numbers in the past quarter-century. But since 1990, other faiths - Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God and Pentecostal groups - have grown much faster and in more places around the globe.

          And most telling, the number of Latter-day Saints who are considered active churchgoers is only about a third of the total, or 4 million in the pews every Sunday, researchers say.

          For a church with such a large, dedicated missionary corps constantly seeking to spread its word, conversion numbers in recent years tell an unexpected story.

          According to LDS-published statistics, the annual number of LDS converts declined from a high of 321,385 in 1996 to 241,239 in 2004. In the 1990s, the church's growth rate went from 5 percent a year to 3 percent.

          By comparison, the Seventh-day Adventist Church reports it has added more than 900,000 adult converts each year since 2000 (an average growth of about 5 percent), bringing the total membership to 14.3 million. The Assemblies of God now claims more than 50 million members worldwide, adding 10,000 new members every day.

          Russia provides a dramatic example of different religious growth rates. After more than 15 years of proselyting there, LDS membership has risen to 17,000. During the same period, Jehovah's Witnesses membership has increased to more than 140,000, with some 300,000 individuals attending conferences.

          When the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted an American Religious Identification Survey in 2001, it discovered that about the same number of people said they had joined the LDS Church as said they had left it. The CUNY survey reported the church's net growth was zero percent. By contrast, the study showed both Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists with an increase of 11 percent.


For more information, check "Dr. Shades's" website http://www.mormoninformation.com/stats.htm



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