Five Facts About The Rise and Fall of Latter-day Saints
The April General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is historically the time of year the denomination releases its statistical reports on membership, missionary service, and new temples in the Church. last year.
In this year’s report on 2021 data, a key finding is that, as expected, COVID-19 put a damper on all growth measures that were not entirely under the direct control of the church. . In other words, every measure slows down, except for the number of new temples the church is building or planning. However, judging by what is happening with some other Christian religions in the world, it could have been much worse.
Here are five key takeaways about the growth of LDS around the world in 2021.
1. The church as a whole continues to grow, but the rate of growth continues to slow.
At a time when other Christian churches are reporting actual member losses, Mormonism is in positive territory, despite COVID-19. In the United States, for example, Southern Baptists number 2 million fewer than in 2006. In this difficult environment, the LDS Church continues to grow around the world and even in the United States, although many more slowly than in 2006. the past.
In 2021, the LDS Church worldwide recorded growth of just under 1%. The good news from a mission-driven faith perspective is that this was an improvement from the dismal 2020, when growth was just over half a percent during the worst of the shutdown amid the pandemic.
The bad news is that it wasn’t as much of a rebound in 2020 as many had hoped. The figure, 0.85% to be precise, appears to continue the long-term downturn that was already happening in the years leading up to the pandemic.
According to Christian Anderson, a biophysicist from Utah who tracks growth trends in the LDS Church, the raw number of new members added each year is of even greater concern than the decrease in the rate of growth.
“The actual raw numbers are a really serious dip, and it looks like that’s going to continue for some time,” he said in a Zoom interview, noting that the church hasn’t added so few members to its lists since the 1970s. At that time, the total number of members was only about a quarter of what it is today (4.17 million in 1978 compared to 16.8 million in 2021), so that the gross increase represented a much larger overall growth rate.
2. The main growth areas are mainly in Africa.
For 2021, the church has resumed its helpful practice of publishing country-by-country statistics, so it’s easy to see which parts of the world are seeing the most and least growth. (The church did not provide country-by-country information for 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 disruptions, so it’s great to see this information become available again.)
As researcher Matt Martinich pointed out in his LDS Church Growth Websiteeight of the top 10 nations in terms of growth were in Africa, with Congo leading the way with a two-year growth rate of 29.4% since 2019. The location of countries losing members is more variable, with some in Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina; France), the Caribbean (Saint Kitts and Nevis; Grenada) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan).
In the United States, growth was halved. There is a growth rate of 0.6% spread over the two years, whereas in each of the two years preceding the pandemic (2018 and 2019), this same rate was observed in a single year. And even that was a significant decline from US growth a decade ago.
Here is the annual growth rate in the United States:
• 2012, up 2.9%.
• 2013, 1.2%.
• 2014, 1.1%.
• 2015, 1%.
• 2016, 0.9%.
• 2017, 0.8%.
• 2018, 0.6%.
• 2019, 0.6%.
• 2020, 0.3%.
• 2021, 0.3%.
3. We have yet to see ‘kids enrolled’ bounce back to expected levels.
A potential area of concern is the lower than expected number of “registered children” reported for 2021. This refers to children whose parents have “blessed” them as babies but who will not be counted as full members. until they are baptized after reaching the age of 8.
No one was surprised that in 2020 the church saw a sharp drop in the number of registered children. After all, Latter-day Saint chapels around the world were entirely closed for much of the year, so many parents couldn’t have their children officially blessed in sacrament meeting. Some parents chose to bless their children at home during the pandemic, but even then there was the question of when such a ritual would be officially recorded in church records; many aspects of record keeping have been disrupted by the virus.
But the 2021 numbers still haven’t caught up. In fact, as Martinich points out, instead of the 2021 numbers representing a “double cohort”, with the expected backlog of babies from 2020 added to the usual annual number, the 2021 numbers were actually lower than those of 2019.
4. Missionary strength has taken a hit.
Over the weekend at the church’s biannual General Conference, several speakers emphasized the importance of missionary work, especially for young men. And looking at the numbers, it’s no wonder: in 2019, the church reported more than 67,000 teaching missionaries (proselytes) serving around the world; in 2021, it fell to 54,539.
Anderson was surprised the 2021 mission count was so low. “It’s the one I most expected to bounce back from,” he said, but added that it’s very possible that 2022 will see a return to pre-pandemic levels of missionaries, if restrictions related to the COVID-19 continue to rise.
“Some 18- and 19-year-olds said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go on a mission where we can’t actually go out and talk to people,’ and they put it off for a year or two,” said he said. “We can still see progress. That’s my short answer. If the number of missionaries is so much lower the year after, then I think we have a problem.”
5. More members will have access to temples than ever before.
Finally, good news for church members around the world: they will be more likely than ever in church history to live near a temple. President Russell M. Nelson continues to announce new temples at each conference, including 17 this past weekend in places as far apart as Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, and Maceio, Brazil.
That brings Nelson to a total of 100 new temples announced since he took over as head of the denomination in 2018.
(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)