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Is Mormonism Still Growing? Five Facts About The Rise and Fall of Latter-day Saints

(RNS) – 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 for the previous year.

In this year’s report on 2021 data, a key finding is that, as expected, COVID-19 has put a damper on all growth measures that were not entirely under the direct control of the government. ‘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 growth assess keep slowing down.

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 during 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.

Year Full Membership Difference from previous year Percentage growth
2011 14,441,346 +309 879 2.19%
2012 14,782,473 +341 127 2.36%
2013 15,082,028 +299 555 2.03%
2014 15,372,337 +290 309 1.92%
2015 15,634,199 +261 862 1.70%
2016 15,882,417 +248 218 1.59%
2017 16 118 169 +233 729 1.47%
2018 16,313,735 +195 566 1.21%
2019 16,565,036 +251 301 1.54%
2020 16,663,663 +98 627 .59%
2021 16,805,400 +141 737 .85%

According to Christian Anderson, a Utah biophysicist who tracks LDS church growth trends, the raw number of new members added each year is of even greater concern than the declining growth rate.

Growth of LDS in terms of raw numbers, from 1940 to 2021. In 2021, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints added 141,737 new members, which is similar to its growth in the mid to late 1970. Analysis and Graphics by Christian Anderson

“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 on his LDS Church Growth website, eight of the top 10 countries in terms of growth were in Africa, with Congo topping the list with a growth rate of 29.4% over the two years since 2019. The locations of countries losing members are 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. We see a growth rate of 0.6% spread over the two years, whereas in each of the two years before the pandemic (2018 and 2019) we saw this same rate in a single year. And even that was a significant decline from US growth a decade ago.

Year Growth rate of LDS in the United States
2012 +2.9%
2013 +1.2%
2014 +1.1%
2015 +1.0%
2016 +0.9%
2017 +0.8%
2018 +0.6%
2019 +0.6%
2020 +0.3% [estimated as half of the total 0.6% growth reported over both 2019 and 2020]
2021 +0.3% [estimated as half of the total 0.6% growth reported over both 2019 and 2020]

3. We have yet to see the rebound of “enrolled children” 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 their transformation. 8 years.

No one was surprised that in 2020 the church saw a sharp drop in the number of registered children. After all, LDS 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 biennial 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 has fallen to just 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,” a- he said. “We can still see progress. That’s my short answer. If the number of missionaries is so much lower the next year, 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 Maceió, Brazil.

That brings Nelson to a total of 100 new temples announced since he took over the leadership of the denomination in 2018.


Related Content:

Mormon growth is slowing to its lowest level since 1937. Here’s why that’s great news.

Why so many new Mormon temples when membership growth is steady?