Where Have All The Mormons Gone?
By Ed Decker
In my April 2005 Newsletter I talked about the declining expansion rates of both the Mormons and the Masons. My information came from my travels throughout the Web; using figures I was able to pull from many of their own websites.
On Sunday, July, 26, 2005, The Salt Lake Tribune validated my reckoning and took the decline of the Mormon Church growth rate to an even greater level.
In her excellent article, "Keeping members a challenge for LDS Church - Mormon myth: The belief that the Church is the fastest-growing faith in the world doesn't hold up," religion reporter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, told the truth about the claims of Mormonism's vast growth rates throughout the world. Folks, it is not the fastest growing church in the world. Not even close.
Peggy Fletcher Stack reports that 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.
She goes on to say, 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. [Ed: Worldwide. Less in USA]
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.
The Ghost Mormons
I have been saying for some time now that there are as many people leaving the Mormon Church each year as the giant Missionary effort brings in. The numbers the Church reports and the numbers in the wards just don't match up. The meetings are filled with ghosts.
The Stack Report verifies that fully:
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.
One of the major problems for the church has been the retention of its converts. The warm milk of the fuzzy, happy-families theology thrown at the investigators turns cold to many converts as they sit and listen to someone sharing the joys of proffered godhood with many wives. Most get up and quietly leave.
She quotes David G. Stewart Jr. who is writing a book on the subject of the LDS Missionary Efforts "Many other groups, including the Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, have consistently achieved excellent convert retention rates in those cultures and societies. Latter-day Saints lose 70 to 80 percent of their converts, while Adventists retain 70 to 80 percent of theirs."
In fact, in another article, "Unintended consequence of church's 'raising the bar' Diminishing returns: With fewer missionaries going out, converts have slowed as well" Peggy Fletcher Stack reports that there is a major problem with raising up fresh missionaries. The Church no longer wants to let families use the missionary program to send out troublesome youth to repent and get right with the gospel. As a result, the missionary numbers continue to plummet.
In October 2002, LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard told thousands of Mormons at the church's General Conference that the faith was "raising the bar" on missionary standards. He said nothing about sacrificing quantity for quality.
But two years after that speech, the church's global missionary force has dropped from near 62,000 to about 51,000, a fact that may have contributed to the declining number of new LDS converts from around 300,000 to 241,000 in 2004.
Where Have All the Missionaries Gone?
Think about this. Let's try to wade through all the figures here and make some sense out it. Within a two year span, 11,000 fewer young Mormons are choosing to go on a mission and that helps drive down the convert rate by almost 60,000 people. The data also says that the work of over 50,000 full time missionaries [and let's not forget the many thousands of stake missionaries and the efforts of the entire general LDS membership to draw in their families, friends, neighbors and co-workers] only brings in a retained membership increase [20%] of 48,000 new members who haven't left the church [yet] by the end of the first year. The data does not track the ones who leave the second or third years.
You also need to factor in the fact that 25% of these 51,000 missionaries [about 12,750] will leave the mission field and go home as having failed their calling and 50% of those remaining for the full two years [19,125] will become inactive or leave the church within a year of returning home.
No wonder LDS families are OK with these 11,000 young Mormons staying home instead of going on a mission. LDS families are getting tired of the church burning up their kids for the sake of fewer and fewer converts. When gross rates were over 7 converts per missionary year, it was Ok to lose the kids, but the published gross rate now is half that and falling fast.
That's a loss each year of 31,875 active young Mormons, kids who have gone through Missionary training, the LDS temple and were deemed worthy to serve their church for two years.
Now bear with me again as we take the net/retained convert base of 48,000 converts and subtract the 31,875 lost Missionaries and end up with a net gain of only a little more than 16,125 people.
Estimates published by the Associate Press in April 2003 concur with Stack on the low rate of regular attendance by the Mormon faithful. "While the church doesn't release statistics on church activity rates, some research suggests participation in the church is as low as 30 percent." Patty Henetz , Associated Press writer, Saturday, April 5, 2003.
Let's bring this to its conclusion. Less than 5,000 of the annual converts actually end up as active Mormons, attending church at least once a month. Figure it out. The net figures say it now takes 10 missionary/years to keep one active Mormon.
One More Look at the Missionary Decline
I think there is another factor at work here. Twenty-five years ago, the heavily Mormon /Utah birth rate was something around 5 children per family. Today it is just over 2. One writer called it the "Mormon reverse baby boom."
There are a number of reasons for the dramatic drop. Back a quarter century ago, most LDS mothers stayed at home caring for the kids. Today, because of the immense cost to raise a large family, most Mormon mothers work outside the home and have obviously opted for much smaller families.
After twenty five years of reducing LDS average family sizes by 60%, the pool of available Mormon youth has dried up.
During the 2005 LDS General Conference in April, LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard urged local leaders in all the church's 26,000 congregations to find "at least one more young man, above those already committed, who can be called to serve."
The fact is they are just not there and those that are, just won't go.