Lots of other denominations would be thrilled by a 1.7% increase, but for Mormons this represents the slowest growth in any year since 1937 (when it was 0.93%), so no one’s exactly throwing a party.
But don’t despair: there are some silver linings in this seeming cloud. To find out more, I spoke with Matt Martinich, founder of the LDS Church Growth blog. For over eight years now he has tracked just about every aspect of Mormon growth and loss, tracking baptisms, retention rates, and more.
RNS: What do you make of the 2015 Statistical Report which shows a slowing rate of LDS growth?
Martinich: Annual membership growth has steadily declined in the last 25 years. It used to be 4-5% a year, and now it’s only 1.7%. I don’t think it will decrease much more than to 1.5%, though.
RNS: The report notes that convert baptisms are down by more than 13%. Why has growth slowed so much?
Martinich: The biggest reason is the “centers of strength” policy, which has been in place since the early 1990s. There’s not much information about it, but it’s a policy where the church intentionally restricts its missionary activities to only a handful of places in the world.
Prior to the 1990s the Church would very aggressively and kind of indiscriminately open new areas for missionary work. A lot of the rapid growth in Latin America and elsewhere was due to that. But in the 1990s the idea became that the church needed to have a “center of strength” and be well established in at least one city in an area so that administratively there would be enough leadership to run the church.
The problem is that many of these areas never become centers of strength. So you have a number of cities where the church has been there for some time, and they won’t create new wards or branches unless existing wards or branches are split, which is not very effective for growth.
The church in the 1980s and 90s had pretty poor standards for baptism, and changing that has also been a huge aspect of why growth has slowed. Low qualifications for baptism resulted in a lot of converts who didn’t come to church and didn’t contribute much.
Some would argue that secularism has also contributed. The Internet has nothing to do with it: In some areas the Internet has increased growth, and in other areas it’s decreased growth. It has more to do with the function of secularism, not whether people have information about the church that is negative or incorrect.
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