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Do Methodist's not have children?

Very interesting. Can you provide any figures for activity rates?

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) showed a significantly smaller numbers of Americans self-identifying as mormons, about 2.8 million in 2001. That would seem to be an upper bound on activity.


So what's the retention rate for the other denominations?

Considering the steady 30-year decline in membership in the United Methodist Church, church leaders are probably happy about a .002 percent growth rate in the U.S.

Jehovah's Witnesses!? How are they growing faster than us? Seriously.

They don't proselytize nearly as much as we do and it's a lot more difficult to get in. You have to read a whole book from what I understand. If we made people wait until they had read the entire Book of Mormon to get baptized, the church would consist of maybe Parley Pratt and a handful of others. I wonder what the JW's do to get so many in.

I'm an East Coast Mormon and get tracked out by the local Catholic parish 2-3 times as often as by the JW's. I don't think it's because I was born Catholic and that they're looking for me, but because I have an Irish name. Being Irish descent, they just assumed I'm lapsed and invite me to church. At least that's my take on it. No matter how many times I thank them for the invitation, but explain I go to the Mormon church a little further down the road, I know another nice Catholic will be knocking on the door again. The neighborhood is mostly Jewish, so I can't imagine they're knocking on every door inviting people to the parish.

JWs are growing faster than Mormons in almost all areas. Even Europe where we have very little growth and often negative growth JWs are growing quite fast.

Per cumorah.com, LDS retention rates are at 1.3 retained per 4.6 converted. Add this to general activity rates of 25-35%, and that 5.5 mm members shrinks quickly.

Our ward lost a family of six to the Methodists (There are so few cool people in the church, and they are a cool family). It's a major loss. Really sad too because the self righteous Joe and Molly Mormons of the ward essentially ostracized them out. That said, it’s ironic they went with the Methodists, a denomination who’s founder essentially said they're doing the best we can with what they've got until Jesus sends new apostles.

I recently put together stats that compared US self identified Mormons and those that SLC claims. For 1990, about 70% of those claimed by the church actually self-identify as Mormons. For 2000/1, the number was 66% (but the years for the compared numbers were off by a year). Sources: www.thearda.com and www.census.gov/prod/www/religion.htm

1990 Congregations: 9,208
1990 Members: 3,540,820
2000 Congregations: 11,515
2000 Members: 4,224,026

Congrations increase: 2,307
Member increase: 683,206
Member increase %: 19.3%

Self Identification data:
1990 2,487,000
2001 2,787,000 (or about a 0.9% annual real growth. FYI, birth rate is about 1.4%, and the annual overall growth rate for the church using church-provided numbers is about 2.8% for 2004, was at almost 6% in the late 70's Link )

Also a thread on the subject here: link, not really TBM coddling

Nice presentation of the numbers at your site, Darren. The stat that jumped out at me was the drastic fall in full-time missionaries, but I'm not sure what else they expected after the new "if you're not a squeaky-clean gospel superstar, we don't want you" push of a couple of years ago. Did it really give young men who were not really that excited about serving some encouragement to just say no, or did the fall come from leaders refusing to recommend some young men for missions?

As for growth numbers, I know how carefully the Church tracks formal membership, but I wonder how other denominations compute their "membership" numbers.

Here's a quote from a local news story (off the LDS Headlines feed at the Bloggernacle Times): Mormons are the fastest-growing church in America and rank fourth among the nation's top 10 faith groups, according to church membership figures by the National Council of Churches. That "fastest-growing" tag has become sort of ingrained in LDS thinking. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Steve, the data from the ARIS and the NSRI that you cite are numbers of adults only. The sample only includes people over 18. The church reports children of record in their figures, and this accounts for the lion's share of the discrepancy. Moreover, the 2001 ARIS uses a sample only half the size of the 1990 NSRI, and does not include either Alaska or Hawaii in the sampling frame. Mormons are overrepresented in both of these states. The bottom line is that the ARIS is not a reliable estimate of the LDS population, unless you're confident that you can make nationwide projections about Mormon demography from the 900 or so randomly selected Mormons in the sample. (About 300 of which would live in UT.) Thus, even though it is based on a huge sample by social science standards, the ARIS does not survey enough Mormons to produce stable statistics. A recent article by a leading (non-LDS)sociologist finds that Mormons have very high retention rates in the US,* and this is the same conclusion drawn over a decade ago by Roof and McKinney in their classic book _American Mainline Religion_. The church may have retention and activity problems in Latin America and Asia, but she is holding her own and then some against other churches in the USA.

*Darren E. Sherkat, “Tracking the Restructuring of American Religion: Religious Affiliation and Patterns of Religious Mobility, 1973-1998,” Social Forces 79, no. 4 (2001): 1469.

Dave "raising the bar" was an EXTREMELY needed statement.

On my mission in Japan, the first area I served had a non-existent single-adult presence. The reason was that a certain missionary who served there about 7 months earlier had proposed to every single young woman in the branch.

I knew of one missionary who got a reputation for punching every single companion he ever had in the face.

I saw missionaries who spent the entire second half of their missions trying to get a cool investigator family who would take them to amusment parks and local sightseeing attractions. Rock concerts, messing around with girls ... it was all happening in the mid 90s.

The truth is that Bishops were wussing-out and sending off boys to the mission field who had absolutely zero right to be there. And the local members suffered for it.

Permissive local leaders is a serious problem in the church. A lot of bishops would send out a completely unprepared and unworthy young man of to some mission president to babysit in the hopes that it would "reform" him.

That sort of thinking is delusional and I'm very pleased that Pres. Hinckley dropped the hammer on it.

Yes, the drop in numbers was expected. It was also really needed. My companions and I spent months trying to undo the damage earlier missionaries had caused to member relations. Good riddance, I say.

There's a place for repentance, but it isn't the mission field.

The statistical discrepancies are a symptom and not the root cause of the problem. As someone born into Catholicism and who became a Mormon with his family at age 12, I thoroughly understand and appreciate both cultures. There is much we could learn from other denominations in the sprit of having all converts bring and share their spiritual and cultural treasures as we reassemble Israel. There is a fundamental flaw in Mormon culture that I'm glad I'm not a GA and don't have to answer to JC for not forcefully preaching against it. That fundamental flaw is not viewing the church as a hospital for sinners with patients at all different stages of cure. In Mormon culture you either “appear” to be with the program or you’re an apostate. I say “appear” because even the President of the church can only be superficially with the program 100%, or else there would be those among us that could claim the redeeming blood of Jesus has served its purpose for us and we have no further need for it. I pity such a people at the judgment and the church is full of them. Hence we have people with even minor vices such as WofW issues, that feel uncomfortable at church and stop coming. Then because the Mormon cultural projects an image of perfection, these people are even reluctant to identify themselves as lapsed Mormons and would rather be viewed as unchurched even though they remain believers (in the Christian faith). I've home taught many such people and know what I'm talking about. They’ll make incredible rationales or obscure doctrinal points about not coming to church, when it’s as plain as the nose on there face that they’re just uncomfortable around intolerant Joe and Molly Mormon types. Reactivating these people is virtually impossible until we adopt a forgiving hospital for sinners culture.

And Seth – sorry to pick on you, but you’re far too harsh about those lapsed missionaries and their home leaders who sent them. Where were the local leaders who should have brought the matter to the Mission Pres’s attention? Where was the mission Pres upon being notified of the damage being done? I’ll confess I have a short fuse for missionary bashing because I was fortunate enough to have never seen a less than diligent missionary that didn’t do some good just being there. To this day any time Hales or Didier speaks I just tune them out because they would come to a Zone Conference when I served in the South of France in the late 70’s and tell us we were lazy or butchering the language or were otherwise not good enough when the truth was most of us were diligent, hard working, focused and/or just doing the best we could in a very tough mission. Their comments were an insult to our service and sacrifice and the hurt remains with me to this day.

Seth, I'm with you on this one. I don't see the decline in FTM numbers negatively, although I'm sure some do, given that many leaders see missions as serving primarily the missionary, not those who are being evangelized. A lot of missionaries are pushed into full-time missions who would either prefer not to serve or who, for various reasons such as the ones you mentioned, shouldn't be serving.

Still, it would be nice if the new approach had been articulated differently. The "raising the bar" motif implies anyone who doesn't serve is morally unworthy. That may be true in some cases, but not others, and stressing it continues to give young men who do have problems an incentive to serve anyway and avoid the "fell short of the bar" stigma the Church tries to pin on them.


That's a very good point that the ARIS survey is only an estimate of adult members. That's pretty important, since I'd guess well over 1 million of the reported 5.5 million are under 18. The fact that the survey excluded Alaska and Hawaii is a good point, too, although that should have only a modest effect on the results; Alaska and Hawaii are small and only have 7 stakes together (according to cumorah.com).

On the other hand, the sample size was large enough that the standard error of the estimate is only about 100,000 members. So the sample provides a fairly accurate estimate of the number of adult members, but it's not an accurate measure of growth
between 1990 and 2001.

Given those cautions, I don't see why ARIS shouldn't be taken as a relatively reliable estimate of the self-identifying adult LDS population. Of course I'd like to see better estimates too, but the people in Salt Lake who have those numbers don't share them.

It's OK Steve. My own missionary service wasn't quite so black and white as my "sermons" might indicate.

But I do think, painful as the implications are, missionary service should stop being regarded as rehabilitation for wayward youth. Many church leaders are simply too permissive. It isn't just missionary interviews either.

Sending missionaries into the field unprepared often has very unfortunate consequences. I actually listed some of the more minor examples. But I don't want to wallow in negatives and threadjack this topic with sensational material.

Furthermore, such permissiveness isn't fair to the missionary. Sheltering a young man from the religious consequences of his actions does not help him. We sinners have the right to be granted a full and genuine repentance process.

You do an abusive father no favors by shielding him from a disciplinary council. An engaged couple who have participated in premarital sex are not benefitted by a Bishop who grants them temple recommends, just because "they're good kids."

Coddling is not the appropriate response here.

Actually, I might be guilty of threadjacking here anyway. Oops.

But back to an earlier question I had.

We all seem quick to qualify LDS growth statistics with the less impressive retention rate.

Why do we not also question the retention rate of the "Catholics?" The Jehovah's Witnesses? You can't just bash the Mormons here. We need to be equal opportunity.

Seth, I agree that inconsistency regarding how denominations define membership or compile information makes comparison difficult. This highlights the value of large-scale survey information that gets the data directly from individuals, such as ARIS I believe, for making cross-denominational statistical comparisons.

Seth -- less actives or lapsed people in other denominations still self indentify themselves as menbers of that church and are in effect "retained". Mormon culture with the stark, TBM/apostate divide makes our less actives or lapsed members ashamed of their membership so they don't so self identify (for the most part) and reactivation attemtps are much more difficult. I'm speaking about most of the memebership of the church who live where Mormons are small minorities.

I find it curious that many feel that "raising the bar" is the reason for the drop in the number of LDS missionaries.

"Raising the bar" has probably had an effect on the numbers, but the fact is that this plunge was expected long before there was *any* public talk about "raising the bar". Already when I was on my mission 1999-2001, they were talking about a coming decline in the number of missionaries due to demographic issues.


I don't know how much the demographics have shifted, but I don't think they can account for the over 17% plunge in missionaries over 2 years (and the number of young male missionaries has probably declined by an even greater percentage). Did you look at the graph in the link? Do you really think the dramatic change is mostly just demographics?

"TBM/apostate divide makes our less actives or lapsed members ashamed of their membership"

I'm not sure this represents my experience. Less Active members in the church probably get much more care and attention in the church than in any other church. Home Teaching, missionaries, and other groups are constantly out visiting, inviting them back and trying to make them feel included. I don't sense that any of them are ashamed of their membership because of their inactivity per se.

Here's an interesting take on the NSRI poll (the 1990 precursor to the ARIS) I found at adherents.com (see footnote 15). It also relates to the NSYR survey discussed in the "teens and religion" post. It's particularly interesting that 2.5% of teens self-identified as LDS in the NSYR survey. (A 95% confidence interval for this number is from 2.0% to 3.1%).


"According to official Church sources, U.S. membership as of December 31, 2003 was 5,503,192, which is 1.93% of the total U.S. population. The figures provided by this church have been confirmed to be accurate by the Kosmin NSRI poll, which surveyed 113,000 people nationwide. In 50% of U.S. states, survey results indicated slightly more Latter-day Saints in the population than official Church figures reported. In the other 50% of U.S. states, survey figures were slightly below official Church figures. Correlation between the two sets of data (official and independent survey) was higher than for any other denomination, indicating a high level of correlation between the number of Americans who self-identify as Latter-day Saints, and the number counted on membership roles. A Gallup poll conducted Nov. 10 to 12, 2003, sample size 1,004 adults (Jennifer Harper, "Religion leads to a merrier Christmas," 11 December 2003, The Washington Times) reported that 2% of Americans identify themselves as Latter-day Saints. The National Study of Youth and Religion conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 2.5% of U.S. teens identify themselves as Latter-day Saints. The project involved a telephone survey of 3,370 randomly selected English- and Spanish-speaking Americans, ages 13-17. This 2.5% figure (reported in the Los Angeles Times: "U.S. Teens Share Parents' Religion, Survey Finds," by Veronica Torrejon, 26 February 2005) is significantly higher than the proportion of Americans claimed by the Church as members, indicating two things: 1) Church membership skews young, with a higher proportion of teenagers claiming membership than older adults; and 2) nearly all teens counted as members on denominational records also identify themselves as Latter-day Saints. "

Ed says:
1) Church membership skews young, with a higher proportion of teenagers claiming membership than older adults; and 2) nearly all teens counted as members on denominational records also identify themselves as Latter-day Saints."

I think you're correct, Ed. I think it is well established the the church is doing a good job retaining members in the US. The big question for the church is why their success in retaining US members cannot be duplicated outside the country. Retention problems in Latin America and Asia are well known, but the problem is getting worse even in Canada.

Data from the Canadian census, which asks respondents to specify their religious affiliation, demonstrates that the disparity between official membership totals and the number of self-identified Latter-day Saints has increased in recent decades. In the "Vital Statistics" entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Tim Heaton observes: “In the 1981 Canadian census ... 82,000 people stated Mormon as their religious preference, yet LDS records reported 85,006 members. The difference implies that 3-4 percent of members on the records do not consider themselves Latter-day Saints.” By the next decennial census, however, this disparity had widened dramatically. In 1991, about 94,000 Canadians identified themselves as Mormons, but in that same year the church claimed 130,000 Canadian members. Thus, in the space of 10 years the LDS church went from over-reporting its Canadian membership by 3-4 percent to over 28 percent. New census data show that this trend continues unabated. The 2001 Canadian census lists 101,805 self-identified Mormons, but the church claims over 160,000. This means that over a third of the Canadians now listed on LDS church rolls do not profess to be Mormons. The problem is even worse when you exclude the high-retention province of Alberta with its traditional Mormon enclaves. Why do you suppose this is happening?

Rick, just on general principles (i.e., with no particular familiarity with the data involved) I'd have to wonder about the 1981 Canada data showing 95% activity in Canada, which just seems out of line. I suspect that a fair portion of the 82,000 respondents claiming Mormon status were not, in fact, in the 85,000 reported members.

I know that could be countered with the response that such errors should also be present in later years, etc., but I know of no reason that Canada should have such high activity percentages circa 1981. If 87,000 self-identified as Mormon versus 85,000 on the records, we would know for certain the numbers are measuring different pools, but 82,000 is close enough for me.

Dave, the data don't show 95% activity. The Canadian census doesn't say how often people participate. They merely point out how many people report that they are LDS. (I guess I would distinguish between "retention" and "activity," even though we seem to use these terms interchangeably.)

I don't think it is out of line for the 1981 Canadian census to report 82,000 and the LDS church to claim 85,000. That just shows that there was little discrepancy between the number of members the church claimed and the number of people who claimed the church. That's the way it should be. There shouldn't be a discrepancy. That there is a wide discrepancy now where one did not exist 25 years ago is what vexes me. And why this discrepancy exists in all areas of the church except the US is most puzzling.

Rick, got it now. Perhaps it has something to do with the assignment of official LDS membership records. I believe that before computerized records, when an inactive ward member moved away and no forwarding address was known the record went to a sort of "missing members" department in Salt Lake.

With better records and controls, in the 1980s and 1990s, more "missing members" were located (even if inactive) and their records forwarded out to their new wards or branches -- even if they never attended church or requested their records be reassigned. I know the Church now uses volunteer phone callers to phone family members and come up with new locations for relocated, inactive members. If not located, sometimes the records are simply shipped out to the prior LDS unit. So it's possible that the 1980 "LDS records" info for Canada missed records sitting in a stack in SLC, whereas now such records get shipped out to new LDS units in Canada, swelling the LDS record measure data compared to earlier years.

Dave, Interesting perspective on the matter, and one that is consistent with the facts in Canada. But how can we explain why retention rates have been steadily high in the US? I will grant that the US data are not as complete as CN census data are, but all sources seem to indicate that LDS counts of its US membership are pretty accurate, and have been so for almost 20 years.

To me retention is clearly separate from activity and the fact some would interchange the two gets back to our flawed culture I was ranting about. Most wards have some full tithe payers who never or rarely attend; they are clearly retained. In Catholicism we called it guilt money. I remember as a teen collecting fast offerings that the ones from less active people were often fatter. These people are absolutely part of our community even though they aren’t 100% with the program. I would extend the definition of retained to anyone who self identifies as LDS, even if they’re completely off the wagon.

BTW, regarding support we give less actives, as a young adult not living the gospel at Univ of Michigan, I found it was very easy to have even the most diligent home teacher stop calling by just making sure that some gal’s undergarments and some empty booze bottles were left out on the first visit. Before I figured out that in your face approach, I sincerely told my first two home teachers I had nothing against the church, would be coming back when I was ready, but I was sexually active and until I met the right gal to settle down with there was no reason for them to see me. That was too sincere and didn’t work, they would keep calling. My point is even for less active people with no hostility towards the church, it’s not that hard to get even a diligent home teacher to stop calling because in the at large LDS culture, if you’re not TBM, you’re an apostate. Oddly enough when I was ready for marriage and returned, I expected to be excommunicated and have to get married by a judge because I was temple endowed, had served a mission, my wife to be was active LDS and we had been sleeping together for about a year. But the church leaders said no, that was not to be the plan for my recovery; I was told that by my actions I had already suffered excommunication long ago and there was no need for the church to formally repeat the process. They added my confession and request for a church marriage showed sincere repentance. An immediate marriage by the Bishop would get us out the sinful situation and activity as husband and wife in the church would prepare us for temple marriage down the road. If only the LDS culture at large could be as loving and open towards sinners as that disciplinary council was to me.

And why this discrepancy exists in all areas of the church except the US is most puzzling.

When I was an LDS missionary overseas, I contacted a woman who was on the church rolls but inactive. She told me she was not a Mormon. I told her that with all due respect, she was a Mormon because she was still on our list. She insisted that she wasn't Mormon, and showed me her baptism certificate that she had torn in half. She had no idea that wasn't enough to make her officially "not a Mormon."

The missionaries never tell you how to invalidate your baptism. There are firesides and Sunday School lessons outlining the progression of warning signs on the slippery slope to apostasy, but none that tell you the steps of the name removal process. Thus one might not know what, if any, procedures must be followed in order to officially exit. And even if one does know that some official procedure is necessary, when the point is reached of no longer identifying with the church, one may not care whether one is counted as a member or not.

You can easily find out how to legally remove your name from church records if you live in the US and have access to the internet. Exmormon.org and mormonnomore.com are two examples of sites that provide clear instructions. But they are in English and focus on how to go through the process under US law.

By contrast, many Protestant churches (not LDS) automatically remove a person from the membership rolls if the person has not attended or donated for a certain period of time, no more than a very few years. Those estimates are more likely to correspond to the point in time when the person ceased to identify as an adherent than is the 110th birthday, or whenever it is that the LDS church finally purges its rolls of those who have drifted away.

A problem with this data: the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church are unified by their administration and doctorine. It's easy to count them as one. There are countless evangelical churches under different denominations unified by doctorine if not methodology. It is the same religious movement, but they are not counted the same.

If we are extrapolating which churches are gaining influence in the country, I don't think this type of survey is helpful, because it assumes there's a chasm of difference between, say, a Lutheran church and the community church down the street. I say about the only difference is (likely) they meet in different buildings.

What defines an active member? As mentioned just because someone says they are on a census role proves nothing.

The Jehovah's Witnesses only count those who report some witnessing activity. The census figures in each country always show a higher figure than those that the Witnesses release.

Perhaps the difference in the census data and the church's official count could be remedied if all census participants had to have their parents in the room while filling out the forms. ;)

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