With one week to go until another annual Generic CONference of the Mormon Church, it is once again time for me to reveal my church statistical projections. The numbers I am projecting are for the year ending, 2011, as they will be officially reported in the Saturday afternoon session, on March 31, 2012.
Methodology: This is now the third consecutive year that I am publishing my projections, and I am continually refining my process for the way I predict the numbers. In the past I created my own mathematical formula for determining my projections for the next year. This calculated changes from one year to the next and gave greater weight to more recent years versus years in the more distant past. Last year, my formula resulted in a prediction of 14,142,817 total members. The actual number reported was 14,131,467 (a difference of 11,350, or 0.08%). For the year ending, 2009, my prediction was 14,824,420, and the actual reported number was 14,824,854 (a difference of 434, or 0.0031%).
This year I am doing something a little different. I am still using my original formula, but am also including an additional statistical method. This new addition is a forecast model (common to business spreadsheets) which projects future growth based on recent trends. Then I have taken an average of the results of the two separate formulae to create my projections for this year.
Projections for Year Ending, 2011:
Items are listed in the order they will be reported in conference (numbers for the previous year, 2010, are in parenthesis). Note that I do not include a few of the statistical categories in my projections, such as Stakes and Temples.
Total Wards and Branches: 28,978 (28,660)
Total Church Membership: 14,435,592 (14,131,467)
New Children of Record: 119,126 (120,528)
Convert Baptisms: 264,987 (272,814)
Full-time Missionaries: 52,536 (52,225)
For your information, total church membership would reflect a net growth of 304,125 from the previous year, which means that the church lost 79,987 members due to death, name removal, etc.
Analysis (what does it all mean?): Overall church growth over the past 15 years has seen a slow but steady decline. The number of convert baptisms has virtually flat-lined in the past decade (e.g.: convert baptisms in 2000, 2006, and 2010 were separated by only around 1,000, with each year hovering around 273,000). During the same period, new children of record numbers have risen modestly, while member loss has increased dramatically.
I’m not entirely confident in my member loss number of 79,987, for this year. The reason is because the past two years both showed numbers well above 80,000, and that number has risen for the last 4 consecutive years. However, my forecast model produced an oddly low number, in the neighborhood of 66,000, which in turn lowered my average considerably. I believe the actual number (not reported in conference, but determined from the other member growth numbers) will probably be somewhere between 85,000 and 90,000.
The church is now growing at just above 2%, annually. If recent trends continue, growth will be less than 2% by 2013, and doing nothing more than keeping pace with the world-wide birthrate. In fact, the church is actually LOSING ground with the rest of the planet. If world-wide population growth was only 1% annually, that would mean that, in 2011, there would be 70 million more people on earth than last year, but less than one-third of one million new Mormons. So, every year there are more non-Mormons on earth than there were the previous year. And with the shrinking numbers of full-time proselytizing missionaries in the past decade, coupled with the increasing secularization of the developed world, it’s unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time in the near future.
We know that the church is struggling to keep pace with the rest of the world, but how is the church doing at keeping pace with itself, regarding growth for this year? That is where my projections come into play. If actual reported statistics reflect something close to the numbers in my projections, then the church is remaining steady with recent trends. For Mormons, that may not be a good thing, based on the direction of these trends. However, if actual reported numbers are significantly higher or lower than projections, that may reflect that the church is either exceeding or possibly falling behind the trends.
But all this talk of overall growth doesn’t really tell the story of how the church is succeeding or failing. The Mormon Church is shaped by its active members – the people who are actually attending Sunday meetings, and identify themselves as “Latter-day Saints”.
What can the church statistical report tell us about church activity rates? I’m not sure how much the church hierarchy is aware of this fact, but quite a bit of information can easily be gleaned based on the small handful of details they report, each year.
For starters: According to Nation Master, the worldwide birthrate in 2011 is 20.2 births per 1000 population (see: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_bir_rat-people-birth-rate) The Mormon Church, in 2010, added 120,528 new children of record (this is the number of babies born, in Mormon families, whose names were added to the records of the church, and NOT baptisms of 8 year-old children). That year the church also reported 14,131,467 total members, which gives us a birthrate of 8.53 per 1000 population (this is 42.2% of worldwide birthrate).
Assuming that all active Mormons, or those who self-identify as members of the church, will be inclined to place their newborn children on the records of the church, and that those who do not identify as Mormons are not likely to add their children to church records, this number (120,528) reflects the total children born to active Mormon parents, during 2010. Next, taking into account that the Mormon church has a younger median age than the general population (29.4 years, according to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2008), and that Mormons generally have larger families, and more children than the general population (Mormon household size 4.2, versus 3.7 US national average, ARIS 2008), active Mormons are actually experiencing a birthrate significantly higher than national averages, across the developed world, and similar birthrates to nations in the developing world. This means that the church’s activity rate could be NO HIGHER than 42.2%, and in reality, is probably significantly LOWER than that – possibly as much as 5 – 8 percentage points.
We can also see similar results when we examine the annual number of member loss, which includes deaths, and compare that to worldwide death rates. What we find is that average death rates are roughly double the annual member loss the church reports in conference (that’s not even taking into consideration how many members the church loses due to excommunication or name removal). This means that not only are more than half of the names on LDS records inactive, but the church also doesn’t even know whether many of these people are alive or dead!
Next: We can estimate the activity rate of the church over an extended period of time based on a comparison of overall membership growth, versus unit (wards and branches) growth. In the decade, from 2000 to 2010, the church grew from 11,068,861 to 14,131,467 total members – a difference of 3,062,606, or 27.67% growth from 2000. During the same period, the church went from 25,915 to 28,660 total units – a difference of 2,745, or 10.59%. If units grew only 10.59%, compared to 27.67% for total membership, then units only grew 38.27% as fast as membership did, during the last decade. Assuming that the church will only add new wards and branches, based on having enough active members to justify creation of new units, we can estimate that the church’s activity rate from 2000 to 2010 averaged around 38.27%.
This brings us to another question: How many active members are there in wards and branches? This next portion involves some speculation and guesswork on my part, because I don’t know what the exact numbers are. But I am making educated guesses based on my own life experience, from living in a variety of different regions of North America, from my mission experiences, and from discussions with other members and former members of the church.
In my experience, the Mormon Church generally does not prefer to have wards with a large number of active members who do NOT have callings. So long as there are callings available, the church will attempt to fill all of them with the available people in each ward or branch. If the ward’s membership grows to the point where there are significantly more people than callings that need to be filled, church leadership will be inclined to divide the wards within the stake, so that the extra membership can fill new available callings. Therefore, the average number of active members per ward will largely be determined by the number of callings that need to be filled.
I have estimated that in a large, fully staffed ward, there are about 120 available callings. This includes everything from the bishopric and relief society to the primary pianist and nursery leader, including several callings for youth in quorum or class presidencies. In addition to those 120 adult and youth callings, I estimated a handful of adults that might not have a calling at any given time, plus another handful of adults who are given callings at the Stake or Mission level, and a number of youth and primary children, who are not assigned regular callings. My total estimate for the active membership in an average, fully staffed ward is 236.
Then, I determined that there are also many wards which are under-staffed, in which several members have more than one calling (I personally experienced this in 3 different wards I attended). Under-staffed wards may also include YSA and College Student wards, which do not have members or callings in several areas, including primary and youth groups. I estimated the average active membership in those wards to be two-thirds that of fully staffed wards, or 158 active members. I also estimated averages for large and small branches – 78 and 36 members, respectively. I assigned those numbers arbitrarily, based on my own experience as a member of, and a missionary serving in, multiple branches.
Based on LDS membership statistics by nation (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-d...) from year end, 2008, wards accounted for 72.2% of total units, and branches 27.8%. I estimated that of 28,660 units at year end, 2010, about half are “fully staffed” wards (14,330 units of 236 active members each, for a total of 3,381,880 active members in those wards). That would leave the remaining 22.2% wards, as ones that I call “under-staffed” (6,363 units, 158 active each, 1,005,278 total active). Among the 27.8% branches I decided to arbitrarily split up the large and small ones 14% and 13.8%, respectively (large branches: 4,012 units, 78 active each, 312,967 total active; small branches: 3,955 units, 36 active each, 142,383 total active). Using these estimates, in 2010, there were a combined total of 4,842,508 active members, among a total worldwide membership of 14,131,467, or 34.27% activity.
Finally – One last piece of evidence for your consideration. The Mormon Church claims just fewer than 1.9 million members in Utah, and is home to 13 temples, with 2 more presently under construction. That will be one temple for roughly every 126,000 members. Even if Utah Mormons were as high as 80% active, temple attendees, it would mean that only 100,000 Mormons were sharing each temple. By contrast, the church reports nearly 600,000 members in Chile, but the nation has only one LDS temple (Santiago). So, how many Chileans do they honestly expect us to believe are active Mormons?
Bottom Line: All of the estimates I have done for Mormon membership appear to corroborate each other. The percentage of active members worldwide in the church is most likely in the mid to upper 30’s (likely being somewhat higher than that in Utah and the western US, but significantly lower throughout much of the developing world). Mormons claim to have over 14 million people among their ranks, but it is clear that these reports are gross exaggerations. It’s a virtual certainty that the church would not even be able to find 10 million people who call themselves Latter-day Saints, and very likely that many names on the records of the church don’t even represent real living persons.
In my opinion, it’s time for the church to stop lying to the world, and to itself. No one outside the faith is any more impressed that they report 14 million members, than they would be if 6 or 7 million was the actual count. Mormon leaders are only kidding themselves, and fooling some of their own membership, if they think it is a faith-promoting tool to artificially inflate their numbers so as to claim they are “growing” or fulfilling a prophecy of “filling the earth.”
It’s time for the church to clean up their books – to become more transparent with their business practices. “Lying for the Lord” doesn’t work as well in the information age. The rest of the world is wising up to their game, and we’re not buying it any longer.
Eric N. Davis – March 24, 2012
The church has NOT had a 4% growth rate since the 1990 (more than 20 years ago). In fact, the last time the church grew above 3% in any year was 1999. For the last 3 years, total membership growth has been 2.33%, 2.29%, and 2.17%. The percentage keeps shrinking every year. This year, the expectation is 2.11% if my predictions hold true. And if current trends continue, it will fall BELOW 2% in 2013, for the first time EVER.
The church's days of REAL growth are over. Right now they are just treading water. And in a couple of decades, they will probably be consistently SHRINKING, every year.
If we listen to a General Conference some April in the near future, and they no longer give a statistical report, then you will know for sure, that the downfall has begun.
... and fall down, they will.
Thanks for these numbers Eric. I can only dream of processing numbers like this (i didn't make it past fractions). So tired of the church lying about virtually everything! It's going to come back to haunt them big time.
You're very welcome. And the lying is already coming back on them. Just look how many people are leaving the fold.