Mormon leaders frequently proclaim a disturbing lack of religious belief in the modern world, although polls show that Americans are more religious than people in any other developed country in the world. A recent poll by the Pew Forum shows that only 4% of Americans identify themselves as agnostic or atheist. What Mormon leaders may be referring to is stagnant, even negative, Mormon Church growth.
Yet other Christian churches in the US are experiencing rapid growth. So, if other Christian churches are growing while the Mormon Church is not, Quentin L. Cook’s October General Conference statement: “The assault on moral principles and religious freedom has never been stronger…. there are also people who are determined to both destroy faith and reject any religious influence in society….” begs the question. Blaming the adversary for an assault on religion will not likely change the growth dynamics of the Mormon Church. What might be helpful is looking at what rapidly growing churches are doing that is different.
Two weeks ago, I attended Mars Hill, a reformed Christian church in Seattle, a traditionally non-churchy part of the country. Mars Hill has experienced dynamic growth in the past decade—expanding to several branch campuses serviced by pastors and connected by satellite TV for sermons by the founder, Pastor Mark Driscoll. Pastor Mark is just40— associate pastors are even younger. The branch I visited had just opened near the University of Washington two weeks ago and the place was filled—over 700 people for the morning service. Most of the congregation were university students—with a fair mixture of young families and older people. No attempt is made to divide members by address or marital status.
Pastor Mark preached on Luke 11:5-13. He drew the example of God being our Dad who loves us and answers our requests though not always the way we want. A highly entertaining speaker, Pastor Mark related the parable of the man needing bread for unexpected guests knocking at the door of his neighbor’s one-room house in Galilee. The awakened neighbor, quite naturally refuses to get up in the dark and stumble over sleeping kids to meet his neighbor’s need, but finally gives in to quiet his neighbor. Then Pastor Mark described himself being sought by his 3-year-old who wanted him to watch Tinkerbelle with her when he had planned to spend Saturday afternoon watching college football. He concluded that if an imperfect human loves his child enough to watch Tinkerbelle with her instead of college football, how much more God, who is perfect, loves us enough to answer our prayers. A great lesson in being a good dad as well as in trusting God.
Pastor Mark and others like him are reaching people who would not care to access a Mormon meeting to hear elderly general authorities decry the wickedness of the world, opine that gay marriage will undermine family values, or insist that personal revelation is subordinate to authorized priesthood revelation.
I’m not trying to belittle Mormon leaders nor those who enjoy their messages. However, I do find it unproductive to blame the wickedness of the world for the flat growth of the Mormon Church when other churches with younger leaders draw crowds to hear a conservative Christian message with a very strict moral code.