An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon Church growth’

Real Reason for The Change

Brent at Doves and Serpents has posted a thoughtful interpretation ofthe recently announced change in missionary age. Brent believes stagnant Church growth motivated the change which will provide an influx of missionaries in the near future. He backs his opinion with links to reliable statistics. Find his post here.

The Stone Cut Without Hands

From the beginning, Mormon Doctrine has interpreted the stone “cut out without hands” described in Daniel 2 as the restored gospel going forth to fill the whole earth (D&C 65:2) The rapid growth of the Church for the first 1 ½ centuries after its 1830 beginning with six members confirmed this belief.

A strange thing happened in the latter decades of the 20th century—and unexpected and unheralded thing. Mormon Church growth slowed. It stagnated—possibly even declined. In Utah and other areas in the U.S., wards began combining rather than dividing. George and I lived in two different stakes in Salt Lake County where wards with dwindling enrollment were disbanded and boundaries redrawn to include members with other wards. Friends in Seattle had their ward incorporated into other wards as happened to our daughter and son-in-law’s ward in upper New York State.

The closing of wards wasn’t disconcerting to most Utahns because state growth continued, so the overall Mormon population probably increased. Outside Utah, the effects were more problematic. Converts who had based part of their testimony on the rapid growth of the Church were shaken.

I know that official Church statistics continue to show growth, but the reliability of those numbers has been questioned particularly outside the U.S.    

Few Mormons who leave the Church bother to have their names removed from the records and are counted as members until 110 years after their date of birth. More realistic estimates of Church growth are made by comparing the number of wards and stakes from year to year.  Obviously, wards and stakes are not created for non-existent members.

 The Church’s count shows membership increased from 13,824,854 in 2009 to 14,441,346—an increase of 309,879 members. Since Earth’s population increased from 6.8 billion in 2009 to over 7 billion in  2011—an increase of over 200 million people, it is pretty obvious the Mormon percentage of world population decreases each year.

Given these circumstances, I speculate that the Church will drop references to Daniel 2 from future rhetoric and within a few years will deny it was ever a doctrine—unless, of course, some miraculous way of converting hundreds of millions of people each year occurs.

Which Mormon Church?

I’m becoming aware of two Mormon churches in the 21st century:  The traditional church and a newer model. The traditional church features leaders like Julie Beck extolling ideal motherhood and general authorities like Boyd K. Packer condemning gays. This church defines gender roles rigidly. It emphasizes sexual purity, stresses modest clothing for girls, and obsesses over young males who masturbate to relieve sexual tension. This church insists Ezra Taft Benson’s 14 fundamentals for following the prophet are essential for salvation. (See Elder Costa and Elder Duncan’s October conference talks). This church harbors devotees of Glenn Beck-style “last days” and conspiracy theories.

The newer model Mormon Church seems to be led by the PR department, especially it’s “I’m a Mormon” series which recently included a segment of Irene Caso, a Spanish sister with a radio/TV career and a stay-at-home-dad husband. This church spotlights–and apparently approves of–testimony-bearing celebrities who follow their own conscience—career women like Marie Osmond and Gladys Knight—sports stars who play on Sunday like Steve Young. This church took a pro-active stand on humane immigration reform and is currently building environmentally-friendly meetinghouses.

Which church will dominate the 21st century? Of course, I’m hoping for the new, improved model. I suspect that if the traditional church continues, membership will continue at its current flat growth rate or even decline.

Time to Retire?

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.

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