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.
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.