6 reasons Christian churches are shrinking, and how the LDS Church can help

David French, a Calvinist Presbyterian, notes that Christianity is dying.  Those churches that have adapted to the world, now struggle with those that argue over the last 5 percent of difference they have with Babylon.  He mentions the 6 main reasons why young people leave.  He then notes that one Christian group, the Mormons are still growing, even though they dwell in the same secular environment.

He notes 6 things that traditional Christians can learn from their Mormon brethren:

The key is more commitment and dedication to the gospel, and not less, is what brings true conversion.  Here is his article:

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/16/6-reasons-why-mormons-are-beating-evangelicals-in-church-growth/

As we can see, the LDS Church has solutions to help bring people to Christ.  I hope we can inspire many other Christian religions to follow our example. I would love to see our nation return to being a Christian nation, rather than a secular one.

 

29 thoughts on “6 reasons Christian churches are shrinking, and how the LDS Church can help

  1. Conversion to the LDS church happens when someone receives a revelation from the Holy Ghost to follow it. We invite all, but only those who hear the voice from heaven say “come follow me” will follow.

    Evangelicals are an apostate faith. Trying to copy-cat the fruits of Mormonism will do them no good. The ax is laid at the foot of every tree, and everyone that bringeth not forth good fruit will be cast into the fire.

    Let the Evangelicals burn themselves out on their moral crusades and irrational fanaticism. Let them sell their Biblical doctrine of grace for mess the of pottage, the humanist God of “inalienable rights.” Let them continue to deceive themselves that their deist founding fathers ordained America a “Christian” Nation.

    While they are chasing that red herring, we’ll continue to build up Zion in the hearts of “one from a city, two from a family,” and to work towards a kingdom “not of this world.”

  2. I’m thinking my first comment was too harsh on our Christian friends. Of course if they are finding anything good to borrow from Mormonism, that is great. My contentious comment was probably spurred by my antagonism to the idea of America being a “Christian nation.” I don’t believe it is a Christian nation, but a nation with Christians. This particular mission of Evangelicals I believe is misguided, and I dislike it when Mormons jump on that bandwagon.

  3. If they are struggling to bring people to Christ, in their own limited way, then I salute them and wish them God-speed.

    The closer they come to Christ, the more ready they will be to learn more.

  4. The evidence that Mormonism is growing is very sketchy indeed. Whether the other points are useful or not is irrelevant if that piece is missing.

  5. I agree, Aaron – and another key piece of information is our retention rate after investigators are baptised. It’s all well and good saying that we’re growing, but a large proportion of members are members only in name, and some of them would not even self-describe as Mormon.

  6. Nate, your statement was very harsh. Most Christian churches lead people to a terrestrial level of salvation, which is of honorable men of the earth (D&C 76). They are not the enemy, nor of the enemy of Christ.

    If they step closer to Christ’s teachings, then good for them. If we can be the example for them to follow back to Christ, then good for us.

    I think a little charity is required of us towards our Christian brethren. That some think it is a Christian nation, which you disagree with, does not mean you should be caustic about it.

    AaronR, while there are issues of retention in our church, and it can be sketchy, we are experiencing growth where other Christian denominations are shrinking. If we were not growing, it would not make sense to build new chapels, temples, stakes and wards. So, while we may baptize 250K converts every year, and only 1/3 remain active in the long run, it still shows a growth in membership.

  7. Ram, 1/3 may remain active long-term (although I think that is quite high as well depending on what you mean by long-term) but the conversion and retention statistics seem to ignore the actual growth in average ward attendance. That is really what I am referring to: the data on active Mormons is sketchy at best.

    The logic around building new chapels etc. does not really work. There are lots of reasons to build chapels and temples, in fact LDS leadership have been quite explicit about the practice of building temples and chapels in areas were they cannot yet be justified in terms of attendance.

  8. However, I should also add that I do think there are good things that our Church does which might help other faiths. I also think that can move both ways.

    I do not mean to criticize the idea of holy envy but rather I think it is problematic to base that envy on fallacious statistics.

  9. They build building in terms of either current attendance or anticipated future attendance. That the Church has various buildings that can be built in stages, shows that they do not just build for the sake of building. There are reasons to do so.
    That attendance issues in the USA do occur, does not mean it is that way everywhere. Stats I’ve seen regarding the conversion/retention rates in Africa show a high retention rate.

    Where there is no growth, the Church does not add stakes and wards. Yet we add several stakes every year. That signifies real growth, even though it does not equate to retaining all 250K a year. At the same time, evangelical churches are shrinking in population.

  10. I read that article, too. Whether or not the church is growing, while open to debate, these 6 points are how to build and retain. Good advice for us as well as them. I think the key reason we’ve flattened is lower birth rates and the lack of a breakthrough in missionary efforts in Asia. The secularization of the West makes it difficult to grow thru conversions. It’s easier to convert the religious.

  11. You do realize, although there is still a whole world out there that needs to open up missionary work, that shrinking is a sign of the end times? That is why I am not impressed with if the LDS Church is growing or shrinking as some kind of truth statement. The prophecies have always been that the Church will be spread around the world, but as a tiny cluster of faithful. Any growth in the Last Days will be followed by a downward spiral that, if it wasn’t for divine intervention, would lead to another Great Apostasy similar to the one after Christ and the Apostles.

  12. Rameumptom, I hear what you’re saying about new stakes being announced – but what you’re not hearing is all the old stakes being shuttered, condensed, and closed. Here’s a quick link with a bit of info on it: http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=view_other_articles&story_id=247&cat_id=30
    Most of the data I’ve seen from various sources points to the LDS church also shrinking yearly in terms of active membership. It’s especially potent among young adults, who are leaving in droves.

  13. I have to agree with Jettboy. We shouldn’t be too concerned with growth or shrinking too much, as it was foretold that the Church would be tiny and beleaguered in the last days.

  14. I agree with Jettboy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses actually praise their small numbers as signs that THEY are the prophesied Church of the last days, rather than the Mormons with their success.

  15. The point of the article (and for me) isn’t the issue of growing. It is an issue of retaining our kids and converts in the faith.

    Yes, we are losing people. Many of those we lose is because we are not inspiring them, not giving them a reason to stay active, not having them share the work, not helping them learn to covenant and commit to those covenants.

    And if we are doing things better than others, I have no problem with them taking our example and using it as a method to increase.

    We cannot control who will/won’t remain active in the Church. However, the things we do, teach, and act upon can influence whether they stay or leave. This list that David French mentions is just a partial list. There are other things, which I think are far more important, to keeping our kids in the faith. For example, we need to inoculate them against the teachings of the world better. We need to improve our teaching and manuals, so that they actually teach them doctrine on their level, and not on the level of a Sunbeam. We need to teach our members to set our pulpits afire with the Spirit when they speak from it, so that people will want to return of their own accord.

    So, there are things we can still work on as a Church. That said, the things mentioned by French will help. If we can do these things consistently in our wards and families, more young men would go on honorable missions. More young women would also serve missions, and prepare themselves for service in the Church. Our converts will not get so easily lost in the shuffle.

  16. Are we talking about growing in numbers, or per capita? Certainly Mormons are growing in numbers of active members, but as a percentage of the world population, we are shrinking, along with everyone except Muslims and Hindus.

    At the same time, we have prophesy on our side, and the work beyond the veil. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. The work of God will go forth nobly and boldly until it has visited every continent and sounded in every ear and Jehovah says it is finished.

    I don’t think we should get concerned about any apparent “shrinking” as Jettboy says. The church has had ups and downs before, such as the early 20th century, when activity rates were at record lows. We do our part to grow the kingdom (or fight against it), but it is in God’s hands, not ours.

    Rame, I know my statement was harsh, and I felt guilty the moment I sent it off. That’s why I like Millennial Star, because there is always a good chance my nasty comments will get deleted.

  17. I was going to say something along the lines of thanks to author of this article, because I thought it was very thoughtful and kind. But I am amazed at how everytime anyone blogs something postive about the LDS Church there are those who seek to find the negative.

  18. I believe it was Armand Mauss who, in his study of membership and retention in Europe, noted that a decline in membership doesn’t necessarily equal a decline in what one might call spirtuality.

    In addition, traditional churches may lose members as exit costs decline, but some of these have been captured by new denominations.

    In other words, it is not the case that the tarnished appeal of establishment churches is ushering in an age of nihilism. And anyone who has experienced religious discrimination ought to prefer secularism (in the sense of separation of church and state) over the alternative that is still practiced in many Christian countries.

  19. . . . and not on the level of a Sunbeam

    Have you not seen the Sunbeam manual? Its pretty basic, following almost exactly the things shown in the creation video of the temple. Probably would do us good to spend a year on the basics – oh wait, we just did that, taking a break from the Presidents of the Church series.

    That year of Gospel Principles did a lot to help squash some of the folk doctrines and re-introduce us to what we actually believe as a Church. Could we be teaching more? Certainly, but we can’t say that the Church is only giving up milk to sip, especially since we are actively encouraged to seek answers for ourselves, beyond the simple structure of the lessons. I know few teachers who would not prefer to be facilitators, rather than lecturers.

    As for teaching people to speak with fire from the pulpit – no matter how much teaching is given, not everyone can do this. Should we limit ourselves to people who are eloquent, just so we can stay entertained? That inclusion of speakers is one of the benefits to our Church – everyone is a preacher, not just those few with a knack for it. Every one of us has the opportunity, some even the calling, to learn more about the gospel and share that learning with others.

    The manuals have never been given as the end of learning, only part of the beginning.

  20. I realy enjoyed the original article, Thanks RAM for bringing it to the M* audience.

    While it is tragic for the young adults to be lost, let’s not forget that they, not us, are the ones who are the agents in their own lives. The church has always, and will always provide opportunities for them to receive spiritual nourishment. But the onus rests on the individual to come unto Christ, not onto us to force-feed them.

    I speak as someone who spent some time inactive in my late 20’s, until I learned to take responsibility for my own life, spiritually, emotionally, in all ways. I had to forsake the liberal notions that others were to blame for where I was spiritually and emotionally, and that I was the only one who could decide to get out. I couldn’t accomplish it alone, I needed good friends, leaders, and most importantly, The Savior .. But even with good friends, good leaders, and the Savior, without my recognizing my own power, nothing could be done…

  21. Good comments, all.

    Nate, I would never delete an opportunity for everyone see you whine and moan! ;)

    Joyce, we have to realize that not everyone has rose colored glasses like you and me. Also, there are some issues we need to work on as a Church to improve our own retention, especially in these days of mass communication.

    Peter LLC, yes Mauss’ research is worth studying. That said, here in America we are finding the while people remain what they call “spiritual” they are not religious. There is little or no commitment to that spirituality they have. And many who leave one congregation are just as likely to stop attending any church, at least until they have kids of their own, or hit older age and feel they need to prepare to meet God.

    Frank, I see things differently. The gospel and its doctrines (not speculation, but doctrine) is like a great and deep ocean. Too often, we tend to skim stones across the ocean, as we rush from one teaching to the next, always on a very basic level. What we often need is to drink deeply of the waters, diving deeply into the doctrines, so the Saints really know and understand what it is they are supposed to believe. I fear most members do not understand faith, repentance, covenants, ordinances, or the Holy Ghost, simply because we do not explore these enough.

    I’m not the only one who has been critical of the doctrine lite manuals we have. I’ve seen Dan Peterson and others agree with me on this, as well. As I said, we need to be able to inoculate our kids against false ideas and concepts. I’ve known some great LDS youth who went off to college, learned about evolution, figured their parents were wrong about the 6000 year old earth, and so the whole gospel must be wrong! Or find that Elder McConkie was wrong about evolution, and so decide the whole church is a scam. I’ve seen these actually draw kids away from the Church, simply because the gospel doctrine is not dealt with appropriately and deeply enough. It is too easy to quote a dead apostle and stop thinking, than it is to really search the scriptures and Holy Ghost to determine what the doctrine really is.

    h_nu, while I agree they are responsible for their own choices, I think we do a poor job of preparing them to accept that responsibility. If a 7 year old took the car keys and wrecked the car, how much of that is the child’s fault and how much belongs to the adults who should teach? Today, most of our parents do not have family home evening, family prayer or scripture study. Most of our kids do not attend seminary. Many parents hand the kids a cell phone and tell them to stay out of trouble, and leave their training at that. I do not see that as preparing our kids. But there it is in many cases.

  22. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, assistant professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, and an ordained United Methodist minister presented the paper on this topic at the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry, London, England.

    http://mormonteenagersreligiousity.blogspot.com/

    The study “consistently portrayed Mormon young people as “topping the charts” in terms of spiritual vitality, depth of religious understanding, salience of faith in their daily lives, hope for the future, and general well-being as adolescents..”

    “Mormons offer young people four resources, embodied by the faith community itself, that provide anchors for a religious identity. For the sake of conversation, I’ll call these resources 1) a creed to believe, 2) a place to belong, 3) a call to live out, and 4) a hope to hold onto … This experience prepares teenagers for living in a morally significant universe in which their lives make a difference, where they are asked to respond to God in ways that contribute to God’s ultimate transformation of the world.”

  23. RAM,
    I respect that you want things for the church and its people to improve.

    I would love the manuals to be improved. However, when Jesus said that even the very elect could be deceived, he didn’t throw in a “so make better manuals.” In the end, the state of our manuals won’t be what keeps people from apostatizing. Regardless of how awesome a hypothetical (and imaginary) perfect parent might become, they are going to teach their children false things. They may be a Bruce R. McConkie teaching from the pulpit that LDS don’t worship Christ or have a personal relationship with Him. It may be a parent who always taught there kids to buy a house because the housing market always goes up. Fallen, mortal humans will make mistakes. I think the problem is requiring perfection. Certainly, one of the lessons LDS parents could teach their children would be to require less perfection of others and have more charity.

  24. h_nu, I agree there will always be mistakes made by parents. However, I believe that the better trained in doctrine the parents are, the fewer mistakes they will make in their children’s lives.

    No, manuals are not a cure all. But I do think they need to address an age-appropriate discussion of doctrine. Imagine a school, where every year the kids are handed the textbooks for 1st grade English and Math. How will they learn division, fractions, or calculus, if all they are ever taught is addition and subtraction? This is where I feel our current lesson manuals tend to be.

  25. Amen, Rameumptom. We need more in depth manuals and discussions of doctrine. That’s pretty much all I have to say – you outlined all of my own thoughts already.

  26. “Fallen, mortal humans will make mistakes. I think the problem is requiring perfection. Certainly, one of the lessons LDS parents could teach their children would be to require less perfection of others and have more charity.”

    h_nu- I think you hit the nail on the head. Just about everyone I have known and loved, who left the church, first had the wedge put in the tree of someone(s) shaming, mean, competitive, behavior. Once this wedge goes in then, anti-Mormon teachings and/or sin fit in behind the wedge. Our goal as LDS should be charity and kindness. These ideals need to come first before anything else.

    Rame- I totally agree with you, this is how I have raised my older kids. When they understand truth and are taught everyone, except Jesus, is subject to sin, pride, errors in judgement; plus truth and knowledge
    buffers their testimonies from the wiles of Satan.

  27. In the US, more chapels are being built than closed, more wards are moving from rented facilities to chapels, more branches/wards/stakes are being created than consolidated. In the US, and Europe more missions may be consolidating than being created, but over-all world wide, more missions are being created.

    In the US, I dont think the average number of active members per ward/branch has gone down, so the increase in wards/branches is a true reflection in the number of active members.

    The fact that active membership in the US is increasing, while the number of missions in the US has stayed the same or decreased, indicates that growth is coming more from children of record than converts, or else that US missionaries have become more efficient/productive.

    I agree with Ram and JAB that the French article is great. He pays us great compliments. We should feel very flattered by the article, and to be the subject of his “holy envy.”

    I read the article hoping that his holy envy will someday motivate him to give our doctrine a second chance for further investigation.

    I was disappointed that many commenters on that post didn’t get his thesis, and consider the LDS to be a poison well, unworthy of any manner of emulation. I mean, come on, it’s no sin to say that the Nazis had cool uniforms, is it? :-)

  28. I am not a Mormon but have read your books, listened and questioned your members, and did other research on the Mormon way.

    As a non-biased (I think!) outsider and absolute believer in Jesus
    Christ… I think I might have a viewpoint that is somewhat more accurate than many, outside and inside LDS.

    Most Mormons are very family oriented, good to their spouses and children, hard working, productive and beneficial, devout, and good role models for Mormons and non-Mormons in these ways.

    Most Mormons are very good at adapting existing facts and systems for business, family life, socialization, culture, etc…. but aren’t too good at creating new systems and innovations that haven’t existed before (MOST). This strength in copying facts and systems that have been shown to be effective and results oriented is very powerful… if the big system around us doesn’t change to fast. Then it becomes a glaring weakness. I think the strength part is represented by the success Mormons have had in business, politics, family cohesiveness, happiness quotient, etc. It is represented as a weakness when scandals are going on now among high and middle ranking church members sexually, financially, and politically that doesn’t draw outrage from the more ethical and moral members because they have existing systems of acceptance of authority of all leadership, no matter what. I shouldn’t be too hard on Mormons about this though. It is a tendency of many cohesive groups that have a long existence.

  29. John Eagle,
    But compared to most religions, we do not have a long existence. All organizations, religious or not, must deal with changing interests and attitudes in culture. The LDS Church often changes slowly, simply because many things have worked in the past, and one should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    That we have continuing revelation helps us to often be ahead of other religions in making changes or having focus. For example, we have had Family Home Evening since the 1950s, when families were strong and always had dinner together. Over the last 60+ years, we have seen the disintegration of the family in general, while those LDS who have weekly FHE have fewer divorces and less problematic children. Almost 20 years ago, we were given the Proclamation on the Family, which has given us guidance through these years where the family is under even greater assault, and many people are trying to actively change what marriage and family are. The Roman Catholic Church’s top leaders (Pope, cardinals, bishops) have recently gathered to discuss how to re-evangelize their members and the world. Their focus? Families and marriage.
    As for the LDS stance on homosexuality, for instance, our stance has not changed, only our policies and methods. In mismanaging Prop 8, the Church knew they had to find a better way to manage such issues, and have successfully begun to do so, all within just a few short years.
    That the LDS Church continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate in the USA, shows that we do adapt fairly well, without giving up our principles.

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