More on LDS Growth

KUER’s RadioWest has had a few shows on the growth issue of the church. That’s been discussed throughout the blogs including several discussions here. I’ve not listened to them yet. Today’s was an interview with Peggy Fletcher Stack who wrote that Tribune article last week. I did catch about 20 minutes of that show. I wasn’t too impressed as she basically only knew the raw growth statistics and apparently had done little reading on the related issues. (Like the possible causes of the trends) Kind of surprising since there is a lot of good analysis, including the often mentioned David Stewart paper. Given that she interviewed Stewart and thus had presumably read the paper, I was a little shocked at the analysis. Still it was somewhat interesting even if there was a tad too much FUD (partially due to the callers). I’m going to listen to the MP3 this evening.

KUER presumably will be having a few more shows on the issue in the future.

Today’s show was on Growth Patterns in the Church. Last week’s show was on the LDS possibly losing their majority in the state. It involved an interview with Matt Canham who has a series on this in the Tribune.

14 thoughts on “More on LDS Growth

  1. In a side note that might be equally interesting is the shocking coincidence in timing (I think I saw you mention this elsewhere, Clark). The discussion starts at LDS-Phil, it breaks into the Bloggernacle, and within a week Ms. Stack publishes an article on it. It could actually be just a coincidence, but I’m not sure of that. Is the ‘Nacle starting to lead the news rather than just follow it already?

  2. I thought that too Geoff. I found it interesting that Peggy Stack’s article not only came out shortly after the M* post but even made use of some of our links. Although to be fair David Stewart did say Stack had been trying to get him to make an on the record interview for a long time now. So it may have been a coincidence.

    Perhaps Doug Fabrizio should interview a few bloggers?

  3. I’m surprised that Stack, or somebody else, doesn’t get some leaked data from church headquarters. Maybe the church is pretty good at keeping anybody from talking to reporters about anything, ever.

  4. Reportedly NPR is doing a story on the issue. It should be up sometime the next day or so with interviews with Tim Heaton and Peggy Stack.

  5. I wrote Peggy last week and told her about my mission experience.

    I also attended the Sunstone symposium, where Jan Shipps spoke about this issue as well. She called this “the single biggest issue confronting the church”.

    Virtually every missionary I’ve ever spoken with has confirmed to me that “bogus baptisms” were a part of their mission—in some form…be it “baseball baptisms” in Japan, “beach party baptisms” in Chile, “soccer baptisms” in Guatemala, “cheeseburger baptisms” in North Carolina, or “gravestone baptisms” in Montana. Jan Shipps acknowledged to me this phenomenon, and spoke of it as if it were “old news”.

    Considering the fact that we call mostly ex-businessmen both as GA’s and as mission presidents, and then employ sales techniques (like quotas and metric tracking and the “commitment pattern”) to achieve results–it’s no wonder that true conversions are not happening as often as we’d like.

    I sent this letter to Elder Oaks several years back, and he actually called me to talk about my experience. He apologized on behalf of the church, and assured me that the application of sales techniques on a mission were nothing short of “priestcraft”. Since then, the Church has been quietly collapsing stakes….Elder Holland has closed over stakes 30 in Chile alone. Countless have been closed in Brazil. There were wards with only 4 people attending in these countries.

    Until bogus baptisms are confronted openly, and directly, we will always have a major retention problem in the Church.

  6. The complaint about bogus baptisms in the Guatemala City North Mission that is described by the previous poster is true (follow the link on “Mormon Stories). I was fortunate to be there at the end of the unnamed mission president’s tenure so that I could see the major changes brought about by a leader who wanted the work to be done properly. When I began my mission, we were the baptizingist mission in the Church — at least that was the story I heard. With the new mission president our overall numbers went down greatly but the retention went way up.

  7. It saddens me to read the link “Mormon Stories.” We got our fair share of baptisms in Korea, but most of the people I baptized were better members than I am before they were baptized. However, I did hear the thought that our job was to baptize and the Holy Ghost’s job was to covert. If we did our job, He would do His.

  8. It is well known that Peggy reads the blogs. She has made both inderect and direct quotes from them in past articles.

    My mission experience echos Mormon Stories’ in some ways. It also bolsters my contention that it is not the internet that is slowing church growth but a concious change in policy to not simply divide, divide, divide in order to give the perception of growth. I know that in my mission local leaders felt enormous pressure to divide wards and stakes. It may have been the case that they didn’t feel like there were fulfilling their callings if they weren’t creating the perception of growth.

  9. That also corresponds with what I heard a former mission president say about there being a problem with people baptizing the children of inactive members or the like. If I recall the figure he quoted, something like 90% of all people under 17 go inactive within a year if they don’t have an active parent. I don’t recall the exact figure, but I seem to recall him suggesting something like 40% of all baptisms fit into that category. (Don’t quote me on that one) So it sounds like the church is aware of all this and perhaps the decrease the last few years has been to improve things.

    It’s interesting though, as I had a few of those baptisms on my mission. In each case the parent was very eager to have their child baptized. Yet I *knew* they wouldn’t stay active. It was hard to know what to do. I think these are the kind of inactive members who would definitely self-identify themselves as Mormon. I suspect people like that make up a lot of the numbers of other faiths too. How many baptists, for instance, regularly attend church but still consider themselves batpist? The problem is that because the kids don’t really have a basis in the church, they’ll leave. Further at least when I was a missionary 15 years ago, we were told not to work with people who were already baptized. Yet it seemed like members would have had a harder time in such situations. I suspect the church has worked on things there.

  10. The baptism assembly line in Guatemala of “Mormon Stories” sounds familiar to me too. My mission in a South American country in the mid 80’s wasn’t that bad, but the word from the MP was “Baptize, Baptize, Baptize.”

    Several times as a District Leader I was interviewing people who weren’t prepared. I can remember turning down 2 adults, and one child. The child hadn’t learned or picked up anything from the lessons. The elder who taught her said “Don’t worry. She’ll learn it at church.” (This elder didn’t learn anything growing up in church, so it was kind of ironic to hear him say that.) But her older brother was joining at the same time, and the Elder used that as an excuse. Anyway, their parents weren’t members (or were inactive), so the girl wasn’t being baptized through ward channels. And I caught hell from that elder for declining to authorize/sign for her baptism. That elder also had the habit of scheduling the baptism to be right after the interview, so that any declination would appear bad.

    One adult I declined to sign for, was a lady who just couldn’t say in any form that she thought Joseph Smith was a prophet. I tried to make it easy for the most rudimentary level of faith, but she was totally agnostic on the point of Joseph Smith.

    The other adult was a man who might have been mentally deficient. I interviewed him 3 separate times and he just couldn’t remember what he was committing to.

    But yes, I have wondered over the years if I had made it too hard on those three individuals. But should we baptize anyone who requests it if they don’t meet the _written_ requirements the church gives us for baptism?

    Then in the Heber J. Grant Priesthood/RS manual of last year, there’s a story about a man being readmitted to the church, and HJG says something like “I’d baptize the devil if he asked for it.”

    I have to admit that several companions and I baptized a good number of teenagers, but they did take all the lessons, did at least verbally make the committments, showed up at church at least once, had parental permission, etc. And a couple of companions and I taught and baptized some preteens in the 10 to 12 year old range, again, with all the lessons, permission, and with what I thought were honest committments.

    I was glad to hear Elder Oaks in a general conference within the last 2 or 3 years remind us that baptisms must be done worthily, etc.

    I also recall a talk by Elder Packer in the early 80’s. I forget if it was at general conference or if I heard it at the MTC. He said, and this is a pretty close quote going from memory: “_Legitimate_ [emphasis his] sales techniques are appropriate in teaching the Gospel.”

    The whole thing hinges on the definition of _legitimate_.

    I sometimes did see “power of personality” and overbearing-ness come into play in the mission as elders would “elderize” or bully people into baptism. The locals in that country, and especially the really poor ones, are generally very meek and humble people, and are easily led by someone they look up to (like gringos). “You wanna get baptized?” “Sure thing, boss! Whatever you say!”

  11. As for who drives what, the Bloggernacle needs to get over itself. Statistics about Utah’s declining Mormon population and closing of stakes have been around longer than bloggers.

    What few news stories there are that have named the blogs in the Bloggeracle are sad because they represented minute factions of the church. For that reason, I’d welcome one inspired by M* which is more representative of the whole.

    There’s a lot of people who commit to baptism out of pressure or not wanting to offend. There’s a family from Nepal in our ward that never comes. Those who have visited said they’re practicing Hindus. That didn’t stop our missionaries from convincing them to baptize the kids and now someone picks up one son every week for church so the poor kid is a Mormon for a few hours on Sunday and lives with Hindu rituals the rest of the time. How blazing confusing that must be for him. I have no doubt the parents were baptized at one point just to get the missionaries to leave them alone.

    More than one time I’ve agreed to bring refreshments to a baptism where the missionaries were concerned that the person would be a no-show (they were right). If you’re that concerned, you shouldn’t set the date and time for baptism!

    I know one very dear person was the only person one missionary taught and baptized on their entire mission. The likelihood of them falling away is doubtful. How much better for that missionary than a dozen or more baptisms they could have had if they cajoled people. Even one soul… how great the joy.

  12. I agree Adeline that these discussions have been around for a long time. I’m not sure longer than blogging/mailing lists though. When the first self-identification survey of the US came out showing basically zero real growth it was widely discussed. That was only what, two or three years ago? These things come up every now and then. I honestly think the church has been struggling to improve in this area the last four or five years.

    I was partially tongue in cheek making those initial comments about M* setting news. As I mentioned, David said that Peggy Stack has been after him to speak on the record for some time. So this is obviously a story she’d thought about quite some time.

  13. I would like to share a smilar story.
    I remember once while working as a missionary in a small town named Vinces in Ecuador, we found some teenagers who told us that one missionary once invited them to play soccer by the river beach, and after the game he inmersed in the river waters and later placed a his hands on thier heads and said something. Nobody coud tell that it was a baptism but we knew something was wrong. If there was an aggrement between the missionary and the zone leaders who made the interviews, I cannot tell, but one thing I know is that this missionary later became somehow insane and was released earlier by the mission president and had to wait to go home because he wasn´t able to travel by himself. fortunately this was the only story I heard.

  14. Why is it that every website which tries to minimize or pervaricate about growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is at least three years old…? There are always quotations of long-outdated membership numbers, stagnating growth, etc. For example, the last date on this site was in 2005. Gee, that’s ONLY seven years ago. I’m not sure what the Church population was in 2005, but is had to have been somewhere near 12,000,000, because in 2011 it comfortably topped 14,000,000. That might not be phenomenal, but it makes a lot religionists extremely nervous. And as the saying goes, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…!”

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