The Growth of the Church Today and in the Future

In a few weeks lesson #9 in Gospel Doctrine focuses on the organization of the Church. While I was studying this lesson for an upcoming Interpreter Scripture Roundtable, I did a quick napkin calculation of the Church’s growth. At a current modest 2.5% growth rate, the LDS Church could have over 33 million members in 30 years, more than doubling the number today, and adding almost 1 million members per year at that point. Reflecting back, it took 117 years to reach just 1 million members total in 1947. The Church has added nearly 10 million just since I was born in 1981, an increase of almost 300%, or a 3 fold increase. For members in their 60s, they’ve seen over 10 fold growth since their birth, and those in their 80s, over 20 fold growth. See the charts I made below:

lds-church-growth2

What is most interesting, perhaps, as you might be able to tell above, is that the Church has been growing at a logarithmic exponential rate since its organization in 1830. This means that not only has the Church seen growth year-over-year, but that growth has been accelerating since the beginning. Sounds like a stone cut out of a mountain without hands, and it’s picking up speed rolling on the way down (Daniel 2; D&C 65:2).

lds-church-growth-logarithmic-exponential3

Some interesting food for thought.

(Data from membership history on Wikipedia, which has some other interesting charts.)

This entry was posted in General, LDS Church History, Transhumanist by Bryce Haymond. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bryce Haymond

Bryce grew up in Sandy, Utah, where he attended Jordan High School. He served a mission to the El Salvador San Salvador East mission, including eight months as mission financial secretary. Bryce graduated from Brigham Young University in 2007 in Industrial Design and a minor in Ballroom Dance. He loves all things Nibley and the temple, and is the founder of TempleStudy.com, and also blogs at BlackpoolCreative.com. Recently Bryce joined the Executive Board of The Interpreter Foundation, where he serves as a designer and technologist. Bryce has served in numerous Church callings including ward sunday school president, first counselor in the bishopric, and currently as temple and family history instructor. He is a Product Manager and Design Director at HandStands in Salt Lake City, and lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with his beautiful wife, three children, and another on the way!

8 thoughts on “The Growth of the Church Today and in the Future

  1. Bryce,

    Have you looked at cumorah.com? I’m not sure they (mainly David Stewart) would agree with you.
    http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=church_growth_articles&story_id=8

    Growth has declined in the last three decades, and the best retention estimates are dismal. Despite constant pleas from our leaders, we expect the missionaries to do all of the work. Unfortunately, they actually aren’t that good at finding people, and are even worse at keeping converts active.

  2. Actually your second graph shows it has been growing (on average) at close to a constant *rate* – the growth in absolute numbers has been increasing.

    I think the interesting question is what will happen when we no longer have “new” places in the world to go to? Most areas of the world where the Church has been “in residence” for a long time eventually see declining growth rates. I would guess (just based on past history) that the Church will see a pretty dramatic decline in its growth rate in about 50 years. (Of course that is just a total and complete guess.)

    I think a very interesting benchmark will be if we can every reach 1% of the world’s total population. In the US we are about 2% (counting everyone on the rolls, if we counted active about 1%), that might be the effective ceiling for awhile. In the world we are between 2/10sth of a percent and 3/10ths of a percent (again counting everyone on the rolls. If we counted only the active people likely considerably less than 1/10 of 1 percent).

    We have a ways to go. But your graphs show there is some hope. The global population growth rate is right around 1% per year, if we can maintain a 2 to 2.5% growth rate the relative size of the Church would grow (albeit very very slowly) over time.

  3. Bryce,
    One historical point which may help some perspective. Most growth models that only take the beginning of the historically derived growth models are incomplete. All historically valid growth models end up serpentine (S-shaped), (in some ways resembling an error function . That means, usually growth levels off at some level.

    Of course, I don’t know the future, I don’t know that this situation must be like every other growth pattern in recorded history… But I also just don’t want people 30 years hence losing their testimonies because of a faulty assumption today.

    Basically this was the same problem the “zero population” folks did in the 60′s and 70′s. The truncated the graphs, extrapolated to dire populations, even though the models include a leveling off. It was intellectual dishonest then, and if we’re not careful, the same thing could happen with our understanding of the growth of the church.

  4. Bryce, my personal feeling as a student of history is that we should be open to the possibility that Church growth may go up and then back down over time. There are some challenging times coming, some separation of the wheat from the chaff. I can see years where actual growth may be negative, followed by years where growth may be huge (in China or India or Africa, for example). My point is that while these graphs show constant growth we should not necessarily expect this to happen all of our lifetimes.

  5. Geoff B. wrote: “China or India or Africa, for example”

    I may be one of the few people who doesn’t think anything big will happen when China opens up. If there is anything to be learned about church growth in the last few decades it is that the church doesn’t grow fast in virgin areas. It takes quite a bit of momentum before big things happen (of course there’s room for miracles). I suspect China will be a very challenging area for a very long time.

  6. My understanding is that the only limitation to church growth in Africa is in the number of missionaries being sent there. We have not come anywhere near the capacity of African countries to receive them. Most cities and towns have no church presence. There is room for another 100,000 or so missionaries there. And likewise, there is room for at least another 100,000 missionaries in India.

    My belief is that the missionary age changes will result in a slight increase in the number of young men serving, and at least a 200% increase (ie, the new number will be 3 times the current number) in the number of women serving.

    I also believe that the majority of the increase in women missionaries will be assigned stateside, allowing a greater percentage of our elders to be sent to more difficult missions overseas, such as Africa.

    In a way, the US church is the root, and the overseas church are branches, in that tithing from the US is funding the church in developing countries, building chapels and temples, paying for administrative offices and employees, paying for seminary and institutes, etc. So the church has to grow the “roots”, US-based wards and stakes, fast enough to support the growth of the “branches”. So its not like missionaries can be pulled entirely from US wards to go to more rapidly baptizing areas. If it was entirely about raw numbers of baptisms, the church would have cut way back on missionaries in the US and sent more to South America and Africa.

    I think that the world-wide temple-building boom of 2000 is going to play a part in something. Maybe it has to do with children born in the covenant, or if not born in the covenant, at least growing up in homes where they were sealed at some point after the kids were born. Therefore, I think when those children turn 18 and go on missions, starting in about 2018, church growth will accelerate even more.

    It takes a new mission being open about 19 years for kids born in the church to start going on missions. That’s when you see a growth spurt in that country.

    It would be interesting to see Bryce’s graphs redone to only include members outside of US/Canada.

  7. I see numbers, data, graphs, read comments but…we should not forget this is the LORD´s work and I think He is ABOVE them ALL.

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