Guest post: There is no exodus from the Church. In fact, just the opposite.

This is a guest post by S. Stevenson (a pseudonym).

Recently, people who support the Church have been pointing out that there has not been an exodus of members leaving.

These people are widely lampooned and pilloried by the NOM and Dehlinite crowds and those who have degrees in religious statistics from the University of Reddit. The various disaffected groups are up in arms about the change in policy toward people with same-sex attraction, which became public in November 2015. They are desperate for any signs that people are leaving the church in droves and are hoping that sooner or later the Brethren must take notice of their disaffection and change the policy.

Now this may be hard to believe because you don’t know me from Adam and I’m writing under a pseudonym, but this is to protect a somewhat delicate source that I have within the Church Administration Building. Someone who is intimately familiar with the number of resignation letters they receive (they read them all), but who also knows the number of rebaptism applications they receive.

Now given the fanfare and magnification that social media provides, one would be tempted to assume that the resignations outnumber the rebaptism applications. This is simply not so. My source told us over family dinner one Sunday that the perception that social media gives about the “exodus” is simply not representative of the Church not just globally but even within the US.

The number of folks applying for rebaptism far and away outnumbers the resignation requests. In fact going further, there have been some that resigned in the post “policy” fallout have since requested rebaptism and expressed sorrow for their hasty actions.

But why don’t we hear of these rebaptisms? Well for one they don’t make like Dehlin, Kelly, and Runnels, and alert the media they want back in. They don’t create viral tirades and blog posts announcing their rekindled love for the church. These are humble quiet affairs that aren’t announced and aren’t made a spectacle for all to see.

So when the Brethren stand up and say the Church is going strong, it isn’t blown smoke, it isn’t them simply attempting to assuage fears, it actually comes from a knowledge and understanding of what is occurring for the Church and being able to see the whole picture, not just the magnified parts from the Bloggernacle and social media.

Sometimes we have a tendency to get wrapped up in what we constantly see, especially what we see and witness in social media, but we need to remember that these things aren’t representative of the larger sampling of the populace. Millions of people go about their lives without broadcasting their thoughts, feelings and every action across social platforms.

As for the other example of if enough people become disaffected the Church will be forced to change, well that was answered years ago by Elder Bruce R. McConkie when he said “The caravan rolls on…”

The Church is like a great caravan—organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of tens and captains of hundreds all in place.

What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.

Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise. The caravan moves on.

Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, and rivers to ford? Such is life in this fallen sphere. The caravan moves on.

Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest. Thank God that the caravan moves on!

24 thoughts on “Guest post: There is no exodus from the Church. In fact, just the opposite.

  1. As reflected in 2 Kings 6:15-17:

    15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

    16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

    17 And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

  2. Sounds plausible, in fact quite likely, but anonymous friends of employees in the Church Office Building are more John Dehlin’s style of gossipy claims to insider knowledge. No need to fight rumor with rumor. If this nugget has value, the LDS church administration has many reputable channels it can use to disseminate it.

  3. This seems to sidestep a significant issue–that of people who stop attending church and no longer consider themselves Mormon, but do not bother to formally resign. Anecdotal evidence would seem to imply that these numbers are much larger than formal resignations (I’ve been in leadership in wards, especially international wards and branches, where there are over 1000 people on the rolls and a regular sacrament attendance of around 80)–though I would think it would be very difficult to track this, even for the church, as weekly sacrament meeting tallies and baptismal numbers are (as far as I know, my last experience in a clerical position working with church records was 2007) collected separately, and there is no formal mechanism I know of tracking numbers of inactive members. Unless this has changed–anyone know?

  4. My anecdotal two cents — my stake has about 4400 members, with about a 35% activity rate. Across the whole stake, I can think of about 4 – 5 people who’ve purposefully quite coming to church or had their names removed in the last two – three years. There have always been lots of inactives on the rolls of the church, but their inactivity (again, in my experience) has nothing to do with the doctrines or policies or practices of the church.

  5. IDIAT, my experience in Colorado is similar to yours. I taught Gospel Doctrine for four years. You get to know the opinions of a lot of people when you teach in front of 50 people very Sunday. Nobody in our stake has publicly resigned or asked for their name to be removed. Nobody in my ward ever expressed the slightest problem with the Church’s policies on same-sex attraction. There are problems with inactivity as there are in every church in the history of the world. From the perspective of our stake in Colorado, the disaffection that the disaffected love to trumpet is a tempest in a teapot.

  6. Actually, you don’t even need confidential sources — all you need to do is track the steady growth in stakes and wards/branches. You can’t ‘fake’ a ward or a stake; you actually need enough active members (and especially active Melchizedek Priesthood holders) for them to function. My wife and I spent several years in a branch in Washington DC, where we had a district that was trying very hard to become a stake. After a few years, though, it became apparent we weren’t going to gain enough members living in DC itself to pull it off, so the district was dissolved, and the branches were all moved to two neighboring stakes (our branch became a ward overnight, since it had all the people it needed to qualify as a ward, but as a congregation in a district could only be a branch).

    As for straubhr’s comment — I think he’s confusing ‘old growth’ situations in still-developing regions with people deliberately leaving. When I served as a missionary in Central America some 40+ years ago, we had about 10,000 members of record in all four countries combined (with no stakes or wards; only 5 districts and about 30 branches total); maybe 2,000 of the members were active. I suspect that is a common situation in many parts of the world where the Church has been slowly getting a foothold over a number of years. (I’ll note that the same four countries now have 358,000 members of record, three temples, 9 missions, and 480 wards/branches.)

    Meanwhile, here in the US, I have lived in 15 non-student wards in the past 40 years, and I’ve never seen the type of disparity that straubhr mentions (speaking as someone who in most of those wards had at least one calling where I attended ward council/PEC). As straubhr notes, weekly sacrament mtg attendance is tracked and reported to Church HQ, and since the Church already knows the # of members of record living in a given congregation, the ratio of (# attending)/(total membership) is a useful first-order (if still rough) approximation for activity.

  7. The scenario Straubhr cites reminds me of a branch in the Amazon basin where I spent eight months as a missionary: over a thousand members of record, and weekly attendance was about 60-70. I came in at the tail end of a decade of “baseball baptisms”-type missionary work and got left holding the bag for a lot of reactivation work; and my experience was that generally the only problem these inactives had with Mormon doctrine was that they didn’t understand that they themselves had become Mormons.

  8. I am 90% certain that Straubhr is Mr Kristy Money, for those interested, as I heard this unconfirmed story from him before.

  9. There are many articles out there by those that study or watch religions that say the only churches that are losing members are those that are moving away from their core beliefs. The churches that stand strong and don’t waiver in their beliefs are the ones that are hanging on to their members and continue to grow.

    We are doing just fine, much to the angst of those that don’t like us.


    Can anyone answer a little side question for me?

    Somewhere I heard that the church considers you “active” if you attend sacrament meeting at least twice a year.

    Obviously there is more to being active than just going to church a couple times a year, but has anybody heard this before?

    (This has been a lingering question in some of my circles.)

  10. Dan:

    The standard I’ve always heard — and it’s unofficial — is attending sacrament meeting at least once a _month_. Except, of course, wards don’t track who attends sacrament meeting. On the other hand, for a very long time, part of the monthly — and subsequently quarterly — reporting from the ward to the stake was the number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders who attended Priesthood meeting at least once each month. I don’t know if that is still the case or not.

    And since those claiming an exodus or simply stagnant growth like to rely on anecdotes instead of actual statistics, I’ll throw in an anecdote that I know from personal experience (having served in the High Priests Group leadeship):: in the ward Sandra & I lived in for nine years in Colorado (prior to moving to Utah two years ago), we had 36 high priests on the records of the ward. Of those 36, thirty five were active, and the one who wasn’t didn’t seem to harbor any ill will towards the Church.

  11. – Activity is measured on a quarterly basis. However, only the last month of the quarter is used to determine the quarterly statistics, including activity

    – The overall activity rate for each ward is determined using the average sacrament meeting attendance, plus adding those whose callings prevent them from attending sacrament meeting in his/her home ward (i.e., typically stake callings)

    – Activity rates vary greatly by region. In Japan, the activity rate was in the low teens. In NYC, it was in the mid-20s. In Arizona, the rate is in the low 40s. My stake has told me that overall activity rate for the church is in the low 30s

    – An interesting note is that despite the surge in the # of missionaries, the # of convert baptisms has stayed relatively flat. My theory (with zero data to back it up) is that most of the surge missionaries went to missions that administratively were more equipped to support them. Those missions are typically in Western countries where the baptism rate is very low. As the church begins sending more missionaries to countries where baptism rates are higher (e.g, nations in West Africa, the Caribbean), I’d expect to see higher baptism rates

  12. We had Elder Oaks give a devotional in our stake yesterday (he seems to be doing a tour of England right now), and he gave a figure of between 5 and 6 million active members worldwide, and he used that as an example of the fruits of the gospel, implying that he sees that figure as pretty good. The Area President gave figures of around 500,000 members in the Europe Area with around 100,000 active.

  13. Ok, thanks for the information everyone, that makes a lot more sense now. Yeah, seeing as they don’t really track who is at sacrament meeting, just maybe how many, that wouldn’t be used to determine if you are active or not.

    Going to Priesthood meeting where a roll is kept makes better sense.

    Sorry, my head is hard sometimes. It takes awhile for things to get in there.

  14. Most people don’t know they have to remove there name. And there is no sources. There church take roll call every Sunday so they know the active members in the church , the simi-active in the church and the non active but the report all members even if a member as not been to church in 30 years. I want to see the actual number’s of active members one that only miss a few Sundays a year. Not one that where they had a baby blessing and never been since.

  15. Am I simple or something? I have a testimony that is as bright as the midday sun.
    I know the church is true and that Jesus Christ is at the helm of it. As for those who have doubt’s, I say God bless you, and you just go and get a testimony of this wonderful church fo yourself.

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