After the Mormon Church released its membership statistics in April (2013), Mike at RoundelMike.com, a self-proclaimed “stats geek,” analyzed the church’s self-reported membership data from 1970 to the present. Replete with charts and graphs, it is a fascinating look at Mormon Church growth over these 40-plus years. Please take the time to read Mike’s report if you can. For those who choose not to, here is a brief summary of what his report includes.
Mike first graphed total membership, noting that there has been strong growth over the years. “The LDS Church grew from about 3 million members in 1970 to about 15 million in 2012, which means it grew five times larger in a little more than 40 years,” Mike wrote.
Next Mike graphed the year-over-year change in membership. This is the number of members added each year. The graph shows that Mormon Church is adding an increasing number of new members every year (i.e., each year the number of new members is higher than the number of new members recorded the previous year). Mike wrote, “There’s still an upward trend in year-over-year change in membership since 1970, but there’s also a notable downward trend since the peak in the early 1990s.”
Next Mike graphed “the percentage of year-over-year change in membership compared to the total number of members, which is effectively the church rate of growth.” While the growth rate has been slowing, Mike noted, “at the current growth rate, each year a (slightly) larger percentage of the world’s population belongs to the LDS Church.”
The next graph is total yearly convert baptisms (without considering retention information). “Since 1990 the trend has generally tapered downward with an obvious low spot in the mid-2000s. It has somewhat recovered in the past few years, but the current number of annual baptisms still falls short of the rates seen during the 1990s,” Mike explained.
A graph showing the annual convert baptisms as a percentage of the total demonstrates a “definite downward trend.” This means that each year a smaller percentage of Mormons are recent converts. Mike wrote, “Over time, new converts are becoming rarer in the Mormon church. In 1980 nearly 1/5 of all members had been baptized within the previous five years. By 1990 the number had fallen to about 1/6, and in 2012 fewer than 1/10 of members had been baptized within the past five years. The opposite is true too; more than 90% of all current LDS church members have been Mormon for over five years (92.3%).”
Mike included a couple of graphs dealing with children of record and 8-year-old baptisms, but the church’s reporting of those statistics has been inconsistent so it’s hard to understand what the numbers mean.
Finally, Mike graphed “Statistical Anomalies” he found in the data. He found that many years had significant discrepancies between the reported sub-totals as compared to the reported totals in church growth. “To break down this yearly 100% [i.e., total church membership growth], we’ll take the percentage of the growth that’s due to convert baptisms, 8-year-olds baptized, and the total of the two. Together each year, the two statistics should add up to about 100%, allowing some wiggle room for members who have died or left. However, these totals shouldn’t be too far from 100% because, well, you can’t convert more than 100% of the members added and you can’t add members that you don’t baptize.” Some years tens of thousands of members were unaccounted for as in 1973 when the church reported an increase of 87,750 members while also reporting 80,128 new converts and 52,789 children baptized. Some years the discrepancy went the other way, as in 1989, “when the total number of baptisms falls short of the Mormon church membership increase for that year. The LDS church shows a membership increase of 587,234 in 1989, but there were only 318,940 convert baptisms and 75,000 8-year-old baptisms, meaning that 193,294 members were added to the membership total that weren’t baptized.”
Mike wrote, “It’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going on.” But one thing is clear: though the trend is slowing, the Mormon Church continues to experience “robust” growth according to its self-reported statistics (which do not differentiate between active and inactive members). This doesn’t mean, as many Mormons like to think, that the Mormon Church is “the only true and living church upon the face to the whole earth” with which God is “well-pleased” (D&C 1:30). Rather, it is a call for those who belong to Jesus to continue to “fight the good fight of faith,” “guard the deposit entrusted to you,” and patiently correct those in opposition to God’s truth (1 Timothy 6:12, 20; 2 Timothy 2: 24-25). It is a call for us to stay on our knees, pleading with God for His mercy toward the Mormon people, that 2 Timothy 2:25-26 may become their story.
May it be so, Lord Jesus.