Mormonism’s Apostasy Predicament

In 2006 an article in the Salt Lake Tribune made waves when it called attention to the fact that “Less than a third of those baptized [in Chile] stays in the Mormon fold.” The article noted that the LDS Church reported its number of members in Chile at over four times the number reported in a national census by Chileans who self-identified as Mormons.

Presently, a more recent analysis of one area of LDS membership statistics can be found in the latest issue Utah Lighthouse Ministry’s newsletter, Salt Lake City Messenger (October 2011, Issue 117). In an article titled “What Is The True Number of Mormons In The United States of America?” author Kent H. Roberts compares U.S. membership numbers as reported by the Mormon Church with the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) numbers gathered over the past 20 years and complied in a Summary Report dated March 2009 (pdf).

The ARIS statistics were gathered via telephone interviews in 1990, 2001 and 2008 all employing

“…the same unprompted, open-ended key question ‘What is your religion, if any?’ Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. Moreover, the self-description of respondents was not based on whether established religious bodies or institutions considered them to be members. To the contrary, the surveys sought to determine whether the respondents regarded themselves as adherents of a religious community.” (Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, American Religious Identification Survey Summary Report March 2009, 2)

Kent Roberts summarizes,

“The ARIS raises significant questions about the true number of persons in the USA who understand themselves to be members of the LDS church. Briefly stated, at the beginning of 1990, the LDS church claimed a membership in the USA of 4,175,400, while the ARIS showed that, during 1990, 2,487,000 Americans claimed to be Mormons, a 40% difference. At the beginning of 2001, the LDS church claimed a membership in the USA of 5,208,827, while the ARIS showed that, during 2001, 2,697,000 Americans claimed to be Mormons, a 48% difference. Finally, at the end of 2008, the LDS church claimed a membership in the USA of 5,974,041, while the ARIS showed that, during the year, 3,158,000 Americans claimed to be Mormons, a 47% difference.”

Based on this data Mr. Roberts asks several good questions, this one among them:

“For LDS spiritual leaders, the question is: Why is there such a significant drop-off in affiliation with the church after baptism? …A member who does not attend regularly is commonly referred to as ‘inactive.’ One who rejects the decision made at baptism into the LDS church is considered an ‘apostate.’ The ARIS question addresses whether one is affiliated with a faith tradition, not the level of activity within that faith. If the official LDS church statistics represent primarily baptized persons, then the ARIS figures represent significant levels of rejection of the baptismal decision by persons once Mormon.”

Indeed. In Chile, the LDS Church reported 509,592 members at year-end 2000 but only 103,735 Chileans in 2002 self-identified as Mormons (Censo 2002, 26 pdf). Today the LDS Church claims 563,689 members in Chile.

Or, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, “Take Brazil. In its 2000 Census, 199,645 residents identified themselves as LDS, while the church listed 743,182.” Today the LDS Church claims 1,138,740 members in Brazil.

Earlier this week (on November 13, 2011) Fox News reported that “Mormonism [is] Enjoying Dramatic Growth in Latin America.” The article states, “According to [the LDS] church, there are now more than five million Mormons in Latin America, compared to around 200,000… in 1980.” But what does this really mean? How many of these people have actually rejected their “baptismal decisions” and become (as the Mormon Church would say) “apostates”?

Some may claim that the significance of officially-reported LDS membership statistics is difficult to interpret; but one conclusion that’s pretty hard to avoid is that substantial apostasy is a real predicament for the Mormon Church.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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14 Responses to Mormonism’s Apostasy Predicament

  1. Mike R says:

    In Chile only a third of those baptized stay in the fold ? I think this may be a problem for
    the Church even in America. It’s difficult to know exactly why but if I had to guess I’d say
    that since people who are given the Missionary lessons , and are then baptized , are not told
    of so many of the doctrines of their new-found religion that once they find these out it may
    tend to trouble them. Ministries like MRM can aid in this exposure . I also think that the
    effort to be “worthy” before God can be an over taxing life style for many, given all the
    rules , both written and unwritten . I’m glad many “apostasize ” from the Mormon church ,
    may those people now see that coming completely to Jesus is not to be equated with
    submitting to the Mormon prophet in the first place.

  2. canuck54 says:

    Here again is another good reason to have your name removed from the church records. In doing so, hopefully there would come about a more accurate count. Numbers are very important in many denominations but I believe even more so in the LDS church.


  3. Kate says:

    I have read that even though I have had my name and records removed from the LDS church, they won’t subtract me from their membership numbers. I think this article shows that this is what is happening. They could no longer claim to be the fastest growing church if they were honest about the numbers. The whole thing is silly. I agree Mike, I think that the bait and switch used by the missionaries is partly to blame. If the missionaries would come right out and say Mormonism teaches that God is nothing more than an exalted man, they wouldn’t get many converts. The fact that the whole religion isn’t put up front when talking to a potential converts speaks volumes.

  4. TJayT says:

    Good artical as always Sharon. You do great work. I have two questions;

    1) Do you know if there has been any study on number discrepancies from other religions that base there membership numbers on baptism?

    2) Were the numbers from the ARIS just adults or household?

  5. Rick B says:

    Hello Everyone, I am back from Israel and had a great time. Sadly for me I never saw a single mormon. I was able to give my Hebrew/English Bible away a a gift to a shop owner who was a Bedouin. We exchanged email addresses and I’m hoping we can keep in touch.

    Well as far as this question/topic goes, I have always thought to myself, who really cares about numbers? I mean Numbers dont prove a thing. People can lie about numbers and how can you really prove them to be true.

    Also if you think about it what do they really mean? I can look at the number of Atheists and say, well atheists out number most if not all religions and does their non believe in God prove God is not real?

    We can look to the story of Noah, roughly 6 billion people thought Noah was a kook and probably his family did as well, so we have 6 billion and 7 people who thought Noah was a kook, yet Noah alone Believed God and 6 billion people Died, yet they were the majority. So mass numbers do not prove something to be true. Lots of people believe Jim Jones and Harold Camping and guess what, these guys were wrong and the believers are dead or looking dumb now. So to me numbers mean nothing and simply do not decided what is true or false.

  6. Mike R says:

    Welcome home Rick .

  7. TJayT says:

    Glad to hear everything went well Rick. Welcome back 🙂

  8. TJayT, thanks for your kind words. You asked 2 questions:

    1) Do you know if there has been any study on number discrepancies from other religions that base there membership numbers on baptism?

    2) Were the numbers from the ARIS just adults or household?

    I am not aware of any studies regarding reported member discrepancies. The ARIS was not a study of this type, either, nor was it focused on Mormonism. It’s purpose (simplified) was to determine the overall religious fabric of the US and how it changes over time.

    The ARIS study only interviewed people 18 years old and up. This would account for some of the difference in membership numbers. According to the author of the article cited here, children might explain up to seven percent of the noted discrepancy.

  9. LWG says:

    Sharon, This is very interesting.
    I would like to know stats on Temple attendance. The number of sessions per temple, first timers, one timers, repeaters, and the NON ATTENDERS and compare to membership. Just for one typical ward would be meaniful if done from representive groups.

  10. MaM says:

    I ran across a blogger who, as far as I can tell, doesn’t practice any sort of religion. She was raised lds and has asked several times for her name to be removed, yet it still remains. She still gets calls from missionaries, members, etc. They won’t leave her alone, and they won’t remove her from their records. I wonder how many are out there just like her?

  11. spartacus says:

    From what I have heard from other former/ex/post-LDS it is quite a process to get your name removed from the membership rolls. I’ve heard some get it done with just one well sent letter (can’t remember if that was to the Presidency or someone lower), but many more times it seems to be a drawn out process including all the things you would think concerned believers would do (and some others you wouldn’t)- visits/calls (hopefully without the threats- “well meaning” or otherwise), bishop interviews/visits, even higher officer visits, threats/informings of public announcement to membership, delays-ignoring, avoidance, time-to-think-delays, delays, delays, silence, etc, etc.

    Though I understand believers hope for the better, you would think the LDS church would take apostates more seriously instead of holding onto their names so tenaciously. They seem able to excommunicate those who speak ”not faith promotingly”, do they really think relatively “quiet” apostates are not going to have an effect on those around them? I would think the LDS leadership would take this more seriously indeed. And when you consider how much LDS think of record keeping…Until they do, the numbers don’t mean much, if they ever did.

  12. Kate says:

    MaM and spartacus,
    I have gone through the name removal process. It was horrible. I sent in a form letter that I found on Shawn McCraney’s Heart of the Matter website. It’s well written and I followed the instructions with the letter. In the letter I asked for absolutely NO contact, just remove my name and records. I sent it to member records in SLC. I received a letter stating that it is an ecclesiastical matter and that I had to go through my local bishop. My resignation letter had been sent to him. It was more than 2 months before the bishop called me (NO contact remember?) he asked me if someone had offended me. I was so irritated! Like I am that shallow. I bluntly explained to him that I had been researching Mormon doctrine and history for the past 4 years and I don’t believe a word of it. He then had to send the my letter to the stake president and then I received a pamphlet from the first presidency of the LDS church which was literally spiritual blackmail. I tore it up and threw it away. I wish now that I would have kept it so I could share what was in it. After another month or so, I received my letter stating that my name and records had been removed from the MEMBER RECORDS OFFICE! It is such a run around. A few days later, the LDS missionaries were at my door. I had missionaries here a few times and then they stopped coming all together. I think my mom had something to do with that. Just a hunch. When we send in resignation letters for my kids, I am going to threaten legal action if their names are not removed immediately.

  13. TJayT says:


    I and I wish you had held on to that pamplet also, I would have loved to have to read it. Do you happen to remember a title or anything else about it?

    Just curious, how come you had to wait so long to turn in your children’s resignation letters? Did you have to wait until they were certain age or was it a personal choice?

  14. Kate says:

    We just haven’t gotten around to sending in their letters yet. My experience was so horrible I’m procrastinating. I have a friend who stated in her letter that she was going to sue if her name wasn’t removed immediately and she had no problems. You don’t have to wait until your children are a certain age. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the name of the pamphlet. It was a year ago. I remember being very upset about it, and I just wanted rid of it.

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