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Declining Growth of the Church Part 2

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
The Truth Network Radio
February 15, 2021 8:15 pm

Declining Growth of the Church Part 2

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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February 15, 2021 8:15 pm

This week we consider the numbers of convert baptisms from 1990 through 2019, as the church has steadily decreased in percentage growth each decade. We encourage you to visit an article with graphs (referenced in the shows) by clicking

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Mormonism 101, a book by Mormonism Research Ministries, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, has helped many who want to understand what separates Mormonism from the Christian faith. Mormonism 101 is available at your favorite Christian bookstore or online at Welcome to this edition of Viewpoint on Mormonism. I'm your host, Bill McKeever, founder and director of Mormonism Research Ministry, and with me today is Eric Johnson, my colleague at MRM. In yesterday's show we were looking at an article that was posted by the Deseret News back on May 23, 1998.

Now, I know that's going back quite a few years, but it was important. We needed to look at this article in order to better understand what we plan on talking about. It was an article titled, LDS Church Growing at Warp Speed, Sociologists Says, and it was highlighting the research of a man by the name of Rodney Stark, who in the opening lines of this article, it says, fellow sociologists scoffed when he, Rodney Stark, predicted 15 years ago that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could skyrocket to 267 million members by 2080. Now, why is that prediction important at all? A lot of people give predictions when it comes to church growth, but the reason why we feel it's important is because the numbers haven't even gotten close to what Rodney Stark predicted, even though in 1998, you could say he was beating his chest thinking that he had not only got it right, but he even hints that he felt that his numbers might even be a little bit too low. And as I said on yesterday's show, that that decade, the church did grow by close to 40%, but ever since it has been going down.

In the decade of 2000 to 2009, it went down to 24.8%, and in the past decade, it's at 17.22%. So we have seen the percentages go down and the total numbers, while they're still going up, there's no doubt that the LDS Church is still growing, it's not going to be anywhere close to the numbers that he said, starting at 60 million in 2080, all the way up to close to 300 million. That was the high estimate. And we figured out using a 17.22% between now and 2080, the church will be at around 42 million. So a much lower number than what he had actually predicted. And as we said yesterday, the church is planning on coming out with some new statistics as they normally do in the Saturday session of their general conference in April.

That's just a few weeks away. And so we are curious to know what the convert baptism rate is going to be when they announce those numbers. Now, they used to do it in general conference. A while back, they stopped doing that, and they merely told people to go on to their official website,, and they would have the numbers posted there.

And they do, but I think one of the reasons why they may have stopped giving those numbers during general conferences is because the numbers were not looking quite as good as they had been in the past. And maybe people were noticing that the numbers were not as high as they expected. And if you're raised with this mindset that the reason why you know the church is true is because of the growth rate of the church, and as we mentioned yesterday, we used to hear that a lot. Admittedly, we don't hear that so much anymore. I think it's finally getting out to the masses within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they're not growing quite as quickly as they used to in the past, and that members should probably not use that as a proof that the church is true.

And I would agree with that. I don't think as a Christian, I would ever point to the growth of converts worldwide and say, see, that proves that Christianity is true. In fact, I can't even think of a New Testament Christian that would use that kind of reasoning.

There may be some out there, but I know I certainly wouldn't do that. None of us here at MRM would ever use those kind of facts to prove that Christianity is true. But we did hear, a lot of times, Latter-day Saints using that as some kind of proof that their church was the only true church on earth. As we talked about yesterday, Bill, we're not expecting huge numbers of the church growth in April when the General Conference happens, and they're going to release the numbers, as you said. We're expecting probably 1% growth at the most. It's probably going to be under 200,000 converts, which has not happened in decades. So I was reading an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, and the title of this on January 14th, 2021, is Salt Lake County keeps losing Latter-day Saints, and there are multiple theories as to why. And the subheading says, Utah statewide population is now 60% LDS. I read the article, it was fascinating, to read the reasons why they at the Salt Lake Tribune are thinking why the numbers have gone down, and I thought, you know what? These numbers that come out in April, a lot of Latter-day Saints are going to say, well, it's all because of COVID, our numbers are way down.

And I thought to myself, but that's not true necessarily. Yes, 2020 will be an anomaly when it comes to total church growth, but the church has been slipping since 1990. So I decided, Bill, to put together a lot of statistics. I'm not a huge statistic guy, but I think sometimes putting numbers down on a chart and being able to compare would help us.

So I decided to go back and look from 1989 all the way until 2019, the latest that we have as far as the numbers of the church. And I wrote an article that I have on our website. We're going to be talking a lot of numbers these next couple of days. And so a person who might get confused with all the numbers we're going to use, I'm going to suggest you go to the article where we have charts, where we have graphs and other things like that.

So it will help explain what we're going to try to explain here in the next few days. slash declining growth with a hyphen between declining growth. So slash declining growth. And the title of this article, A Closer Look at the Declining Growth of the LDS Church Since 1990. Bill, this article in the second paragraph, this is what I write. In 1990, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew by a record 331,000 baptized converts, moving the membership at that time to a total of 7.76 million.

Let me stop for a second. That 331,000 was a record for all time, past and present. I mean, there's never been a time where they have grown by 331,000. And yet the church was at a number of less than half of what it is today, because today they're over 16.5 million. And in 1990, they had 7.76 million. I think you're absolutely correct on that. And oftentimes when we are speaking in churches, people are interested in these kinds of numbers because they want to know, well, why should we be concerned about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

We usually point to 1990. That's the peak, 331,000 convert baptisms. And as you alluded to, Eric, from that point on, it never reaches that number again, even though the church is growing. Of course, 331,000 converts you add to that next group, and then they get so many converts that next year, and so many converts the year after that. Of course, the numbers are going up, but we're not seeing the convert baptism rate going up at the same time. In fact, it starts going down sometimes at quite a rapid rate.

Sometimes it goes back up a little bit, and then it goes down again. But it certainly has not gotten close in recent years to what they had way back in 1990. So going back, Bill, looking at the past 30 years, every year I looked up, so I'm using church numbers in the graphs that I'm going to provide here in this article, and what we're going to talk about these next couple of days.

But here's what they're going to give us in April. They're going to tell us the total stakes, missions, districts, wards, and branches, and I feel that's one of the most useless numbers, because one branch gets added into that, and a branch is fewer than 200 members. So you add 10 members in some kind of country, and it's not the same as adding a stake or a mission. Those total numbers don't really help, I think, understand the growth of the church.

Just because they're building buildings doesn't mean anything. The current membership number is the second thing they're going to give us, and that's important because we want to know what is the size of the church. Today it's over 16.5 million. What was it 10 years ago?

What was it 30 years ago? They're also going to give us children of record and baptized converts. The children of record doesn't mean much to us. It's usually around a hundred thousand, but the baptized converts, that is what really means the most to us, because we want to know how the church is growing.

I think that's the number that's going to help us determine, is the church growing at the same percentage as what it was in the past? Can we talk a little bit about the difference between a child of record and a baptized convert? Because in your research, you discovered something that neither of us were aware of, and that is when a child is baptized at the age of eight, which is what the LDS church calls the age of accountability. If they are baptized at the age of eight, they are considered a child of record. However, if they wait until they are nine years old and are baptized into the church, they are not considered a child of record. Instead, they are considered a convert that is being baptized.

That is fascinating to me because what is the big difference between the time they turn eight years old and the time they turn nine? I would have assumed, and I have to be quite honest folks, I never thought of this before, but I naturally assumed without ever delving into it, perhaps I should have, that a child under the age of 18 living at home, if they are baptized, would be considered a child of record. I would have never thought that after the age of nine, they're considered a convert.

I ran into this as a mistake. I was looking at some different internet material, and I found something that was a question raised by a woman who was the statistician of her local ward or branch, I'm not even sure. And she was saying, we had somebody who was nine years old and got baptized, and they will not let me put the information in as a child of record for this nine-year-old. And so she had to ask, and then she got responses back from people and they said, oh, that new baptism is now considered to be a convert.

And so she had to understand that she was putting it in wrong and the computer was not letting her do that. And then I found out that so children nine or older who get baptized, so nine to 17, even though they live at home, and just because they're not nine, they're going to get counted. I wasn't sure that was actually true. I called the church headquarters and I talked to somebody who, I asked that question, if a child is nine years old and gets baptized, is that counted as one of the converts in the numbers that are provided every year? She says, absolutely. So I said at eight years, 364 days, that is a child of record, but the next day would be considered a convert.

And she said, yes. Now that's pretty important information because as you said, Bill, we didn't know that. You just think that is a number that is brought up with all the different converts that they have on the mission field. So somebody who's 10, 11, 12, getting baptized, maybe the family comes into the church, all five of them get baptized. Then you've got five new converts, not just two converts who are adults and three children of record. Why do you think they do it that way? When did they start making a nine-year-old a convert as opposed to a child of record?

I don't know what the year is. Maybe somebody is listening to us right now and would help us. Write us an email at contact at if you know the answer to that, because it seems like, I'm going to say this, it seems like a cheap way to get converts. So could it possibly be that they change this in order to make the convert baptism rate look more healthy than it really is?

I don't know. We don't know the answer to that, but it just seems suspicious to us tomorrow. We're going to continue looking at this article. Eric has written a closer look at the declining growth of the LDS church since 1990. Thank you for listening. If you would like more information regarding Mormonism Research Ministry, we encourage you to visit our website at where you can request our free newsletter, Mormonism Researched. We hope you will join us again as we look at another viewpoint on Mormonism.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-24 13:05:29 / 2023-12-24 13:11:08 / 6

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