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| Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mormon MTC class in South Africa
New almanac offers look at the world of Mormon membership

Religion » New almanac offers in-depth look at membership, retention, activity and more.

By Peggy Fletcher Stack

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jan 10 2014 10:06 am • Last Updated Mar 24 2014 11:33 pm

David Stewart felt ill-equipped to preach his Mormon faith in recently opened Russia in 1992, when he arrived there as a young missionary. Sure, he had learned the language, but nothing of the culture he was about to engage. And it certainly wasn’t like being at home in Maryland.

Stewart’s mission experience didn’t match the breathless tales of international growth he had read about in official church magazines, which, he says, focused on "inspiring stories of exceptional members."

At a glance

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For online copies of “Reaching the Nations,” go to cumorah.com

LDS activity rates

U.S. » 40 percent

Mexico » 20 to 25 percent

Brazil » 25 percent

Chile » 12 percent

New Zealand » 40 to 45 percent

Tonga » 30 to 35 percent

Germany » 25 percent

Ireland » 35 percent

Japan » 15 to 20 percent

Nigeria » 50 to 55 percent

Source: “Reaching the Nations: International Church Growth Almanac 2014”

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The earnest missionary also wondered why other religions — such as Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses — had so many more adherents than Mormonism and seemed to be better at reporting actual membership figures and retaining converts.

Such questions simmered in Stewart’s consciousness until 1999, when he launched the website cumorah.com to collect data on every country, including cultural traditions and LDS retention figures.

After a decade, Stewart, a Las Vegas physician, enlisted the help of Matt Martinich, an independent researcher who was a Mormon missionary in South Korea from 2004 to 2006. Martinich had conducted his own survey of LDS growth and published a blog — ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com — on the topic.

Now the two have produced a 1,900-page, two-volume, exhaustive survey, titled "Reaching the Nations: International Church Growth Almanac 2014."

The encyclopedic endeavor is based on official reports the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives out every year, information on the faith’s website as well as "literally thousands of reports we have obtained from members and church leaders over the years," Martinich says, "whether this has been from email or online correspondence to personal interviews, members completing surveys on the church in their area, or us finding information through social media outlets and blogs maintained by missionary families."

Martinich, who is working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of the Rockies, says "Reaching the Nations" marks the "first thorough, analytical study of how contextual factors have influenced LDS growth trends and with the candor to admit where the church has a poor prognosis to achieve ‘real growth.’ "

Isolated studies have looked at particular nations, he says, "but nothing has looked at the church in every sovereign country with over 10,000 inhabitants."

This work points out past shortcomings of the LDS missionary program and offers recommendations for how to improve the effectiveness of proselytizing, the authors say, but is not meant as a critique.

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"Our goal is not to be prescriptive," Stewart says, "but to provide accurate data for people to come up with solutions themselves. I think people are better equipped to make those assessments and adjust their expectations if they have the big picture."

In the almanac’s introduction, premier LDS sociologist Armand Mauss praises the undertaking’s independence, scope, candor and sources, and predicts it will be seen for years as "the most reliable and indispensable source available."

It couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

The Deseret News’ annual "Church Almanac" will no longer be published, Martinich was told, though the News’ managing editor, Rick Hall, could not confirm that, saying only that "to the best of my knowledge, we have not finalized a decision."

Though both researchers are practicing Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church "cannot vouch for its contents or conclusions," church spokesman Cody Craynor says. "Official church statistics and related context are continually updated at mormonnewsroom.org."

Mormon leaders have conceded that member retention remains a problem for the faith and have invested considerable resources in trying to remedy it.

Right now, the LDS Church pegs its global membership at 15 million.

Here are some of the almanac’s findings:

• About 30 percent of Mormons worldwide — or 4.5 million — regularly attend church meetings.

• Between 2000 and 2010, LDS congregational growth was most rapid in Delaware (63 percent), Virginia (33 percent), North Carolina (32 percent), and Texas and Tennessee (29 percent). Congregational decline occurred in Louisiana (down 18 percent), Connecticut and New York (down 6 percent), and New Jersey (down 3 percent).

• The Philippines is home to the largest population of Latter-day Saints outside the Americas — 675,166 as of 2012.

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