Recent articles quoting LDS leaders refer to “strong” missionary growth and an “expanding throng” of missionaries. While numbers of full-time teaching missionaries have indeed increased, the current tally of 72,721 is a short-term aberration.
The numbers are artificially high now just as they were artificially low during the COVID years (2020, 2021) when thousands of LDS young people delayed their missionary service. The totals likely will remain high through much of 2024 — that’s when the remainder of those who waited out COVID will complete their service.
This is the second time in the past decade that proselytizing missionary numbers have artificially and temporarily spiked. In 2013 and 2014, the totals peaked at 83,035 and 85,147 after President Thomas S. Monson in late 2012 lowered the age for serving from 19 to 18 for males and 21 to 19 for females. Although church authorities predicted the total would rise to a “baseline” of 100,000 by 2019, it instead fell to 65,137 in 2018. Despite the record missionary numbers in 2013 and 2014, the membership growth rate plunged, shockingly, to the lowest levels since 1947, where it remains.
Totals of young full-time missionaries, convert baptisms, baptisms per missionary and the membership growth rate have become dismal data points for the church. Moreover, the fastest LDS growth is in impoverished Third World countries, while most advanced nations see little or no growth. None of this is likely to change anytime soon.
Steve Warren, West Valley City