This week in Mormon Land: Church was predicted to have 100M members by now. Why didn’t it happen?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members listen during the Sunday morning session of the 189th twice-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.

The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want this free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

100 million members?

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Ulisses Soares, a Brazilian native, meets with Latter-day Saint youths, June 1, 2019, during a devotional on the eve of the dedication of the Fortaleza Brazil Temple.

A quarter century ago, projections predicted 2020 church membership would be anywhere from 13 million to 35 million to well above 100 million.

OK, so some of those forecasts turned out to be wildly off. After all, the church put its official count, as of the end of 2019, at 16,565,036. But some prescient points still emerged.

A 1996 essay by Lowell Bennion and Lawrence Young for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought said that at least one apostle would be from Latin America (think Ulisses Soares), Europe (see Dieter F. Uchtdorf) or Asia (Gerrit W. Gong is Asian American).

Retired Brigham Young University professor Wilfried Decoo examined several of these earlier estimates in a recent Times and Seasons blog post.

A lot of factors play into church growth, Decoo noted, from societal attitudes, missionary effectiveness and public relations to birthrates, member retention and political openness, along with a host of other influences.

Decoo said Bennion and Young acknowledged that their prediction (of 35 million to 121 million members) “may well prove wrong.”

It was.

“The only opinion we can express with confidence,” they added, “is that the next quarter century will bring the church as many changes and surprises as the past one has.”

It did.

Growing places

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saints in Congo celebrate their new temple in the capital of Kinshasa.

So, where did the church grow the fastest last year?

Independent researcher Matt Martinich provides that breakdown at his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website.

Here are the top 11 nations with the highest annual growth rate:

  1. Montenegro, 56.5%.

  2. Mozambique, 22.5%.

  3. Angola, 19.0%.

  4. Kazakhstan, 16.8%.

  5. Benin, 16%.

  6. Togo, 12.3%.

  7. Cyprus, 12.2%.

  8. Lesotho, 10.5%.

  9. Tuvalu, 10.5%.

  10. Luxembourg, 10.3%.

  11. Congo, 10.1%.

Some of these nations have fewer than 300 members — Montenegro, for instance, has 36 — while others have thousands, led by Congo’s nearly 69,000.

Martinich also tallied, in a separate blog post, the nations with the most members without a Latter-day Saint temple or plans for one.

They are Kiribati, Uganda, Mozambique, Liberia, Madagascar, Mongolia, Malaysia, Vanuatu, Republic of Congo, and Indonesia.

All, as you can see, are in Africa, Asia or Oceania.

This week’s podcast: What membership stats tell us

Speaking of Matt Martinich, the church growth guru was our guest this week and provided a deeper look at the latest membership numbers.

Listen here.

Charity never endeth

The governing First Presidency announced that the church has approved more than 110 COVID-19 relief projects in 57 countries.

Beehive Clothing facilities in Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, the Philippines and Utah, for example, are shifting their operations from manufacturing religious clothing to sewing masks (at all locations) and gowns (in Utah only) for medical workers.

The church has partnered with Project Hope in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Latter-day Saint Charities, the faith’s humanitarian arm, provided medical gear and personal protective equipment across Europe, according to a news release. With help from other agencies, masks were donated in Vietnam, while food and other supplies will be headed to Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Serbia and Ukraine.

The Deseret Mill and Pasta Plant in northern Utah also remains in operation, cranking out spaghetti, macaroni and more for individuals and food banks, though work rules have been tightened to conform with social distancing guidelines.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Deseret Mill and Pasta plant is 85,650 square feet and is located west of Interstate 15 in Kaysville.

“We invite our members to participate in these and other relief projects in their areas and communities,” the First Presidency wrote, “as opportunities arise and as local government directives and personal circumstances allow.”

The church did not state how much, if any, of its “rainy day” account — pegged before the crisis at a reported $100 billion — has been spent on outreach during the pandemic.

New temple clothes on hold

(Screenshot) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints previously posted a video and photos explaining these "robes of the holy priesthood," worn by faithful members inside temples. Newly designed ceremonial clothes are to become available later in 2020.

All temples, of course, are closed and the new temple clothes — which were supposed to be out churchwide by now — are, unsurprisingly, not yet available.

“The launch of new temple ceremonial clothing … is delayed due to the pandemic,” the church said in a news release. “The church will make the new ceremonial clothing available through the online store and retail outlets at a later date.”

The new clothing is intended to be easier to wear, wash and afford. Among the changes announced in January by the First Presidency: “A simpler design for the veil and robe, removing the plastic insert from the cap and the tie from the cap and veil, and using a more durable fabric for the robe, cap and sash.”

A missionary’s return

Gordon Haskell told The Desert Sun about his return home to Palm Springs, Calif., from his mission in Ecuador.

He went from quarantine in Quito at an elevation of 9,350 feet to quarantine in La Quinta, Calif., with an elevation of 135 feet.

“Once they announced they were going to close the borders to Ecuador, they were trying to get all North Americans out of the country,” Haskell, who served for 22 months, told the newspaper. "The U.S. Embassy paid for a couple charter planes and then we were on United flights. They just called us up and said, 'Pack your bags you're going home.' And then we were on a plane. We flew from Ecuador to Houston to Denver to Palm Springs.”

He was one of five passengers on the final leg of that journey.

“It's a big culture shock coming back here," said Haskell, who played football for La Quinta High School and plans to return to the field for College of the Desert. “Getting used to speaking and hearing English again. And, of course, getting used to being in quarantine and all of that has been weird.”

Sing a hymn, elders

They may not be able to get out much to enjoy spring’s warmth, but two missionaries in Germany aren’t letting the coronavirus lockdown stop them from spreading a little sunshine.

Elders Justin Warnick and Derek Church have recorded and posted a video of them singing a spirited, guitar-aided version of “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today” — which they see as an upbeat salve for a downbeat time.

“We wanted to create something together — in German,” the 20-year-old Warnick said in a news release. “We chose this hymn because it conveys a positive message.”

Added the 19-year-old Church: “It’s one of my favorite hymns. The gospel brings joy and sunshine to my life.”

The video, which has drawn thousands of views on Facebook, took some coordination. The two missionaries, both from Utah, have music backgrounds, but they’re not companions. Warnick, who is from Providence, recorded his part in Trier. Church, who is from Lindon, then added his bit in Saarbrücken.

Like most Latter-day Saint missionaries these days, the two are working from their apartments.

“We’re making the best of it,” Church said. “We make phone calls or record videos to cheer up others and invite them to come unto Jesus Christ.”

Because, as the song goes, Jesus is their light.

An ode to storing and sharing food

Public radio station KUER spotlighted the longtime Latter-day Saint practice of food storage by profiling how a Utah family is drawing upon and handing out its year’s supply.

“We used it when my [dentist] husband was in residency and his schooling, and we had little kids running around,” Emily Cottam explained. “And we used that so we didn’t have to take out more student loans just for food.”

And now family members are tapping those stocks again — for themselves and their neighbors.

“We made notes and put them on toilet paper and wipes. And then we went and put them on our neighbors' doorsteps,” 11-year-old Caitlin Cottam said.

“And then we rang the doorbell,” younger sister Kendra chimed in, “and ran away.”

FYI, here is FSY’s new ETA: 2021

(Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A aerial view of a For the Strength of Youth conference in Brazil in 2016.

The debut of the newly touted For the Strength of Youth conferences will have to wait a year.

The Utah-based faith announced this week that the FSY gatherings scheduled in the U.S. and Canada in 2020 have been pushed back to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

These conferences are part of the new Children and Youth program and are modeled after Brigham Young University’s popular “Especially for Youth” gatherings.

Monday’s release included a link to an updated schedule of FSY conferences to be held in the U.S. and Canada in 2021–23.

“Outside of the U.S. and Canada,” it added, “area presidencies will provide guidance on whether FSY conferences will be held.”

‘Preach’ signs off

(Courtesy photo) Lee Hale, host of KUER's "Preach" podcast.

Utah’s KUER will air the final episode of its 7-month-old “Preach” podcast on Friday.

The show’s host, Lee Hale, is moving up and moving out to take a job in Washington as an editor and producer for NPR’s flagship evening news program, “All Things Considered.”

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Hale, who discussed his podcast on The Tribune’s “Mormon Land” back in September, writes in a farewell message. “But I’m very sad, heartbroken even, about moving on from a show and all of you who mean so much to me.”

Temple updates

• With the church planning to build its first temple in the Middle East, in Dubai, The National, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, published a primer introducing Mormonism to its readers.

The article covered the faith’s founding, its scriptures, its missionary program, its growing membership and the difference between its temples and its meetinghouses.

It also talked about “famous Mormons,” citing Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. “Other famous Mormons,” the story reported, “include Brandon Flowers, lead vocalist of U.S. rock group The Killers, and soul diva Gladys Knight.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Richmond Temple.

• The church canceled Saturday’s groundbreaking ceremony, but that didn’t stop construction from beginning on the Richmond Temple, the Henrico Citizen reported.

The two-story, 36,000-square-foot building will be Virginia’s first Latter-day Saint temple, according to an earlier news release, and will include design elements found at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia.

Quote of the week

“In this pandemic we [are] expected to make sacrifices for others we will never meet by isolating ourselves from others we’d like to be with. We find ourselves deprived of our desired community for the sake of our unseen community. … Perhaps meaning can be made in our isolation. … Your isolation will save the life of someone who is loved by someone else.”

Taylor Kerby in a By Common Consent blog post

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.