Growth fell off a COVID cliff last year for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — especially among new converts.
While overall membership rose by 98,627 to 16,663,663, according to 2020 statistics released Saturday as part of the faith’s 191st Annual General Conference, that 0.6% bump (from 16,565,036) came in far below the 1.54% gain reported for 2019.
In fact, since at least 2010, Latter-day Saint yearly membership gains always cracked six figures, often topping 200,000.
But, with tens of thousands of full-time missionaries released or reassigned last year, convert baptisms plunged to 125,930, down from 248,835 in 2019, a nearly 50% drop.
Many members also delayed baby blessings — since Sunday services were disrupted for a time — so fewer children were added to the rolls.
The church reported 65,440 children of record in 2020. That’s nearly 31% below the 94,266 added to the membership tally from the previous year.
Despite the pandemic-related struggles, the number of Latter-day Saint congregations around the world grew to 31,136, up from 30,940 in 2019, a 0.6% increase.
High-level Latter-day Saint leaders have noted the challenges proselytizers have faced during COVID-19.
In some instances, “they teach outside, socially distanced,” apostle Gary E. Stevenson told a Brigham Young University audience last month. “In other places, where greater restrictions are in place, missionary teaching originates from missionary apartments, done virtually.”
In February, a fellow apostle, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, encouraged missionaries in a worldwide virtual devotional to “be creative” in their efforts to “help people learn about the Savior of the world.”
Uchtdorf told the young Latter-day Saints not to “neglect proven principles and practices from before the pandemic, but learn, add and adapt technological advances that the Lord has provided to accomplish his work in your time and in your season.”
Independent researcher Matt Martinich, who tracks church demographics at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, recently predicted the anticipated decline in growth, though the slide in converts was steeper than he anticipated.
As vaccinations rise and coronavirus cases fall, Martinich expects those metrics to rebound this year “as conditions begin to normalize in many of the countries where the church operates.”