LDS Church growth is stuck at less than 1%. Here are suggestions for boosting that number.

David Stewart has been studying membership trends for decades. The reason for the slowdown is not in the message, he argues, but the way the message is spread.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The interior courtyard of the Ghana Missionary Training Center in Accra. Growth in sub-Saharan African has remained strong for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even as its conversion and activity rates have dropped elsewhere in the world.

Forty years ago, growth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared to be unstoppable, with the Utah-based faith set to become a burgeoning global religion by 2020.

Instead, global membership has yet to hit 17 million.

David Stewart, an independent researcher who has studied church growth for decades, has a few theories as to why — along with a few suggestions for reversing course.

His latest paper on the subject, printed in the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association, offers bleak predictions for growth in the short- and midterm, including a less than 1% growth rate annually in total Latter-day Saints through 2040.

Regionally, he projects a likely decline in coming years in the United States, Europe and possibly Latin America — as measured by the number of congregations. Sub-Saharan Africa alone holds strong promise for ongoing growth, potentially to the point of offsetting setbacks elsewhere in the world.

But as Stewart stressed in his article, none of these forecasts is set in stone.

“The shortfall in the growth of the LDS Church is not ultimately about the message,” Stewart said. “It’s been, in my view, about the way that the message has been spread.”

Through his own observations, informed through fieldwork in more than 50 countries and comparisons to the successes of other proselytizing-heavy Christian faiths, he has assembled a list of suggestions he believes could help rekindle some of the neck-snapping growth of earlier eras.

These include:

• Increasing the diversity of where the church sends missionaries and, in particular, reducing the number of U.S.-based missions.

• Boosting involvement of members in proselytizing.

• Ensuring missionary leadership takes part in proselytizing.

• Abandoning “high-pressure, corporate sales tactics” aimed at moving an individual to baptism as quickly as possible.

• Adapting worship and missionary practices to a region’s language and culture.

Stewart stressed this final point in an interview for The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast, pointing to the lack of “quality international hymns” as one example.

“Visiting congregations in different countries,” he said, “I quickly noticed the awkwardness of different hymns translated from English.”

While he acknowledged that the church is taking steps to rectify this with the highly anticipated release of a new hymnal, he argued that it speaks to a larger slowness and even unwillingness by Latter-day Saint leadership to speak to international members “in a way that is meaningful to them.”

“Implementing site remedies to obvious problems after more than three decades in [a] country is simply not a level of responsiveness,” he added, “that we need to do well whether in Poland or India or anywhere else.”

Read the full story on Stewart’s article.