How many Latter-day Saints live in Utah’s counties? We may never know again.

Church is no longer sharing those membership breakdowns with the state.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attendees listen to talks during General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sept. 30, 2023. The Utah-based faith has opted to no longer share county-by-county Utah membership stats with the state.

After decades of routinely turning over its Beehive State membership breakdowns to Utah’s government, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to do so in late 2021.

The reason: The pandemic made the latest figures unreliable.

Worship services had been put on hold or reduced due to COVID-19, so that “the numbers do not accurately reflect membership numbers and trends,” church spokesperson Sam Penrod said at the time, “including children born and blessed, or children whose baptisms were delayed because of COVID.”

But “as the COVID situation stabilizes and there is a more accurate number available,” Penrod said, the church planned to resume this data-sharing next year.

It didn’t — and it won’t.

The worldwide faith of 17 million members declined to comment on its decision to no longer share county-by-county breakdowns for Utah but rather pointed to its global emphasis.

“For decades, the church has provided worldwide membership statistics in the annual statistical report released during April General Conference,” Penrod said in a statement Monday. “Due to the global composition of church membership, including more members residing outside than inside the United States, going forward the church will focus reporting on global measures broadly.”

‘Just a bonus data source’

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Given that shift, it no longer will be possible to track the changing demographics of Utah’s predominant religion in its 29 counties.

For years, this information not only helped demographers create population estimates but also provided a window into the state’s shifting religious representation. In the latest report, it shed further light on Salt Lake County’s slow march to minority Latter-day Saint status, for example, while other areas, like Utah County, held firm.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Even so, state planners aren’t too concerned about losing this extra population tool.

Mallory Bateman of the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute said the state has “lots of other resources. This was just a bonus data source.”

Bateman said she was told her team would not “be getting any data from [the church] any longer.”

Apparently, the leaders decided instead to have “a publicly available set of data on the church’s website,” Bateman said, and that was going to be the only available “resource.”

How many Utahns are on LDS rolls?

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The faith’s website, for instance, reports that Utah had 2,173,560 Latter-day Saints at the end of 2022.

These numbers, like the previous ones handed over to the state, reflect those individuals on the rolls — not whether they still live in the state or remain practicing members. And unlike the formerly shared data, no county-by-county stats are cited.

The last time the Utah-based faith gave state officials — and The Salt Lake Tribune — county membership numbers was in early 2021, based on figures from the third quarter of 2020.

At that time, the raw number of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake County had dropped by 5,734 in a year and by 17,174 over three years — roughly the equivalent to losing the population of Bluffdale.

The state’s most populous county became minority Latter-day Saint in 2017.

Experts debate the reasons for the recent slide. It could be the slipping birthrates in Utah mean fewer Latter-day Saint baby blessings — which add infants to the faith’s membership rolls — or it could be that millennials and Generation Z are leaving the faith at higher numbers than previous generations. It could be members moving out of Salt Lake County to more densely populated Latter-day Saint enclaves.

Tracking wards and stakes

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Independent Latter-day Saint demographer Matt Martinich, who tracks church expansion at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, is not surprised by the faith’s resistance to sharing its county membership information.

“It won’t affect my work,” said the Colorado Springs-based researcher, noting he doesn’t focus on counties and that the percentages of Latter-day Saints statewide haven’t varied much in years.

The number of wards (congregations) and stakes (groups of congregations) in Utah “have never declined,” he said, with the exception of 2011, when some young single adult wards were discontinued or merged.

The total Latter-day population in Utah remains pretty stable — and so does membership growth.

In 1920, the percentage of Latter-day Saints in Utah’s population was 60.3%; in 2022, it was 64.3%.

From the 1920s through the 1980s, the Latter-day Saint percentage of the state’s population grew steadily, reaching its peak of 77.7% in 1987, then just as steadily declined as the total population rose.

Like the church itself, Martinich is much more dialed in on the faith’s global growth.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

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