‘Mormon Land’: A look at LDS Church growth and what the membership stats really reveal

Why new requirements may make it harder to form new congregations, and why Utah isn’t — and never has been — as overwhelmingly LDS as many people think.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A steeple rises in downtown Salt Lake City in 2022 at 95 State, a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. New church rules may make it harder to create new Latter-day Saint congregations.

At every spring General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers a glimpse of its growth by reporting worldwide membership statistics, including the number of converts and children added to the faith’s rolls the previous year.

A more reliable barometer for tracking church expansion, however, can be found in the congregations created (or subtracted). So when the governing First Presidency recently announced new requirements for establishing wards and stakes, or clusters of congregations, insiders and outsiders naturally wondered what impact the changes would have.

For instance, stakes in most of the world previously needed 1,900 members; now they need 2,000, or 5% more. While stakes in the U.S. and Canada also need 2,000, that’s 33% fewer than the previous 3,000. On its face, this appeared to make it easier to form new stakes in much of North America and, in essence, inflate the church’s congregational count.

But experts say that may not be the case. In fact, Matt Martinich, an independent researcher who tracks church movements for the websites cumorah.com and ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, argues the overall rules could result in fewer stakes and wards coming on line.

On this week’s show, Martinich discusses the recent changes and other trends in church membership, including a newly released study showing self-identifying Latter-day Saints make up 42% of Utah’s adult population.

Listen here: