The demographics of Church growth suggest that our days as a lilly-white, Moutain-West denomination are limited, if they are not in fact already finished.
The majority of Latter-day Saints who are “on the books” now live outside of the United States. I am not sure what the numbers look like if you look at things like church attendence and self-identification as Mormon. I suspect that we are not yet as international as we tell ourselves that we are, although I could be wrong on this. Regardlesss of the current situation, however, it seems clear to me that the future of growth for Mormonism is firmly outside of the United States.
Generally speaking, Mormons think about this shift in terms of race or in terms of money. The basic point is that the median Mormon is getting browner and poorer as the years go on. We think of this less often, however, in linguistic terms. Most LDS are aware, I think, of the massive translation efforts of the Church. Indeed, I think that much of the simplification of Church curriculum has as much to do with the costs of translation as of anything else. For example, the new Teachings of the Prophets lesson manuals, which get translated, seem to serve a dual purpose. First, they provide instructional material. Second, the provide a reference for non-English speaking Latter-day Saints who otherwise would not have access to the words of Brigham Young or Heber J. Grant.
The focus on translation, however, carries with it the implicit (and not so implicit) assumption that the primary language of the Church is English. Demographically, however, I wonder how much longer this will be the case. For example, how long will it be before the single largest linguistic group within the Church is Spanish speakers? And when this happens, what — if anything — will happen to the Church. Will we begin to see Spanish sermons in General Conference, with English translations provided for English speakers?
The last two stake conferences that I attended (in two different stakes in two different U.S. states) both included talks delivered in Spanish, with English translation provided. In my last ward, our first counselor was called, at least in part, because he was a Mexican immigrant who was completely bilingual. I couldn’t help but think as I sat in these meetings that I was seeing the future of Mormonism. I certainly want my son to study Spanish once he begins schools. Perhaps it will be an important skill for reading the words of the prophets in the original.