Most members of the Church are probably familiar with the estimate made by (nonLDS) sociologist Rodney Stark that, if current growth patterns hold, there will be 268 million members of the Church by the year 2080.
I’m not interested in debating his number–for all we know there will be 100 million or 300 million members by then–but I am interested in thinking through how the Church might operate with such numbers. President Hinckley and other leaders have repeatedly said that the biggest challenge that the Church faces is growth; what will that challenge look like when members are counted by the tens of millions?
(1) I don’t think that we will end up with layer upon layer of new leaders between stake presidents and GAs. This is just my guess, of course, but I think that the trend of training broadcasts done by general leaders will continue, and we won’t multiply intermediary layers. But I guess I don’t really know.
(2) I think opposition to the Church will increase, and we will look back fondly at 1997 as the high water mark of the Church’s positive image. As the moral and cultural decline continues, and the gap between the Church and world increases, we will be perceived as increasingly bizarre (if not backward), as an increasing threat to other religious and cultural institutions, and–most importantly–as an increasing presence in government, business, and academic leadership. And we will not be as welcomed as we shift from ‘model minority’ to power player.
(3) There are a lot of areas where I can’t even begin to think about what kinds of changes will occur.
What does a Church where most members speak Spanish and live in South America look like?
What (symbolic) role does Salt Lake take on in that Church?
What impact will the Perpetual Education Fund have in fifty years–and how will the image of the Church change in areas where an ever-increasing number of that nation’s newly-wealthy are LDS?
What changes will technology bring?
How will the experience of going to the Temple be perceived in a Church where most people have Temples in their own city?
What will happen if/when missionaries enter China or the Muslim nations?
and many, many more. . .