Blake’s post prompts me to share some information I culled while listening to conference last month. First up are the raw numbers of missionaries and converts. This graph is sort of funny because I use the left axis for the blue line, which is convert baptisms, and the right axis is the red line, # of missionaries.
As you can see, convert baptisms leveled off in the mid 1990′s and have declined since. Obviously, without retention numbers this does not convey the full story. Is the average baptism now more likely to result in a temple-going member? I would hope so, in which case misisonary work may actually be doing better now than it was a decade ago. But clearly, the raw numbers of converts have declined.
As for the number of missionaries, this has more or less risen steadily. One can see the influence of the 1992 letter on missionary worthiness, possibly one can see some leveling off around 2000 related to the pronouncement about sister missionaries, but maybe not. The “raising the bar” activiity in 2002 had a clear effect, dropping the number of missionaries by 12,000 over two years. This is about a 20% drop. Personally, I can see how a 20% drop in missionaries might not be so bad, the trick is always to figure out who to drop. In any case, the number of convert baptisms dropped in 2003 but not in 2004. Also, the number of convert baptisms was dropping long before the change in the program, thus it is not at all clear how much of the drop is attributable to the change in the missionary program. Look, for example at 1999 to 2000. Clearly this drop had nothing to do with a decrease in missionaries, since the number of missionaries was rising. Thus it is unwise to atttribute the 2003 drop solely to the “raising the bar” program since obviously the convert baptism series is affected by lots of other things.
We can put the two lines together and get a “converts per missionaries” number, graphed below.
As is clear, this number has been dropping a long time. It actually rose nicely in 2004, but the increase was small enough that it might be due to any number of things, not just “raising the bar”. If it is due to raising the bar, it would indicate possible efficiency benefits from the change. Since the new “Preach My Gospel” program was still being roled out in 2004, we won’t know its effects for several years. And if those effects result in static baptisms but greater retention, the baptismal series won’t be all that informative. A better series to use for all of this would be one or two year retention rates.
I’m going to shut off comments here and if anyone has any questions I’ll answer those on Blake’s post . I hope that will keep the discussion from getting spread out to too many places.