A recent post over at FMH set off a firestorm (over 170 comments and still going) with the news that the writer’s husband had “recently attended a church meeting where the leaders discussed, among other things, the new statistic out from church-headquarters that estimates 70% of those raised in the church will go inactive/leave by the time they are adults.” When I questioned the number, I was sent here where I found this: “only 30 percent of the LDS young men living in the United States serve a mission.” Another commenter said this: “my parents['] stake had a special meeting where the Stake President repeated the 70% and went on the say they were trying to come up with ways to ‘stem the tide’.”
I contacted Church headquarters. David Porter responded that he checked with both the Church Statistical Department and the Research and Information Division. The first replied, according to Porter, that “even under the most liberal definitions there are no measures that come even remotely close to 70%.” The second (again quoting Porter) “cannot approach that statistic under any definition.” He did not, however, provide me with more accurate numbers.
This experience leads my thoughts in several directions:
(1) You already know this, but I’m reminding you anyway: please don’t take too seriously anything you read on the Internet, even when it appears to be confirmed by several sources.
(2) Our church is not too forthcoming with statistics–at least when compared with other large organizations with which we are familiar. I can see advantages and disadvantages of this approach, and I imagine many more will be introduced in the comments. My instinct is to trust the inspiration of those who make the decision to have less-than-full disclosure, but I also note that in this case, it appears that one disadvantage is that people (apparently including the leaders of two stakes) are spreading false information. (If the Church made this information available, no one would have reported the 70% number.)
(3) I can understand the impulse to emphasize the urgency of one’s talk with a startling statistic. It is also undeniable that heads will perk up and pens will be poised at the ready when hard numbers are shared. Why is that? I’ll admit that I’m the same way–the few times that I have been in stake meetings when hard data was forthcoming, I’ve been fascinated. Why?
(4) I sense that this somehow plays into the ‘all is well in Zion’ meme. Those who reported hearing the 70% number in an official context then heard much soul-searching about what could be done to improve it. It is difficult for me to imagine that, absent that startling (if untrue) number, people would have felt as free to share what they thought needed to be changed. (It certainly led to an outpouring at FMH.)
(5) It doesn’t matter what the number is. One is too many.
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:132-14)