Inactivity and Rumors of Inactivity

September 22, 2006 | 82 comments
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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)

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82 Responses to Inactivity and Rumors of Inactivity

  1. obi-wan on September 22, 2006 at 9:40 am

    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.

    I agree that we can\’t take third-hand statstics on blogs too seriously. But I wonder whether we can take third hand refutations of statistics from Church HQ seriously either. I know first-hand that the activity rate in the last five stakes where I have lived — at both ends of the United States — has been less than 50%. \”[N]o measures that come even remotely close to 70%\” sounds like Wasatch spin to me.

  2. Ronan on September 22, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Absent hard data, I suppose we can only go off personal experience here. The reason “70%” sounds right-ish to me is that in every Ward I’ve served in (3 in England, several in Austria, 1 in the eastern US), a 1/3 activity level is about what I’ve experienced. The question is then whether one can extrapolate from this.

    The other point is that although this figure is concerning, it’s almost certainly a bit better than most other denominations. Cold comfort perhaps (and besides, I hate the numbers “competition” we engage in), but I think it’s worth remembering that people are losing interest in organised religion in general, and not necessarily just Mormonism in particular.

  3. Randy B. on September 22, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Much, of course, depends on what the 70% number means. If it only means that during the course of their lives, 70% of members raised in the church will at some point be less active, that strikes me as about right. (Not that I’m really in a position to say, of course.) If, on the other hand, the statistic means that 70% of those raised in the church will become inactive permanently, then my experience would lead me to think that number is too high.

  4. Tim J. on September 22, 2006 at 10:02 am

    I believe the alleged data was referring only to those who were born into the Church and subsequently went inactive. So it wouldn’t necessarily take converts into account. It was supposed to be a discussion on how we can help the youth to not fall away.

  5. Julie M. Smith on September 22, 2006 at 10:04 am

    All: I don’t mind the comments on correct stats, but I was hoping that we could focus a little more on the meta issue of statistics in the church and not the accuracy of this specific statistic.

  6. Voyeur on September 22, 2006 at 10:05 am

    I read this headline and thought it was going to be about why Adam Greenwood wasn\’t posting on T&S anymore.

  7. Clair on September 22, 2006 at 10:09 am

    How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and seventy of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the thirty, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh those which are gone astray? And if so be that he find them, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that seventy sheep, than of the thirty which went not astray.

    OR

    How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and ninety and nine of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the one, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh those which are gone astray? And if so be that he find them, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of ninety and nine sheep, than of the one which went not astray.

    At some point, the parable fails us. We may need a new one to deal with numbers like the purported 70%, or even half of that.

  8. Ed Johnson on September 22, 2006 at 10:16 am

    Julie, I’d like to hear more about your experience checking with “church headquarters.”

    Who did you call? Who is David Porter? What specific questions did he answer? Why did they even talk to you at all—do you know someone, or did you identify yourself as a prominent blogger trying to set the record straight?

    I ask because I agree that the “church is not too forthcoming with statistics.” Mostly we hear the odd statistic here or there when some leader thinks it can be used to strengthen some rhetorical point. The actual accuracy of the statistic mibht not be the main concern.

  9. diogenes on September 22, 2006 at 10:37 am

    At some point, the parable fails us. We may need a new one to deal with numbers like the purported 70%, or even half of that.

    I’m not sure the parable means what many of us take it to mean, anyway.

    According to Joseph Smith, the ninety and nine are the scribes and Pharisees. They’re going to hell anyway, so you might as well go after the wandering sinner. The reason you leave the ninety and nine is that they are a lost cause; there is at least an outside chance of rescuing the one.

  10. mami on September 22, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Julie. I am so glad you did this. I was toubled on so many levels by the whole discussion.

  11. diogenes on September 22, 2006 at 10:38 am

    At some point, the parable fails us. We may need a new one to deal with numbers like the purported 70%, or even half of that.

    I’m not sure the parable means what many of us take it to mean, anyway.

    According to Joseph Smith, the ninety and nine are the scribes and Pharisees. They’re going to hell anyway, so you might as well go after the wandering sinner. The reason you leave the ninety and nine is that they are a lost cause; there is at least an outside chance of rescuing the one.

  12. diogenes on September 22, 2006 at 10:38 am

    At some point, the parable fails us. We may need a new one to deal with numbers like the purported 70%, or even half of that.

    I’m not sure the parable means what many of us take it to mean, anyway.

    According to Joseph Smith, the ninety and nine are the scribes and Pharisees. They’re going to hell anyway, so you might as well go after the wandering sinner. The reason you leave the ninety and nine is that they are a lost cause; there is at least an outside chance of rescuing the one.

  13. lamonte on September 22, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Julie wrote, “I can understand the impulse to emphasize the urgency of one’s talk with a startling statistic.” I can’t. I don’t think the current state of affairs of the church should have any bearing on our commitment to live our religion. And when we rely on questionable statistics we will only get ourselves in trouble. If I heard the Prophet or one of the Twelve quoting specific data I would probably believe it. But the funny thing is, I can’t remember hearing them doing that. I only remember them teaching us about the gospel and then challenging us to learn it and to live it.

    One of my favorite scriptures is found in the Book of Mormon, “And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.” Moroni 9:6 I especially love the opening line “…notwithsatnding their hardness…” To me it says that no matter what other are doing, whether within or outside the church, we have an obligation to do the Lord’s work. There should be no more motivating factors.

  14. bbell on September 22, 2006 at 10:59 am

    One thing about not divulging stats of any kind is that it makes people free to make up or believe whatever type of numbers they want. So if you are unhappy with the church you seize on whatever negative stats you hear to justify your unhappiness and vice versa if you are really happy. How many times have you heard from a really happy LDS person how fast the church is growing and how frequently from a dissatisfied blogger how much inactivity there is and how the church is really shrinking. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle between the extremes

    I have been poking around studying LDS activity rates since the mid 1990’s. Based on everything I have uncovered it seems that the current US Church runs about 45% activity max. This is close to a historic high. Different areas of the country have different activity rates. many urban units like some of those in the Wilmette stake in Chicago run at 10% activity. Many units along the Wasatch front run 70% and in Provo/Orem you can find 90%. Rural Utah and Idaho units run around that 40% -45%. It seems that there is a lot of multi-generational inactivity in the LDS rural heartland. Many Stakes have really high activity units like mine at 70-80% and down the street units with really low activity.

    Also from my research it seems that about 60-65% of kids raised in active LDS homes will end up as active adults. A majority of this number will spend some time either in their teen years or early adulthood inactive. A minority will go from cradle to grave activity their entire lives. Its interesting to note that non LDS researchers consider LDS teens to be quite an anamoly of church commitment and belief compared to other kids from other denominations.

  15. Mike S on September 22, 2006 at 11:14 am

    While we all leap onto statistics and even try to generalize from our own individual experience (rarely giving us an accurate view of things in general), given Julie’s question above about the meta-issue of statistics in the church, I’m left to wonder: why do we have the expectation of having statistics provided to us? Why is that sort of ‘transparency’ seen as better than not having accurate statistics?

    Are we in effect treating the Church like a company in which we’re all shareholders? If the number of those who will go (and likely stay) inactive was 10%, 50%, or 80%, what would that knowledge change for us? Is there some sense of our social/theological ‘profit sharing’ going down if the number is higher, or that we’re safer amongst the herd if the number is lower?

    I can’t see any inherent justification for the church providing statistics on membership trends and the like — yes, these may be useful for some depending on their calling, but as something for us as individuals to be concerned about, what’s the issue? What does having or not having these statistics change in your life?

  16. Kevin Barney on September 22, 2006 at 11:32 am

    My understanding of the way the church has done this research is that it is counting *any* period of inactivity, not permanent inactivity. Many of the people who lapse into inactivity come back, usually upon significant life events, such as marriage, the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. So I agree with Ronan #1 that 70% feels about right to me, extrapolating from my own experiences. The numbers bbell gives in #12 are consistent with my understanding as well.

    On the statistices meme, my own view is that sunshine is the best disinfectant. I think the Church should be more transparent on both its growth (which includes activity) and finances. The Church has gotten into a really bad habit of playing a shell game with statistics to try to hide the slowing rate of growth and the massive incidence of inactivity. (Witness the truly massive lost address file in SLC, with something approaching a million names. These names are kept on the roles until they would turn 110.)

    I think we would be better off as a church if we would quit equating huge, manifest destiny-like growth statistics with the truthfulness of the Gospel and restated our membership to more accurately reflect reality.

  17. Tom on September 22, 2006 at 11:32 am

    Whatever the real number is it doesn’t support the conclusion drawn in that FMH thread that the Church is “doing something very seriously wrong.” Even if the institutional Church was 100% perfect, we would lose a substantial percentage of the people raised in the Church due to individual imperfection. How much, I don’t know. I expect that there are some things that the institutional Church could do to help more youth stay active (what those things are, I’ll leave up to the people who are called to worry about those things to try and figure out). To me, the fact that many people who are raised in the Church end up leaving, which I don’t need an official statistic to tell me, is a sobering reminder that I need to anchor myself and help my children anchor themselves so we can resist the temptation to leave when it comes.

  18. Kevin Barney on September 22, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Mike S., I would be fine with the Church not providing any membership statistics at all if they would stop proviiding inaccurate and misleading ones.

  19. MW* on September 22, 2006 at 11:44 am

    The Statistic comes from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
    http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/daily/activity/activity_eom.htm
    To Quote:
    “About 75 percent of lifelong Latter-day Saints experience a period of inactivity lasting a year or more. The process of disengagement most commonly begins sometime between the ages of fourteen and twenty. Of those who leave, 60 percent return to active participation between their mid-twenties and late thirties, when they marry and begin a family.”

  20. lamonte on September 22, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Kevin Barne wrote “I think we would be better off as a church if we would quit equating huge, manifest destiny-like growth statistics with the truthfulness of the Gospel and restated our membership to more accurately reflect reality.”

    I agree with the first half of that sentence but I’m wondering why you think it is important to dwell on statistics at all. If the majority of the church members were inactive, or left the church, would that have a bering on your testimony and commitment to the church. I believe the best information we can receive from our church leaders is that living the gospel, no matter who else decides to join us, brings joy and happiness to our lives. And we should prove that to ourselves by putting that advise to practice.

  21. Ardis on September 22, 2006 at 11:48 am

    I suppose that IF somebody were feeling complacent about the state of the local unit, and IF somebody with a reliable set of statistics were to announce that a startlingly high number of members were inactive, then maybe, just maybe, somebody would be shocked into a realization of the importance of, say, home teaching, and get on the ball and pay more attention to that calling. But the shock wouldn’t last long, so neither would the extra effort, if that’s the only reason an extra effort is being made.

    Our ward in the Salt Lake Avenues is highly transient. When the bishopric reads in newly arrived members on Fast Sunday, he usually includes a statement like “we sent out 45 memberships last month and have received 17.” It’s a matter of interest to us just as a running commentary on the size of our ward, but it doesn’t have — and isn’t intended to have — any impact on our behavior. We already know that our visiting and home teaching lists will be different this month than last, and our teaching supervisors have devised a good way to get those lists printed promptly, and have got us in the habit of picking up our new lists. A major theme of our ward and stake activity is being good neighbors, only part of which is meant to increase our numbers through missionary and reactivation work — those monthly stats don’t have a noticeable effect on our behavior, but they remind us of one aspect of our church life.

    I can’t think of any other regular use of statistics in either Relief Society or Sacrament Meeting. Do the priesthood quorums talk stats? Or the ward and stake leadership councils?

  22. John Mansfield on September 22, 2006 at 11:49 am

    As members of one body, we desire a familiarity with the whole of us. Statistics serve, well or poorly, that desire.

  23. gomez on September 22, 2006 at 11:54 am

    I agree with Tom. If at General Conference next week the prophet announces some new revelation (lets assume its from God) that causes 50% of active members to leave the church, does that mean the church has done something very seriously wrong? We can’t use statistics to determine truth claims or the inspiration behind a given revelation/policy. Although I agree with Kevin #14 that at times the institution tries to do this.

  24. Kevin Barney on September 22, 2006 at 11:59 am

    I suspect a lot of people missed bbell’s post at the FMH thread, which I’ll paste below. I think he is right. 70% is a valid number, but it is *not* measuring permanent inactivity. And it is *not* a recently determined number.

    I too have seen results of this study. They were published in a fairly obscure social science venue, and they’re not new. They’ve been available for some time (I want to say since the 80s or 90s off the top of my head.)

    (I remember this because our long-defunct gospel discussion group actually devoted an evening to discussing this report.)

    [Quote of bbell post follows]

    FMH post no. 30: I have seen some of the studies.

    from what i remember about 70% of all people raised in LDS homes will spend some portion of their lives inactive from ages 15-30. Only a third will remain active their entire lives.

    The good news is that 60-70% of people raised in LDS homes will spend most of their adult lives active.

    If you look carefully at this. Then 50% of that 70% number will return.

    Our results are generally far far better then the typical Christian denomination in the US. See Post number 3 by Tom

    Based on my family history I would say that this is a pattern that has existed for generations.

    Comment by bbell — September 18, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

  25. Mike Parker on September 22, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    A lot of this depends on how one defines “inactivity.” Is a person who comes to sacrament meeting only, but holds no calling, “inactive”? Or are we talking about people who haven’t set foot inside a church building for six months or more?

    When I’ve been in positions to compile attendance figures in my own ward, one key figure that shows up is the number of people who didn’t attend any _____ (fill in the blank) meeting at all during the month. So is an ordained elder who comes to sacrament meeting every week, but doesn’t stay for priesthood, considered “inactive”?

    Personally I’m much more interested in knowing what percentage of people are actually building the kingdom, as it were — attending the entire three-hour block and fulfilling a calling. My own experience is summed up in what I call the “80/20 rule” — 80% of the work in the Church is done by 20% of the people.

  26. bbell on September 22, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Kevin,

    I think about 25% -30% max activity in Europe is about right. Ronans exp in Europe are probably pretty much right on. Wilfried wrote a paper about activity rates in Europe that mentions 25%-30%.

    Its interesting to note that this is still higher activity rates then the state sponsered Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans. I have seen some estimates that put current European Christian activity rates at around 10%.

    One thing that is interesting is that many researchers have noticed a substantial upward tick in LDS activity rates over the past couple of generations in Utah. This jives with my family history.

  27. MikeInWeHo on September 22, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    The Amish have this interesting tradition of ‘rumspringa’ : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumspringa Their young adults are actually released from the strictures of the faith for a time. It’s almost like the inverse of the LDS mission-tradition. Not sure how it relates to this string exactly, but bbell’s last paragraph in comment 12 brought it to mind. Maybe a time away is a normal thing.

    But of course, it could just be that y’all effectively push out all the coffee drinkers, wine imbibers, gays, etc, if not via ecclesiastic discipline then via cultural appropation. It really is a strict system in practice. Comparisons to other denominations are misleading, btw. Clearly many people have left mainstream protestant churches for evangelical ones. Does this mean they’re “inactive Presbyterians” ? Or have they just chosen to practice their Christianity in a different setting?

  28. a random John on September 22, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    Similarly in a recent stake leadership meeting our stake president said that he was getting info from HQ that inactivity rates among twentysomethings had recently skyrocketed and were a big cause for concern.

  29. endlessnegotiation on September 22, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Perhaps what ARJ notes on #28 is just a symptom of young adults delaying marriage at a greater rate and thus delaying those “major life events” that propel them back into activity. I know within my own family this is definitely the case.

  30. endlessnegotiation on September 22, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Perhaps what ARJ notes on #28 is just a symptom of young adults delaying marriage at a greater rate and thus delaying those “major life events” that propel them back into activity. I know within my own family this is definitely the case.

  31. bbell on September 22, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Kevin,

    Have you seen the studies that trace activity rates across the decades?

    I saw them about 10 years ago. I would have to say that given current activity rates we are doing better now then at anytime since polygamies end. The activity rates have always been 20% -45%. Converts have always gone inactive at substantial rates even from the very beginning in 1830

    That is why when mikeinweho makes his standard comment (Hi Mike) I always roll my eyes cause with a multigenerational look at this issue we are doing just fine by comparison. Not that we cannot do better cause we can…….

  32. Porter on September 22, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    I beleive if the statistics were good the Church would release them. They have never been shy about telling us how many new wards and stakes are created every year. I also beleive that if the true numbers were known they would be shocking to many. Have you seen this article?: http://www.sltrib.com/ci_2890645.

    The SL Tribune quotes the \”American Religious Identification Survey\” by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2002: \”it discovered that about the same number of people said they had joined the LDS Church as said they had left it. The CUNY survey reported the church\’s net growth was zero percent. By contrast, the study showed both Jehovah\’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists with an increase of 11 percent.\” I dont think these other churches have nearly as many missionaries as we do, but they have much higher growth.

    Because we believe our church is the only true church, I think Mormons have always beleived that we must also be the fastest growing church. How does that follow exactly?

    I have always been told that the purportedly exponential growth of the Church was supposed to eventually fill the whole earth. In fact we are declining as a percentage of the overall population of the earth, missionary numbers are declining, and activity rates are waning. Do these statistics contradict the belief that we are the only true church? Or is that a natural result of the fact that our standards are increasingly divergent from the rest of society\’s?

  33. Clark on September 22, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Porter, there have been quite a few threads on that topic over the past few years. I bet a quick Google of the main blogs will find lots of discussion. (Yeah, I’m too lazy…)

    I think the 70% figure is about right. A lot of youth, especially in the high Mormon areas, go inactive as soon as they leave home, if not earlier. Many come back. Even those who don’t go inactive often find themselves in stretches where they are less active, although that’s a very subjective measure. I wonder how these statistics are gathered? Are they self-identification or are they going based upon attendance in the ward one is “supposed” to be in. (i.e. where ones records are) I ask because I know a lot of people who ward hop – especially if they pass the “golden age” of 25. I’d not call these people inactive since they are regularly attending Church but I wonder if they are so counted? (Reminds me of the time when I was single when the Church Office building was calling all over trying to figure out where I was since I was doing a bit of ward hopping)

  34. Paul Mouritsen on September 22, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    According to a BARNA survey in 2001, Mormons are the most active of all religious groups, at least in terms of church attendance.

    http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=93

    Fully 71 percent of all respondents who claim to be LDS reported that they had attended church in the last 7 days. That compared to 50 percent of those who identified themselves as Protestants and 48 percent of Catholics.

    The problem is that we carry on our records a great many people who no longer consider themselves to be LDS. In other words, it is a record keeping problem, not an inactivity problem.

  35. Matt Thurston on September 22, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Julie said: 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…

    I’m just curious what advantages you see in keeping statistics hidden? In general, why wouldn’t full disclosure and honesty be the best policy? I’m sure there are at least a couple of reasons for keeping certain specific statistics hidden, though I can’t think of any at the moment. But I’m inclined to think such cases as the exception to the rule.

  36. WillF on September 22, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    What is the definition of someone who is active? Is it something like (forgive my math)…

    (Number of times at sacrament meeting)/(Consecutive number of months) = X

    If X > AMC then Member = active where AMC is the active member quotient?

    I seem to remember using something to that effect while on my mission

  37. Kevin Barney on September 22, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    I tracked down the cite for the research everyone is talking about:

    Stan L. Albrecht, Marie Cornwall and Perry H. Cunningham, “Religious Leave Taking–Disengagement and Disaffiliation among Mormons,” in

    Bromley, David G. Falling from the Faith: The Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy. Newbury Park: SAGE Publications, (1988) ISBN 0803931883

    It’s an excellent study; I highly recommend it.

  38. Not Ophelia on September 22, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Julie

    Funny, I almost spun my original ‘Insanity’ post as a statitistics post . . . .

    # 21 wrote: Do the priesthood quorums talk stats? Or the ward and stake leadership councils?

    I don’t know about priesthood quorums/leadership meetings, but Stake Counsel sure did. Percentages, numbers, graphs. Sound and fury signifying nothing ’cause we never got the rest of the numbers needed to accurately interpret them. But they were very important to the stake leadership, even though [and probably especially since] they had no tools to know what they meant.

    #18 wrote: I’m left to wonder: why do we have the expectation of having statistics provided to us?

    Cause the ‘church’ provides them all the time. Statistics and numbers. There’s this absurd almost religious minor deity status attached to numbers. Think to your mission [to those who served] and the goals, hours, baptismal numbers, charts, and the rewards and punishments meted out as a result. Think hometeaching and VT statistics, think growth rates and the fact wards get funding based on numbers — the % of sacrament attendance. The organization obsesses over numbers. Is it any wonder the membership does too.

    Unfortunately, when the numbers aren’t transparent or seem only provided when it suits the leadership, one of two things happens — either we take it all at face value [such as my stake leadership seems to] or we mistrust all the numbers sent down to us from local and general church administration [like I tend to do. I am usually skeptical of the numbers we get, but for this post I was giving the ‘leadership’ the benefit of the doubt, and asking what would cause such a thing and what we could do to change it. As I said in my original fMh post: if the 70% figure is true [remembering there are “lies, damn lies and statistics“] then the church is doing something Very Seriously Wrong. ]

    NO

  39. jjohnsen on September 22, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    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 made that post and it was my parents that attended that meeting. After reading this post I called my mom and asked for more details on the Stake Meeting. She said the SP was addressing two major problems and was looking for a way to ‘stem the tide’. The first problem was a surge in teen pregnancy that they’d seen recently in the Stake. The second was the inactivity, which was where he quoted the 70% statistic. Ironically, when I told her about Julie’s post and suggested she read this thread, she told me ‘you can’t believe everything on the internet’ ;) .

    When I’ve been in positions to compile attendance figures in my own ward, one key figure that shows up is the number of people who didn’t attend any _____ (fill in the blank) meeting at all during the month. So is an ordained elder who comes to sacrament meeting every week, but doesn’t stay for priesthood, considered “inactive�?

    Someone considers this “inactive. I’ve been in the primary for 18 months and have had two different EQ Presidents visit me to try to convince me to return to church (one even had a daughter in my class).

  40. John Taber on September 22, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    “It seems that there is a lot of multi-generational inactivity in the LDS rural heartland.”

    My father-in-law Rick was born in Sugar City, Idaho. His mother (whose maiden name was Ricks, descendant of Thomas E.) did not make it to the temple until very late in life. His father (who was not born in the Church, but joined when Rick was about five – after his mother, Rick’s grandmother did) did not make it there in this life. Rick’s mother’s mother also went to the temple relatively late in life.

    I’ve seen the seeds of this out this way (in Delaware). In some families, the oldest generation joins, and stays reasonably active, but not all their kids do. The grandchildren (usually) all get baptized, but they don’t all stick with it, and maybe one or two of them serve missions. And so on. Luckily there are other families where the second generation doesn’t serve missions but do send their kids out on missions.

    “I think about 25% -30% max activity in Europe is about right. Ronans exp in Europe are probably pretty much right on. Wilfried wrote a paper about activity rates in Europe that mentions 25%-30%.”

    Most places I served in Italy they were a bit higher than that, around 45-50%. It seemed, though, that the older and larger a congregation was on paper, the lower the attendance percentage was.

  41. John Taber on September 22, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    “Someone considers this “inactive. I’ve been in the primary for 18 months and have had two different EQ Presidents visit me to try to convince me to return to church (one even had a daughter in my class). ”

    Your EQ secretary should be noting that you’re in the building, fulfilling a calling during priesthood time and should be counted as attending. Someone isn’t doing his job there.

  42. Paula on September 22, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    jjjohnson, can you ask your mother if she remembers a source for the 70% activity rate? Or if she could call the stake leader who gave the talk, and ask for a source? I’m curious if this is a rumor that’s taken on a life of its own.

    Paul Mouritsen, it’s still a problem whether they want their names off the rolls or not. The fundamental question was why aren’t they staying.

  43. DKL on September 22, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve heard the 70% statistic before. I never really took it literally. I took it to indicate something more along the lines of “70% of the people who we really want to come to church are inactive.”

  44. Clark on September 22, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    When one considers that often whole families are baptized but most new converts don’t really “convert” per se (i.e. go inactive within a few months) then this is a very believable statistic. The question would be how it relates to families who have been active members for 10+ years.

  45. jjohnsen on September 22, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    jjjohnson, can you ask your mother if she remembers a source for the 70% activity rate? Or if she could call the stake leader who gave the talk, and ask for a source? I’m curious if this is a rumor that’s taken on a life of its own.

    I asked when she originally told me. She said the Stake President had told them the information was from Salt Lake. Who that meant I don’t know, it could just be someone else told them the number and said it was from Salt Lake. The amount of times I’ve heard that figure, it wouldn’t surprise me if he heard it in some random meeting without it being backed up.

  46. Bookslinger on September 22, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Our stake leadership has repeated the 70% figure too.

  47. Tom on September 22, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    Not Ophelia: . . . if the 70% figure is true [remembering there are “lies, damn lies and statistics“] then the church is doing something Very Seriously Wrong.

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow from the statistic, whether the stat is accurate or not.

  48. greenfrog on September 22, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    I think we would be better off as a church if we would quit equating huge, manifest destiny-like growth statistics with the truthfulness of the Gospel and restated our membership to more accurately reflect reality.

  49. Paula on September 22, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks jjohnsen, I’m wondering if it just one of those church things that gets stated one time, then becomes accepted because it’s repeated so much. I do think that inactivity rates are pretty high, but 70% is pretty surprising.

  50. jjohnsen on September 22, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    Possibly. Personally I was more interested in the teen pregnancy issue they discussed. From 1990-2000 they had 9 active teenagers in the Stake that became pregnant that they knew about. From 2000-2004 they had 14. More fun with statistics!

  51. Mark Butler on September 22, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    The primary purpose of the Church membership records is not to minister unto those who show up at sacrament meeting every Sunday, the purpose is to minister unto those who have entered into the waters of baptism who do not, to keep them watchful unto prayer, and so on.

    Baptism is a token of a covenant to take upon the name of Christ, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, stand as a witness of Him in all times and all places, and so on. It also marks an entry into the body of Christ. As such it is our sacred responsibility as members of the body to minister unto other members of the body, at least until they say that they wish to be cut off, and to pray for them to return even then.

    So we could normalize and harmonize for whatever appropriate purpose, but it seems the most significant statistic of Church membership is the number of those who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ and been confirmed members of his Church, and have not yet requested to be released from that covenant or been excommunicated for transgression. Of course if we counted members of the invisible Church (theoretically the non-confirmed members of the Church), the numbers would probably be much higher:

    Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
    (D&C 10:67-68)

    On the other hand, if one is not repenting neither coming unto Christ, his membership is fading away…

  52. diogenes on September 22, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    Not Ophelia: . . . if the 70% figure is true [remembering there are “lies, damn lies and statistics“] then the church is doing something Very Seriously Wrong.

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow from the statistic, whether the stat is accurate or not.

    True. You also have to believe 1) that losing 70% is bad and 2) that our current programs are intended to prevent us from losing 70%. In which case our current programs are failing — something Very Seriously Wrong.

    All the reports of this statistic come from stake meetings where people apparently accept those additional propositions, and are trying to think of a better way to prevent this bad thing from occurring. The argument in the original FMH post was that “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” — i.e., coming up with new programs like unto the programs that we have heretofore formed — isn’t going to accomplish the objective, either.

    In other words, Very Seriously Wrong business as usual.

  53. roland on September 22, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    I have heard some positive statistics floating around this last year to combat that negative trend.

    99% of all LDS Young Men that complete the 6 year Duty-To-God program go on to serve a mission and marriage in the temple.

    82% of all LDS Young Men that earn their Eagle Scout rank go on to serve a mission and marriage in the temple.

    Our stake is very aggresively pushing those two youth programs this year. How about yours?

  54. Clark on September 22, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Roland, this ends up with the correlation versus causation issue. Is it simply that those who complete these programs change and go on missions or is it that people who would already have gone on missions tend to complete these programs?

  55. DavidH on September 22, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Of course, as any good actuary will tell you, 91.4% of all statistics are made up out of thin air (ex nihilo).

  56. roland on September 22, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    There was a really big non-denominational study published last year by a religious college somewhere in North Carolina. (I think it was called Youth and Religion.) It showed that LDS kids were 4x more likely to stay active (about 70%) in their parents religion as adults than were Catholics (about 18%). The various protestant groups fell somewhere in between.

    It was a very enlightening report. They credit the high activity rate for LDS kids to seminary, mission service and mutual activity and strong family dynamics.

  57. JKS on September 22, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    “I beleive if the statistics were good the Church would release them. They have never been shy about telling us how many new wards and stakes are created every year. ”

    Statistics like how many wards have been created are pretty straightforward. If you talk about attendence statistics you can argue about the accuracy of them. Plenty of times I have gone to SS or RS and not signed a roll (this is in wards that have you sign your own name to the roll). There are wards that “forget” about taking attendence of the primary workers for EQ or RS numbers. And in wards that someone takes roll for you, you don’t know if you were out of the room changing a diaper or something when the secretary was writing down the roll.
    So, you are sick one week, out of town the next week, and the other two weeks you happened to have not been counted propertly so you are officially inactive that month.
    So, while these statistics might help local leaders have an idea of what is going on, they aren’t exactly scientific method perfectly collected data.
    Also, a statistic can only measure one thing at a time. So are you measuring whether someone attending sac mtg? RS? SS? Just one or all? One per month or every week? Do you exempt the people who are bedridden? Out of town for 6 weeks? A statistic has to be pretty narrowly focused, and yet people might assume it means more than the situation is actually portraying.
    Polls should be taken with a grain of salt for similar reasons. If you ask a question like true/false “I think that abortion is never ok” and then the person who identifies more with Pro-life but thinks abortion is ok for certain narrow circumstances has no choice but to answer false. The polling data can count that answer as pro-abortion. A little misleading perhaps.

  58. Bookslinger on September 22, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    Our stake is very aggresively pushing those two youth programs [Duty to God and Eagle Scout] this year. How about yours?

    Our stake and a nearby stake here in the midwest are pushing early morning Seminary. The statistic bandied about is that 98% of kids in early morning seminary stay active through their young-adult years.

  59. paul frandsen on September 22, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    “The argument in the original FMH post was that “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanicâ€? — i.e., coming up with new programs like unto the programs that we have heretofore formed — isn’t going to accomplish the objective, either.”

    The plan then is to come up with ‘progressive’, ‘less judgemental’ programs that are fashioned from online polling of an obscure website.

  60. roland on September 22, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    The plan then is to come up with ‘progressive’, ‘less judgemental’ programs that are fashioned from online polling of an obscure website.

    That’s how other churches operate. I thought ours was based on divine revelation.

  61. diogenes on September 22, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    That’s how other churches operate. I thought ours was based on divine revelation.

    That still leaves plenty of room for failed programs. God does not appear inclined to micro-manage every detail his organization. (Although his example appears, alas, to have been mostly lost on the leadership to whom he delegates those organizational details . . .).

  62. Tom on September 22, 2006 at 9:15 pm

    diogenes (#52): True. You also have to believe 1) that losing 70% is bad and 2) that our current programs are intended to prevent us from losing 70%. In which case our current programs are failing — something Very Seriously Wrong.

    Also, you have to be sure that 70% (the CLR—current loss rate) is greater than the what the loss rate would be if the institutional Church was 100% perfect (if every policy, program, and institutional decision was exactly as God would have it). You’d have to guess what that number (the LRICWP—loss rate if the church were perfect) would be then subtract it from 70% and divide that number by 70 and multiply by 100 to get the percentage of inactivities that result from institutional failure (POIRIF) and then decide what POIRIF is acceptable in an organization run by fallible humans and what POIRIF threashold should be surpassed before we declare that we are in a state of CDSVSW (the Church is doing something very seriously wrong).

    ((CLR – LRICWP)100)/CLR = POIRIF
    if POIRIF > POIRIF threshold, then CDSVSW
    if POIRIF all is well in Zion)

    I don’t know how you come up with LRICWP or the POIRIF threshold with enough confidence to warrant making such strong conclusions as declaring that we are in a state of CDSVSW, which declaration is tantamount to saying that the leadership is pretty much not inspired at all.

    If you’re presumptuous enough to think that you know what the Church is doing wrong and what it should do differently and you’re looking for a reason to carp, the 70% statistic is as good a reason as any.

  63. Tom on September 22, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    The third math line didn’t work because the “less than” sign doesn’t work in html. It should read thusly: if POIRIF is less than the POIRIF threshold, then AWIZ (all is well in Zion).

  64. DKL on September 22, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    I think that it’s worth pointing out that the Church that Jesus founded at the meridian of time ended up with a 100% inactivity rate; i.e., total apostasy. Compared to that, 70% sounds pretty good.

  65. Razorfish on September 22, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Disclosure of Numbers –

    I would tend to agree that we lack a lot of transparency when it comes to disclosing numbers in the Church whether it be financial or other statistical data. As noted, there are good and bad reasons for this policy. However, when some specifics are released they tend to resonate to the listener because 1) it is very unusual this ever occurs and 2) the numbers tend to be extreme.

    We had a new EQ president called last week in EQ and a member of the SP mentioned that our ward last quarter had 22% hometeaching stats. Yes, the EQ presidency was weekly imploring the brethren to “focus on hometeaching”, but once the bomb was dropped on the quorum about the percentage, there were some uncomfortable moments among quorum members.

    I’m not sure that sharing statistical data would help however. For example, if you had a disfunctional ward where 20% paid tithing, had a recommend, most people refused callings, few people ever went to the temple etc…sharing these stats would seem to demoralize the faithful rather than invigorate the slothful. I mean if someone told me that consistently only 20% of the quorum went hometeaching, I would probably be less likely to follow through and visit the 6 families I was assigned for the month.

    Personally, I think we keep way to many statistics in the Church. The arguement is usually “inspect what you expect”…ie if we don’t measure it people won’t care and won’t be held accountable and won’t follow through. That’s one school of thought, but I think there is also a lot of superficiality that comes with that school of thought. I mean when my hometeacher is bearing down hard on me on the last day of the month — is his motivation easily exposed and is he showing me his poker hand pretty transparently?

  66. DKL on September 22, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    The less than sign should be typed as an HTML entity: “&lt;” = “<”

    Perhaps an editor can do the replacement for you and clear up this silly mess of comments.

  67. Tom on September 22, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    It would take some pretty heavy editing to make my comment much less of a silly mess.

  68. mw* on September 22, 2006 at 10:05 pm

    I don’t think the Catholic Church is giving out their activity statistics. Also, our church judges activity on a different scale than the typical protestant denominiation. Typical Protestant activity (I believe) is attends once a quarter. Our church is attends monthly, per sources I’ve spoken with. Having been an innactive Catholic and an Innactive Methodist, I can say we are doing pretty good.

  69. Wilfried on September 23, 2006 at 1:16 am

    Mw*, it is true the Catholic church as such does not give out statistics, but we have various other organizations that measure religious activity. For Europe, e.g., we have the regular European Values Study and various other institutions dealing with such research. Moreover, in each country, sociologists carry out research in this respect. The U.S. has the same of course.

    So, for Belgium, a Catholic country, recent figures (in Kerkhofs a.o. 2000. Lost Certainty) show for Catholicism:
    – weekly mass attendance: around 10% (from 50% in 1965)
    – taking part in rites of passage (baptism, marriage, burial): around 70%
    – praying: 16% daily, 11% weekly, 8% monthly, 15% even less, 50% never.

    On the other hand, 65% of our Belgians state that they believe in God (from 93% in 1960).

    Conclusions:
    – even the worst rumored activity rates of Mormons are still pretty good in comparison;
    – there is a significant potential for missionary success because belief in God is still present among the majority of the population, while only a fraction attends the Catholic church regularly;
    – we must find ways to do missionary work more effectively and to make Mormon membership more viable in a changed world and in different cultures, without lowering essential norms.

  70. Adam Greenwood on September 23, 2006 at 8:25 am

    ” I know first-hand that the activity rate in the last five stakes where I have lived — at both ends of the United States — has been less than 50%. \â€?[N]o measures that come even remotely close to 70%\â€? sounds like Wasatch spin to me. ”

    I’ve no doubt that the activity rate in your ward, like most that I’ve been in, is under 50%. But the inactivity rate has been a lot higher among converts. I don’t think the Church is lying when it says that the inactivity rate among those raised in the church isn’t close to 70%.

  71. Adam Greenwood on September 23, 2006 at 8:32 am

    Sir or Madam Voyeur,

    I promise to return to full activity when the Bloggernacle’s Bishop apologizes to me for offending me. Also if my Bloggernacle home teachers ever come to visit. (grins).

    No, the truth is that I’m just taking a bit of a sabbatical until I get out of drug rehab.

  72. Kaimi Wenger on September 23, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    I’ll agree with prior commenters who have noted that it depends quite a bit on how someone defines “inactive.”

    One former bishop told me, several years ago, that the definition of inactive was someone who had not attended any church meetings for a period of at least three consecutive months. (Is this really the “official” definition — does anyone know?) Under that definition, as long as a member shows up once every three months, he’s not inactive. (I’m not sure whether this includes only block meeting meetings, or whether showing up for Scouts or homemaking is counted, though I suspect it doesn’t include church basketball).

  73. Bishop Bloviator on September 23, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Adam,
    I\’m sorry. Please come back.

    Bishop Bloviator, Bloggernacle ward, Online Stake.

    P.S. I\’ll see what I can do about getting you home-teachers.

  74. claire on September 23, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    I don’t think anyone takes roll at homemaking or church basketball. In our ward, the quorums/organizations are asked to turn in the “number of (sisters, YW, etc) who attended a meeting that month or quarter. No one has ever asked for stats on a particular person, so I don’t know how the church could produce the stats everyone is looking for. In any given quarter, we could say that 50 out of 250 sisters attended at least one meeting (or were present but fulfilling other callings during RS). Gives a percentage of 20% ‘activity’ but there is no giant data base that says which 50 sisters they were, and thus whether they were BIC, converts, etc. That kind of data would have to come from third party polling data, which the church could (or does?) hire out I suppose. The same applies to Sacrament meeting. Clerks don’t write down who is in attendace, just how many. The reporting stats are on how many people attended sacrament, not which ones.

  75. Ann on September 23, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    The most interesting thing I’ve found in this discussion is the apparent belief that only lifelong members count when discussing the numbers – converts don’t.

    Converts can only add – we can never subtract.

    We can help you look good, but because we’re not “really” Mormon, we can’t make you look bad.

  76. Tom on September 23, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    Nonsense. New convert retention problems are a huge cause of concern and are discussed very often.

  77. Ann on September 23, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    The 70% number can be dismissed out of hand, though, because you’re only talking about “lifelong members.” “Oh, it’s not nearly that bad.” “The numbers are nowhere near that.”

    If you start counting converts, though, it would be my guess that the 70% number is not so easily dismissed.

    I admit I haven’t read all these threads. However, it doesn’t look to me like convert retention is much of a concern. The expectation is that people will join and then leave. It’s more of a surprise when they don’t.

  78. MikeInWeHo on September 24, 2006 at 6:25 am

    There’s just no way to determine what the accurate numbers are. People outside Church activity (like me) tend to see them badly, while more conservative types (Hi, bbell….my life is enriched knowing you rolled your eyes) tend to see them positively. Just as an anecdote, when I go back to my hometown in Michigan, here\’s what I see: Huge new evangelical congregations are everywhere. They\’re packed. It\’s remarkable how many churches are around. The LDS? Nowhere to be seen, new Detroit temple notwithstanding. I doubt there are many more active members there than 20 years ago.

    I’m not one of those who believe the Church is shrinking (although there is some interesting evidence in that direction), but it\’s definitely declining as a percentage of the global population. It\’s also not faring well vis-a-vis the evangelical competition, which is clearly significant. Does anybody do some kind of follow-up study to find out where all those disappearing converts went, and why?

  79. Bookslinger on September 24, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    MikeInWeHo: several factors:

    1) I think one reason the LDS are less visible because we’re spread out in smaller congregations instead of clustered in attention-getting big-boxes.

    2) The LDS church abandoned the inner-cities years ago, and is only recently making a comeback. I can’t speak for Detroit, but there was a city chapel built in Indianapolis in the late 1930’s or late 1940’s. It may have been on the edges of the city limits then. But it was closed in 1971 or thereabouts, when that location became an inner-city ghetto, and chapels were then constructed in the suburbs.

    It wasn’t until 2002 when Indianapolis saw it’s next chapel in the central urban city. It was one of the newer smaller chapels that makes it real tight for a full ward. It’s more geared towards small wards or a branch.

    Then in 2006 the second inner-city chapel was built in Indy, and with the same floor plan, tight.

    But it’s illustrative of the church’s growth being mainly suburban.

    It was about 10 years ago that the church in Indianapolis started renting facilities for the two central city branches, and you can probably mark that point as the church returning to the inner-cities, and about 4 years ago that return was confirmed with the construction of an actual church-owned chapel.

    So I have no doubt that Detroit proper has had practically zero growth in church membership, but have the suburbs grown in church membership?

    I personally believe in the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy. But I’ve been given to understand that in the past, the church was sort of burned by overly-optimistic local leaders, and ended up building too many chapels that were too underutilized.

    Now we have to not only have all surrounding chapels within a reasonable driving distance “filled” with both morning and afternoon wards, but to go from rented facility to a church-built chapel, I’ve been given to understand that the branch or ward must have a certain depth of leadership, regular attendance, and tithe-payers.

    So in terms of building boxes, the church’s motto seems “if you come, we will build it.”

  80. Kevin Barney on September 24, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    The study I cite above, which is (I believe) the source of the 70% number, does indeed categorize by percentage the reasons people fell from activity. It also of course explains how activity was measured and determined. Anyone who really wants to know about these things needs to read the actual study.

  81. bbell on September 25, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    For some further perspective. Today the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that First Baptist in Colleyville TX has 4900 members and has 1600 people each weekend. I am assuming that when they use the word weekend they are referring to a saturday night service, and several sunday services. The article was about the ousting of the head pastor over financial issues.

    This is a “activity” rate of 32% even with multiple opportunities to attend each weekend

    By comparison my stake which is south and west of Colleyville TX runs about 50-55% with two wards in the 70-80% range.

    My brother in law who lives in the Colleyville stake reports that the really super wealthy Colleyville stake runs about 50-60% activity. Again with several units in the 70-80% range.

  82. Mike on September 26, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    A seperate statistic that gives us another perpsective on this issue is the falling number of full-time misionaries. Counting meeting attendance is inaccurate as described above, as are most indicators of activity. But I bet you the Missionary Department can tell you, down to the very last “greenbean”, exactly how many missionaries are serving full-time. An annual snap shot of this number is given in April conference and published every May and preserved on the church website in the Ensign archives. Review of this number over the years shows that it is pretty steady and does not fluctuate as much as other statistics reported. I interpret that to mean it is probably pretty accurate. It peaked a few years ago at 60,000 and is currently around 52,000 last time I recall looking into this question.

    How we look at these numbers depends on what we want to see. I heard the enormous missionary-oriented Southern Baptist convention has about 3,000 full-time missionaries. Their churches must be at least 10 times as numerous as we are and we have 20 times their number of missionaries. Or now only 18 times as many. These are hard-core evangelists, not liberals in religious retreat. Our full-time missionaries serve for 2 years, where they often serve for decades or their entire life. Sort of like a career, rather than a short stint in the Lord’s Army. This has various implications, not further discussed here and now.

    That the number of full-time missionaries fell by 10 or 12% in a few years is of grave concern to me. For that number to fall, actually FALL not just level off some, several things all had to happen. First the number of children born to Mormon women gradually fell from probably 5 or 6 each to less than 3. Still positive growth but at a much lower level. (I see this as a good thing, since I grew up in a ward over-run with too may huge families of rowdy kids running out of control).

    Next, the rate of retention of youth had to fall. If the retention rate of youth was level even at a low number and the birth rate fell from 6 to 3 children per family, the number of missionaries should still be increasing, but more slowly. Not falling as it did. Because even at the lower birth rate of 3 children per family the population is still growing.

    Then we must not forget the hundreds of thousand of converts many of us helped to bring to the gospel in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Most of them were young and would be expected to marry and have children. Their children would be coming of age now and should be bolstering if not flooding the ranks. Just grabbing at some reasonable but hypothetical numbers; if 300,000 converts of 1985 got married to each other and had a child every three years for a few years we should see the results in 20-25 years (now) with an additional 25,000 male full-time missionaries flooding the system each year and staying on their missions for two years, which would give 50,000 missionaries. Same song second verse for another 300,000 converts in 1986, and so forth. For the total number of full-time missionaries to be falling a generation after the remarkable growth of the last part of the 20th century, we have to presume a massive and almost complete failure to keep the second generation of those converts. Or else even more stupendous and improbable failures among the multi-generational core families. I don’t think the success rate among the descendants of the Pioneers was ever so good that there was room for it to fall to an extend that would counterbalance this enormous failure and result in these falling numbers in the final summation. It just doesn’t add up unless you presume significant failures in multiple areas.

    Finally, the number of senior missionaries has masked the extend of the problem to some degree. The heroic generation is saving our bacon again in their dotage. I have no real stats here but looking at the mission I live in, I see at least 10% senior missionaries and we were under 1% a decade or two ago. That takes the greater than 10% reductions closer to the neighborhood of 20% reductions, if we use the number of full-time missionaries as a measure of activity .

    To further hammer home my point: The Priesthood Correlation movement of the 1960s and 1970s’ made this church a more centrally managed organization in ways never imagined by other churches nor by most of our old-timers. This was done so that we could focus on specific goals. Just like the former Soviet Union, through centrally planning, could flog a third world economy into producing a first rate military capable of challenging the US for 40 years. We gave up quite a bit as a church for Correlation. I ask what was the focus that we adopted? It certainly wasn’t nuclear weapons. How about missionary work followed by temple building. Same thing Jesus said when he ascended into heaven; “Go ye into all the world…”

    This is not just a side issue, like the loss of Sego Lilly habitat that endangers the supply of roots, if another famine hits the Salt Lake Valley. This goes to the very heart and core of the progress of the Mormon faith in the last decades. It calls into question many of the details of the Correlation movement and has enormous implications for the future. The progress of this church is in trouble and you would have to be blind to not see it. We have experienced set-backs and failures before; but always, there was a reasonable excuse. Mobs burning down houses and raping women in Missouri, all the apostles in prison for polygamy, Depressions and World Wars, etc. But what is the excuse this time? 9/11?

    Not that we don’t still have many advantages and strengths. Not to spread The Spirit of Despair and Hopelessness. We are not on the listing Titanic, not yet anyway. I feel that this perception should stir us to action. What hearing these disturbing statistics should do is get us in gear, not get us into the all-is-well-in-Zion mode or the wool-pulling-over-the-eyes mode or the whimy-excuse-making mode. I see this as the reason the church is less than entirely transparent with their stats.

    I have heard that the drop in the number of full-time missionaries was due to “raising the bar” on worthiness. I don’t believe it. I have not seen the bar raised in this way, either on the youth in our ward or noticed a difference in the half a dozen missionaries assigned to our ward. Guys who want to go on missions repent or don’t get into deep trouble in the first place. I don’t know of a single guy who wants to go and has been forbidden and I did know of a few such cases back in the 1970’s among my peers. There may be a few, but not enough to account for the falling numbers. If anything, it might encourage more lying and distortion; guys are going to tell the Bishop what he wants to hear if they really want to go on a mission. Those who choose not to serve are not much influenced by the new more strict requirements. And our leaders have specifically told us that raising the bar was never intended to decrease the number of the full-time missionaries. Did they screw up? I think not.

    Didn’t Elder Ballard challenge every ward or branch in the church to prepare “just one more” missionary for full-time service each year? Did anyone stop and do the math on what he asked? I think we have about 26,000 wards and branches throughout the church and that would give us 26,000 more full-time missionaries each year or an additional 52,000 full-time missionaries. Elder Ballard asked us to double the number of full-time missionaries! In the face of falling birth rates, and declining number of converts and not that hot of retention. J Golden Kimball would have put it this way; “We’re doing a half-assed job in this church right now and dammit, we need to double our results.” If Ballard’s challenge of “just one more” is not a call to drastic action, necessitated by dire circumstances, what would he have to do? Rant and rave like a lunatic?