A couple of years ago my post The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, looked at what can be learned from a detailed examination of the data the Church releases each April Conference. This conferences’ data includes an additional statistic not found in earlier reports, the number of Church Service Missionaries, which led me to look again at the statistics to see if I might find something else.
The more that I look at this data, the more interesting information I find in examining what the statistics imply. A lot can be learned from comparing the changes in one statistic to another, and I’ve put together a lot of those comparisons in a spreadsheet on Google Docs, the same one I referred to two years ago. That spreadsheet has been updated to include information reported since 1973, along with a number of new calculations that I’ve made based on the data. Those who are likewise interested in these statistics are welcome to look at it—and anyone wishing to help maintain, update and improve both the data an the analysis can drop me a message (at Kent [at] timesandseasons [dot] org), and I’ll allow them access to modify the spreadsheet.
So, here is what I found interesting this year:
- Increasing number of members per unit: Since 1980 the number of members per unit (both per stake or district and per ward or branch) has increased steadily. I believe this is due to a policy decision to let wards and branches become larger. I do not think this is due to inactivity, since the numbers fell so dramatically over 3-4 years in the late 1970s and it strains credibility to think that so many people became active suddenly.
Please note that the line for wards and branches above is graphed on the right axis (the one that goes from 300 to 700) and that it excludes amounts below 300, which may make the changes seem a little larger than otherwise. I should also mention that the change in the number of members per stake is in part due to the average stake having more wards — nearly 12 wards per stake in 1974.
- Number of full-time missionaries serving per ward: I’m sure its no surprise that this number has declined over time—a manifestation of declining birth rates and of the shift in the bulk of the Church from Utah to areas with lower activity rates. The sudden drop from 2002-2004 coincides with the 20% drop in the overall number of LDS missionaries serving, result of the Church’s announced tightening of the requirements for missionary service.
- Converts per ward/branch and per missionary companionship: It is interesting that the number of converts per missionary companionship has increased since the Church raised missionary standards, but to a level that is not nearly as high as the early 1980s and around 1990. On the other hand, the measure of converts per ward/branch says something about member participation in:
- Potential vs. Actual Wards and Branches created: By dividing the increase in membership each year by average size of wards and branches we get the potential number of new wards and branches that could be created. Of course, the actual number of wards and branches created is much lower than the potential number from converts. The difference is, at its core, a reflection of activity rates, however, the difference bounces around so much that it can’t really be used as a measure of activity.
In addition to the above, the statistics announced this past weekend seemed to continue the recent trends of the past few years. The number of missionaries is up, but not enough to believe that it will continue to increase. The number of members is still increasing by a bit over 300,000 a year, which makes it likely that the Church will reach 15 million members at the end of 2013.
Of course, there are also the new statistics, and the statistics that the Church publishes elsewhere. The number of Church Service Missionaries, although it was presented in the annual Conference report for the first time this year, was up from two years ago, at least in comparison to the “more than 18,000” number given in an LDS Church News article in December 2009. Other Church reports indicate that 8,583 of these missionaries were Welfare Services missionaries serving in various locations around the world (up 416 over 2009). And, of course, detailed country-by-country information is published each year in the Deseret News Church Almanac.
I think there is enough to revisit Church statistics more frequently.