The Implied Statistical Report, 2010

April 5, 2011 | 16 comments
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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.
    0-LDSStats-MembersperunitPlease 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. 0-LDSStats-Missionariesperward
  • 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:
    0-LDSStats-Converts
  • 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.
    0-LDSStats-Potential New Wards

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.

16 Responses to The Implied Statistical Report, 2010

  1. Julie M. Smith on April 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Very interesting, thanks for doing this.

  2. DTR on April 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    There has been a dramatic increase in children of record over the past decade or so. I’d like to see that graph.

  3. Paul on April 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I was wondering if we have documentation on ward side in the US vs. outside. My own experience has been that non-US wards are typically smaller (sometimes much smaller) than US ones, and the required numbers to divide a unit overseas seems smaller, too. (Admittedly, some of my experience is 10 years old, so conditions may have changed.)

  4. Paul on April 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    er, that would be ward size in the US vs. outside….

  5. Kent Larsen on April 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    DTR, the data is on the spreadsheet. It has increased about 50% in the past decade, but its hard to know exactly why because the amount of the increase keeps bouncing around so much. The last 3 years the increase each year has been stable at about 120,000 a year.

    Paul, the data is available, but to my knowledge no one had pulled it out and analyzed it. Perhaps I can take a look in a few weeks.

  6. ken on April 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I think part of the reason for larger wards is the growing need to have two deep teachers in us wards and branches. Also, I think the church is more sensitive to time constraints on leadership. So there may be more callings to spread the workload.

  7. stephen on April 6, 2011 at 3:19 am

    Paul: The “church” doesn’t tell us why a ward is divided, so we are left to guessing or wondering, if that is in our nature. However, I would think that when commute times to church functions are difficult, then that might lower the threshold a bit for splitting a ward. Since the mormo-density is lower outside of the U.S., then the wards might split a bit earlier. Of course I have no idea whether this plays a role in discussions about splitting units. It is my way of wondering why units are smaller overseas than in the U.S. (if indeed that is the case. I currently live in Paris, and our ward is huge, but highly transient.)

  8. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 3:24 am

    Thanks for the analysis. It is obviously hard to glean much from the information that give us, but I find it really interesting. I had a go of it as well over on Wheat&Tares. It’s a different take than yours and tries to be more predictive, but I like what you’ve done with it. Thanks.

  9. Paul on April 6, 2011 at 7:57 am

    #7 Stephen: Thanks for the insight into your Paris ward — expat or French? In Venezuela when I was there just over 10 years ago, they seemed to target around 100 in a ward (after division); I was in one ward that was between 150 and 200 and the SP was beginning to think about it. In the US ward I was in, the number of members after the split was considerably higher, also driven by some standard. (I can no longer remember the number they wanted to have, but we ended up making three wards out of two.)

    It may also be that different areas internationally have different standards for “optimal” size, including travel time to church. I know when we did the split in the US, the SP was particularly concerned about the potential health of the youth organizations in each ward after the division.

  10. John Taber on April 6, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Last time I checked the Handbook, minimum members for wards and stakes were much higher in North America than the rest of the world. It’s my recollection that active Melchizedek Priesthood requirements are more or less the same.

  11. Kent Larsen on April 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

    John (10), its in the Handbook? I assume its in volume 1? (i.e., the volume that’s not online – the one for bishops and stake presidents)

  12. John Taber on April 6, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Yes, it’s all in Handbook 1. The exact numbers may have changed since I last saw them (in previous Handbook editions, and letters from Salt Lake.)

  13. Paul on April 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

    There are guidelines, and forms to be reviewed beyond the stake level. I assume each area may have certain guidelines for its local leaders to use.

  14. jks on April 6, 2011 at 11:41 am

    In my area we have dwindling numbers due to families with kids always moving away. Our ward was disbanded 7 years ago and we were absorbed into the two neighboring wards. (Our school district did the same thing with elementary schools 2 years ago).
    Since we are dwindling again I asked the bishop if our ward would be cut in half and given to the neighboring wards, but he said no, that the numbers weren’t close to that point. If it is driven by priesthood numbers then we won’t. We have lots of old men in the ward. I guess we’re stuck until they die off.
    (For our family if ward boundaries change the sooner the better so my kids can adjust to a new friend group. My older kids are the only kids in the ward born their years. We currently combine midweek activities with the ward to the east, but if boundaries change we’d be sent to the ward on the west).

  15. Ziff on April 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks for putting this together, Kent. I love the figures! Particularly the new wards/branches vs. potential new wards/branches.

  16. Kent Larsen on April 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks, Ziff. I’d love to see your reactions.

    Perhaps we need some kind of group to explore this stuff more often!