Projecting out on a very long horizon is a bit of a fool’s errand because of unknown unknowns, which is why most formal demographic, political, or economic projections have time horizons measured in the decades at the most. Still, occasionally it’s fun to project out farther (For example, the UN came out with a report that projected country populations out to 2300).
Additionally, most projections are limited to a few indicators, but it’s also fun sometimes to take a step back and think about how changing indicators integrate into a whole picture. So with that, this series is my throwing-caution-to-the-wind conjecture for what the Church will look like in 2080. At this point I will be 93, so this will be the Church that my great-grandchildren will be baptized into. All of these predictions are tentative, but for ease of flow I will dispense with “I suspect,” “I think,” or “probably,” and will just state them as predictions. That will make me sound very sure of myself, but that’s not the intent.
Perhaps the most slam-dunk prognostication is that Church meetings in the US in the year 2080 will be much less “white,” but that’s easy because society in general will be less white. Additionally, as proselytizing is more effective in lower income communities (haven’t seen any studies on this but it’s one of those received wisdoms that I’m pretty sure is true), eventually the turnover from the white, elite, General Authority grandson leaving the Church and going on Mormon Stories while the agricultural worker near the border joins the local branch; lather, rinse, repeat by 60 years, is going to affect what the Church looks like. The largely white, non-Hispanic, Utah pioneer stock families will be less of a force in the Church, with their descendants largely having left, or not having had enough children who stayed to replace themselves in the pews. (And before somebody accuses me of promoting the Great Replacement Theory; A, that’s not what the Great Replacement Theory is, and B, I’m not saying this is a bad development).
However, this is far enough in the future that by then our notions of race and ethnicity will have changed quite a bit. In much the same way that we don’t think of Irish Americans or German Americans as a reified community anymore, so too do I think the Hispanic label will be less meaningful as everybody comes to have some Hispanic and non-Hispanic in them. The intermixing and ebbs and flows of racial and ethnic boundaries will likely produce entirely new categories of interest by then. We might be like Brazil, where everybody has a little bit of everything and race/ethnicity is super complicated. I mean, it already is, but even more so (of course I’m sure the denizens of the American Sociological Association will keep on writing the same five papers on the subject they always write regardless of how the on-the-ground, categorical reality changes).
Internationally, as I’ve written about before, Sub-Saharan Africa will loom much larger in the Church. This is kind of a no-duh Sherlock conclusion given not just differential conversion rates, but also differences in population growth in general (according to some estimates, by 2100 Nigeria will be the second most populous country in the world).
This will also be around the 100th anniversary of the 1978 revelation. If the Church moves from a “we don’t know” quasi-official line to “they were subject to the biases of their day,” it will be much easier then with distance. Nobody alive will have a clear memory of the priesthood or temple ban. While time won’t necessarily heal this wound, it will become slightly more academic and abstract, like the Church’s early opposition to Prohibition is today as it fades further into the past (I’m not comparing the two in terms of substance, just drawing out a reference point for how far in the past 100 years is).
Linguistically, Spanish wards will be less of a thing. People like to claim that Hispanics come over here and “don’t learn our language,” but in fact Hispanic immigrants are learning English at rates comparable to the Italians and other early-20th century migrant groups (to oversimplify: 1st generation immigrants don’t speak English very well, 2nd generation is bilingual, and 3rd generation is monolingual English).
Internationally, as many if not most languages worldwide die off, we may reach a point where the Church is essentially “finished” with translating canonized scripture, and its translation efforts will be geared towards other content the Church produces. Additionally, AI-based translation may be sophisticated enough by then to obviate the need for a professional translation department.
Finally, there is a reason why, in demographic projections, immigration is the big unknown. Based on where a country is in their economic development, I can reasonably estimate what their fertility rate will be, and the gears of demography grind slowly. However, more than births and deaths, immigration is susceptible to the vagaries of geopolitics. For example, the Hmong community in the United States today essentially exists because of a handful decisions made by a handful of government officials during the Vietnam War. That’s not the kind of thing you can predict. Given that 60 years is a long time, I’d bet that at some point between now and then one or more large migrant communities will spring up from refugee streams a la Cuban Americans in Florida; who they are I have no idea at this point, but for all I know my grandchildren will be called to preach the gospel in the Uzbek language in the suburbs of Dallas.
I’ll tie all this together and what it means closer to the end of the series, but to summarize, in the year 2080:
- The Church in the US will be much less “white,” but what white means will probably have changed.
- There will be fewer Spanish units as a proportion of all units.
- There may be additional mission fields within the US opened up as refugees arrive in the US from some country or another.
- The Church may not be producing new translations of scripture.
In terms of translation, I’d guess that by 2080, the Church won’t produce an updated English translation of the Book of Mormon for use in North American, although the need for one will grow; it will produce an updated English translation for some specific international use where the local variety of English differs substantially from U.S. English; and that it will have moved to a different translation of the Bible for everyday use.
Are you going to look at socioeconomic indicators?
That’s an interesting thought re the English translations. I don’t know though, the Church has been very hesitant to move away from the KJV English of the 1st edition BoM, so I don’t know if it would give its imprimatur to different varieties of English. Of course, as you know the difference between a language and a dialect is fuzzy…
The business cycle will always be with us, so I have no idea what things will look like socioeconomically in 2080, but I assume that technology will have a role to play, and I will talk about that.
I hope Jesus is here by then. With the way things are going, I think the church will be fewer numbers, like all other churches, and religion in general will be cancelled. The “work” wont stop but the harvest may be ending. I think we (church) reduce by 50% in the next 10 years. This will mean 25%ish active and attending. Now most wards are at 50% active. Hate to be Johnny Raincloud but…
REC911, my thought exactly. Will the Church even exist in 2080? And if Jesus hasn’t come by then, I want all my tithes and offerings back–plus $30/hour for every meeting and lesson on the Second Coming, the “chosen generation” (I was one back in the 1970s), and being “Saturday’s Warriors” I’ve sat through.
NYAnn – Sounds like we lived in the same time period. I like your humor! And if its not humor, I still like it.
Thanks to Prez Nelson and Oaks, Church grow will flatline and maybe even decrease in the developed world. Spanish speaking missions in SA will continue to have some success. In Africa, growth will slow as the missionaries become less of a novelty and members learn about our racist past.
The Church now claims a members of 17M. The real number is closer to 9M. With only half of those active. With educated members and youth leaving the Church in developed countries, the membership will be increasingly blue collar and immigrants.
By 2080, the Church will have $10T in cash and investments, and the leadership still won’t know what to do with it. The rainy day (or Second Coming) will not have arrived.
Actual Church membership will be at 10M. Half of the McTemples will be vacant and/or abandoned. But the leadership won’t need members. They will be rich beyond their wildest imaginations.
And Jack will still be waiting for the Second Coming.
I’d be interested to know who you feel about what might be the prevailing cultural attitudes of the future. You’ve spoken of demographic changes — which is interesting in and of itself — and now I’m wondering how the cultural values of the new demographic might be informed by surviving religious beliefs vis-a-vis attitudes toward marriage and family and religious life overall. Will there be Muslim influence from the east? Will there be more Catholic influence from the south? And how might these influences encourage people to receive the gospel in the face the atheistic influences of the west?
I think you know that I’m an optimist with regard to the Kingdom. And as such I offer this bit of prophecy from 1 Ne 14 to paint a brighter picture of the church’s future:
“12 And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.
14 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”
I give it to you as my opinion that this prophecy is already beginning to be fulfilled.
I share your optimism. I’m a convert of three years. When I read the Book of Mormon sincerely for the first time, I gained a conviction not that it was completely historically accurate, but that the problems and circumstances it describes are occurring in our time. Of course things will get really bad before the Second Coming– that’s what we have been taught by the scriptures. It kind of baffles me that a lot of those of pioneer stock are incapable or unwilling to see this. Count me among those, like Roger declares, who will be waiting with you :)
Thanks, Peter. I love the optimism of new converts. It’s a good reminder to us old fuddy duds to hang on to that brightness of hope. Don’t ever lose it, brother.
That said, in Roger’s defense–not sure, but I think he may have been using the name “Jack” to suggest that no one will be looking for the second coming in those days. Of course you and I disagree with that attitude–if indeed that’s what he was suggesting.
Even so, whether the Lord comes at this very moment or a hundred years from now–like Alma of old I will rejoice in it.