PonderIt

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mormon Membership Numbers

David Tufte, an economics professor at Southern Utah University, commented on membership statistics for the LDS Church. He points out (while commenting on an AP story that makes the same observation) that Latter-day Saints have a looser standard for counting members than many other denominations.
In contrast, other denominations often use substantially stricter rules. For example, many Protestant churches only count as adherents those who are both baptized and who attend at least once a year on a "normal" Sunday (i.e., one that does not have special religious significance). Baptists only count as members those who were both baptized as adults of their own free will, and who regularly attend services - children are adherents and are removed from those rolls if they do not choose to be baptized upon their majority. Catholics baptize at a younger age, but shift people from the memberhsip rolls to the adherent rolls if they stop attending regularly.

6 Comments:

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  • I agree, our membership numbers are inflated and give a flase impression.

    By Blogger Eric Nielson, at 2/20/2006 6:45 AM  

  • During a visit to BYU this past summer, I read an interesting article in the campus newspaper about studies (by active Latter-Day Saints) that try to bring some sense to church membership statistics. I wish I had kept that article, because it was very interesting.

    As far as why we continue to carry people on the church rolls that don't practice the faith, I think it is because we feel that we have a stewardship for those people until they formally renounce their faith. I have a friend that became a member of the church in her youth, but now is a baptized and practicing member of another faith. She does not consider herself LDS, but she refuses to petition to have her name removed from the records. I don't know why. Although she doesn't permit visiting or home teaching, her ward does work to minister to her and her family within reason.

    Why doesn't the church count my friend differently than an active member? I don't know for sure, but I think it may have something to do with institutionalizing an attitude of looking at inactive members differently than active members -- especially from a leadership perspective. Although this attitude already generally exists, formalizing it might lead to the sense that we have less responsibility to minister to the less active.

    For my part, I would like to see more specificity in statistics. I have no problem being a member of a small sect. Nephi prophesied that such would be the case.

    By Blogger Reach Upward, at 2/20/2006 7:29 AM  

  • It looks like newsnet.byu.edu is down right now. That is the site for the online version of the BYU campus newspaper. A google search on the site didn't turn up anything that looked like what Reach Upward is mentioning here. I'll have to see if I can find it later when the site comes back online.

    That story he read probably came out at the same time that Elder Bateman did an interview on a local radio show about church membership statistics. I don't think the audio of that story is available any longer either.

    By Blogger Bradley, at 2/20/2006 8:54 AM  

  • In terms of Mormons who actually go to church at least once a year, there are probably about 3.5 million worldwide. This is a figure I've seen derived using two different data sets, and it's also been quietly confirmed in a few press interviews by people who work within the church statistical department. That number is about the same as it was in 1990, although it may be marginally lower. Evidently, claims from ex-Mormons that the church is rapidly collapsing are false, but claims that the church is growing in institutional terms are about equally misleading.

    By Blogger RoastedTomatoes, at 2/20/2006 9:31 PM  

  • One more comment on this. When my parents were on their mission, my father had a spiritual experience when working with a totally inactive member (over 20 years of inactivity) that quite surprised him. Despite this person's animosity, my dad's experience let him know that the Lord considered this person's baptismal covenant still active.

    That was a specific experience and it may not imply general application. But it may help inform as to why the church leadership considers anyone that has ever been baptized and not excommunicated to be a member.

    By Blogger Reach Upward, at 2/21/2006 8:21 AM  

  • jim

    By Blogger myop, at 6/27/2006 1:29 AM  

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