Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Impact of Government Corruption on Church Growth


Hylton, Rodionova and Deng published an enlightening paper entitled “Church and State: An Economic Analysis” (American Law and Economics Review, V13, N2, 2011) that examines consequences of regulation, taxation and subsidization of religion on a country’s level of corruption, economic growth and income inequality.  In part, their abstract reads

The results suggest that laws and practices burdening religion enhance corruption. Laws burdening religion reduce economic growth and are positively associated with inequality.

I will describe their paper in more detail in a future post but now I would like to focus on a similar question.  What is the impact of corruption on the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  Growth is measured by the increase in the number of members between 20012 and 2011.  The data on corruption was provided by Transparency International and their 2012 index is reproduced in the world map, “Corruption Index by Country.”  The higher the index, the lower the level of corruption.  Graphically, the darker the blue, the less corrupt the government.  The colors move from blue to green, then yellow, brown and red.  Red also represents missing data.  The corruption index did not include Greenland, South Sudan, Western Sahara, and French Guiana. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dallin Oaks on Social Trends

Total Fertility Rate


At General Conference in October 2013 Dallin Oaks gave what many regard as a controversial talk due to his restatement of the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on gay marriage.  The Church views homosexual sex as sin like any other sexual act outside the bonds of marriage.  This position closes the door to “God approved” sexual fulfillment of same sex attraction and defines much of the conflict between the traditional Christian and secularist view on sexuality.  Traditional Christians believe that joy is the result of individuals subordinating personal desires to God by obeying His commandments whereas secularists believe that joy is the product of self-expression.  Conflicting visions strain friendly discussion.1 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Does an Age Explain Membership Growth in the U.S.

Median Age by State: 2012

Median Age US

The United States like much of the  world is experiencing declining birth rates and its inevitable consequence, an aging population.  In “Does an Aging World Explain Lower Convert Baptisms?,” I find a statistically significant relationship between the median age in seventy five countries and the growth in net membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Older countries grow more slowly than younger countries.  I find that the same relationship exists in the United States; membership grows more slowly in old states than young states. 

Median age and the birth rate of a state measure age.  Data came from the U.S. Census population estimates for 2012. I consider two models, one using the median age and the other replacing median age with the birth rate.  The variable, the number of missions in a state, adjusts for the size of Church and the intensity of missionary effort.  All variables in both models are statistically significant and the birth rate acts as a nearly identical substitute variable for median age.  The higher the median age, the lower the increase in net membership and the higher the birth rate, the lower the increase in net membership.   

The model specification is weak in two ways.  First, growth is tied to the existing population but my simple model specification does not capture this aspect of population growth.  Second, the data should be expanded to include more than one time period.  My results have limitations but they are suggestive that the growth of the Church is slowed by an aging population.  I offer two possible explanations.  People are more likely to change beliefs when pushed by events such as the formation of a family, the birth of children and financial stress.  These events are more likely to occur early in life rather than late.  Finally, falling fertility is driving the increase in median age.  A generation or two ago, the growth of the Church was greater because LDS families were bigger.  The conversion of a young family was likely to add three or four children to the Church rather than today’s 2.1. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hinch on Evangelicals and Secularism

Two trends have contributed to a decline in religious belief in much of the world, rising secularism and declining fertility.  I write about these trends in “Does an Aging World Explain Lower Convert Baptisms?” and “Secularism.”  Secularism may be one cause of falling birth rates.  Secularists believe that fulfillment of an individual’s desires is central to happiness.  Religionists believe that restraint through obedience to God’s commands brings happiness.  These belief systems are diametrically opposed.  In “Tough future for evangelicals, numbers reveal,” Jim Hinch writes about a decline in membership in evangelical churches and names growing secularism as a cause.  I whole heartedly recommend the article but I will focus on several points that I believe will have particular interest to Mormon readers.

Cultural Christianity is dying.  Hinch quotes Rick Warren who said,

Cultural Christianity is dying.  Genuine Christianity is not. The number of cultural Christians is going down because they never really were Christian in the first place. They don't have to pretend by going to church anymore.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Does an Aging World Explain Lower Convert Baptisms?

Conversions per missionary

The number of converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints per missionary has been trending downward since 1983 as seen in the graph, “Convert Baptisms per Missionary Set Apart.”  Missionaries set apart is an imperfect representation of missionaries serving at any given period of time or the number of missionaries who served during a year.  Young men serve for two years; young women for eighteen months, and senior missionary couple for six, twelve, eighteen or twenty-three months.  If the number of senior missionaries has been rising over time relative to the number of young men and women, then the downward trend is overstated. The graph may overstate a trend of growing difficulty in finding converts, but I believe that it is a trend and I offer a possible explanation for the difficulty, an aging world population.

Traditionally, converts to the Church have been young.  The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life report, “Mormons in America Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society,” reports that

Roughly half of converts to Mormonism (51%) say they joined the church before turning 24, including 26% who converted before reaching the age of 18. One-third (34%) say they converted between the ages of 24 and 35, 9% became Mormon between the ages of 36 and 50, and 6% joined the church when they were over the age of 50.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Purpose of Membership Records

The prophecy that states that the gospel “shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:31–45 and D&C 65:2) is being fulfilled. The number of members exceeds 15 million, stakes span continents and temples dot the land. Like Joseph, the Church he restored has been greeted with devotion, curiosity, and skepticism. As the Church grows, some question membership claims correctly noting high levels of inactivity in some areas, hinting perhaps that the generous counting of members is a marketing ploy designed to create a bandwagon effect or talking points for missionaries. Compare this belief to a Church news story dated April 11, 2007 that reads, “…the Church itself makes no statistical comparisons with other churches and makes no claim to be the fastest-growing Christian denomination.” Yet, the membership records are consistent with the purpose of the Church that Joseph restored through direct revelation.

Moroni explains whey records are kept (Moroni 6: 4).

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

The emphasis added is mine. Members within the Church attempt to care for the spiritual and temporal needs of all our members, both the committed and the disaffiliated. It has been my experience that most disaffiliated members accept visits with some degree of hospitality. Those that do not are generally visited less frequently and of course, there are disaffiliated members that can’t be found despite diligent attempts to locate these “lost sheep.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Consequences of China’s One-child Policy?

Yesterday, the Chinese government announced the first major change to its one-child policy in thirty years; the government will now allow parents to have a second child if one or both is a single child (“China easing one-child policy amid elderly boom,” and “China to ease one-child policy, abolish labor camps, report says”).  The government implemented the program fearing Malthus’s four horsemen of natural population control: famine, misery, plague and war.  In “What to Expect when No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster,” Jonathan Last outlines some of the social problems the one-child policy has birthed: too few workers, i.e. taxpayers, to fund the retirement of the elderly, a labor shortage, and a dangerous sex imbalance of 1.23 boys for every girl. On the sex imbalance, Last writes

The inevitable result of this is a large cohort of men who—as a matter of mathematics—cannot marry.  The world has seen sex imbalances before.  From ancient Athens to Bleeding Kansas to China’s Taiping Rebellion, a skewed sex ratio has often preceded intense violence and instability.  So in addition to everything else, the Chinese will have a large cohort of military aged, unmarried men—tens of millions of them—floating around at precisely the moment when the country is facing the burden of its uncared-for elderly…

All of which suggests that what America needs to prepare for in the coming decades is not a shooting war with an expansionist China, but a declining superpower with a rapidly contracting economic base and an unstable political structure…

By midcentury, China will be losing 20 million people every five years and engineering a soft landing at an “ideal” birth rate will be difficult.  He suggest that supporting religion as a solution noting that “People who regularly attend church have more children than those who do not.”  I know of one religion that would be happy to supply missionaries to preach the gospel. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Southern Baptist Convention Membership: 2011 to 2004

Southern Baptist Convention Membership by State: 2011

SBC Membership US 2011

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates in a complex and competitive religious market within the United States where competition between denominations for adherents remains strong even as the public grows more secular.  To understand Church growth, some understanding of the nature of the religious market and its participants is necessary.  Because I live in Texas, and more importantly, because I could find data, I begin a description of the religious market participants by exploring membership data of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NSA Spying and Missionary Work

I have studiously attempted to avoid interjecting United States politics into “Blu Principles,” focusing instead on events that affect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members. In this post, I discuss the impact of the revelation of NSA spying on missionary work but I make no judgment on the overall value of the program or the current administration.  I don’t know enough about spying to give even a qualified opinion.  Instead, I offer the opinion that the news of NSA spying may have a negative impact on missionary work. 

NSA spying has been ubiquitous, covering both friends and foes.  While our friends don’t mind spying on terrorist groups, they don’t like spying on them.  Ken Dilanian and Janet Stobart of the Los Angeles Times write in “White House OKd spying on allies, U.S. intelligence officials say” that

France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Sweden have all publicly complained about the NSA surveillance operations, which reportedly captured private cellphone conversations by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among other foreign leaders.

I believe that there are two ways that news of NSA spying can harm missionary work.  First, governments might make it more difficult for missionaries from the United States to enter their countries by delaying or denying visas.  Second, in parts of the world, many believe that missionaries are an extension of the United States government working for the CIA.  I learned of this rumored relationship while in the Mission Training Center learning Spanish, the gospel and correct comportment.  We were taught that never, under any circumstance to insinuate that we worked with the CIA.  When I arrived in Argentina, I asked my Zone Leaders about this guidance suggesting that nobody would believe that the U.S. government would hire twenty year old men with limited capacity to speak Spanish and who wear what amounted to easily identifiable uniforms as spies.  They repeated the instructions that I had received earlier not to joke or insinuate that missionaries worked for the CIA.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Convert Baptisms per Mission in the United States

Converts Baptisms per Mission by State: 2012

Convert Baptisms by mission us

Using my data on convert baptisms per state presented in “Convert, Child of Record Baptisms and Deaths for the Unites States in 2012“ and data on missions per state presented in the Mormon Newsroom, I calculated the number of convert baptisms per mission for each state.  The map “Converts Baptisms per Mission per State: 2012” visually presents the data shown in the table that follows the descriptive portion of the post.  The color code configuration rescaled data on estimated convert baptisms from zero to one and assigned colors from yellow to dark red. 

I encountered only one problem in organizing and estimating the data.  Some states did not have any missions and yet they have missionaries assigned from other states.  I used maps states from cumorah.com showing the missions that were active in each state.  My strategy was simple.  If a mission from one state provided missionaries to another, I subtracted out .2 missions (or .1)  from the mission state and added .2 missions (or .1) to the dependent state.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Convert, Child of Record Baptisms and Deaths for the Unites States in 2012

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides changes in membership in various locations on an annual basis.  The net change in membership is calculated subtracting last year’s membership from this year’s.  Given the change in membership, I used state level demographic data on the percentage of eight year olds and death rates for 2012 to estimate child of record baptisms, convert baptisms and deaths by state for the same year.  My method is mechanical rather that statistical so I cannot include statistical tests for the accuracy of my estimates.  In short, they are an educated guess.

Convert Baptisms by State. 

Convert Baptisms US

For those who continue reading after my disclosure, the table “Net Members by Child Baptisms, Convert Baptisms and Deaths” that follows the narrative section of the post contains my estimates.  The color code configuration rescaled data on estimated convert baptisms from zero to one and assigned colors from yellow to dark red.  Covert baptisms seem to depend on the number of members and the population of a state.  The five states with the most convert baptisms in 2012 were California, Texas, Arizona, Utah and Washington all have large number of members and or large populations.    

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Growth in Latter-day Saints per 100 in the USA: 1977-2012

Since its forced exodus from Nauvoo, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been associated Utah.  From Utah, the Church sent missionaries throughout the world to preach the restored gospel with considerable success but Utah remains the crown jewel.  It has more members than any country excluding the United States and more than twice as many members than any other state.  Stakes cover the state and temples dot the land.  As acceptance of the Church increased and economic opportunities opened, members left their refuge in Utah for other new homes, mixing with converts to bring growth in the Church in areas previously designated as the mission field.  In this post, I will describe dramatic growth in the Church outside of Utah and the Intermountain West by examining the growth in members per 100 between 1977 and 2012, repeat my hypothesis of member osmosis, and discuss areas of future research.

Members per 100: 2012                        Members per 100: 1977

Us density 2012US Saints per hundred

The map “Members per 100: 2012 uses the usual color code configuration with member per 100 rescaled from zero to one and colors from yellow to dark red.  The map confirms what we know, that Utah and the intermountain states are more densely populated with members of the Church.  Juxtaposed to the map, “Members per 100: 1977,” little seems to have changed but the map hides more than it reveals due to high concentration of members in Utah and the low concentration in the east.  A doubling or even tripling of the members per 100 in states east of the Rocky Mountains does not cause a color variation large enough to be easily seen. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mormon and Catholic Finances: An Introduction

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often referred to as America’s most prosperous religion, a term that is often left undefined and almost impossible to measure.  As a first effort to quantify the Mormon Church finances, I compare a statement from “Time Magazine” (“Mormons Inc.: The Secret of America's Most Prosperous Religion”), as quoted by the AP and posted to “Catholic Answers Forums.”

Time lists the church's assets as $12 billion in U.S. meeting houses and temples; $5 billion in meeting houses and temples in foreign countries; $6 billion in unspecified investments; $5 billion in ranch and farm real estate and $1 billion in "schools, etc."

Of its annual income of $5.9 billion, the vast majority -- $5.3 billion -- comes from tithing. Of that, $4.9 billion comes from church members living in the United States.

“The Economist” describes the financial position of the Catholic Church (“The Catholic church in America: Earthly concerns,” The Economist, Aug 18th 2012.)

The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures). We think 57% of this goes on health-care networks, followed by 28% on colleges, with parish and diocesan day-to-day operations accounting for just 6% and national charitable activities just 2.7% (see chart). In total, Catholic institutions employ over 1m people, reckons Fred Gluck, a former McKinsey managing partner and co-founder of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a lay organisation seeking to improve the way the church is run. For purposes of secular comparison, in 2010 General Electric’s revenue was $150 billion and Walmart employed roughly 2m people.

Growth in Membership by State: 1977-2012

Membership in 20012                              Membership in 1977
US Membership 2012US membership 1977
The two color coded maps show membership by state in 2012 and 1977.  The color coding was set to show the state with the greatest membership, regardless of the year, as a deep red bordering on black and the state with the smallest membership as bright yellow.  The map for 2012 is clearly darker than the map for 1977 implying a large increase in membership.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reports that membership increased from 2,487,980 to 6,319,031 or 155% for the period. 

Growth bridges the gap between membership in 1977 and membership today.  What state has shown the highest rate of percentage growth since 1977?  It’s Texas followed by Georgia, New Jersey, Tennessee, Rhode Island and New York.  The states that have shown the slowest rate of growth are Wyoming, West Virginia, Idaho, Montana, California, Utah and Oregon.   Click on the “Read More” button to view a complete list of growth and rank by state.

One observation that can be made from the maps and the table is that states that experienced high growth tended to have low initial memberships and states with low growth tend to be in traditionally Mormon states like Utah, California, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming, In “Church Growth by State,” I proposed a hypothesis that states that membership moves from states densely populated with Church members to states less densely populated.  A future post will explore the change in the Church membership as a percent of state population.  Another with attempt to breakdown growth between convert and child of record baptisms.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Convert and Member of Record Baptisms, and Deaths

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reports convert baptism for the world (April Conference Statistical Reports), but does not break down the numbers by smaller geographic units like countries, states, missions or stakes.  The researcher in me recoils at this lack of data but the member in me rejoices at the frugality in the expenditure of tithes.  Building on prior work, I use demographic data by country to break down the increase in membership by country into convert baptisms, member of record baptisms and deaths. 
The Church also reports membership by country on an annual basis at the Church Newsroom.  I used that data to calculate the change in membership from 2011 to 2013.  This is the second piece of the puzzle.  The change in membership is equal to child of record baptisms plus convert baptisms less deaths and excommunications.  I used demographic data from the CountryData function of Wolfram’s Mathematica program to estimate proxies for child or record baptisms and deaths.  Excommunications are reported to be a small percentage of the change in membership and, because I could not devise a proxy, I assumed them to be zero.  This will create a slight downward bias in my estimate of child or record births and convert baptisms.
I estimated child baptisms by multiplying the birth rate by the church membership for each country.  Not all children born into the Church will be baptized.  I multiplied the Seminary enrollment rates reported in “Seminary Activity Rates by Country,” to reduce the births to Church members to an estimate of the number of births that were baptized as members.  This number is likely to be a lower bound as death and inactivity grow as members age; initial estimates of child or record baptisms will be too low and convert baptisms, too high.  To summarize, child of record baptisms are estimated multiplying membership by both the birth rate and the Seminary enrollment rate.  Deaths were easier to estimate.  I multiplied church membership by the death rate. 
With the change in membership, child of record baptisms and deaths in hand, I estimated convert baptisms by country.  I then summed my estimate of convert baptisms and found that they exceeded actual convert baptisms.  I then multiplied convert baptisms for each country by a factor of .79114 to produce an estimate of convert baptisms by country that summed to the correct number.  This implies that the number of child of record baptisms or deaths by country was too low.  Using my estimates of convert baptisms, I made a second estimate of child of record baptism by country by multiplying the original estimate until the new estimate plus the estimate of convert baptisms less deaths summed to the correct worldwide total.  The estimates are presented in the table in the second portion of the post.   

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Convert Baptisms and Missionaries

converts to baptisms

Having identified variables that influence the supply for missionaries, and estimated the enrollment rate for seminary, I am ready to move in a new direction, identifying variables that influence the demand for the gospel as measured by the number of convert baptisms.  The data used was provided by “Statistical Reports” given in each April General Conference.  The graph, “Missionaries Serving and Convert Baptisms: 1977-2012” displays the data.  There is a statistically significant relationship between the number of missionaries and the number of convert baptisms.  For those interested in the statistical details, I regressed the number of convert baptisms on the number of missionaries for the entire time period.  Both the intercept term and the slope are statistically significant (2.49162, 3.50198), and the slope has the correct sign; it is positive.  Convert baptisms increases as more missionaries preach the gospel. 

converts to baptisms ratio

The graph, “Convert Baptisms to Missionaries: 1977-2012,” shows the ratio of convert baptisms divided by then number of missionaries. The ratio has declined over the time period for which I have data.  Baptisms are harder to come by but why? 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Good News for Future Missionaries in Need of a Passport

According to abcNEWS, “Good News for Travelers: You Can Still Get a Passport, Contact Embassies Despite Government Shutdown.”

The U.S. will continue to issue passports, even after the federal government has shut down, the State Department said Monday. Passports are funded by the fees paid by applicants, making them immune to budget politics, State Dept. officials said. It doesn’t matter whether Congress funds the government, because passports pay for themselves.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Missionary Work in Brazil and the NSA

Whether good, bad or indifferent, some policies of the United States government affect missionary work in foreign countries.  The NSA, a U.S. spy agency has been accused of spying on President Pena Nieto of Mexico and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (“Report: NSA spied on Brazilian, Mexican presidents”) as well as Mexican and Brazilian companies.  Rousseff in particular has expressed anger over the program, cancelling an October state visit to the United States and accusing the United States of  violating human rights and breaking international law in her opening remarks at the United Nations (“At U.N., Brazil's Rousseff blasts U.S. spying as breach of law”).  The spy policy may harm missionaries directly and indirectly.

The Brazilian government could enact policies that make it more difficult for U.S. missionaries called to serve in Brazil more difficult to obtain.  Rousseff is a passionate politician who was imprisoned by the Brazilian military government for her participation in a Marxist group aiming to overthrow military rule.  Like Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, her mentor, the founder of the Workers’ Party to which she belongs, and the man she followed as president, her rhetoric is more leftist than her policies.  Hopefully her pragmatic approach to governance will outweigh indignation caused by the NSA.

The NSA spy program could make Brazilians more hostile to a church headquartered in the United States and its missionaries from the United States if Brazilians associate the Church with the NSA policies.  As a missionary in the Argentina Cordoba Mission (1976-78) I occasionally saw a “Yanqui go home” graffiti spray painted onto a wall and I was often asked about U.S. policy but few thought of missionaries as representatives of the government.  We were blessed.  I pray that Brazilians will conflate U.S. government policy with the gospel.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Church Growth in Venezuela

Venezuela Growth Comparisons

Tensions between Venezuela and the United States were high when on August 23, 2005 televangelist Pat Robertson suggested conditions under which the United States should consider assassinating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  Chavez did not shrug off the remark, striking at religions groups with ties to the United States; his actions were a shotgun blast rather than the careful incision of a surgeon.  On 12 October, he issued an expulsion order for the New Tribes Mission an evangelical American missionary group.  Visa application approvals for the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which were always slow in coming came to a full stop.  On October 24, the Church evacuated 220 non-native missionaries from Venezuela (“Non-native LDS missionaries pulled from Venezuela”).  The evacuation created a natural experiment on the institutional strength of the Church in Venezuela.  How would it cope with only local leaders and missionaries? 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Enrollment Rates in Seminary by State

Seminary Enrollment Rate 2012            Seminary Enrollment Rate 2008
Seminary Rate US 2012Seminary Rate US 2008
I originally wanted to use the Seminary enrollment rate as a proxy for activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; on a country by country basis, the seminary enrollment rate is close to activity rates estimated by other or reported by the Church.  For the United States, I believe they overestimate the actual enrollment rate.  To understand why, I must explain how I calculated the rates.
The seminary enrollment rate is equal to the number of students enrolled in Seminary divided by the seminary age youth in the Church.  I did not know the latter number, so I estimated it by calculating the ratio of seminary age youth in each state by the state’s population and multiplied this ratio by the membership in the state.  If the Church membership has the same age distribution as the state as a whole, my estimates will be unbiased.  Because the birthrate of Church members may be higher than the nation as a whole, the seminary enrollment rates may be biased upward. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

August Update of Callings Posted to YouTube

To date, I have viewed more than 1,700 future missionaries opening their calls on YouTube.  Some share the special moment with friends and family; others limit the moment to family.  Some cry and some scream, a few laugh.  Many cannot properly read their call as their eye jumps to where they will serve.  A large number do not know how to pronounce the name of their missions or the language in which they will preach the gospel.  They are a choice generation that has listened to the prophet’s voice and serve God and their fellow men.  They are excited to serve.
13 August sisters vs elders
The graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” runs from November 2011 until August 2013 and displays the number of Sisters and Elders posting their calls to YouTube.  The number of posts increased dramatically beginning in November after President Monson announced in the October Conference that the ages of service had been lowered from 21 to 19 for Sisters and 19 to 18 for Elders until the peak in the surge in May 2013 when 220 future missionaries posted their class.  The number has fallen rapidly since that time to 71 in August 2013 but that relatively modest announcement number is well ahead of the 18 calls posted to YouTube the previous year.  In August 34 men and 37 women posted their calls.  It was the second consecutive month in which the videos from women exceeded those of men. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Institute Activity Rates by Country? Help!

Institute Activity World Map
As I present numbers that may give insights into the progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope my love for the Church, its members and those who guide it is apparent.  That love poses problems for my work as a researcher; it is a bias. The problem is not unique as all researchers confront bias.  It is how that bias is confronted that matters.  I believe that my bias propels care in measurement to accurately portray the Church as it is. I hope to inform and inspire.
The performance ratio I present here, the institute activity rate for a country, is based on a similar calculation as the seminary activity rate for a country that I presented in “Seminary Activity Rates by Country” and is presented below the body of the text.  The critical assumption in both ratios is that the percentage of a country’s population of an age demographic, 14 to 17 for seminary students and approximately 21 to 24 for institute students mirrors the percentage of the Church population in the same demographic.  The assumption may be accurate for seminary activity ratio but obviously fails in a wide range of countries for the seminary activity ratio.  It is the failure that suggests the most interesting question: why did it fail?

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Comparison of Activity Rates

This morning I posted Seminary Activity rates by country for over 70 countries.  I was straining to find other estimates of activity rates.  After posting my article, I went to one of my favorite websites, “LDS Church Growth” and learned that they had published  the August news letter, in which they link to an article, “Census Data” by Matt Martinich.  The article reports data on religious affiliation according to the national censuses of nine countries and Martinich’s estimates of activity rates for those countries.  He divided the number of people who list LDS affiliation by membership for that country as an estimate of activity;  he does not describe how the estimates were made.  I produced seminary activity rates for eight of the nine countries and they seem to be in the ballpark.  Well, maybe Fiji is a foul ball but it didn’t leave the stands. 

A Comparison of Activity Rates by Country



Cumorah Estimated

Seminary Activity

Australia 2006 46% 25-30% 42.4%
Brazil 2000 26% 25% 24.5%
Chile 2002 20% 12% 18.6%
Fiji 1996 32% 20-30% 42.7%
Ireland 2006 46% 35% 40.0%
Mexico 2000 23% 20-25% 25.8%
New Zealand 2006 45% 35-45% 37.3%
Samoa 36.7% 35-40% 31.4%
Tonga 2006 38% 30-35% 40.4%

Martinich describes the weaknesses of reported census affiliation.

Although census data number among one of the most objective and reliable methods for ascertaining member activity rates, there are several limitations to these data.  First, individual countries vary in who they count as religious affiliates depending on age and family status.  Religious status is identified by the head of the household for the entire family in some censuses.  Children under a certain age are also not reported as religious adherents in some nations, such as children under five in the 2000 Mexican census, whereas children of member families are included in nominal and active membership statistics.  Consequently many active youth may not be counted as Latter-day Saints on the census.  Second, self-affiliation does not ensure active participation in church.  Some inactive or less-active members continue to identify as Latter-day Saints but do not live church teachings and participate in services.  Furthermore, not all active members are self affiliated on the census as is the case with many youth from part-member families.

One other reason for lapsed members not to affiliate with the Church might be added,  In much of Europe, the Church has only obtained the “lower tier” of legal recognition and members might be at a disadvantage in divorce, adoption and even employment.  (Armand L. Mauss, “Can There Be A “Second Harvest”? : Controlling the Costs of Latter-day Saint Membership in Europe”).  Similar de facto and de jure restrictions may exist in Latin and South America.  Unless you are an active member of the Church, there isn’t much of a reason to affiliate with it, driving down the affiliation rate towards the activity rate. 

Seminary Activity Rates by Country

Activity World Map
God really did create people equally.  There is no chosen people, at least in the sense that they are spiritually superior to others.  Differences in devotion are the product of political, economic and religious institutions of each country.  My purpose in estimating seminary activity rates by country is to enable a search for institutions that might impede Church growth and devise methods to overcome their influence so as to maximize the number of sons and daughters of God who win exaltation through the atonement of Christ Jesus.  Just as there is no superior people, the Lord does not play favorites for he “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leaving in Droves?, Really?

In a November of 2011 Fireside at Utah State University Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a General Authority Emeritus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, engaged an attendee in the following conversation (Stephan Smoot.  “Reports of the Death of the Church are Greatly Exaggerated,” January 15, 2013)

Q: Has the Church seen the effects of Google on membership? Have there been…is the Church leadership aware of—and, I don’t know, maybe I’m overstating what’s going on, but it seems like the people I talk to about Church history are people who find out and leave, quickly—

A: Yes.

Q: Is the Church aware of that problem? Is there anything…I mean, the new manuals would help, I guess, “inoculation” within terms of youth would help. What about people who are already leaving in droves?

A: We are aware. Maybe I’ll just say this: You know what, I often get this question, “Do the brethren really know?” They do.

A cottage industry of writers misrepresenting this interchange has arisen.  Carrie Shefield (“Why Mormons flee their church,” June 17, 2012), makes such a misrepresentation.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Seminary Enrollment around the World

Seminary is an important institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that teaches high school age students basic principles of the gospel through scripture study.  In many parts of the world, where membership is sparse, seminary acts as a social gathering place where youth can associate with others who share their commitment to the gospel.  In “A Model of Variables Affecting Missionaries Set Apart,” I demonstrate that the number of seminary students is an important variable in predicting the number of missionaries set apart in a given year.  I believe that the relationship is causal, that seminary strengthens testimonies and friendships and nurtures a desire to serve the Lord.  I don’t believe that a demographic variable such as the number of eighteen year-old young men and women who are members of the church would have the same statistical correlation as the number of seminary students.  This post is my first attempt to understand seminary from a geographic perspective. 
Seminary World Map

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Model of Variables Affecting Missionaries Set Apart



Many years have passed since I have last attempted a serious piece of econometric analysis and my skills are rusty, but with some effort, probably not enough, I have developed a model that measures the degree of influence of several variables on the number of young men and women who are set apart as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints annually.  The variables included war, recession, enrollment in seminary, and changes in missionary policy (see list below the post).  I used nothing more than simple ordinary least squares.  The model is not elegant, but it seemed to fit the data adequately.  For those interested, all the coefficients were significant at the 5% level or above and the adjusted R squared was .99.  I will use the model to attempt to answer two questions: what variables caused the reduction in missionaries set apart after the 2002 peak? and how many missionaries will be set apart as a result of lowering the age requirement for missionary service?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

July YouTube Update

13 July sisters vs elders

The decline in missionary calls posted to YouTube that began in May continued through July but the decline highlights the tremendous size of the surge.  Prior to President Monson’s October announcement, the number of calls would have been considered historic.  In “Temporary MTC opens, LDS Church projects 47 percent increase in missionaries,” Church officials reported that the number of missionaries serving would reach 85,000, a 47% increase from the prior year due in large part to the lowering of the age that missionaries can begin service.  As pictured in the graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” missionary calls to men fell from 75 in June to 54 and calls to women fell from 62 to 58. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Seminary Enrollment and Missionary Service

At the end of my previous post (“Recession and Missionary Service”), I set an agenda for developing a supply function for missionaries.  I say supply function, but a supply function for labor involves a wage.  The earthly wage is negative, and the eternal wage is…difficult to quantify.  One point of the agenda was to find a demographic variable that would track “potential” missionaries.  I would have preferred the number of 19 year-olds by year, but I ended up with seminary enrollment.   It seems to do the job.  As I have done in previous posts, I report the data in two graphs which divide the time period spanning 1928 and 2010.  The number of missionaries set apart by year is shown as a blue and red line, the blue representing periods of peace, and the red, war.  The green line represents the number of students enrolled in seminary divided by 10.  I made the mathematical adjustment to highlight how the two lines moved together.  Between 1928 and 1960, when the minimum missionary age was set at 21 for young men and 23 for young women, the seminary variable was lagged two years.  When the age requirement was reduced in 1960, the lag was changed to one year.  That produced an extra year of seminary students and that year was divided between 1960, 1961 and 1962.  Recessions are shown as gray rectangles.   


The first graph, “Missionaries Set Apart, War, Recession and Demographics: 1929-1961,” visible shows the correlation between the number of missionaries set apart and the number of seminary students the population from which many missionaries come.  The impact of the Great Depression (1929-1933) is clearly visible as the number of seminary students rise but the number of missionaries fall as is the impact of both WWII and the Korean War.  The dramatic increase in missionary numbers from 1953 to 1954 was due to the institution of a quota system that allowed one missionary per ward to serve a mission prior, postponing eligibility for the draft.  The last notable event was the policy change announced on July 21, 1960 that reduced the age of missionary service.  This new policy significantly increased the number of missionary serving by increasing the number of young men and women available.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Recession and Missionary Service

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced an 18.0% decline in the number of missionaries set apart over the two year period beginning in 2003.  Many observers attributed the decline to a policy change announced by Apostle M. Russell Ballard in the October 2002 General Conference that “raised the bar” or worthiness standards for missionary service (see Peggy Fletcher Stack. “Unintended consequence of church's 'raising the bar'” for example).  I doubted that increasing worthiness standards would dramatic reduce missionary numbers and began considering alternatives.  In addition to policy governing missionary service I thought war, recession and demographics would influence young men and women considering missionary service.  This post updates past work by adding recessions to the mix of war and Church missionary policy as determinants of missionary numbers.

My time frame begins in 1929 and ends in 2011.  In a series of four posts: A Second Negative Effect of the Vietnam War on Missionary Work, Many Were Drafted but Few Were Called: Missionary , The Impact of WWII and the Korean War on Missionary Work, and War and the Missionary Force, I examined some impacts of war on the missionary work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Simply stated, war reduces the number of missionaries set apart. 

To evaluate the simultaneous impact of policy, war and recession, I present data in two graphs that split the period.  Both graphs show the number of missionaries set apart each year as a line that is divided into a blue segment representing periods of peace and a red segment representing periods of war.  Also in the graph are gray rectangles representing periods of recession.  Data on recessions was provided by The National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee.  Finally, the graph contains black vertical lines on the dates that the Church made major policy announcements concerning missionary service.  A summary of important announcements and the dates they were make is provided below the main body of the post.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Missionary Assignments by Language and Region

13 June Language

More missionaries are serving than at any time!  The post updates a previous post, “May Update on Mission Assignments by Language.”  I use data collected from YouTube videos if missionaries reading their calls to show where missionaries are serving and the languages they speak.  I collected 814 videos in which the missionary reads both the mission and the language, 471 calls are to men and 343 to women.  As an important note, a number of observations, 156, did not name the language to be spoken; given the country that these missionaries will be serving, most of those missionaries will be speaking English.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches missionaries approximately 50 languages; my data set includes 35 languages. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

June 2013 YouTube Missionary Calls

2013 June YouTube Callings

In “Temporary MTC opens, LDS Church projects 47 percent increase in missionaries,” Church officials reported that the number of missionaries serving would reach 85,000, a 47% increase from the prior year due in large part to the lowering of the age that missionaries can begin service.  As pictured in the graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” applications surged.  In June, missionary applications may have peaked.  The graph separates the calls to young women and men from November 2011 to June  2013.  In June, calls to men fell from 125 in May to 74 and calls to women fell from 91 to 61.  

The surge peaking does not imply that the number of missionaries serving has peaked.  As long as missionary calls in the coming months exceed the calls issued in the previous year’s corresponding months, missionaries serving will continue to rise.  As a reminder the YouTube data has a weakness: it over reports the increase in applications after President Monson’s announcement.  The next two graphs show month to month comparisons of the number of calls posted to YouTube for the past two years.  The lower line representing calls before the announcement should be higher.

13 June Sisters

13 June Elders

The number of calls issued to sisters remains significantly above the number of calls issued the previous year and should remain higher than the previous year at least until November, the first month that calls could be issued after President Monson’s announcement lowering age requirements.  Likewise, the number of calls issued to Elders remains at high levels.  Again, November will be an interesting month. 

13 June Callings  by Region

The graph, "Three Month Moving Average of the Location of Mission Assignments," shows a three month moving average of the percentage of calls read on YouTube to seven geographic regions. They are the regions reported by the Church on the “Facts and Statistics” page of the “Newsroom” with one exception. I divided the North America region into two groups: the United States and the rest of North American (North American not US). As demonstrated in the June graph, the influx of applications has not precipitated major changes in the percentage of missionaries called to each region although calls to the United States have risen since January and calls to Europe have declined.  A similar trend in calls by region occurred the prior year. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Missionary Work Via the Internet

On Sunday, June 23rd at the Seminar for New Mission Presidents the church announced that missionaries would be able to proselytize via the Internet and give guided tours of meeting houses.  Deseret News explored the experiences of missionaries who tested these new programs in “Online missionaries? LDS meetinghouse tours? Been there, done that.”  The experiences were positive.  While the cynic in me concludes that of course they would be positive, that same cynicism leads me to conclude that the Church, after testing these programs, has concluded that the benefits easily outweigh the costs.  Not only did I enjoy the article, but I enjoyed the comments as well and recommend them to anyone interested in the topic.  I will focus my comments on use of electronic communications.

The use of Facebook and blogs will change the geographic assignments of missionaries to areas at least a little as noted by two missionaries from the Montana Billings Mission.

…Eric Whitlock of Gilbert, Ariz., who served as a full-time missionary in the church's Montana Billings Mission from 2010-12…said…he felt impressed to reconnect online with a friend from home who, it turned out, was going through a spiritual crisis. "As soon as I was able to get on Facebook, I was able to talk to him and help him stay on track, and today he's serving as a missionary himself,"

Another Montana missionary reconnected with a family friend who was living in England. He started teaching her the gospel online, eventually turning her over to missionaries in England. She joined the church and is now serving as a missionary in Estonia.

Missionaries have always communicated with friends and family via mail, but Facebook is much faster.  In a comment, boyztomany noted the positive impact that Facebook had in an area in wh8ich his son served

My son was in the Canada Vancouver Mission (2010-2012) They were a test mission. He set up a facebook account for his area and used it to contact members/non-members. They used it to advertize young single adult activities that non-members/inactive members began coming to more frequently.

In another comment, Red enthusiastically endorsed the new program stating

There are missions out there that average 1/2 a baptism in 2 years because "knocking" is so lame and ineffective.

People are too paranoid to let someone in their house. They also are too concerned what their neighbors will think of them if they let the Mormons in.

Networking will be 1,000 times more effective.

If Red meant they will be 1,000 times more effective baptizing, he exaggerates but perhaps not if you include satisfaction in service.  If baptisms increase just ten percent, given the increase in missionaries to 85,000, next year the church could experience 432,000 convert baptisms.  A twenty percent improvement leads to 470,000 baptisms. 

The new tools may have a big impact on retention.  It is easy to imagine a new member friending three or four people in the ward and becoming more connected to their families, interests and church activities.  Socialization of new members has always been a challenge.  It has become easier. 

Friday, June 21, 2013


Our children are our future and the number of children is dependent on the birthrate.  Is there an optimal population and have we exceeded it?  Two articles present very different views of the future of our country and the world based on birth rate.  They both address the Malthusian conclusion that mankind faces an economically bleak future because population growth will outpace economic development.  Hunger, disease and war are positive checks that limit population growth to the world’s resource base.  A slightly more modern version paints the world as a spaceship with limited resources.  The more people that inhabit the spaceship, the fewer resources per person.  The problem with the theory is that it is not supported by empirical facts.  The world has never been economically better off.  Scarcity has caused innovation and the world is richer than at any time in the past.  While there must be an optimal maximum population, we have not reached it.

The first, “Let’s Talk About Sex: Why More Babies Means More Economic Growth,” is by Jerry Bowyer who believes that many countries face economic and political decline because their birthrates are well below replacement levels.  Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and China, just to name a few prominent countries all have birthrates below the replacement level.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mission Frequency Table by Region and Language






English .305 .036 .000 .018 .000 .040 .018 .417
Spanish .112 .054 .139 .004 .000 .000 .004 .314
Portuguese .000 .000 .054 .004 .000 .004 .000 .063
Japanese .000 .000 .000 .000 .045 .000 .000 .045
Tagalog .000 .000 .000 .000 .022 .000 .000 .022
Russian .004 .000 .000 .018 .000 .000 .000 .022
Korean .004 .000 .000 .000 .013 .000 .000 .018
French .000 .009 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 .009
Italian .000 .000 .000 .013 .000 .000 .000 .013
Other .004 .000 .000 .036 .031 .004 .000 .076
  .430 .099 .193 .094 .112 .049 .022 1.000

The table uses 223 YouTube observations of mission calls, mostly from May, to create a frequency table of where missionaries serve and the languages they speak.  It is a slightly different presentation of the data in my last post, “May Update on Mission Assignments by Language.”  This data over represents calls to the United States but it does start to paint an interesting picture of the size and scope of the missionary program.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

May Update on Mission Assignments by Language

Doctrine and Covenants 90:11.  For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 May Languages by AreaThe Church trains missionaries in about fifty languages.  My sample size is now 223 and includes twenty three languages.  The sample is about twice as large as my original sample but still relies too heavily on calls received in May 2013.  The primary problem with May data is that it has an unusually large number of calls to missions operating in the United States, 52% of all calls compared to a three month moving average of 37%.  This skews the data to overestimate the number of missionaries serving in the United States and speaking English.  Even with the weaknesses of the sample, interesting results emerge. 

The three most common languages spoken by missionaries are the languages of European colonizers, English, Spanish and Portuguese and the calls are issued in much greater numbers to their former colonies than to the colonizing nations.  Forty-two percent of calls were to speak English and only 2% of those calls were to England.  English is the most common language of calls issued to missionaries assigned to Africa and Oceania.  Spanish is the second most common language, used by 38% of all missionaries.  A modest .4% of calls to preach the gospel in Spanish are issued to missionaries assigned to Spain.  Portuguese repeats the pattern.  Six percent of all calls were issued in Portuguese, 5% in South America, .4% in Africa, and only .4% in Portugal. 

The most commonly spoken languages native to the countries where the missionaries are assigned are Japanese (4.5%), Tagalog (2.2%), Russian (1.8%), English (1.8%) and Korean (1.3%). 

The language assignments also show some modern migratory patterns: Spanish in the United States, Canada and Australia and Mandarin in the United Kingdom.  There is no evidence of the Church following the migration of Muslims to Europe or the United States by examining language assignments.

In future posts, I will compare languages assigned to Elders and Sisters and breakout languages in the seven areas listed above by country. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

May 2013 Update on Mission Calls Posted to YouTube

YouTube Callings Sisters vs Elcer

The surge in missionary applications is continuing.  The graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” separates the calls to young women and men from November 2011 to May 2013.  In May, the total number of posted calls reached 202; the greatest number of postings at the end of a month to date.  For the second straight month, the number of postings by young men relative to young women decreased slightly.  Last month 61.3% of posted calls were to young men and 38.7, to young women.  In May, 58.4% of posted calls were to young men and 41.6%, to young women.  The number of postings appears to have plateaued at around 200 per month suggesting that the surge too has plateaued. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Growth of the Church in Brazil

Brazil Growth Comparisons

The seeds from which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil grew sprouted in Germany, not Brazil and the first missionaries arrived from Salt Lake City via Buenos Aires to teach a minority immigrant group in a language foreign to Brazil.  The German migration to Argentina and Brazil following WWI included LDS families.  In 1923 Wilhelm Friedrich and Emile Hoppe arrived in Buenos Aires and as members began preaching the gospel.  They reported their success and concerns to the First Presidency by letter and asked for missionaries because brother Friedrich, the only Priesthood holder, was a Deacon and did not have the authority to baptize his daughter or the investigators they had found.  (Historical information from “Unto Every Nation: Gospel Light Reaches Every Land “ by Cannon and Cowan.)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Languages Spoken by Missionaries

Languages by area

I have added a new variable to my YouTube data, language.  It is an interest part of the mission call and as I have listened to many videos I have come to realize that the Church’s effort to reach minority communities is vast and extends beyond the United States.  I have found that the YouTube data to be fairly reliable but it does have a weakness.  Nearly all posting are by young men and women whose native language is English.   

The graph “Languages by Area” shows the percentage of calls in seven major languages by the areas used by the Church to report demographic statistics with one exception.  I separate data for the United States from the rest of North America.  I have 103 observations, mostly from May and more assignments have been issued to missions in the United States (52%) than in previous three months (34%).  As an aside, the same pattern existed last year. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Evangelical View of the LDS Missionary Surge

Matthew 7: 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals are brothers and sisters in the Christian faith.  There are differences in our theologies that are real.  We call these differences additional light and truth; Evangelicals call them misinterpretations of the gospel.  Let us not exaggerate the differences.  I believe that individuals would be happier, families stronger and the nation more prosperous if all professing to be followers of Christ followed with more faith.

In a mostly flattering article (“What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?”) written in three parts by Greg Stier, John Divito and Kara Powell about Latter-day Saint youth and their response to President Monson’s announcement lowering that age of missionary service.  The article note the high level of commitment of LDS youth compared to Evangelical youth.  Greg Stier writes

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Wait to Enter the Mission Training Center

Does the length of time between the date a missionary receives a call and the report date to the MTC vary by the country assigned?  Yes! 

Because all missionaries must buy roughly the same clothing, know the same scriptures, etc., the difference in the preparation period is probably due to the length of time needed to acquire a visa. My data source is YouTube posts made in 2013 of future missionaries opening their calls.  There were 707 posts.  The three countries with the longest preparation period are Brazil (133 days), New Zealand (131 days) and Australia (128 days), and the shortest period, the Philippines, (82 days), the USA (85 days), and South Korea (94 days). 

The preparation time for missionaries assigned to the United States acts like a control.  Because most YouTube videos are posted by missionaries living in the United States, and they will not require a visa to serve, missionaries assigned to the United States should have a short preparation period and it does.  Only missionaries assigned to the Philippines have a shorter wait. 

The following table contains the shows the number of countries to which at least ten missionaries were called, the number of calls to that country and the preparation period.


Number of Observations

Days of Preparation

























New Zealand












South Korea






United Kingdom



United States



Monday, May 13, 2013

April Update on Missionary Calls Posted to YouTube

2013 April YouTube Callings

This post updates findings on missionary calls using YouTube videos to track changes in the size and composition of the missionary force as our youth respond to President Monson’s October 2012 announcement that the Church was changing the age requirements for missionary service. The graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” separates the calls to young women and men from November 2011 to April 2013.  In April, the total number of posted calls reached 199; 61.3% of posted calls were to young men and 38.7, to young women.  The number of calls to both groups initially climbed and appears to have plateaued.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Every generation presents obstacles to parents who attempt to raise their children to be faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to the leaders of the church that provide community support to parents and preach the gospel.  Generally, these obstacles are shared by other Christian denominations and religions.  Secularism is a current challenge.

The Pew Institute reports (“Nones” on the Rise”) that 20% of Americans and 33% of Americans who under thirty have no religious affiliation.  Many of the non-religiously affiliated or nones report some religious or spiritual practice such as a belief in God (68%) or daily prayer (21%).  Most believe that churches benefit society by strengthening communities and aiding the poor.  They are not interested in becoming affiliated, viewing organized religions as too concerned with money, political influence and behavioral rules and they are decidedly more secular than the religiously affiliated. 

In a thought provoking article, Rod Dreher (“Sex After Christianity”) describes a battle between cosmologies, differing theories on the natural order of the universe.  Christian cosmology which holds that God and his commandments, particularly in regards to sex, dictate that people restrict their behavior, not because it is good for them but because it is right and good for society dominated European belief for centuries.  Beginning with the Enlightenment, a new cosmology has made inroads against the old.  The modern views an individual’s desires as central to self-definition.  They are polar opposites.  Whereas the Christian seeks sexual fulfillment by restraint, the modern finds fulfillment in sexual expression. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Last Time The Age Requirement Was Lowered


Set Apart


1956 2572 6.55
1957 2518 -2.10
1958 2778 10.33
1959 2847 2.48
1960 4706 65.30
1961 5793 23.10
1962 5630 -2.81
1963 5781 2.68
1964 5886 1.82

As we contemplate how the October 6, 2012 announcement lowering the age of missionary service to 18 for men and 19 for women will affect missionary numbers, we should keep in mind that this event has a precedent.  Between June and August 1960, the church lowered the age women could serve from 23 to 21 and  the age men could serve from 20 to 19.  The table shows the number of missionaries set apart and the growth rate for the years surrounding the change.  In 1960, the number of missionaries set apart increased 65.3% to 4,706.  The following year, the number of missionaries set apart increased another 23.1%.  It was not until 1962 that the number of missionaries set apart declined a modest 2.81%.  The increase in missionaries set apart was not simply an anomaly of having an additional year of men and two years of women applying to serve missions.  The numbers remained high even after the initial surge. The change made service easier, increasing the percentage of eligible men and women who served.  

If history does repeat itself, applying the percentage changes from 1960-62 to a back of the envelope estimation of missionaries set apart in the year ending October 6, 2012 at 31,500, missionaries set apart the next year would rise to 52,070, and 64,100 the following year before falling slightly to 62,300 in the year ending October 2015.  The total number of missionaries serving would top 100,000 and remain above that level.

Past performance does not guarantee of future results and I am assuming that an 18 year-old man or 19 year-old woman would respond exactly the same as a 19 year old man and 21 year-old woman responded 23 years ago.  We might find that serving a year earlier at 18 for men or two years earlier for women is less or more valuable now resulting in a smaller or larger increase in missionaries set apart but the change should induce a higher percentage of both men and women to serve.  I had originally anticipated a sharp drop in the number of missionaries serving beginning 18 months after the October 6, 2012 announcement.  I don’t any longer.