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? 

The Saturday after the evacuation, the general leadership represented by area authorities, and local leadership represented by the four mission presidents and all the stake presidents developed a long-term plan.  Rather than close missions, the Church lowered the age of missionary service from 19 to 18 for worthy Venezuelan men, making it the first country permitted to call missionaries at the younger age.  Venezuelan youth responded in greater numbers and the missions and the Church as a whole were able to function normally.

The graph, “Growth in Venezuela Compared to USA, Utah, and Brazil," compares the growth of Stakes in Venezuela from the time the first stake was created there in 1977 to the growth of the Church in other named areas over a comparable time frame.  The comparison was made by creating an index that began at 100 in the first year considered: 1847 for the United States, 1977 or Utah, and 1977 for Brazil.  As can be seen from the graph, Venezuela has experienced the most rapid growth.  The comparison between Venezuela and Brazil deserves more scrutiny.  Both experienced similar early growth patterns, including a plateau beginning in 1997 and running through 2001 for Venezuela.  At that point, before the expulsion of missionaries, growth in stake creation resumed and did not miss a beat, outpacing Brazil’s rapid growth.  From the standpoint of stake creation, the expulsion was a nonevent.

  Seminary Enrollment SAInstitute Enrollment SA

I have read blog or board posts by writers who are not friends of the Church who argue that the new stakes are weak and have been created to cover underlying weakness in the Church in Venezuela.  If this argument is correct, auxiliary programs should be weak, but in the case of seminary and institute they are anything but weak.  The maps, “Seminary Enrollment Rate by Country” and “Institute Enrollment Rate by Country” based on the Table “A Comparison of Seminary and Institute Enrollment Rates in South America” paint a different picture.  The bluer the country, the higher the enrollment rate.  As the enrollment rates fall, a country’s color changers from blue to green, then yellow, brown and red.  Venezuela and Peru are the top performers.  Venezuela has the second highest Seminary enrollment rate (38.9%) and the highest Institute enrollment rate in South American. 

From the data I have, I must conclude that the Church is growing robustly in Venezuela.  The evacuation of the missionaries from the United States has had little or no impact.  More data would add robustness to my conclusion.  I will add to my data to create and time series for some of the variables like membership, stakes, and seminary and institute enrollment.  Other data like the number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders, Relief Society and temple attendance would be great but I am unlikely to have—ever.  Until then, I will content myself with the data I have.

A Comparison of Seminary and Institute Enrollment Rates in South America

Country Seminary Enrollment Rate Institute Enrollment Rate
South American    
Argentina 21.6 19.0
Bolivia 29.0 31.1
Brazil 24.5 30.2
Chile 18.6 15.8
Colombia 27.2 31.1
Ecuador 22.5 17.0
Paraguay 20.4 10.5
Peru 41.0 42.3
Uruguay 15.9 14.5
Venezuela 38.9 47.9


  1. The statement, "Rather than close missions, the Church lowered the age of missionary service from 19 to 18 for worthy Venezuelan men, making it the first country permitted to call missionaries at the younger age" is not completely accurate.

    For example, I served in Mexico in 1980-82. During that time there was 2-year mandatory military service for young men that had to begin by their 21st birthday. It was not at all uncommon to have 18-yr-old missionaries in the field. I had a number of 18-yr-old companions.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Missionaries from Mexico demonstrated enormous faith to serve a two-year mission to be followed up by two years in the military. Economists generally don't like drafts because they are compulsory and, as a member, I don't like them because it makes missionary service more difficult.
    Brooks Wilson