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? 


Demographics may be working against high rates of conversion.  Without any data to support my contention, I believe that missionaries do better with the young, say people under thirty.  As birth rates fall throughout the world, the percentage of young in an area fall.  If the decline in the birth rate is great enough, the number of young will fall. 

In addition to having fewer young, a larger percentage of young adults is secular than in the past.  Known as the  “nones,” tend to shun organized religion for spirituality, or question the existence of God.  Secularized young place more emphasis on “sexual fulfillment” than the religious.  The Church puts great emphasis on chastity prior to marriage, and fidelity within marriage, strange beliefs for the nones. 

The Church maintains a lay priesthood that excludes women.  In Western society, the role of women has been expanding into nontraditional areas.  To those who support women’s rights, probably a comfortable majority, our all male priesthood is both an anachronism and a moral outrage.

In many countries, the Church is strapped with unpopular policies of the United States government.  War, recession, NSA spying make the United States look like ineffective bullies and the Church too by association.  Within the United States, we are burdened by association with the religious right.  By policy, the Church is politically neutral.  Statistically, the Saints are politically conservative.  Elder Marlin K. Jensen said that the division along Mormon/non-Mormon, Republican/Democrat lines “troubles “Mormon leaders at the highest level who are concerned that “it’s not in the best interest to be known as a one-party church” (The Associated Press, “Mormon church concerned over perceived link to the GOP,” The Spectrum).

The decline in baptisms per missionary might also be due to a tightening of baptismal standards. If higher standards might result in more active members.  Finally, my focus might be backward.  The lower number of baptisms observed over the past decade might not be unusually low; the preceding two decades might have been unusually high. 

I will address demographic trends, political issues and possibly other factors that might have lowered the convert to missionary ratio in future posts.  It is inspiring to see the Church grow rapidly but the Church has often experienced periods of slower growth.  Growth is challenging, often a slog rather than a victory lap.  Leaders of the Church do not set policy to maximize growth but to maximize growth subject to the constraint that policy conforms to the will of God. 

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