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.