Friday, April 11, 2014

Evaluating Membership Growth: 2003-2013


LDS growth acceleration 2013

Earlier this week, the Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released membership numbers by country.  LDS Church Growth offered analysis of the growth of membership in percentage terms and numerical increase.  There were few surprises.  Countries in Africa dominated the list of the top twenty countries with the highest annual growth rate.  The countries with the most members, the United States, Brazil and Mexico, dominated the list of countries with the largest numerical increase accounting for 49.3 percent of increase in membership.  In this post, I calculate the average annual geometric growth rate of the Church over two time periods, three years and ten years and use them to calculate the percentage increase in growth using the ten year growth rate as the base.  Whereas the geometric growth rate is the speed of growth, the percentage change in growth acts as a measure of acceleration. 

The ten countries that experienced the most rapid growth over the past decade are listed in the table 1.  To qualify for the list, a country must have more than 1,000 members in 2013.  Eight of these countries are in Africa. 

Table 1.  The Ten Countries with the Fastest Growing Membership over the Past Decade

Country Growth Rate 2013 Membership
Cameroon 20.65 1,359
Togo 18.66 2,307
Malaysia 15.26 9,259
Guyana 15.11 5,474
Malawi 14.99 1,653
Mozambique 13.32 6,900
Uganda 13.21 12,380
Ethiopia 12.35 1,807
Botswana 10.53 3,021
Cote d’Ivoire 10.32 22,576

The ten countries that experienced the most rapid growth over the last three years are listed in table 2.  As before, a country must have more than 1,000 members by 2013 to qualify.  All ten countries on the list are in Africa.  Growth in Africa has been so rapid that it should pass both Europe and Oceania in total membership before the end of the decade!

Table 2.  The Ten Countries with the Fastest Growing Membership over the Past Three Years

Country Growth Rate 2013 Membership
Botswana 31.42 3,021
Togo 22.79 2,307
Malawi 21.35 1,653
Ethiopia 17.11 1,807
Angola 15.50 1,436
Liberia 14.05 8,081
Sierra Leone 13.66 13,078
Madagascar 13.41 9,826
Cape Verde 13.13 10,796
Cote d’Ivoire 10.32 22,576

I used the three and ten year growth rates to calculate the percentage change in growth between the three year (G3) and ten year (G10) rates as using the following formula, ((G3-G10)/G10)*100.  The results for the world are presented in the color map at the top of the post.  Countries to the right of the 0 on the legend experienced accelerating growth, and on the left, decelerating growth.  While most countries experienced accelerating growth, the three countries with the largest membership bases, the United States, Brazil and Mexico, all experienced decelerating growth.  As listed in table three, African countries occupied five of the top ten positions, Europe occupied four and Oceania the remaining position. 

Armand L. Mauss asked in an article published in the International Journal of Mormon Studies, can there be a second harvest in Europe , (“Can There Be A “Second Harvest”? : Controlling the Costs of Latter-day Saint Membership in Europe,” June 7, 2013).  He even suggested an explanation for the growth.

Among the most recent and effective method for involving members in the missionary program is one that was “pilot-tested” in 2003, with the encouragement of two apostles, and finally implemented during the next two years in all of the stakes of the Europe Central Area, and perhaps in other areas as well. This method uses the CES classes with their Young Single Adults as “Institute Outreach Centers.” Under the ultimate direction of the local stake and mission presidents, these YSAs join with full-time missionaries to invite and bring young people of the same general age range (18 – 30) to local LDS Church buildings for Family Home Evenings, Institute classes, cultural and intellectual events, socials, and sports activities. Through these events, missionaries get many opportunities to teach young investigators in the chapels with YSA members present. So far the results of this program have been promising, not only in conversions but in retentions, for 80% of those converted through the Institute Outreach Centers are still active a year after baptism. Social scientists have long known that people in this transitional age range comprise the “demographic” most likely to be open to new ideas and experiences, including religious ones, so this approach appears to be a very effective “marketing strategy” for reaching the most likely “customers.”

While the growth rates in the European countries are still relatively small, they illustrate that the church can have success in secular, high income countries with low birth rates.  These programs may be successful for a second reason.  Not only do they attract and retain converts, they provide a grounds for youth to meet and marry LDS youth.  The Church seems to be stressing the formation of Young Single Adult wards and branches in the United States.  Perhaps the European success offers an explanation.  I would love to see the same strategy applied in Argentina, where I served a mission.  My limited experience suggested that youth who were lost could not find an LDS spouse. 

Table 3.  The Ten Countries with the Greatest Acceleration in Membership Growth over the Past Three Years

Country Acceleration Rate 2013 Membership
Belgium 245.77 6,145
Botswana 198.36 3,021
French Polynesia 183.09 23,594
Cape Verde 115.48 10,796
Finland 111.38 4,866
Portugal 99.01 41,917
Liberia 94.02 8,081
Switzerland 72.91 8,741
Angola 68.62 1,436
Kenya 57.58 57,748

Growth is certainly easier to achieve in countries with high birth rates.  My next effort at examining growth will adjust the growth and acceleration rates for the total fertility rate by country.  Knowing how to grow in low birth rate countries is important because the birth rate continues to fall around the world.


  1. I would be interested in seeing your entire data set. Is there a way to access it?

    1. E-mail me and I will send you an Excel file with the data. My e-mail address is under my profile at the top of the page.